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.



Stitching #secretsofselfpreservation at home with perfect strangers



On Saturday I arranged all my brightly topped potion bottles, assorted ribbons, thread, scissors, pens and needles ready for a #secretsofselfpreservation stitching workshop as part of the E17 Art Trail. My accompanying exhibition is up in the front window of Venue 68 up to and including this Sunday 14th June. Details are here.


The ladies who joined me were perhaps tentative at first, but we soon shared some very personal stories and lots of self care tips.

One lady chose to embroider the phrase "Drop the filters" on her ribbon, alluding to avoiding both "rose tinted glasses" and "gloomy specs":


The lovely Erin (whose Instagram is well worth a look) named her creation Anti Peer Pressure Potion. In her own words, "Inside is scraps of a job description. On Tuesday I had an interview for a job that I knew I didn't want. The mantra says "Believe that you know what is for you"; my own take on "Trust your gut":





A lovely mother and daughter duo joined me and the three of us had a giggle while struggling with the mystifyingly tiny needles that came in the sewing kit I had bought for the workshop. Their potions read "CCC is good for the soul" (that's Coffee, Cake, and Cycling!) and "Stay Focused":





On Sunday, Sam Merkt came over for a mini workshop and to interview me about my practice as an artist who makes and works at home. Sam is studying at the London School of Economics and writing a dissertation on people who work in their home. A deceptively simple premise, but one with very rich seams; we spoke about everything from making the private public (both in terms of Tracey Emin's bed and hosting an exhibition and workshop in my parent's house), to house husbands, women's voices in the home as yet unheard becoming audible through the internet, the collapse of the welfare state to the rise of surveillance society. It was a fascinating conversation and a very enjoyable stitching session (even if I badly burnt my shoulders sitting in the sun!) and I am fascinated to hear what Sam does next and where her research takes her.






Hopefully I will soon be doing more #secretsofselfpreservation workshops and the project will snowball; Erin is already thinking about what to stitch for this week, so I may have one convert already!





The Soft Corner Shop

This month, my Instagram has been awash with images of a brilliant, seemingly simple idea; Lucy Sparrow's soft sculpture corner shop.

Deceptively simple though Lucy's concept may be - to fill a disused corner shop with hand stitched produce - don't be fooled. That hand stitching took eight months of fourteen hour shifts; as I well know, hand sewing is a very labour intensive process, particularly when, as in this case, one is attempting to faithfully replicate, in fabric, items which existed first in an entirely different medium.




When we arrived at the Corner Shop, in spite of today's dreadful wet weather, the place was buzzing. The other visitors had clearly made the same pilgrimage through the rain we had, and there were squeals of delight as they recognised much loved family favourites.




This nostalgia is partially engendered by the era that the Corner Shop is set in. Lucy has chosen to create products from the mid 90s, when she had her first job in, you guessed it, a corner shop. I barely remember Funny Feet, for example, though they were more familiar to Pip, who is a couple of years older.

Therefore this is a true labour of love on Lucy's part, and an affectionate look back at her coming of age. Over four thousand hand stitched items is no mean feat, and I take my hat off to Lucy for her sheer perseverance and vision. I can't wait for my stitched Chipsticks (how's that for 90s nostalgia?!) to arrive in the post.

















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.

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...

Frayed: Textiles on the Edge at the Time and Tide Museum




An excerpt from Lorina Bulwer's stitched letters

Every now and then, you go to an exhibition that speaks to you on such a personal level it seems tailor made for you. It was that way for me with an exhibition of feminist art at the Ben Uri Gallery in 2012, and it was that way with the Frayed exhibition I went to see at the Time and Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth last Saturday.

The exhibition centred around how stitched artworks could act as personal testament, salvation, or therapy. Large swathes of the text accompanying the exhibition could have been lifted directly from my dissertation.

Stitching began as therapy for me; a way of busying my hands so my mind could work things out, and heal. Consequently, many of the art works in the exhibition were very relatable, a couple almost painfully so.

Elizabeth Parker's sampler

I got to see one of my favourite pieces of stitch ever (which I'd studied during my degree) up close, and read every word of it. This huge sampler of blood red text sewn on to minuscule canvas was stitched by Elizabeth Parker, a young woman who lived in the 19th Century. Elizabeth begins her stitched text with the paradoxical phrase "As I cannot write"; she hoped that she would learn to write with a pen, but for the time being she could only stitch her story. And what a story; born into an impoverished family who gave her everything allowed by their limited means, abused (and even thrown down the stairs) by her former employers, Elizabeth wrangled with suicidal urges and their impact on her immortal soul. As the part-confession, part-testament continues, it moves from autobiography to prayer to desperate, uncertain plea to God, to anybody who can save her from herself and her "sins". Hauntingly, Elizabeth's sampler ends with the words "What will become of my soul?"

 Elizabeth's story ends happily, however; the blurb that accompanied the sampler told us that she lived to the grand old age of 76, and presumably accomplished her dream of learning to write, as she became a teacher in a village school. I found it heartening that Elizabeth's story reaffirms that people who struggle with mental health issues can live full, long, productive lives; that there is redemption, and that the meditative, contemplative, suturing act of embroidery can help lead to this; we can stitch ourselves back together again.


Quilts created by prisoners, in the 1800s and now
A section from one of Lorina Bulwer's stitched letters

The exhibition included examples of textiles created by individuals who had suffered many different forms of psychic blows; from kits worked by soldiers convalescing in the wake of the Second World War, to a quilt created by female prisoners under the guidance of Elizabeth Fry, to pieces created as part of a mourning process, to perhaps the most startling items in the exhibition, a series of embroidered letters painstakingly pieced together out of scraps and rags by a resident of a lunatic ward (as it was then known) of Great Yarmouth Workhouse at the turn of the 20th century. It is not clear whether this woman, Lorina Bulwer, came to the workhouse because of her mental health problems, or developed mental health problems through coming to the workhouse. Either way, I doubt her environment could have helped, and she was certainly not a well woman; in one of her extraordinary, cathartic, stream of consciousness, unsettling letters, she announces that she is the illegitimate daughter of Queen Victoria; in another she is obsessively preoccupied with hermaphrodites and Socialists, and the "ills" they have supposedly brought her.


Further excerpts from Lorina Bulwer's densely stitched letters
Her letters and her story make me glad to be alive now, when mental health issues are so much better understood and sympathised with. However, despite the hardships Lorina endured, whether at the hands of the state or her own mind turning against her, her letters have survived, and once seen, cannot be forgotten. However fragile and irrational Lorina was, I wager she was quite a tough woman, and disturbing as her stitched letters may be, they are a testament to her irrepressible spirit.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fascinating blog which can be read here.

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.


Instagram Gratification

 As the title of this post may suggest, I've become hopelessly addicted to Instagram! I've always been one to document everything, whether in words or images, and now I'm even more prone to snap away.

I've been posting blow-by-blow accounts of my Canvas Work and other stitchy pieces, and yes, I'm sorry to say, photographs of food (though I doubt many fans of the site share their fishfinger sarnies with the world; I, on the other hand, am tragically unglamorous).


If you're an Instagrammer yourself, say hi; I'm always looking out for new artists and interesting images to follow. My moniker is the very same - @poesiegrenadine. See you over there, smartphone in hand!

The quick brown fox




These crafty little fellas have been stitched up ready to go in the Poesie Grenadine Etsy shop when I reopen it in January.

The foxy fellas had been tucked away in a sparkly box for many a month, but they were just crying out to be made up into cute little brooches. And doing so afforded me the perfect opportunity to practise my blanket/buttonhole stitch and couching. I think they're rather fetching, don't you? Their leaping stance puts me in mind of the old pangram "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" More brooch designs are brewing and will be shared here shortly...

An interview on the origins of Poesie Grenadine

Recently I've been contacted by a number of different students wanting to interview me on my practice as it relates to feminism, writing, and fashion. It's a real pleasure to answer their questions (not to mention immensely flattering!), and it wasn't very long ago at all that I was bothering artists Joetta Maue and Iviva Olenick with a plethora of nosy questions for my own projects.

This interview was with a fashion journalism student who is creating a literary magazine which focuses on the marriage between poetry and fashion. I'm very excited to see the finished publication.

What came first - your love for writing or your love for sewing?

Writing came first for me. I struggled with literacy at school, but after receiving my first "proper book" (with chapters!), Horse Pie by Dick King Smith, in my stocking, one Christmas when I was seven or eight, it was like turning on a tap; the writing just poured out of me.


When did you start doing each?  Why?

With the writing, the more I put in, (in the form of novels, poetry, non-fiction, plays) the more continued to pour out of me; this continued from the Horse Pie incident and hasn't really stopped, although my writing is a lot more pared down and concise now, as it often has to be embroidered, and embroidery is a very time-consuming medium! Aside from GCSE Textiles, when I embroidered a dress I'd hand printed with unfurling fern designs, I began embroidering in earnest after a very debilitating period of mental illness three years ago, as both an occupation and a form of therapy; I found the meditative, repetitive process soothing; perhaps I was stitching my ego back together again. Occupational or art therapy, if you will!

Are there any themes (in your writing and sewing) that you constantly use in your work?

As the above may hint at, I'm particularly concerned with public (mis?)conceptions of mental illness, notions of romance (and romantic notions), pop fem(me)inism, flora and fauna, the tortured artist cliche, sickness and recovery, the English national psyche, and art which is soft, twee, delicate or "girly" as a foil to darker subtexts.



Where do you get your inspiration from?

The online embroidery and feminist art communities are a constant source of inspiration and support, and I am very grateful to them, and to the web for making them so accessible. I try to take in as many exhibitions as financially possible, and, as it did in my formative years, my reading material continues to inspire me in wonderful ways. Being in nature is, in my opinion, also really important for the creative process, and helps me breathe.


What's your creative process like?  I.e. Do you find yourself writing first and then applying that to your stitch work?

The seed of an idea for an embroidery often begins as a scribble in a notebook, or, more often than not, as a note saved in my phone! There's always rather a lot of writing and planning done before I "commit to cloth". Documentation and reflection is a very important part of my creative process, and I do this by blogging over at http://poesiegrenadine.blogspot.co.uk


What is the significance of words on clothes/accessories for everyone to read?

Words on clothing will always make a statement about the reader to passersby or the general public. Why else do people buy branded clothing than to broadcast their affluence and sophistication to the world? Similarly, my brooches convey pride in oneself and allegiance to a feminist (or femme) cause; a pride in one's womanhood.




So far, which item that you've sewn has been your personal favourite?  Why?


 It's very difficult to pick an absolute favourite embroidery I've sewn; of the embroidered accessories I've created, my "Thunder Thighs Are Go" heart shaped brooch, with its play on the Thunderbirds catchphrase and body positivity, has proved a firm favourite with the Tumblr crowd and is a favourite of mine too (I may have to make myself one to keep!). I'm also rather fond of my Stitch Witches rosettes, created for my collaborative project Stitch Witches, which is soon to culminate in a zine celebrating contemporary and subversive stitch craft, curated and created by an embroidering girl gang of two.

CUSTOMISABLE Stitch Witches Rosette


Is there one in particular you believe to be most powerful?  If so, why is it?

People have really embraced "Thunder Thighs Are Go" as their own phrase to celebrate their bodies, and I'm moderately proud of that. I think that makes it quite powerful. Some of my embroideries on the subject of mental health, created in bitter and knowing irony, have been taken literally and reclaimed as a badge of honour, and I think either taken in this reading or in the spirit they were originally intended, they are powerful statements of defiance.



Describe some of the word play you use. 

My work is always underpinned by the written word, whether that be by beautiful etymologies, dreadful puns, or linguistic philosophy (though it is a little heavy on the puns!)

Currently, how many different projects do you have going on?
 
I'm currently taking a break from my most ambitious project yet; a hand made quilt on the subject of the stars and fortune telling, based around my character Polly Kettle, an occult siren. Whilst I'm ruminating on that, I've embarked on a blackwork series of turn of the century childrens' book illustrations. I'm also working towards bringing out the first issue of Stitch Witches zine with my collaborator Hannah Hill (http://hanecdote.tumblr.com/)

When you created your first piece, what were the reactions like from other people?

The people to see my first piece of embroidery were my parents, and I think they were tickled by the playful wordplay and clumsy stitches! Considering how amateurish it is, it's received a surprising amount of attention on Flickr.



What are your hopes for your creations in the future?

This September I will be starting the tutor training course at the Royal School of Needlework in Hampton Court Palace, to learn, practice and teach hand embroidery to the highest possible level. In addition to and because of this, I would hope to exhibit my work more widely, and expand my practice of participatory performance embroidery workshops, social events where I use embroidery as a tool to open up conversation on a theme in a fun and performative setting.

By the way, where did the name Poesie Grenadine come from? 

Poesie Grenadine is a French phrase which translates roughly (and very broken-ly) as "purple prose". As much of my earliest embroidery arose out of re-workings of terrible teenage love poetry, it seemed most apt. I'm also somewhat of a florid, pinkish person, so it's suitable in that way too!

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.

Stylin' Stitch Witch


Jen of hoodratroughdiamond wrote the sweetest little blog post about the swap we did. I love the way she styled the rosette; she’s definitely a new fashion icon of mine.
Stitch Witches Collective on Facebook is going from strength to strength, with crafty swaps being discussed and plans for meet-ups afoot. Plus we now have 146 members! Fellow founding member Hannah and I are meeting up the week after next to initiate the next stage of making the Stitch Witches zine a reality.
PS You can get your hands on your own Stitch Witches rosette here.

The wild blue yonder looms


I had a dream a month or so ago that I wrote a song about betrayal, cold hearts, and melancholy, the central metaphor of which was goose eggs.
This struck me as exactly the sort of song harpist and singer-songwriter Joanna Newsom would write, and I only wish I could.
Why do I mention this? Because whilst stitching the next altered page of What To Look For In Winter, a few lines from one of my favourite Joanna Newsom songs kept popping into my head:
And yonder, wild and blue,
The wild blue yonder looms
‘Til we are wracked with rheum
By roads, by songs entombed
~ from Swansea by Joanna Newsom


As the winter months roll on, and the nights draw in, I grow less and less inclined to venture out into the “wild blue yonder”. The world outside can seem very dark and lonely at this time of year; much better to curl up with your family (and Border Terrier!) in front of a fire or boxset.
As I mentioned in my previous post on What To Look For In Winter, the colder months can bring with them common-or-garden blues. However, as I am all too aware, for anyone with an underlying mental illness, it can be a much more trying time of year, bringing very real fears of the outside world. Thankfully so far this year my blues have been of that common-or-garden variety, although it can be something of a battle to keep anxieties on an even keel (aided by listening to lots of empowering Destiny’s Child, and, I’m even more ashamed to say, Cher’s “Believe“!) at times. I am incredibly grateful to be in such a good place, with such a good support network around me, this winter.
What To Look For In Winter will take the reader on a journey through the emotional highs and lows of winter, set in context with the changing winter landscape, and culminate in a spring unfurling, both literal and metaphorical.
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In the most recently completed pages of What To Look For In Winter, there is a juxtaposition between the loneliness felt by the speaker when confronted with the wide open “wild blue yonder”, and the waterbirds who “gather together in flocks”. It was somewhat serendipitous that this page happened to be so very blue!
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The prose of the original Ladybird text is almost magical, and charms me, as an (ever-so-slightly) whimsical adult, as much as I imagine it charmed its original readership of children in the early ’60s. Surely only the most hardened cynic could fail to be beguiled by a description of the half-decayed veins of leaves “remaining like delicate fairy skeletons“? Or perhaps I’m just a little too romantic for my own good? (It’s been suggested.

No-vember


No sun – no moon! No morn – no noon - No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day. No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease, No comfortable feel in any member - No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees, No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! - November!
This (abridged) poem by Thomas Hood seems to encapsulate the way many people feel about the penultimate month of the year. I’ve been having some conversations with friends and customers recently which would certainly seem to suggest so! Some friends have suggested that everything always goes wrong in November, and one customer in the café where I work wondered if it was in human’s mammalian nature to want to hibernate through the winter months; if perhaps the human race collectively has a mild form of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
In (dis)honour of this miserable time of year, I am currently working on an altered book. What To Look For InWinter, written by E.L. Grant-Watson and illustrated by C.F. Tunnicliffe, was first published in 1959 by Ladybird Books. It invites young people into the wintry natural world and reveals for them the surprising activity and vivacity of the winter months, beginning with the end of autumn and ending with the very onset of spring.
By today’s standards the book is rather quaint, but nevertheless utterly enchanting. It’s made me stop and consider the wonders of winter as well as the hardships.
Therefore, I am embroidering my own texts on winter on to some of the illustrative pages, taking care that these have an interplay with the images, and with the words which go alongside them. I see this as a collaborative effort between the original writer and illustrator and myself, to create a work which is almostpsychogeographical.
The book itself has been weathered (and indeed, looks wintered) over the years; one side of the front cover has been chewed up (whether by mould or an animal I’m not sure).
I feel as if there is a real dialogue opened up for me, and hopefully for readers and viewers, by this book; is “what to look for in winter” what to look out for in winter – sickness, depression, and doldrums, or is it what to look hard for in winter, in spite of this – the strange beauty in all its sparse desolation, and the promise of spring?

Commission Pt. II




Here is the second half of the embroidery commission I have been working on, finished this very night.
This second illustration accompanies the 1930s children’s story The Dawn Shops, in which Jessy takes a dose of soaring pills:
I’m very happy with the figure and the left hand side of the image, but less pleased with the cat; in fact, cats seem to have been intent on giving me trouble today; a big fat fluffy ginger puss kept sneaking into my garden when I wasn’t looking this morning.
Still, this has been a good learning process and the customers seem very satisfied with the result! I’ve really enjoyed stitching these gorgeous, delicate images, too.

Commission Pt. I


I’m very lucky to currently be working on an exciting commission, translating a couple of treasured children’s illustrations into stitch on gorgeous French lace handkerchiefs.
It’s remarkable how much the illustrative style suits my style of embroidery; it’s been a real pleasure to work on, and I’m sure its sister piece will be much the same.
The stories themselves are fantastical, charming, and rather hallucinogenic; rather more 60s than 30s (when they were actually written!)
During my project The Cure for Love, I adapted a similar children’s book illustration into a piece based on the 1945 film Brief Encounter:
I’ll have to keep an eye out for 1930s children’s picture books in my trips to second hand book shops from now on!
If you’d like to commission me to work on a piece for you, just drop me a line at katerolison@googlemail.com, and I’ll work with you to create your own special embroidered art work, for you or a loved one.

Sob Stories and Stitching

After a hectic week of socialising, stitching, "arting" and performing, I have thoroughly enjoyed having a lazy Sunday.

However, although I haven't been darting about all over the place today, it has still been very productive; artist and designer-maker Hannah Hill came over and we brainstormed our upcoming collaboration, the Stitch Witches zine. We've planned out the first (bumper!) issue and I now have quite a bit of (very pleasurable) work to do.




I mentioned that I'd performed this week; well, this Thursday, Hannah (and my friend Nathan) joined me at Cella Salon in Newington Green for an evening of performance.

My friend Seb runs a monthly performance art night there, and at the very last minute asked me if I'd like to have a go. 


This was my set-up; I invited participants to chop onions and see what memories and emotions this evoked. After a chat about this, I shared a story I had collected (or experienced) about crying, and encouraged the participants to do the same (luckily for me, everyone was pretty forthcoming!)

Once we'd shared our (literal) sob stories and had a little giggle, the participants embroidered a short phrase from their story on to ribbon or a handkerchief. The ribbons were then kept in a glass jar to make a "jar of tears". I will do something with this jar full of ribbons at a later date, and will certainly be looking to perform at Cella Salon in the future.

















Jammin'

Just got back from Significant Seams' first "Awesomestow" Christine's Tomato Jam Stitch-In with Oxfam and the Craftivist Collective. It was, if not a roaring, then certainly a contentedly purring success.


The stitch-ins are inspired by the story of Christine, a Kenyan woman who makes and sells tomato jam to support her local community. Tomatoes are a fairly drought-resistant fruit, and thus easily grown in Christine's home town near Nairobi. 

In this spirit, craftivists all over the country (and the world!) are coming together to stitch messages about the food crisis on to jam jar labels. These jars will then be filled with tomato jam following Christine's own recipe, and passed on to people in positions of power, or businesses which are able to call (or shout) for change.


Sarah Corbett, founder and leader of the UK's Craftivist Collective, was on hand to guide us in our stitching, and lead discussion on the issues surrounding the world food crisis. It was fascinating and often deeply unsettling food for thought (pun intended). It's certainly inspired me to educate myself so that I can make more informed choices about how and where I eat.

It wasn't a sombre evening in the slightest, though; there was plenty of tea, and a few tomato jam sandwiches for each of us!


Yes, you read right; tomato jam sandwiches. They were surprisingly moreish. The general consensus was that the jam was closest to plum than any other fruit.

We were hosted by Walthamstow's gorgeous Arts & Crusts café, who provided us with a wonderfully DIY outdoor space, which was festooned with Craftivist Collective and Significant Seams quilts and bunting.

 

My role for the evening was to Tweet (via Sarah's iPhone... I've yet to invest in one myself) all the happenings, and I think I did a pretty good job! Got some nice "soundbites", for example:



Sarah Pelham, Oxfam London/South East's current intern, was on hand to snap and film us throughout proceedings, and took this rather nice shot for me to Tweet:



Well, after those sandwiches I was still feeling a little peckish, so I've just tucked in to a big bowl of pasta infused with, you guessed it... tomato jam! And now I'm off to bed. Good night, everyone!

K x