Category Archives: Textile Art

First Up Against The Wall

I hate Zoom.  I haven’t tried Teams but I rather think I might hate that too.  Both of them – as well as Google Meet, Skype and Webex, in fact all video conferencing platforms – are likely to be on my list of things which are first up against the wall when the revolution comes.  And do you know why?  Because no-one has ever given me instructions on how to cope with seeing myself in a little box on the screen, so I’ve got to assume the fault lies with the technology and I want revenge.  Why, oh, why, instead of watching other participants as they speak am I transfixed by my overgrown fringe, how saggy the skin on my neck looks and whether I should wear or take off my glasses?  I must presume that it’s because the designers of digital tools want me to stare, bug-eyed and vacuous, into infinity instead of looking interested in what’s being said.

Um. Sold 2013

And the other thing I hate about Zoom et al is the “Shall we go round the room with everyone just saying something to introduce themselves?”  At a proper meeting this sort of thing is rehearsed informally as everyone settles into their seats and waits for facilitator to organise their slides.  By the time the introductions are being done you get a sense of what sort of thing to say and how long to talk for.  Not on Zoom though.  Which is why I want to apologise to everyone who I met for the first time on a Zoom training course yesterday.  It had been organised by Carol at Applied Arts Scotland  and Irene of Craft Scotland and was part of their Resilience Programme.   Not surprisingly, I was miffed even before we started because I would have much preferred to have gone to Scotland to be trained rather than sit in my gloomy workroom which overlooks a grey concrete yard instead of heather-strewn hills and glorious lochs.

Caledonia Way

By the time it was my turn to speak I had lost track of reality and in particular, I had lost track of the fact that there were other people on the Zoom  watching my pixelated face droning on and on about completely irrelevant and nonsensical whimsies (and probably losing the will to live as well).  Of course what I should have done was think in advance about what I was going to say.  This has never been a problem in face to face encounters but for some reason, Zoom makes me speak in a most un-me-like way.  I am renowned amongst those who know me and have the courage to express such an opinion, for being succinct to the point of curtness.  This ability deserted me yesterday because in introducing myself to these 11 strangers, for some reason I decided to roll back the clock fifty years and whitter on about my very brief teaching career.  From that point I brought in imaginary floaty balloons, a resumé of ALL the adult education studies I undertook in my 20s and the fact that we now only have one chicken left but that she is 10 years old and still lays the occasional egg.  Sadly none of this had anything to do with the subject of the meeting.

So in the unlikely event of a revolution and someone asking me for my choice of what’s first up against the wall, I reiterate that it will be Zoom, Teams, Google Meet, Skype and Webex.  In the more probable circumstance that I will soon be involved in another video conference – and, just in case anyone on yesterday’s training is reading this – I have pinned a piece of paper to the wall in front of me and out of  the webcam’s range which reads:  “Hi, I’m Maria.  I have a portfolio of activities.  I am a textile artist and writer inspired by the legend, landscape and people of Wales; I am a dollmaker particularly interested in the social and cultural history of dollmaking as a domestic craft and I also work as a freelance mentor and strategist where I specialise in lifelong learning and craft business start-ups.” One minute instead of twelve and not a floaty balloon or geriatric chicken in sight.

The tide of life


Sea scape

Anyone else with a creative practice spent the last year staring at the horizon, hoping that the tide of life would start to ebb and flow again? It’s not that I haven’t done things or made stuff – I have;  it’s just that an awful lot of it had no eventual purpose.  I like to exhibit what I make and for that to happen, I need exhibitions.  In the past if no-one has asked me to join in an event, I’ve been happy to hire a space myself and fill it with anything and everything that I’ve created.  It’s a bit of a gamble ego-wise and it wouldn’t suit everyone but usually it works out for me.

stand at fair

2020 was a no-no year for exhibitions though, wasn’t it?  And 2021 isn’t looking much better so my interest was piqued a couple of months ago to see a call-out for submissions at one of my alma maters, Hereford College of Arts .  They intended to hold an exhibition to mark International Women’s Day.  Sadly my pique got distracted by some domestic crisis or other and the moment passed.  And that would have been it except that on Monday, 22nd of February (that date’s important so retain it for a couple of minutes) someone sent me a link to the same exhibition call-out.  This time all was calm in the house so I took a closer look and found that the event would be called the Unchained Library and submissions should be in the shape of book spines with a fictional title about how the artist had viewed or been affected by the pandemic.  Aha, I thought, this looks promising: make something small, no restrictions of medium, for a place I know (and love) and – this very much to the point – free of charge to join in.

Photograph by Dan Salter
(CRC Illustration)

When’s the closing date? Thursday, 25th February.  Did you retain the information from higher up the page?  If not, go back and check it now.  Normally I can use something that’s already made or almost finished to submit if time is short but nothing in my bag of tricks looked even remotely like a book spine so I had a choice: forget the exhibition or pull out all the stops and produce something at high speed.  I knew I’d need to get whatever it was in the post on Wednesday to meet the the Thursday deadline – so on Tuesday I decided to do a bit of extreme creativity, art against the clock.




I wrapped it up, addressed the parcel (accurately, with postcode), put my address on the back, took it to the post office, got it weighed, stamped (expensively) for next day delivery and waved it farewell as it disappeared in the midday collection on Wednesday, 24th February.  Sadly it didn’t make it into any of the virtual exhibition images that appeared on the HCA Facebook page.  That would be because yesterday it came back in the post, unopened.  So if anyone wants to do another exhibition of fictional book spines, do get in touch.  I’ve got one ready.  In the meantime,  I have abandoned staring at the horizon and adopted a new attitude to the tide of life – come and get me, I’m waiting for you.


Firebreak Autumn

In the cloudswept hills of the Western Lands, Hallowe’en fell in the middle of Firebreak Autumn and whilst everyone knows that hacking a pumpkin to bits with your trusty axe is time well spent, it still left 16 empty spaces on Maira Big Thumb’s calendar.  One day was spent celebrating a harvest safely gathered in,


then on another she tidied her hovel,

interior decor

and of course she went for an obligatory Autumn walk through the local park.

Then she wondered, what can I do next?  Well, in the middle of a pandemic, with massive economic uncertainty and people fearful about what the future held, Maira Big Thumb decided to do what every self-respecting Viking does – come out fighting.  Thus it was she spent the rest of the days of Firebreak Autumn learning the dark arts of starting a small craft business.  When she was wise in the lore of setting up an on-line shop and could cast the spells of search engine optimisation, she knew she would be able to help other folk do the same thing.  Now, thought Maira Big Thumb, the people will have something to occupy them when they can’t go out, they will be able to make little pots of money and they will understand how any kind of craft makes anxiety go away for a bit.

And when the day came for Firebreak Autumn to end, Maira Big Thumb realised there was just time for a little rest before she ventured forth into the world to start rampaging and pillaging once more.

#bekind #makepeoplesmile #stayhome


Does My Thumb Look Big In This?

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve got Viking ancestry.  I’ve long suspected as much by the way I search the television schedules for programmes which Neil Oliver is presenting, particularly if he’s wandering around the bleak landscape of Scandinavia (though to be honest, anywhere north of Birmingham will do).  And my tendency to visit Viking re-enactments whenever I see them advertised is also a bit of a giveaway – I like the crafts, I like the clothes, I like the opportunity to throw an axe without worrying what the neighbours will think.  Recently I even considered whether I should do one of those DNA tests which breaks down your genetic origins geographically although, to be honest, I pretty much know that on one side I’m Slavic and on the other Welsh, with some French and some English bits.  The only hope for Viking origin comes from Grandad Charles Iden’s ancestors but given that an Osbert de Iden landed in Sussex during the Norman Conquest and had a village named after him (proving that he was either a close mate of William or a land-grabbing bully), it’s a very thin and wispy hope.

Luckily though, two things have come to my attention.  Firstly, in his programme The Vikings – which I recently watched for the umpteenth time – Neil makes the point that the eponymous Northerners weren’t afraid to venture out into the world and there’s even evidence that they got down into the southern reaches of Europe.  Secondly, I found this photograph of my great grandmother Felicité Marie just before she left France for Wales in the early years of the 20th Century.  French, my eye!  Have you ever seen a more Viking looking woman?  A glare that could freeze the marrow in your bones.  And I bet there’s an axe hidden in that hat.

Buoyed with this new found certainty about my ancestors, I decided I should put my Viking-ness to good use.  The Stay At Home and Stay Local messages prevented me from rampaging or pillaging but when Nalbinding appeared on the Heritage Crafts Association ( list of endangered craft skills, learning how to do it seemed like a perfect way to channel my inner Noggin the Nog.   Only two things stood in the way of my Viking credentials – a name and a saga.

The Saga of Maria Big Thumb, Multiple Loops and the Oslo Cast On

In the valleys of the West, where the high moorlands meet the grey, cloud-swept skies, in the cool summer evenings that seem longer this year than most, a solitary woman works at her wool crafts and thinks of tales to tell. 

A shadow had fallen across the land and from the Senedd, the order was given to lock the gates and close the bridges.  An edict was issued that people should keep to their hovels and only venture out to search for toilet paper, baking powder or pizza bases.   Tucked away safely in her little cottage, Maria Big Thumb unwrapped the parcel of wool which had just arrived from her allies in the north and knew the time was right to learn the almost lost Viking craft of nalbinding.  

Ffffff the 1st

After much searching in the forgotten temples of Google, she found an old pdf with drawings of small, dainty hands and caused it to be printed out.  Maria Big Thumb spent many hours trying to understand it and even read the words out loud to see if that helped:

“Wrap the yarn around your fingers 3 times” – yes, simple. “Grab the eight between your fingers” – what eight?  Where did the other five come from?  “There are now 3 thumb loops” – where did the five go?  And how did the thumb join in? 

Hint (said the pdf): Say to yourself, 2 loops stay around the thumb, 2 loops get picked up on the needle.

“Ffffff,” said Maria Big Thumb.

Ffffff the 2nd

Later that evening, when Maria Big Thumb had calmed down, washed her glass and put the empty bottles out for the recycling, she decided to call upon the god Amazon for help.  Soon a book, illustrated with fine coloured pictures of beautifully manicured fingers arrived.  Maria Big Thumb threaded up her needle and resolved to start again.  On page 27 she found instructions for nalbinding beginners to follow.  “Take the yarn and hold it in the left hand” – yes, simple (but she remembered thinking that last time).  “Fold the big loop to get smaller loops so the result resembles half a looped square” – what big loop?  And what does half a looped square look like? “Pull the needle through the loop and it will become the first loop” – what loop?  WHAT LOOP?


Hint (said the book): If you only have one loop on the thumb, you can take the needle through both mouse ears at the same time. 

“Ffffff, Ffffff,” said Maria Big Thumb.

Ffffff the 3rd

Risking the wrath of the law, Maria Big Thumb ventured down to the corner shop for the magical potions which would help her understand these strange words but try as she might, and even after the recycling bin was overflowing, they remained dark and mysterious to her.  In the end she realised she had no choice left.  She had worshipped at the temples of Google and she had made offerings to the god Amazon.  Now it was time to go to Valhalla itself; she resolved to consult the great deity YouTube.   “Foolish Maria Big Thumb,” boomed the voice of YouTube, “you have failed because Google sought to teach you in the ways of the Left Handed Start and Amazon tried to trick you with the Finnish Stitch. 

Hint (said YouTube): If you had come to me straight away you would have learnt the Oslo Cast On and all things would have been well.  Better late than never though, so look at this video of a woman with unchipped nail varnish and let’s get on with it.”

“Ffffff, Ffffff, Ffffff,” said Maria Big Thumb.


Thus it came to pass that Maria Big Thumb learnt the skill of nalbinding and achieved Level 1 NVQ (Norse Viking Qualification).  She eventually hopes to progress to study for a Level 2 NVQ specialising in yelling loudly and beard plaiting.  Current circumstances mean that Maria Big Thumb is furloughed from her work placement raiding fishing villages on the Scottish coast.  In the meantime she is considering cleaning her nails and washing her hands before featuring them in photographs.

If all goes well, the next blog will appear mid-August.  Until then

Stay Safe, Be Kind, Keep Smiling.

Ransoming Sanity

“In a world gone bad, a bear … is a comforting, uncomplicated, dependable hunk of sanity.”      Pam Brown

Part One

It’s the 1st of December, the start of Advent, and I am at a Christmas Fayre which is being held to raise money for a charity.  Towards the end of the afternoon I notice an elderly lady, who has been helping out on the bric-a-brac table, wandering about the room as if she is looking for someone particular.  She is holding a small teddy bear close to her chest.  I watch her with the experience of a person who has spent their working life in the NHS and I get ready to spring into action if she starts to look distressed or disorientated.  Almost as if she hears my thoughts, she stops walking towards the door, turns and her eyes meet mine.  I smile and she starts moving in my direction.  “Hello,” I say. “Are you having a nice afternoon?”

“Do you like my bear?” she asks.

“He’s lovely,” I reply.

“50p or he goes to landfill,” she answers.  She holds her hand open, waiting for the ransom to be paid.

The bear stares forlornly at me.  What choice have I got?  I open my purse and get out a coin.

“That will do.” She takes the money and thrusts the bear at me.  “Be happy,” she says as she heads back to the bric-a-brac table, sweeps up a rag doll and heads off towards to a smartly dressed man having a cup of tea in the corner of the room.

Part Two

Which is how and why, this year, Aneirin the Teddy Bear, has come to be the star of my Advent Calendar on Twitter (@marialalic).  Two days after his (its?) arrival, we headed onto the Glamorgan Ridgeway for an Unlost Places expedition, about which I will write more in January when sanity has returned.  Unused to having company on my walks, I started off by introducing him to trig spotting

and from there we walked across the mountain tracks and sheep trails

before we reached Mynydd Portref Wind Farm.

We ended our trek with Cranberry & Orange Scones at the lovely Black Mill Cafe in (not surprisingly) Blackmill Village.  Cranberry and Orange is is not a flavour combination that would have occurred to me but it was very successful, particularly coming with a choice of either Cinnamon Butter (very nice) or Orange Curd & Clotted Cream (sublime).  If ever there was a reason to support #indie cafes and coffee shops, then being able to sit opposite a small teddy bear  and share your afternoon tea without anyone looking askance at you, is it.

Part Three

I had to be in Powys on the 5th December so there was a good opportunity to get at least three photographs of Aneirin done for the Advent Calendar.  One of my favourite places in the world is the lovely Tretower Court and Castle.  The man on reception didn’t find it at all remarkable that a small bear would be touring the premises.  Put him, he said, on the throne in the Banqueting Hall.  I did but Aneirin – being little – was overwhelmed by the immense table and the majestic wall tapestry.  My advisor was undeterred.  Try, he suggested, getting the castle in the background.  This proved to be much more in Aneirin’s style.

The problem was that although I like the castle ruins, it’s the atmospheric Tretower Court that I love.  I wandered in and out of the rooms and galleries before finally finding a place where Aneirin could channel his inner Errol Flynn.

Part Four

Sunday, 8th December was the day that Storm Atiyah made landfall and the day that I was stuck on Newton Beach for more than two hours, marshalling The Christmas Pudding Race that is organised by a local running club.  70mph gusts of wind sandblasted everything, everyone and every teddy in their way.

With Aneirin safely anchored to a piece of driftwood, I made a piece of Unlost Places art using found objects from the strand line.  It started off as a sort of windchime but soon ended up wrapping itself around the supporting piece of wood.

With the last runners safely off the beach, we (I mean all the volunteers and not just me and Aneirin – I have not slipped that far off the plane of reality) made our way back to the finishing area.  I know that virtue is its own reward but marshalling brings lots of practical benefits too.  Banana themed meals for the next week, for example.

Part Five

I’ve decided that having a teddy bear companion has been quite a pleasant diversion to the awfulness which saturates the News these days.  And not just for me, either.  One of the sanest people I know is going to knit Aneirin a jumper and she didn’t even take a lot of persuading!

Aneirin’s Twitter activities are unlikely to last into next year unless I decide the world (or me) is in need of a bit less sanity and a bit more distraction.  As a thought provoking Christmas present to you as you’re still reading, I’ll leave you with this quotation from Douglas Adams:

“If life is going to exist in a Universe of this size, then the one thing it cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion.”

Cyfarchion y Tymor.

Crafting a Business

Image of lake at Parc Calon Lan

Did you know that most people have an attention deficit after about 6 seconds?  This basically means that when you are trying to attract someone’s attention on social media, through an advertisement or by email, if they haven’t been hooked within those 6 seconds, you might as well give up because mentally they will have wandered off and be chasing butterflies through a cornfield.  You may think that 6 seconds is a bit speedy but anyone wanting to try and get my attention has to contend with the fact that – thanks to a surfeit of university education – I have learnt to speed read.  Also as I spent the last 10 years of my NHS career scanning written medical notes looking for tiny snippets of crucial information it means that the usual 6 seconds is about 5 seconds longer than I waste on anything.  Which is why I almost missed the thing that made this week very interesting.   Last Saturday I wandered down to the Bridgend Craft Collective Fair ( which is held monthly in Bryngarw Country Park.

Hand made teddies
Hand crafted is best

Sue of The Sand, the Sea and Me reminded me about a seminar which was taking place in Margam Park.  Being organised and hosted by the lovely people at Agora ( was a seminar/workshop confidently titled “How to Make Money from your Craft Business.”  I recalled seeing the details pop up on one of my social media feeds but whilst it may have snagged the people with a 6 second attention span, it had not survived my very cursory glance.   Thanks to Sue I went back and took a longer look and I was glad I did because the event proved to be one that was full of useful information not just for crafters or micro enterprises, but for anyone who sees the virtue in building resilience and self-reliance into small, local communities.  Apparently I’m one of a minority of people who find radical economics exciting but the speakers at the seminar ensured there was something to interest – even inspire – everyone who turned up.

Chapter House
Grounds of Margam Park

The day started off with a presentation by Jill Davies of Made It Markets who gave lots of useful advice particularly when it comes to pricing hand-crafted or hand-grown products.  From working out who your target market is and getting to know your customer profile to identifying your USP(unique selling point), Jill’s information came from a long experience in a range of design activities.  I particularly enjoyed her discussion around the conundrum that so many makers face – the difference between pricing from the head and pricing from the heart.   According to Jill  it is only by believing that what is made has value will the maker feel entitled to charge the price they deserve.  She concluded her presentation with a useful list of jobs to be done as homework – a task that betrayed Jill’s previous career as a teacher.  These included:

  • Identify your product market
  • Work on your USP
  • Develop a focussed product range
  • Identify your ideal customer and where you will find them
  • Try out different costing and pricing formulae
  • Consider your branding and display

ruin at Margam Park

Before becoming an MA student at the Royal College of Art, Emily O’Reilly ( ) was involved in a project called “Gwlan to Oo” which looked at the way in which the wool industry of the Shetland Islands had become a successful enterprise not just because of the quality of its products but also as a result of developing an innovative approach to forging links and connections with other disciplines.  For me, one of the most interesting ideas she explained was the potential for economies to become circular and self-sustaining.  This was embedded in every aspect of the Shetland Islands Wool Project from using locally sourced  materials and selling goods with an authentic provenance to making sure that there was, in effect, no end of life for the items made.

Tulip Garden

Welsh Lavender ( )is a successful business which began in the kitchen of a hillside farm and now employs around  20 people.  It came about because of a chance remark when Nancy and Bill invited some neighbours over for a glass of wine.  That led to a successful grant application and the planting of one field of Lavender followed by the realisation that something would need to be done with the harvest.  Nancy’s entertaining presentation (including getting everyone in the audience to sample her product) made some useful points for any entrepreneur:

  • Grant funding is a great motivator
  • If your branding doesn’t work, change it
  • Much success will come from face to face contact
  • Believe in your product
  • Local provenance will sell
  • Be prepared to move away from people and businesses that don’t fit your ethos

Welsh Hillside

The last speaker of the day was Claire Carew of Visit Wales and she wanted the audience to understand that local craft and produce businesses were part of the overall attraction for visitors to Wales, helping to make places become destinations rather than points on a route.  She had this advice to offer:

  • Be authentic
  • Understand what influences your customers
  • Use all of your local expertise
  • Make the most of your tourism community
  • Create relevant content in your website and social media posts
  • Look beyond your crafts and produce
  • Do your research and connect with other people
  • Tag your images

You’d think that would be enough but after a very nice lunch and a lot of networking, everyone had the opportunity to take part in a one to one ‘meet the buyer’ encounter.   I was lucky enough to have 10 minutes with Nia Evans of Bodlon and explain to her the thoughts behind my next project Y Llwybrau Digoll (The Unlost Paths).  I’ll give a taster of what this is about in my usual blog next month but until then here’s a little hint of what’s to come.

Never Ending or Beginning

“Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel, never ending or beginning, on an ever spinning reel,” Alan and Marilyn Bergman

I don’t usually plan ahead what I’m going to write in my blogs – you’ve probably guessed that if you read them regularly – but when Michel Legrand died recently, I started thinking about one of his most famous compositions, “Windmills of your mind” and was wondering how I could fit in a reference to it.  I’ve loved this song since I first heard it, mostly because it was sung by Noel Harrison.  (I had a crush on him when he starred in The Girl from Uncle with Stephanie Powers.  In my defence, I was 8 and not very discriminating about the sort of television programmes I watched.)  Anyway poor M. Legrand’s demise got me humming the tune and thinking about beginnings and how difficult it is to spot the point at which you stop being a student of something and start putting what you’ve learnt into  practice.

I know from my own experience learning to speak Welsh, going from dweud eich dweud in the classroom to sgwrsio yn y byd go iawn is as terrifying as going from pedalling a tricycle with stabilisers on to riding a racing bike with razor blade thin wheels down a steep hill.   You can read more about how I got on with the Welsh language here incidentally.  If you are dysgu Cymraeg fel oedolion it might make you realise that having a sense of humour is as necessary as a command of grammar.

Trying to work out the point when I got to grips with creativity is less easy.  When it comes to Textile Art, I disagree with John Galsworthy when he said “beginnings are always messy.”  This  is my attempt at portraying the brooding atmosphere of Kenfig Pool in the year 2000.  Local legend has it that a wizard cursed the inhabitants of the prosperous borough of Kenfig for not offering him shelter.  A fierce storm arose and as the sea broke through the defences and flooded the village, drowning it for ever, a ghostly cry of Dial a ddaw! (Vengeance is coming!) was heard on the wind.  If ever a piece of my work failed to capture a sense of place, this is it.

This is a picture of Kenfig Pool worked in Needlepoint
Kenfig Pool Needlepoint 2000

Shortly after I began a course in Creative Textiles with the Open College of Arts and had to come to terms with using a sketchbook to record the way in which pieces of work were developing.  I have never enjoyed working this way.  I see a piece of white paper and am convinced that any mark I make on it will spoil it forever.  In spite of repeated attempts to convince my tutors that I was useless at drawing and worse at painting, they refused to give me dispensation for that part of the course.  Grumbling and resentful, I set about a project on responding to place.  I chose the entrance to an old mine close to where I live as the subject partly because it was easy to get to but also because I’d read something about it being haunted.

This is a drawing of an entrance to an old mine
Old Mine Entrance Watercolour Pencil
This is a picture of an old mine entrance worked in pastels
Old Mine Entrance Pastels
This is a stitched sketch of an old mine entrance
Old Mine Entrance Stitched Sketch

Bit by bit I came to realise that learning to be creative was much the same as studying Welsh.  I didn’t need to be good at drawing or skilled at painting – these were simply the nouns and verbs of a visual language; my sketchbook was not a collection of images which were nice to look at – it was a record that only I needed to understand.

Just recently (January 2019) I attended a course at Kenfig Nature Reserve and had half an hour to spare before it started.  I decided to walk across the sand dunes and pay a visit to  Kenfig Pool.  Having a mobile phone means that these days, there’s always a camera to hand so I started off taking a couple of photographs.

This is a picture of Kenfig Pool
Kenfig Pool January 2019
This is a picture of Kenfig Pool looking towards the steelworks at Margam
Kenfig Pool January 2019

I’ve gone from thinking of sketchbooks as a necessary evil to a useful bit of kit.  My change of opinion is down to finally finding a technique which works for me;  I use a felt pen to draw on a still wet watercolour wash and because I’ve come to terms with the fact that the sketchbook is a resource for me and me alone, I don’t worry about whether it is good by anyone else’s standards.

This is a watercolour sketch
Kenfig Pool Field Sketch January 2019

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks doing a small art map of Kenfig Pool.  It’s still a work in progress but you’ll be able to see how it’s going to turn out.  It makes an interesting comparison to that needlepoint work I did nearly 20 years ago.

This is picture of a stitched map
Kenfig Pool Stitched Map Work in Progress January 2019

In amongst all of these Kenfig Pool shenanigans, I was invited to contribute work to an exhibition called ‘Interior Monologues’ which is opening on the 11th February 2019 at Oriel y Bont .  I’ve produced a piece of poetic prose as a response to the work of artist Mererid Velios .  It’s been a new and exciting method of  collaboration for me and I’ve really enjoyed it.  Interestingly enough, I probably would never have got involved except for the fact that Barrie and Maria, my Creative Writing lecturers from 2004 and 2005, remembered that I always wanted to write about visual art.  Are there such things as beginnings and endings?  I don’t think so.

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes.  Art is knowing which ones to keep.”                      Scott Adams

And do something different now…

About three years ago a friend and fellow gardener told me of a wonderful book she had read called The Morville Hours .  Written by Katherine Swift it tells the story of the creation of a garden at the Dower House in Morville, Shropshire.   The Morville Hours is not your normal gardening book of Latin plant names (don’t do them), pests (got too many of them) and so on; rather it is an invitation to follow the author on a very personal journey of self-discovery with digressions into planting, history, nature and the priniciples of the Benedictine Rule.   I know this because three years after Susan lent me the book, I have reached page 164 (which means there are 184 to go: at this rate I will finish the book in October 2019).

Dyffryn Gardens (National Trust)
Dyffryn Gardens (National Trust)

I should now apologise to those who lectured on the Creative Writing Course at the University of Glamorgan, in particular Maria Donovan , Barrie Llewlyn and Rob Middlehurst because my speed and enthusiasm for reading books is no further advanced now than when they despaired of me between 2004-2007.  Maria instilled the values of sharp editing and good punctuation into me, Barrie taught me objectivity and quality control while Rob and I shared a fondness for 1940s detective stories and surreal humour.   None of them persuaded me to read for the sake of reading.

For a little while I considered whether I should continue my embryonic career in writing but when push came to shove, I found that I could either write or sew – there wasn’t enough in my creative reservoir to do both.  The call of the needle and thread proved stronger than the pen or keyboard and the rest is history.  Except, that is, for me  nurturing a small disappointment that I never did the MPhil in Creative Writing.  At the end of this month however, I embark on the MA in Contemporary Crafts at Hereford College of Arts which should satisfy my postgraduate tendencies for a bit.

Carnedd Cynddylan
Carnedd Cynddylan

I was accepted onto the MA course by virtue of embroideries like ‘Carnedd Cynddylan’ and ‘Dark Tonight’, and tempted by the prospect of learning how to blow glass and forge metal that I could use on pieces of Textile Art.

dark tonight

Over the summer my idea for the MA project has developed and spread like one of the plants in Katherine Swift’s garden.  At first I intended it all to be inspired by my interest in landscape history.  Then I thought about how I could incorporate myth and legend; next came the need to include artefacts and relics; now I realise I have the opportunity to include all the things I learnt through studying Creative Writing with Maria, Barrie and Rob.  Whether all my ideas and plans will ripen into fruition is another matter but I am nothing if not optimistic.

Back at the start of the year I set myself some goals (as opposed to New Year’s Resolutions).  The first was to do some form of further education so I think that one can be ticked off as achieved (or at least a work in progress until December 2017).  Another was to end the year leaner and fitter than I started it.  To this end my sister and I have been doing a 500 mile challenge to raise money for the British Heart Foundation. (You can track our progress here .)  It started back in March with the Carmarthen Mayor’s Race and

I am not the green dragon.
I am not the green dragon.

our challenge finishes next weekend at the Swansea Bay 10k.  In between, my quota of 250 miles has seen me doing a fabulous run around the National Botanic Gardens of Wales,  trekking miles along the wonderful Wales Coastal Path

Llanrhystud Beach
Llanrhystud Beach

and completing the iconic Severn Bridge Half Marathon.

Sut ydy’r her  o deithio 500 milltir cysylltiedig â Chelf Tecstilau?  Oherwydd fy mod i’n cael fy syniadau gorau drwy bod y tu allan.  Does dim ots a fydda i’n rhedeg, cerdded neu eistedd a chael picnic!  Mae rhaid i fi fod yn yr awyr agored i gael syniadau ac ysbrydoliaeth am waith creadigol.

In much the same way as Katherine Swift and the garden at Morville came together to produce a magical book that was as much about the human condition as it was about gardening, I find that just being outside is a huge inspiration to my Textile Art.  I saw  the glistening raindrops on moss covered stone walls that edged the lanes I was running through at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales, I felt the sense of isolation and aloneness along parts of the Ceredigion coast and I smelt the swirling muddy waters of the Severn Estuary.  These are memories which no camera could capture as an image.  The next time you find yourself short of inspiration, try moving through the landscape whether it’s a worked garden like the one at Morville , the wild and rugged hills of Wales or anything you are within reach of!



San Fairy Ann

“green bursts out on every herb; the top of the green oakwood is bushy. summer has come,”

Irish, 10th Century.

When you have a garden, you have no time to call your own.  Flowers, fruit and vegetables are the most demanding of children.  In exchange for their beauty, their perfume, their usefulness and their sustenance they have learnt only two words and they use them incessantly: “me, me, me” and “now, now, now”.

Sticks and Stones
Sticks and Stones

There are many textile artists who choose to be inspired by gardens but I am not one of them.  I am happy however to use my garden in the same way as I start a piece of stitchery off on fabric.  I get an idea which develops and grows almost of its own accord.  Mine is just the hand that happens to hold the needle and thread in textile art and in the garden mine is the hand that happens to wield the trowel and spade.  In both cases, before you know it, the idea starts to look like it had planning behind it.

Green Man
Green Man

Whilst I’ve been preparing for the exhibition on 30th & 31st July at Bryngarw Country Park I’ve also been working on the garden, developing a small area to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.  Although these may seem like wildly divergent subjects, there has been a common thread running through them – the concept of San Fairy Ann.   My late and lovely Aunty Phyl used to dismiss all the awkward happenings which came her way in life with a casual toss of her hand and a good-humoured “Oh, well.  San Fairy Ann.”

The pre San Fairy Ann garden
The pre San Fairy Ann garden

Only recently when I was doing a bit of research on the First World War did I realise that Aunty Phyl had probably inherited the phrase from her Uncle Sid who had been a sapper at the Battle of the Somme.  “San Fairy Ann” is generally accepted to be an Anglicisation of “Ca ne faire rien” which means something like “nothing really matters” .  I can have no concept of how people like great Uncle Sid coped with the reality of the horrors of war and the imminent and random nature of a brutal death but it may be that accepting that life itself is imminent and random so that nothing really matters was the only way to face each day.

Aunty Phyl
Aunty Phyl

In developing the work for the exhibition ‘A Habitation of Dragons’, I’ve been thinking long and hard about dragons.  The last official sighting of a dragon in this country was in 1743 which is not that long ago.  It’s easy to think that the things which happen in our lifetimes are of earth-shattering significance and, on a personal level, they may well be but we are such short-lived creatures.  To a dragon, to whom time is an illusion that holds mankind in its thrall, the traumas of history would ebb and flow in the same way as the moon waxes and wanes, the tides ebb and flow.  One of the hangings I’ve created for the exhibition is of an old, wise dragon called Col whose expression probably reflects the same realisation that “nothing really matters” .

Col the Wise
Col the Wise

I recently read an interesting article about a woman who lost her son when he was just a young man.  She asked the journalist who was writing the obituary to keep her son’s death in perspective because it had taken him just a few minutes to die but before that he had lived for 27 years.  When I was planning the garden to mark the centenary of the Somme, I thought about that a lot.  We look back on the horrors of the First World War, at those gaunt and traumatised faces staring out from grainy black & white films and it’s easy to forget that they, too, had gardens to dig, seeds to plant, weeds to pull.  There would have been a Jack Russell to walk, a cat to stroke, a book to read, a football to kick around the park with a couple of mates.  We have focussed on their end, not their beginning or middle.  Focussing on their end may be right but it should not be exclusive.

One of my San Fairy Ann moments
One of my San Fairy Ann moments

So I called my garden the “San Fairy Ann” garden and I set about building as a celebration of all of their lives and their hope that nothing really matters.  As with so much in my garden, I don’t know the Latin names of plants and quite often, not even the English names of plants.  I know their colours, if I like them, if the bees like them and if they come back year after year or are one summer wonders.

Everyone loves a garden
Everyone loves a garden

I foraged some 100 year old bricks from the reject pile in the old brickworks near our house and I edged my little curling path that winds in and out of the dappled shade so there’s a sense of motion but you don’t actually get anywhere.  One of the roses is called ‘Absent Friends’ and many of the plants have been given to us to plant by our present friends.  There are happy plants and there are poignant plants growing side by side.  There are seashells and windchimes and little solar powered lights and everywhere there’s a sense of things weaving in and out.  To them, there probably seems no order to anything.  To me, when I was planting the garden and laying the paths, there seemed no order to anything but now that summer’s here, it has all come right.

Bydd croeso i bawb i ddod i ymweld ag ein gardd ni ym Mis Medi.  Ewch at y cadwyn isod am ragor o fanylion.  Byddaf i’n hapus i siarad yn y Gymraeg ar y dydd pe hoffech.

And that has made me realise that maybe great Uncle Sid and his compatriots may have understood the lyrics of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody in a deeper way:

“Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really mattered at all”.

Old friends having tea on our lawn
Old friends having tea on our lawn

Incidentally, there was a happy ending for great Uncle Sid.  He returned from the First World War, married his sweetheart, Charlotte, and went on to become a grower of the best and tastiest runner beans in his village.  I think he’d be very happy to see our San Fairy Ann garden.  If you’d like to see it too, you can come to visit when we open our garden for the National Garden Scheme between 12-5pm on Sunday, 4th September 2016.

Dw i’n gallu cofio Wncl Sid yn dda iawn.  Roedd e’n ddyn hyfryd.  Roedd e’n arfer rhannu ei ginio o bysgod a sglods gyda ni.  Roedd e’n arfer ysmygu pibell gydag arolwg o dybaco melys. Mewn storm, roedd e’n arfer cerdded lan i’r mynyddoedd achos bod ofn arno fe.

Great Uncle Sid
Great Uncle Sid