Making for Change

Craftspace, a crafts development organisation based in Birmingham, has long encouraged social change, from mental health stigma busting through craft to a jewellery making group project intended to give female refugees and migrants sustainable futures. In their latest initiative, Craftspace are bringing social change front and centre. Making for Change will be a social action training programme for 14 - 25 year olds, having their say on the issues that matter to them through craft.

The project kicked off last Saturday with an Inspiration Day at the very swish, gorgeously designed Impact Hub, one of a worldwide series of cutting-edge community spaces for "compassionate,  creative and committed individuals".

I was invited as one of three artists who each gave a drop in workshop and a talk for young people on the day. I chose to focus on my project Apothéké, or #secretsofselfpreservation as it is known on social media. 



Apothéké is a travelling “medicine cabinet” which travelled to the Inspiration Day, which starts conversations about better mental health in a very simple way. I ask participants to stitch one phrase about a way they’ve taken good care of themselves that week, or perhaps a way they could’ve taken better care of themselves, for future reference, on to a ribbon, and keep it in a little bottle to take away with them as a reminder to practice better self care. I call them self care potions, and this year I am stitching one every week. Mine have a little memento of that week in them, too, which you could add later, if you want. But if you’re not a stitcher, you can still get involved; you can tweet, or Instagram, or Facebook, or blog about one simple way you take good care of yourself, and share it via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation.



Craft is good for you. It has been proven to trigger the relaxation response, where your breathing and heart rate become more regular and leisurely, and you get into a meditative state. This is something craftivist Gemma Latham, talking and crafting at the Inspiration Day, knows all about. Whilst the young people hole punched messages with fonts based on cross stitch patterns, Gemma measured their heart rates and fed these into a computer in a way I don't fully understand; coding witchcraft, I think. As their heart rates became steady and consistent (through crafting?) the word "craft" appeared on screen.


 Craft is a good way of meeting likeminded, in more ways than one, people – people reach out to craft, and to the communities it makes, when they are going through life changing, and sometimes difficult, experiences. You will find true friends that way. It is a challenge, it keeps your brain ticking over, puzzling out the best way to make, and it fosters self esteem and pride in your abilities and achievements.

Something I like to do when friends are having a rough time is put together a care package for them, with little gifts I’ve picked up which remind me of them and something I’ve made for them, thinking of them while I stitch it, which will put a smile on their face and, ultimately, let them know I care. Similarly, I’ve found that others in the craft community have really reached out to me when I’ve been down, and let me know that me and my work are appreciated even when I can’t appreciate it myself. 

Craft brings people together – the word textile comes from the Latin “texere”, meaning to weave or bind; thread really does bring people together, and the world wide web, an international interwoven network of “threads”, makes it easier to reach out, and be reached – to create new crafting communities.

All these reasons for crafting, which essentially boil down to craft being good for you and craft being good for others, really sum up for me why effecting social change through craft matters. Sarah Corbett of the Craftivist Collective, who gave a fantastic talk and workshop at the Inspiration Day, defines craftivism as "gentle activism". A quote she used in her talk was Gandhi's "Be the change you want to see in the world"; you have to start with acts of kindness and small changes for yourself before you can make change for others. If you can couple craft being good for you with craft being good for others, I reckon you're on to a winner.


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!





Stitch your #secretsofselfpreservation with me this Saturday 6th June

This Saturday 6th June 2015 I will be leading a free workshop in the living room of Venue 68 in the E17 Art Trail from 4pm.

I invite you to uncork my #secretsofselfpreservation self care potions, and stitch one small way you already do (or perhaps could) take good care of yourself, to take home as a message in a bottle and a reminder to practice better TLC.

To book your free place, email katerolison@googlemail.com

There are 8 places remaining for the workshop.

I hope to see you there!








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.

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 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.

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


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English Rose
Your lips
have thawed
And there’s a
Spring
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:
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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:
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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.

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.

We are Stitch Witches


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Stitch Witches is a collaborative project that has been brewing for a couple of months now.
It all started when I went along to the Girls Get Busy Zine Festival in August. There I met artist and designer Hannah Hill, whose work I had admired online, and Beth Siveyer, founder of Girls Get Busy.
Me on the left, Beth in the middle, and Hannah on the right
Despite my slightly tipsy state, Hannah and I really hit it off, and immediately started considering working together on a project. A few days and emails later, we had begun to outline what Stitch Witches would look and feel like.
We were both intrigued by girl gangs, slightly occult themes, the few remaining taboos of modern society, and, most importantly, stitching!
Both being quite heavily involved in the young feminist art scene, and given where we met, we decided that our medium would be a zine, and thus Stitch Witches was born.
We plan on making the zine available to purchase in November, and will be doing a post-Halloween giveaway to get people in a suitably ghoulish mood!
Hannah has already produced reams of art and design for the zine, and I’ve written some of the text and designed a membership certificate (my next task is to make Stitch Witches rosettes!)
Here are some photographs from one of our (very high level business) planning meetings:

The Knitter, the Stitcher, and the Quilter.

No, this is not a "walked into a bar" joke, or a Perraultian fairy tale.

It's all just in a day's work.


Today, a knitter (Debs), a quilter (Catherine), and a stitcher (me!), gathered to (hand)stitch together Walthamstow's Neighbourly Quilt.

Back in May I was just finishing off my first internship with Catherine at her Walthamstow-based Social Enterprise Significant Seams (I've just begun my second internship there).

My first jaunt at the Significant Seams Hub was based around a community arts project: the Neighbourly Quilt project featured here.

Significant Seams asked residents of E17 to hand in fabric squares decorated using various textile techniques, or attend a workshop to learn a technique with which to decorate their square. The theme of the square was to be either "something which makes good neighbours", or "something which I love about Walthamstow".

We received 68 patches in all; more than we expected, and more than our target!

Catherine and Debs had already spent a couple of sessions hand-stitching the quilt together, and now that I'm back from Scotland, I'm joining in too. Here's our handiwork:








Here's (rather) a few of my favourites:














One of Debs' beautiful pieces



Stitchin' and Sloe Gin

No, not the product of a boozy stitchery sesh I'm afraid, rather my  Highland frolics in pictures (although I am currently working on a slightly ambitious piece which will be revealed in the near future... or whenever I finish it, it is quite labour intensive and I start my new internship on Wednesday!)

So, last Sunday Pip arrived and we did things such as climb the local mountain and swim in the (not particularly warm) river, which was filled with young trout.

Atop Ben Hiant
J.G. Mallard came with us and caught some rays by the pond (it was so hot I even incurred some sunburn!)

Look at his widdle face... you'd never think he was the author of controversial dystopian literature.
Sans duck, we took a trip to Tobermory, scene of faintly unsettling British childrens' television program Balamory, ate posh chips, and discovered an honesty shop which was filled to the rafters with Mills & Boons. This proved to be most convenient, as the photograph below demonstrates:

HOW convenient.
The final night was spent sippin' homemade alcoholic concoctions... sloe gin for me, potent French apple brandy for Pip. I indulged in some sneaky stitchery of the aforementioned soon-to-be-revealed piece, too.


In fact, we managed to get through a nigh-on obscene amount of booze  during our three weeks in Branault... in the two weeks before Pip arrived, my parents and I seemingly drank seventeen bottles of  wine... definitely time to switch into life post-uni, methinks!

Neighbourly Patches

I taught a Neighbourly Quilt embroidery workshop earlier in the week, and yesterday a couple of my friends joined us at the Significant Seams Hub to work on their patches.


Lucy's patch is based around the sharing of cultures in Waltham Forest, with a Diwali-inspired "henna" design.

Nathan's patch features Awesome Games, his favourite shop from childhood, in Walthamstow Market.

Here's a selection of completed patches:


They're coming in thick and fast!