Medieval faces…

I’ve been having a few churchy days lately, courtesy of the bell-ringers in the family.

On Monday, I spent an hour at our local church, All Saints, Soulbury. I’ve been there so many times, but I still love to wander around, it’s a fascinating place. But in all the hours I’ve spent in that church, I’d never previously realised there was a little medieval treasure waiting to be found…

Have a good look at this chancel window…

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Now, the chancel windows, on either side, each has that colourful glass border. I’d never paid it any attention on other visits. But while I was there on Monday, I took a closer look.

And it appears that each of those coloured sections is a fragment of medieval stained glass – presumably from the pre-Reformation days. Most of the fragments are difficult to identify, although I spotted a few architectural features, and some fabric drapes, but suddenly, I noticed a face…

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and then another…

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And then more…

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Each one is really tiny, but has incredible, fine detail. It never fails to take my breath away when we get these little connections to people from the past. I would so love to know who painted those faces.


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.


Nearly there…

Thank you to everyone who came up with their thoughts on a name for the current piece. I’m very close to finishing it now, so failing any unforeseen events (holds fingers crossed while typing this), it should be finished next week and then I’ll reveal it with the name I’ve chosen.

In the meantime, this is what I’ve been playing at when I probably had better things to do…

The thing I find about spending most of my time slowly stitching, is that every so often I have to release the valve on the images swirling around in my brain and do a bit of faster art. I think perhaps the obsession with stained glass might be evident here…

Right, I’d better get on. Happy Spring and happy stitching!






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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




Give me luminous…

IMAG3263I’m not normally in on Wednesday evenings, but last night was an exception.

While I stitched away, I watched two programmes on BBC Four; Guilty Pleasures, about luxury in medieval England, and Fabric of Britain, featuring early medieval opus anglicanum  embroideries.

The trouble with stitching and watching TV at the same time, is that I don’t really see very much, although I hear most of it. Last night, the two programmes seemed to fuse in my mind – they appeared to meld into a single exploration of luxury and colour in medieval times.

Seeing the  crisp bright colours of the Lindisfarne Gospels and the intricate, sensual textures of the opus anglicanum vestments, twanged something deep inside. We tend to think of our early ancestors living a bland existence, but these programmes proved the opposite – they loved colour, they loved pattern and they loved glitz.

And I have to admit I think I retain some of those medieval genes – I might prefer to live in a more neutral colour scheme, but in my art, colour and especially a need for luminosity always seems to come through.

Time and time again, I find myself drawn to stained glass – it sums up so much of what I feel.



The picture above is a detail from a stained glass window at St John Baptist, Claines, Worcestershire. If you’d like to see more of the windows there, hop over to my history junkie blog, Mists of TIme – I’ve just put up a new post about our recent visit.


Back in the frame…

Oh what a summer! I’d almost forgotten what it was like to have weeks and weeks of warmth and sunshine. As expected, with the girls at home there was no blogging – I tried to keep up with blog reading, but even that eventually ran away from me, but things will return to normal – I hope!

Although there were no updates, there has been some stitching on the new piece – albeit mostly snatched half hours, between taxiing the girls and cooking endless cheese toasties. This is where I am today…

stained glass 2013


This is the new piece painted up - in alcohol inks.
This is the new piece painted up – in alcohol inks.

I’m sticking to the plan of using only tent stitch or derivatives for this piece (which also has no name as yet). There was so much texture in Splodge that I feel the need to go flat again for a while. But I am having a wonderful time trying out new yarns. In addition to the lovely yarns from Natalie Fergie, I’m also incorporating a couple from Victoria at Eden Cottage Yarns. They are perfect for working in this linen scrim and give me the tonal variations I was looking for. It seems to me that this is the route I’m going for the future – needlepoint yarns are fine, but there is so much variety and texture available from knitting yarn dyers – it’s a wonderful resource for people like me – and using so much, it makes far better sense to buy larger quantities.



During the summer, I realised that I have hundreds (well in fact that’s probably thousands) of photographs, sitting on my computer, taken because there’s something I like about a scene, a colour or a texture – but they just stay there, rarely revisited. So I thought I might try an experiment and put up the occasional photograph here – a kind of ‘something about this appealed to me but I’m not entirely sure what’ approach. So if you start to see random photos, you’ll know what it’s about…

Perhaps something like this…

The roof of the Chapter House - Elgin Cathedral.
The roof of the Chapter House – Elgin Cathedral.

It’s good to be back. Happy stitching.

Gothic sun window nearly stitched…

Well, if you can rely on me for one thing, it’s that I’ll be slower than planned getting something finished. So you won’t be surprised that the Gothic Window is still not completed, but it’s really very close and the light was so good today, I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures.

gothic sun detail


There’s just a bit more of the sun to stitch.

gothic sun detail


As you can see I’ve gone totally overboard with the metallics and shiny threads.

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I just couldn’t help myself.

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I’d like to say I’ve managed to purge myself of the shiny obsession,

gothic sun detail


but it would be a lie. In fact I went out last week and bought a couple of new twinkly threads. I’m just a sucker for anything glitzy.

unfinished gothic sun

Quite by chance, I caught a TV programme on iPlayer all about the stained glass east window at York Minster in the week. I’ll always be one of those people who can just stand and stare at these amazing pieces of art – I suppose after 600 years or more, they still work their magic on me.

Happy stitching.



Gothic window…

The stitching has been especially slow for the last few days – isn’t it unfair how much life sometimes intrudes on stitching time…

But here is the current piece of work-in-progress, Gothic Window.


I’m struggling with the light (or more accurately, lack of light), but you get the idea.

I wanted to try adding some gothic structure to the piece, I know I’m obsessed with stained glass, but I thought I’d see if I could contain it in a semi-gothic frame.

Of course, my hopes for anything to stay straight while I stitch it have been dashed. I know I could go back to using interlock, but I’m still having too much fun with the scrim, despite the way it laughs contemptuously at my lines.

I’ve painted some of the canvas with acrylic inks to give it a tiny bit more bite and stability – it also stops me getting snow-blindness, sewing on the white scrim.

I had a mixture of twinkly blue threads that called out to be used in this window, although you can’t really tell from the pictures – it does look quite sparkly in real life.

If I can keep all the spinning plates in the air this week, I’ll hope to show you some progress next week – no promises mind, we all know where plans get us.

Happy stitching.

Playing with windows…

So here I am, happily couching for England, having a thoroughly good time with the treasures I bought last week, fascinated by watching where this experiment is going.

IMAG0344 IMAG0343 IMAG0347 IMAG0348 IMAG0345And yet I am living a double life, because while I’m stitching, my mind is actually seeing something completely different. I’m becoming obsessed again with stained glass windows.

I blame the visit to Prague last year. Seeing the windows in St Vitus’ Cathedral was a bit like being immersed in sensory overload. Looking at all that coloured glass was how I imagine it would feel like to live inside a kaleidoscope. I’m not sure my brain went back together with all the pieces in the same place.

And at last, thanks to seeing what can be achieved with couching, and being able to use a greater variety of threads, I can feel in my bones that what I see in my mind, might make it onto the canvas.

I’ve had a little play this afternoon to see how it might start out.


Of course it won’t look anything like this once I really get started, but sometimes it helps to get a few ideas down on paper.


Happy stitching.

Hot Off The Frame…

So here it is…

The piece inspired by stained glass – although as I’ve been stitching, I’ve had a decidedly underwater feeling.

I’m not sure that it’s quite so dark in real life, but the pictures taken with flash make it look very odd indeed – almost yellow, which it certainly isn’t. I don’t know, perhaps Father Christmas will put a nice shiny digital camera in my stocking this year?

I’m reasonably pleased with the way it’s turned out. The combination of silks and wools has given it the shimmer I wanted, to convey the way that light works through stained glass.

I could sit for hours in a church where the sunlight is casting rainbows across the stonework. True magic.

Today we start the packing for our trip to the far north of Scotland. Weather permitting, we’ll be away for a few weeks. I’m not taking canvas with me – I did last year and never got it out of the bag. Camping, wind, rain and cold I discovered, don’t lend themselves to happy stitching.

I am however, going to take my sketchbook. This will be a wonderful opportunity to get back to basics and start laying down some new ideas to work up in the autumn.

Happy summer everyone.

Stained Glass coming to life…

A mercifully uneventful week has meant good progress on Stained Glass.

I started by stitching in the ‘lead lines’, so that I’d have some structure to work into. I’ve learned from previous pieces, that trying too hard to put a lot of heavy lines doesn’t work well, so I’ve been a little more restrained this time and varied the colour too.

Then I began to fill in the shapes created by the lead lines. This feels a bit like stitching by numbers and is actually very relaxing.

But one of the things I love about old stained glass, is the imperfections in the glass itself, which create wonderful colour textures. I’ve tried to produce this effect in some of the sections.

Of course the other thing which appeals to me about stained glass, is the way that light plays through the glass, making some pieces glow, while others remain dull.

So it seems like the perfect excuse to add perles and silks into the tapestry. They catch the light so differently to wool, adding a tingle of translucency.

I’d say I was about half way now with this piece. With any luck I’ll finish it before we hit the road with our little tents and go on our Scottish Odyssey, timed – rather deliberately – to coincide with the Olympics.

Happy creating!