A Glorious Week Teaching At Crafty Retreats, France Part two

Outings and end results!

Patchwood Samplers Workshop with Ali Ferguson
Vide Greniers & a small bit significant haul of treasures

Following on from part one of this blog about my recent week teaching with Phil & Fran at Crafty Retreats in beautiful, rural France.

Although much of our week was spent in the studio we were also given the opportunity to do some exploring out and about. We discussed the options during our first evening and decided that we would have two half day outings. So on the Sunday we  set off in search of tatty treasures at a couple of ‘Vide Greniers’. The first was pretty much a car boot sale with more people behind each stall than there were visitors – clearly a bit of a family day out. ‘Treasures’ were short on the ground though I did get an absolutely beautiful monogrammed linen sheet for 10 euro and Paul and I also found a great set of brass & copper cooking utensils for 5 euros. They’re not particularly old but beautiful crafted (Paul knows a good rivet when he sees one) and as we’re doing up our kitchen and kitchen related ‘stuff’ was on our wish list we were happy. We were even happier at the next stop when we found a set of small copper pans for 20 euros – these ones are old and will clean up a treat! There weren’t particularly rich pickings here either – just a few bits and bobs. I found some lovely old envelopes and Phil found a 1990s 1 year old child mannequin without a head or arms and priced at all of 4 euros it had to come home with us – worth it just to make the ‘it’s armless’ joke if for no other reason!!

The remains of Singer sewing machines in so many buildings in Oradour-sur-Glane

We split into two groups for our  outing with half setting off to explore the ‘butchers quarter‘ in Limoges and the other half of us opting to visit Oradour-sur-Glane. It’s a very sobering and poignant experience and I can’t even begin to tell the story here. It’s hugely thought provoking and should be experienced if you are ever visiting the region. I was truly fascinated by the number of houses with old Singer sewing machines amongst their ruins. I had been told to look out for this but really wasn’t quite prepared for the impact. I’ll maybe say more in a future blog, maybe not – maybe just something to ponder on myself!

Patchwood Samplers Workshop with Ali Ferguson
Oscar the pooch takes his personal patch seriously

As the week and our Patchwood Samplers progressed Phil had the wonderful idea of creating a ‘Group Sampler’ to display on their stand at the Festival Of Quilts. Everyone was tasked with creating a personal patch and Oscar the pooch agreed (?) to represent the animal team (2 dogs, 2 cats and 1 tortoise) by having his paw printed. He looks most engaged in the whole process!

Patchwood Samplers Workshop with Ali Ferguson
Our Group Sampler with a personal patch by everyone including Paul the ‘drill tec’

Time did fly and all too soon we found ourselves on Day 8 with everyone preparing to leave on afternoon flights. There was some last minute finishing off in the studio in the morning (everyone did finish their pieces and some people even left with more than one), some frantic trying to fit into suitcases (although we had taken this into consideration in all our planning & designing throughout the week) and then we came together for an emotional ‘Show and Tell’. Even I, who had continually been working with everyone throughout the week, didn’t quite appreciate the extent of personal stories in each and every finished sampler. For me it is a huge mark of success when people get emotional talking about their piece of work and I think a few ‘family heirlooms’ were established.

Patchwood Samplers Workshop with Ali Ferguson
Show & Tell on our last morning together

The samplers below:

Celebrating a love of typography and all things sewing related. I’m particularly loving the cardboard child with the scissors in hand. I can just hear my ex mother in law saying – ‘that bairn’ll take its eye out!’

Patchwood Samplers Workshop with Ali Ferguson
Two samplers by Phil

The samplers below:

Irish roots, a love of sewing and childhood memories and  ‘sides to middle’ – see part one for the story behind this phrase.

A collection of family antique ‘treasures’ with a bunch of tiny wax flowers from a wedding cake. Can  you spot the brooch by Hens Teeth?

Patchwood Samplers Workshop with Ali Ferguson
Sampler by Lee on the left and Gillie on the right

The samplers below:

So many family treasures – an old christening bracelet and a grandson’s hospital tag, dancing awards and a pair of pliers from dad’s tool shed.

Three samplers celebrating a love of sewing . Loving the perfectly worked cross stitch pieces ‘for mother with much love’

Patchwood Samplers Workshop with Ali Ferguson
Sampler by Jackie on the left and Lynda on the right

The samplers below:

Stories of bicycles and breathalysers (see previous blog post), a lifelong passion for dressmaking a love of blue, labels and all things Liberty.

Sewing box treasures – an unexpected gift of a pair of old scissors and mother in law’s thimble -probably the biggest thimble I’ve ever seen!

Patchwood Samplers Workshop with Ali Ferguson
Sampler by Linda on the left and Sarah on the right

The samplers below:

Celebrating family roots, a love of all things fibre and some naturally ‘mushroom’ dyed yarn.

Oh where to start celebrating the life of a much loved mum with memories from entertaining 70s style. Loving the fragment of ‘fur’ coat and the scrap of lurex fabric from the ‘party apron’!

Patchwood Samplers Workshop with Ali Ferguson
Sampler by Trine on the left and Haddie on the right

The week ended all too soon. Despite teaching in the studio from nine in the morning until seven in the evening (and more) I left with as much energy as I had when I arrived and that has just got to be the sign of a fabulous week. A week of being so generously looked after by Fran & Phil and making such lovely new friends in the most very gorgeous of settings. I even got a ‘night night’ kiss from Tutu the dog every night (because I asked him nicely not because he was dishing them out I hasten to add). Actually if it wasn’t because I was coming home to Annie the Purple Thread Shed pooch and a little grandbaby, I don’t think I would’ve wanted to leave at all.

‘The Last Supper’ A glorious week of delicious food, stories & friendship.

What next? We’re returning in 2020 for another week of Patchwood Samplers and maybe some Patchwood Tenements thrown in for good measure. And maybe even another week of something quite different – more news of that later. But in the meantime bookings for the Samplers has already started and as there’s only eight places I’d get signing up quick.

Paul & I quite literally can’t wait to return.

Patchwood Samplers at Crafty Retreats
We’re expecting that ‘SPACES’ sign to turn round to ‘FULL’ pretty quickly!

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

A Glorious Week Of Teaching At Crafty Retreats, France Part one

Turn left at the hole in the tree!

Crafty Retreats in France

A couple of years back I received a most exciting email from Philippa & Fran of Crafty Retreats inviting me to join them in France in 2018 for a week’s teaching. Of course I absolutely jumped at the opportunity and planning began. Now, sadly, it’s all over except to reflect on a glorious week, lovely new friends and the satisfaction of seeing some beautifully thoughtful Patchwood Samplers coming to life over the time we spent together.

I got really excited when I started thinking about the actual programme for the week as I realised that we’d have time to make  one of my full size Patchwood Samplers. My problem was the amount of equipment and materials involved and the thought of packing everything onto Ryanair seemed a bit impossible. Husband Paul quickly came to the rescue and suggested we both go, pack everything into the back of my mini clubman and have ourselves a road trip. So with the help of Tom Tom and several stop-overs en route we drove from Edinburgh to the Limousin region of France until, finally, we ‘turned left at the hole in the tree’ and arrived in the tiny hamlet of Mallety.

Craafty Retreats the beauty and the pooches

Any ‘nerves’ left as we went through the gate and a smile hit my face that I don’t think left me for the entire week. Gorgeous welcomes from Phil & Fran , as well as the lovely Lee & Jackie, a couple of ‘early arrival’ participants, and introductions to ‘Tutu and Oscar’ the pooches followed by a  perfect cuppa outside in the courtyard.  We were then shown to our ‘home’ for the week and the all important studio. I have to tell you that this place is stunning – I really am still grinning!

Crafty retreats studio in france
The second farmhouse, Paul & my ‘home’ for the week and the gorgeous studio!

So time to get to work (still grinning). We got the car unpacked and everything into the studio. Phil, Jackie & Lee set to work hanging Patchwood Samplers onto every available wall space as I unpacked the boxes of vintage materials that I had brought from The Purple Thread Shed. I made up everyone’s ‘party bag’ and we were ready to go. Paul deserves a seat by the way having not only done all the driving but also having cut about 300 patches of wood before we left home!!

Studio at crafty retreats
A beautifully tidy and prepped studio, exciting ‘party bags’ and a smug looking husband

I always love unpacking the materials at the start of a course. I’d brought along everything needed to make ‘sewing box’ inspired samplers – vintage buttons & haberdashery, old floral French fabrics, handmade lace scraps that I’d found in the Textile Tent at Newark, old paper patterns and lots of other lovely treasures! Materials are really important – for me they have to be old and used, tatty and torn before they are of any interest, each tiny scrap embedded with its own hidden story.

materials from Ali ferguson's studio
Gorgeous vintage materials from my studio in Scotland

The rest of the day passed in a blur of sunshine, food and cups of tea until it was time for Phil to do the airport run and pick up the new arrivals for the week. Paul and I explored our farmhouse – yes it was actually big enough to ‘explore’, unpacked our bags and generally wandered about feeling pretty smug.

I was heard muttering ‘this place is completely stunning’ – a lot!!

Did I tell you that there is a hot tub outside next to the studio?? There is actually even a hot tub outside next to the studio!

Suddenly everyone was here and we were all meeting for the first time, glass of fizz in hand munching on delicious canapés made by Fran. Our furthest traveller was Trine who had come all the way from Newfoundland and not for the first time either, such is the lure of this place! Everyone was shown to their rooms and before we knew it, we were all sitting round the beautiful farmhouse table having our first meal together. Gorgeous food, wine and chat with the loveliest group of women that I could imagine. Mostly people travelled alone, two friends travelled together and one brought her camper van, her husband and her dog setting up camp outside our farmhouse! With only eight participants everyone gets to know each other pretty quickly and something I really did love about the week was sitting round the table at mealtimes, sharing stories.

Making patchwood samplers with Ali ferguson
Prepping our wooden ‘patches’ and starting to play with layout

On the first full day we woke up to gorgeous sunshine (as we did every day) and everyone made their way to the studio for an impressively early start. I explained about my Patchwood Samplers and the story behind them and also pointed out that it was not only a week of making but also a week of listening and telling stories, of reminiscing and thinking. I gave everyone a simple handmade ‘sketchbook’ to capture some of the thoughts and information that we would be gathering over the week ahead.

Explanations over, work started in earnest as people started sanding their 24 ‘patches’ of wood. I showed how to start playing around with layouts for their Patchwood Samplers and then all the patches had to be  painted and finished. This was a lovely social way to get the week started and this activity took up a good chunk of the day.

We planned an afternoon visit to ‘Marie-Helene’ the local Brocante and spent a lovely hour or so rummaging there for little bits & pieces that we could include in our samplers.

Yes I do realise that I have the best job ever!!

Visit to local brocante
A visit to the local Brocante

Back to the studio and to the really exciting bit of starting to design our ‘patches’. I love when everyone starts to produce their own little collections of ‘treasures’ that they have brought along with them. I always, always get ‘the envy’ at some of the beautiful bits and pieces. Boxes, tins and bags started to emerge with everything from real collectable pieces to the plastic top of a beer keg – memories of entertaining 70s (I think) style!

Lots of playing around. Lots of arranging and rearranging and rearranging all over again. Great progress made on the first day and by the time dinner was ready around 7.00pm, I think it’s safe to say that everyone was addicted! Another gorgeous dinner by Fran accompanied by lovely conversations left me feeling that Day 1 had been a good day.

Turns out that it wasn’t to end there though as just about everyone piled back into the studio after dinner. Entirely voluntary I hasten to add – there were no thumb screws used or even any threats (my favoured method of coercion). I left them to it and wandered off back to our farmhouse to fall straight into bed.

This pretty much formed our pattern for the week! Up early – delicious food – studio time – coffee & cake – studio time – delicious food – studio time – coffee & cake – studio time – delicious three course dinner & wine – back to studio for most but home to bed for me!!

making patchwood samplers
The long process of planning and layout

The second day started with a catch up and then a lesson in planning and marking our patches for stitching and a lesson in using the drills including a health & safety warning about using drills after dinner and accompanying wine! I have to say that A LOT of drill bits were harmed in the making of these pieces, so much so that we enrolled Paul as official ‘drill tec’ and it’s fair to say that it was a role that kept him on his toes throughout the week.

I think people are amazed at how long these Patchwood Samplers actually take to make – so many hours of work go into them. I think they’re also amazed at  just how addictive it all becomes. And all the more enjoyable for being able to wander in and out to work in the glorious sunshine.

Whenever things start to seem difficult my advice is always ‘put it down, step away and then come back with fresh eyes’.

The hamlet of Mallety, france
Exploring the gorgeous hamlet of Mallety

A little wander round the hamlet of Mallety is just the remedy and Paul and I snuck off for a wee explore with Oscar the pooch as a willing companion.

The hamlet of Mallety, France
A sobering reminder of times gone by. The symbol of the resistance and a V for Victory painted on a barn door.

The upshot of people choosing to spend so much of their time in the studio meant that some really intricate pieces started to emerge in the first few days and develop throughout the week. There is ‘thoughtfulness’ behind each and every patch and once confidence starts to grow, so does ambition. There is no ‘one size fits all’ for these – we’re continually problem solving and working out how best to go about things. I have no idea how best to attach a ‘plastic beer keg top thingy’ but if you give me a minute I’ll come up with ideas!

The lovely thing is that everyone soon starts to come up with their own ideas  – most work, others not so much but the trick is to work out which it’s going to be before holes are drilled!

Making patchwood samplers with Ali ferguson
Text added with a 1960s typewriter and ransom notes cut from vintage magazines.

A bit of instruction on the writing of ‘ransom notes’ ( I let slip my ‘day job’ with that one) and Paul’s mum’s old typewriter allowed us to add text onto the patches. ‘No soggy bottoms’ accompanied a rather lovely pastry tin found at the brocante and those of us of a certain age may know the phrase ‘sides to middle’ – Lee tells the story:

‘Bed sheets tend to wear thin in the middle of the bed – sometimes an unwary foot can go right through! Instead of buying new ones, women would cut them down the middle then re-sew them back together with the worn parts at the sides and the less worn parts in the middle – hence, “sides to middle”. I can remember my mum doing this by hand – with a French seam! All this after a full day at work and with three kids to take care of!’

Making patchwood samplers with Ali Ferguson
Personal stories start to emerge on each and every ‘patch’

The gorgeous coloured stitching in the above picture is a pattern in bell ringing – seriously! The white plastic tube thingy and little bicycle charm is a reminder of a story that unfolded on the first day involving a husband (who is an expert cyclist), a bike ride on the scale of no normal person, a sat nav with no signal, phones with no signal and a random ‘don’t worry about me but if you could work out where I am that would be splendid ’email.  This led to discovering he is over 60k away absolutely in the middle of no-where and trying to get directions to him (with barely any phone signal remember), darkness falling and finally a rescue mission. The white plastic thingy – a breathalyser from Paul & my ‘RAC driving in France kit’ was to check that Phil could drive after having wine with dinner. Luckily she could and the rescue was made and husband was grateful having already cycled around 80k and was at the point of looking for a barn without a dog in it that he could bed down for the night!

I told you there were stories a plenty and you couldn’t make them up!

Part Two of this blog with tales of our excursions and our final finished Patchwood Samplers to follow.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

These are a few of my favourite things! Part two

These are a few of my favourite things…

Part two of my post showing you some of the  materials that I regularly use and that just make me smile  – as seen through the eyes (and camera lens) of Carole Fitzgerald of Lazy Sunday catering.

I mentioned my love of garment pieces in part one of this blog. I’m currently working with a collection of vintage baby garments and shoes for my ‘Not Just Blue’ series. There is something beautifully poignant about these tiny little garments. I wonder about who wore them and what they went on to become. I think about the mother carefully dressing her baby – there are so many hidden stories before I have even started stitching.

A funny thing about this photo below. While we were setting up the shot Carole asked me if I had an old newspaper that could be used as a background and I proudly produced a September 16th, 1937 edition of  ‘The Evening News’ that I had literally come across in my stash the day before (I’d totally forgotten that I had it). Carole then spent a few minutes flicking through the pages – just looking for a headline or something that stood out to her for the photo. Imagine our sheer delight when she came across this article ‘These Lonely Mothers’ by Irene Stiles – it couldn’t have been more perfect. I do love it when synchronicity lends a hand.

You can read more about ‘Not Just Blue’ – my ongoing series of work exploring mother’s personal experiences of postnatal depression.

baby dress and kid leather shoes
Vintage baby dress & kid leather shoes

As well as these baby dresses I’m also continuously on the look out for garment pieces such as sleeves, cuffs or bodices. Again children’s garments can be a real source of beautifully shaped pieces.

Bodice piece
The cut of a simple bodice piece

This leads us neatly on to buttons. I think every stitcher has fond memories of playing with their mum’s or gran’s button box. I clearly remember my mum’s tin of buttons and could happily spend hours playing with the contents. Maybe that’s why so many of us have a fondness for buttons. My favourites now are linen laundry buttons – as always the tattier the better!

Linen laundry buttons
Linen laundry buttons & beautiful handmade Dorset buttons to the right

Another favourite is vintage mother of pearl buttons especially tiny ones from children’s or even doll’s clothes.

mother of pearl buttons
Tiny mother of pearl buttons

More and more I find myself using vintage threads whenever I can – there’s something about wooden cotton reels or a card of darning thread that is just enormously pleasing. Some of my favourites are vintage hosiery darning threads. They often come in sets of beautiful subtle colours and of course super fine to work with – gorgeous for detail work. I also love using vintage silks threads and sewing threads from my collection of Dewhursts Sylko wooden cotton reels. Favourite colour? It has to be  Turkey Red – I’m going to be devastated when my last reel runs out.

Box of threads for mending stockings
I love how there is only ever one or two spools missing – we only ever wear one or two colours of stockings or tights don’t we?

And finally I can’t possibly list a few of my favourite things without mentioning old quilt fragments. The hours of work that were poured into these beautiful but oh so very functional of items.

Vintage Quilts
Worn and tattered 1930s feedsack quilt pieces

Again I find myself drawn to the tattiest of pieces – faded colours and shredded fabrics. These beauties are very tattered pieces of American feed sack quilts from the 1930s. Find out more about feedback quilts at ‘Quilt History’.

Don’t just look at the front of the quilt piece – I often use the backing fabrics. These ones are made from a gorgeous muslin fabric marked by the lines of quilting stitches that I have unpicked in places. Number one rule of textiles – forget about there being a front and a back. Instead think in terms of ‘side A’ and ‘side B’ and use either or both!

Vintage quilts and yoyos
Beautiful hand stitched ‘yo-yos’ or Suffolk Puffs.

Find out how I have recently been using some quilt fragments in my series ‘Somethings’.

These truly are just a few of favourite things – I’m sure I’ll share more at a later date! A huge thank-you to Carole Fitzgerald for such delicious images – it’s such a joy to work with someone who gets as excited as I do over a pile of tattered fabrics!

 

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

These are a few of my favourite things! Part one

These are a few of my favourite things…

Definitely brown paper packages tied up with string but apart from that I thought I’d write a post showing you some of the  materials that I regularly use and that just make me smile. However when I started thinking about it I quickly realised that there are so many that I can’t possibly write about them all  – so here really are a few… and still so many that I’ve split the blog into two parts!!

Wherever possible I use old and used materials for my artwork – often the more tattered and worn the better. I know that they carry their own stories with them all wrapped up in their own history. Sometimes I will ‘imagine’ these stories and this will become part of my piece but often I am perfectly content to let the story remain ‘hidden’ and no less present for that – I know that it is there captured in the layers of my art.

Like so many textile artists, I am a bit of a collector. I wouldn’t say ‘hoarder’ because I am quite specific. There are some things that I know I would never use because they just don’t ‘speak’ to me and they happily get passed on elsewhere. I am a huge fan of Ebay and online sellers of vintage textiles, I love flea markets, I’m not hugely lucky in Charity shops but I am very lucky in that many bits & pieces seem to find their way to me when people are having clear outs. My favourite words ever are ‘could you use?’ – I literally hold my breath until I hear what follows.

‘Could you use some old table linen – it’s a bit marked and stained?’ – Yes please!

‘Could you use these old scissors – they don’t work anymore I’m afraid’ – Yes, yes, yes!

‘Could you use a bit of bling – I’ve some vintage sequins & beads?’ – No sadly not for me!

A few weeks ago I let photographer & stylist Carole Fitzgerald of Lazy Sunday loose in amongst my stash and here is just some of the gorgeousness we uncovered.

Old French table linens
Beautiful old French linens & tea towels

Lets start with vintage linens – old cream table cloths and tea towels. I find white a bit stark but it can, of course, be dyed or tea stained. I just adore french linens with their red stripes – cream & red is one of my favourite colour combinations and probably in the proportions it is used here and all the more gorgeous when it fades through time and use.

Vintage French linens
Frayed edges & woven selvedges

I love the edges and corners of linens – whether ripped and frayed or a beautiful woven selvedge and they are often the first pieces of the fabric that I will use. I’ll buy a piece of fabric just because it has a fabulous edge!

Vintage table linens
Why was I never finished?

I love finding stitched table linens or even those not yet started but have the pattern transfer with that gorgeous blue line. I wonder why this one was only just (beautifully) started? A life too busy? I really quite love finding very badly stitched pieces – I just imagine someone being forced into the pursuit of embroidery under duress and a little bit of ‘ill humour’ going into every stitch. Apologies I know I’m over using ‘I love’ in this blog but I just can’t help it!

Personal markings

Vintage handkerchiefs are another fabulous source of fabric. Often with a small piece of embroidery or edged in lace, monogrammed, washed & worn. Just imagine the emotion that these little squares of fabric have mopped up or helped conceal.

I’m always excited when I find something with some personal markings stitched in – initials or sometimes just seemingly random marks. Always check the back of stitching – it may look more intriguing than the front.

Old & darned cotton organdie
Edges, corners & holes

I often choose to use the most vulnerable parts of the textiles – edges that have been ripped & torn, pieces that have been worn almost threadbare. I look out for different weights of fabrics – cotton organdie is a beautiful very light weight fabric which can be used where you want just a wisp or just a suggestion.

Old garments with darns
Seams & darns

Perhaps my favourite thing to collect is fragments of old garments  – for me in creams & neutrals. I take them apart and use the shape of the garment piece, carefully unpicking the seams so that the stitch holes remain. I also use the seams themselves  – combining someone else’s stitching in with my own. I think above everything else I treasure patches, mends and darns (though I will probably say that about everything – I have a lot of ‘very most favourites’!

vintage sewing sample
Buttonholes & bands

Buttonholes and button bands would have to come into this category of very favourite things. This pic is a real beauty as it is a sewing sample made at school by someone probably in their domestic science classes. I don’t use these in my own sewing but keep them as little masterpieces in their own right – but I do wonder about the life of the stitcher.

Perhaps more mundane but really useful are buttonhole  & button bands from any old shirt. I love deconstructing shirts revealing the seams & shapes and using these as a background to personal stories. The piece below uses a wonderful vintage detachable shirt collar (very high up on my favourite things list) but the cuff comes from a very ordinary man’s white shirt – actually not so ordinary because and old friend of mine gave me some of her dad’s white shirts when he passed on. She discovered, while clearing out his wardrobe, no less than forty identical white shirts all hanging there – now therein lies a story I’m sure!

Artwork by Ali Ferguson
Collars & Cuffs

I’ll talk more about garments pieces in part two of this blog in a couple of weeks time  along with quilts and haberdashery so do check back. In the meantime you can see how I use some of the materials mentioned in my series ‘HiStories Uncovered’.

I’ll leave you with the gift of a couple of my favourite sellers –  but do, please, tell me more:

Sallie Ead who travels the Uk selling at fairs & shows and also regularly on Instagram

Joan – a lovely friend of mine – is on Etsy at Mamaisonfrancaise

and in the USA  – The Cherry Chic. 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

The Story Behind The Piece: Not Just Blue

Not Just Blue

Fragile cot sized quilts expressing experiences of postnatal depression

The inspiration for this series came from a creative art project that I delivered several years ago with Midlothian Sure Start working with groups of parents within their six family support centres in Midlothian. Titled ‘Hear Me Out’ the idea was that I would hold discussion sessions with groups of parents encouraging them to speak out about issues that were important to them. We would then go on to create some expressive artworks which would be displayed in an exhibition to which we would invite health care professionals, local MSPs, local councillors as well as the general public.

During the very first session with the very first group I asked if there was anything anyone would like to discuss. One woman said ‘I’d like to talk about postnatal depression’ …and she did. After she shared some of her experiences so then did several others in the group and one of the most emotional discussions that I have been involved in began. I told this story to each subsequent group that I worked with and one by one women opened up and told their stories.

Ali Ferguson Feeling such a failure

During the sessions we wrote down everything discussed. We then went on to create not only several individual personal collages but also a patchwork paper ‘quilt’ as a joint project across all the Sure Start centres. Each patch contained the words that had been spoken during the sessions and the patches were then joined with selotape, staples and safety pins. The finished rather haphazard and scrappy quilt was titled ‘Barely Holding It Together’ and it became one of the centrepieces of our exhibition.  As a result of this work we also went on to publish an accompanying booklet titled “So Why Do I Feel Like This’ which became a resource for new mothers used by health visitors in health centres across Midlothian. Some of the work travelled round the health centres to be exhibited in the waiting rooms and feedback from health visitors revealed that having it displayed in the baby clinics had helped to open meaningful conversations about some of the issues raised.

I’m incredibly proud of this piece of work and the words spoken by the women never left me. In 2016 when I was considering the title ‘Another View’ for an exhibition with Prism Textiles the thought that immediately came into my mind was to explore ‘another view of motherhood’.  I revisited the notes that I had made a few years previously and found them to be just as powerful and just as moving as I remembered. Inspired by our original quilt ‘Barely Holding It Together’ I went on to make my two fragile, scrappy quilts, the first of which was exhibited with Prism Textiles at the RBSA Birmingham and Hoxton Arches, London in 2017. You’ll find more about this series of work under Cloth Work

Experiences of postnatal depression

Now in 2018 I’m returning to this series to start work on Part two. This will comprise of seven vintage baby dresses each stitched with one mother’s (or father’s) story. On the front will be the words that are presented to the world such as – ‘I’m fine’, ‘I’m just tired’ etc.  We’ve all heard people say them. Hand stitched on the back of the dresses will be the real story, the one that tends to get hidden from view.

Vintage baby dress

It saddens me that these stories still go untold and that behind closed doors woman still feel isolated, ashamed and that they are the only ones to be feeling this way. I can’t help but feel that the pressure to be ‘happy’ and to be ‘coping’ must be even higher in these days of social media.

My aim is therefore to create an installation featuring my two original fragile, cot sized quilts (though I think there may be a third quilt added), the seven vintage ‘story dresses’ and three pairs of vintage baby shoes. I am hoping that I will find a venue to exhibit these – possibly during Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 or possibly during Pre and Postnatal Depression Awareness Week 2018. I will be looking for opportunities and venues between now and then so if anyone has any ideas or suggestions then please do get in touch – I’d love to hear them. My hope again is that reading these words will open up other conversations and maybe show other women that they are not alone and give them the courage to speak out and ask for help.

Stitched stories of postnatal depression

Collecting Stories

I’m therefore currently collecting personal stories to be stitched on each of my seven dresses. I already have one which I am about to begin work on but I’m looking for six more. If you have experienced postnatal depression (whether you are a mother or father) and feel that you would like to share your story then I would be so honoured and touched to hear from you. Please just drop me an email and we can have an informal chat and I can let you know what I am looking for.

Embroidered vintage baby shoes

And lastly if a member of your family or a friend has a baby – maybe just check out that they really are ‘fine’.

Postnatal Depression

Gorgeous photographs in this blog by: Michael Graham, The Studio Penicuik & Carole Fitzgerald, Lazy Sunday

 

New Year, new plans , new textile workshops!

FEBRUARY UPDATE: Yikes how embarrassing – several of these listings have changed since I wrote this blog post!!

Do check out my workshop page for an updated programme.

Oh yay to be sat at my desk today after three weeks of working on the building site that is currently our home. It feels great to have bare feet rather than wearing steel toe caps and its bliss not being covered from head to toe in a fine layer of plaster dust! I usually rather grudge ‘desk’ days compared to ‘studio’ days but today I’m feeling pretty content – making plans for the next few months and setting my priorities for the year.

So to start by wishing you all a very happy and successful 2018. I’m excited by my year ahead. Last year didn’t quite go according to plan so that’s made me more determined than ever to make more time for my own textile work as well as developing my textile workshops. I’ll look forward to sharing my news of ‘goings on & happenings’ here on my blog –  I’m  determined to make time to update it and get myself just a wee bit more online savvy!

I do already have some fabulous workshops lined up this year. I’ll be visiting Sally at Needle & Thread  not just once but twice as we have just added a sneaky wee date in June in addition to my two day visit in September. In June we’ll be making Patchwood Tenements and in September we’ll be making Patchwood Samplers: Personal Collections and Scrappy Story Collages. Bookings are already underway and as always places are limited. If you’ve not visited Needle & Thread before it is a gorgeous venue in Lincolnshire where Sally runs a fantastic programme of workshops.

Patchwood Samplers: Personal Collections workshop

 

Scrappy Story Collage workshop

I’m hugely excited to be teaching on my first ever retreat in June this year in rural France with Crafty Retreats. I’m sure I’ll be banging on about this much more in the months to come but if you could fancy spending a week in the sunshine in the most gorgeous studio situated in the Limousin area amid the forests and low mountains of the Monts D’Ambazac then do check it out quickly as I think there are only a couple of places left! We’ll be making Patchwood Samplers – my original full size ones with twenty one wooden ‘patches’ all embellished with your own little treasures. It’s going to be the most gorgeous week of creativity, friendship, delicious food and local excursions and I for one have to keep pinching myself to make sure that it is for real!

Textile art by Al Ferguson
Patchwood Sampler workshop at Crafty Retreats

My own workshop programme is currently listed on my website and I’ve made BIG changes to the way that I am doing things. I’ll be hosting workshops in two very lovely local (near Edinburgh) venues over the next few months. My venues have been carefully chosen as places that have the same quirky vibe as my own studio The Purple Thread Shed. I’ll be starting the year at the Wellbeing Lab within The Restoration Yard at Dalkeith Country Park with my first workshop ‘Patchwood Samplers: Personal Collections’ on Saturday 10th February and then in April we’ll be making  ‘Patchwood Tenements’.

Patchwood Tenements workshop

 

Ali Ferguson textile workshops
Vintage Haberdashery Lampshades workshop

 

Ali Ferguson textile workshops
Scrappy Hand Stitch Sampler workshop

 

Ali Ferguson textile workshops
Stories From The Scullery workshop

I do know that people love visiting my own studio so I will open the doors to The Purple Thread Shed for a few workshops in May & June. There are only four places on each so early booking is essential starting with  ‘Handmade Journals’ & ‘Patchwood Samplers: Natural Collections’ in May and followed by ‘Rusted Samplers in June’.  Hopefully I’ll be able to restore my garden to it’s summer glory by then – it’s currently looking very sorry for itself as it’s been been ravaged by the house renovations.

Ali Ferguson textile workshops
Handmade Journals workshop

 

Ali Ferguson textile workshops
Rusted Samplers workshop

So that’s a wee round-up of what’s going on – I’ll be posting more details & pics of individual workshops as we go along.

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

Making Instructions for my Vintage Style Bag Brooch

I’m really excited to be teaching four workshops this weekend in the Crafts Theatre at The Country Living Christmas Fair in Glasgow.  I’ll be showing  how to make a rather lovely vintage style bag brooch. I don’t know whether this is a real thing or not but they look great pinned to a cloth bag or can simply be hung as a teeny miniature textile hanging.

I’m including the instructions here for anyone who takes part but doesn’t quite finish (we’ve only got forty minutes – gulp!) Also come and see me throughout the show on stand J15

Country Living Christmas Fair Glasgow

Vintage Style Bag Brooch

Country Living Christmas Fair, Glasgow

Thursday 23rd – Sunday 26th November

11.00am – 11.40 daily

Find out more & book your place

Vintage Style Brooch Kit Contents

 Materials

The kit includes:

A scrap of old woollen blanket

Three fragments of 1940s French floral fabric

A teeny fabric photo printed from a vintage postcard

A scrap of lace

3 buttons

A safety pin with vintage style charms

Stranded cotton in pink, blue & green

A picture & instruction card

In addition to your kit you’ll also need a glue stick (I use Scotch) and a needle of course!

Step 1

I’ve started it off for you and attached one of the floral scraps to the blanket background. (Whenever I write a ‘To Do’ list I always include at least one thing that I’ve already done so that I can tick it off immediately – so there you go – you’ve already finished step 1!)

Step 2

Use the glue stick to put glue on the back of your photo. Try to get glue to the edges but don’t use too much – you don’t want it to seep through the fabric.

Step 3

Stick the photo about 2cm from the top, ever so slightly to the left rather than bang in the middle.

Step 4

Put glue on the back of the two small floral scraps.

Step 5

Slightly overlap the bottom of the photo with one scrap and then layer the other on top.

 

Vintage Style Brooch Kit 1
Steps 1-5

Step 6

Stretch the lace fragment over the top of the picture and using two strands of your thread stitch down with a running stitch.

Note On Using Stranded Cotton

Each colour of thread in your pack is made up of six fine strands of cotton. Pull out each strand individually and then put two back together and thread your needle.

 

Step 6

Start and finish your stitching by making two or three teeny stitches into the back of the blanket layer – be careful not to go all the way through to the front.

 

 

Vintage Style Brooch 3
Tiny stitches in the back of your work.

Step 7

Make some long, straight stitches along your floral scrap going up onto your photo. Make them uneven – about 8 in total.

Vintage Style Brooch Kit 5
Step 7

Step 8

Stitch little crosses at the top of these.

Vintage Style Brooch 8
Step 8

Step 9

Stitch a button at each end of your lace and one at the bottom of your picture.

Vintage Style Brooch 9
Step 9

Step 10

Make little stitches over the side edges of your photo – these don’t have to be even.

Vintage Style Brooch 10
Step 10

Step 11

Attach your safety pin at the bottom. You can either pin it into the blanket or stitch it with 3 little crosses.

Vintage Style Brooch 11
Step 11

 

Step 12

Attach your kilt pin to the top by stitching a row of cross stitches. I start with one in the middle and then make another two crosses on each side – before you stitch check that the opening part of the pin is to the top!

Vintage Style Brooch 12
Step 12
Vintage Style Brooch 13
Ta da – the finished brooch!

And Finally – Enjoy wearing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Start and finish your stitching by making two or three teeny stitches into the back of the blanket layer – be careful not to go all the way through to the front.Start and finish your stitching by making two or three teeny stitches into the back of the blanket layer – be careful not to go all the way through to the front.Start and finish your stitching by making two or three teeny stitches into the back of the blanket layer – be careful not to go all the way through to the front.Start and finish your stitching by making two or three teeny stitches into the back of the blanket layer – be careful not to go all the way through to the front.Start and finish your stitching by making two or three teeny stitches into the back of the blanket layer – be careful not to go all the way through to the front.Start and finish your stitching by making two or three teeny stitches into the back of the blanket layer – be careful not to go all the way through to the front.Start and finish your stitching by making two or three teeny stitches into the back of the blanket layer – be careful not to go all the way through to the front.Start and finish your stitching by making two or three teeny stitches into the back of the blanket layer – be careful not to go all the way through to the front.SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

Radio Silence, Ramblings & Workshop News

Oh my goodness I’ve been pretty rubbish at updating my new website and posting on my blog so far. The problem is that whenever I have a lot going on, I go into ‘radio silence’  – which is kind of unhelpful for social media!  My head gets so involved in what I’m actually doing that I totally forget to take any photographs. Also, although I do mentally write lots of blog posts while I’m taking Annie the pooch out walking, I somehow never quite get round to writing them for real! Anyway I’m here at last and bringing some exciting new workshop news.

But first a wee update of goings on.

It’s been rather gorgeous outside The Purple Thread Shed.

We’ve been lucky to have had some gorgeous days over the last couple of months. I’ve finished all my workshops at The Purple Thread Shed for the summer and I’ve closed the shed door to visitors for a while. The reason being that we’re doing some pretty major house renovations and the place is heading into turmoil. I do know that it’ll be worth it in the end (because I tell myself this about 100 times a day) but to someone who is a bit of a control freak the thought of my whole house being turned upside down is a wee bit daunting! I think Annie the pooch and I will be escaping to the shed and barricading ourselves in as much as possible. However the upside of not running any workshops from here over the Autumn is that it is giving me a break to think, to plan and to concentrate on my personal textile projects – and that definitely feels exciting!

And now for some actual workshop news.

Although I won’t be running any textile workshops & classes from my own studio, the Purple Thread Shed is taking to the road to some other great venues over the next few months.

You can find more details here:  The Purple Thread Shed Takes To The Road.

Look out for some gorgeous new workshops coming to the Edinburgh City Art Centre

I’m really excited to be working with Edinburgh Museums for the first time this summer and have created two workshops to support their Edinburgh Alphabet exhibition at the City Art Centre. It’s worth noting that the cost of these workshops is £25 which is an absolute bargain!

The first is ‘Patchwood Houses’ which is taking place on Saturday 19th August during the Edinburgh fringe and festival. Perhaps some of you from further afield will be in Edinburgh at this time and would like to join me for the day.

A row of  Edinburgh tenements made from ‘patches’ of repurposed wood

It will be a day of hand stitching with a difference creating a colourful  little row of  Edinburgh tenements from ‘patches’ of repurposed wood all stitched together. Inspired by the Old Town, you will design your own row of tenements embellished with Edinburgh ephemera, vintage papers, tweeds, floral fabrics and other small treasures all hand stitched into place. Your buildings will then be stitched together to create your own ‘Edinburgh Close’.

Made with vintage papers, tweeds and ephemera all hand stitched into place

We can include house numbers, street names and other personal details and I love the little washing line strung across the close. Before you can begin to stitch, tiny holes must be drilled into the wood. By the end of the day you will feel as at home using the drill as you do your needle and thread.

You can even add a little washing line strung across the ‘close’.

All the materials will be provided but to make your piece even more personal you may wish to bring along some of your own small treasures and Edinburgh ephemera to include.

Patchwood Houses

City Art Centre, Edinburgh

Saturday 19th August 2017

10.30AM – 4.00PM

Cost £25

Booking is essential and can be done by contacting the City Art Centre reception on 0131 529 3993.

The second workshop at the City Art Centre is taking place on Saturday 16th September

Patchwood City workshop in the City Art Centre

In “Patchwood City’ we will be creating one of my  Patchwood Samplers inspired by our beautiful city of Edinburgh. Using “patches” of repurposed wood, you will create your Patchwork piece from vintage Edinburgh ephemera, found objects and images from old Edinburgh postcards transferred onto fragments of wood. Everything will be stitched into place and your “patches” stitched together.

We’ll transfer mages from old Edinburgh postcards onto fragments of repurposed wood

Again all the materials will be provided but to make your piece even more personal you may wish to bring along some of your own small treasures and Edinburgh ephemera to include.

Patchwood Samplers inspire by ‘mine own romantic town’

Patchwood City

City Art Centre, Edinburgh

Saturday 16th September 2017

10.30AM – 4.00PM

Cost £25

Booking is essential and can be done by contacting the City Art Centre reception on 0131 529 3993.

 

 

 

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

Another View – exhibiting with Textile Group Prism

Last Thursday I set off on a wee trip down to Birmingham where I was exhibiting as part of the textile group “Prism” at the beautiful RBSA gallery.

Prism Another View
That wonderful moment when you first see your work hanging

The Background

At the start of 2016 I made what seemed like a huge decision to stop ‘making’ for shops and selling online and to concentrate my time instead on my own personal textile projects for exhibition.

I love to start the year by writing an ‘action plan’ where I set short, medium and long term goals. As a way to move forward my personal textile work, I set myself a medium term goal of joining a UK wide Textile Group with the specific aim of exhibiting further afield in the UK.

At this point I was already a member of edge- textile artists scotland and knew how well this works for me. Being a member of a group not only gives me deadlines and something definitive to work towards but this, in turn, seems to stimulate my ideas and motivation. Not to mention all of the advantages of being part of a group of likeminded people – especially when I tend to spend a lot of my time working alone.

I therefore set out on a bit of research to find a UK wide group and turned to textileartist.org where I found the feature: Top 5 Textile Art Groups. Further research took me to the various websites mentioned and after looking at the work of individual members I decided that I could see my work sitting alongside other members of Prism so I decided to take the plunge and write an application.

I once more turned to textileartist.org where I found another great feature: ‘Top tips for applying to Textile Art Groups’ I couldn’t believe my luck when I discovered that the article was written by Anita Bruce – one of the chairs of Prism!

Anyway to cut rather a long-winded story short, after submitting photographs and statements I was asked to send some of my work down for the selection panel to consider and was absolutely delighted to be invited to join the group. I was even more thrilled when, at the start of this year, the work that I submitted for their 2017 exhibitions ‘Another View’ was accepted for both the RBSA Birmingham and later in the year for Hoxton Arches, London.

Now reading that back makes it sound like a very straight forward and painless process – it is SO NOT!! It’s hugely scary to put yourself and your work out there. You are essentially inviting a group of people that you aspire to belong to – to either accept or reject you – yikes!! I actually didn’t make any announcements on Facebook until about three months later because I   kept expecting the email to say that they’d changed their mind. Me – paranoid? Not at all!!

I’ll tell you more about the work I submitted “Not Just Blue” in another post but in the meantime you can find out more in Cloth Work.

Art by Ali Ferguson
‘So why do I feel like this” Ali Ferguson

Another View

In the words of Prism Chairs Anita Bruce and Jackie Langfeld :

‘The title ‘Another View’ presents opportunities to explore different ways of looking, seeing and understanding; a chance to visualise the complexities and possibilities of people, places, events and the world we live in. It also perhaps engages the viewer in discussion about contemporary textile practice; offering a different perspective on the ancient craft of stitch.’

Art by Ross Belton
‘Nest’ Ross Belton
Art by Judith Isaac-Lewis
“Aberfan Handkerchief Project’ Judith Isaac-Lewis
Art by Jackie Langfeld
‘Beholder 1 Found’ Jackie Langfeld

The exhibition itself absolutely lived up to expectations. Spending a day stewarding in the gallery allows a glimpse at the public’s reaction. I love how something will catch someone’s eye the moment they walk through the door and they’ll be drawn straight to it, for that moment not seeing anything else around it. And the best of it is that each person will be drawn to something different.

I love too when someone calls over their companion to point something out and an enthusiastic discussion takes place. I quite like when arms get tightly folded across the body but the person continues studying  – you know that something has touched a nerve. And of course there’s the moment when someone’s face lights up and you know that they’ve just experienced that slightly breathless sensation of when something has touched the heart and is ‘speaking’ to them.

Art by Anita Bruce
‘Natural History” Anita Bruce
Art by Julie Harper
‘Novice Parade’ Julie Harper

Also, of course, it is such a thrill to see your own work hanging in the space. No amount of ‘mocking up’ at home compares to the moment you walk into the gallery and see that after all of the many hours of work that your piece ‘fits’ and that your idea for hanging ‘works’. I gave a huge sigh of relief when I first walked through the door and saw my quilt hanging, and then later in the day I couldn’t help a wee smile of pleasure as we opened the window and it gently moved in the breeze, casting its shadows around it.

Art by Ali Ferguson
‘Not Just Blue’ Ali Ferguson

Another View will be showing again with a slightly different collection of works at Hoxton Arches, London from the 17th – 29th October 2017

Hidden Conversations

I made a wee pledge with myself that when writing my blog posts that I would try and give a ‘real’ account so I’m sharing the conversation that took place between me and my other half when I first saw a photo taken at the exhibition opening.

Prism Another View
Exhibition opening at the RBSA

‘Me being me’ means that despite having had my pieces accepted for the exhibition I don’t dare believe that they have actually been included, until I see them with my own eyes!

Me: (peering at a photo on the Prism Facebook page and frantically zooming in) ‘Look, look that’s it – that is definitely mine isn’t it? They’ve definitely hung it – haven’t they? Oh yay – that’s amazing!!’

Paul: ‘Yes definitely yours. Well done. I’m so proud of you. And look there’s someone standing looking at it.’

Me: ‘Yes they are looking at it. How cool. And it looks like they’re talking about it – amazing! Short pause – D’you think he’s saying that it’s sh** and has to come down?!

Exciting news

How exciting – a shiny new website and a brand new blog!

I’ve been meaning to update everything for such a long time and it all seemed rather overwhelming. However, having made the decision to enlist some help in the form of a professional web designer, the whole process has been a joy and here we are – ta da!!

So welcome to my blog!!

Annie the Thread Shed pooch

My plan is to use this space to record some of the “happenings” in The Purple Thread Shed – in my workshops as well as my own personal projects.
I’d love to share some of the stories behind my artwork – from the initial idea (which usually takes place around 3AM) to the thinking behind the materials used and through the process itself.

I’d like to think that this will be a ‘real’ account – an actual scrapbook of the ups and downs of leading a creative life, working on my own, battling with insecurities as well as sharing all the exciting bits.

We will, of course, be joined by Annie the Thread Shed pooch. She takes her “job” of welcoming people very seriously so it seems fitting that she does the first welcome to the blog.

Annie the pooch outside The Thread Shed

I do hope that you will return to find out what’s going on and do please feel free to leave comments. I’m always up for a wee chat!

Lastly a huge thank-you to Fiona Dix of hiraeth mixed media for creating such a fabulous website and also Michael Graham of The Studio, Penicuik for many of the fabulous photographs throughout my website.