Thursday, 28 March 2013


I'm away in Kidmore End this Easter to spend some time with Cecil as I'm never sure how many more Easters, birthdays, Christmases she may have; she will be 88 this year, which is quite a good age.

I have been reading another one of my grandmothers novels, this one called Roxalla, published in 1953, seven years before I made an appearance in the world. As with her other books, I can see family members in the characters she paints; in this one, her Aunt Annie makes an appearance. The youngest of my Great Grandmother Nanya's siblings, she was always known as "ah nah" to my mother, because of her habit of saying, with a gentle Irish lilt, "ah now". She appears in this story as Aunt Hattie, borrowing the name of her sister Harriet. She lived with Nanya until her death, and Cecil remembers her being a very expert smocker of children's clothes, work she did to earn a little money, as they were perpetually poor.

This story, like the others, is a gentle tale, set once more in Arklow, though she had not lived there for over thirty years. It is a place full of hidden and magical energy, somehow held in time, in her mind, permeated with the sense of mystery that she must have felt as a child. This was someone who was quite sure she had really seen a fairy, and the was an element of fey'ness in her and her older sister Connie. In this story, a young boy, Arthur, who lives in a small house set apart from the main body of the town, is befriended by the grandson of "the old lady" who lives in the grand house on the hill, and who is, we understand, grandmother to both boys; the one, William, raised in privilege; the other in poverty. This difference in upbringing is because Arthur's mother had been a servant in the big house, had married the youngest son despite the strong opposition of his mother, and was the left a widow when her husband died in a riding accident before the boy was born. The story is about the unequal friendship between the two boys, and about what happens when the eldest son of the family dies, leaving no heir. Because of this, it seems that young Arthur will inherit the house, a place that has filled his imagination for all of his life, although, until we join them in the story, he has never entered it, nor been acknowledged by the wealthy family. William is the son of "the old lady's" daughter, and so takes the last place in the line of succession.

As with all of her stories, it is as much about the impulses, motivations and inner worlds of the characters, as it is about the narrative. As with all of her stories, I enjoyed it a great deal, feeling that I had spent time with her, although she has been gone for many years; feeling also a wistful sadness that I can never say to her, "oh, I loved that one, the bit where you describe .... I know exactly what you mean, and is ......".

Tomorrow I will be able to share it with Cecil, and she will know who the characters are, and will tell me again about Aunt Annie and her smocking, and how she and Mum, when they stayed with their grandmother, all snuggled down together in her "great big feather bed" and other tales of their shared past, which are more immediate to her now than her day to day present. And she will pause and say "ah Kath, you've taken me right back to .... I can see that clearer now than I can see my home here", and I will know that it has given her pleasure, and brought me little snippets of those who are gone.

I have one left to read now, Glory Down, my favourite.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

WEFT exhibition

I've been having a bit of a textiley time recently. I treated myself to a trip to the spring knitting and stitching show at Olympia last weekend, from which I returned with some fabric and stitch treasures - organza, silk, threads - you know what happens when temptation strikes. Then today, because it was the penultimate day, I went to the World Eco Fibre Textile show at the Brunei Gallery. It was quite marvelous, with textiles of all sorts to thrill and inspire; so much in fact, that I don't know what to include and what to leave out! I made the mistake of not photographing the little information board for each of the pieces I took pictures of, and only had my mobile phone so the quality isn't that great, but here are some highlights. I've included links where I can so you can follow up the artists if you're interested to do so.

There were some wonderful silk embroideries from Suzhou, and three delightful "embroidery ladies" who were showing the way these astonishing embroidered picture were created. The silk thread that is used for the stitching is so fine that it looks like spiders web and they use it to stitch images that, even from quite close up, look more like finely done paintings than something stitched. I had to resort to the short sighted trick of taking my glasses off and peering so close that my nose almost touched the pictures (being careful to not even breathe!) to see the stitching.
This is Winding, by Zou Yingzi, a work based on her own photograph,

then the beautifully named Sorrow of the Lotus, a triptych hung as three scrolls, the detail gives you some idea of the fineness of the stitching, but actually the phone camera couldn't begin to capture it. She is the lady in the red scarf below; you can also see another of her embroideries in the background of the picture, and the image of a panda that she was working on while we watched.


Traditional backstrap loom
Ikat weaving
There was some beautiful Ikat weaving from Malaysia - I loved the comment on the information board

 "when the Iban traditional weaver creates her piece of pua-kumbuku or warp ikat textile, it is the belief that she is divinely inspired through dreams to create the motifs. Her weavings are like woven dreams created out of the cotton threads, spun from the cotton that she grows".

You can read more about this tradition, one of learning from the goddesses of weaving here.

These pieces were all in the first room; you then wandered under a canopy of sheer embroidered fabric, and down the stairs, lined with more fabrics - this time batiks from Indonesia and at the bottom, some lovely mulberry fibre hangings and indigo shibori. Particularly delightful was the rippling texture of the stitched shibori, but sadly, can't remember where it was from

Then into the lower room, which was hung with all manner of delights. I made very few notes here, just sat and gazed, wandered about and gazed some more, slipped in between slivers of dyed silk wafting in the draft of my moving, marveled at the variety of textures in a pair of wall hangings and generally felt that I wished I had the strength and time to spend all day just looking! There really was so much to explore, wondering how this pattern was created, what dyes were used for that colour, delighting in the subtlety of shading in the eco and rust dyed silks that shimmered at the slightest movement of air. it was impossible to capture the delicacy, the sheen, the transparency of some of the textiles on show, in fact, pointless to even try; the beauty was in being there, moving in and out, to and fro, from one piece of cloth to the next, comparing, contrasting, absorbing as much as possible.

Shroud of Ancient Echoes 2 - Susan Fell McLean
I loved "Shroud of Ancient Echoes by Susan Fell McLean, such an evocative name for a beautiful piece of cloth tie dyed, patterned, stitched and patched. You can read a bit more about this here. It was hung to the right of a beautiful pieced silk shawl by Olivia Batchelder, which I just longed to stroke, it was so lovely, both in its colours and textures.

This lovely indigo shibori hanging Tree of Life was produced by artists from the Aranya Natural Dye Unit, an enterprise that provides a way for physically challenged young people from a tea estate in Kerala. Unable to work on the tea estate, they create beautiful pieces of shibori dyed textile that are made into scarves that you can by online here

I loved the complex textures and colours in these two hangings, but again didn't make a note of who and where.
Summer Lotus

There were yet more shining silk embroideries on this level. Summer Lotus, buy Liang Zuefang - you can see her working on the exquisite piece here, watch the way the thread just floats on the air as she draws it from the bundle to start a fresh colour.

Also her monochrome piece, Lotus Rhyme, which can be viewed from both sides and is a marvel of delicacy of stitch. Again, I had to get right up close to it to even see the stitches, the thread so fine that it disappears the minute you move more than a few inches from the piece.

Lotus Rhyme

Lotus Rhyme - detail
 Finally Sun and Moon - mixed media pieces using bark cloth by Ramsay Ong of Malaysia

 Some delicious shibori tied dimples of red and orange and indigo

a view of some of the many pieces of woven, embroidered and dyed cloth from around the world

and two lovely simple hanging that were the first things I saw as I entered the exhibition, delicately coloured, with simple repeating patterns, the beauty all in the combination of colours and textures.

All in all, a really enjoyable day out, I was really glad I found time to go.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

icy sunset

from the clouds

in waves

rippling light

flowing down

to the very tip

Monday, 11 March 2013


We have been deluged by snow! Nothing like as bad as some of my blogging friends in the States, but still, for this usually balmy corner of Southern England, it's quite startling to see great gusts and sweeps of snow fly past the window, and bank up against the doors
Wol is huddled in his cage looking disconsolate - for a creature who started his life in Zimbabwe it must be rather chilling
The well with its varied guardians is gradually getting humpier and humpier
 there are ripply icicles developing as the fine snow streams past
 and snow patterns cling to the bricks as the catkins shiver in the wind
the courtyard pink is looking rather lovely against all the white, and I'm hoping all the plants will at least benefit from the soft blanket around their necks as the temperature drops to  -2 degrees
though the little daffs in their pots are struggling to hold their heads up
The birds are very glad we provide them with extra food. I was amused by this blackbird, politely queuing while the starling, gobbles up the fat. However starlings don't really understand politeness or queuing; the hoodies of the avian world, they fight and squabble and peck and shout at each other, so poor blackbird flew off to another food source in the end, patience all used up.
I am very glad we provide them with food as well - it is a never ending pleasure to watch them come and go, all a flutter and busily bobbing about even in the snow, a privilege that I treasure

Saturday, 9 March 2013


I've had a post about my textile adventures in draft for I don't know how long, but I seem to be too busy, or too tired to get it finished and posted! It's all about the bits of dyeing I've been doing, but I've done so much more since I drafted it that I can't face the updates!! However, in the realm of stitch I had another lovely workshop with the Embroiderer's Guild last weekend. This time with Wendy Dolan, who's work I really admire. It was a workshop in using architectural details as a source for stitching. We were instructed to bring some simple images to work from and a variety of toning fabrics and threads.

I took along a variety of photos, or rather prints of photos. Once we'd been shown some of Wendy's work and understood the way the embroidery was to be achieved, I selected this image - which I took back in the days of wet film photography - or at least, before I could afford digital. It is from a brief and much needed break in Oxford in the late winter of 2001.
The image is a window in Christ Church College, one of the many beautiful buildings that grace Oxford. I walked past it several times on my way to the Botanic Gardens, a glorious place for peaceful contemplation. I loved the way the stems and branches of the climbers seemed so intertwined with the building's character that they appeared to be somehow part of it, rather than an addition from Nature's bounty.

I had selected a variety of salvaged fabrics from one of my many rummages through remnant bins in various shops over the years. They were all soft furnishing fabrics, and I selected ones that seemed to chime with the idea of old buildings. A mixture of natural and synthetic fibers and various textures, as I recall they came from a lovely little shop called Fabric Design in Matlock Bath. I visit them each year as we break our journey to the Lakes, and always come away with a bag of remnant goodies!

The workshop was fascinating - it's always a pleasure to see an expert at work; makes one realise how much faffing about and stopping and starting is involved when you don't know what you are doing. The technique involved tracing off the main lines of the image; using the tracing to arrange small blocks of fabric roughly under the tracing paper and onto the foundation fabric, positioning the bits with regard to the image, but in a loose, abstract fashion. We then transfered the traced lines, in reverse onto some stitch and tear or heavyweight vilene, placed that on the back of the design (having stitched all the bits down first) and stitched the first draft, as it were, from the back. The the bobbin thread outlined the design. then we turned the fabric over and began to work  up the design from the front. All very scary to a beginner, but seeing Wendy's finished embroideries showed what can be achieved.
This is my resulting embroidery so far - all machine stitched and not yet finished to my satisfaction, but a brave effort! I'm conscious that it all looks a bit crooked, especially when I see it like this, rather than in the flesh, but it pleases me and I'm very aware that I am a very beginner when it comes to machine embroidery. I shall probably stitch more, but not too much more as I don't want to overwork it. I'll certainly try another one now I understand the way it is done.

In the meantime, I'm also making a sketch book cover using some of the fabrics from my Studio11 experiments. We have a sketchbook project for City and Guilds this summer so I bought a sketchbook specifically for this - it seems fitting for it to have a cover made from fabrics dyed and embroidered by me. I'm half way through, and will post the finished results, hopefully before Monday when I go for my next class.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

a day of contrasts

Yesterday was a day of wonderful contrasts. In the morning, the sun was shining in amongst the clouds and spring breezes and during a quick wander in the garden I saw the first bumble bee of this year. He was bumbling busily, and buzzily  about the early blooms, particularly taken by a hellebore we planted last year. I had hoped to catch him as he rummaged about it but he flitted off before I could take my picture. I love the way these rather shy, delicately coloured flowers are complemented by the steely silver, prickly leaves.

Two more hellebores are currently in pots on the patio, this one with it's bashful yet incredibly vivid rich pinky purple flower heads is another bought one; the one below comes as a seedling collected either from my dear one's daughter's garden, or from Cecil's cottage;
we have about 15 seedlings in various stages of growth, destined to be dotted through the garden in friendly groups to enjoy themselves and mix their genes with those we have bought. As ever, I love the idea that plants in our garden will speak to use both of themselves and of the people with whom they are associated - the garden as memory.

The crocuses were shining like golden stars in the grass, nestled at the feet of these daffodil stems, which have buds but not quite flowers as yet
Then there were the snowdrops. This one, with a tiny cyclamen just visible in the background, lives in a bed that I'm hoping to plant with a woodland feel. It's near the house, and I'm also planting primulas in a variety of colours, again in the hope they will self seed and interbreed, both with each other, and with the native primroses that are dotted about. I also have some snowdrops taken from Cecil's front garden, which I thought I'd lost, but which have overwintered in their pot, carefully husbanded down in the kitchen garden and are now nodding their heads on the patio along with the hellebores. They will be planted beneath a maple that Mum bought for me years and years ago, which has lived in a pot until now. I wanted to keep it with me through all of my house moves until I found the place where I knew I was going to stop. Last year it was given it's home in the soil.

So, a peaceful interlude in my morning's work.

Then, in the evening, we went to an event at the De La Warr Pavilion. We were given membership of this for Christmas and the tickets were offered free to members. It was a live performance of ISAM by Amon Tobin. I'd not heard of him before; it was not the sort of thing we'd have risked paying for as it was very much outside the good man's musical taste, though I had an idea what to expect, and expected it to be enjoyable. My dear daughter, rather indulgently, offered me ear plugs because - "it's going to be loud Mum" .... "yes dear"

It was, without a doubt, one of the most amazing gigs I've ever been to. A completely mesmerizing combination of sound, light and image, I cannot begin to describe it, but was on the edge of my seat almost the entire time. All I can suggest, is that you pop over to his website, or check out some of the clips on YouTube to get a brief taste of what it was all about. The music was the sort of sound that lodges deep in your chest, vibrates through your body and sends a shiver right through you from head to toes, and the images, projected onto a structure of white cubes, one of which housed him, took us through galaxies, past spaceships, firestorms, rippling water and tumbling blocks of colour and light. It was astonishing!