Fragmented thoughts…

In meditation, we’re encouraged to still the mind, to quiet the chatter of myriad thoughts and achieve clarity.

Today I find my mind is struggling to find clarity – instead it resembles thousands of shards of coloured glass.

I love stained glass windows – occasionally for the designs, but more often for the impact on my senses of the kaleidoscope of colour.



Window in Bath Abbey






Ok, it’s alright, chat amongst yourselves – it’s just that I’m still Splodging and as we all know, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and even though the unstitched space is getting smaller, I can’t bring myself to take any more photos until I’ve put the last stitch in the middle.

But in the meantime…

The very observant amongst you will have noticed a snaily addition to the right-hand side-bar. (Go on, have a little peep now).

I went off on one of those Blogland explorations a few days ago, and just thought this was wonderful – do click on it and read the Slow Bloggers Manifesto – sums things up pretty well.

Right, off again. Back soon I hope with the finished item.

Happy stitching.

I’m not a knitter but…

Now as you’ll know, I’m not a knitter, but many of my best friends in Blogland are.

I think you are all celebrities – probably looking like this



or this



maybe even this…



See – you’re all in wonderful (if a little scary) company.

I like to think that if I was ever to knit I’d look like this…



Happy knitting everyone!


With thanks to The Telegraph magazine, May 11 2013.


Why it is dangerous to make plans…

There’s a quote attributed to Woody Allen, that goes,

If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.

Well, I think the gods must be having a good old giggle over me this week.

At the beginning of October, I (rashly as it turns out), declared my intention to draw trees every day of the month.  I also promised a friend, that we’d have our long-delayed coffee and cake get together  at the end of last week.

Well, you can guess can’t you, within hours of making those two simple plans, things started to go pear-shaped.

In the last two weeks, I’ve had two daughters laid up in bed with grotty colds, one husband laid up with man-flu, a nasty cold myself (not that that was allowed to get in the way…), and just as things looked like picking up, my coffee and cake friend’s daughter came down with the same bug. So, not much drawing, and no coffee and cake.

I haven’t been entirely lacking in the tree department, but that will be the subject of another post. This is just to say that with all the additional time sitting around with sickies, I’ve managed to finish the needlepoint I started on the linen scrim.

The finished piece is approximately 13.5 inches square. I had a quick look at calculating the number of stitches that have gone into it, – not something I normally do, but this was the smallest gauge I’ve ever needlepointed, and I was fascinated to know. The answer – give or take a few, is 72,900.

I started it at around the 8th of September and finished on the 11th October – so about a month. Not as bad as I thought it might be at the outset.

I’m telling you all this, because if I’m honest, although I liked the material, I was hugely daunted by the tiny holes when I began this, and I thought I might just call it an experiment. But having got into it, I’m not feeling nearly so negative.

The biggest downside, is that it really needs working in quite fine wools or silks, and my stock is mostly tapestry wools – too thick for the scrim. A good excuse for some more thread sourcing!

So, I think I can say it’s a thumbs-up for the linen scrim. I desperately need to find some new neutral colours to work in – I’ve realised that the stone texture piece won’t work with the palette I currently have available. I’m optimistic that I’ll find something suitable in knitting wool, but that will exclude the possibility of using the scrim.

Sounds like I have a bit of homework/shopping to do – could be worse – just don’t  go telling anyone – please.



Julia Blackett – Needlepoint Heroine

Some of you might know that the other great love in my life after needlepoint, is visiting historic places. (I generally write about that from time to time on my other blog – Mostly Motley).

What practically makes me drool with excitement, is when I get to combine both passions.

This happened to me back in August, when we visited Wallington, Northumberland  (a country house now in the care of The National Trust).

Wondering around the house in the languid way I do these days (so much less stressful now the girls are old enough not to need supervising), I came across  a simply amazing 6 panel needlepoint screen, in a room called – for no reason I could find out – The Pigeon Hole.

detail from the needlepoint screen

It’s a good job that my daughters now make their own way around these historic houses, because my habit of spending long minutes, peering intently at the stitching, is guaranteed to cause them huge embarrassment. Naturally I had a really good look at the panels and what overwhelmed me, was the sheer size and detail of the work and the tiny stitches with which it was constructed (petit point).

I’d rashly assumed that it was something purchased by the family for the house, but the lovely Room Guide pointed out a small portrait of a rather beautiful lady, called Julia Blackett, who I was told, had stitched the screen herself in 1727. The link to that portrait is here if you want to take a look.

According to the guide-book, the screen, which is worked in fine wool, was inspired by Wenceslaus Hollar’s 1663 edition of the Georgics and Eclogues of the poet Virgil. I’ll have to take their word on that, my classics education didn’t stretch that far, but I can’t help wondering about the thought process of Julia when she decided to create the work. Was she a scholar? Was this popular reading in seventeenth and eighteenth century aristocratic circles? Would the people who saw the screen, have understood what it was saying?

Then I wonder how she went about planning it. Did she have drawings? Did she create the drawings herself, or was there a market in needlepoint kits back then? How did she get the wool? Who supplied it? She certainly couldn’t order online!

Of course most people would assume that she had plenty of time on her hands to actually do the sewing, but I wonder about that too. It’s all very well in good daylight, but it must have been nigh on impossible to see well enough at night – have you ever done any fine work by candlelight? I suppose there must be a suspicion that she didn’t do it alone – if that’s true, I wish we knew a lot more about who the other women (I’m assuming it would have been ladies?) were.

I’d love to know more, because this is really what gets me so excited when I find old needlework. It’s the sense of connection with the individual whose fingers held the cloth and plied the needle, for hours and hours and many long hours. When we make pieces of needlework, we put something of ourselves into it – and in some way, that essence reaches out from the work.

I wonder if this is to some extent why historic quilts are so evocative – it’s a similar connection between the lives of people from the past and those going through the same process today.

Anyway, you can imagine, seeing Julia’s work made my day.

But then, just a few steps down the corridor, I came to the Needlework Room!

What a shock – it turns out that Julia had done far more than just the screen. The Needlework Room contains ten long needlepoint (tent stitch) panels, with an oriental theme – exotic birds and flowers. Annoyingly, I didn’t have my camera, so below are a couple of links to show the work.

Go here for a detail from one of the panels

And if you go here, you can see more of the panels There are beautiful almost matching chairs in the room too – you can just see them in the second picture, but they aren’t actually attributed to Julia.

Apparently, she made all these over a period of three years in the 1710’s, for the Drawing Room of her home in Esholt, near Bradford. It was her son, Sir Walter Calverley Blackett, who had the needlework brought to Wallington in 1755, when he sold the Bradford property. I’m so pleased that he was proud enough of his mother’s work to preserve it in his new family home, creating a room especially to show it.

I’ve tried to find out a little more about Julia Blackett, but she remains elusive. We have a couple of portraits and we have her needlework and we know that she was born in 1686 and died in 1736 – that’s it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if somewhere in the family archive, there were letters or diaries that could tell us more. In the absence though, we can look at her work and let our imaginations soar.

Julia Blackett, Lady Calverley (1686 – 1736)

Julia Blackett  – needlepoint heroine.




  • Thanks to the photographers on Flickr who posted the pictures.
  • My non-stitchy blog is Mostly Motley – it’s a fairly random affair.
  • Wallington has loads more lovely and fascinating things to see – do go if you’re in the area.



The Alchemy of Art

Having been so intensely working on The Shell piece lately, I missed reading some of the blogs I usually keep up to date with. But at the end of last week I went back to the wonderful Rima Staines’s blog – The Hermitage, and was bowled over by her post, The Alchemist.

I’m a big fan of Rima’s artwork and look forward to her posts, but in The Alchemist, I found myself thinking how close my own experience of transformation is, to that which Rima describes in the creation of her paintings. And I was especially taken by her use of the ribbons as threads of magical inspiration woven into a work and then taken up by others as a result of contact with the work.

This is incredibly resonant with the way I see the creation of tapestry pieces.

Not only are these works literally the weaving of threads, but in creating the pieces, we bring parts of ourself into the work too. Our moods, our feelings, our loves, are all incorporated. But these inspirations have originated through our response to other works of art or nature and so we are bound too within a web of creation.

Rima talks about the act of creation as nourishment to the soul and I have to say I heartily agree. When I’m immersed in my stitching, I’m in a deeply peaceful place, more than simply a relaxation, it is actually stimulating. Thoughts and ideas grow there. Indeed it is extremely nourishing, and probably the reason why having given in to the desire to sew, I now find myself feeling whole.

Who are we to know who will pick up a thread from our work, or what they will make of it? – it doesn’t really matter. The point is that we are all alchemists, all involved in transformations and all enriching the greater whole by pursuing our art.

A huge thank-you to Rima for expressing the magic of alchemy.




A Bit Grumpy…

Ever had one of those weeks?

I can’t really complain – but I will anyway.

The thing is, the tree is coming along very slowly, but I can’t say I’m all that happy with it. In my mind, it was going to have more contrast, more texture, more je ne sais quoi.

And it doesn’t.

And although I want to sit and slap some ideas around, I haven’t managed to do that yet – partly I suspect because I’m trying to solve the tree problem and I don’t want to leave it without feeling happier about it.

So, I’m feeling a bit grumpy and a bit out of sorts. And the best thing when I’m in this frame of mind is to get off and moan in private.

I’ll come back when I’ve got my happy face back (as my mother thankfully never said).

Have a good weekend.

Springing Into Autumn

The new term has put a spring in my step. I have never really understood why people talk about fresh starts in January – for me, Autumn is the time when I feel energised, enthusiastic and ready to start again.

So the children are finally back at school and I’ve just about re-established contact with the bottom of the laundry pile, and at last I feel able to have some ‘me’ time. It’s been ages since I wrote here, but that’s because we spent most of August camping in Scotland (well I know that might not suit everyone, but we had the best time imaginable).

It’s my intention to scatter the odd post about the holiday on my other blog Mostly Motley from time to time, so if tales of wet walks up mountains, soft golden sandy beaches and castles galore are your thing, do pop over there occasionally and have a look.

But this blog is my creative space, so it’s time for a quick update.

Well full of good intentions, I actually took a small bag and some tapestry supplies away with me, thinking that I would sit and watch the sunsets, whilst putting in a few stitches. But in truth, I never actually took out the contents during the whole holiday. The fact is that we were either too wet or too tired to sit outside very much, and on the occasions when we did, I found that simply gazing at the views was enough. Oh and I suppose that having to move around quite a lot to avoid being midge fodder was an additional disincentive.

I did however, take a lot of photographs of the sort that my husband calls ‘arty’, but are in fact simply pictures without him or our daughters in them.

Kirkaig Falls, near Lochinver.

I also spent a great deal of time just looking. The scenery on the West Coast of Scotland is unsurpassed in my opinion. Ever since I was a small child, going there on holiday with my parents, the combination of mountains, lochs and the sea has had me in thrall. We drove to the Corran Ferry through some of the most atrocious rain we’ve ever experienced, but as we got to Glen Coe, the rain disappeared and the weather changed. We got out of the car to stretch our legs before the ferry arrived and tears came to my eyes, it’s just unspeakably beautiful and I felt that I was being welcomed back.

After three weeks of Highland scenery, I feel well and truly re-energised. My inspiration levels are topped up and at least for a while I’m calm again.

For two years now, I’ve been mangling my brain, trying to fit my square career experience into the round hole that is the real me, and I think that I might now have tipped the balance properly and decided not to beat myself up any more, (well I expect the occasional relapse), but no more attempts to come up with the perfect solution. For now, I’m going to be nice to myself and see where it takes me.

My Autumn resolution is to draw and paint every day. I can’t do that when the family are at home, so I’ll make time during the day. At night, I’ll always be able to sew – that remains my best therapy.

It’s been thirty-three years since I gave myself permission to draw and paint just for pleasure – I wonder what’s lurking inside.

Anyway, enough of this introspection.

Here is a pastel sketch of Hadrian’s Wall from a picture I took while we were there. I did it yesterday. Well, it’s a start!

Hadrian's Wall (pastel)