Woven eccentricities (or a wonky weave of a geriatric Jack Russell)

Since topping up my sleeved sweater stash (see previous post) we have had a mini heatwave here in the South of England. With temperatures soaring to 30 degrees and little let off at night I have found it difficult to get stuck in to another knitting project. So what to do with yarn that doesn’t result in sweaty hands and squeaky needles and allows a little air flow around the old bod? Yep, you got it, back to the tapestry frame and warp speed ahead on another coptic inspired weave of a wonky portrait, this time Nelly being the muse.

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“Today I shall mostly be fabulous!” Hand woven tapestry in wool, cotton and metallic yarn.

My aim with this one was to use eccentric weaving (where the weft is not at right angles to the warp) to mimic the nap of the fur and to help give the illusion of three dimensions via the suggestion of contour lines. And here is the result: Nelly looking resplendent (and slightly worried i.e. her usual expression) on a majestic looking cushion. Note to self, for the next weave try to create a design that can be woven the right way up rather than on its side as previous ones have been if I wish to avoid developing a permanent kink in my neck and spine from regular progress checks.

Now, what to do next I wonder? I still have a knitting itch to scratch and the temperatures are becoming more conducive to picking up the needles again. However, I wouldn’t want to upset the Big Dog by showing favouritism to the Little and Noisy One so perhaps I should be sourcing some Weim coloured yarn for another wonky weave. Mmm, decisions, decisions, perhaps a cup of tea (or at least the tea leaves) will help? Until next time…….

Stash Busting 1940s style (or the British weather, the folly of a beetroot addiction, caravan claustrophobia and a feminist applause)

In this country one of our favourite pastimes is complaining about the weather, particularly at this time of year. We love a good whinge about what a terrible Summer we had last year, are having this year and will probably have again next year, particularly how it rained EVERY weekend and for MOST of the school holidays. You may be forgiven for thinking that if it is like this every year we as a nation would have resigned ourselves to this fact and would no longer point it out as the opening greeting at every meeting from May until September but I guess in our own strange way (to the much asked polite greeting of “how are you?” how many times do we get a response of “not too bad” or “could be worse“) it is a sign of an enduring if slightly warped optimism.

As a family we gave up going on holiday when I was in my early teens when the challenge of trying to find alternative care for a house full of pets and horses far outweighed the “relaxation” of sitting in a caravan in rainy Devon playing Monopoly. The final straw occurred when Mum in her wisdom and strange addiction decided that what a family of five and a dog in a caravan in Devon could not possibly be without for two weeks was jars of beetroot. On arrival, after a particularly swervy journey avoiding head on collisions on the narrow West country lanes, we opened up the caravan door to find open cupboards and yes, you guessed it, purple everywhere! Dad decided after this incident that he would probably find his precious two weeks off work a year far more relaxing sitting in his armchair at home listening to Jazz. I for one had way too many horse competitions and stuff to do at the stables during the Summer months to miss the tradition of 2am starts to travel across the country with the prospect of enforced time with family members in an enclosed space with no bolt hole or bicycle for escape, and secretly applauded his decision.

Personally I love the British weather. Cited by many of my friends and clients as a potential reason to flee these green shores, I look forward to the changing seasons and the energy associated with the unpredictability of what we might awake to each morning.  I enjoy the full spectrum of possibilities from snow through to heat wave but with none of them out staying their welcome or being too extreme (usually!). Whenever I have flown to hotter climates I am always struck by how dry, dusty and brown everything appears and can’t wait for the lushness of the British countryside underneath the plane as I arrive home. I guess always having had animals to look after and exercise, one becomes somewhat immune to rain and cold as outdoor jobs still have to be done and as the famous saying goes, there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing (who did say that anyway?).

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the sky may be grey but the garden is lovely and green (except for the piddle patches!)

Anyhoo, neutral introductory ramblings over, let’s get back (briefly) to the political situation in good old GB which continues to fuel the headlines. So, we now have a new Prime Minister and while in my opinion she was probably the best choice out of the prospective candidates, the Brexit farce has somewhat dampened down what a significant time for women in politics this currently is. Theresa May is only the second female to take on the role in British history and one of her first trips as new PM was to visit Scotland’s female First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon in an attempt to avoid us becoming the DUK that I spoke of in my previous post.  This, along with the prospect (everyone please cross your fingers for this one because the alternative is just too awful to consider) of Hillary Clinton becoming the first female President of the US, and Angela Merkel already firmly ensconced as the first female Chancellor in Germany makes this an unprecedented time for woman in prominent positions of power in political history.  With particularly challenging times ahead I don’t envy them but politics aside, as an inspiration to the homogametic sex I applaud them and wish them good luck and judgement in their roles.

If you are still with me (I thank you for that!), this is where the relevance of the past four paragraphs will hopefully now become apparent in the context of creating.  Regarding the weather: I have no sweaters of a suitable weight and sleeve length to cope with chilly British Summer evenings (yes, really!).  Regarding all the political stuff: I needed a calming creative pursuit to lose myself in over the past month or so while escaping into the imaginary world of audiobooks. As far as the beetroot is concerned, that was just a childhood memory that surfaces from time to time at family functions and still causes much amusement.

I have a strange shape for knitwear, having a square body with broad shoulders, minimal bust and a high almost non existent waist (when I was in my early twenties I remember a Summer of baring midriffs completely passing me by despite having a rather splendid belly button ring at the time which I was desperate to show off as non of the T shirts or tops on sale in the shops were short enough to expose any of my flesh!).  I dread fashion returning to high waisted trousers which might as well be over the shoulder dungarees as far as I’m concerned.  Over the years I have learned that while I may lust after flowing or chunky knits, the only way to avoid the “Yikes, what was I thinking?” moment when first trying on the masterpiece that took 100 hours to knit, cost £100 in yarn, and made me look like I was wearing my Dad’s old gardening sweater, is to stick to 4ply and keep it small, fitted and neat. Hence you will not be surprised to hear that my favourite knitwear era is the 1940s which was by necessity a time of stash busting and colour work with unpicking and reworking and slim, neat silhouettes. I am a collector of 1940s patterns and while perusing my library I came across this in “Knitting Illustrated” by Margaret Murray and Jane Koster published in 1948.

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from Knitting Illustrated by Margaret Murray and Jane Koster (Odhams Ltd, 1948)

After taking a quick stash inventory it occurred to me that I had enough Hobbycraft Women’s Institute Shetland 4ply (made in the UK by JC Rennie and Co Ltd and now sadly discontinued) to recreate this rather striking design so after a couple of false starts while I worked out that I needed a purple to complement the blues and green (luckily I had some Rowan Felted Tweed DK which worked well for this) and a provisional cast on so I didn’t have to decide on welt stitch or overall length until the end, this is how it came out.

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Fair Isle sweater in Shetland 4ply and Rowan Felted Tweed DK

And of course, since I finished it on Friday night, we have had a mini heat wave in the South of England with temperatures soaring (comparatively) to 25 degrees or more. You are welcome!

So, folks (Mum), thanks again for reading my ramblings. I am now without any knitting to do and feeling distinctly twitchy so I feel this afternoon I may be returning to my stash to see what else I can conjure up.  This little beauty also arrived in the post yesterday so I think a cup of coffee, a little sit down and a bit of a riffle is next on the to do list. Until next time…..

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New book!

Weaving around the EU referendum

Here in the UK we had a little vote the other Thursday. On 23rd June we went to bed as part of the EU and on 24th June we awoke in the middle of a Terry Pratchett novel (don’t panic folks, this isn’t really a political post, I’m just putting the arty stuff into context with a little background reading for those who may have missed the joke due to holidays or non European domicile). So, in a nutshell, a media magnate (think Reacher Gilt in Going Postal) got together with a couple of posh boys (I’d like to reference Bloody Stupid Johnson here but we are probably talking Assassins Guild drop outs) and as a laugh sold the country a few whopping porkies about: money and public services (“I would never have made that claim, it was one of the mistakes the Leave camp made”, said Farage regarding that naughty bus advert and leaflet headline); immigration (too many dwarves and trolls here already and what about when the goblins start arriving?); and democracy (apparently we needed to get our country back even though some of us were blissfully unaware that we had misplaced it. Can’t have people who put “avec” in their cooking having a say in what goes on in our country, particularly if we haven’t voted for them to do it).

Mix that together with some disgruntled lefties unhappy with the current leadership and direction of the opposition party (likened by Labour supporter and comedian Bill Bailey to the experimental album of a long established rock band), the impact of years of austerity under the current government, all combined with the leave campaign’s advice to dismiss the claims of the Wizards at Unseen University (as apparently we have had enough of experts), and you get 52% to 48% voting to go it alone to “make Britain great again” (although to be fair, as nearly half of the voters thought GB was pretty awesome a month ago some of us probably need a bit more information regarding the context of the word “great” and a historical reference point to clarify the word “again” so that we can properly get behind this sentiment).

So, what are we left with 11 days later? The resignation of the PM, a rudderless ship and a leadership battle (“Every organisation needs at least one person who knows what’s going on, and why it’s happening and who’s doing it”, Terry Pratchett, Going Postal), Boris and Nigel temporarily leaving the spot light perhaps to “find themselves” and prepare for the next reality TV show, an imploding opposition party, a significant handful of leave voters asking if we can do it again as they didn’t think their protest vote would actually count (X Factor has a lot to answer for), a strong taste of “Oops this wasn’t supposed to happen”, a small but nasty dose of xenophobia (it transpires that a small but sadly active number of people were under the impression that they were voting for immigrants to leave the UK not for the UK to leave the EU. Oh the power of words!), the potential dismantling of the UK (will we be calling it the Disunited Kingdom or DUK when Scotland and Northern Ireland attempt to retain their EU status?) and as part of this last point lots of English people frantically searching their family history for an Irish granny.  But perhaps most scary of all, it transpires that there was no cunning plan (and even Baldrick had one of those although according to Blackadder,”Give the likes of Baldrick the vote and we’ll be back to cavorting druids, death by stoning and dung for dinner…”).

But, in the spirit of balance I must warn you that these observations are coming from a Remainer (I bet you couldn’t have guessed) and someone who spent a large proportion of a previous career in a strategic, organisational and contingency planning role for a large company. Perhaps running a country has nothing in common with running a business? The Leavers are more optimistic, telling us “whingers” to stop scaremongering, suck it up buttercup, and pull together. Once they come up with a direction, I for one am prepared to listen as procrastination is never a good look. After all, in those wise words of Turner and Kane in their fabulous tune “Aviation”, “it’s the way you wing it, while you’re figuring it out”. While we may have lost the future genius of the likes of Leonard of Quirm, be assured that there are plenty of Cut-Me-Own Throat Dibblers out there already planning “the range of pewter figurines and exciting T-shirts” to turn this potential calamity into a business opportunity (I’ve seen their posts on Facebook).  But it’s not over until it’s over, as they say, and the fat lady hasn’t even got her make up on yet let alone warmed up her voice for this performance.

Of course none of this would have actually happened in Ankh Morpork which “had dallied with many forms of government and had ended up with that form of democracy known as One Man, One Vote. The Patrician was the Man; he had the Vote”. It is such as shame that Mr Pratchett is no longer with us as he would have written a corker about all this.

So, enough of politics. During all of this malarky I ran away to West Dean College where I could hide from TV, social media and newspapers and immerse myself in the wonderfully repetitive and calming world of tapestry weaving (while trying very hard not to mention the P word at break times or in the bar after hours).  As my regular readers (Mum) will know, I have recently been entertaining myself with producing wonky portraits of friends, family and our beloved pets so when I saw that lovely teacher and talented tapestry artist Pat Taylor was doing a course on weaving tapestry Coptic style I knew it was destiny and I booked the last place.

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Wonky weave of a wonky self portrait (pulling a face in a mirror)

What characterises coptic tapestry for me is it’s decorative element (it was originally small scale weaving used to adorn clothing), often depicting non symmetrical faces, certain animals like deer and hare, and repeating motifs. So, right up my street then!  The techniques used give a wonderful sense of drawing with the weft and for me presented common sense applications of the weaving principle and problem solving without the self imposed constraints of “doing it the right way”.

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Coptic Marc, produced during the workshop

While it was somewhat frustrating at times, I particularly liked the challenge of the coarse setting we used (the weaves shown are approximately 15cm “square” and set at 3 e.p.c).  It adds a certain charm and another dimension to the original drawings and I have plans to continue the series in this scale.

Before I sign off I must also show you one of Pat’s wonderful weaves. Although these are not coptic inspired, they show her incredible skill at depicting portraits in a simplified but incredibly effective way. From memory, this piece of work was approximately 35cm square and worked on a much finer setting than we were using.  Just lovely! More of her work can be seen on her website.

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One of Pat Taylor’s woven portraits

So, for now it’s a bit of a breather while I decide on the next wonky weave subject. I also have a fairisle sweater on the needles at the moment (a bit of comfort knitting during these stressful times) in need of sleeves. Until next time……….

 

Memories of Dad (or who invented Father’s Day anyway?)

My inbox is currently inundated with companies trying to sell me stuff for Father’s Day (19 June). This has prompted me to share with you some drawings and memories of my wonderful Dad who has encouraged and inspired me in so many aspects of my creative and sporting life and who I sadly lost at the beginning of this month (and who adamantly refused to believe in Father’s Day on the basis that it was an invented celebration purely created for commercial purposes while still appreciating the card that I would send him anyway!).

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Dad on his wedding day in 1965 aged 27

 

A genetic predisposition to making stuff

Dad made stuff and while my art and textile interests are thought to come from my creative and talented Mum, I think Dad also played more than his part. Dad spent weekends in the garage creating amazing things such as the dolls house I was given for Christmas and which I treasured for many years, the go kart made out of pram wheels with a foot and string steering mechanism and a sibling powered motor, and the stilts on which the children of our cul-de-sac competed and broke records for number of widths, lengths and how many times you could go up and down the kerb.  My dining room table at home is referred to as the table of doom by my better half in reference to the vast quantity of drawing and painting materials, sketchbooks, needles and wool which cover its surface. It made me laugh the last time I visited my brother’s house to see his dining room table covered in bits of motorbike motor and bicycle. We can’t help it. Making stuff is in the genes!

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Dad, 1980 something (although he never was quite as robust as this picture suggests)

An athlete was born……

Dad taught me how to ride a bike (a skill which through the encouragement of my husband I later learned I was good at when I started competing locally and nationally in cycle time trialling). All three of us children went through the rite of passage progressing from trike, to stabilisers on a hand me down bike which was usually slightly too big for us (we’d grow into it) and then to Dad holding the saddle and running down the road behind us. Or was he?! When it was my turn, I remember getting to the bottom of the road, putting my feet down and turning around to see that Dad hadn’t moved and was standing grinning at me from outside number 3 where we had started from. From then on I could ride a bike and as the saying goes, I never forgot it.  Bicycles have played a major role in our lives both socially and practically from the hours spent cycling up and down outside the house with the other children on our road, to being our main source of transport and our ticket to independence as teenagers.  For me, cycling also became a competitive sport.  A similar thing happened with swimming. I remember running out to meet Dad who was bobbing up and down in the Devon waves one camping holiday and being told to “swim to me Nicky”. And I did, completely forgetting that I hadn’t put my arm bands on.

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Dad, 2011

Shine on you crazy diamond

Dad instilled in me very early on a passion for music. I was encouraged to play the piano for five years but never really got on with my teacher’s choice of music (classical or nothing) so fulfilled Dad’s prediction of “you’ll regret it if you give it up”. I continue to return to the piano from time to time and still dream of playing jazz. He went halves with me when I bought my first album, “Purple Rain” by Prince, another of my teenage heroes who sadly passed away this year. Dad had a really wide taste in music, with no genre excluded, and which thankfully I have inherited due to early exposure to jazz, classical, rock and blues. He told me I couldn’t sing but it never put me off. I can still sing whole albums that I haven’t heard since I was 15 (if only I could remember where I left my car keys or why I walked into a room) and as I have mentioned to you in previous posts, singing is a mood enhancing therapy that I have always resorted to in times of need and still use to this day. One of my greatest pleasures is attending live music and I am lucky to have a number of excellent venues within a three mile radius of my house which I frequent on a regular basis.  The music I associate most with my childhood and my Dad is that of Bowie, Pink Floyd, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Kate Bush.

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Dad the last time I saw him

Always in my heart

During his final year of life Dad would often ask me when I telephoned if I was happy. He also told me regularly during these calls how much he enjoyed hearing my cheerful voice and to “keep cheerful”. The happiness of his children was so important to him and I think he needed to know that he had done a good job.  I was lucky enough to visit him in the last few days of his life and while he wasn’t aware I was there I was grateful to be able to spend some time drawing him as he slept.  Dad told us that you make your own luck in this world through hard work and perseverance. I agree with him up to one very important point. You have no control or say in who you are born to and we certainly lucked out on that one. Rest in peace Dad.  I couldn’t have asked for a better male role model in my life and I thank you for your unconditional love and support which have encouraged and inspired me to become the person I am today.

Tribute

Over the past month I have been working on probably the hardest piece of art for me, to date. It represents my humble tribute to an extraordinary man who’s sudden and unexpected death this March has left so many of us in a shocked state of bereavement. It is difficult to categorise what he meant to me personally: friend, mentor, brother….. none of these quite describe his constant presence in my life over the past 30 years. He was there helping and advising me during the pivotal moments in my adulthood. He taught me how to revise for my first degree, introduced me to competitive sport and the hard work required to train for it, helped me through the stress of buying my house by negotiating on my behalf, and found me a business premises to work from when I changed career.

He was also an encouraging if somewhat brutally honest supporter of my art endeavours (if you didn’t really want to know the answer you wouldn’t ask his opinion) always making an effort to attend exhibitions where I had work on show and was the first person to buy one of my knitted paintings.

A high achiever in everything he did, his no nonsense hard work attitude was an inspiration to so many of the people he interacted with, both within the local business community and particularly the national triathlon and cycling communities. As it was originally through cross country running that I met him it seemed most fitting to me to celebrate his sporting achievements in this piece of work as competitive sport was such a major part of his life from runner to triathlete and finally, cyclist. One of his most significant achievements was as holder of the British Ironman record. This 8:15:21 time stood for 13 years until it was broken in 2008. In 2010 he was also national 12 hour cycling time trial champion covering 275.01 miles in the allocated time.

So here it is, I hope he would have approved. Made with love for John, Karen and especially Erica (the yin to his yang).  RIP Julian x

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“Tribute” hand knitted and stitched in alpaca/merino and silk mohair

 

A new drawing language

I usually love the springtime, particularly April, and I think it has something to do with the preponderance of my favourite colour blue in all that is growing around me.

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Forget me not

I am lucky to live on a road where parking the car(s) is not given priority over the health and appearance of grass verges and front gardens and so we have a fabulous growing season including a couple of purposefully “wild” sections given over to bluebells, primroses, forget me nots and other wonderful splashes of colour. This combined with the abundance of blossom adorning the cherry trees that line the road makes this the prettiest time of year.

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The blossom isn’t blue but just look at that sky

However, this spring I have had sudden and unexpected sadness thrown at me during this usually happy and productive time of year and my senses, energy and Mojo have taken a hit as a consequence. Not usually one for deep analysis of my behavioural traits (for therein madness lies?) I am self aware enough to notice and do find it interesting that I tend to revert back to childhood hobbies and interests at times of unhappiness, namely singing loudly while dancing madly around the living room, and drawing, drawing, drawing.  While the first of these has its own benefits (and potential embarrassment if the neighbours are in at the time), the second has resulted in an unexpected positive as I may have accidentally stumbled on a drawing language that finally allows me to express my self in way that I am happy to identify with. So I thought it about time that I publicly declare my intentions and share with you, dear readers, my latest scribbles.

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Him indoors

Of course the long suffering husband was one of the first to experience my modified blind drawing approach over brunch in our favourite coffee shop one Saturday morning. A wonderful man with few vices he does have the annoying habit of being attached to his i phone (like so many others these days I fear) and often finds “checking his life” more entertaining than holding a conversation with his nearest and dearest whilst out. So left to entertain myself I decided to teach him a lesson on this occasion by sneaking out the sketchbook.  I rather liked the result.

Encouraged by these beginnings it didn’t take long to subject my other regular muses to similar treatment.

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Little Nelly Bell

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Wonky Sas

Various family members have also been immortalised in pen and watercolour pencil this month and this weekend I was brave enough to try out my new way of working in a life drawing session.

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Xanthe 

I am finding working in pen so liberating. No rubbing out and no sweating the small stuff. Put it on the paper and run with it. So what if you get a wonky picture. I am finding using a blind drawing technique is such a great way of getting totally absorbed in the subject without the distraction of looking at the paper and without the worry of whether I have got it right. I think I may be experimenting with this way of observing and recording for some time to come but for now I’ll leave you with a picture of a dear friend. Until next time……

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Southampton’s Ironman

 

 

 

Exhibition news and other stuff

Oops, it’s been a while. Spring has sprung, stuff is a-growing and those without lady dogs have probably already mown their lawn a few times (our back lawn doesn’t have much grass left on it these days due to the muddy craters created by piddling pooches).

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Spring has sprung

Last time I blogged I told you about the Canine Partners textile challenge and exhibition. I am delighted to report that both of my pieces sold, along with lots of other lovely work, making the event enough of a success for the charity that they are looking to hold another one. I’ll keep you posted…..

I also mentioned a rather exciting course I was doing throughout February with talented artist Este Macleod . Every day at 9am we logged in to a class room portal where we were given a creative task to do, based on the letters of the alphabet. I found some of these quite testing, which was my main reason for undertaking the course as I am usually more inclined to draw a literal representation of what is in front of me rather than exercise my imagination, but great fun and rather liberating.

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Faces created from letters of the alphabet

I particularly enjoyed the relief printing exercises using cardboard tubes (toilet roll innards but don’t tell the Health and Safety police ;-)), cosmetic sponges (never had any use for these before!) and Golden’s high flow acrylic ink.

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Relief print, acrylic ink on paper

And, as it happens one of the looming deadlines for me last month was the annual Printmakers Exhibition held at the Oxmarket Gallery in Chichester so my experimentation with relief prints during this course was definitely time well spent and inspired the work I ended up submitting to the exhibition. It finishes on 3 April so if you are in the Chichester area there is still time to have a look.

I also spent much of February working on my submission to the Embroiderer’s Guild celebration of the 300th anniversary of Capability Brown. This was a new challenge for me as you will probably be aware that landscapes and gardens are not my usual subject matter. After a few false starts and a couple of knitting tangents (why is it that whenever I have an embroidery deadline I get a knitting itch and vice versa?) I created a piece of work based on Hydrangea Walk at Sir Harold Hillier Gardens where it will be on display in the exhibition room of Jermyn’s House at Hilliers with work from members of the Solent, Andover and Salisbury branches of the Guild from 11 April. It will also be at the Knitting and Stitching shows later in the year.

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“Hydrangea Walk” hand stitch, acrylic, pastel and fabric crayon on calico and vintage lace

And, the final exhibition I am excited to tell you about is taking place at the Ashcroft Arts Centre in Fareham, Hampshire from 10 to 30 April where I will be exhibiting my knitted life paintings and doggy heads. Talented textile artist Caroline Bell will also be exhibiting her work during this time. On the 10 April the centre is hosting a “Fabrics” celebration with workshops, stalls and demos from local textile artists and makers. I will be teaching a knitted jewellery workshop and also doing a demo of my work processes in the morning. It would be lovely to see you there.

I’ll leave you with my latest knitted life painting created for the exhibition at the Ashcroft Centre. Until next time…..

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“Private Dancer” hand knitted painting

“Aww, Go On!”

People often comment on how slow January can be but quite frankly I blinked and missed it this year! So here’s a little catch up on arty things a foot in my life at the moment. Remember my last post about the Textile Challenge for Canine Partners? Well, not content with creating one piece for this worthy cause I was compelled to do another. This time I left the paints in their pots and worked solely with the fabrics provided in all their mismatched pattern and colour glory, and used hand stitch as my method of unifying them. The result is a reproduction of an expression I see up close (Weimaraners are renowned for their inability to recognise the concept of personal space) countless times a day and the title was a toss up between “And me!” and “Aww, Go On!”, both of which would represent the sentiment behind this face equally well.

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“Aww, Go On!” by Nicky Barfoot.

The result is possibly my favourite piece of textile work to date and I felt a little reluctant to hand it over this morning when I dropped it and “Clown’s Crown” off to the lovely lady who has organised the challenge.

Both of these pieces will be for sale at the exhibition of work created for the Textile Challenge running from 18th to 21st February. Already it has raised enough money to buy a puppy and hopefully with sale proceeds from the exhibition more canine partners can be purchased and trained to provide independence and companionship to people living with disabilities.

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Textile Challenge Exhibition

So, one exhibition deadline met and two more to plan for in February, whilst also participating on a fantastic drawing course that I have started with Este Macleod called Creative Leap where we are being set a challenge for each day of February linked to the letters of the alphabet. No doubt I shall be showing you some outputs from that over the next few weeks or so. But for now I need to get back to making a fishy collage. Until next time folks ……..

Canine Partners Textile Art Challenge

At the back end of last year I found out about a textile challenge that was being put together to raise funds for Canine Partners, a charity which trains and provides (free of charge) assistance dogs to people living with disabilities in the UK.  These amazing dogs help their human partner with everyday tasks such as opening and closing doors, taking the washing out of the machine, picking things up from the floor, pressing switches and fetching help when needed.

Dogs and textiles for a good cause, well it would have been rude not to don’t you think? So the challenge is to buy a pack of 25 fabric squares from the Textile Challenge facebook page and create a piece of textile art or an object using at least part of every piece.

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My original pack of fabrics. 

Sounded easy until I had a good look at the fabrics supplied and realised just what a variety of weights, colours, materials and patterns there were (I should have realised by the word “challenge” in the title, huh?). So two days of standing at the ironing board rearranging, I came up with this.

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Trying to respond to the fabrics and coming up with this, mmm………

As you can see a few of the squares had foliage of some sort as a pattern so I thought I should use these in the final design and had some kind of stitchy flowering thing in mind. And then purely by chance I read an interview with the fabulous Grayson Perry who urged me to respect my muses and my techniques (my interpretation of his advice, not his words as such) and “what were you thinking?” came to mind. At the same time I decided that I couldn’t cope with all of those colours, textures and patterns (way too busy for me) and a bit of unifying was required so the paints came out.

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Now I’m getting excited but let’s move those leaves

So the leaves were replaced with, yes you guessed it, a dog! A free machine embroidered sketch of my usual Weimie muse followed by more paint and a few words hand embroidered on the top and this is the final piece.

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“Clown’s Crown” machine and hand embroidery on painted fabrics

All of the entries to the challenge will be exhibited at the Angel Inn in Midhurst (South Downs National Park) from 18 February for four days. The work will be for sale to raise further funds for the charity. Do check out the Textile Challenge facebook page to see what other people are making and there is still a bit of time left if you fancy having some textile fun yourself for a good cause.

Reflections (or blimey is that where I’ve come from!?)

Happy New Year blogland. It is pouring down outside (the poor Amazon delivery man just had to swim to our front door) and the rest of the household has gone back to bed leaving me with a bit of peace and quiet to compose. With the prospect of rejoining the real world tomorrow morning after two weeks of enjoying being a full time artist (albeit one full of traditional Christmas lurgy), I felt today should be one of contemplation and planning and what better way to engage in a bit of naval gazing than through a blog post.

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Hurrah For Gin sum up the Christmas cycle perfectly 

For many people the Christmas and New Year rituals include a cycle of overindulgence followed by confusion and an often unrealistic therefore short lived abstinence, promoted by various companies selling diet plans and gym memberships. However, as I have mentioned before I’ve given up trying to give up something (why would I try to stop doing something that is obviously giving me some form of comfort and pleasure otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it in the first place, right?) and instead use it as an opportunity for planning and review.

Now please don’t panic, I’m not going to subject you to the whole process but I thought it might be interesting to share with you something that has come out of it which you may find useful to do yourself (that’s if you don’t already do this, after all I’m always a bit late to the party with these things!)

Firstly, as you will be aware, 2015 was a year of going solo for me, a dip into the world of putting on my own exhibitions. So many learning points came out of these experiences and some I have already mentioned in previous posts, so I shan’t linger again. However, something relevant for this time of year did occur to me when I remembered the words of two people who both know me well and were brave enough to tell me after seeing my work up close and personal at the Open Studio how much my art work had come on in recent years.

Now for an obsessive creator who is continually striving to improve their work I am used to looking at my output with a critical eye asking such questions as what didn’t work? what should I have done differently? why is my work not as exciting as that of someone else I admire? etc etc. I am always looking forward and never consider where I have come from. It reminds me of a time when I was serious about running and I remember a particular coastal run where I felt useless and slow and came to a sobbing stop part way through. A male friend who was with me at the time physically turned me around to show me where I had just come from. It turned out that we had been running continuously up a very steep hill which the walkers on the trail behind us were struggling to do without taking numerous breaks on their way up. Needless to say I saw my endeavours that day from a different perspective.

As life drawing has been a continuous artistic discipline for me over the past few years it makes sense for me to use it as a measure of progress.

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Pencil on paper June 2013

At the time this picture of Elise was one of my better drawings from 2013. I might look at it in horror now but I still have a fondness for it as it inspired the first of my knitted paintings.

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Pencil on paper March 2014

I was definitely getting better a year later as this picture of Gilly shows, after a number of courses at West Dean College, a few terms at an Atelier and a particularly enlightening discussion with one tutor in particular about quality of line.

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White pencil on black paper October 2015

This drawing of Stone is my favourite from 2015. At last, after a few terms of weekly classes at a local college I feel that as well as developing the accuracy that the discipline requires I am now also starting to develop a style of drawing that I am happy with and reflects my identity.

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Pencil on paper January 2016

And after a couple of months off this was yesterday’s 25min drawing of Hilary which I am rather pleased with, particularly as it was done small scale in a sketchbook on my lap rather than with the luxury of an easel and board.

So, onwards and upwards dear reader. I am planning for 2016 to be another fun year of arty endeavours for me. However, while it is exciting and healthy to push forwards and strive for improvement in our work, I’ll leave you with the thought that sometimes we also need to step back and reflect on where we have come from. Here’s to a healthy, happy and creative new year for us all.