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 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

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?!