Which canvas are you?

Do you enjoy personality tests?

We’ve all experienced them at one time or another, whether serious ones when applying for jobs (INFJ* if you’re interested), or the marginally less serious ones in personal-development books, online-dating, dieting, and of course the entirely spurious ones in countless magazine features – they crop up all over the place.

For some reason, when I was fishing through my stash of canvas the other day, I couldn’t help thinking that our preferred choice of canvas might well be an indicator of our personality.

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– straight-forward, upright, focussed, likes sticking rigidly to the rules…

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– needs a bit of structure, but bends the rules a little from time to time – prefers having some flexible of space to work in…

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– pretends to conform, but actually quite a rebel, frequently moving off in different directions…

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– entirely unpredictable, potential anarchist…

Yep, use them all – what does that tell you?

Happy stitching!

*Myers-Briggs test.

The ones that got away…

I’m always telling people how meditative stitching can be, and how wonderful it feels to ‘let go’ and simply enjoy the process – which is all true, for me stitching is where I’m most myself. But perhaps it’s worth mentioning, that it isn’t always plain sailing. Sometimes, the idea in your head refuses to be captured in stitch. Sometimes, despite everything you do, the piece you’re working on, just doesn’t click. 2015-03-19 12.21.49 Anyone making faster art will also have this experience, I’m certain – let’s be honest, more of what we create goes in the bin than on the wall. But making slow art has the particular downside, that you can invest considerable time – we’re talking days, perhaps weeks – into a piece, only to find at some point, you don’t like it, it doesn’t feel right. Which is the time when you have to decide whether to press on regardless and hope it comes together later, or put it down to experience and consign it to the ‘no’ pile. It isn’t always easy to accept that the time poured into a piece isn’t going to result in the work you’d set your heart on. So just in case anyone else is going through a rough patch on the creative front at the moment and thinks they’re the only one, I thought today I’d show you my collection of might have beens from the last few months, the ones I’m calling my experiments, the ones that got away…

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Keep calm and carry on stitching.

And breathe…

Just about recovered now from the final episode of Wolf Hall – phew – even though you knew what was coming, it was still heart-ripping.

And so apparently it’s nearly the end of February – a busy month around here, family birthdays, car MOTs, half-term – I’m always surprised how very ‘full’ this shortest month can feel.

This month, despite remaining cold and grey for much of the time, spring has actually arrived on the lane. Buds on trees and a tiny clump of snowdrops give me visual confirmation, but the daily chorus of birdsong (plus the drilling of the woodpecker), leaves me in no doubt, the mornings are getting lighter and spring is here.

I’ve had a sticky few weeks on the stitching front. Several pieces started, with enthusiasm, but somehow unwilling to go the distance. In an attempt to rid myself of whatever was blocking me, I had a good old thrash around with the metallic paints and then on Friday 13th, I went off for the day to Ely cathedral – an artist’s date – to top-up the creative juices. I’ve posted about the cathedral over at Mists of Time – do pop over there if you’d like to see pictures. 

Ely has a superb stained glass museum – and of course the cathedral itself has a vast amount of stained glass windows – the whole jewel colour extravaganza always carries me off to some other place – and I think it shows in the stitching…

I’ve finally managed to settle into a piece that I’m confident now I’ll stay with until it’s finished – another tree would you believe.

And February has set me a challenge which I’m sure may well keep me occupied for some considerable time – the whole question of whether William Shakespeare of Stratford, was actually also the playwright...or not.

Since writing the previous post, I’ve been carefully reading Shakespeare: An Unorthodox Biography by Diana Price – a good place to begin as it attempts to establish the knowns and unknowns, without getting hung up on possible alternatives. I’ll post more, once I feel I’ve digested it enough to make my initial thoughts clear, but I’m already hooked, it really is a fabulous mystery, and perfect for early night bedtime reading.

I hope February hasn’t been too harsh where you are – happy stitching!

You can find almost daily pictures on my Instagram page.

 

Show and Tell…

As promised, here are a few pictures I took at the Artists’ Network Bedfordshire’s exhibition last weekend. This was the first time I’ve ever shown any of my stitched tapestries to anyone ‘outside‘.

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You’ll no doubt remember my problems with getting anything from the ‘stitched‘ state, to the ‘showable‘ state over the years. The brilliant thing about having the opportunity to show at this exhibition, was being gently forced to face up to the issue and find a solution.

Thanks to Kathy (Of Gardens, Grandmothers and Gleanings), blogging about the The Eye of The Needle exhibition at the Ashmolean, I went over to Oxford and saw how the Feller Collection had mounted some of their fragments of needlework, using calico stretched over a canvas frame, with the needlework stitched to the calico. Ta Dah! At last, a way to do it that seemed sympathetic with my pieces and achievable without too much difficulty.
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Here’s my table with Firmament, Hedonism and Brian.

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So what did I learn over the weekend?

IMAG7479I discovered how good it feels to be part of a group of like minded people. Making art in many forms is a largely solitary existence, so getting together with other people was a wonderfully uplifting experience. It’s wonderful to find kindred spirits out there! And as you can see, they’re a talented and versatile lot around here.

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I also learned that people are very interested in how we make our pieces. I hadn’t anticipated how chatty visitors would be, and it was quite an eye-opener to realise that complete strangers might actually want to know more about the process and the inspiration behind our work. I also discovered how much I enjoy talking about my stitching (I do hope I didn’t bore for England, but once I got going, I found I loved explaining all about it).

So my first foray into the real world was a very happy experience, and now I know that I can do it, I’m sure I’ll be doing it again.

 

 

 

Scotland and other news…

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Scotland is very much in the news at the moment with the vote less than 24 hours away! But I shall have Scotland in mind throughout 2015 thanks to Jo Woolf at The Hazel Tree, who has produced a fabulous calendar featuring her wonderful photographs of Scottish scenery – and best of all for me – Scottish castles…

If like me you’re in love with Scottish countryside and history and you’re not already following Jo’s blog and website, do go over there right now and have a look around. I thought I knew Scotland pretty well, but since I’ve been reading Jo’s posts, I’ve acquired a long list of places I must visit the next time I go north for a holiday.

I’m not sure how many calendars Jo has available, but there’s a link here to take you to her Etsy shop if you fancy a little piece of Scotland on your wall next year.

(I’m sure you know me well enough by now, but just to reassure you, this is a personal recommendation and not sponsored in any way – I am just a big fan!).

And in other news…

Well, I’ve finally done it – I have decided to dip my toe tentatively into the real world with my stitchy stuff. At the weekend, I’m hoping to have a small number of my stitched tapestries on display at the Ivinghoe Community Hub, (really close to Ivinghoe Beacon for those in the know) as part of the Artists’ Network Bedfordshire September Art Trail.

Having played around with various ideas, I’ve finally come up with a simple, but I hope effective way of presenting the tapestries, so the last few days have seen me busily putting them together, stabbing myself in the finger far too many times with a very sharp needle and having much more fun than is strictly allowed with a roll of bubble-wrap.

If anyone is in the Beds/Bucks/Herts borderland this weekend and fancies tea, cake and original local art – Ivinghoe is your place to be (the tea room in the same building is absolutely first-rate – it really is extremely good, and you know I’m fussy about these things!).

Wish me luck!

Tree time: July…

Phew, we made it to the last day of term! Things are a bit behind around here, but I’ve just stolen a few minutes to write up the latest from my daily tree project, before I pour a large glass of something red and delicious and head to the sofa.

This was the oak at the beginning of July

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As the weeks go by and the hedges fill outwards and upwards, it’s getting harder to see the tree behind the green screen.

And here it is today (July 23rd) – the bird box is now almost invisible behind all the growth.

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Seven months in and the best thing for me about this whole project so far, is that I’ve gone from sort of noticing what was going on around me, to really being interested and looking out every day for changes in the hedges and trees along our route. I’ve become much more aware of what’s growing where and the developing leaves, flowers and now fruits too. I wish there was a pet naturalist handy to come along on the odd walk and tell me more about what I’m seeing, but I’m definitely learning a lot about the local plant and animal/bird life.

A while ago, I realised that I’m inevitably going to want to be able to compare what I’ve seen this year with what happens next year. At first I tried keeping a daily diary – on paper and then digitally, but I just don’t have the time to keep up that pace, so I thought I’d try to do a summary here once in a while.

So the highlights of July on our daily walk have been…

IMAG6720_BURST001Seeing the baby conkers start to form.

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But being concerned that the horse-chestnut trees already seem to have gone into autumn mode – they’re all like this, is that normal or are they ill?

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Ok, you’re probably wondering why I’ve put this picture here. Well, until mid-July the whole lane was a mess of huge, dangerous pot-holes (which it has had for as long as I’ve been walking this route) Then one morning two weeks ago, as the dog and I stood clear of a fast approaching Audi, we watched him hit a particularly big hole and blow out his front tyre. I stopped to talk to him and he said the council should sort out the road – oh yes, I thought, and pigs will be sprouting wings any day now, but just look what happened a week later!

Mind you, it was a very patchy job to say the least, as you can see by the amount of water still filling the holes after the mid-month thunderstorms…

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Can you see the squashed traffic cone in the hedge – it used to mark the biggest hole. You’d still be foolish to drive, walk or cycle in those puddles.

Talking of rain, we’ve certainly had our share this month. The lane becomes a fast-flowing stream – which I love, but the dog hates…

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The sky has been wonderful

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But perhaps the best part of the month has been watching the fruits arrive in the hedgerow…

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elderberries, not ready yet, but there will be plenty.

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Hazelnuts,

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and blackberries, although there are still a lot of brambles in flower.

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These thistles are nearly over now, but I loved their shape and texture.

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The lane feels more like a tunnel now that the hedges are so high. This was the lane in February

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And today.

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I think I may have become a tiny bit obsessed with all this 🙂

 

 

Why I Stitch…

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If you spend half as much time trawling Blogland as I do, you’ll no doubt have seen a fair number of bloggers lately writing about why they write. I love reading these posts, I suppose we’re all fascinated by what brings us back to the blank screen, time after time.

I started thinking about writing one myself, but before I got very far, the word stitch booted out the word write and just wouldn’t go away. So why I write will have to wait for another day, this post, shamelessly using the same format, is about…

Why I Stitch…

What am I working on?

This is what I’m stitching at the moment – well, I would be if I wasn’t also running a part-time taxi service for two teenage daughters, doing daily battle against the invading laundry pile and attempting – frequently in vain –  to keep on top of the cooking/shopping/gardening and cleaning.

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This time I’m going for some gentle texture, so it’s what I’ve taken to calling a canvas embroidery as opposed to the stitched tapestries which are smoother (because they’re all done in tent stitch).

How does my stitch differ from others in the genre?

Ummm, is there a stitched tapestry/canvas embroidery genre? I’ve never been able to decide if what I do fits into any category, which is probably why I find it difficult to know what to call it. All I can say that I know is perhaps unusual, is that I much prefer to stitch into loose-weave canvas materials rather than the rigid monos and interlocks – it makes for interesting times trying to square anything up, but I like the feel, the weight and the drape of the finished pieces much more than anything I’ve ever done on stiff canvas.

Or perhaps I should say that for me, stitching is just painting in threads. I use wools, silks and cottons as a painter would apply oils, acrylics or watercolours – thread just happens to be the medium in which I’m most at home.

Why do I stitch what I do?

I was tempted to answer this ‘I stitch, therefore I am’ (sorry Mr Descartes). I don’t know why I stitch, but I don’t seem to be complete, to feel at one with life the universe and everything unless I have some stitching on the go. It’s just something I’ve done for so many years, it’s integral to who I am.

I tell people that I find the process of stitching meditative and that’s true. When I’m repeatedly passing the needle backwards and forwards through the canvas, I find a peace and inner calm. But when you think about it, that’s not surprising because it’s not something you can do quickly, so it forces you to slow down, and then finding the tiny holes literally requires one-pointed focus, both characteristics of meditation techniques.

As for subject matter, I always wonder where inspiration comes from. I’ve mentioned before how the druidic concept of awen* appeals very much to me, I like to embrace that idea. And somewhere deep in the machinations of my mind, my love of all things ancient and historic, of medieval arts and crafts, and of the patterns and textures from the natural world, coagulates into the designs that finally end up in the canvas.

How does my stitching process work?

Much easier to answer this. I’ll generally start with something loosely seen in my mind – it might be a combinations of colours or a pattern or something that has kindled an idea. I might try to sketch something on paper – probably getting the paints out too, although I never end up with anything even vaguely akin to the cartoons tapestry weavers may use. I just try to see how it might sit in two dimensions.

Then I lay out the canvas and draw on a rough guide (one advantage of using loose-weave scrims and crash, is that it’s much cheaper than tapestry canvas, so I’m not afraid to get anything wrong).

Then I rifle through my stash of yarns and pull out all the colours and textures I think I’m going to want. (If the project starts with a colour concept, this stage will come before the design). Often I’ll decide I need to add shades, so it’s off to whoever has what I’m looking for – I love that part! And frequently, once I’m into the piece, I’ll decide it needs additional shades, so these are bought in as and when they’re wanted.

I mainly use a clip-on frame to hold the canvas because I like to be able to move around it – I suppose this is where I really depart from woven projects which have to be created line by line and this is also why I tend to think of it as painting in threads, after all you don’t paint from the top up or visa versa, you go all over the canvas as the piece requires, and this is to some extent how I stitch (this is also how I decide how to fine-tune which colours to use where).

And after that, it’s just a case of sitting down and stitching and stitching and stitching until all those little holes are finally filled with threads.

* Awen: It’s not an easy concept to sum up in a few words here. The wiki link is a start, but there are druid bloggers and writers who do a better job – albeit in many more words if you’re interested.

A couple of Why I Write posts I’ve really enjoyed are from Sue at The Quince Tree and Jessica at Rusty Duck. Check out the comments on both these blogs for links to more lovely bloggers’ posts – you’ll need a large mug of your favourite beverage and half and hour at least to while away, but it’s one of the best ways to meet some new Blogland heros.

Do continue the hop if you haven’t already, whether it’s why you write or stitch, or, well – whatever makes your heart sing.

Moonbeams…

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Inspiration comes from many places and sometimes we don’t really know exactly why a piece evolves the way that it does. But that wasn’t the case with the latest piece of stitched tapestry, because from the moment I saw the fabulous silk Moonbeams on a Mystic Sea from Eleanor Lee at Solstice Yarns, I had a good idea in my mind of how I wanted to use it.

And so here it is. I’m calling this one Moonbeams because that’s where it all came from.

In addition to the greeny silk in there, much of the purply background and big purple patches also came from Eleanor’s wickedly enticing store. There are also a couple of blatantly sparkly gold and silver metallics and a rather subtler, almost silver silk in there, to add a twinkle or two as you walk past.

Working with Eleanor’s threads has been pure bliss. They stitch into the cotton crash so happily, you’d think they’d been designed with that in mind.

Thank you Eleanor.

Moonbeams.

Approximately 38cm x 38cm

Silk, wool and metallic threads on cotton crash.

May & June 2014

 

 

All over the shop…

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So, how’s May been for you?

I was mildly surprised this week to find it’s almost over, surely it can’t have gone by quite that fast.

I seem to have walked in a lot of rain lately, which has had the benefit of making everything smell wonderful, although the elderflowers are refusing to come out until they get some more warm sunshine.

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There has been some stitchiness, but I’m having real trouble getting this one to photograph – this is the best shot I’ve managed so far. Is it me, or does my phone simply not like doing bluey shades – anyone else have this problem?

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Otherwise, it’s all been a bit of a blur.

Did manage a quick trip to Berkhamsted Castle yesterday (dodging the rain – just!). There’s a post over at Mists of Time if you’re interested in ruined castles that had a lot of big name medieval visitors… (oh I know, no need to feel guilty). 

Back in June!

Happy stitching.

Ta Dah…

Well thanks to a productive weekend, it’s done! Thank you so much to everyone who commented with ideas on a name for the latest piece. Something nearly always suggests itself to me while I’m working on a canvas, but this time although I’ve really enjoyed stitching it, there was a deafening radio silence as far as names were concerned, so it was really helpful to hear your thoughts.

There was considerable consensus on a title that spoke about flow, movement and nature. Something about it evidently evokes a Jacobean feeling, and the colours are distinctly autumnal.

As I’ve been stitching during the last week or so, I’ve been mulling over all your comments, playing around with word associations and combinations, waiting for the name that felt right to emerge.

Now when I tell you what happened, you’ll have to remember I am a true child of the ’60s, certain experiences molded me at an early age. So when Alister at The Bargellist mentioned in his comment being able to see snails, it triggered a chain reaction in my head. First I had a little giggle, because although not designed as snails, I could see precisely what he meant, I’m forever drawing spirals, they crop up in lots of things I make, and yes, there is a distinct snailiness about this piece.

The obvious thing was to call it snails, but…

…the trouble is, I am of the The Magic Roundabout generation, for me all snails have but one name, and so, although I tried hard to think of it as something a trifle more elegant, in the end I give you…

IMAG4881… Brian

You might be interested to know that in Christian art, snails symbolise laziness or the deadly sin of sloth…

Thank you to Catherine at Knotted Cotton for introducing me to A Scientific Romance – I’ve just bought a copy and will add it to the reading for the  ‘A Year in Books’ project.

If you want to indulge in a little Magic Roundabout nostalgia, click here.

Time for bed

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This, that and the other…

Well, THIS is where I am with the current piece…

IMAG4548Would anyone care to suggest a title? Usually something pops up in my mind, but I think my creative impulse is taking a spring break…

Here it is a bit closer up…

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)O(

While THAT – below– is what happens when you finally get your old easel out and play with paint all afternoon.

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Although I always felt most at home with oil paint,  the practical difficulties of using it in a house where there’s no space to leave your kit set up and where you have to snatch opportunities ‘as and when’, has prevented me from painting for years. But lately Number One Daughter and I have been dabbling in gouache and acrylics, which although not the same as oil, do give you the chance to use similar techniques, and can be tidied up fairly painlessly – (the kitchen gallantly doubles as a studio, but sooner or later it has to revert to primary function).

So as it was SO MUCH FUN, I shall probably do it again…

)O(

And THE OTHER news…

I’ve been going all soft and gooey over the delicious yarns from Eleanor at Solstice Yarns (be warned, a visit to her Etsy shop will have you dribbling and/or grasping for your credit card)

IMAG4556This little bundle of silky joy is my latest acquisition.

And on a more mundane front, I have just bought these little chaps…

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I’ve had so much trouble with very sore fingers over the last year or so, sometimes I wondered if I was allergic to the yarn or scrim, but then I read something recently about nickel allergy and a penny dropped. Of course it might not be anything to do with it, but I’m going gold-plated for now to see if things improve.

Happy stitching!

)O(

Over in the sidebar, are my Instagram pics of the Daily Tree Project, with the occasional stitchy update and other random snaps from daily life around here.

Do feel free to explore, or follow on Instagram or Twitter.

Thank you, thank you, thank you…

Sending a huge thank you to Tanya and Elizabeth for giving me the confidence to go all the way – and wet the tree.

I’ve pussy-footed about steaming odd bits before, but never had the guts to get everything really wet, now, thanks to the encouragement from you all, I’ve done it.

treeAnd it worked! 

I am absolutely delighted and will now be giving the same treatment to the rest of the pile of wonky pieces sitting on the self – I just need to invest in another couple of packets of drawing pins.

Now that it’s square, the finishing options are much more straightforward – so I’ll start nagging the Other Half for the promised frame (who knows, at this rate I’ll probably end up making it myself).

)O(

And in other news…

Anyone who’s been having the occasional peep at the snaps in the sidebar, might have seen the new piece I’ve started. Here it is…

IMAG4260Take no notice of the colours I’ve drawn in, I’m working in a more red/green palette – err, well it looks like this…

IMAG4257I needed to go couching again after months of tent stitch, – it’s a weird kind of release, and I like to watch and see where the yarns decide to go.

IMAG4264So that’s me on the stitching front. Hope your projects are all coming along the way you want them.

Happy stitching!

 

)O(

Over in the sidebar, are my Instagram pics of the Daily Tree Project, with the occasional stitchy update and other random snaps from daily life around here.

Do feel free to explore, or follow on Instagram or Twitter. 

 

 

 

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