Sunday, 30 March 2014

My first completed work of textile art

I'm delighted to say the workshop with Paddy Hartley was wonderful, and this is my completed piece of art.
My family has strong connections to the Irish Linen industry, and I have told some of their story using this Irish Linen blouse.  Holes and "doors" were cut into it; and images layered into it.  The words were free motion embroidered onto soluble fabric, and the fabric was dissolved in water, leaving the letters made of threads.  

It has inspired me to create something to tell more of the story, which will require further research, and extra photographs.  I'm very proud of my heritage, and my grandmothers who worked hard to create this world famous fabric.  It has been a real pleasure to commemorate them in this way.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Vintage Lamont's Teatowels

I've printed these images onto a special sheet of linen from Crafty Computer Paper, ready for today's workshop.  I've also got some great vintage Old Bleach images, and family photos, printed onto cotton.  Somehow all these images will be added to an Irish linen sleeveless blouse that I got from eBay. It's going to be interesting!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Acrylic painting, quick and dirty.

Last night was my art class, and we had a go at creating a fast seascape painting.  We created a textured base layer by mixing Polyfilla powder into light coloured emulsion paint with added PVA glue to prevent cracking. This mix is very similar to the one used in the textile "Get Plastered" technique.  After painting this mixture onto our paper we added texture by using cling film to lift the wet mixture into peaks, echoing the shape of waves, and created rocks using ready mixed Pollyfilla.  When this was dried we added colour, putting clouds in the sky with our fingers.  My biggest problem was making my clouds look realistic, not like fluffy balls of cotton wool.  I struggle to overcome my instinct to have symmetry, and I'm working on loosening up!

Monday, 24 March 2014

Further research

I'm working on finding out more about my family and the Irish Linen industry.  I've stretched my poor mum's memory to breaking point in my search for information.  She can recall that her mother was chosen to weave parachute fabric during the war, which has got me really intrigued.  I've googled every permutation I can think of, but I can't get any information on this.  Undeterred I have emailed the Linen Hall Library in Belfast, and the Imperial War Museum.  Hopefully one of them will get back to me with more details.  My mum can also remember that her uncle, James "Jimmy" Baird, started out in a room in the factory that was really wet, and the men worked in bare feet with their trouser legs rolled up.  I'm guessing it was the room where the linen was washed and stretched???  Again, I need more details.  Uncle Jimmy went on to work in the print room, and he manually screen printed the tea towels until the process was mechanised.  He continued in the print room until he retired.  Sadly both he and my grandmother, his sister, died decades ago, so I have no one I can ask my questions to.  

Fortunately my aunt has managed to find 5 vintage Samuel Lamont and Sons tea towels, including the famous "Amazing Grace" one.  They are being posted to me, and I will photograph them to use in my Textile Stories workshop at the weekend.  I've got a pack of Crafter's Images Photo Fabric to print my pictures on to, to stitch into my altered wearable art garment.  I bought an Irish linen blouse from eBay to use as my base garment.

I strongly suspect that I won't be able to tell the whole story I have in mind in this single project, so there are lots of ideas pinging around in my head.  I really want to create something for future generations of the family to appreciate what their ancestors did.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Irish Linen and my family

The theme of the Arts Council funded workshops I'm doing, as part of the Bait project in Northumberland, is Textile Stories.  This is the information from Paddy Hartley:

Paddy Hartley Fragments Workshop
29th & 30th March 2014 at Lynemouth Resource Centre

The ‘Fragments workshop will involve exploring soluble fabric 'floating applique' techniques to create wearable artwork. 

Participants will recreate fragments of either an existing garment (cuffs, pockets, collars etc) or cut components from pre-existing garments and use these as a base on which to freehand machine stitch imagery, text and pattern whilst incorporating reinforced dissolving fabric into the creation of the piece.

Participants will work with multi-layers of fabric, using 'excising' techniques to revealunderlying layers of text and imagery in the pieces.

Participants are able to work either individually, in pairs or groups.

Please bring with you on the day:  old coats, jackets, blouses...anything with buttons.  Also you will need to bring either images or scans or text that will relate to the story you wish to work around.

If you want to work by cutting up a pre-existing garment, you will need to bring something you are happy to cut up. You may want to group up and all share a jacket say, choose a component each and remove this from the garment to each work on.

The more you fragment the garment and make unconventional cuts, the better.  The pieces we make will not be permanently attached to any garments they are builtaround. They are detachable.

Participants can work to their own story, or one which may related to the building or community in which we are working or extend the theme of the Miner’s  Strike into the workThis doesnt have to be a literal linear story. Paddy himself tends to work around image and word association

This got me thinking about what the story I could possibly tell.  I don't want to deal with the Miner's Strike because it isn't personal to me; I don't have a story to tell about it.  What I do have is a deep connection to Irish Linen, going back to at least my great grandmother, and perhaps even further.  Both of my grandmothers were involved in the linen industry, and had highly skilled jobs.  It's so sad that we've lost so much of that now.  Thanks to the power of the internet I was able to find some interesting images to share with you.  

Friday, 21 March 2014

Me and my gadgets...

I do love a good gadget, as many of my friends can testify.  Of course I absolutely NEED all of them.  I particularly love machines for crafting, especially ones for using with textiles.  So, when my college tutor demonstrated the embellisher machine I had to have one. Immediately.  This required a thorough investigation of machines and prices.  I looked at reviews and saw that the Creative SP1000 had good reviews, and was reasonably priced.  Next stop eBay to see how cheaply I could acquire one, and there was a brand new one listed as an auction.  Needless to say bidding commenced.  I knew what the cheapest price for one was to buy online, so my maximum bid had to be less than that.  And I won!  It arrived on Wednesday when I was out, and by the time I got home I was too tired to try it out.  Thursday was college day, where I had a go on the embellisher in class so I would know what to do with mine.  I finally tried it out this afternoon, and it is magic. I've created a textured piece using a Markel/Shiva stick rubbed "bark" print, with wool laid across it to mimic the wood.  There are so many exciting possibilities, and things I can do with it.  There will be pictures at some point, I promise.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Tea dyeing, leather and handbags

I've been playing at ageing the appearance of plain cotton calico by dyeing it with tea.  The results are remarkably colourfast, even when washed at 30 degrees.  I'm going to use one of the pieces as the backing fabric for my prayer flag/mini banner on the mines during the Industrial Revolution.  

I met an amazing designer-maker today.  Her name is Karina Hesketh, and she has an MA in fine art.  Karina makes amazing handbags.  She creates the designs with her partner Paul, and each piece is hand cut from Grade A leather.  She makes the bags herself, from start to finish, and each one is unique.  In my opinion her bags are REAL designer bags.  They aren't made on a production line far removed from the so called designer, like Chanel, Dior, and Mulberry.  You can see them at - here's one:

I got off cuts of leather from Karina today, and I'm going to incorporate some into the Industrial Revolution piece (see above) to signify the leather harnesses worn by the women and children coal drawers.  These harnesses had chains attached, and the tubs of coal were then fastened to the chains, and pulled through the mine by women, and children aged as young as 9.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Weekend workshop results

I've retired to bed with a cup of tea, after a very full weekend of textile artistry.  Set out below are the results so far.  They aren't finished yet; once everything has been stitched to the background fabric I'll sew loops to the top to hang them from.  

The inspirations for them are the trade union banners; the Orange Lodge banners of my own community; and modern interpretations of Buddhist  prayer flags.  In chronological order they tell the history of the coal fields, from the Industrial Revolution to post-industrial South East Northumberland today.  I have chosen images from 4 eras that are significant to coal mining, including nationalisation and the strike of 1984/85.  It has been an interesting and absorbing task.  I hope that there will be opportunities to explore this kind of story telling through textiles in the near future.

I will take better photos when they are completed.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Weekend Workshop

I'm spending this weekend doing a workshop in Lynemouth, with Stella Adams-Schofield.  She's an internationally renowned textile artist, and this workshop is part of the Arts Council funded Bait Project in Northumberland.  Our work will be exhibited later on this year.  Stella gave us the Miner's Strike of 1984 as a starting point, but we could choose anything relevant that tells a story through textiles.  After doing some research I decided to show a timeline from women and children down the pits during the Industrial Revolution, through nationalisation and the failed strike 30 years ago that broke the power of the NUM, to the present day and hope for the future.  The workshop is being held in the Lynemouth resource centre, which has a fantastic space with sewing machines, etc, to work in.  I've taken my inspiration from the Union banners, which I'm reinterpreting as modern day prayer flags. I may end up making them in such a way that they can form a fabric book.  I haven't quite decided yet.  These are some of the images I'm using:

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Diverted by felt making

I didn't get any more plaster work done today as we were totally engaged in wet felting.  I got to use my new palm washboards from Heartfelt Silks (  There are a few things to photograph, but they need to be rinsed out and dried first.  The palm washboards are amazingly easy to use, and remove the need for rolling completely.  I think they give more control to your work.  I am really tired now, so it will take some time before I can show you the fruits of my labours.  I am very pleased with everything that I managed to do, including my first attempt at nuno felting.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014


Wednesday is a slow day for me.  Now that I'm doing an evening class on Tuesdays I tend to be pretty tired on Wednesday, plus Thursday is my college day, so that's why it's slow.  It took me ages to wake up this morning - I didn't have breakfast until after mid-day. I had to wash my hair, but I couldn't face blow drying it, so I just let it dry naturally.  I finally put make up on at 6.30pm because I was going to the MS Society meeting, and I really don't do no make up in public - too scary! 

I did manage to prepare 4 pieces of fabric, for tomorrow's class, which I could do sitting down.  Last week on my way home from class I popped into Wilkinson's and got some textured wallpaper samples.  I spent a couple of hours this afternoon tearing them into strips and sticking them onto squares of cotton.  The plan is to stitch them to the fabric in class tomorrow, using the sewing machine, and then plastering over them (as per my previous post Getting Plastered).  I also have last week's plastered fabrics to stitch into as they will be dry by now.  I can't wait to see how one in particular has dried, as I loved the effect I got as I was working on it.  There will be photos to follow.  

We're also going to be wet felting tomorrow, and I'm taking my Heartfelt Silks wooden palm washboards to try out.  You can see them on their website.  I hope to have lots to show you all in the next few days.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Not forgetting the tree bark!

There's still a lot of time to be spent in class exploring texture.  As I've mentioned before, our theme is tree bark.  I've done two small hand embroideries on heavy weight up bleached calico.  They both use French knots and bullion knots to create a textured finish.  Here they are:

All feedback welcome.


It's a beautiful sunny day here in Morpeth, and I've got yet more delicious dyed gorgeousness for you.  I used up the last of my Tulip Luau tie dye kit yesterday on a selection of vintage lace and doilies.  There's something wonderfully subversive about taking a object that is often considered prim and proper, and changing the colour to something unexpected.  I hope you like them:

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Delicious dyeing day

I just love dyeing fabrics by hand.  The colours always look so lush and vibrant when they are being applied.  I've been wanting to dye some of my own stuff at home for ages, and today I finally got around to it.  I used the Tulip one step tie dye kit (Luau), which comes with 5 plastic bottles containing the dye powder, elastic bands and plastic gloves.  All you have to do is add water, shake to mix, and apply.  It even comes with refill packs of dye powder.  I saw it demonstrated on YouTube by Traci Bautista, a mixed media artist, and I got it from Amazon.  I've dyed a variety of pieces of fabric and vintage lace.  Now I have to be patient and leave it for 24 hours before I rinse it out.  I'll photograph the results when it's all been washed and dried.  I can't wait to see how it turns out.  Some of it may make its way into the textiles workshops I'm doing next week.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

CrafTea Afternoon at the Made Cafe, Whitley Bay

I had a lovely afternoon, with my very good friend Janet, trying out lots of new crafts.  We did the CrafTea Afternoon, where you get to try lots of different crafts AND eat a scrumptious afternoon tea with some of the best cheese scones I have ever tasted.  We started off making bath melts with cocoa butter and botanicals - mine have rose petals and lavender - and bath salts with essential oils.  Then we  made tea cup candles, had a go at making an altered, folded book, and finally iced some cup cakes. It was great fun, and only £35 for the full afternoon (12 - 4).  I can highly recommend visiting the website and booking a workshop: The only thing not in the photo is the candle - 

Friday, 7 March 2014

Slow start

The time on my iPad as I'm typing says 11.16 am.  It's one of those days that's going to take a lot to get me going.  This is typical for the day after college.  My head is full of stuff I want to do; my body isn't ready to do them!  I have only one thing that has to be done today, and that's not until 7.00 pm, so I'll be taking things very slowly until then.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Getting plastered!

No, I don't mean getting drunk; this involves PVA glue, DIY powdered plaster filler, emulsion paint and fabric.  Today's lesson at college was based on a technique by textile and mixed media artist Maggie Smith, from County Durham.  Her book on the subject is called "Get Plastered: plaster, paint and stitch".  It's all about creating texture and surface detail on calico fabric, and today we were creating tree bark inspired textures, using various mark making implements in this plaster mixture, on cotton fabric.  This is then painted over with watercolour paint, and has a lovely vintage feel when it's finished.  Needless to say I'm dying to do more of this at home with more fabrics, to include: some old lace, vintage embroidery, and wallpaper samples.  There will be photographs to follow.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Attempted watercolour of tree bark

Last evening was my painting and drawing class, so I decided to have a go at a watercolour (our current medium) of my textiles class tree bark.  I have placed a photo of the real thing along side one of my watercolour.  I doubt if I'll be getting any calls from art galleries, but at least I've had a go.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

A typical day

A very good friend raised an interesting point in conversation today, and so that's what prompted this post.  She said "If I didn't know how tired you get, and all the things you can't do because of your MS, your blog would make me think that you are really well".  I haven't blogged about the time it takes me to get going in the morning, or how much rest I have to have because I thought it would be boring.  My friend countered that argument with "Other people out there with MS need to know you aren't superwoman!"  So here is a guide to my typical day.  

I don't make any appointments before 11.00 am, unless I have no choice in the matter.  Getting from waking up to being dressed takes a minimum of 2 hours, and at least 2 cups of caffeinated coffee to lift the weariness from my brain.  And that's only on the days when I can actually function.  There are days when I live in my PJs, and only leave my bed to use the loo.  My iPad is my boon companion.  I can sit up in bed and write this blog, browse Pinterest and Facebook, and watch TV on it.  On my very worst days I just sleep for hours at a time.  As Thursday is my day at college I keep Wednesday and Friday free to rest.  No rest = no college.  There are days when resting makes no difference.  I can spend a whole day resting and still have no energy the next day.

MS affects everyone differently. Most of us have fatigue and memory loss.  I can also trip over invisible objects, choke on my own saliva, and throw a cup of tea over myself.  The tremor in my hands comes and goes; the finger and thumb pincer grip is one of the worst to control because my thumb shakes.  Sometimes my hand jerks, and whatever I'm holding gets chucked across the room.  I've fallen down the stairs when my feet just went from under me - so now I use a stair lift. Sometimes my left side goes numb, all the way down to the tips of my toes, and I can't feel the floor under my foot.  I've got permanent loss of sensation in my right hand from a particularly nasty relapse that caused loss of balance and numbness in my right hand, arm, and the side of my face.

I lost my job because after 6 months they couldn't keep waiting for me to recover.  And even now, nearly 18 months later, I couldn't do that job. 

So what can I do?  Well, I can take each day as it comes, make the most of the energy I do have, and pace my activities to try and stay as well as possible. I could wake up tomorrow and not be able to get out of bed with fatigue; or not be able to see out of my left eye due to optic neuritis; or my feet and legs could be numb; or my balance might have gone haywire .... No one knows what's round the corner, and if you have MS, or one of the other chronic conditions such as MS and Fibromyalgia, this is particularly true.  I just tell myself "This too shall pass", which is my personal mantra, and make the most of the good days.  Creativity keeps me sane; rest keeps me (mostly) functioning.

Jose Romussi

I've mentioned before how much inspiration can be found on Pinterest, and that's where I found Jose Romussi's work.  He is a Chilean born artist, living and working in Berlin.  He became an artist by accident, and moved to Berlin to work because his family couldn't understand why he switched careers.  He takes photographs and embroiders on top of them.  His series of dancers uses vintage photographs from the 1920s, and the embroidery creates the impression of movement.  You can find more information about him, and pictures of his work, via Google.  I particularly like this piece:

Monday, 3 March 2014

Barking mad

There are a phenomenal number of photographs of tree bark on Pinterest, and lots that could easily be interpreted in fabric and stitch.  Here are some of my favourites:
I haven't quite got the hang of getting photographs exactly where I want them on the page yet!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The infamous colour boards

Those of you who have been kind enough to follow this blog will have read me wittering on about my Colour module display boards.  They are finally ready for the final sticking-on process.  And here they are, with apologies for the poor quality of the photos, and the fact that they uploaded in reverse order!