Winchester Cathedral

I can’t believe I didn’t know about the fabulous floor tiles at Winchester Cathdral. Nobody ever mentioned it. Can’t think why not.Floor tile Winchester Cathedral

Over the years I’ve been to many cathedrals and churches around England, but had never been to Winchester until last month. You have to pay to get in, but that’s fair enough as it must cost a fortune to keep these ancient buildings going. I was very impressed by the building and by the modest memorial marking the resting place of Jane Austen. But it was the floor tiles that I liked most. I’m sure you can see why, especially if you know of my penchant for grids and repetitive pattern.

Ive been out and about a lot over the last two or three months, entirely within England, and to some places I’ve rarely, or never, visited. Perhaps I’ll write some more about this. Although, there again, I might very well not, as my shortage of time is likely to continue into the middle distance. So, more to come…. perhaps.


Just a brief post today on a little serendipity. You’ll know, if you’ve read my most recent posts, that I’ve been preparing work for sale in the shop at the Prism exhibition. I took lots of photographs of the pieces before I sent them off. The day was dull, with heavy grey cloud and constant rain, so I put the pieces as close up to the window as I could manage. And this is one of the photographs I got:


I mounted most of the pieces onto white or cream mountboard, but put a couple onto black, which can create a bit of drama. The black mountboard with a layer of cellophane on top of it was particularly difficult to photograph because of the reflection. But, and this is the serendipitous bit, look at what a lovely pattern it creates on the left hand side. The reflection is partly of the teapot on the windowsill, but mostly of the tree immediately outside the window. Here it is, cropped, so that you can see it in a bit more detail:Serendipity image

I think I can use this. Not sure what for, but I think it’s lovely.


Starting out

This post is about starting out on my third cochineal piece, just to show you how I actually get these pieces out of my head and into reality. First, I cut a piece of lightweight calico. This has to be sufficiently large so that I can comfortably use a small hoop. Then I gather together a selection of likely-looking fabrics. In this series the fabrics have mostly been those I’ve dyed with cochineal or logwood (for a bit of contrast), but I feel these are my pieces so I can include what I want. For example, in each of the three pieces, I’ve included a piece of silk gauze as an overlay for part of the piece. The reason for this is that I like a very small amount of low-level bling – nothing vulgar or showy – just a small hint of something glitzy in the background.

I lay out my fabrics on the work surface and have a think about them, trying out various combinations. I give the pieces a quick iron, if necessary. Everything is ironed before it’s put away in my storage system but it’s amazing how creased fabrics can get just sitting by themselves in a drawer. Once I’m happy with the combinations and placing of the pieces I pin them out on the lightweight calico ground. That’s the point I’ve got to in this photograph:Putting together Cochineal Dream 3

The very bright pink piece is a leftover piece of silk (bought from The Silk Route some while ago and partially used on a City & Guilds project) which I’ve been wanting to use. It’s not dyed by me, unlike most of the other pieces, but I wanted it there so I’ve used it. The slightly duller pink on the right is lightweight cotton lawn, and the stripy bit in the middle is one of the last fragments of recycled men’s shirt that I have. I rather like using this. The pale pink at the bottom is another piece of cotton lawn, from when the cochineal dye bath was pretty much on its last legs. Similarly, the very pale grey up at the top left is the product of the 8th or 9th immersion in the logwood dye bath (cochineal and logwood dyes are expensive but they both go a very long way). Barely visible, also up on the top left, is a square of silvery silk gauze and a piece of pale grey muslin. I measure a rough square and mark around its perimeter with pins, and that’s pretty much it. Ready to go.

While I’m assembling all this, I’m asking myself about thread colours. My intention here is to make a lighter, brighter, piece, so there will be quite a lot of whites, creams and pale pinks and greys. I’m using the same thread basket as previously. I probably won’t use the darker colours in it, but they will be there if I need them. The next stage in the process is to get rid of the pins by basting. If there’s a pin in a work I will draw blood with it, so it’s important to see them off as soon as possible. These pins, incidentally, are quilting pins, so longer than the usual dressmaker’s pins. I find the quilting pins very useful for appliqué work, as they anchor the fabrics more securely. I do as little basting as I can get away with (because it’s a tedious part of the process), but it’s important to put enough basting stitches in place to hold the fabrics securely.

When I’m putting these appliqués together I’m thinking about harmony and composition, but I don’t agonise over these elements. If I’ve got an odd-shaped piece of fabric (as in the case of the darker pink cotton lawn on the right, which was an offcut from something else) I’ll just use it if I feel like it. Not very scientific, is it? Or very artistic, either. Still, these are my choices, and I’ve become more confident about making them over the last two or three years. I’m less bothered than I used to be about things going wrong. If they do, they do. Laid back or what?

Book review: Claire Wellesley-Smith – Slow Stitch

I’ve been looking forward to seeing this one, and I’m pleased to report that it’s been worth the wait. The book is in the usual 128 page hardcover Batsford format. Its full title is ‘Slow Stitch: mindful and contemplative textile art’. The quality of the images is uniformly excellent and the text is well-written and thoughtful. It’s divided into four sections: Slow, Materials and Techniques, Cross-cultural activity and Contemplative. It’s redolent of a particular philosophy and approach to the process of stitching and it’s worth reading carefully and, well, slowly.Slow stitch

The first section (‘Slow’) relates slow stitch to the Slow movement in general, and discusses the related issues of sustainability and use of resources. ‘Materials and techniques’ identifies sources of old and new materials. It also has a relatively brief section on dyeing using native plants. I expected there to be much more about natural dyeing in the book, but actually there are plenty of other sources of information about this and there’s no particular need to explain it in any greater detail here. ‘Cross-cultural activity’ looks at some relevant stitching traditions, including Kantha and Japanese boro. It also contains a good section on mending (both practice and philosophy) and on piecing and patching. Finally, ‘Contemplative’ is perhaps the most important section of the book in that it expounds the benefits of mindful practice, together with some practical suggestions for developing ideas. I especially like the idea of the stitch journal as a means of daily practice in stitching. I, too, feel that there’s something about stitching that helps in problem-solving, and with the flow of ideas. The process of stitching contributes to creativity and the flow of ideas.

It’s always interesting with these books to see the range of work that the author draws upon for illustration of ideas. Claire has included examples of the work of some of my favourite artists, for example, Judy Martin (if you don’t know about the Mantoulin Circle project, do follow the link and have a look), Roanna Wells, Mandy Pattullo and Christine Mauersberger, to name but a few. And above all, there are lots of examples of Claire’s own understated and calming stitched works. All are beautifully photographed. If you’re familiar with Claire’s website you will know how good at photography she is, and I expect these are her own photographs of her own work.

This is not a ‘how to’ book, although it does contain some guidance about using plants for dyeing and suggestions for e.g. stitching a square and producing kantha stitches. As much as anything, it’s a book about ideas and a particular approach to stitched textiles that I, for one, find very appealing.

White alliums

So, white alliums. Or should that be white allia? I’m not a big fan of blogs that major on photos – Wordless Wednesday and the like. Personally, I prefer the balance to be towards more text and fewer garden photos. However, I’m making an exception to the rule by putting up a photo taken in my garden today. White alliums

The alliums seem to have been on the verge of flowering for ages, but they’ve finally come through and they are spectacular. The stalks are very long – up to around 4 feet and the white flowers look wonderful against the background of the hornbeam hedge. I put these in last autumn in great abundance. I’ve discovered the truth of something I first read many years ago – that if you want your garden to look amazing you should plants lots of a few things. I used to buy one or two plants of a particular type, stick them in and then wonder why they didn’t make much impact. Pretty obvious really. I planted around 150 allium bulbs, enough to make a bit of a splash, and sure enough they look great. I wonder why it is that it takes so long for the penny to drop sometimes….

All well here, although not much stitching getting done. I’ve been away in London – more on this next time.

More on developing an idea

Today I thought I’d follow up my last post by writing a little bit more on developing an idea. I’ve filled a few sketchbook pages with some different approaches, but using the same theme as previously. Sketchbook work using white soluble pencil

Last time I wrote about the A3 book of Khadi paper. Mostly, it’s off-white, but there are a few pages of a thinner, but still robust, brown paper. As I’d reached one of these in the book I decided to work through the design in white. This is using a white water-soluble pencil, then adding a wash of water. It doesn’t actually dissolve very well in water but it’s enough to add some interesting visual texture. When I did this, a week or so ago, I didn’t have a Derwent Inktense pencil in white. However, I have now. I was in London last week for a meeting in the Strand, which is very near the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, and also Charing Cross Road. I was rushing to get the train home, so stepped smartly past the galleries (one of which I would definitely have visited if I’d had more time), but stopped for a very brief look at Cass Art. If you’re familiar with London and keen on art you will certainly know about Cass Art which is a terrific place to shop for pencils, paper, paint etc. The shop on Charing X Road is very small, but they have a big branch in Islington and another big one in Hampstead both of which I’ve been to. When I first discovered it, they didn’t do mail order, and didn’t have any branches outside London. But they do now, so do have a look.

One of the things I bought at Cass Arts on my brief visit was a tin (24) of Inktense pencils. I’ve held back from doing this in the past because I was concerned that I wouldn’t use them and it would be a waste of cash. But I’ve got through so much Inktense recently I think I can justify it. Very nice. Very nice indeed.

Sketchbook work in silver acrylicAnd here’s what I did on the other side of the brown page. I had to press on rather hard with the white pencil and when I turned the page I found a clear impression of the design. I filled in the negative space using silver acrylic paint. The brown lines are slightly raised and I’m pleased with the effect, even though it’s really pretty accidental.

I’ve got more ideas for things to do in this book, and will add another post if and when I get round to them. Unfortunately I’m short of time; chateau Gowthorpe requires quite a lot of redecorating and, instead of going on holiday, we’ve decided to stay at home for a fortnight to slap a bit of paint around and generally spruce the place up. Today I’ve been rubbing down paintwork and getting very dusty and tired, so not much arty stuff going on here at the moment.

Off sick again

Paul Klee inspired pieceYes, I’ve been off sick again. What a nuisance. My last blog post was in March, just before I went on the life drawing course with Rachel Clark. I had a wonderful, action-packed, weekend and came home dog-tired on the Monday. By Wednesday I was starting to feel distinctly unwell, and by the weekend I knew I had a very nasty cold. Usually, when you get a cold you know you’re in for a few days of feeling grim at various levels, but that in another week or so you’ll be feeling fine again. But, this time, no…… I’ve had real flu before but this wasn’t real flu. It was like getting a series of cold viruses, one after another. Weeks went by, and I still felt awful. I didn’t start to feel well again for over a month. What made it worse was that it caused a flare-up of the jaw inflammation that I whinged about at length a while back. One way and another I’ve felt pretty sorry for myself rather a lot of the time for many months. Still, all things must pass and eventually it went away and now I’m back to as near normal as I get. It’s great to feel well again and to have enough energy to get on with things.

So, what have I been getting on with? A couple of months ago I started a whitework piece that built upon the Paul Klee-inspired work that I did last year. Reminder – at the top of the post – this is what the original piece looked like. Below the white version:Whitework - inspired by Paul Klee  I enjoyed putting the different fabrics together, and because I didn’t have colour to provide contrast, I had to do my best with texture. A useful addition was sinamay which provides some body and interest. Find out about sinamay here. It’s the woven stalks of the abaca tree, apparently. I found a roll of it on sale for five quid in the Manchester branch of Paperchase some time ago, and I’ve found it really quite remarkably useful. Worth a look, anyway. I also added a bit of lace which you can see on the right hand side.

I decided that I’d really like to develop this idea further, and that a good next step might be to do some drawing around the theme. I’ll discuss this and share images in the next post.

Incidentally, looking back over the 120 or so posts I’ve written since I started this blog, I can see that I’ve done a fair bit of whingeing about health issues. Apologies for that. I think I’ve had a rough couple of years…. Must do better….

Visual texture

Visual texture… crumbling and peeling and staining….Visual texture

I took this photograph earlier in the year on a visit to the north-east coast of England. Exterior paintwork doesn’t stand much of a chance in this climate; this is the interior of a shelter on the seafront at Whitley Bay which is exposed to the wind from the sea at all times. We were at Whitley Bay again last weekend which is what made me think about the series of photographs that I took. I found them today on Picasa and decided to crop one and feature it in today’s post. The photograph is much larger than this, but I like using Picasa’s cropping feature to home in on detail like this.

I’ve not done much stitching at all recently. I’m busy with work but also trying to fit in home and garden maintenance. Last week I bought 350 tulip bulbs and 100 allium bulbs. Planting these turns out to be a lot of work, but if they all come up the garden will look spectacular in the spring (a photo will, of course, follow on this blog provided it does look good). So far I’ve planted around 1/3 of the bulbs, so there’s a long way to go and not much time before we set off for our holiday next week. Will try to keep posting – lots of people look at this site now, and I feel ashamed and laggardly when I don’t write two posts per week. Must try harder…..

Folk Art/Matisse

Well, yesterday was my Folk Art/Matisse day out in London. I’ve actually been in London since Tuesday, which partly explains why I’ve been a bit late with this week’s blogging. Yesterday I met my friend Laura (like myself, a keen art hound) outside Tate Britain as we’d decided to go to the Folk Art first, and then on to the Matisse at Tate Modern if we had the energy. I’d been looking forward to the Folk Art in particular, as I’d heard that there were some textile exhibits, and it’s been very favourably reviewed. British Folk Art Tate BritainBut, sad to say, I was disappointed. The exhibition comprises a motley collection of objects, some more interesting than others, but I felt it lacked coherence. In a very mixed exhibition like this, I feel the curators need to provide guidance in the form of a strong and coherent narrative. This exhibition seemed to me to lack any such narrative, and so it remained just a weird rag tag group of stuff assembled, mostly, from provincial museums. Perhaps fortunately it’s a relatively small exhibition so it didn’t take long, and we had sufficient remaining energy to contemplate the trip to Tate Britain.

That trip, between the two Tates, was one of the highlights of the day. There’s a fairly frequent boat service, and the trip takes only 13 minutes, although I wouldn’t have minded if it had taken a good deal longer. It’s a lovely way to see some of the most famous touristy landmarks in London. Arriving at Tate Modern we were gripped by a need to sit down and have lunch in the ground floor cafe, and very nice too. After a Caesar salad, a pot of English Breakfast tea and an absorbing and lengthy chat, I felt just about ready to take on Matisse.Matisse Cut Outs Tate Modern

While I think I more or less get the point about Matisse, he’s never been one of my favourite painters, so I wasn’t completely enthused by the prospect of the cut-outs exhibition. I was even less enthused when I saw the vast numbers of people going into the exhibition and glimpsed the crowded first room. But, refreshed by the very nice lunch, we decided we were up for the experience and in we plunged. Well, it was outstanding, and I’m so pleased I didn’t miss it. The exhibition finishes next week, which is such a pity, as I’d love to go again. The first room featured Matisse’s first experiments in cut paper, which were on a modest scale. As you progress around the rooms the exhibits get larger and bolder, and themes (of colour and shape in particular) start to emerge. The exhibits are bold and full of movement, vigour and life. A poignant element of the show is that Matisse himself was failing physically when he created some of the later pieces. They were achieved with the help of assistants because Matisse by this stage was infirm and in a wheelchair. His assistants painted papers in gouache in colours chosen by Matisse. Once he had cut out shapes, the assistants climbed stepladders with tacks and hammers and tacked the shapes into position as directed by Matisse. It notes in the small leaflet handed out to all visitors that Matisse had ‘extraordinary creative energy’ in his final years. Quite so. This exhibition is full of life and energy and is very uplifting. Quite a contrast to the mostly dreary folk art we saw in the morning.

Laura bought the exhibition catalogue which looked like a very good piece of work. I’m trying hard not to buy catalogues when I go to exhibitions, partly to save cash and also to try not to add to the book problem (too many) we’ve got in the house. But I hope I’ll retain the impression of this exhibition without the catalogue. It was so inspiring – it made you want to pick up your scissors and start cutting out shapes straight away. And who knows, one day I might just have a go.

This was a memorable day out. The contrast between the two exhibitions could hardly have been greater. If you’re in London in the next few days, and you haven’t seen the Matisse, I can thoroughly recommend it. As you can see from the illustration of the final weekend poster above, Tate Modern is, intriguingly, offering an all-nighter opportunity. So if you fancy seeing it at 4 in the morning, it looks like you’ll be able to do it.

I’ve got a backlog of things to write about on the blog, and I’ll try to get round to clearing it over the next couple of weeks. Trouble is, as ever, there are just too many things I want to do. And a whole heap of less alluring things that I need to do, notably weed removal, house cleaning, tidying, bits of work etc. The immediate task is soup, so I’ll just go and get on with that…..  More soon.


I don’t often get any response or comments to these posts, and it’s very gratifying when I do. My friend Laura emailed me the other day to say she’d been looking at my pictures of textured walls (these are featured under the ‘Architectural Ornament’ heading on my ‘Inspiration’ tab). Laura identifies the correct word for plaster ornamentation of this type as ‘pargeting’. Occasionally in the UK you come across the surname ‘Pargeter’ which indicates that somewhere in that person’s ancestry is a person who specialised in plaster ornament. It’s such a lovely word – right up there with gusset, pejorative and flange which are some of my favourite words.

I do love the tendency to ornament which is so evident in some forms and eras of architecture, craft and design. Here’s an example of pargeting from The Heritage Directory:Pargeting

Lovely, isn’t it?