Tincture of Milk Thistle

I am imminently to be employed (finally!) so won't have quite as much time for making and blogging, at least for the next couple of weeks.
 At some point during that time I'm hoping to squeeze in getting the eighth and final page of Milk Thistle done, because, as of today, page seven is finished!
This page is based around a wise old crone; a white witch called the White Lady, who has some advice on bravery to impart to the young Milk Thistle.
The text reads:
The White Lady came to me. She told me
"Dab tincture of milk thistle under your weeping eyes.
It's good for the liver
and you need all the unlilying you can get.
Remember you're a milk thistle;
a tenacious weed"

The page is illustrated with the very tincture the witch describes. Milk Thistle is indeed used to treat liver problems (although in this case is used metaphorically, to treat a "lily liver"; to treat cowardice).

I'm quite pleased with the way the page has come together, particularly the tincture. I've got some puzzling over how best to portray the final page, though!

Helenium: tears

The sixth and latest page of Milk Thistle is one of my favourites, possibly because it is about crying, which one could argue is my very favourite theme (see here, here, and also here).

I stitched some stanzas of Keats's Ode on Melancholy on to a handkerchief (aptly), and based the illustration to accompany the lines on this illustration from a book that I snagged from my Mum's work:

But more on that later.

The reason why tears feature prominently on this page is because it is based around a Kensitas Flowers card featuring Helenium, a flower which, in Greek mythology, grew where Helen wept.

Consequently, the text I have written and stitched for the page reads

Nobody brought me a bedside bouquet,

but everywhere I wept, flowers sprung,

until I watered a meadow

To accompany the Kensitas Flower, I stitched the following line from Keats's On Melancholy on to my handkerchief:

But when the melancholy fit shall fall

Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,

That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,

And hides the green hill in an April shroud

as I felt they were appropriate. The eye illustration that accompanies the text is the "weeping cloud" of the poem.

There are only two more pages to go now, and then I can (finally) stitch the whole thing together. It's been a long commitment but I think it will pay off.

The bright fairy bower

The third page of Milk Thistle deals with Romantic (with a capital R) preoccupations with sickliness, and the cult of the (myth of the?) tortured artist.


The text reads:
Down in the thicket, the bright fairy bower
I am sickly and fey, I'm a delicate flower
Up in my garret, my ivory tower,
I wax and I wane, I pale by hour
I've surrounded the words with a garland of ribbon roses and tiny beaded blooms, and a thicket of wild flowers springs from the page.

Shrinking Violet

This second page of Milk Thistle deals with the preoccupation with weak and feeble females in 18th and 19th Century literature, and with the tendency of women to be self-effacing and apologetic for taking up space in a patriarchal society.

The text reads:

"I'll twist my ankle attempting to commune with nature and fall deep in the shaded wood, become a shrinking violet, growing smaller and smaller until one day I simply vanish".

The words themselves grow smaller and smaller almost to the point of vanishing. The page's pocket is a Valentine's card from the 50s which proclaims "Don't Be A Shrinking Violet" "Come right out and say it", throwing up the hypocrisy of a world which tells women to keep their mouths shut and then characterises them as weak. Inside is the Victorian beadwork depicting a pair of violets which I stitched way back in April.

This is stitched on to a background fabric of a typical mid-century ditzy print quilting cotton in shades of violet.

The next page will deal with Romantic preoccupations with sickliness.

Treasures For Your Troubles

Once again, I'm back to my old tricks of hipster bingo (typewriting on Polaroids). This time around though, my efforts are a bit more considered. I hadn't bought Polaroid film in years, but when the idea for my Treasures For Your Troubles project popped into my head, I knew I had to get my hands on some for a very special shoot.

The idea of covering myself in gold stars, mundane rewards for struggling or succeeding through life, struck me as an arresting image, and one which would work particularly well in the soft tones of Polaroids. I'd written a few lines of sing-song poetry on the theme, which I decided to type on the frames of the Polaroids with my cursive typewriter (how analogue can you get?!) If you want to get really pretentious, I could say this was something of a self-care or self-affirming ritual. Or I could say it was just an excuse to cover myself in glitter (though who needs an excuse?)

This project is a celebration of the human spirit in all its absurdity, mess, and glory, and I think the ink smudges (which I dreamily imagine could be tear stains) and blotchily developed photographs, in all their beautiful imperfection, demonstrate this.

More Treasures For Your Troubles to follow...

"When the gorse is out of bloom, then is kissing out of fashion"

English Rose
Your lips
have thawed
And there’s a
in your step.
This penultimate page of What To Look For In Winter harks back to the very first page, which addresses the English Rose heroine of the tale/poem:
The coming of spring has freed the English Rose from the cruel clutches of Winter, and now her heart and lips have thawed and she is ready for new life and new love. Only now will she truly “wilt no more“. There is a link between the original text and my own writing on this penultimate page; the mention of the folklore surrounding gorse and kissing and my mention of thawed lips, just as I wrote that the heroine’s lips were “too chapped and dry to kiss” on this page, which mentions and shows mistletoe:
Only one more page to stitch, and then I will embark on possibly my most ambitious project yet; a narrative quilt on the subject of the stars.


I actually began embroidering this piece during my holiday in the Highlands last summer. I think I was a little daunted by taking on an embroidery this size, and by the amount of satin stitch required to shade those arms, but now that I have more time on my hands I’ve picked it up again and finally finished it (and at quite a remarkable rate!)
As Alvy Singer says in Annie Hall: “Sylvia Plath – interesting poetess whose tragic suicide was misinterpreted as romantic by the college girl mentality“. I couldn’t help adding a dash of dark humour with the sweet treat cupcakes and the perfectly painted fingernails juxtaposed with the foreboding text. By a sheer coincidence it happens to be the 50th anniversary of the publication of Plath’s seminal novel The Bell Jar, and of the poet’s untimely death, this February. Of course, some Plath fans would say that I am distastefully poking fun at suicide with this piece. And to them I would say, you have to laugh or else you’d cry (or is that a little too facetious?)
In a way this piece is dedicated to my teenage years when I wrote atrocious poetry and a part of me really did want to be Sylvia Plath. Thank goodness I’m past that now (not sure I’m over the atrocious poetry though).
P.S. This post would just not be complete without a mention of incorrectsylviaplathquotes.tumblr.com, which does what is says on the tin. Peruse at your leisure.

"To speak is to thread and the thread weaves the world"

Liz Whitehouse introduced me to this gorgeous poem by Cecilia Vicuña (translated by Rosa Alcalá). Thanks Liz!

Word & Thread

Word is thread and the thread is language.
Non-linear body.
A line associated to other lines.
A word once written risks becoming linear,
but word and thread exist on another dimensional plane.
Vibratory forms in space and in time.
Acts of union and separation.

The word is silence and sound.
The thread, fullness and emptiness.


The weaver sees her fiber as the poet see her word.
The thread feels the hand, as the word feels the tongue.
Structures of feeling in the double sense
of sensing and signifying,
the word and the thread feel our passing.

Is the word the conducting thread, or does thread conduct the word-
Both lead to the centre of memory, a way of uniting and connecting.
A word carries another word as thread searches for thread.
A word is pregnant with other words and a thread contains
other threads within its interior.
Metaphors in tension, the word and the thread carry us beyond
threading and speaking, to what unites us, the immortal fiber.
To speak is to thread and the thread weaves the world.

In the Andes, the language itself, Quechua, is a cord of twisted straw,
two people making love, different fibers united.
To weave a design is pallay, to raise the fibers, to pick them up.
To read in Latin is legere, to pick up.
The weaver is both weaving and writing a text
that the community can read.
An ancient textile is an alphabet of knots, colors and directions
that we can no longer read.
Today the weaving no only "represent," they themselves are
one of the being of the Andean cosmogony. (E. Zorn)
Ponchos, llijllas, aksus, winchas, chuspas and chumpis are beings
who feel

and every being who feels walks covered in signs.
"The body given entirely to the function of signifying."
René Daumal
A textile is "in the state of being textile": awaska.
And one word, acnanacuna designates the clothing, the language
and the instruments for sacrifice (for signifying, I would say).

And the energy of the movement has a name and a direction: lluq'i,to the left, paña, to the right.
A direction is a meaning and the twisting of the thread
transmits knowledge and information.
The last two movements of a fiber should be in opposition:
a fiber is made of two strands lluq'i and paña.A word is both root and suffix : two antithetical meanings in one.
The word and the thread behave as processes in the cosmos.

The process is a language and a woven design is a process re-
presenting itself.
"An axis of reflection," says Mary Frame:
"the serpentine
attributes are images of the fabric structure,"
The twisted strands become serpents
and the crossing of darkness and light, a diamond star.
"Sprang is a weftless technique, a reciprocal action whereby the
interworking of adjacent elements with the fingers duplicates itself
above and below the working area."

The fingers entering the weave produce in the fibres
a mirror image of its movement, a symmetry that reiterates "the concept
of complementarity that imbues Andean thought."
The thread dies when it is released, but comes alive in the
the tension gives it a heart.
judgement and reason, the wood's core, the stem's central
The word and the thread are the heart of the community.
In order to dream, the diviner sleeps on fabric made of wik'uña.
is heart and guts, stomach and conscience, memory, judgement and reason, the wood's core, the stem's central
The word and the thread are the heart of the community.
In order to dream, the diviner sleeps on fabric made of wik'uña.

Jen Bervin

On the more conceptual (rather than figurative) side of embroidery, my CEP tutor has just introduced me to the work of Jen Bervin.

Bervin uses needle and thread to "map"; mapping the punctuation and markings in manuscripts of Emily Dickinson's poetry in The Dickinson Fascicles, mapping the Mississippi in a scale model composed of hand-sewn silver sequins.

The Dickinson Composites, Granary Books, 2010
Unbound pages and sewn samples from the Dickinson Fascicles

The Composite Marks of Fascicles 40, 16, 38, and 34. Sewn cotton batting backed with muslin. Each quilt is 6 ft high by 8 ft wide.
The River (Mississippi Meander Belt). Hand sewn sequins on tyvek, mull, and paper. 230 curvilinear ft, 2010

Bervin seamlessly blends writing and embroidery, using embroidery to embellish and alter the poetry of John Van Dyke with "atmospheric fields of pale blue zigzag stitching to construct a poem “narrated by the air” — “so clear that one can see the breaks.”

Page detail, The Desert, Granary Books, 2008

The Desert follows in the tradition of altered books, the most famous of which is Tom Phillip's A Humument. However, unlike most altered books, where the unwanted text is simply censored or obliterated, the obscured text in The Desert can still be made out through the machine-stitched blue thread. This offers the viewer several different readings.

William, It Was Really Something

Ah yes, the obligatory referencing of a Smiths song. My indie stock just went up by several hundred points. I digress.

Inspired by Walthamstow's greatest export, William Morris (or as I like to call him, "Willie Mozza"), I will be writing a love letter to "The Stow" and then translating it into stitch. I wrote a piece in this vein for Dartington at the end of my time there. I suspect this piece will be slightly less gushing however, as my relationship with Walthamstow is rather more complicated than my girlish crush on Dartington ever was.

William Morris

Collaboration With Joe Donohoe

Today I recorded a spoken word piece with good friend and composer/ambient musician Joe Donohoe. We will be working together for the duration of The Cure For Love project, translating my poetry and prose poetry on love into sound pieces. These will include sound textures from Walthamstow in East London, where we both hail from, together with Joe's own original compositions.

Joe performing Hope/For Daniel at the Secret Garden, at Bossanyi Studios in West London:

Too Wit To Woo

The text reads:


Too intellectual to function
Too intellectual to eat luncheon
I survive on a diet of musty books and air
I'm pallid and wan, I'm fey and fair
And I'm far too academic for affection
I'm hard at work practising the studious purse of my lips
I've hired horn rimmed glasses I can hardly see through
I've acquired a socially stunting lisp
My minds is filled with higher things
Than Gretna Green and wedding rings
And in the evening the owls coo
"Too wit to woo, too wit to woo".

Poesie Grenadine/The Cure for Love

Poesie Grenadine
I first encountered the phrase “poésie grenadine” in a French text book. In fact the full phrase was “la poésie du coleur grenadine”. From what I can recall it pertained to the cloyingly saccharine writing which can arise from teenage romance; the poetic equivalent of purple prose.
It has since become my online alias. This is apt as I write primarily about love and loss (and other “little l’s”); knowingly, willingly or not, I’m sure I often stumble into “poésie grenadine”.

The Cure for Love
The Cure for Love was originally the title of a community arts project to be run by the Plymouth based social arts company Effervescent. The project would culminate in an artwork made in collaboration with young and older members of the Plymouth community, on the subject of “love and loss, the things you want to forget, and how to get over a broken heart”. The plan was for me to join Effervescent in devising and running the project as part of my Contextual Enquiry Project (CEP). Sadly the project fell through, but the title stuck with me. Now that my writing practise had expanded to include embroidery, I had begun to consider ways in which I could assimilate The Cure for Love into this practise. I decided on embroidering shortened passages from my longer writings on love, complete poems, and found phrases, together with sewn illustrations. Instead of “Knitting a Love Song”, as the 2004 short film suggests, I will sew love poems, labouring (with love) over each stitch.
Originally the embroidery aspect of my CEP was conceived as merely a supplement to the community arts project. Now, however, it can expand into a much wider undertaking.
 When I met with Ellie, the founder of Effervescent, to discuss my involvement with the project, she told me that she was “obsessed with love”. A housemate who writes a column for a gay magazine refers to me in it as “The Hopeless Romantic”; love, therefore, is an obsession I share with Ellie, and with you for the next few months.