Hands up if you have a friend who, after you have spent a day in their company, you realise that you feel inspired, invigorated, re-energised and excited to get on with things! You find yourself feeling focussed because you have had the opportunity to talk things through and clear a bit of head space, and you feel ready to tackle the world because at some point during the day’s conversation you came up with some ideas for simple actions you could take to get things moving again.
I am very lucky to have a friend just like that in Carole Fitzgerald of Lazy Sunday. We first met a few years ago when she attended a workshop that I was teaching in my studio – The Purple Thread Shed. Sometimes you just click with someone immediately on meeting them. When I looked up Lazy Sunday online and saw Carole’s stunningly gorgeous creativity around the whole food and dining experience I have to say I was a little awe struck.
Anyway to cut a long story short Carole attended more workshops, we got to know each other a bit better and a friendship grew. We realised that we both felt exactly the same wonderful mix of invigoration, clarity and energy in each other’s company and we started to look a bit more closely at why. For a start we were choosing to set aside a whole day for each other (we don’t live next door unfortunately), we would meet in a beautiful, inspiring space (we recognise that we create these quite naturally round about us) and we would talk…about everything. About work, about family, about the things that are ‘sticking’ us and about the things we would like to get off the ground. And while we were talking, we would be making something or photographing something … just creatively doing something!
We had a bit of a lightbulb moment after one particular day when we had been making a beautiful scrappy journal and Carole returned home and found herself filling this journal with new plans and ideas for her business. As she was writing and doodling and cutting and sticking she found that ideas flowed, tricky decisions became easier and the more she wrote down the more the fog in her head cleared. The next time I saw her, last Autumn, she showed me the most beautiful journal (far prettier than mine) and a new idea was born.
A Retreat called Nourish and Nurture
We decided that we wanted to share this creativity, this energy or process or whatever you might want to call it with other women. It felt so exciting and so absolutely right that we booked our chosen venue there and then. (Would you believe that they had one free week left in their calendar and it coincided with us both having a rare gap in our diaries – some things are just meant to be). So having made the most very exciting decision to just DO IT our Retreat called Nourish and Nurture was born.
Of course we have chosen the most stunning of venues – Cardy Net House in Fife – a house by the sea where we will make and chat and cook and eat and be for 3 days and 4 nights. We will consciously practice beautyFULL living and show you simple ways to bring this way of living into your home life – in a very real way rather than an Instagram photo kind of way.
I, personally, am totally excited about cooking together. I have always cooked to ‘keep the family alive’, to quote Carole Decker when she appeared on Celebrity Masterchef, but it’s definitely not my thing. However when you hang around someone who quickly, easily and utterly gorgeously produces beautiful food and presents it so that you just want to photograph it (and eat it) immediately, the enthusiasm starts to rub off. I’ve found myself feeling such pride when I put a big plate of stunning food on the table and listen to the family making the ‘mm mmm mmmm’ hamster noises and I am now smitten. I want to know more and more and can’t wait to take part in preparing our food open plan and sharing with others round our long table…and getting my hands on some beautyFULL recipes!
Escape for 3 days and 4 nights?
So, if by any chance things have been a bit full on lately, then maybe the chance to escape for 3 days and 4 nights to a house by the sea and become totally engrossed in making and doing and chatting and being might be exactly what you are looking for!
Spaces are very limited so give us a shout ASAP to claim your place at the table!
Carole and I planned to launch news of our Retreat months ago, at the start of the year, we know we’re late in doing so now. BUT life happens! We both run creative businesses, we both have family responsibilities – things haven’t gone excatly to plan this year for either of us. THAT really is what this retreat is about, acknowledging that and moving on anyway. So we’ve had to delay – no drama!
I’m super excited that this piece is currently on exhibition at San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles as part of Excellence In Fibers 2017. This is an annual juried textile exhibition by the magazine Fiber Art Now highlighting innovative and contemporary textile art. I was absolutely thrilled to have my work selected as one of 44 pieces from the 1949 submissions to be not only published in the magazine but also exhibited at the museum. I’m even more delighted that SJMQT are using my image on their website to promote the exhibition. It will be showing until Jan 13th 2019.
It therefore seems like a good time to tell a bit of the story behind the piece
HiStories Uncovered is an installation piece consisting of three textile panels and a pair of vintage baby shoes. The original inspiration came quite by chance while half listening to the radio. I have absolutely no idea what the programme was or what it was about but something sparked my interest at the time and I wrote down the phrase ‘Locard’s Exchange Principle’ in my notebook. I came across it again some time later and looked it up.
Locard’s exchange principle is a concept that was developed by Dr. Edmond Locard (1877-1966). Locard speculated that every time you make contact with another person, place, or thing, it results in an exchange of physical materials. He believed that no matter where a criminal goes or what a criminal does, by coming into contact with things, a criminal can leave all sorts of evidence, including DNA, fingerprints, footprints, hair, skin cells, blood, bodily fluids, pieces of clothing, fibers and more. At the same time, they will also take something away from the scene with them.
This kind of fascinated me and really got me thinking. If we accept that we leave physical traces with someone that we come in contact with then, of course, we also leave emotional traces. After all we talk about someone ‘touching’ us (as if it were a physical thing) when we are left with a strong feeling or memory of them. I went on to consider that if the emotional trace was actually physical, what mark or evidence would it leave. I decided to follow this Thread of Thought further and see where it would take me and this was really the start of my fascination by the thought that an old piece of clothing is implanted with stories of the wearer. Are you with me so far?
I decided to work with old garments and quite literally take them apart piece by piece to reveal this imagined emotional evidence left behind by some person who had touched the wearer in some way. I collected my evidence from text taken from my collections of old letters and used old and worn garments from my stash. The letters and garments were not actually connected in any way apart from in my imagination.
I wanted the pieces to be rather ethereal so I chose to work with beautiful old and very delicate silks and organzas as my background fabric. Again all old and used and bringing their own hidden stories to the piece.
I decided that my first piece would give a glimpse into the life of Gillie a school master at a school in Brighton. I have two letters dated July 1919 from Gillie addressed to a Miss Dorothy Ferguson who was a school mistress at the same school. Bought from Ebay several years ago these letters captivated me from the outset with his opening line of one letter:
Please don’t misunderstand the meaning of this letter but I have felt such an awful cad ever since the occasion I was so unwise as to feel very sentimental, that I owe you a few words of explanation, which will probably read better as distance separates us.
I was, of course, completely hooked! The question I’m sure we’re all asking is what he had done to warrant the ‘awful cad’!! My only clue is in the only other letter which is dated five days previously where he declares his love for Dorothy. Again this letter starts with an apology:
Can I begin better than by asking you to forgive me? It may seem hard for you to do so but all the excuse I can offer is that I love you. To you that really ought to be mitigating circumstances.
I think my favourite paragraph is:
Thinking over everything, I can’t really find sufficient reason on your side to say that I must not hope that some day you will become my wife.
Anyway the poor man decided that the way to win Dorothy over was by telling her more…and more…and even more about himself. I was enthralled by strict and uncaring pater and rather flaky mater and if this hasn’t thawed Miss Ferguson’s heart by now then surely she couldn’t have remained untouched by the line:
David Copperfield could hardly ever have felt worse than I.
I love the fact that I only have two letters and can’t pry any further. There is enough information in the letter to find a lot more out about dear Gillie but I’ve never been tempted – I love a little glimpse into a life but don’t wish any more than that.
I used the writing from the letters and tried to be true to Gillie’s handwriting with my own stitching. This piece was stitched onto a background of beautiful old silk organza. Pinned in places, words and phrases highlighted by stitching and offering the tiniest glimpse into Gillies emotions towards this women who had touched him and won over his heart at this time.
Well it had to be done didn’t it? I had to let Miss Dorothy respond to Gillies letters and capture some of her spirit in doing so. I don’t have any letters from Dorothy so I have no idea of her actual response or how the story turned out. Did they indeed marry or did Gillie offer his excuses and leave the school as he said he would if she asked? I’ve no way of knowing.
I very seldom completely make up a story, that’s something that usually holds no appeal to me. However something about Gillie & Dorothy had me captivated and I found myself feeling (justly or unjustly?) rather indignant on Dorothy’s part. I think it was his assumption that what she really needed to change her mind was to hear more about him that got me riled. He definitely hadn’t read ‘Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus‘!
In my head Dorothy was rather feisty and would not be won over so easily. I decided to write Dorothy’s response myself and to use this as my evidence for my second piece. I still giggle when I read over my imaginary letter. It starts:
You bloody, bloody man. While I confess to a fondness for you, your arrogance infuriates me beyond measure. Just when I begin to forgive your presumptions you follow on from where you left off assuming that your only misdemeanour is in being ‘sentimental’.
It continues in similar fashion and goes on:
You cannot see ‘sufficient reason’ that you must not hope that some day I will be your wife? Have you ever once asked me what I would like? Have you ever once asked me what I might hope for?
This friendship is not compromised by your confession of having feelings for me. Are we not two adults capable of having an adult relationship? This friendship is compromised by your arrogant belief that you know what is best for me and when I do not fall at your feet in compliance it is because I misunderstood you.
You, you why is it always about you? Your detailed explanation of your upbringing provides the answer but I suspect not in the way that you were intending.
And it goes on further in that manner and gives poor Gillie quite a rollicking. I can only think that at the time of writing I was having a bad day! I do love the thought that the words of a complete stranger inspired such indignation in me. Anyway more about the piece itself.
I used a beautiful antique modesty panel and applied the words of my letter to it. It is made of the most fragile silk which disintegrated in parts as I was stitching. This was layered onto a background of old silk that came from a dress lining. This came from a friend’s mother’s house and had clearly been cut off when a dress was shortened from long to short. Marked and worn with lovely stitched seams, it became a prized piece of fabric waiting for just the right project. I was a bit devastated when I used the last pieces up in my Not Just Blue quilts.
Layered over the modesty panel was another very fine antique dress panel and again I layered fabrics and highlighted words in hand stitching. I stretched this piece on a frame to stitch, because it was so delicate and in danger of disintegrating completely. I don’t usually stitch with a frame although perhaps I should. I tend to suit my way of working to whatever materials I am using at the time. In honesty I make things up and experiment as I go along rather than doing extensive sampling beforehand and I’m afraid with no formal training in embroidery I am completely unaware of the right way to do things – and I rather like this.
I’ll be teaching some of my techniques that I used in these pieces at my 5 day workshop next year with Fibre Arts Australia and Fibre Arts New Zealand and who knows maybe sometime in the UK if I’m invited to do a summer school or winter school sometime. Big hint!!
My Dear Child
The emotional evidence for the last piece in this installation comes from a completely unconnected collection of letters. Again I found these several years ago on Ebay and for some reason it took me a long time to be able to open the little packet of small letters and investigate them properly. They felt so very full of emotion that I couldn’t quite bring myself to read them when they first arrived and actually now that I have poured over them I’m still not hugely wiser as to their content. Written in tiny spidery handwriting and dated 1907 they are very difficult to decipher apart from the opening greetings:
My very dear child, My dear child and My precious child
I can make out the odd sentence here and there:
Ever in my thoughts & prayers, My precious child, you are never out of my thoughts
God bless and keep you, I am sending you some of the leaves out of my prayer book which I trust will comfort and help you. It tells of the loving kindness of our Heavenly father in all that concerns sand his watchful care over us.
and the signing off
Your loving & affectionate mother
I feel rather humbled to have such poignant correspondence in my possession but rather love the act of preserving this emotion in stitch and bringing it back to life. It saddens me in a way that letters like these have found their way onto Ebay because somewhere along the line they have been discarded as of no interest. But I have no way of knowing the back stories and I’m a more than willing recipient of these little treasures and it breaks my heart to think that they could’ve ended up in landfill – or recycling – but there’s a thought that could take on a whole new direction!!
Again it is stitched on a background of the old silk organza. I have deconstructed a beautiful hand stitched antique baby gown, possibly a christening gown, and added the most tiny mother of pearl buttons. This piece became the inspiration for my Not Just Blue quilts. There was something very poignant about taking apart and then re-piecing together these beautiful little dresses. I am continually inspired by the shapes of garments pieces and find the act of re-arranging and placing each part to be so very engrossing and pleasing. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of it.
As well as the stories and energies of those who wrote the letters and the recipients of the letters these pieces are also imbued with the stories of the garments themselves and the real wearers. I love how all these energies entangle and interact and therefore become one with each other. I rather imagine this to be much like how the energies of any group of strangers finding themselves randomly in each others company will intermingle and interact with each other – often completely unnoticed but a connection has been made. In my mind this rather neatly takes us back to Locard’s principle of exchange where every time you make contact with another person, place, or thing, it results in an exchange of physical materials. I rather like to think that there is also a very real exchange of emotional energies and I rather think that this thought will keep me inspired for a long time to come.
And lastly – sometimes I like to stitch little pieces in explanation – a bit like a rather gorgeous sketchbook page.
As you may already know I’ve decided to take a break from teaching my own programme of textile workshops for now. However the two that I taught earlier this year at The Restoration Yard, near Edinburgh were such a success, and such fun, that I’ve decided to return to this big, beautiful space this coming October and November to teach just two more!
The first one will be one of my favourites (yes I probably do say this about most of them).
Stories from the Sewing Box / Stories from the Scullery
This is a gorgeous day of ‘slow stitching’, nostalgia and sharing stories. This workshop is perfect for lovers of ‘vintage’ especially those who have fond memories of sewing as a child, of playing with mum’s button box or being fascinated by nan’s sewing box or maybe childhood memories of licking cake mixture out of the mixing bowl and the smell of home baking.
We’ll spend six glorious hours designing and creating a gorgeous textile collage with a ‘sewing box’ or ‘scullery’ theme.
I’ll be raiding my supplies from my studio, The Purple Thread Shed, and will provide a fabulous selection of vintage materials for you to use throughout the day. I LOVE using old & used materials so I’ll be looking out boxes of vintage embroidered table linens, 1940s floral fabrics, scraps of old lace, paper from 1950s magazines and vintage dressmaking patterns and anything else that comes to hand while I’m packing. Ooh maybe some old quilt fragments and definitely a great selection of vintage haberdashery. And for all you who love to rummage through a good old ‘button box’- there will be buttons…lots of buttons!!
I’ll also prepare some printed fabrics to bring along. These will be printed from text and images from old sewing magazines, books and jotters and some of my precious vintage recipe books. There isn’t time on the day to print your own fabrics, but I’ll talk you through how it’s done and provide a great selection ready for you to use.
I’ll work with everyone throughout the day. I tend to demonstrate a few techniques and then work with people individually because you’ll all be doing something different and completely personal. While I provide all the materials that you’ll need, people very often bring along their own bits & pieces to work with. What could be more personal than using your own fabric treasures collected throughout the years from your own family stash? I’ll give suggestions for what to bring when you book your place but do know that you can turn up completely empty handed – perfect for those of you who don’t have a minute to swing a cat (there’s something not quite right about that) or for those who don’t have a stash of their own!
So – using an old woollen blanket as a ground, I’ll show you how to piece together a gorgeously scrappy background from our vintage fabrics and papers. This is a lovely intuitive process and be warned – it will take much longer than you think! You’ll add more pattern using old haberdashery (don’t you just love that word?) and then you’ll be ready to start the lovely process of slow hand stitching.
Don’t worry if you’re not an experienced stitcher – running stitch and cross-stitch are all you need. A love of textiles and scrappy vintage style is far more important! I encourage people just to start stitching. Once you get started, ideas will grow from there – I promise!
I’ll help you to create balance and flow in your design through your stitching and bring all of these scrappy little patches together as one gorgeous piece. If you feel more adventurous, I’ll demonstrate some of my favourite stitches and will bring along a lovely selection of vintage ‘stitch’ books from my growing collection! Neat perfect stitching is not the order of the day, making lovely personal ‘marks’ with needle and thread most definitely is!
Warning! The picture above is to tempt & inspire you BUT don’t expect to finish your hanging on the day. Hand stitching is slow, as is the design process. I’ll give you all the guidance you need to finish your gorgeous project at your own pace at home.
Stories from the Sewing Box / Stories from the Scullery workshop
Saturday 6th October 2018
The Restoration Yard, Dalkeith Country Park – near Edinburgh
The workshop runs from 10.00am – 4.00pm
The cost of the day is £65 inclusive of refreshments & materials
You’ll find out all the details here and I’d love to have you join us!!
I will be teaching one more workshop in the Edinburgh area before the end of the year
Patchwood Christmas Trees on Saturday 17th November at the Restoration Yard.
You can find out the details here and do book soon as there are only a few places left.
Find out where else I will be teaching and I’d love to hear from you if you would like me to teach in your own gorgeous craft venue or to your textile group.
PS – Can anyone accurately count the number of times the word ‘vintage’ is used in this blog? Clue – it’s an awful lot and I even took loads out!!
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!!
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!
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!
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.
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!’
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?
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’
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!
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’!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!!
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.
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.
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!!
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!!
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’.
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 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!
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!’
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.
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.
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.
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!
Another favourite is vintage mother of pearl buttons especially tiny ones from children’s or even doll’s clothes.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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’!
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!
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
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.
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
Now in 2018 I’m returning to this series to start work on Part two. This will comprise of three vintage baby dresses each stitched with one mother’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. Displayed with the dresses will be three pairs of vintage baby shoes
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 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.
And lastly if a member of your family or a friend has a baby – maybe just check out that they really are ‘fine’.
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.
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!
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’.
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.
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.
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
A teeny fabric photo printed from a vintage postcard
A scrap of lace
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!
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!)
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.
Stick the photo about 2cm from the top, ever so slightly to the left rather than bang in the middle.
Put glue on the back of the two small floral scraps.
Slightly overlap the bottom of the photo with one scrap and then layer the other on top.
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.
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.
Make some long, straight stitches along your floral scrap going up onto your photo. Make them uneven – about 8 in total.
Stitch little crosses at the top of these.
Stitch a button at each end of your lace and one at the bottom of your picture.
Make little stitches over the side edges of your photo – these don’t have to be even.
Attach your safety pin at the bottom. You can either pin it into the blanket or stitch it with 3 little crosses.
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!
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