Just Say NO Potion

I finished last week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion yesterday (and had completed the majority of it by Saturday evening), but it was a rather hectic weekend, hence why I'm only just blogging about it now.

I am gradually being contacted more about commissions, purchasing work, and doing arts events. It seems surprising somehow that people are parting with their cash for what I do, and it's hard not to a) be overwhelmed and b) say yes to every opportunity.


I am trying to remember that I am a finite resource with a salaried job and there is only so much I can do. It would be wonderful to say yes to every opportunity that appealed to me, whether it was paid or not, but I have to accept that I'm human! I need funds and I also need rest. Occasionally.


It is difficult sometimes, being an artist. You never really get a day off. Then again, that's your choice; you wouldn't do it if you didn't love it, and if you're like me and have a particularly over-active brain, getting those thoughts out into a physical entity can be very helpful, even necessary.

If you start to become a little more well known and success seems to be beckoning, you have to work harder and harder to maintain your standing; it snowballs and you have to hang on for dear life and put your nose to the grindstone.


But you also have to deal with the mundanities of day to day life. With the laundry. With feeding yourself. With feeding pets. With the basics that everyone has to do. And if, God forbid, you would like to occasionally have some down time or let off some steam, you will sometimes have to just say no.


Which is why last week's potion reads "You don't have to say YES to everything."

It's accompanied by the E17 Art Trail logo, as the Trail kicked off on May 30th. I have an exhibition at Venue 68, and this weekend hosted a couple of #secretsofselfpreservation embroidery workshops, which I will blog about over the next few days (I have quite a backlog!)




Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of 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.











Golden Tears



I apologise if I've just got this naff-ly catchy little number stuck in your head; it's been in mine all day. That's because I've made a start on my goldwork module at the Royal School of Needlework. I've chosen quite a striking image for my design; an art-nouveau inspired eye with a single tear drop. One of my tutors today also thought it had quite a Sixties vibe.





I've started couching down some Japanese thread on to the upper eyelid in a brick pattern; it's very satisfying getting a smooth curve with no gaps. Hopefully I'll have that all finished by the end of the day tomorrow.

I'm really happy with the colour of silk I've used for the background fabric; in fact, it seems a very happy colour, despite the mournful subject matter! That must be why I'm enjoying the stitching so much.

Stitch For Survival

I'm currently reading an utterly unputdownable book. Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors may occasionally induce eye-rolling at the puerile preoccupations and sheer quackery of psychoanalysis, but for all that it remains a vital and fascinating case study of the treatment and interpretation of women throughout the ages. Unexpectedly, it also throws light on attitudes to needlework over the years, from the opinions of proto-feminists to the most famous mind doctor of them all.

Two famous Marys decried embroidery as a subjugating, dullifying activity that diverted women's attentions away from more intellectual pursuits, and ultimately, away from their emancipation.


 Mary Lamb, early nineteenth century co-author of the enduringly popular Tales from Shakespeare, even wrote that "Needle-work and intellectual improvement are naturally in a state of warfare". Indeed, literature of the early 1800s would lead us to believe that women were forever busied with their "work", hands industriously sewing away creating embroideries of questionable usefulness or purpose, kept in the home at their embroidery frames rather than in the same spheres as "great" men. 





Mary Wollstonecraft, in her watershed text A Vindication of the Rights of Women, perhaps for the first time in English literature, urges men to treat women as equals, and speak to them rationally. In fact, it is almost as if she does not believe women are the fragile little flowers men would make them out to be, capable only of embroidering yet more fragile little flowers rather than turning their minds to more lofty pursuits. Curious.


Now, as a feminist and an embroiderer, I am of course a little sceptical that needlework and so-called lofty pursuits are incompatible. Embroidery gives me space to mull things over in my mind; to ponder everything from the intellectual to the banal. Aside from that, the shared roots of textiles and written text offer an endless source for scholarly research and a rich artistic practice. What I will allow is that it is a calming past-time; one does get into somewhat of a meditative state, and this brings me to my favourite needlework-related quotation of all time, from the granddaddy of psychoanalysis, Mr Sigmund Freud:


"(Hypnoid states) it would seem, grow out of the day-dreams which are so common even in healthy people and to which needlework and similar occupations render women especially prone".





Women are also more prone to these "hypnoid states" because they are the weaker sex (disallowing, of course, the fact that many of them pull off the superhuman equivalent of shoving a watermelon up their nose during labour). For all his sexual liberation, Freud was no feminist, as his theory that women longed for a totemic penis of their very own (thus implying that they were deficient men) indicates. However, it is interesting to me that Freud views embroidery as dangerous; perhaps he's investing a little too much symbolic power in that needle? It reminds me of another quotation I came across once, from the French novelist Colette, concerning her daughter; "she is silent when she sews, silent for hours... she is silent, and she - why not write it down the word that frightens me - she is thinking."


God, forbid, a thinking woman. Dangerous. A woman thinking under cover of an innocent womanly pursuit; doubly so.


Now that I'm studying at the Royal School of Needlework, sewing doesn't often occasion daydreaming for me any more; but when I first picked up a needle, my mind was in turmoil, and the repetitive process both afforded me an occupation (much like the "woman's work" of the 19th Century) and soothed me. In many ways, it was my salvation. It has since become my career path, but it's much more personal than that; I have embroidery to thank, at least partially, for pulling me out of the darkest period of my life.

Despite Freud's misgivings, needlework has since been recognised as an effective form of occupational therapy; following the second world war, shell-shocked soldiers were encouraged to complete embroidery kits as part of their convalescence. More recent studies suggest that the act of embroidery has a physiological effect, regulating heart beat and breathing, triggering "the relaxation response". I myself feel much more relaxed reclining on the sofa with the telly on if I have a bit of stitching in my hands (although that may have more to do with being hooked on needlework than with its calming effect).

An up and coming designer and girl after my own heart, Hannah Hill, recently put into words (and pictures) my own feelings about the salvation of embroidery, summing them up in one of her typically apt and succinct phrases, "Stitch For Survival".




She's surrounded the phrase with tattoo-style illustrations, including a self portrait and her trademark Ghoul Guides badges that she sells in her Etsy shop, and my favourite touch, which one might miss in a quick glance; a tear falling from the eye socket of the skull and crossbones. A reminder that surviving isn't always easy, but that stitching helps.



Cottoning On




As my training at the Royal School of Needlework progresses, I'm finding that some embroidery techniques take a little longer to get the hang of than others. Right from the offset of my blackwork, I felt completely at ease and enraptured by the medium. Silk shading has been a little more counter-intuitive, and it took 'til at least halfway through the project for me to get to grips with the smooth shading required. So the final result isn't perfect, but I am still pretty happy with it, and I'm raring to do another! I think I'd like to do a silk shaded milk thistle for artist's book #3...

Satan's Mushroom in progress

My Boletus Satanas silk shaded mushroom is a few days away from finished. I'm not quite as enamoured with silk shading as I was with my blackwork; I don't feel I've "got" the technique yet, but I suppose it's very difficult to in such a short space of time. I do love the subject and colours though, I just wish they were a bit, well, silkier! All silk shaded RSN Certificate pieces must include a turnover in a flower petal or leaf, so I've included a vivid green oak leaf at the base of the mushroom, and that certainly has quite a sheen so far.












After my silk shading is complete, I'll be doing a six week module in the RSN studio. During that time, I'll be sampling beadwork techniques, which I will share here. Then it's on to gold work, the design for which is forming in my mind, and involves, er, crying... as so much of my previous work has done!

The long and short of it


My Boletus Satanas (or Devil's Mushroom, to you and I) silk shading is underway. And despite approaching silk shading with some trepidation, I am rather enjoying it. It really is like painting with needle and thread, blending all those long and short stitches together...




Such rich magentas and burgundy, blending to apricot and ghastly green tones... it really is quite a ghoulish mushroom!


The stalk is almost finished, and then I'll be moving on to the slimey, shiny cap, which may prove a challenge, although if it didn't, what would I be learning? Fingers crossed I continue to enjoy the process and am satisfied with the end result.

Stitchgasm


Celia Johnson (and her backside) were featured on the Mr X Stitch website on Saturday! And what's more, Leigh of LeighLaLovesYou who curates the Stitchgasm feature described Celia as "flawless"! Now, I know that isn't true, but I'll take a stitchy compliment when I get it! Thanks so much, Leigh!



Celia Johnson by Posie Grenadine

Celia Johnson by Posie Grenadine

Celia Johnson

You might have noticed I'd disappeared from these parts for a wee while. Well, that's because I've been busy tackling blackwork... oh, and celebrating my twenty third birthday with a cocktail or two.

Celia Johnson just needs the final RSN seal of approval and then, fingers crossed, she'll be mounted on Thursday, ready to be assessed and then framed.

And I must say I'm rather chuffed with her! She's been a pleasure to stitch from start to finish, with only a few hair-raising moments.

Here is the screenshot I based my blackwork on:



 Here is the final result:


And here are all the stages in between (I got a bit snap happy as time went on!):




















Onwards and upwards to silk shading come Monday; I'll be stitching a Boletus satanas, or "Devil's mushroom"... alongside an innocent little oak leaf.

In black and white



One of my first embroideries was based on Brief Encounter. I believe it will always be one of my favourite films (to be watched with a box of tissues close to hand!) It crops up as a reference again and again in my writing as well, and so for my latest RSN piece I decided to embroider its star, Celia Johnson, in her role as Laura Jesson.



A favourite band from my adolescence, Patti Plinko and Her Boy, cemented my love of Brief Encounter in their song Brief Call (which sadly I now can't find anywhere on the internet). In the song, a woman with a cut-glass English accent implores to a telephone operator that she wants to talk to Celia Johnson (one of their later songs is entitled Tapestry Stitches; clearly Patti Plinko and I are destined to be!) The crackly, seductive-yet-sinister voice of Patti Plinko seared the character Celia Johnson into my brain; in my spoken word piece Kiss the Book, I later wrote that "You and I might be the last remaining sufferers of Celia Johnson Syndrome, forsaking feelings for public decency, drinking to loosen stiff upper lips, awakening to find starched white surgical ruffs buttoned back up beyond the collar."

The black and white, austerity Britain, "keep calm and carry on" vibe of the film (apt as it was made during the war) translates well to blackwork, the technique I'm currently learning at the Royal School of Needlework. 


I wouldn't have expected it as I'm pants at maths, but I've really taken to counted thread techniques; perhaps there's something slightly obsessive about my personality?! Making those tiny little geometric stitches in counts of two threads a time certainly is satisfying; I find the octagonal square pattern I'm using to shade Celia's face with particularly hypnotic.






Teeny tiny waffle pattern making up Celia's hair


Blackwork is very crisp, and perhaps the closest embroidery technique to hand drawing. My favourite pieces to stitch prior to starting at the RSN were black and white illustrations from early-twentieth century children's books, so I was particularly looking forward to starting this technique:







In fact, my initial design for blackwork more closely resembled these illustrations; it was based on a character from my stories and stitchings, Polly Kettle:


However, my tutors decided that this design would be too flat, as blackwork, as opposed to just black on white stitching, is all about shading and dimensionality, and the use of negative space. So we plumped for this screenshot of Celia instead (only severely cropped!):


I will be sharing blow-by-blow progress over on Instagram, so do head on over if you want to see my stitchy (and other!) goings-on.


Coral garden in bloom

Over the weeks, working on my Canvas Stitches piece has transformed from a love hate relationship to a real labour of love. It's not perfect, but all things considered I'm very proud of it.

Today I put the finishing touches to the tapestry, with a few beads and sequins (or, to use the RSN term, spangles) and a little weaving of sparkly thread to cover up tiny areas where a few threads of the canvas below the stitching peeked through (a not inconsiderable amount of embroidery is subterfuge...)


Perhaps it's all the sparkly thread and shiny beads that have made this piece so enjoyable to stitch; I've always been a magpie, and when I started to add the first sparkly thread in the classroom, I did a little dance in my seat.

I particularly enjoyed adding the little flower-shaped spangles to my pink sea anemones in a random pattern; perhaps they're open ready to catch passing fish? They add a nice bit of dimension and variety to this area.




I've spent many hours blending threads in the needle to create what is hopefully a subtle gradation throughout the piece.



Try as I might to stretch the canvas as taught as possible, when I added the underwater jewels-toned border it didn't turn out quite straight; I suppose I will see if my tutors have any suggestions on Monday... 


I'm going to spend tomorrow sampling a few different blackwork stitches ready for my next RSN project; I will share my design and beginnings of blackwork here soon. Now that I've had a good day's stitching, however, I'm going to try turning my hand to a different craft; lino printing on to denim. Wish me luck!

Merry Witchmas

I'm back in London to spend New Year's Eve with my closest friends. Our house is on Christmas wind-down, with not a scrap of turkey in sight, but with holly and baubles woven through the staircase and festive lights in the bay window.


One of my latest hobby-stitchings is perhaps more apt for Halloween than Christmas-time; a heart shaped brooch adorned with antique lace advertising "Witchy Woo Dating Agency" (I told you a couldn't resist a pun).


The brooch will shortly be up for sale in the Poesie Grenadine Etsy shop, which should be up and running in early January.


I did wonder if the potion bottle needed any fabric paint to define its shape and lines further; what do you think?

In other witchy news, I am still working on my Polly Kettle quilt, which is more like a comic strip or open book all about the East End fortune telling siren of the title. In the latest patch under construction, Polly is draped over a paper moon, clutching her crystal ball, in an illustrative style reminiscent of photographs of trapeze artists from the early 20th Century. I plan on painting an inky fabric paint sky in the background, and some pearls... hopefully soon all will be revealed...


All that remains is for me to wish you a very happy New Year, and to say that I will see you on the other side with more craft to share.

Merry Stitchmas

I do apologise, I couldn't resist such a gloriously dreadful pun. I hope you have all had the merriest of Christmases with your loved ones. I have spent mine sheltering from stormy weather in the Highlands, in a little house on the hill where the festive drinks flow readily.

Aside from eating and drinking far too much, I was determined this festive season to finish all the groundwork of my Canvas Stitches, ready for decorative beading and surface stitching when I get back to London.

Well, two days after Christmas I have finally done it. Here are the results:







It hasn't been easy, but, as the Tailor of Gloucester would say in my favourite of Christmas films, "I am worn to a ravelling, but 'tis done." Cashmere Stitch, Victorian Step, Byzantine, Jacquard, Tent Stitch, Button Hole Stitch, Satin Stitch, French Knots, Upright Cross, Romanian Couching, Hungarian Grounding, Parisian Stitch and Eyelets all feature. Phew!

I did find time to make merry, however, and dressed myself up more glitzy than a Christmas bauble on the 25th; my Grannie proclaimed "It's Christmas!" when she saw me. Here's a Christmas selfie to prove it:





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!


Away with the Fairies

When I was a little girl, one of my aunts delighted in buying me a t shirt which proclaimed that I was "away with the fairies". As an adult who is still very much away with the fairies, I have of late had a hankering for that shirt (though I wager it would have to be scaled up several sizes!)

I decided to commit that beloved (if ruefully worn) phrase to cloth, as an antidote to the serious stitchy business of RSN embroidery. However, some of my training so far has seeped in there, and padded satin (the mushroom caps), bullion (the gills, or frilly bits to you and me), and raised stem band (the stalks) stitches all make an appearance in what I think is quite a pretty, if slightly puckered, little patch.


The background is a donated fabric from the bounty I mentioned in my last post. Here are some more of the glorious 60s quilting cottons which have been bestowed upon me:


It's nice to make something "for me" again, and get a little practise of techniques whilst doing so. I tried not to worry too much about "getting it right" and just go with the flow. This little fairy ring stitch sampler was inspired in no small part by the season, and by the beautiful embroideries of one of my favourite up and 
coming indie designers, Rachel Parent, aka The Old Milk Lake.
Still trying to make the most of Autumn's richness before Winter really sets in
Currently can't resist anything fungi and sewing related... I've got a stash of toadstool print fleecy fabric too, which may become the most adorable needlecase in existence







Putting one stitch in front of another

Hello all. Where oh where have I been for the past month and a half? Well, I've been feeling under the weather, in many ways quite literally; the storm that huffed and puffed and blew our neighbour opposite's fence down didn't help. This time of year hits me hard, but at long last I seem to be emerging from the big black maelstrom that was gathering above my head.

In the winter months I find solace in posting loved ones little treats, in an effort to raise our collective spirits as the nights draw in and the days grow shorter.


I have also been spring cleaning (so appropriate for November, I know), and my bedroom is finally an approximation of what I've been wishing it to be for years (though there's still bunting to be put up; one can never have too much bunting...). More importantly, however, my room is clean and tidy, which I must say is something of a revelation to me. Who knew this would lead to me actually knowing where things are?! The plan now is to apply my (somewhat idiosyncratic) organisational methods (business cards go in a box with embroidered patches, obviously) to the makeshift "studio" in the loft, which is currently crammed to bursting with fabric, thread and other gubbins.

Noelle the narwhal "helping" me get organised
And yet more gubbins are pouring in; I seem to be becoming a receptacle for all the unloved fabric and needlecraft equipment that has been languishing in the attics of loved ones and acquaintances; not that I'm complaining in the slightest! I've had a surfeit of gorgeous '60s and '70s quilting cottons of late, and other bits and bobs which aren't quite to my taste are taking a little trip to Significant Seams to be turned into all manner of exciting textile-y goodness.

A little peg lady who sat atop a swag bag of fabrics donated to me; I think she looks like a little mini-me, don't you?

Besides gathering a snowball of beautiful fabrics, there is so much else to look forward to right now; mine and Pip's two year (really??) anniversary is coming up on December 1st; Christmas holed up in the Highlands with my family and an almost obscene amount of delicious food; returning to Hampton Court in January invigorated and ready to give my training in the ancient art of hand embroidery my all. Until then, I shall be taking time to look after myself and enjoy the season, and above all simply putting one stitch in front of another.

A rainbow on my window one recent morning reminded me to be grateful for the little things in life



"Working towards normality": the story of my life

Tea, comforting films, Pip, and the spirit of the Suffragettes are helping me power through


Colours of the deep blue (and green and purple and pink and orange and grey) sea

The beginnings of a coral garden


                                   
Tarnished jewel-toned seawater cottons and metallics



Jacquard Stitch (Please try to ignore the surrounding spaghetti junction; Canvas Work is like sausages; it's delicious, but you don't want to see how it was made)


Come up and see my stitchings

Sometimes I feel like my creative streak is one of those joke "can of worms" where a bouncy snake pops out. Only in this case the snake is constantly methodically working at the lid and cackling deviously to itself. I like to think that's where the figurative meaning of "unhinged" originates, but perhaps I should digress.

In any case, what I'm erratically trying to say is, I think artists are a little more unhinged than your Average Joe. Our brains are more porous, and this porosity works both ways, or at least it does in my case; art goes in, art comes out (or perhaps more accurately, everything goes in, everything comes out; not always a good thing).

It makes me think of my favourite French word: entrouvert/e, meaning "ajar" or "half open".

It has vert in it, too, green; the colour of new life, new hope.


Now I am training to be a tutor at the Royal School of Needlework (unimaginably far-off though the intended end result may currently seem), I'm having to keep a lid on my creative can of worms for a little while. It's a wise person who said that one has to learn the rules to break them, and that's what I am slowly, falteringly doing; learning stitches at a staggering rate, learning history and composition and my way around the Palace, and just about keeping my head above water (though my legs are working frantically beneath).


And my days working from home are spent up in the loft wedged between computers and their entrails, plonked in front of The West Wing, stitching until the light gives out. 

I like that dependence on the light; I like that it roots me within nature's rhythms, and connects me to needlewomen of the past, who stitched by the guttering of candles until their eyes were ruined.


And I like that endurance and dedication too, that almost obsessional dedication. That refusal to settle for "almost good enough", that tiny, painstaking delicacy.

"Passitivity and obedience, moreover, are the very opposite of the qualities necessary to make a sustained effort in needlework. What's required are physical and mental skills, fine aesthetic judgement in colour, texture and composition; patience during long training; and assertive individuality of design (and consequent disobedience of aesthetic convention). Quiet strength need not be mistaken for useless vulnerability." - Kate Walker (feminist embroidery artist)

I am all too aware of how vulnerable I am now, at the start of my journey; I'm like Bambi in the snow, wide-eyed and open mouthed wonderment at drawers filled with thread every colour of the sun, archival boxes of ancient textiles, the living history of Hampton Court and above all the inestimable knowledge that pours from those around me.


But I intend to soak it all up, like a sponge, like a door flung not half, but fully open. And I've begun my own efforts, paltry though they may be... slowly, slowly... stitch by stitch...







Back To School

Originally I was going to title this post "Back To (The Royal) School", but over the past two days I've begun to realise that I have so much to learn in the field of needlework that it really is like being a teary four year old in the infants' playground all over again (well, with less crying).

The view from the classroom window earlier today

Other first impressions are that the entire School runs on tea and biscuits and is full of bright, bubbly, formidably skilled and talented young (and, er, not quite as young) women... I'm yet to discover many men!

The tea and biscuit-positive culture is a particular draw for me...

After class (which consisted of lots of colour and shading work to get us thinking about how we'll use tone in our Jacobean Crewel Work), I had a wander 'round the grounds.

And that's when it really began to sink in. I will (fingers double crossed) be spending the next three years (at least) in the most beautiful setting...








I can't even begin to describe how overwhelming and wonderful and inspiring and humbling and exciting and terrifying this experience is. I have a funny feeling it will be like that the whole way through...