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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Chugging Along Nicely...

...with Borderlines... though the cat is attempting to intervene...Mollie is nothing if not consistent.  She's been sitting on there for the past ten minutes...just as well I'd taken all the photos I wanted before she sat down. 

I've now completed the stitch in the bottom section, and am therefore feeling somewhat smug.  I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to do with the upper section, but given that Mollie's now lying all over it, that's a problem for another day. 

I've used two different, but similar, variegated hand dyed threads, one below the paper motifs, and one to the side.  The one below is dark, and the stitching curls in on itself, echoing the way in which the right hand side of the paper motifs has been stitched.  

Spot the gap.  The stitch on the top reflects the torn and uneven nature of the motif; the stitch on the bottom...doesn't.  In fields, a gap like that might be filled with trees; in abstract, I've filled them with vertical stitch, which in my mind, suggests those trees.

To the right of the motifs, I've stitched diagonally, given that there were several lines of vertical stitches there already, and I didn't want to repeat that.  The diagonal reflects the circular motif above it.  I didn't want too big a block of stitch in that area, so used the motif as a natural stopping point, as well as a directional guide.

And now, Mollie is up on the arm of the sofa, expecting me to move the laptop so she can snuggle into my lap; turns out I'm more comfortable than the quilt.  I will have to make my mind up about the upper section...but maybe not today.  Or at least, not consciously.  Doubtless there will be a certain level of unconscious problem solving going on in there while I get on with Other Things.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Hoarder's Charter?

"Keep a thing for seven years, and you'll find a use for it".  Or so my granny used to say.  Repeatedly.  I'm not convinced.  Particularly given the amount of stuff we managed to get rid of before we moved, none of which we've missed.  I was reminded of her saying while working on Borderlines yesterday... here's how far I've got...

I've picked a couple of colours to stitch in the remaining areas.  One of the things I wanted to do, though, was to deal with the puffiness in that circular area.  You expect a bit of relief to appear when quilting, but there are several sections where there's more relief than I'd like, and it's a distraction.  I don't want more coloured stitch in those areas, so white seemed the only option, to pull the area down, but not make the area appear more densely stitched. 

When I went to find the thread to do that, I found this...

It's white perle thread, which I was given as part of a lace making kit, many, many years ago.  The .  rest of the kit is long gone; pillow lace is a beautiful thing, but the making of it is Not My Thing...too fiddly  I kept the thread, though, intending to dye it.  Fortunately, I didn't get round to it (as is the way with so many things).  It must be at least 25 years old, looks fine, feels fine, so I'm using it. 

And here's the result.  I'm not stitching every single white area; just those that are overly puffy.  So far, it's working just as I hoped.  Phew.

I'm not changing my mind about keeping things, though; if I don't have a use for it now, or in the next few months, out it goes.  That thread was definitely the exception that proves the rule. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Coming Along Nicely.

Borderline, that is.  Reader, I cut out those knots.

And added a lot of stitch.  I feel better about that whole area, now, and have identified something (well, somethings, actually) to go in that empty central space.  And then, I had to work out what to do with the rest of the space.  What colour, what thread?  Blue was the original thought, to suggest sky.  Then green, to suggest fields.  Finally, I picked a brown variegated thread, the colour of the earth, and started working round the lower left motif.

There's a lot of stitch going in, resulting in a certain amount of distortion up in the top right, unsurprisingly; I hope that can be blocked out of the piece.  There will be more stitch going into the rest of the piece, so I figure that it all might balance out (yeah, all over distortion...).  My  next set of decisions will be around what I do next with the stitch, whether I continue to follow the lines I've established, as much as I can, or whether I add blocks of stitch using different threads, perhaps adding some darker brown and some hints of green.  I have enough room to add one more line of stitching around the main block, and then I'll have to decide. 

I'm still not happy with All That White, though.  I've never liked working with white.  I don't wear it, either, other than the odd white shirt.  I'm contemplating adding paint after the stitch is complete, in a very light, random way.  Or possibly staining the background with tea, being careful to keep it away from the paper, which I don't want to colour.  I suppose this was predictable, and I really should have thought of it before, but it is what it is, and I'll work with it.  Because process is all there is.

Monday, May 28, 2018


So... I now have five blocks ready for carving.  Four of them are based on the Spear piece I talked about last time.  The fifth, though, is quite different: here it is.

It's my warm up block.  I haven't carved in a long time, and I remember how challenging it can be.  So I wanted to practice a bit on something straightforward, and they don't come much more straightforward than this.  I've had a block like this for years; the last one got thrown out before the move.  It developed out of one of the first blocks I ever carved, from a rectangular eraser.  It was intended to suggest blades of grass.  This one is more like tree trunks, admittedly, but it is really useful for frottage...nobody said that linocuts had to be used only for printing.  So...I'm making another one.  Every time I sit down to carve, I'll do a couple of cuts on here, just to remind myself of the way the material works.

I'd intended to work at the table, but instead, ended up on the sofa.  If we ever get the garage cleared out, I'll get Robin to make me a print board, a piece of plywood with some wood nailed onto it; it is intended to hold the print block still.  My lap board does exactly the same thing, as you can see here.

It's a distinct variation on the theme of cats on my knee...but I digress...

I've made the first few cuts on one of the blocks in the spear series:

I've actually cut another rectangle, right at the top, though it wasn't drawn as part of the design originally; it just seems to look better that way.  Proof positive that I'm incapable of following a pattern.  I've also proved that lino cutting is exhausting; half an hour at a time would seem to be my limit.  Oh well... it's not as if I have a deadline.  My own impatience really doesn't count.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Right Thing?

Hand sewing, and thinking.  In that order, pretty much.  Finished a section of hand stitch on Borderline, the yellowish rectangle of hand made paper.

My original intention had been to smother that area in tiny seed stitches; as you can see, I've changed my mind, and limited the stitch to the edges, in a sort of uneven border.

So why the change of heart?  Well...because of the fragility of the paper, I had begun by stitching all the way round the edges.  In places where there were holes or tears, I stitched fairly intensively, to make sure the tears didn't get any worse as I worked.  When I had finished the first pass, I realised that that looked interesting, and that really, all I needed to do was to add a bit more stitch in the areas that had only really got a single line of stitch in the first pass, but otherwise, it was done.  Plus, I looked carefully at the areas in the centre: here's a close up.

The texture in this is remarkable.  I felt that intense stitch, instead of adding to that, would detract from it, by flattening it out.  So I stopped. 

And now, I have to decide what to do next.  I think I'm going to add more stitch to that circular area top right.  I'm trying to decide whether or not to remove the knots...yes, the knots that took me an inordinate amount of time to create .  I have two options.  Either remove them completely or add more, because they look off balance.  My money's on removal.  Yes, they took an eternity.  Yes, I'm proud of them.  No, they add nothing much, and may well detract from the whole several hours work is going to be cut out, because it feels like the right thing to do.  I'll be adding more lines, but this time, running stitch, rather than single long stitches.  And then I'll look again, to see if that was the right thing to do.

And, in the end, that's all every single decision boils down to : is it the right thing to do for this piece?  No matter how long you spent on it, no matter how much you like it, if it doesn't work, it has to come out.  Either that, or you have to take that favourite area, and rebuild the piece around it. That never crossed my mind in this instance, but it's something I've done with paintings, quite regularly.  Either way, it's extra work, and it may take you a long way from your original intention...but it's worth it.

And now I'm off to cut out those knots...sigh.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Working With Metaphor

Remember this piece?  I talked about how it developed here and here

It's called Spear.  I talked with my friend Ann Godridge about its meaning.  My original intention was to create a semi abstract tree, with a leaf shape and a rectangular shape that didn't seem to have any meaning at all.  And yet it ended up feeling as if it was a spear and a shield.  I talked about how that seemed important to me, because I felt I needed some sort of defense, mainly against the attitudes of other people towards my illness.  It's not easy, having a physical illness that is dismissed as 'all in your head'.  Or when friends disappear, for whatever reason, other than the illness.  Or when I become invisible in a wheelchair.  It all hurts, and I need some sort of defense against that pain, until I get used to it all, grow a thicker skin, get used to having no friends other than the virtual ones.

I think this is the ideal example of an experimental piece turning into an expressive piece.  Playing about with those elements in an experimental way produced an unexpected depth of meaning which pleases me, and helps me to understand things better.  So I started to play around with the spear and the shield, with the intention of making a series of linocuts.  I recently bought a load of softcut, expecting to teach a workshop which was cancelled under me,  so I had a lot of 'stuff' to use, and the shapes of both spear and shield seemed to lend themselves to linocut.  So... here are three variants on this theme :

I could have made the leaf/shield shapes solid, but chose to work them as if I was making a stencil.  I think it will add a little visual interest.  I think the triangles within the leaf shapes might be too solid, but I won't really know that until I cut them, or possibly until I actually print with them.  I think it's important to remember that I'm not making prints as prints.  Rather, I'm making prints as a base for stitch.  The stitch will ultimately be more important than the print, so I want to make sure that there's plenty of room for it, and also that no single element of the print will dominate the piece.  There's a danger of that with these triangles, so it's something to watch.

I had a hospital appointment, so that was the ideal opportunity to sketch some more.  I said that I don't usually use sketchbooks to develop work, but linocut is a definite exception.  This sketchbook is exactly the same size as my blocks, so working out how the different elements will combine is useful.  I find that marks on softcut don't erase all that well, so I like to work things out properly before I mark the design. 

I think I like the bottom one better...the top one may prove to be a little cluttered.  Nonetheless, when I've got the size of the shields right, it will probably feel more balanced (one side is clearly larger than the other). 

These sketches aren't perfect; I didn't have a ruler with me, so the division across the blocks is approximate, for example, not to mention the wonky spears...  I also discovered that it's not easy to draw in a wheelchair, even in a hardback journal; no flat surface.  At home, I have my legs up on a footstool, which makes them level; they are on a slant in the wheelchair.  Don't think there's anything I can do about that, other than work in a smaller journal, which would be easier to handle.  Lugging a work board around really isn't an option....but I digress.

You can see how straightforward it is to take a couple of elements and combine them in different ways to make different images.  I have at least one other to try out.  I did have a day of panic when I couldn't find my lino cutters, which, unlike the missing felting needles, would have been expensive to replace (they're professional quality, as I really couldn't get on with the wee cheap red handled things).  Fortunately, though, I found them this morning, in just the place I thought of at three o'clock this morning....insomnia has to be useful for something.

So...more development and some cutting.  Wish me luck.

Friday, May 25, 2018

So Many Ideas...

so little energy... so how to choose?  Good question.  There isn't a right way to do this...I tend to go with a combination of what my gut tells me is important, and what kind of technique I feel like using at the time, and which fits with the theme.  So, for me, I suppose, work roughly divides into two categories;  experimental and expressive.  Experimental is all about the technique, really; the theme comes second.  Expressive is about having something to say, and finding a way to say it; the theme dominates, and the technique is subservient.  The latter, for me, is the real work; the former, though, can inform and feed that real work, encourage it to develop. 

This, the first of the ME pieces, is a classic example of expressive.  I have a theme, the way ME affects my life, and I'm making work that explores that, through metaphor and hidden meanings.  I already know what the second piece in this series will look like, have bought the base fabric, a deep grey, and now need to do some experimental work with the cloth, to see if my original thoughts on what to do and how to do it, are actually possible.  So, as you can see, the two categories are very loose; they interact.  I usually don't know if a piece is expressive or experimental until I'm half way through it.   What do I mean by that?  Well... lots of artists make sketches and trial pieces; not me.  Everything I make is intended as a finished piece, not as a sketch, although I do finish things, sometimes, and think, ok, that's a sketch.  That's about process, more than anything.  It's why, although I have a sketchbook, I don't create fully fledged artist's sketchbooks as, for example, for City and Guilds.  I work things out on the piece, not in the sketchbook.  I might take notes, to remind myself of what I did, but I don't work out what I'm going to do in the book, first.  I feel that stifles spontaneity, and spontaneity to me is an essential part of my process.  

Experimental, though, is slightly different.  Experimental is usually answering a particular question, such as 'what will happen if I just...'.  Lots of my work evolves from questions like those.  Often they arise when making an expressive piece, and lead to a series within that expressive theme.  If not, then that question may lead to a different series of expressive work, with a different theme.  I'm not doing much in the way of experimental at present; rather, I'm finishing off bits and pieces that I started in the rental, utilitarian pieces, like a cushion for Cara and a small quilt for my sister's dog.    Though 'Flow' was an experimental piece,  
an experiment with constructed cloth, something that has been on my mind for a number of years.  This one had been put together differently to the other constructed cloth I'd made, and the stitch was also different.  So, as well as the reasons I had for making the piece, which I described here, there was a whole raft of experimental thinking going on, testing of hypotheses.  Worked fairly well.

I try to stick with themes.  The ME pieces need to be made, because the ideas are there, but also because I need to work through my feelings about the illness, and come to some sort of conclusion.  I don't perceive it as therapy, and I hope above hope that they are not seen as pieces only made to make me feel better, because I think that attitude diminishes them, and me, somehow.  I feel the same about ME as I did about depression, still do, come to think of it....that something positive has to come out of all this darkness.  I have a real interest in trees and flowers.  I can't really see myself making representational floral or tree pieces; however, I am developing something based on another piece I made recently, an example of an experimental piece being a catalyst for an expressive piece (I'll talk about that tomorrow).  And then there's the fun stuff, the stuff like Cara's cushion, that will give someone else pleasure, and I'll enjoy making them.

I'm not sure if I'm making a lot of sense at a thought level, but I've just read this over, and it feels at an emotional level to be a reasonable explanation of what's important for me to make just now... basically, meaning comes first, then theme. then everything else fits in behind.  

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Developing Ideas.

I said yesterday I'd talk about how I might use some of the images I took at Callender Park, so I'm going to talk about two of them, specifically.  The first is a rhododendron; there were a lot of rhododendron bushes, and a happy family clustered in front of them, so I couldn't take a range of photographs as  I would otherwise have done.  I did, however, get up close and personal with this one, at the end of the group.
This is the photograph I took, uncropped, au naturel, as it were.  I like the colours, the variation, the texture implied in those petals.  I thought it might be fun to tweak the image a

Loud, man, loud!  I wanted to take a look at the way the colour is grouped, so fiddled a bit with the settings, to produce this... I rather like it, though I could live without the white, and could have done something about it, I suppose, but given this is a reference photograph, I let it be.  Besides, I love the semi abstract shapes that are suggested around those white patches.  It would be interesting to do a monoprint based on these shapes, or possibly an applique.  Finally,

Looks very similar to the first one, except... I've fiddled around with the colour intensity and the amount of contrast, to show up the texture a bit more.  Again, the shapes of the flowers are shown quite clearly in this image, good for applique reference, or painting, for that matter.  Flowers change almost moment to moment, so drawing from reference photographs seems a reasonable thing to do.

My eye was caught by lots of things in the park; the second one I'll discuss here, is a section of the wall of the main house.

This was cropped from one of the images I took yesterday.  I didn't particularly want to get up close and personal, so it was taken from a distance; often I'll photograph individual stones, or groups of stones, if I find them interesting.  I've always been interested in stone walls; that interest grew in Norfolk, with the incredible flint buildings there (I've talked about them on this blog before).  I like the variation in colour, texture and shape in this.  I photographed it because it struck me that it would make an interesting basis for a quilt.

So, once more, I played around with this image, cropping it again and playing with the intensity of the colour.  

Not a lot to choose between the two images, but when you look at this third one...

There's a distinct difference; much stronger colours, more contrast.  What this exercise has done for me, is to suggest how a series of quilts might develop 'about' walls.  I've never been interested in brick walls, because of their regular nature (the reason I don't make patchwork quilts is my dislike of regular pattern).  Taking a wall like this one as a template of sorts for a series of pieces, but varying types of fabric and gradually turning up the visual volume, as I've done in these photographs, would be an interesting way of exploring this form, as well as providing a challenge.  A bit like a crazy quilt, but in a far more regular form.

Will I ever get round to either of these possibilities, or any of the others I found at Callendar Park?  I don't know, to be honest.  My energy is limited, and there are plenty more ideas where they came from... I'll talk about choosing an idea to work with, tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Making The Most...

of our day out, we continued on to Callendar Park, a huge (170 plus acres) estate near the centre of Falkirk.  Reader, it's gorgeous... lots of things to do, plus a wonderful house...

The space is glorious; masses of trees, and every so often, a specimen tree in among the mass planting...

In the background, the edge of the loch.  Complete with, not the real thing, but little boats that can be taken out for fun.  And everywhere you look, something interesting, a different vista.

I have to admit, I was exhausted yesterday...should have know better than to go to two places on one day.  I think it was worth it, though, just to see all this beauty.  And I took one or two images that will doubtless inform some work...more tomorrow. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Water, Water Everywhere...

but fortunately, plenty of cafes too, so no problem with thirst.  The Kelpies are water spirits, so it makes sense that they are situated at a marina, with a selection of boats and barges

Lots to look at.  We had a really good time, though the coffee was pretty awful...however, we were struck by the attention to detail.  Here's an image of one of the lights in the cafe...ring any bells?

Monday, May 21, 2018

Here Comes The Sun...

for today, at we thought we'd go out.  We plumped for going to see the Kelpies, the amazing sculpture of two water horses at Falkirk.  They are even better up close and personal...
They are fierce, wonderfully observed, in an incredible setting, surrounded by water.  If you've not come across the word kelpie before, you've clearly not been keeping up with your Scottish myths.  Here's a link to tell you about them.  They can shape shift into human form, though I don't think these sculptures quite manage that... maybe just as well. 

A closer look, here, from the same position.  You can get up very close to the sculptures; their texture is remarkable.
I found myself wondering about basing a piece of work on the patterning of these metal blocks, which have been so carefully engineered.  Reverse applique, I thought, and a wholecloth, allover pattern, though it might be an interesting exercise to make a series of blocks in this way.  The attention to detail and realism of these horse heads is truly remarkable.

Note the way the sculptor shows the veins and musculature of that upflung neck...remarkable.  You can almost hear the defiant scream of the kelpie. 

More about the site tomorrow. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Cara's Leaf

We're grandparenting this weekend, normal service will eventually be resumed after I've recovered... Today, we took Cara to gymnastics, then had lunch out, wandered round a garden centre, followed by Serious Cake for Cara and Grumpa (who knew a child that small could eat that much meringue...?).  And then we topped that off with a play park, in the Kinneal Estate.  On the way back to the car, Cara really wanted a leaf from one of the many trees surrounding us.  Grumpa obliged (Granny did try to put her off til autumn, but with no success). 

So, I thought, what can I do with this?  Pressing it, of course, would have been a possibility, but I've never really got my mind round what you do with leaves that size once they're dry.  So... I drew round it.  My initial intention was to let Cara colour it in, and I will still do that (she's pleased with the idea), but I'm thinking, applique.  I'm thinking cushion.  Or memory quilt (though there would need to be a lot more memories than just one leaf to make a quilt...maybe it needn't be all that large,though...).  Or just a singled blocked applique quilt.  Yes, okay, I'm wondering what got into me, too, it's so not my kind of thing....clearly the granny genes are kicking in...

And here it is.
And that's as far as it's likely to go, this weekend anyway.  I'm exhausted already, and there's a day and a half left... so won't be playing with the idea any time soon.  I'll keep you posted.

Finally, thank you to everyone who was so supportive after my last post.  I really appreciate it.  Blogging is a bit like talking to yourself, sometimes, hearing other people talk is lovely.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Look Before You Leap

I've been spending a bit of time getting ready to teach several it came as a surprise to get an email today telling me that I was no longer required.  Apparently nobody wants to make cute little cushions, and someone else has been lined up to do the linoprinting workshop we'd been discussing, which is unprofessional, but without a contract, there's nothing I can do.  Wish I'd known that before I bought the soft cut for it.  So...that was something of a waste of time... and money...and materials... I now have three wee cushions made up as samples.  Oh well, they'll be useful for something, I suspect.  It was suggested that I rent the space, but given that I'm not welcome to do workshops for the shop, I don't think I'll bother renting the space.  My idea was to support a new local business, and meet a few new people into the bargain, not to become a workshop provider.  Yes, I'm offended.  And upset.  Won't be leaping before I look in future.

The image is pure eye candy, dyer's chamomile from my Norfolk garden.  Reminds me that I want to try growing it here, too.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Pacing Myself

You may  have noticed it's been quiet on the blog this week.  My sister had a party at the weekend, and I'm still paying for it in reduced energy, so very little sewing.  I thought you might like to see how the Borderlines piece is progressing (I talked about it here), so...

Regular stitching, irregular sizes, round and round, I hope it suggests a field.  And then some much more intense stitch in the lighter area of paper.

I hope it supports the texture of the paper, which sadly, you can't really see clearly from the image.  It's really quite fragile, though it has a rough look. 

The real challenge, though, is the background.  All that white.  I really don't like white, don't use it much at all.  My original intention was to use a dark blue/pinky purple hand dyed thread as the background, in a similar fashion to the yellow stitches in the image above, but now I'm not so sure.  Maybe a variety of different colours, grouped in different ways; rectangles, or circles.  Rectangles are more reflect the idea of a patchwork of fields.  If that isn't enough, I dare say I could use a wash of either a herbal tea or a watercolour paint... but I think I'll wait to see how the stitching turns out. 

Ideas tend to shift and change, to develop, as the work goes along.  I like that.  Art is a living thing, in its way, a relationship between the maker and the thing he or she is exploring.  It ought to change as more is learned, more uncovered.  It's all part of the process.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Relative Normality

Well, you didn't really think it was going to be tidy for long, did you?  Note the strategic placing of the coffee cup, and the small photograph waiting for stitch which has nothing much to do with anything... oh well....

The reason for the relative chaos is the creation of a sample for the class I'll be teaching at Fabric And More in Bo'ness, called 'Patchwork Without A Pattern'.  I have thought for some time that when we teach basic patchwork, we really ask a lot of beginners.  We want them to line up corners, get points right, choose fabrics that work together, make blocks that look similar and fit together, all sorts of competing priorities in a skill that's new to them.  If you take away the need to line things up and fit together properly, then learners can practice the whole quarter inch seam thing along with the suitable fabrics thing, and still produce something that's worthwhile.

So...I took some scrap, and fiddled about with it... the panda was a pure fluke, a strip that someone had given me...I think he's rather cute, despite semi decapitation...
The deal was that I'd make a small wall hanging, but when I assembled it...

It shrieked cushion... so that is what it became.

Ideally, it should have lavender in it, but my lavender went the way of most craft things in the great move, and I've no idea where to get it locally. I'm going to play with this idea a bit more, see what I end up this space.