Principally felt

experiments in life, decorative felt, nuno, knit felt and mosaic

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experiment in green texture

 

 

Whilst working up to a big project I am concentrating on the finishing of a few small pieces I’ve had around for a while. Following my gauzy ribbon and scrim post I decided to experiment with more extreme textures. I took a small piece of felted knitting and cut it into worm shapes. I used these and some specs of the same to embellish some wool tops laid out to felt. 20140124-185318.jpg

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stockings and wrapping cloths

I recently saw some pretty felted stockings on a commercial website. On sale at an awesome price they were not for me.

just for fun I decided to make some. The fact that my daughters are soon to be 21 and 25 didn’t put me off. My excuse is that the younger is not yet adult, officially. So, one more year of stockings seems justified.

In the past, my Dad’s long army socks have done the job brilliantly but, in brown wool, they are hardly pretty. The did however make a pleasingly long, wiggly stocking perfect for an orange (or chocolate orange) in the toe and to give the heavy lumpy weight on the bed which confirms that Madame Santa has made it another year.

Perhaps we’ll end up using the army socks just as always and mine will be purely decorative. It is difficult to change existing traditions.

My daughters have always sat on my bed to open stockings. They take it in turns to pull out a gift. What’s your tradition?

In planning this, I firstly made two pre-felts. One, in green and white silk on green I intended to cut into stars for pre-felt decoration to be used on a grey felt.

The other was dark purple merino embellished with sari silk waste.
time.

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I liked the latter fabric so much I decided to drop the stars and make the stockings using the same approach. The pre-felts got used as these pretty wrapping cloths.

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To make stockings you need a stocking shaped resist. I made mine out of bubble wrap, folded so the bubble is on the outside of both sides, cut an elongated boot shape and taped it up with Sellotape. The boot shape needs to allow for felt shrinkage. Mine was possibly a bit narrow but like the army socks a narrow stocking is more fun on Christmas Day. The Sellotape survived two usages, just! Oddly the tape turned white in the process.

I used a double inner layer in one colour, followed by a double outer layer in another colour. The wool was laid on both sides and wrapped around the resist. I embellished the outer layer with Sari silk waste. To finish I picked out the very brightest bits of coloured silk to add as highlights. I made one in grey / dark green and the second in pink / dark blood red.

This is how they went.

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Once felted I cut an inch off the top. This piece, opened and flattened I put aside to use as a hanging tab. Then I pulled out the resist. I was very pleased with the result when I turned down the cuff.

Enjoy your own festivities. Have a very merry time.

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deep purple November

This beautiful photo of the Thames, taken by my daughter from Waterloo Bridge speaks to me of November. We all have to be a bit heroic in November.

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Out of the city, it has been a wonderful blogging / wool lover’s November with some very informative blogs to tell us more about the beautiful fibres we work with. My favourite blogging heroes (heroines) for November include:

Pam Hall on Working with Wool The colours in the weaving inspire me.

Nuno Felting with Fabric Paper Lamination Ruth Lane you are going beyond my skill level lately but I have followed your recent experimental work with fascination!

Tapping into Reserves I wholeheartedly relate to this thesis on introversion!

Veraiconica Thought for today on November 17th Exactly!

Apart from trying to overcome the frustrations of the ios7 operating system on iPad, I myself, by sheer slog and repetition, am improving the quality and consistency of the material I can produce.

This has paid off in terms of muscle strength. I’m a wheelchair user, but the other day when I went to see my physiotherapist I actually asked her to put up the resistance level on the rowing machine. She was somewhat surprised but we won’t tell her that that is a result of an almost daily rolling of felt rather than doing all the torturous exercises she recommends. A small victory in my personal Waterloo !

Having decided my felting antics were going nowhere without the capacity to sew things I recently bought a new sewing machine. Stitchery does make things more interesting. Yesterday I was evermore waiting for the gas engineer to come and rescue our boiler. I took two small cut offs from pieces of felt made recently and had fun with a lot of festive stitching in silver metallic thread. One bit of felt was in a lovely deep purple. The other was a small piece made of grey Jacob’s wool tops imbibed with silk.

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Zigzagging on the felt flap in metallic thread helped make a successful hinge, weighted the flap and looked pretty.

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By five o clock I was still surviving on one fan heater. But I had this little purse to show for my wasted day!

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Speaking of Great battles against the French, I do think this statue in Trafalgar Square is a stroke of genius though we are told no irreverent humour was intended!
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shape mania

I have always loved mosaic effects. The other thing I love is the effect of silk fibre in wool. The colours can be reminiscent of stained glass.

Recently I took delivery of some wool from Wingham Wool Work.These colours inspired me with their jewel – like intensity. I was particularly pleased with a dark blood red which was on offer.

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After the success of the experiment using square pre-felts which I described in my post ribbon and scrim 2. I decided to experiment further with using pre-felts which I have imbibed with fibre from silk hankies.

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Cut into squares these really pleased me when laid out like a stained glass window. But how to create a background which would highlight the colours? In the end I used a black merino base, topped it with grey alpaca and plain white silk to give a glass-like sheen, placed the squares and then framed it with more black merino.

The result after much rolling of edges and fiddling with corners was this rather pleasing mat.

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Admittedly the grey alpaca migrated everywhere and rather muted the colours but I liked the result. A bit of grooming improved the situation. Can I repeat this in some cushion covers I wonder?

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Left with some pre-felt bits which seemed too pretty to waste I cut out a set of pre-felt spots. The little girl next door was round for the day and she joined me and we started madly cutting shapes. In the end and we cut every little bit of remaining pre-felt into a shape.

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Now I have these witty pieces of felt to make into a cushion, a notebook cover or a child’s bag and not a scrap of precious silk /wool pre-felt wasted.

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Taulignan and the French silk industry

Here we are battling with rain with summer holidays long gone. But I’ve only just retrieved some of my photographs and some are worth sharing. In memory of a lovely holiday let’s take a quick visit to my favourite village in La Drome Provençal where gentle lanes, lavender and beautiful trees characterise the peaceful Taulignan.

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Taulignan was once a home of the French silk industry.

So, when not downing an espresso or sipping creme de menthe in the Bar du Nord it was worth paying a visit to the Silk Museum, which backs onto the main square, to learn about Sericulture or silk production.

How is this wonderful fibre made?

Fed on mulberry leaves the silk worm starts tiny and soon turns into these ugly munching marauders.

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At a certain point the larvae stop munching and start to climb. And then having found a good branch they spin by rolling round and round and so creating a cocoon of mulberry silk from outside in which consists of a single continuous thread.

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Left undisturbed a moth will eventually cut a hole in the cocoon and duly emerge. However the silk industry relied on harvesting the cocoons before this cyclical event happens so as to spin off the natural silk thread in unspoilt state.

I enjoyed looking at these beautiful old machines and learning a bit more about this amazing fibre which I so love to felt into wool.

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Silk is a truly amazing fibre. It seems wondrous that these small cocoons can provide such long, lustrous and continuous fibre. And that these fine machines were designed simply to unravel such small bundles of natural fibre.

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In manufacture the single thread then goes through a process of doubling (called seconding) and spinning to produce a fibre of working thickness and strength suitable for weaving.

This machine with its impressive roll of punchcard is an early jacquard machine the design of which transformed the use of silk by the French fashion industry.
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I resisted buying any of the beautiful but expensive nuno silk items in the shop but logged a few ideas nevertheless! Outside in the market square a craft fair was in process so back out into the sun we went to enjoy some alternative temptation.


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out in the sun

Lavender, historic villages, vines, olive trees and pretty winding lanes worth a gentle meander in the sun.

I haven’t been posting much about textiles lately because I’ve been on holiday in la Drome Provençal. This is an area of such beauty but still relatively peaceful in the summer. A mistral wind often blows making the hot weather more comfortable.

Here are a few pictures to give you a flavour.

I did however make a little journey into silk production while I was there. I’ll post on that shortly.

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my garden

A pigeon nearly walked through the door yesterday…..

A new family of blue tits have appeared in the garden….

Jonathan rescued a baby frog from the watering can……

The fox cub hasn’t been seen for a while now..nor his mother.

The young crow family, thankfully, gave up doing bombing flight practice in full cry and migrated to the tall trees..

The squirrel who used to do gymnastics on the rose arch seems to be missing..

Two baby mice played in the sun on the patio for hours with no sense of self preservation…

My ever faithful robin friend has a second..

These are the tales of my garden.

This, our truly urban paradise, would win no awards for horticulture. Plants which others would declare to be weeds are allowed to self seed and flower alongside the cultivated. It is a gardening democracy.

But we have bees and butterflies and an ever surprising relationship as observers of urban nature.

It is just the most beautiful place in the world this summer.

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via the marshes and the sublime..

Last weekend we spent a lovely weekend in Norfolk.

Not only did I have the pleasure (thanks to good friends who actually know their birds) of seeing my first spoonbill, hearing my first marsh warbler and watching the evening flight of a beautiful barn owl but we also found ourselves enjoying a delightful village jazz concert complete with strawberry teas and perfect sunshine.

On the second day we visited Houghton Hall home of the 7th Marquess of Cholmondely (do people really still have titles like that?). This Palladian house is a treat with beautiful classical gardens sweeping with elegant symmetrical geometry into a magnificent landscape. The house itself has a sublime coherence with the most exquisite ceilings.


However, the reason for our visit was to see the current art exhibition Houghton Revisited. Follow the link and you’ll get a taste of the beautiful classical paintings currently on display. This 18th century art collection belonged to Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s Prime Minister, and was sold to Catherine the Great to hang in St Petersburg. The pictures are now hung in positions as close as possible to the original and the result gives the feeling of a richly opulent home decorated by, yes a very wealthy and powerful man, but one who truly loved art and chose to decorate his home with beautifully judged portraits and pieces celebrating the richness of mythology as well as a few which almost touched social realism.

Well, back from the sublime, it is a rather mundane return to my own passion. I pulled this fluffy little duffle bag out of the washer yesterday. It’s time to finish it for use.

This particular worsted weight wool Istex Alafoss Lopi from Meadow Yarns produces a really thick but slightly hairy bag felt. Sometimes I trim and shave it for a smoother result but this time I am tempted to leave it with its fluffy chick like charm just as long as I don’t find that every wearing covers me in fibre.

It simply remains to hammer in the eyelets and to knit a very long piece of eye cord for the straps. But at the minute my own garden is much too beautiful ….20130713-113951.jpg


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a few years on

Some recent exchanges with others have reminded me of the toughest time for me a bit over two years ago. At that time I was living in a major UK city, the current Government was recently into power, attitudes to disabled people seem to change overnight and I was having to go through a horrid Social Services assessment for support.

During that assessment the criteria of need changed three times and each time it was back to the drawing board. First the authority could support category 1 and category 2 need. Then the Government made cuts and the Council scrapped category 2 thus refusing help to an important group of people. Then some disabled people challenged the authority and it was back to the first position. But each time the assessment was scrapped more demeaning techniques of assessment were used. Even though the position was reversed the true situation had still changed and harder and hidden methods of reducing the supported group were applied. Because my assessment spanned the whole period I was able to see exactly what was happening.

I had a terrible time and, in the end, decided to be broke and manage without help. Others cannot possibly do so. Since then for example with ATOS assessment and bedroom tax the situation hasn’t got any easier and many are suffering, very very badly.

What I like to see is how the blogging community enables some of us to express our creativity. It has been as if disabled people got hit very hard and they don’t quite know how to hold their heads so high. But in the blogging world some very creative things are happening, campaigns are being fought and people are expressing their spirit. Heads are lifting high.

Here’s to us.

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ribbon and scrim 2

This is my second experiment with gauzy ribbon and scrim. Possibly one that I won’t repeat.

Scrim in this context is a very light gauzy material made usually of cotton or flax or jute which is opaque in effect. I believe it is used for reinforcement e.g. In book-binding and plastering. I’ve never felted it before and as it will immediately lose its stiffness during the wet-felt stage, I wanted to see what happens.

First I made a pre-felt with hand dyed silkworm silk applied to the surface.

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I cut the pre-felt into squares. Then I laid out my felt with striped ribbon, scrim and the pre-felts. I added some more scrim cross-wise half way through the felting process.
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This is the result. It started quite large but got smaller and smaller as frustratedly I cut off edge bits of scrim which broke up.
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I learnt that felt made with this type of scrim needs treating very gently early in the wet stage to keep the fibres in place. I think it is better added part way through. To be honest I am not sure it adds too much on this colour of Merino wool top. The scrim needed dying or there needed to be enough contrast to show the scrim fibres but it does have potential in creating shadow effects. When it felts deep into the wool it adds a pleasing wiggle within the wool fibre. I liked best the effect of using two pieces in cross-over. I think personally I prefer to get similar effects from coloured net which is more resilient and adds a more definite structure


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Dieppe, duffels and sailor stripes

Well to be honest the two things Dieppe and duffel bags are, as far as I know, not connected at all, except in my recent activities and, perhaps, by sailors.

The other weekend we had a very pleasant time wandering around Dieppe with two good friends of ours who live over in Normandy. I’ve always retained a soft spot for this French town after being sent there on a school trip aged about 13. I had my first experiences of drinking bowls of coffee at breakfast and eating steak frites in a small cafe in its centre. Here is the old harbour.

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There is some fabulous renovation work going on in the harbour area.
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Duffel bags however were first named apparently after the Belgian town of the same name where the cloth used in making them was made. To most of us they mean a cylindrical bag with a drawstring closure. They make us think of sailors and kit bags and they are also nowadays linked to surfer culture. That means the correct name is duffel bag but, of course, many people say duffle.

I’ve always had a thing about duffel bags. Not that I use them out and about often but I think making them is fun and there is a place for them decoratively, hanging from hooks. Their temptation is often in the potential for striped colour combinations. At the moment I am knitting this one in a dark red and French blue combination. Here it is about half way to the top.

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Finding the right grommets and cord for the closure is always a challenge. I found some brass grommets on the Internet but haven’t been able to remember where from. I have a nice piece of natural cord at the moment.

You can make a knit / felt duffel any size from either a square base (which then goes to round) when you are knitting in the round. Or from a round base which you will have to crochet. Alternatively you could work top down but I have never tried that. I also don’t crochet. Once the square base has been knitted and stitches picked up in the round, the rest is just a question of working on up. No shaping is required. If you stop half way you can simply have an open sack to put things in anywhere in the room. I’ve got some amazing raffia-like Noro paper fibre which I am considering using in this way.

I love this phase of any creative activity. Different things come together in mind, some colours or fibres come into my imagination and off we go ..


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triptych

At the moment I am building up a collection of small pieces of felt using different materials and techniques. I want to collect colour sets for patchwork cushions or to frame. I like the idea of putting favourite pieces in a triptych frame like these.

It seems to me that the idea of a triptych is to achieve both linkage and difference; in this case of texture and colour through the three pieces. That could be difficult. Perhaps a challenge to other felters and artists? Can you create a triptych?

The idea would work well to showcase natural fibres.

Just to remind you this is what Wikipedia has to say on the subject of the Triptych. The idea always makes me think of Pre-Raphaelite art.


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leaf piece in purple

I’m in a lull. Perhaps working up to some more significant creative activity. Perhaps because there has been a lot of stress. Thank goodness for my friends.

This interim piece is going to need a bit more elbow grease, a backing piece and the edges neatening. I made it to to go with the bowl I made the other week to top a chest of drawers. I think I’ve played with skeleton leaves enough with slightly mixed results. But I love the effect of felting with hand-dyed silkworm silk and Wenslydale locks. The dark Jacobs top is lovely to work colour into. The colours help.

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music, movement and beyond diagnosis

Just been having a quiet three-day weekend consisting of

one visitor
Who showed me lots of interesting photos

one exercise class
We always have a good time in our group, even if we can’t walk so well – at the National Institute of Conductive Education
Follow my link and learn more about the wonderful work this organisation does with people with neurological disorders like Stroke, Parkinson’s or M S and, most importantly, with children with conditions like cerebral palsy.
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one jazz concert
There’s nothing like Jazzlines in Birmingham; the best place for free jazz and a Friday night drink
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one film
A Late Quartet
This film is about a fictional string quartet. On the eve of their 25th anniversary season their beloved cellist is diagnosed with Parkinson’s. His planned departure brings out latent tensions in the group which threaten to disrupt the quartets’ future.

Whilst I loved the quiet dignity of the central character in handling his diagnosis, disease and exit and this film is fine for some easy enjoyment, lovers of An Equal Music by Vikram Seth will be a little mystified, and a touch outraged, at how this copycat plot came into being.

But anyway that is not my point. it’s odd how this weekend mixed music and neurological themes. The message of the film expresses the sadness and loss of diagnosis but suggests there is little life beyond. The philosophies and teaching of Conductive Education provide a way on; to live a life. A way to continue to put one foot in front of another, for just as long as possible.


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small pieces

During a week when Margaret Thatcher dominated the scene, I would like to pay tribute to the writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala who also died recently. I read her novels about India avidly as a teenager; Heat and Dust being a favourite. She was the author of many excellent screenplays for Merchant and Ivory including the screenplays for some of Henry James’ best novels and, possibly best known, for E. M. Forster’s Howard’s End and A Room with A View. She bought colour and the exotic into my world.

My father was born in India and lived there as a young child. One piece of his writing I love is his memories of monkeys and parrots playing on his window ledge. It is hard to imagine so much colour and noise in the dormant, reluctant spring we have just experienced. But now at last the world is bursting into life.

What shall we make?

Now that I am not strong enough to make large pieces of felt more than occasionally I like to produce small pieces. I have in my mind’s eye the bright jewelled sari colours of gold, yellow, orange, red, purple and emerald just now. So, I have been looking out for coloured bits to work with.

Here are silk hankies in deep purple and tangerine.
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Here are some deep purple hand-dyed wenslydale locks.
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Add in some black / brown Jacob wool tops.
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I don’t often make containers but this little bowl emerged today.

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resist and transform

I like to make pretty, characterful personal spaces. Here is my favourite Ikea chest of drawers with a pretty ivy mirror made and decorated by a friend in decoupage and my own felted runner. The lizard has special significance. Above it sits a print of a favourite picture from an art gallery in Denmark.

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Felt provides a simple way of decorating all sorts of surfaces. And it is a good protective fabric too.

A commonly used technique in felting, particularly in nuno, is to felt small amounts of natural fibre material into the felt. The hooks on a natural fibre will allow it to attach to the wool.
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Synthetic materials often won’t attach because they don’t have natural hooks in the fibre which give that felting potential. But sometimes this resistant capacity can also be used.

This dressing-table runner was made both by adding in pieces of some materials that would felt and using some that would not as small resists and then removing them later. This gives a shiny moulded-out texture to parts of the piece.

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Wool was added at different felting stages to achieve special effects. Some wool fibres rested on the resist pieces without being fully felted in. Instead they felted separately above the resists creating web-like effects on the surface when the pieces are removed.

It isn’t an effect you can control perfectly but then what can you with felt? The delight is in the transformation which occurs in the process.
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subversion and the rebellious attitude

Over Easter we honoured Richard Griffiths by going to see Withnail and I which I enjoyed but at first find it almost impossible to say anything about. I suppose I am just glad I saw it. Why is it a cult film and what makes it a cult film other than the drug scenes? Is it bravery in addressing homosexuality from a comic perspective and a few late sixties haircuts? I don’t know the answer but the scenes in the country cottage are very funny. Perhaps it is the subversive attitude to conventional society?

The other film I enjoyed over the holiday was a documentary about the French wire walker Phillipe Petit who walked a wire between the twin towers in New York. As he says, he did so for absolutely no reason, except perhaps that he could. When the Police came to fetch him off he annoyed them by dancing out on the wire, all those feet high in the sky where they could not get him. He got rough handled a bit as a result but in the end was forgiven and given a lifetime pass to the twin towers observation tower. People serenaded him for bringing a breath of fresh air to a tired society. He said in the documentary that rebellion was important and I do believe that.

There is very little of rebellion in my creative work. That could be thought about I guess. This is, perhaps, what separates true art, from craft. What I do is about playing: a celebration of colour and texture. It began after a withdrawal from political life, somewhat in disgust at the things which were happening. But to play and only play leaves something out. Especially just now when certain groups in Society need both a voice and a way of challenging the tide.


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wrap up winter

Ice structures in Edgbaston

In one of the early spells of deep mid winter I started to work on a large piece of chiffon silk.

Inspired by ice and snow I started by embellishing one side with white alpaca. Part felted this created ice-like structures across the fabric. But I’ve never worked on something so big before. Just handling the piece, let alone rolling it was a challenge. Once dry, it became apparent that the wool had not migrated properly into the silk chiffon.

And as the spells of winter cold kept returning to bite us, I lost my commitment to complete the piece.

It took an OpenTextiles Studio day at The Midlands Art Centre, large tables and the company of others to give me the stamina to finish it. I needed quite a lot of help to fold and roll it after laying out the back in merino. Numerous times I ended up completely tangled in wet fabric and bubble wrap. It took forever to ‘take’. The group awarded me top marks for effort but not wholly for skill! Thank you Oh Emma for your welcome help.

I think I must be wanting to move out of winter. This piece was supposed to be entirely white.

But here it is backed in peach pink merino with noil silk, bamboo and skeleton leaves. Except the back is now the front. The silk worked with wool creates a lovely warm textured drape. And in some ways I do still like the snowy white of the original side best. The peach merino is silky. The white alpaca soft and down-like. And even now it needs a final felting and, I think, ideally some gold stitching. But I really do now want to wrap up this winter. Perhaps I already have.

Spring oh spring – why the false starts?
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Early spring in Surrey


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sushi equals love poetry

Sometimes friends are just the truest, kindest, most surprising and generous.

This weekend I enjoyed myself with very special friends.

Sometimes we love to eat our favourite food.

This weekend I ate Chicken Gjoza, Teriyaki Salmon and Red bean Mochi in my favourite Birmingham restaurant. We have gained so much to love from other cultures!

Sometimes it feels right to share love poetry. This is part of a poem by E E Cummings

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you.

Sometimes we are inspired by another individual who devotes themself to seeking perfection and expresses love in the pursuit of their art.
This weekend I loved a film about the 85 year old Japanese sushi chef Jiro Ono

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This weekend I finally finished a present for someone I love.

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It was a good weekend.


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for the love of Birmingham and pineapples

Birmingham can be very beautiful. Here are some of the things I love about it.

Music

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Canals

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The light

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In the meantime I am a bit frustrated. The weather isn’t quite getting there. Give me something I can go out in. Call THAT ‘the hottest day of the year’.

And I seem to have been knitting this for a long time.

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The dark green finishing band seems to go on and on. This bag is now nicknamed Pineapple Poll (see post below) and she needs to be finished soon, partly for a birthday present and also because I am itching to get onto the next thing and to see her felted and finished.

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But I have enjoyed knitting it. I think the patterning does somehow remind me of a pineapple. Odd how that happened as I went along! I hope it isn’t ruined at the felting stage.


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spring flowers and pictorial felt

Inspired by pots of spring flowers I decided to make a small piece of pictorial felt.

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Sometimes when you have some very special materials it is hard to open the packages. I just want to enjoy them as they are. These perfect packages contain some hand-dyed Polworth top and silk hankies from Hedgehog fibres. Aren’t they just so beautiful.

I chose some bits and pieces to work with. Making pictures often requires a pre-felt or two to achieve specific shapes so I started by cutting long leaves from a green pre-felt.

This top was quite sticky to work with. I enjoyed laying out my picture. I used dyed neps for texture and made the flower heads from pieces of silk hanky. 20130222-172902.jpg

This made a very soft, slightly fuzzy piece of fabric. It took a lot of work to get the neps to behave. They ended up all over the floor.

It needed more background and border space and the pre-felt leaves blurred and widened too much as the piece shrank. This difficulty is one of the reasons my pieces are usually abstract, not pictorial. You need to catch the piece at just the right felting stage before the pre-felts bleed too much into the background to keep the shapes.

Nevertheless I like the impressionistic quality of the result. The fuzziness is part of its charm. I recognise something there!

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on the upswing

I think one of the hardest things I am learning about is how to deal with phases of inertia or illness and then to move towards recovery and regain energy. I’ve come to the conclusion this is a universal issue but some of us have more difficulty with inertia or illness countering energy and creativity than others. No-one can be creative, productive or positive the whole time. There’s nothing worse than the false positive for sapping energy. Sometimes we just need to be negative. Or ill. FULL STOP.

I really like the blogging community because in someone’s post I so often find a picture or a description or some enthusiasm for the delights of fibre and its capacities which triggers a sense of the universal and of shared human feeling. Other people’s blogs can help move me on.

And it is by being alert to the upswing that we can gain the capacity to be again well, productive and feel a renewed creative burst. Even after a period of illness.

So thank you fellow bloggers.

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    Here are some of my favourite blogs just now. Thank you for the pleasure you give me. I hope you don’t mind me referencing you.

    Doodlemum I adore your drawings.

    Chrissie Day’s Felting, Embellishing and Stitching Fibres For your beautiful pictures of landscape and textured fabrics.

    The smallest forest For your dedication, commitment to your art, energy, spontaneity and capacity to play.

    Kate Davies Designs Providing beautiful pictures of Shetland, beautiful designs, something to aspire to?

    Felt by Zed How I admire your sensitivity to fine fibres.

    Marion Michell Linked to you by a friend, your work provokes my thought.

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pineapple-inspired mint, cream and kumquat


Away from my felting materials for two weeks I have started work on a new knit felt bag. After all, I haven’t made one for at least four months!

This project has in fact been in gestation for some good time partly inspired by the costumes in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Peppermint Poll of 2011 and the idea which emerged, with this delightful ballet in mind, of striping a perfect peppermint green, a perfect cream and a vibrant orange.

With the demise of Pastaza I spent forever searching for a good felting wool in a perfect peppermint green but eventually fell upon a North American yarn Louet Riverstone Chunky in shades of glacier, cream and, kumquat. The strength of this yarn is that it comes in more unusual colour shades.


In the end the kumquat came to the fore. Well how could such a shade be resisted?

As I haven’t felted this yarn before I knitted up a sample. Although well-known for felting, the yarn has a slightly soapy shiny texture which worried me a little. I thought it might not make a true felt.

The sample felted surprisingly tightly but still with some stitch definition in the fabric. My intention had been to create distinct classic stripes of colour but when I look at this it is the pearl or wrong side which interests me. So now I am torn between my classic stripes and a multi-coloured effect. It could have to be two bags. One will be knitted in garter stitch with the orange prevalent and one in just peppermint and cream striped bands of stockinette.

I can’t show you the finished articles just yet but here’s a bit of the ballet. The music is by Gilbert and Sullivan and this is the swashbuckling Captain Belaye of the HMS Hot Cross Bun. I would like to have shown you more of Poll but still!

Birmingham Royal Ballet – Pineapple Poll stage rehearsals from Rob Lindsay on Vimeo.

no copyright infringement intended

Looking at it now a teal, orange and cream colour theme is the true Pineapple inspiration. Another possibility.


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natural fibre pouch

I have started my exploration of natural fibres by experimenting with the felting properties of Icelandic wool tops. The fibre is courser than merino and the felt produced has a slightly shiny, harder, wavelike texture. I decided to make a small sample of decorative felt to see what works.

I added streaks of bamboo fibre, flecks of flax, small pieces of noil silk and skeleton leaves. All these additions are available from George Weil. This traditional craft warehouse is a wonderful discovery.

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FLAX

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SKELETON LEAVES

I loved the wiggles produced by the caramel-coloured bamboo fibre and the flashes of wiry brown flax. The skeleton leaves would perhaps have shown up better against a finer background fibre. The noil silk was also caramel-coloured and denser than I expected. It took a while to attach and never produced quite the snake-skin texture which a finer silk can give. Overall, I liked the resulting, quite subtle, creamy, textured fabric but would have liked a touch more distinction between background fibre and the additions. I put it aside for a while unsure what it could be used for.
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My next experiment was simply to felt some Devon long wool tops. This beautiful wool is the colour of rich Devon cream and it felts with similar properties to the Icelandic to produce a beautiful rich cream silky fabric with beautifully waved fibres. I stopped at a pre-felt stage.
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I was playing around with the resulting piece when I realised they were just made to be combined as a simple decorative pouch.
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I just need to combine the two, stitch the sides and add a fastening.


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snow days and the creative process

It has taken me a while to emerge since the holiday. Partly paralysed limbs hate cold weather and with the arrival of snow days I am happy to extend my hibernation. Windows into the snow provide happy visual stimulation without the frustration faced by those who must de-ice the car and get to work.

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This lull has also been a creative break. Uncertain about what I was doing with my blog, about the exact balance I wanted to strike I hit the pause button. But I am lucky. I have a good friend who we shall call my creative mentor. Whenever we speak I am invigorated by belief in the value of what we both are trying to do. Faced with difficult, trying, painful and life-restricting conditions we try through various media to find ways to express our sincere belief that we have something of value to express.

What is it?

We talked of the rhythm of creation. Of the courage sometimes needed in imposed isolation to get up and start the day, operating entirely to your own rhythm because of the restrictions faced. Of finding the self-belief and discipline each day to get out your paper or paints or fibres or clay and work with your hands, perhaps through pain or discomfort, to start a day’s work. We talked of the strength sometimes found when a texture or a phrase or a way of seeing brings meaning and pleasure to the day. We talked of our belief that there were other people out there who are interested in communication about this experience and our belief in its value and the value in sharing.

And what I would wish for 2013 is that we should find ourselves in an era which is better able to hear such alternative voices of meaning.

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And I shall leave you with my thoughts of a simple piece of textured felt, inspired by a snow fox and made by binding beautiful layers of white and grey.

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PHOTO COURTESY HELEN MAYNARD

Somehow the making of the felt for this piece gave me more deep pleasure than all the coloured items. I am taking it into the new year with the plan to work for a while in the beautiful natural fibres of Icelandic and Alpaca sheep breeds. Where can I go with these perfect soft-strong fibres which share the snow’s timeless shades of brown-black, white and grey?

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internal beasts and decorative Christmas

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If you are one of those people who has problems with Christmas sentiment in the face of real World problems and who develops internal beasts as the lights go on and the trees go up, then look no further but go and see a wonderful film called Beasts of the Southern Wild about a little girl who grows through experience of her fathers’ illness and faces the real (or archetypal beasts) of her recently flooded world. It is a beautiful film.

I personally like the decorative side of Christmas and this year need it as an antidote to some of the problems of the world. These felted flowers look both a bit Swedish and a bit oriental to me.
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And whilst I was on a Swedish theme I decided to make this little Santa sac to send to a certain daughter in Taiwan only for her to decide to come home and so my handiwork is lost. But I like my pattern. 20121203-213342.jpg
Today I went to my first Christmas concert by The Midlands Hospital Choir and a brave little girl being treated for cancer went up on the stage in her super hi-tec wheelchair while her Mum talked about her treatment. That is quite a lesson. If she can do it then surely I? Good to think about others, and not just, but perhaps particularly at this time of year. The internal beasts get better. I hope she does too.


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transformation and felt

It has come to that felt-making is, for me, a transformative art. By that I meant that through the making of felt I am involved in a combined process. At one and the same time I am involved in a working with a material which by physical effort and some skill transforms into something else but at the same time I am through my contact with the materials (the wools and silks) and the labour of fulling the felt engaged in something which gives meaning and which is capable of stimulating transformation within the self.

And if that all sounds like mumbo jumbo to you. Let’s just say I needed something to heal and to help with my loss of work and felting has allowed that to happen. It provides a path through.
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I always believed in work. The simple labour of the ordinary man or woman engaged in the ordinary labour of work. When I am rolling felt I am working the muscles of my upper body to achieve something. At first the results are limited but skill can grow. I have purpose.

From the activity of rolling felt, in addition to self-propelling my wheelchair and managing to swim I have upper arm muscles I never had before even whilst I am losing my legs. Odd that!

I blathered on about this to the other half for a bit and far from laughing at me he got all serious and started talking about Joseph Beuys whose art work ‘a brown felt suit’ hangs in the Tate. The Tate reminds us that the properties of the material i.e. it’s warmth and insulating properties are integral to the meaning of the piece and that for him it was a spiritual warmth or the beginning of an evolution.

Well, I will go with that but personally I prefer my felt flowers.
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two hats and a trip to Glasgow

I’ve just spent the weekend In Glasgow visiting a certain young student daughter.

It has to be said I have never felt more conscious of my disability than on the hills and pavements of this otherwise very beautiful city! My husband, strengthened by a breakfast bagel and coffee, nobly pushed me in my wheelchair up the immensely steep incline which is the street from Sauchiehall Street up to the Mackintosh Glasgow School of Art building and I feared for both our lives. But we made it and the tour of this interesting and beautiful building made it all worth while. We also spent several happy hours in the University’s Hunterian gallery which has the most beautiful collection of Scottish art. I fell in love with an unfinished painting by Whistler Harmony in Brown: The Felt Hat as well as the work of The Glasgow Boys and The Scottish Colourists. How much there always is to learn. I wish I could join the textiles students and learn techniques with them.

At the moment I am still exploring the potential of silk hankies. I have discovered a much more satisfactory way of using them as part of a silk on silk pre-felt. This is a piece of silk voile fabric with a very fine layer of wool top fibre felted to the back. The front is skimmed with just enough wool top to hold the fibre from the hand-dyed silk hanky. This is the method I plan to take further.

Meanwhile, I was asked to combine the inspirations of Where the Wild Things Are and a beautiful photograph of a snow fox and make an animal hood for Halloweeen. The challenge was to make a student daughter something which would suggest costume and yet allow her to look alluringly cute at the same time.

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This was my first attempt at a hat shape using the resist technique in felting. I always wanted to be a hat maker so, it was about time. On the first attempt I did not allow nearly enough for felt shrinkage so in the end we had to take scissors to the job and improvise. In the end it shrank so much we had to pin it on her head.

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However the felt made from layers of white on grey and then skimmed with a few coarser grey fibres did make a beautiful soft textured felt reminiscent of the fox fur on season’s turn. Once again, now I know what I should do next time. The thicker the felt the further it shrinks.

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I’ll leave you with a glimpse of the colours in my silk pre-felt. I feel the same about this as I do about Glasgow artists like J.D. Fergusson: that there is so much colour and in that there is something that is delightfully escapist.

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a small bird and a stack of silk hankies!

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As well as my own crafts I have a weakness for other people’s. On the Sunday just gone we went to an open day at The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists and visited the Craft Gallery as well as the open exhibition. I fell for this pretty little metal brooch. My husband bought a portrait from the Birmingham Heartland of Culture exhibition so no guilt for me.

I’m still busy with textile activity. I am hoping to create a really special piece of felt for a special person and at the moment I am experimenting before putting in the elbow grease required for a larger piece.

One of my favourite techniques is felting small pieces of silk fabric into wool tops. Like wool, natural silk fibre has a hooking capacity in the fibres and so can be added to decorative felt to create additional colour and texture.

Now the other day I came across ‘silk hankies’ on a yarn website which specialises in hand-dyed yarns and silkworm products.
No, not to blow your nose on!
These are fine tissue like layers of hand-dyed silk fabric made from the silk from home kept silk worms. The silk is taken directly from a cocoon and spread across a frame and dyed in exciting colour mixes. They can be incorporated in a piece of knitting or used in decorative felt. I’ve never used them before so today I am going to learn a bit about them.

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Here is my beautiful stack of hankies! Thank you Hedgehogfibres. They were a complete extravagance. You can see that they look beautiful but not how wonderful this stuff feels. It is like tissue and disappears into nothing. So will this work?

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First I tried some knitting. To make this into fibre you pull off a layer and create a thumb hole through the middle. Gradually, you stretch the fibre out into a loop, longer and longer until either it breaks or you cut it. It is amazingly strong when stretched.

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I liked my piece of knitting. You could make a little luxury bag out of this easily but I want to try using the hankies in felt.

Within felt, what you can do is to bunch a tissue layer, by holding it up from the middle and then inverting it like a flower. The colours intensify when bought together.

I threw everything into my sampler including some bits of silk I wanted to test to see if they would ‘take’ in the felt. Some failed being either too dense, or synthetic, so I pulled them out later. I used stripes of the silk fibre, silk ‘flower’ bunches and the knitting sample.
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The silk surprised me because when wet it behaved more like silk fabric than fibre. It was quite hard to control and tended to slip over the edges as I felted. The effect is quite pleasing; much like a Japanese painting but the flower effect is not as specific as I expected. The knitting just isn’t as beautiful felted. It went a bit sludgy in the wet stage and looks a bit like armadillo skin.

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So now I know. And I know just what I want to try next.


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autumn leaves

On a trip into my local town I found a (new to me) craft shop full of small pieces; buttons, ribbons, embroidery threads, beads and so on. It was a veritable treasure trove. I stocked up on a few bits and bobs in preparation for a day put aside for making Christmas cards. I was also delighted to find a few pre-felted items including these leaves and flowers. I couldn’t resist making a few test cards to try them out and to celebrate autumn..

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Out came the wool tops.
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Then the bubble wrap and my bar of olive oil soap.

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With these I hardly felted them, but rather worked the wool top a bit with my fingers!

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The pre-felts were a bit stubborn about sticking so I used a roller just a little.
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I used their natural shapes, just trimming off any fluff after they had dried.

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autumn colours

Whilst working on a decorative felt section for this website I have also been stocking up with yarn and knitting patterns for the autumn. Greedily, I have collected so many patterns for potential projects that I couldn’t decide where to start. I have recently fallen in love with the knitting designer Kate Davies and had a good look at attempting something of hers but some of her stuff is hard for someone like me with m s affected hands. She must have fantastic eyesight as she seems to achieve a gauge which is tiny, tiny. I am going to have to persuade someone else to do something significant of hers, for me, while I tackle some of the less daunting projects.

I am also considering making Alana Dakos and Hannah Fettig’s Wildflower Cardigan from their fabulous book Coastal Knits. This is also available on Ravelry. I intended to order some Madelintosh Pashmina for this but got distracted by some hand-dyed, corn-coloured blue-faced Leicester. Will it be suitable?

So undecided, I went back to my now dwindling supply of Cascade Pastaza. I had three beautiful skeins left in the darkest green, birch green and yellow which perfectly reflect both my mood as well the colours of the world, just now. I knocked up this mini bag in just two days, for a present.

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This is based on one of the designs from the Noni Cross Over Bags pattern which is a good essential pattern for bag-making offering several adaptable designs, perfect for presents. I added the button closing with some i cord because I never can face sewing in zips and I love buttons. I’m adding a Tips section to this site shortly showing how to make the closing.

When my dwindling Pastaza supply is finally used up I have some Filzi in a beautiful red wine colour. This is a new yarn for me which I hope might become an alternative for these projects. This is a good strong merlot but I am not ready for it just yet. I realise how much we are influenced by the light and the colours of the changing season. I am still reluctant to let go of yellows and greens. I am renewing my autumn love affair with amber, gold and bronze but as yet red wine is a step too far. So, I’ve put aside my Filzi for winter slippers.

I am also knitting the Jared Flood Wayfarer scarf in some apple green Pastaza. This pattern is a delight. The garter stitch rolls off the needles and I really like the geometrically patterned result with great stitch definition. The only problem is my tendency to go into reverie and purl stitches which should be slipped. This too, would make a perfect present, perhaps with a matching pair of fingerless gloves. In honesty, I think the heathered birch yarn of the pattern recommendation is perfect for this, and also for autumn. This really deserves a yarn which is just a touch crisper and less fluffy than Pastaza. This looks well but I am impatient to get it done and get onto two other projects. I’ve got a good way to go yet!

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I often have two or three projects on the go in the autumn; One easy, one long-term and one in planning. My second just now is also an easy project. I bought this amazingly rich nutmeg, bronze and green singles yarn from Hedgehog fibres specifically to make a Stephen West cowl to go with my favourite tweed autumn jacket. This yarn is so beautiful I eat the wool with my eyes. This is where my heart is just now.

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But this is inside stuff. Now it is time to water the pots on my balcony.

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Later I find myself thinking about how all the consumption of colour, wool and projects reflects my relationship to life. I discovered the textile and visual artist in me only over the last five years whilst fighting some progression in my m s. I feel an urgent need to consume all the colours of the world.

Another thing which distracts me is film. I knew there was a reason why we headed for the city this weekend. Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina is showing!

I am a reluctant fan of hers. In fact, I am not sure you would call me a fan at all I am so reluctant to admit she is good. But she has a habit of turning up in the films I want to see. It began with Atonement. Just then Mckewan was my favourite author, Atonement my favourite book, and yes, I admit she was stunning in the fountain and library scenes. Then, there she was again, irritatingly, in The Edge of Love about the loves of the poet Dylan Thomas but I was less convinced. The Duchess was a great film but, for me, the most memorable performance in it was Ralph Fiennes as the intolerable husband. Keira seemed to me then to be about blockbusters. Perhaps, I thought, she would soon stop invading the literary dramas or turning what should be art films into blockbusters?

But no, it is not to be.

It is her Sabina Spielrein in A Dangerous Method to which I finally succumbed. Arguably she overplayed the hysteria and the accent. Aspects though quite possibly true to the actuality, were certainly played out to sell the film. But there was something about her performance as this angst ridden patient, mistress of Carl Jung’s and later psychoanalyst which made both the character’s pathology and her strength able to co-exist. The scenes of Zurich and Vienna in this film have led me to yearn to visit those cities but her acting was the true centre. And now, I finally admit it. I WANT to see YOU Keira Knightley as the great Russian heroine Anna Karenina. So don’t let me down.

And of course, she didn’t. Tom Stoppard you are a genius. This film is spellbinding. But I won’t spoil it. The other one I will be watching out for is a film starring Penelope Cruz called Twice Born which has been described as a homage to all motherhood. And, in motherhood, there is certainly creativity!

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Sept 2012

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It is my favourite time of year; still warm enough to breakfast outside but the air is cooler now. The morning sun falls onto late flowers and catches twinkling dewdrops and shimmering spiderwebs. The light forms interesting shadows. Friends have been sharing their photos of kids smart and stoical in school uniform for the first time; looking forward to getting on with it. It is the season of new text books, notebooks or indeed just lovely, lovely books! My children are older so with one abroad studying, there is only one to help pack up for the University term. Nostalgia!

ARTSFEST
The beginning of September in my home Midlands City of Birmingham brings us to Artsfest. This is as much a family festival as an arts festival with lots going on around Birmingham’s community arts venues. I feel anticipation as the big stage goes up in Centenary Square in front of the Rep theatre, Symphony Hall and the new Library building. To digress, the latter, which is just being finished, looks a bit like a cross between a wedding present and wedding cake with its metal lace wrapping. Every time we go by my husband says ‘isn’t it wonderful?’ but I am not absolutely convinced it fits the category of iconic architecture. It does, somehow, suit Birmingham though.

Birmingham’s new central library

Anyway, back to Artsfest. Birmingham’s weekend festival isn’t so much fringe as eclectic and above all, multi-cultural; every arts provider, little or major, may feature on the weekend programme. On this stage you may see a full- scale symphony orchestra, a steel band, hip – hop, classical ballet, jazz, an Asian theatre troupe and many more. For me, there is nothing like seeing Birmingham’s wonderful Royal Ballet performing out there on an open stage for the Saturday evening assembled crowd while people mingle and munch on goat curry, sushi or balti.

The RSC AND FORESTS
We went instead to FORESTS At Birmingham’s Old Repertory Theatre produced by the Rep in association with Teatre Internacionale de Barcelona and directed by Calixto Bieito. We have been avid followers of the Shakespeare World Festival, seeing Roses for Richard, Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad and Troilus and Cressida. For me this was the most memorable production. Based on Shakespearean verse from As You Like It, Macbeth and King Lear spoken beautifully and with great power in both Catalan and English the actors took us on a powerful and challenging journey in the Forest from childhood through to to old age, Purgatory and Hell. It had the feel of an epic journey or poem, like Nordic verse,and engaged powerful archetypal emotions. The acting was entrancing. A tree mound was shredded and chucked about the stage. We were made witness to the vulnerability of shocking rape and murder and much of the time were not sure quite what we were witnessing but the power of Shakespeare’s best speeches gave the strength to carry us from the lightest moments of childhood through to the darkest aspects of death and decay. When the strongest scenes were finally lightened with red balloons it was a relief. They had been only players after all.

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learning to live

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I am discovering that learning to live is something you can think about always. Even when your choices are restricted or becoming more limited you can bring thought to the situation and make those which are within your control and those small choices can make all the difference. You can choose to be creative with your day.

Today I chose to get up and make two pieces of alpaca felt to use in a patchwork cushion cover; one pure black and one silver grey with white silk. Two more pieces and I’ll have a cushion. Black alpaca makes the softest silky felt imaginable.

Today I chose to listen to Women’s Hour. I usually do. With my coffee.

Today I chose to eat guacamole on toast for my lunch. What a wonderful word that is…guacamole!

Today I chose to ring my daughter in Glasgow. She’s lovely.

Today I chose to rest my injured back after lunch and listen to the radio. Radio 2 – I confess it.

Later I might make a new playlist of my favourite music. Or, I might not. I might cook. The Hairy Bikers Crackling Scones from Hungary appeal surprisingly. Perhaps that is because Hungary was a happy place for me. All that rolling felt has made me hungry. Like a hairy biker? Ok best not then.

Oddly enough those things are enough to make me happy. Another day they might not be. But for today they are just perfect. They are part of me.

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textile heaven

Oddly some things re-emerge in your life. I remember I did an O level in textile art and I much enjoyed taking images from natural objects and turning them into textile repeat images. Screen printing was a delight but tricky.

And now I have more time to notice visual things this passion has re-emerged.

There is a wonderful exhibition at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester at the moment called Collaging culture which is a retrospective of Eduardo Paolozzi. Among the many things I did not know about him was that he was born in Scotland and that he experimented with textiles in the 1950s. In amongst an exhibition which showed an impressive talent which matured across very diverse media there were some beautiful textile exhibits. And yes, I was in textile heaven. Look at this piece known as Barkcloth for example.

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And this dress.

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Soon I was slipping off to the shop to see what I could find but Alas no reproduction pieces for sale. I did however find a wonderful book on textile design.

Artist Designed Textiles 1940-1976

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Overall, the exhibition features collage as a working process across such diverse media as ceramics, sculpture, textiles and screenprint and shows he was a Master of a lot more than pop art. There was so much in it that it was difficult to absorb enough. Definitely this was one to return to.


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Felt by Zed: review

Today I am pleased to be reviewing the work of an inspirational fibre artist and to be adding a new category of review to my blog.

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Zed produces pieces which seem to celebrate the true nature of the fibres she works with. It is as though she takes the most delicate fibres and works with her hands to create the form most perfect for that medium. Sometimes she adds some simple but well chosen stitchery and in each case the result is unique. The result might be the most desirable of hand worked purses, a phone case with some interesting effects, a notebook with an enchantment of harlequin colour, a simple piece of coloured decorative felt with some witty geometric stitching or a fabulous piece of nuno. Yes I admire her work. It comprehends colour, texture and form.

I’d like to suggest that all of you who are interested in textiles take a look at her blog and consider her book Beyond Nuno

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Nuno is the name used by textile artists for the techniques involved in wet felting fabrics into wool to achieve different effects.
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When I first looked at the book my reaction was one of immense excitement. Because?
It gave me a sense of the complete understanding and control Zed has over the techniques of this art. Personally, I am still at the stage of playing as a textile artist. As an adult learner without access to a textiles teacher this is a slow self-teach process, learning a bit about how fabrics and wool behave together through trial and error. But in the beautifully laid out photographs with clear text and diagrams that I found here, I could suddenly see the potential for achieving a sense of control over the medium and the effects I could produce.

Zed introduces techniques and ideas I had not even dreamed of. I feel humbled by the knowledge in this book.

In an easy access e-book format the book has chapter headings on the relevant major fabric groups (silk, organza, synthetics, open-weave cottons) allowing for easy use as a work guide. It begins with an instruction guide to the wet-felt process which is clear enough for a beginner to work from. The photographs are immaculately and consistently produced to show the central steps of the laying-out and end stage process needed to produce multiple different effects in each fabric grouping.

The knowledge in this book has been achieved through an intimate and extensive relationship with fibre. This book could teach you to love, understand and work fibre. Whether you wish to learn the art of Nuno or simply to own the book for pleasure this is a book worth owning and much easier to actually work from than many of the other Nuno books on the market.

The book is in itself an art work packed with the most beautiful, quality, textile photos. It evokes our desire to create. It is, indeed, a practitioner’s guide but, in addition, Zed has a sense for beauty in colour and simplicity and with every piece she shows us, she inspires.

I personally hope there will soon be a print version.

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