The “C” word (or being ahead of the curve for the first time and a little bit of bling brightens up the day).

Hello blog land (Mum), it’s been a while, but what a productive while it has been and I am feeling just a little bit smug. For the first time I have Christmas designs before November and am now a little bit embarrassed to mention them for fear of offending some of you lovely people who find the “C” word used before December highly offensive.

There was a reason to be super prepared this year (and not least because I only managed a hand full of Christmas cards last year which sold out within two days of receiving them back from the printers) as I have a stand at the Let’s Make Christmas event on the 20th November at the Ashcroft Arts Centre. So, with these festivities in mind I have been beavering away to produce some new stitch kit designs which thoroughly embrace the season with red and white, blue and white and a little bit of bling (although personally I would be happy to stitch in these threads at any time of year but then I also have fairy lights on in my kitchen all year round).

So here they are. First up is Christmas Kitty Skittle, which takes one of my most popular stitch kit designs and reworks it in folk patterns and gold highlights.

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Christmas Kitty Skittle  limited edition embroidery kit by Nicky Barfoot

The next kit design is Sam, a new character to add to the collection, who is dreaming of the treats Santa will be bringing him on Christmas morning.

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Sam limited edition embroidery kit by Nicky Barfoot

And of course I had to include a canine character and this one is modelled on my favourite muse.

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Seasonal Sas limited edition embroidery kit by Nicky Barfoot

I shall have these kits with me at the Ashcroft Centre if you are planning on coming along but for those unable to partake of the fun I have also listed the cats in my Etsy shop with Sas to follow in the next few days.

So, that’s it for now folks. I’ve got some very exciting stitching on the hoop at the moment which I can’t tell you about just yet. More on this in a future post so until then……..

The Purrfect Summer (or where did August go?, Mum is introduced to Henry, and a few random sheep)

Well, that has got to be the shortest August ever? It was jam packed with exhibition visits, sculpture park perambulations, public garden sketching, drinking gin cocktails at a music festival (yep you heard correctly, it was a classy event) and enjoying a few cheeky fish and chip evenings by the sea side (we are so rock ‘n roll!). In amongst these happenings was wedged juried open exhibition entries, art work delivery trips and opening dos, paperwork and lesson planning for upcoming workshops, and a knit design itch that just had to be scratched (why I felt the urge to work with wool, silk-mohair and alpaca during the hottest month of the year I can’t say, perhaps the anticipation of cooler evenings and with it the return to wrapping up in cosy knitwear, hand knitted socks and boots (yay!)?).

So, firstly, all about me and what have I been creating? The latest of my new knitting designs is this rather cute looking kitty.  I have been pleasantly surprised at the high level of interest I have had in the double knitting technique, so last weekend I put crayon to paper and created a new character to add to my existing chart collection. After a few false starts I eventually found a suitable yarn combination from my stash to test him in, and here he is, fresh off the needles in Sublime organic cotton DK and Rowan Felted Tweed DK.

He looks like a Sydney to me……

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Sydney, light on dark version

 

 

Sitting Kitty light low res

Sydney, dark on light version

Or do I prefer…..?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think he would look rather cute on a cushion, as part of a blanket, as the front of a knitted bag or on a child’s sweater? I have made the chart available in my Etsy shop (Sitting Kitty Knitting Chart) so you creative people can incorporate him into your own fabulous knitted creations (it would work just as well with intarsia as double knitting).  I’m going to put my Sydney to one side while I design a few friends for him as I feel a TV snuggle blanket coming on (yep, I am getting old!).  I’ll keep you posted.

Right, back to some of the other stuff. I grew up in Hertfordshire and I spent my teenage years during the summer months charging across stubble fields usually with a local farmer in his Range Rover (the old fashioned mucky and dented type that was bought specifically for towing livestock and driving off road, usually brown, dark green or burgundy, not the shiny white with black trim yummy mummy version we see these days parked outside school gates) hot on my hooves, to shouts of “Get off my Land!” Little did I realise during these adrenaline fueled adventures through the bridleways and fields around Perry Green that I was galloping past the home and estate of one of my now favourite artists, Henry Moore. This amazing sculpture park and house is open to the public during the summer months so during a weekend at the family home a couple of weeks back Mum and I thought it about time we paid it a visit. And I was sooo pleased we did.

Having seen Henry Moore sculptures in internal spaces such as Tate Britain, I didn’t really appreciate the scale of most of his work.

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Mum and a Henry Moore sculpture (wotta whoppa!)

It was pure joy to see these fabulous structures placed in the landscape and then to get right up close to see the intricate marks on the surface (which apparently were all intentionally placed using various gouging and scratching tools such as bits of wood with nails stuck in). You are allowed to touch the work in the grounds (and photograph it) and the tactile nature of the scarred bronze in the sunshine was very seductive.

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Surface marks

We even got to meet the sheep which inspired his famous sheep sketchbook (well probably not these actual three but you know what I mean).

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Curious critters in the Henry Moore Sheep Field

As well as a very pleasant walk around the 60 acres of grounds and a visit to the workshops and tapestry barn (I finally got to see the (mainly) West Dean produced work I have heard so much about and it was awesome) we experienced the tour of the house.  As no photos are allowed in there you’ll have to visit yourself to get an idea of the creative clutter that the Moore’s lived in. The house has been left as it was when he was alive and living and working from there, and is crammed full of the artefacts that inspired his work including african tribal masks and sculptures (he wasn’t well travelled apparently and most of these were given to him as gifts) as well as natural forms such as stones and shells, along with a few paintings from well known 20th century artists and a huge wall of reference books. It was wonderful to see how these treasured possessions fed his work.

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Reclining in the garden at the Henry Moore sculpture park

I am hoping to revisit before the end of the season, this time with a sketchbook so I can draw some of these amazing structures.  Apparently there is also a reason to visit next year as a big exhibition is planned to include work from other artists connected to Moore.  I can’t wait!

Anyway, I have probably tired you out enough for one blog post. I have lots more to show you but they can wait. In the meantime I hope you all had a good Summer, hopefully with a bit of a break to enjoy it, and good luck to all you folks who are getting your offspring geared up for the new school year next week.  Until next time…………

 

 

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…….

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.

Stitch Doodling, (hints, tips, toys and tricks)

I have been furiously drawing and stitching over the past couple of weeks, working towards a couple of November exhibitions.  I’ll tell you more about these in later posts but it occurred to me as I was beavering away last night that some of you might find it entertaining and even helpful if I shared with you some of the processes, hints, tips and tricks that I have developed and picked up over the years from various workshops, books, by making mistakes, and generally having a go. While I have been taught by some fabulous Embroiderists over the years (RSN tutors so they probably know what they are doing) be warned folks! This is the world of stitch doodling you are about to enter (drawing with a needle and thread) and my advice will not get you through an Embroidery City and Guilds inspection. OK, disclaimer over, let’s get on with it.

"hand stitched doggy doodle by Nicky Barfoot"

“You sir” by Nicky Barfoot. Hand stitched doodle on calico.

My process starts with a drawing or doodle, usually in pencil on paper in a sketchbook. Hang on, that’s not strictly true.  The process usually starts with an observation of an interaction or event, often combined with a book I am reading, or audio book or music I am currently listening to. These things then get mashed together in the washing machine of my brain, usually while I am out running in the woods with the dog, and I come home with an idea, a phrase and or a narrative that I need to exorcise. Then I draw it.

The next step (if another step is required) is to recreate it with stitch in mind. After blasting the calico (or linen) with a steam iron to de-wrinkle it (usually the long suffering husband comes to my rescue at this point as he has spent many years creating a smooth finish on his pure cotton shirts and therefore is sooo much better at it than me), I get to use one of my favourite toys. This little beauty is one of those things that you didn’t know you needed until one Christmas some kind family member buys one for you and you wonder how you ever survived without it.

"LED light pad"

LED light pad

This is not a TV screen folks, but a super duper light pad with adjustable illumination. No more tracing paper! Yay!

I used to use special fabric pens at this stage of the process but these days I mostly use a pencil or a Uni Pin fine line pen (probably because I can never find the right tool for the job so I end up making do with what is in my immediate vicinity and pencil case).

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Sketchbook and drawing materials.

So, you have your design on the fabric, now what? For this type of stitching I use an embroidery hoop and this contraption:

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embroidery hoop with seat frame

This genius contraption looks mighty weird but sitting on the base gives you both hands to work with (as does a table clamp but that obviously needs a table, not so good when sitting in the armchair in front of the TV) and tensioning the thread and placement of the needle becomes so much easier. I was given a tip by the lovely Shelley Cox a couple of years ago when I attended one of her West Dean College courses to cover the hoop with bias binding (or something similar). Can’t for the life of me remember why! Preventing marks on the fabric maybe? Something to do with the tension from the hoop?  Anyway, it seemed like a good idea at the time and she knows what she is talking about. It was also Shelley who suggested a use for those plastic shower caps that one often finds in hotel bathrooms as an embroidery cover to keep work clean when not in use. I have been collecting them ever since.

When it comes to stitching, needles do actually matter! Again, I used to use whatever came to hand i.e. what was sticking out of the pin cushion by my chair at the time, but apparently there are different needles with different heads and eyes and a number system and everything. A whole new world of needles was presented to me when I attended the RSN on a day workshop a few years back.  Who’d have thought? (fans of Terry Pratchett will understand if I refer to Stanley and his pin obsession at this stage). Anyway, I can’t remember what they are all called so things to think about according to Nicky when choosing your needle:

can you get the thread through the hole? (this one is quite important)

will the needle leave big holes in the fabric? (also quite important but rectifiable                   by disguising the hole as a design feature)

is it sharp enough to go through the layers you are working with?

To help with number three, in recent years I have also rediscovered the thimble. Not just a cup for fairies, it can provide valuable protection for finger tips as I have found that blood spots on the work can’t always be integrated into the design.

OK, we have the needle sorted but what about the thread? For my stitch doodles I usually use stranded cotton. This gives the versatility of changing the thickness of the line, blending and mixing colours and just look at the wonderful colour palette available at your local Hobbycraft store (other stores are available but sadly no longer our local John Lewis who have stopped stocking DMC and Anchor and now only sell generic packets of thread imported from China (?). Shame on you JL!). Two tips when using stranded thread I learnt from actual Embroiderists that changed my stitching enjoyment immensely for the better were: 1) cut a thread length approximately the length of your forearm and don’t be fooled into using longer as it will only get knotted up as you work and you’ll end up having to cut it anyway, and 2) separate each individual strand from stranded cotton first and then put back together the number you are planning to use. This also helps prevent the frustration of knotted and twisted threads at the back of the work.

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Part of the thread display at my local Hobbycraft (it is three times this long!).

DMC and Anchor provide a great range of colours and are easily accessible and reproducible.  However, as with yarn, there are some wonderful small businesses out there providing gorgeous threads in mouth watering colours. Be warned!

"embroidery thread"

A small sample of my thread stash picked up from various shows and workshops in recent years (can’t show you anymore in case the husband reads this post)

Another toy which I can’t survive without when stitching is my daylight bulb standing light which sits over my chair. As we move into darker and shorter days, this is invaluable both for seeing where you are sticking the pointy end and also distinguishing thread colours. I can’t imagine what it would have been like stitching by candle light.

Other bits of kit which might come in handy are sharp snips for cutting thread (much better than teeth and less likely to leave coffee or chocolate stains on the fabric), a book of embroidery stitches (I like the Embroidery Stitch Bible by Betty Barnden as it is ring bound therefore stays open on the page you are looking at) and a camera for progress shots (it is really helpful to step back from close work from time to time to get an idea of how it is going and a photo really helps with this).

As far as the actual stitching is concerned, don’t worry that what you are doing isn’t accurate embroidery, just imagine you are drawing with the needle and thread. Enjoy creating marks (dipping into embroidery stitch reference books for inspiration from time time) and as long as it doesn’t show through, forget about how neat the back should be and concentrate on the important side (not least as a messy back is often rather exciting in itself).

"the back of the work"

A messy back can be quite exciting in its own right

I hope I’ve given you a few hints and tips and perhaps a couple of Christmas list ideas to get you started on a bit of hand stitchery. I’ll leave you with one I have just finished as I’m now off for a cuppa before I get on with the next doodle. Until next time.

"hand stitched doggy doodle on calico"

“Byron” by Nicky Barfoot. Hand stitch on calico.

Seeing Double (or perhaps, tangle free intarsia?)

Have I ever told you Chaps how much I enjoy gift shopping for Mum? It gives me the perfect excuse to “research” knitting books, gadgets and textiles for an obsessive yarn addict other than myself, the only concern being that she might already have got one of those (think blocking mats, carbon fibre knitting needles, stitch markers etc and you get the idea). Of course it also presents an opportunity to get a trusted review on whether said book or gadget can change a life for the better (how on earth did we ever survive without it?) and if so, well you can guess the next instalment.

So while perusing the latest books on Amazon, sifting through all of the mouth watering delicacies that have probably already been digested from cover to cover by the intended recipient, I came across this little gem.  While the front cover photo would normally have put me right off (embarrassing memories of 1980s knitting patterns and how many hats does one really need living in the south of England?), what competitive nature could resist the title!?

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Also, being a big fan of Nini and Wink‘s cheeky double knitted scarves (and do check out their wonderful knitted faces, they make me chuckle every time!), I have been intending to give this technique a try for quite some time.

Nini and Wink double knitted scarf (photo credit Nini and Wink‘s facebook page)

So, as one can never have enough books, I gave a copy a home and have been obsessively double knitting ever since.

Between you and me, I have to admit that after skimming the first few pages and finding the rather dry narrative too much to bear for my enthusiasm to just get on with it, I quickly skipped to the how to cast on section and haven’t really dipped into the book since (don’t tell the Long Suffering Husband this, as far as he is concerned I am working my way methodically through it, just like I do every other book that takes up all available shelf and floor space in the house).  But the seed of inspiration has well and truly been planted so I say it was a purchase well made!  The most exciting thing about knitting a front and back of a two layer fabric at the same time is that two or three colour intarsia becomes a piece of tangle free cake! No more twisting bobbins dangling off the back of the work as you go. The downside is how many scarves and blankets does one really need and of course, knitting two sides of everything is a little time consuming.

“The two sides of a Spaniel” double knitting in Rowan Cotton Glace

I am currently obsessively working my way through portraits of various dog breeds, some of which have come out a treat, and others have failed to meet expectations.  Currently I have a Jack Russell, Weimaraner (of course!), a Spaniel and a Pug. More terriers are on the way and a gauntlet has been thrown down by a labrador! I was thinking Andy Warhol when I started these but who knows where (or in what) they will end up.  A Dog Blanket, probably.

“What are you looking at?!” Double knitted pug in Rowan Cotton Glace

Anyway, I have a French bulldog in mind that needs charting and a rummage through the cotton glace stash for two suitably contrasting colours is required (not as easy as one would think after the blue, green and orange combo I tried for that pesky labradog just didn’t work!). I am also keen to experiment with a bit of texture in double knitting too so until next time…….

Turn up the Volume!

Apologies for being a bit remiss on the posting front recently.  This isn’t a reflection of a lack of productivity, in fact, quite the opposite.  I have been extremely busy making over the past month driven by commissions, a number of internal and external factors, and inspired by everything from the weather, exhibition visits, recent workshops, my usual doggy muses and exhibition deadlines.

“Jess the Doodle” recent commissioned knitted doggy head

Perhaps it is the volume that has created the problem in searching for an interesting sharing experience with you. A bit like driving into a supermarket car park and finding too many spaces to choose from? Anyway, rather than just post pictures of “stuff what I have done” which probably only interests my Mum (sorry Mum, I’ll post one of those soon too!) I thought I’d share two inspirational experiences that have really added to my productive drive.

The first was a video from Ira Glass, the host of “This American Life” radio show which a friend had posted on her facebook feed. In the clip Ira talks about how creative people are trying to be good at what they do but due to their inherent sense of good taste (as per their creative nature) they are continually being disappointed by their output.  At this point it could be easy to quit as one invests so much time and energy knowing that the work being produced just isn’t up to one’s own high standards.  He urges us instead to keep going and in fact create a huge volume of work with the aim of closing the gap between our ambitions and our output.  Thanks Ira, that was just the excuse I needed to drive on!

The other source of huge inspiration I wanted to share with you today is this book.  I picked it up at the Tate book shop a little while back and nearly missed my train stop on the way home as I just couldn’t put it down.

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In it the author asks 50 successful artists in various media a number of questions regarding why they do what they do, where they get their inspiration from and particularly how they deal with creative blocks.  This is, of course, accompanied by mouth watering pictures of their work.  At the end of each interview the artist is asked to set a task for the reader to help boost creativity and work through a creative block.  One of the really interesting things for me was to see how even these successful creatives have huge amounts of self doubt (I thought it was just us aspiring types!) so I guess this links in with the taste thing that Ira was talking about.  In particular, US illustrator Sidney Pink came out with a fabulous quote which has burrowed into my subconscious and I’m sure will keep surfacing in times of need: “Any thing of value comes from hard work and unwavering dedication.  If you want to be a good artist you need to look at other artists, make a lot of crappy art, and just keep working” (ref page 88 of Creative Block by Danielle Krysa).

So readers, yet again we are faced with the dilemma of not enough hours in the day (and storage space!) and I am feeling the need to get the inks out and create an illustration triggered by my Jack Russell’s antics this morning. I also recognise that there are not enough pictures in this post and far too many words so I shall leave you with an image of an illustration I finished a couple of days ago inspired by Sas and Alfie on a recent Sunday dog jog.  Get creating!

“The Hunters” ink on watercolour paper by Nicky Barfoot

Artistic origins and the best rainy days, EVER!

I often get asked by friends and customers to explain what originally got me interested in Making and Art. As long as I can remember I have made Stuff. I usually blame a childhood diet of Blue Peter for my inability to throw away empty washing up bottles, toilet roll tubes and cardboard boxes (I never did find sticky back plastic lying around the house but a bit of improvisation and a few poster paints usually provided a reasonable substitute where required).  At Junior school I was allowed to sit out side of my headmasters office drawing and painting the fresh cut flowers that used to decorate his coffee table, and at home I had the influence of my Mum, a talented knitter and dressmaker.  However, a couple of Sundays ago after suddenly feeling the need to illustrate my day in a pictorial format and after looking at the resulting page I was suddenly transported back to the 1970s and realisation hit. It was all Richard Scarry’s fault!

"pictorial diary page"

Pictorial Diary Page

Richard Scarry and his Best Rainy Day Book Ever was the best thing about school holidays (other than riding bikes, playing on roller skates and generally running about with the other kids on my road).  I would sit happily for hours colouring pictures, making bookmarks, putting together cardboard buildings, and generally drawing and making, inspired by Lowly Worm, Sergeant Murphy and all the other wonderful characters of Busytown. If only I had known at the tender age of five that forty years on I would be as entertained by these activities as I was back then. Happy Days!

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Please feel free to share in the comments your own childhood influences.  I would love to hear what started some of you guys out on your creative journeys.