A Busy Old Year and a Happy New One

It would be easy to focus on the negative in 2016, so I'm going to focus on the positive instead.

Highlights of the year for me have included (in no particular order):

Being An Associate Artist of Daily Life Ltd

Leading workshops/performing/diagnosing diagnosis at The Walthamstow Garden Party, The William Morris Gallery, and The Wellcome Collection.










Teaching Women To Make Mini Protest Banners


Teaching Myself DIY Screen Printing




Learning To Use A Sewing Machine (And Almost Finishing My First Handmade Dress!)




Finally Getting You Didn't Cry Trophy Pins Made (And Selling A Few!)





Many Art Dates With My Lovelies, Making Some Wonderful New Friends, And Doing The First Drawing I'm Actually Proud Of



Being Welcomed Aboard The Good Ship Object Book And Securing Studio Space Starting January





Dressing My Muse In Hand Embroidered Blouses And Getting Back Into Photography (More To Follow)






Getting To Make Things With Young People All Day For Money




I could go on but I'd best leave it there; there are canapes to roll, cocktails to shake, and my face to paint (just putting this together and looking back at everything I've done this year has made me feel tired; and I left a lot out!)

Suffice to say I hope anyone who finds their way to this post has had a wonderful year; I wish you an even better new one, and if you've been a part of my 2016, thank you for making it so special. 

Conductive Cushions

Conductive cushions - mixing crafting with tech from Share UK on Vimeo.


On Tuesday it was Ada Lovelace Day. Ada Lovelace would be a remarkable woman in any age, but in the 1800s she was a true trail blazer. The only legitimate daughter of Lord Byron, Ada's puritanical mother, Anne Isabella Noel Byron, thought that instructing her daughter in the sciences would quell any dangerously poetic genetic pre-disposition in Ada. What she didn't quell was Ada's brilliance. She was a gifted mathematician, far more forward-thinking than her male contemporaries, and credited as having written the world's first computer program. Ada's most famous quote is "That brain of mine is more than merely mortal, as time will show." The computer programs which add so much ease, convenience, and support in our daily lives are proof of that.

In this spirit, in the run up to Ada Lovelace Day, Share UK, "a community based organisation that uses digital technology to share stories, ideas and skills", ran a two day coding and crafting workshop for pairs of mothers and daughters at Gnome House in Blackhorse Road, Walthamstow, led by Esther Freeman, with ingenious Carolyn Abbott of Walthamstow institution E17 Designers manning the sewing machines and Bronwyn Goodwin providing techy know-how. And I taught a wee bit of embroidery and threaded a lot of needles.

The truly thrilling (at least to me) part of the project was incorporating hand embroidered circuits into textile craft. It was so exciting, in fact, that it has to be written in italics. The theme was inspiring women, and so in my sample I prepared earlier to give the mothers and daughters some ideas, I paid homage to my heritage with the phrase "This thread connects me to a lineage of needlewomen across the ages." I stitched a sort of "family tree" of sewing kit essentials, with scissors, a pin cushion, a thimble and a skein of thread all represented. As the latest member of the "family tree" I stitched a light bulb, in the centre of which was a tiny blue LED connected up to a battery holder. I think I audibly gasped when I put a battery in and it worked first time.



The participants in the workshop had much better ideas than my rather scrappy one. The little girl in the duo who created the cushion below was named Aphra, after Aphra Benn, the first woman in this country acknowledged with earning her living from her writing (she was also a spy for Charles II, but it's the other fact I find more inspiring). Behn was a playwrite, and so modern-day Aphra and her mother appliqued and embroidered Comedy and Tragedy masks on to the cushion, along with a spyglass, and most cleverly of all, a "quill" fashioned from a feather and an embroidery needle, which, when touched to an inkwell, completed the circuit and made the cushion light up.




Taylor Swift was a popular choice of inspiring woman, with two cushions featuring gleaming guitars being created in her honour.



The creator of the cushion below wasn't so keen on hand sewing but took to the sewing machine instantly, and very cleverly replicated the glowing light of the XBox controller with her circuit.


With this cushion, it was one of the mum's turn to shine; I showed her how to couch, and she produced the most beautiful lettering in a variety of colours. I think the choice of Beyoncé song may have been her daughter's, though, and I thoroughly approve!






A very sweet mother-daughter team worked really hard to make the cushion below, based around a true female role model (or at least I think so!), JK Rowling, appliqueing the magic word for the light-giving spell, "Lumos!" and surrounding it with other words for light, and LEDs refracting beneath crystal glass beads.


A number of my female friends will be very happy to see their alma mater paid respects; this cushion is dedicated to the teachers of Walthamstow School For Girls, hand appliqued and embroidered with its crest and motto "Neglect not the gift in thee"; good advice for every girl and woman, I think. The centre of each of the flowers on the crest light up.


This impressive cushion was produced by a pair of friends rather than a mother-daughter duo; it features the Suffragette colours of purple, white and green (which reminds me I must book tickets to the cinema to see Suffragette soon), reminding us of the struggle and sacrifice so many women made for us to have the vote. The circuitry is all hidden behind the flower and its centre glows a warm yellow.


The mother of the pair who made this cushion owns a vintage company, and had excellent colour sense when putting together this tribute to Sonia Delaunay with her daughter. There's some gorgeous, joyfully colourful long and short stitch in there, but unfortunately when I took this photograph it was dark (to show off the LED lights to best effect) and so it doesn't show up. Which is all the more reason to get down there and see the cushions exhibited for yourself! They're up in the windows of the café at Gnome House until the end of this month. Here are directions and a map.



Featured on the Craftsy blog

Just a quick post to say that a couple of my RSN pieces have been featured by the wonderful Leigh Bowser on the Craftsy blog.

Here's a wonderful introduction to blackwork by Leigh, featuring a section of my Celia Johnson blackwork portrait in progress...


...and here is the low-down on crewelwork, accompanied by a photograph of my completed Jacobean crewelwork embroidery, along with some stunning examples by other stitchers that put me to shame... tut tut, what fluffy twill.



Most glorious rose

I've taken scissors to an old dress and a hideous/glorious 70s table cloth, taught myself ribbon embroidery, couched pink sparkling thread and stitched poems; the first page of Milk Thistle is finally finished!

This page takes the rose as its central metaphor, and begins exploring the book's themes of the Romantic poets and the English national psyche, and performativity of femininity, particularly as it relates to sickliness and vulnerability.

The text reads:

"We are wilted English roses grown pallid and wan, wandering moors, moaning "Willoughby, Willoughby" at thin air for hours."

This is a line from my recorded piece Kiss The Book that I created with composer Joe Donohoe, which has appeared in many guises over the years and refers to quintessential English rose Marianne Dashwood's erstwhile lover John Willoughby in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.

This is stitched on to a background of brown "watercolour" roses that look suitably windswept. The calico pocket is covered in a wreath of ribbon embroidered roses with bugle bead leaves/thorns.





Within the pocket is another poem; The Sick Rose, by Blake, from Songs of Innocence and of Experience:

O Rose, thou art sick
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy

To my mind this speaks of 18th century concerns about the polluting effects of sexuality on "innocent, tender" women, and of the long-held beliefs about the fragility of "the fair sex". It could mean either sick literally, or in a perverted sense. Either way, it fits very well with my themes of sickness, recovery, and the performativity of femininity.



I've finally found a use for my Kensitas woven silk flowers in Milk Thistle; the tea rose of the set sits snug with the poem by Blake in the pocket of the first page.



The second page takes violets (shrinking or otherwise) as its theme; I'd best be getting on with it!

No Baubles - British Folk Art at Tate Britain

When the Royal Academy was established in 1769, it emphatically stated that "no needlework, artificial flowers, cut paper, shell work, or any such baubles should be admitted". Baubles were all very well for the drawing room; just don’t bring them into the gallery. 

One might well assume that this measure was intended to bar women from exhibiting; this a mere twenty three years before A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was published. Art by women has long been devalued and placed firmly in the camp of craft, differentiating it from "masculine" high art; as art historian Roszika Parker noted "historians devalued it ("women's work") in the eyes of society which equated great art with masculinity, the public sphere and professional practice”. Professional practice, of course, was historically barred to the vast majority of women, and even today, the exposés of Guerrilla Girls indicate the extent of the glass ceiling which still exists in the art world. Work by female artists is often couched as female first, and art second, or simply and derisively as "decorative".



But it is not only women that the Royal Academy's proclamation barred; rejection of these "baubles" is in part a question of class. Many male and female artists could only dream of the Royal Academy, with its members wealthy enough to "drop out" in order to turn to a life of painting. Working class artists instead turned to whatever they had to hand for their materials; bone, scraps of fabric, letters and newspapers, pins and beads. Art made from the collections of the rag and bone man.



It is this patchwork art, made from scraps, from snippets of this and that, that we see at British Folk Art at Tate Britain. Literal patchworks are paper pieced with scraps of letters and newspapers. In a time when paper was scarce and expensive, this was the most economical means of hand quilting, even if sacrificing cherished letters was heart-wrenching. Throughout the exhibition we see thrift as evidence of survival and adaptation to trying circumstances, rather than it is often employed today, as guilty afterthought or proof of green credentials. This is make do and mend before the term came into use. The centrepiece is a cockerel painstakingly hand-carved from mutton bone by French POWs during the Napoleonic Wars. The intricacy of this sculpture repudiates the rulings of the Royal Academy almost half a century earlier. It is an astonishing work not simply for the delicacy of the carving, but for the sheer quantity of bones the POWs siphoned off; for the coral wattle and comb which presumably is dyed bone; for the hours it doubtless took to whittle and carve down the bone into individual feathers. The cockerel demonstrates the tenacity of the human spirit; the irrepressibility of imagination.



Time and again walking through the exhibition, the audience encounters art made during hardship. Folk artists have created when incarcerated; when recuperating from illness; when pining for loved ones across the seas.

Whereas needlework and textile craft was thought to be the preserve of middle and upper class ladies in recent centuries (and we do see examples of samplers in this vein), here we see men turning to the medium also, often when convalescing.



Injured sailors and fishermen created woolwork keepsake representations of their ships. Recuperating soldiers in the 19th and early 20th centuries were encouraged to create bright patchworks from their old uniforms. Some might think this emasculating; however, when one takes into account just how heavy duty the serge and twill fabric is, any feminine associations of needlework evaporate.

 An even more macho application of needlecraft is evident in a
frankly terrifying Jolly Roger which flew atop HMS Trenchant in the Second World War. In a gross understatement, the exhibition notes inform us that Jolly Rogers like this one featured "symbols referring to the vessel's various engagements". The "various engagements" are the sinking and capturing of German ships. Appliqué, as employed here, and other textile crafts, have become the site of subversion over the course of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty first century; we see an early subversive, piratical use here. This is textiles divorced from the drawing room and any shred of domesticity; made entirely masculine.  



Alongside the woolwork depictions of ships and “sailors’ valentines” are works of art of a more traditional nature; almost good enough for the Royal Academy.  Appropriately given the flavour of the exhibition, these paintings are by a rag and bone man; Alfred Wallis of St Ives. His naive paintings recall his youth at sea. Unlike the artists who neighbour his paintings, Wallis had some art world success with his work, mostly due to his friendships with the St Ives artists’ colony.

Another folk artist who had success during her lifetime was Mary Linwood, an embroidery copyist of Old Masters. She was not accepted into the patriarchal art establishment, doubtless because her naturalistic, immense silk shadings posed too much of a “bauble”, but nevertheless enjoyed considerable success. However, she fell from grace with the advent of “art needlework”, when, ironically, embroidery artists and designers aped a folk art, pre-industrial style.



As with all that is fashionable, art is cyclical; the Royal Academy may once have been up in arms about the daintily hand crafted, but contemporary artists such as Tracey Emin and Grayson Perry have made careers from borrowing from craft. Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller celebrates folk art in his work, and creates new folk heroes. Doubtless the time will come again when folk art falls out of favour. This would make it all the more vital to celebrate it for what it is; art by the people, for the people.

Milk Thistle

I've been so busy lately that it's taken me months to finish the front cover of Milk Thistle, the artist's book I'm making. It is finally finished, however, and I can begin filling it with pages.

The book will deal sickness (and sickliness) and recovery, the subdued gloom of the English national psyche, weeds, delicate flowers, frailty, vulnerability, stereotypes of femininity, romantic literature and poetry, and thorns amongst the roses. Milk thistle is thought to be good for the liver, so the book is also about bravery; about not being lily-livered.

The milk thistle of the title is stitched in crewel wool, with a turkey rug stitch flower and stranded cotton spines. The title is couched in crewel wool to match the flower. The fabric is an amazing 60s cotton sheeting fabric I found at The Shop.











"Need-le" Valentine?

If you're a loather of Valentine's Day, look away now. Mine and Pip's involved baking, bathing, and braving the wind and rain to do the twist at a Northern Soul night. We really go for it every year and attempt to make at least one example of heart-shaped food.

White chocolate and raspberry (and fluorescent pink!) heart shaped cookies

Pie, the most romantic of Valentine's meals
We also indulged in a sloe gin and rose lemonade or two... and of course, I squeezed in some stitching!

Over the years I've developed a (perhaps slightly worrying) penchant for mid-century Valentine's cards. The crapper the pun, the better. So when I stumbled across a lot of 43 from one of my favourite vintage dress shops on Etsy, I knew that I had to snap them up, whether they were destined for a feature wall in my future 50s kitsch home, or a crafting project. The card below (which incidentally may win the prize for crappest pun of the lot) has sealed the deal; I'm going to create something crafty, and a real departure/new challenge for me out of the cards.





Time permitting around my RSN commitments, I should be sharing the results here in the not-too-distant future. I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine's Day, whether you shared it with a sweetheart or said "Bah, humbug" to the whole thing.

You Didn't Cry


Do you remember my Treasures For Your Troubles project from May last year? Well the ideas that inspired it have been bubbling away in my mind, and I've created a lino cut version of this embroidery, to remind everyone (myself included) to reward ourselves for the little things. It's also a bit of a self-deprecating in-joke, like a lot of my art.

I hadn't given lino a go since I was twelve, when I famously managed to cut away the parts that were meant to be printed rather the reverse. So you could say my expectations were fairly low, but I'm still pleasantly surprised by the results!

If anyone is interested, there will be six lino prints on calico going up in my Etsy shop, which I'm planning on opening next Saturday (drum roll!) Who knows, perhaps by then I'll have cut and printed the next design!

Rolling with the homies




Winter Stitching

So, what's new? Not a lot, I'm still soldiering away, battling the winter blues and a hefty Canvas Work design. However, I think I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel; I would say more than half of my Canvas Stitches piece is finished at this point! It has seemed at points as if it would never end, but now I feel one final push should do it.

The coral garden last week

The coral garden earlier today

A close up of Upright Cross coral (green), Romanian Couching waves (purple and brown), Victorian Step water (purple and light green)
I'm not entirely sure about my choice of colours; I fear the piece is too busy, but the main thing is that I am enjoying it, and learning so, so much.

Other diversions that have been cheering me up during these short dark days include plastering every square inch of wall in my room with art (and bunting, but of course)...




It certainly helps to have a cosy hideaway to hibernate in during the winter months!
... a stack of "What To Look For In..." Ladybird four seasons books to be stitched into someday to accompany last year's What To Look For In Winter...



...and all my Christmases coming early in the form of not one, not two, but three Santa stacks filled with vintage satins, printed cottons, and yards and yards of lace trimmings. I don't think I've ever been so grateful to receive old cast-offs!

Some purchased fripperies which are destined for brooches and artist's book #3

I'm already sketching up designs for my Black Work piece (it might just be Polly Kettle themed!), and have availed myself of some evenweave to practise the stitches on. It's going to be a busy stitchy Christmas!


"Will you take the path of pins, or the path of needles?"


In some of the earliest surviving texts of Little Red Riding Hood, when the girl is met by the wolf in the wood, he asks her if she will take the path of pins, or the path of needles. It is of little consequence which path the girl chooses; whichever she does, the wolf chooses the other path and begins a race to get there first.

What is of significance, however, is the objects chosen to name these two paths. One may think that they are appropriate names for paths taken in a cautionary tale, which is precisely what Little Red Riding Hood is thought of as being today; warning girls against talking to strangers and sexual "immorality".

But the tale has roots, like many of the old tales, as a story of female cunning, strength, and coming of age (don't forget in many of the earlier versions of the tale it is Little Red, not the woodsman, who cuts her grandmother out of the wolf's belly).

So, why are the needles and pins of such significance in this coming of age story? Well, according to this (far superior) article, in the French villages where the European version of the fairytale was originally collected, young girls symbolically passed over into womanhood by going to spend one winter apprenticed to a seamstress.

Therefore, Little Redcap's journey up the path of pins/needles possibly symbolises her (potentially dangerous, as evidenced by the wolf) journey into womanhood.

There may be a slightly more arbitrary reason for the pins and needles; fairy tales, or, quite literally, "old wive's tales" were normally shared by groups of women, who gathered to sew, spin, weave and knit. Telling old stories would make these sometimes onerous tasks more enjoyable, and weaving references to their handiwork into the tales was a way of personalising them; of making them relatable.

I've always been intrigued by the tale of Little Red Riding Hood; aged fifteen I completed an embarrassingly shoddy project based on the story for my Art GCSE, and "She whipped a pistol from her knickers" from Roald Dahl's anarchic take on the tale is one of my favourite lines of literature of all time.

It seems that mine and the tale's paths have crossed yet again in the making of the contents of the pocket on the second page of Big Teeth (and the title of the project itself, of course, is partially a reference to "My, what big teeth you have!")

Each of the pockets contains an embroidery alluding to the references to textiles techniques which are commonly found in fairy tales (for the precise reasons I gave above). For this one, I decided to create the clearing in the woodland where the path of pins and the path of needles begin.

By embroidering literal pins and needles along the paths, I am alluding to the dangers the heroines of fairy tales face along their journeys, and perhaps afterwards (I don't believe in happily ever after, particularly not with a "Prince Charming"!)



I decided to stick with black thread to give a flat, story book illustrative style, and I am quite pleased with the results (even if the trees do look like broccoli as a result!)

With the contents of the first page, I was alluding to the ball of string used to escape the maze in the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, and to the "thread" of bread or pebbles Hansel and Gretel leave in the woods to find their way home by. I indicated this by carving two tiny trees from birch bark and stringing a red thread between them (another allusion to Little Red Riding Hood?)


The text I chose for this piece was "the narrative thread"; the thread which runs through all our lives, and our oldest stories; our myths and fairy tales, which make up so much of our history and culture.



I have but two more little embroideries to complete for Big Teeth, and then I can stitch the whole thing together; I'm actually going to make my deadline for the exhibition at this rate!


Softer at The Mill

I'm just back from dropping off a couple of framed embroideries at Penny Fielding's for the E17 Art Trail Summer Show (which opens on Thursday), and I thought I would finally get 'round to uploading some photographs from another little exhibition I'm participated in, which opened a couple of weeks ago.

Some of you may remember the Soft exhibition at The Mill that I blogged about around  this time last year. Well, after the success of that show, The Mill decided to reincarnate the exhibition as Softer. There's a very different feel to this year's exhibition (it's jam packed to the rafters, for one thing!), with more varieties of textile art/craft and a slightly more political slant. Everyone from established artists to infant school students are represented; it's truly reflective of the wider Walthamstow community!

Unfortunately, with all the other exhibitions I'm preparing for and submitting work to, I ran out of time to create something new for Softer. Thus my contribution was one of my early embroideries for The Cure for Love, which was exhibited in its entirety at The Mill in December 2011. 

The embroidery I submitted was my "Love is no mythical creature" narwhal (my favourite animal, don't you know; I frequently dream about them!)


He looks quite sweet nestled in amongst the crochet and quilting!



These "stained glass" crochet granny squares were one of my favourite exhibits. I love how each square is unique, yet each compliments the others. Definitely got me hankering after a granny square blanket (if only I could knit or crochet!)




Work curated and created by my old colleagues at Significant Seams was also featured; cushions spelling out "Softer" were hung up in the front window, inviting the public in. The cushions were made as part of Wood Street Welcome, a community art project for Wood Street, Walthamstow.


In addition to the Softer exhibition, there were also a number of inventive oversized animals on display (including my second-favourite animal, a downcast looking fox!)

This exhibition was entitled Wildlife Reworked, and was comprised of animal sculptures made from recycled objects by local families with the help of sculptor Michelle Reader. Although a separate exhibition, the sculptures could easily have been included in Softer as many were made with large quantities of fabric. There was obviously a lot of attention to detail given when selecting the materials to construct the animals; the texture of the fox's fur in particular was spot on.





This piece has inspired some of my hand stitching and hand quilting idea for Big Teeth. Lovely warm colours and homespun, handcrafted textures!



It wouldn't be a textile exhibition at The Mill without a few of Harriet Hammel's signature pieces. She contributed a Campbell's "PopArt" Soup can and a jar of (my favourite) Marmite. Though why these incredibly life like provisions were displayed in a wire cage, I'm not quite sure! They shared wall space with a knitted or crocheted (forgive my ignorance) faux-taxidermy moose head, which very much puts me in mind of one my housemate hung on our living room wall at university.




This cactus was one of my favourite pieces in the exhibition, and I'm very sorry to say I didn't get any better photographs of it. Just imagine how much more practical knitted house plants would be than their living counterparts!



This quilted duffel bag by Significant Seams stalwart Heidi Beach puts me in mind of William Morris's beloved leather satchels; I can certainly imagine him using this bag if he was around nowadays!


I was enthralled by the texture of the undulating seaweed in this piece; I don't know what the textile technique is, but the artist has caught their essence just right.


Unfortunately the photograph of this knitted item doesn't do it justice; it was a riot of colour and texture.


This bird reminded me of both William Morris's original designs, and Nicola Jarvis's drawings, paintings, and embroideries inspired by the famed Walthamstow-born master craftsman.


I loved the intricate volcano design of this quilt; just imagine how long it must've taken to piece it together!


Finally, an incredibly sweet addition to the exhibition was the "Needle Club" book created by young primary school children. It showcased the magic of children's imagination, and both put me in mind of my soft sculpture book On Being Soft, and inspired me to persevere with Big Teeth














The thing with feathers

As the time to begin my training at the Royal School of Needlework draws ever nearer, I grow more and more excited, but also daunted, as it seems incredible to me that human hands can produce something so exquisitely beautiful.

Visiting the most recent exhibition at the William Morris Gallery, The Art of Embroidery, has me even more daunted. Truly, Nicola Jarvis's bird and floral motifs are an exercise in impeccable technique. It didn't surprise me in the slightest that the exhibition is supported by both the Royal School of Needlework and the Embroiderers' Guild, because Jarvis's skill is clearly the result of years of training.



What she is particularly masterful at is replicating the same image in a plethora of individual techniques; from quilting to painting to canvaswork. As well as being a master craftswoman she is obviously also a master draughtswoman; her designs for embroidery are exquisite, and are shown in context alongside those by May Morris, William Morris's daughter and a key figure in the Royal School of Art Needlework as it was then known.



May became director of the embroidery department of Morris & Co. at the tender age of twenty three (clearly a prodigious talent; I'm twenty two, and thus even more daunted!) Though techniques in embroidery have become more complex and refined since her time, there is a clear mastery of the craft in her designs. I was particularly struck with her silk shading, which, though thicker in stitch than modern silk shading, has a gorgeous quality of light.



Because of this juxtaposition between old and new techniques in embroidery, the exhibition is something of a view of the evolution of the craft.

I must say, though I greatly admired the masterful technique of Nicola Jarvis's designs, some of my favourite items in the exhibit were three bags, two of which were designed by Morris and the third is a woven Middle Eastern silk evening bag.This may be because of my romantic tendencies, which are perfectly suited to accessories of the Arts and Crafts movement!







My favourite pieces of Nicola's were her richly embroidered cushions. The beading in particular is breathtaking, and works particularly well with floral motifs, adding jewel-like opulence to the flowers. From her design notes, it is evident that Nicola closely studied Morris's designs, particularly his prints for wall papers and fabrics; she cleverly echoes these in the bodies of the birds, and incorporates them seamlessly. In some cases it appears that the birds are made of lace, the embroidery is so fine.











Nicola will be working on an embroidery in situ at the exhibition on a number of days; unfortunately I've forgotten precisely when and didn't write the dates down, but I do know that they are in August!


I would urge anyone, craftsperson or otherwise, to visit this breathtaking exhibition. It is nothing if not impressive, and irrefutably proves that embroidery is not "just an idle past-time", but a true art.


Doing It Ourselves


Yesterday I went to support my friend and fellow founder of  Stitch Witches Collective Hanecdote at the DIY Cultures Fair at Rich Mix in Bethnal Green.
I’d been to Rich Mix once before, to hear some poetry at their Jawdance open mic night, an evening that really did reflect the cultural diversity of East London, in all its myriad forms (as the Rich Mix aims to with all its programmes). I found myself back there yesterday for a celebration of “all things independent, autonomous and alternative“.
After bumping into everyone from ex-Dartington students to the founder of the Craftivist Collective, I got down to doing what I do best; stitching at a Girls Get Busy X Hanecdote embroidery workshop.
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As you can see, plenty of girls got busy creating their own version of the Girls Get Busy/feminist/Venus symbol. One guy got busy too; my boyfriend Pip made a very valiant attempt at stitching a sunshine yellow symbol.
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I think you can see from the pictures how engrossed everyone was with their DIYing. Hannah’s friend Mollie, a first time embroiderer, made this incredibly cute Venus symbol. I hope she’s proud of her newfound embroidery skills!
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As Pip and I arrived a little late to the fair, I had to finish my patch at home. Inspired by Mollie’s design, I added gold star sequins to my yellow stem stitch symbol:
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I’d love to send the patch to a fellow feminist of a crafty persuasion; if you’d like it, let me know and I’ll send it along in the post free of charge.
OOMK Zine, whose first issue features an article about my experiences of exhibiting in the E17 Art Trail, tabled at the event, and DIY Cultures was co-curated by OOMK founder Sofia Niazi.
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I bitterly regret having run out of money and so not being able to pick up a copy of Sofia’s wonderfully witty and engaging zine Talk To The Scarf, a tribute to her hijab. However, for those of you who are similarly skint, Talk To The Scarf can be seen and read in full over at Sofia’s website.
My favourite new zine I encountered at the event was one which broke free from the normal constraints of the zine format; Indestructible Energy is produced in a print run of one hundred, and is comprised both of original artworks and reproductions. For each run, one hundred copies or one hundred original artworks are produced by the contributing artists for inclusion in the zine. Indestructible Energy is not unique only in being comprised partially of original artworks; it is also an unbound zine which comes wrapped in a screenprinted cloth, lending it the flavour of an archive rather than a publication. Indestructible Energy is also a digital art zine, and some of the reproductions which comprise issue 1 are screenshots from films featured on the zine’s website.
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Shots of Indestructible Energy’s table at the fair
The idea of a zine or archive which allows people to own potentially hundreds of pieces of affordable original artwork really intrigues me, and I will certainly be contributing to issue 2. I don’t think I’ll be completing one hundred embroideries, though! (Well, maybe for issue 3!)
Pip and I stuck around for a talk on DIY Artist Communities, during which Sarah Corbett of the Craftivist Collective spoke passionately and inspirationally about the power of craft as a tool for social change, and the founder of FoodFace, an artist run space in Peckham, reminded us that you actually can’t “do it yourself”; as artists we all need to support one another and come together to make change, and share our work with the world. I am so grateful for the many people present at DIY Cultures yesterday who have accepted me and my work, and helped to share it with a wider audience. Both Hannah and myself were so inspired by what we saw and heard, and can’t wait to turn Stitch Witches zine into a print reality. Watch this space.

Life! Death! Prizes!


“Life! Death! Prizes!” (complete with exclamation marks) is the rather incongruous strapline of Chat magazine, “your smart real-life read”, aka one of the recent spate of pulp magazines, that, as one reviewer of a book named for the strapline puts it, trade “in human misery by revelling in real-life traumas”.
On a lighter note, I was tickled by the phrase and cross stitched it during my second year at university.
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I chose green as the colour for “life!” due to its association with nature and new life, red for “death!” due to the obvious connotations of blood (alternatively red could have been used for “life!” for the same reason), and a variety of bright colours for “prizes!”, analogous with a flashing neon sign that would be found in an amusement arcade or fairground.
The phrase stuck in my head as I began to plan The Constellation Quilt, and the idea that it could be a neon sign hanging in a fairground made me think that it would make the perfect companion piece to my “fortune telling” patch, with a wheel of fortune or fairground fortune slot vibe.
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When translating the phrase into a patch for The Constellation Quilt, I kept the colours of the text the same (adding purple flowers growing out of the “life!” line), but chose a different font for each word. I think the font of “prizes!” is particularly akin to a neon sign. To add to this effect, I stitched star sequins and purple beads, to tone in with the rest of the quilt, issuing out in rays of “neon light”.
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This was my first time using water soluble cross stitch aida, and I’m largely happy with the results, although as the plastic  texture of the aida makes it difficult to use an embroidery hoop, there is some puckering between the words.
Here is the patch alongside its companion piece. Only three more patches to go, and then it’s the scary part; piecing together the quilt by hand.
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Don't interrupt me, the stars are tessellating


Another week, another patch of The Constellation Quilt completed.
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This phrase, “Don’t interrupt me, the stars are tessellating” could be spoken by the hero to the heroine in a clichéd romantic scene in a musical or melodrama. The stars are often associated with romance, and this is something I wanted to pick up on in the quilt.
This phrase is one which I cross stitched when I first began embroidering, one of those phrases that comes to you and persists, nonsensical though it may be.
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Of course, the stars can’t really tessellate; that is, unless they appear in a quilt, for which there are many tessellating stars patterns, one of which I based the motif of this patch on. As I’m keeping the quilt’s construction very simple, I wanted to make reference to the more complicated star patterns here.
The patch is something of a stitch sampler, with back stitch, running stitch, stem stitch and chain stitch all featuring. You can’t tell from the scan, but the thread of the text is in two different shades of gold; I picked it up on a bountiful recent visit to Wroxham.

Polly Kettle


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My Polly Kettle patches for The Constellation Quilt are all finished! Next comes the trickiest step so far; getting out the graph paper and figuring out what the proportions of the quilt will be. I envision half size rectangles between these squares, embroidered with found text and my own, and appliquéd with moths (there they are again) and moons.
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I”m so loving the rich colours of these patches, and their mystical patterns.
To get myself in the mood to write and quilt I’ve written a Polly Kettle-inspired piece, which I’m going to share here, although it’s very much free, stream-of-consciousness verse, and I’m not sure if it’s finished or not yet. Polly is an occultist, part witch, part fortune teller, part medium, and so this piece has occult or supernatural themes:
Gossamer muslin blossoming out of gossiping mouths speaking in tongues and sipping mixed spirits, mixing with spirits, leaving ghostly lipsticks on spritzer glasses and crystal tumblers, wiped away with a white ‘kerchief; a parlour full of parlour tricks, above the mantelpiece the old clock ticks. It is well past the witching hour, and we are bewitching, we are divining, and we are divine, on the divan we deviate, we divide and conquer the dead and the living.
We swoon, we cry for the moon, eyes big as flying saucers, full as a saucer of milk. We three sisters, hag, maiden, whore. It has to be one or the other, the spinster, the mother, the fresh-baked home-wrecker with her wrecking ball.
Hush now sisters; I see a tall dark stranger in my future, the future’s mine, the future’s bright, mine eyes have seen the glory of the ghoulish night, and I’m a moth to my future’s white hot flame, my turban is tattered and unravelling, and I’m suddenly a slip of a thing, thinner than a paper moon, and I see a girl naked in front of her lover, I see my lover in soft focus, vaseline smeared on the glass, I must wait for my crystal ball to clear of mist, I must adjust my lens.
As explained in this article, “ectoplasm” that was produced during Victorian and Edwardian seances was, in fact, muslin, or some other thin natural substance, hence my mention of “gossamer muslin blossoming out of gossiping mouths“.
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I’m currently collating all the writing I can on stars to get me inspired for the small passages of poetry which will make up some of the patches spaced between the Polly Kettle squares. As well as writing my own snippets, Virginia Woolf’s The Waves is proving a mine of stellar imagery. It was given to me by Pip for Valentine’s Day, and by coincidence was going to have moths as its central motif, not waves… I’m sure this will act as inspiration for the lunar moth(s) I’m going to add to The Constellation Quilt!

The beginnings of The Constellation Quilt


Yesterday I accompanied my Granny to a quilting workshop at the Kilchoan Learning Centre. I went along partially as research for The Constellation Quilt. However, I think my quilt will be rather less elaborate in construction than the table mats we were aiming to make; I didn’t get very far at all, and my efforts came out very wonky!
Despite this, the workshop provided a wealth of inspiration, as Joan Kelly, the workshop leader, introduced us to many quilts she had made over the years, all with their own stories and techniques. I was particularly intrigued by her use of three dimensional applique. A border stem was painstakingly rendered by tucking and sewing the rough edge underneath the flowing shape. Even more inspirational was Joan’s exquisite hand quilting. When the quilt has been finished and bound together, a design is sketched in dissolvable pen, and executed in running stitch all over the quilt. I think I’ll be brave and try this embroidery quilting technique on The Constellation Quilt.
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I particularly liked this jewel print fabric, the backing of a quilt for Joan’s son.
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My paltry efforts!
The beginnings of The Constellation Quilt are going rather more successfully (but then again, I haven’t sewn any of  it together yet!) I am currently spelling out my witchy fortune teller character Polly Kettle’s name in appliqué on squares of African print fabric in rich purples and golds; stardust colours.
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I hope to have Polly’s “surname” finished soon, and then it’s on to embroidered and cross stitched sections of the quilt.

Winter's End


A week before the season’s end, I’ve finished my winter project. What To Look For In Winter? ends on a slightly melancholy note, with the heroine, who is now ready for a new season and new love, wondering what to look for when the weather turns colder again.
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But what to
look for
in winter?
The yellow thread that I chose to embroider the phrase picks up the celandine and coltsfoot blossoms in the illustration, and contrasts with the blue moth print paper which lines the index.
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Moths will continue as a motif in my next project. Now that I’ve finished my modest winter undertaking, I feel ready for a  more ambitious make; I’m going to attempt my first quilt. The Constellation Quilt will focus on my character Polly Kettle,  and writing about  the stars and night.
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In the meantime, here’s the completed What To Look For In Winter, a winter’s worth of writing and sewing.

Mothball Moments


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Mothball moments
Tumbleweed moments
Rolling on through the hours,
the years,
rolling on through 
the centuries.
This page is about the inertia of depression, when it can feel like the whole world is wintry and pressing down on you, yet passing you by. This is how the heroine of What To Look For In Winter feels, wedded to the cold-hearted Winter.
I wasn’t quite sure how to incorporate the imagery of the farmer into the last couple of pages of What To Look For In Winter; he didn’t quite fit in with my intended narrative. A tenuous link I can make is that the earth is rolled by the plough, just as the moments roll past the heroine of the fairytale.
As with the earlier “When I married Winter, the world was put on permafrost” page, I tore through the paper slightly with needle and thread, and patched up the reverse of my embroidered page with another embroidery, a fallen oak leaf which I imagine may be one of the fallen leaves of the illustration opposite the leaf, which features my very favourite animal (the fox, not the hounds!)
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