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.



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!


Tomato, you say?!

Earlier this week, my best and oldest friend Ruth came over for a very special cookery lesson (for both of us!) We were going to attempt Christine's Tomato Jam recipe, with a twist; on my colleague Debs's excellent suggestion, we added a helping of chilli to the mix.

We had all the necessary ingredients: sugar, TOMATOES, balsamic vinegar, chilli flakes, butter (not shown are the cumin, chilli powder, cayenne pepper and lemon juice we later decided to chuck in... it was a very organic progress, dreadful pun very much intended.)


These photos may make me look like something of a task master, but I was having a bad hair/face/everything day, and so decided to focus largely on Ruth! She was most obliging.




Ah, there I am finally getting stuck in, transferring fruit to pan.




Just so you know, this isn't even approaching the amount of sugar recommended in the recipe...



The mixture needed a brisk stir from time to time (I did some as well as Ruth, honest!



See!


Ruth could hardly contain her excitement at the prospect of tomato chilli jam:



The resulting tomato-y, chilli-y goodness:


 Very necessary jam-tasting post-jar filling:



Ruth had created a beautiful (and humorous!) message for her jar: "Don't be greedy, feed the needy", complete with ingredients and GROW information bright pink label and fish shaped beads! A crafty lady indeed!



Ruth was very happy with the very tasty result. All that remains is for her to decide who to pass the jam on to, to spread the GROW message further. Any ideas?