Catching up…

Phew, what a few weeks it’s been. I’m happy to report that we’ve come through the  delight of both daughters simultaneously sitting ‘A’Levels and GCSEs, relatively unscathed. The emergency escape to a tent in the garden wasn’t required and now we have the prospect of a few tranquil weeks before the results arrive…

As you can imagine, I managed to do a lot of stitching (always my go-to method of stress reduction) while the exams were happening. Ever since I visited the Indian textiles exhibition at the V & A, I’d wanted to try out some new ideas and textures, and having also recently read Claire Wellesley-Smith’s ‘Slow Stitch’, I decided to free myself from the tyranny of the ‘one hole, one stitch’ edict to try something different.


I have to say this has been a revelation in many ways. It certainly takes a meditative stitch practice to a new place as far as I’m concerned. My only problem now is trying to decide when it’s finished.

In other news… I’m just back from a short trip to the Scottish Highlands and Islands courtesy of my extraordinarily generous flying friend. This time I achieved a huge ambition and visited some of the neolithic sites on Orkney.

Having been a rampant medievalist for most of my life, I’m something of a late-comer to things pre Anglo-Saxon, but I suppose having watched so many Time Teams over the years, it’s gradually crept under the skin. Also, I’ve read so much now about our Celtic past and much of that references theories about the people who preceded them, and so it is that before you know where you are, you’ve reached that wonderful hinterland where history melts into legend and legend into myth.

And I find that I am entirely entranced by this mythic realm.

Detail from the Ring of Brodgar, Orkney

This is where, I’m afraid to say, the history junkie in me ceases all scientific, factual thought and instead wholeheartedly embraces the possibilities of myth. Because, really, faced with something like the Ring of Brodgar, how much can you actually say for certain. But stop thinking and instead stand there and simply feel and I defy anyone not to be affected emotionally. To know that humans, so much like us, went to the effort to create these structures, but to understand so little about why they did so, is both baffling and mesmerising. The gulf between our time and their’s opens and all we have is our minds and tantalising traces of archaeology to bridge that gap.

I did rather max out on the photos on Orkney, so once I’ve sorted through, I’ll write a separate post about it.

So, relaxed and refreshed, it’s back to the needle now. I have some fairly nebulous ideas running around my head, which I need to get down to planning out. The textures of our wild places are, I’m pretty sure, bound to wheedle their way in.

What are you working on at the moment? Does history, myth or landscape influence how you work? Do tell.






Slow Art In Action…

Growing a tree…

Once upon a time there was a woman who was fascinated by trees. She went out almost every day taking photos of them, and when she wasn’t snapping pictures, she’d be gazing at trees, and occasionally talking to them…

It just happens that the same woman is an obsessive stitcher (yes, it’s me – you guessed).

So she decided – not for the first time – to grow one in stitches.

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She didn’t know exactly what it was going to look like, but she had an idea – a touch of awen– which she sketched onto the canvas.

A riot of colours were swooshing around in her mind, and eventually she chose the ones she was going to use.

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It was autumn and lots of things were happening in her life, but gradually, stitch by tiny stitch, the tree began to appear.

2016-02-02 11.21.40She took the initial lines and gradually elaborated on them with the threads, letting her imagination decide where to take them.

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Sometimes, when there were dark days, the repetitive, meditative process of stitching took her mind away from problems and sadness, and gave her peaceful, mindful moments. And all the time the tree continued to grow – watered just a few times with her tears.

2016-01-15 13.29.24But there was a lot of happiness too. She thoroughly revelled in cosying up on the sofa when it was cold outside, thick woolly socks on her feet, listening to the radio or TV while on she stitched.

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Time passed, Christmas came and a new year began.

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The tree took shape.

2016-02-02 11.23.16And all the unknown spaces, all the blank areas on the initial design, were filled with silk, wool and metallic threads.

Until at last, one day, there were no more spaces to fill…

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January stitching…

Nearly the end of January and I hope everyone is now getting back into some sort of ‘normal’ routine. (Oh yes, I can hear the cackles from here…).

Around here, things have been going quite well. I’ve somehow managed to get back into a semblance of a domestic rhythm – which is not something the feminist in me would ever have expected to write – but still, there’s no escaping the fact that for me at least I function better and get more creative work done when the boring bits are under control.

But I eased myself in gently. A visit to the V & A at the beginning of the month to see the Fabric of India exhibition, was a great way to get the creative juices flowing. I’ve decided that 2016 will have more Artist Dates* – it’s too easy to get caught up on the hamster wheel of daily life and we need to step off and recharge from time to time.

Fired up by the trip to London I’ve managed to get back to stitching properly this month. Unusually for me, I started the month with two pieces in progress. The first is an experiment with a different style of stitching, inspired by a summer’s day on a Scottish beach.

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I remember sitting on the beach (at Sango Bay to be precise), looking out at the sea and sky and realising that there were distinct bands of colour running horizontally and suddenly thinking that it might make a good subject for a stitchy piece. I didn’t have the phone with me, so instead, I scribbled notes about the different colour bands in a little book I was carrying, and hoped it would be enough description to enable me to interpret it when I came home.

When things were a bit rough before Christmas, I started putting this idea together, and I think having a completely different, ‘see-how-it-goes’ approach made it easier to pick up when I felt able.

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detail from ‘Beach’

But although it’s definitely producing the look that I was after, I have to say that I don’t find I enjoy long periods of stitching this way. Dare I say it, it’s almost like weaving, in as much as I have to progress from line to line, working lineally. Which explains two things – first, why it remains only about half stitched, and second, why I am now totally concentrating on the other piece – yes, yet another tree…

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I am much more ‘at home’ creating tree pictures, especially if they contain lots of spirals.

While I’ve been curled up, stitching away at this latest specimen, I’ve been thinking more deeply about this addiction to trees. I thought that if I could go back and collect up all the drawings, pictures and doodles I’ve ever done, I’d hazard a guess that well over half would have featured trees. I have no idea where this all started, but I know I was already doing it when I went to secondary school.

My Instagram feed is full of tree pictures – my own and those of the many other people out there who also share this fascination. Last week I met another lady, also an embroiderer, who does exactly the same thing and takes a daily picture of a favourite tree – it’s a small world.

You don’t have to be obsessed with trees for long before you become engaged in exploring the mythology surrounding them. I had originally thought I might write about that in particular, for instance the Tree of Life, Yggdrasil, Druid oak groves, that sort of thing – but it’s such a huge topic, these are just Western mythologies, and trees feature in the mythos and cosmology of cultures all around the world – I wouldn’t know where to begin or end.

So if trees speak to you too, then I’m sure you’ll have your own thoughts on why you’re attracted to them and there’s a very good chance the enchantment goes right back into the mists of time. Something to ponder as the needle goes in and out…

And I shall carry on with this one and wish you all happy stitching!

* Artist Dates: Julia Cameron’s suggestion in The Artist’s Way that artists should have a weekly ‘Artist’s Date’ to charge their creative batteries.




Putting into words…

I was delighted to read the latest post from artist Stephanie Redfern this week, where she explains her decision to work in needlepoint. Stephanie understands completely the slow nature of this process and rather wonderfully refers to it as ‘slow motion magic painting’ – I love that!

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I smiled as I read some of the comments on her post – mention needlepoint, and patience is always the word that people associate with it. And yes, like Stephanie, my own patience does not extend far beyond the stitching.

When I talk to people about the pieces I make, so often there’s amazement at anyone being prepared to take the time to create in this way, they generally ask why I choose to do it. And this is where I struggle to express myself adequately.

Because however clichéd it may sound, hand stitching is one of those things you have to do, to appreciate the why.

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And then, with serendipitous timing, today I read the latest post from my stitching hero, Judy Martin. I’m sure Judy’s work is familiar to you, but if not, I urge you to see what she does, because I don’t know a better or purer expression of the power and beauty of hand stitching.

At the end of her post, Judy says…

Hand stitching.
Evidence of time.
Evidence of thought.
Evidence of connection.

And really, there, in a nutshell you have the whole story.

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There’s a wonderful article here by Martha Sielman, about Judy and her work which sensitively expands this expression – I’m sure it will resonate with all hand stitchers.

Pictures are details from the stitching of my latest piece of needlepoint embroidery, completed this week.

Rock, Water, Cloth…

Being a slow artist has its challenges – not the least of which, is how to blog about a ‘work in progress’. I quickly realised that a weekly update here on my stitched tapestries would end up more like a ‘spot the difference’ competition.

In recent months, I’ve gravitated towards Twitter and Instagram as the places to share occasional stitchy updates, where it feels more natural to post a simple picture as I settle down to stitch with the Delinquent Dog curled up alongside.

If you use these platforms, please do keep in touch that way – it’s always lovely to receive messages ‘in real time’.

But today is one of those special days – a day to share for the first time, a work no longer ‘in progress’, but finished! 

Very often I find it difficult to know where the inspiration for a particular piece comes from, but at least with this new work I have a pretty shrewd idea.

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It all begins with that ages-old fascination for watching water moving over stone. I wonder how many generations of people have felt transfixed by watching waves glide over a pebbly beach, or have felt the hypnotic power of staring into a pool of still water at the edge of a river flow, or indeed have been caught up in a fountain’s magical dance.

I for one, can easily lose myself, simply staring into the water.


Now, clearly only a lunatic would attempt to capture that watery, mercurial sensation in a medium as distinctly static as thread – ahh well…

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But as ever, the process of stitching has itself been a meditation, a way to drift into a flow of sorts, an escape to another realm, if not a watery one…

Stitched between June and September 2015. Wools, linens and silks on linen scrim.

29 x 39 cm

If you’d like to see it ‘in the flesh’, I’ll be showing it at the Discover Original Art Fair on November 28th & 29th 2015, at the delightful Ivinghoe Old School Community Hub.





I know I’ve said it before, but never mind, I’m going to witter on again. The thing is, when you spend most of your creative time making extremely slow art, you do occasionally have the uncontrollable urge to do something different, the bubbling juices just have to be uncorked.

For some time now, I’ve been hatching a plan to do something I haven’t done for, well, let’s just say, it was before Mrs Thatcher’s era…

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I started putting my plan into action – I bought a small selection of oil paints and a bottle of brush cleaner. Yes, I’ve decided that I’m going to spend time this summer revisiting the joy of my teens, oil-painting.

Way back then, I was so lucky to have an art teacher who let us experiment with oils, in fact he positively encouraged a group of us who were being channelled down an academic path, to relax at the end of each week in the Sixth Form, by going along on Friday afternoons to the art department, to paint for a couple of hours.

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I can’t imagine now, why I didn’t keep it up after I left school. Probably I was simply too caught up in the whole forging ahead in your career imperative to think about making art very much in those days. And at times of stress – and there were plenty of those – I turned to stitching as my relaxation.

But for a few years now, certainly since I’ve well and truly left that world behind, I’ve occasionally hankered over oil paints again.

And now, having finally managed to scrape out a tiny space in the house, where I can set up an easel and leave it, I’ve taken the plunge.

Yesterday, having started off in what I’m going to call a slightly prickly mood (you know the one, where you turn green and scaly and begin to breathe fire), I knew it was the right time to crack open the paints and the turps substitute and get down to some serious playtime.

It didn’t take more than a couple of minutes before I was that teenager all over again.

So, there you have it. My plan for the summer (apart from the three weeks in Scotland), is to reacquaint myself with the special alchemy of oils. I’m not anticipating any startling results on canvas, but if yesterday’s experience is anything to go by, I will at least expect to be smiling most of the time.

(Although, thinking about it now, I wonder if the turps substitute had anything to do with lifting my mood…)

Have you ever returned to an old arty love? Do tell.

Happy creating!



Happy May Day….

Some people regard May Day as the first day of summer – well, in some ways I agree, there’s definitely a lot happening in the hedgerow now, foliage is growing so fast, you feel as if you could practically watch it unfurling in front of you. But having spent the hour of our walk with my eyes streaming from the cold wind this morning, I can tell you, it doesn’t feel like summer just yet!


After the last post here and my admission that greens give me problems, I realised just how many greens I see every day on the trip along the lane and through the wood. I’ve been observing them with more attention than I’d normally give it, and what I’ve learned, is that there are more shades of green that I can imagine, and Mother Nature doesn’t seem to mind how she puts them all together – and yet, it works…

I’ll keep trying…

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Happy stitching…

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.



So, what you’ve all been wondering, is what happens on a foggy morning if you leave your smart phone camera set on fluorescent from the night before.

Here’s the answer…

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It was weird weather, because by the time I got to the tree, the sun was out and the sky a deep blue, but not quite as strange as the camera made out. There are a few other settings I might try out by accident too.

In other news…

I’m frantically stitching away for our Discover exhibition at the end of the month.

I’m still spiralling…in blue.


Details from a three panel triptych that’s almost finished.

Happy stitching

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‘.


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.

Here’s my table with Firmament, Hedonism and Brian.


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.


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.




Why I Stitch…


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.


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.