“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there” L.P. Hartley
When I was in university first time around, I came close to being a lost cause as far as Textile Art was concerned. As a student I under-achieved most of the time and very little of my under-achievement was due to expected student activities like too many nights out and too little work done. No, my underachievement was mostly because I didn’t have a clue about what it meant (or took) to be creative; Poor Mrs Parry, and Mrs Burden, and Miss Routley, and the rest of them (too numerous to mention even if my memory allowed it) – they all laboured long and hard to ignite even the smallest spark of creativity in my soul. Fellow students oozed talent (this is the Textiles Graduate class of 1979) but I absorbed not a single drop.
Just as we all had given up finding a technique I was capable of, we came across the work of the Kuna Indian tribe. Finally, something I liked, something I could do and – most important of all – something I wanted to do. But within weeks of producing my first piece of “Molas” (brightly coloured felt appliquéd onto fabric as decoration), I had graduated as a teacher and joined the real world. Life conspired to help me forget the Kuna Indians until a few months ago when I bought a book called Morehouse Farm Merino
The very nature of Molas means that you have to keep your designs simple. This can be harder than it sounds for someone like me who loves a bit of embellishment. My first attempt was “Three sleeping sheep with yellow ear tags”.
I’d come across an article in an old copy of Quilting Arts Magazine about cuffs so I turned my first piece of Molas into a cuff by weaving some braid as a fastener.
I really liked the idea of cuffs as wearable art so I kept going.
As the Christmas season approaches, I’ve increased the size of my Molas work and produced a wallhanging for my fellow blogger, Mrs B of At Home in the Hills (which went down quite well, I think).
So, forasmuch as Shakespeare described the future as an undiscovered country, I suppose it’s worth remembering that the past can be a place of adventure too.
Let’s get the important stuff out of the way first: Aunty Betty the chicken has made a full recovery and rejoined the rest of the flock. I can hear your sigh of relief from here but before you get too comfortable and secure, you should know that Miss Myfanwy Price (our Jack Russell) has developed a problem in the Waterworks department. It is like going back to her puppy hood: the familiar little crouch coupled with the guilty look – I’m talking about her now, not me – followed by a new stain on the carpet. Is it any wonder that I’m having ‘stitcher’s block’?
Actually the reason I’ve been having ‘stitcher’s block’ is not because of a dearth of ideas but because I’ve been having too many of them. If you’ve ready any of my previous blogs, you’ll know that I’m not brilliant at keeping journals or sketchbooks which means all the ideas jostle about in what passes for my brain. Add to the chaos a garden which demands more attention that I can give, animals with genitourinary issues and a bit too much interest from other people in my work as an artist and you have a perfect recipe to stop someone like me from threading a needle.
Luckily at this time of year, the pressure builds in the form of Christmas Craft Fairs. I wish I could say that I only do these to earn the money but I don’t. I do them because I love being part of events like the RWAS Winter Fair. Two new events for me are the Green Fayre and the Christmas Fairs at The Wildlife Trust’s Parc Slip Reserve. More pressure has built because I have agreed to demonstrate crafts at these last two. I’m going to showcase my abilities (!) at needlefelting, free form knitting and free weaving. If you’re in the area, come along and say hello.
But it’s not enough to just say you are going to do something; showing is always better than telling so I’ve decided the time has come for me to make some things too. This means grabbing a couple of ideas and making them come alive. I’ve found a craft that I really want to have a go at (I’ll tell you what it is next month) but I needed to get hold of some fabric, hopefully cheaply and preferably free. I called in on Clem, a mate of mine who runs an upholstery business. As luck would have it, he was clearing the stock room and I staggered back up the road carrying armfuls of fabric that was heading for landfill until I arrived. This is the first thing that I’ve made out of it – cute or what?
Now that I have fabric, a garden which has been harvested and a stock of puppy pads on the floor to mop up after an incontinent Jack Russell, there should be no obstacle to me producing some craft after too much of a summer break.
Hefyd, wrth gwrs, mae llawer o ddosbarthiadau Cymraeg yn dechrau yn yr Hydref. Rydw i’n hapus i siarad Cymraeg â phobl (yn enwedig pobl sy’n dysgu’r iaith) felly pe hoffech chi ymarfer eich Cymraeg, byddai’n bleser i gwrdd â chi. Hwyl am y tro!
“You are the lovely red rowan that calms the wrath and anger of all men, like a wave of the sea from flood to ebb, like a wave of the sea from ebb to flood”
Traditional Scots Gaelic Charm.
Aunty Betty, one of our chickens, has got a prolapse.
Now, I bet two things have sprung into your mind: firstly, you’re probably thinking that Aunty Betty’s days are numbered because you know that having a prolapse is like a death knell to a chicken; secondly, you’re wondering what Aunty Betty’s prolapse has got to do with a traditional Scots Gaelic Charm about rowan, wrath, anger and the flood and ebb of the sea.
Actually, in the split second it took you to read “Aunty Betty, one of our chickens, has got a prolapse”, your brain would have generated loads of other thoughts which would have flooded and ebbed like a wave in the sea of conscious awareness. Things like: why is she called Aunty Betty? What sort of chicken is she? How did she get a prolapse? How many chickens are there? Do they all have names? Why does a red rowan calm wrath and anger? What can you do with rowan berries? And so on. In nanoseconds your brain would have filtered through the almost infinite array of Aunty-Betty and Gaelic-charm related detritus and only allowed you to become aware of one or two of the thoughts most relevant to you.
All this makes me realise that I want to know some of the thoughts are that my brain is filtering out – the seemingly unconnected pictures give you an idea of what your brain is up to. But before we get to that, let’s go back to Aunty Betty and the Gaelic charm and answer some of the questions.
Until last week, Aunty Betty was a chicken with no name. There are 8 chickens in all: Dee dee, Blanche, Norma Bates, Lazy Sausage, Poppit and the 3 (now 2) un-named. She was still without a name when Bleddyn the Vet opened the door into the waiting room and called for ‘Chicken Lalic’. Examination was swift, diagnosis obvious, treatment probably futile and definitely expensive. But, as the great Rowli Pugh always says, what else can you do with money except spend it? Thus, Chicken Lalic had her prolapse stitched back into position with something called a ‘purse-string suture’. So here’s the answer to the first question. My mum’s best friend was our Aunty Betty and her surname was Pursey. Thus, on the way home from the vets, Chicken Lalic became Aunty Betty. Aunty Betty is a breed of chicken called a Warren. These are the unfortunates that end up in battery cages and are intensively farmed (but not here at Scarecrow Cottage). They don’t live long (even without the battery cages and the intensive farming) but they are lovely, docile birds who do a lot of contented cooing and – in their short lives – lay a lot of eggs. As a result, prolapses are almost inevitable. One of the saddest things about a prolapse is it brings out the dinosaur in the rest of the chickens. You can end up with a chicken run that looks like the gory bits of Jurassic Park. For her own good, Aunty Betty is now in isolation which she is quite enjoying, thank you very much.
The Rowan Tree – currently dabbed with scarlet berries in this wettest of summers in Wales – was once known as the Tree of Life. Its berries were thought to prolong life (but the seeds are poisonous to children) and boiled – the berries, not the children – they produce a strong orange colour dye. In Scotland, particularly, the wood was thought to have magical properties and many believed it to be a tree that protects against evil and violence. According to legend, rowan trees were guarded by dragons and dragons guarded by rowan trees. This is very interesting to me as I’m researching dragons for my next piece of Textile Art. It’s amazing how many books about dragon lore are available and how much of what has been written is from the standpoint that not only did dragons exist but that in some parts of the world, still thrive; that the only reason they have become creatures of myth and legend is because humans now dismiss the intangible as unreal.
The last time I did a dragon inspired piece of textile art was in 1983. Back in those days, I wasn’t very creative. I’d used space dyed threads to get the shading and my idea of texture was a couple of seed beads. The dragon wasn’t even my idea of a dragon but an image that I’d copied from somewhere. Now I’m busy collecting ideas
Then I’m going to sit in the sun with Aunty Betty and a sketchbook and slow the flood and ebb of the waves of my mind and see what happens. Happy Dragon Hunting!
Don’t think you are on the right track just because it’s a well beaten path
It’s not the first time I’ve started my blog with a Permaculture Principle. There are twelve in all and I find some of them more relevant and useful than others. This one aims to teach people to ‘use edges and value the marginal’ and like most Permaculture Principles, you can apply the ethos to all aspects of your life, not just the garden. I know this because last month I gave a talk to a local gardening club. No-one there admitted to knowing anything about Permaculture but when I mentioned the principle above, everyone in the audience nodded in silent agreement.
I confess I often find myself on a well beaten path but doubt that I ‘m on the right track. I struggle to explain myself to friends, relatives or complete strangers when all I can say is ‘it doesn’t feel right’. The clue to what is going on is in the word ‘feel’. It indicates that I express myself in a tactile world so when I find myself in a quandary, the best way for me to work things out is start stitching or creating a design for some textile art. Of course not everything I make is the result of some inner doubt; some things I do because I’ve come across a story which inspires me. This, for example, is my reaction to an old Welsh legend surrounding a standing stone called The Lonely Shepherd.
I made the hanging about 4 years ago but as I got a bit more skilled at needlefelting, I stopped being proud of it. The wool hadn’t been worked into the backing fabric enough and I didn’t even like the colours much. When I was sorting through my work for exhibition at Wonderwool last month, I was a bit distracted because I wanted to create a new range of craft that wasn’t the same sort of thing that I’d done before. My problem was that I knew what I didn’t want to do rather than what I did want to do. This was all bubbling about in my mind as I pulled out The Lonely Shepherd and realised that, as a wallhanging and as an expression of my own creativity, it had outlived its usefulness. I ripped out the offending needlefelted wool, poured a jar of acrylic paint over the backing fabric, turned the piece through 90 degrees and reworked a lot of the embroidery stitches with additions of needleweaving and scrumbling.
I loved the result and, it turns out, so did loads of people at Wonderwool, many of whom had seen it in previous years but didn’t recognise it, reincarnated. What I also loved was that the repurposing of something which was no longer relevant – as opposed to throwing it away or leaving it, unused and unloved, in the bottom of a cupboard – summed up the underlying principle of what my new craft range would be. I still can’t explain what it is I’m after, but I can see it and I know it. And if I can see it and know it, then do I really need to label it? After all, a rose by any other name is still a rose.
Friends are people who walk in when the rest of the world walks out
When I did my first Wonderwool Show I had no idea what to expect so I was completely unprepared for the reality. It’s a festival of wool and sustainable Textiles and Fibres held in Mid Wales on the last weekend of April – that’s what I knew. No-one mentioned the thousands of (mostly) women who used it as the perfect opportunity to stock up on raw materials, meet up with some of the best Textile and Fibre practitioners in Britain and catch up with old friends while making new ones at the same time. But until they come in, the immense halls in the Royal Welsh Showground are COLD! In 2007, there was I, bare legged, wearing sandals, in a summer skirt and blouse – freezing. Across the aisle from me was the warmly muffled up Lorraine of Greenweeds, dispensing words of wisdom, humour, experience and cups of hot coffee. I have learnt a lot since my early days of Wonderwool so whether you are going this year, have been before, hope to go in the future or may never get there but want a glimpse of one of the most enjoyable weekends of the year, this is what I’ll be doing on the last weekend in April 2015.
Scrumbling is a fun way to play with texture. You can scrumble with knitting, crochet and weaving and I’m teaching workshops on both days called Scrumble Scramble. In just one hour, with chopsticks and an egg timer, we’re going to produce some mini wallhangings. Should be fun.
Many of the standholders at Wonderwool sell everything from fleece to finished article. Just because you can afford the stand is no guarantee that you’ll be allowed in so it’s great to know that the people who are working there are really passionate about what they do and what they use rather than only thinking about making a profit. Some stands are based around specific events being held. As well as the amazing Wool and Willow Festival , the http://cambrianmountainswool.org/ design challenge will be hosting an exhibiton of submissions including my entries:
Other standholders (I’m in this group) are there mainly to exhibit and educate. I will talk a glass eye to sleep if you get me on the subject of Textile Art. This year I have created a series of works under the title ‘Etifeddiaeth’ which means legacy or inheritance. I have used techniques like wet felting, needlefelting, creative embroidery, free form knitting and needleweaving. If you are going to Wonderwool and get to my stand, R5, I can (and will) talk about any of these for hours on end. If you’re not going to Wonderwool, here are two of the new pieces I’m showing this year.
INFORMATION FOR SCRUMBLE SCRAMBLERS!
This is for everyone who took part in the Scrumble Scramble Free Form Knitting Workshops over the weekend. Firstly, I hope you enjoyed yourselves and secondly, I apologise for the non-ticking egg timer! The whole point of the pattern we were using was to show you that Free Form Knitting comes from inside your own head. We cast on 14 stitches and worked a few rows in K2, P2 rib simply to give our hangings a stable header. After that, as you may have noticed, there was very little that we were all doing at the same time or in the same way. Have a safety pin ready to move stitches on and off, add and change yarns, stitches, needles and direction of work at your whim rather than by following a pattern. I thought you were all brilliant and I know how far out of your comfort zone you were. Pats on the back all round!
So there I was, in Greenweeds’ (www.greenweeds.co.uk) studio in Aberystwyth, with a Groovi Felting Machine and a load of Merino Batts. Could I fail to make some fabulous felt? Indeed, if the Groovi Felting Machine lived up to its hype, would I have to do anything at all apart from drink coffee, eat cakes and watch it perform miracles? Continue reading All is Groovi→
When it comes to making felt, slowing down isn’t really an option. It is -usually – laborious, elbow-aching and monotonous. For someone like me who managed to break both arms and chip an Olecranon (little bone in the elbow joint) a couple of years ago, making felt veers between painful and downright impossible. Continue reading Feelin’ Groovi→
When people ask me how long it’s taken me to make something, I usually reply in decades. That’s because my Mum taught me to sew when I was 7. It was an attempt to keep me occupied, out of trouble and out of her hair. Didn’t work, didn’t work and didn’t work but that’s Mums for you – ever optimistic. If you were following last week’s blog about making an Art Doll, you’re probably wondering where the next bit is. Continue reading Practice is half the work→
Every so often I come across something that puts the Textile Art bit of my brain into overdrive. I first saw Haulwen Crafts’ wool batts at Llandovery Sheep Festival last year. Chris has a real gift for colour mixing which is a marvellous aid to colour numpties like me! Continue reading Wool work in Textile Art→