Tuesday 23 October 2018

Ally Pally Inspirations

A bit late but this has been rewritten due to my having accidentally somehow deleted the first effort!

Last week, I made my first visit to the Alexandra Palace Knitting and Stitching Show. After a longer than expected journey with a rather stressed out coach driver who had never been to Ally Pally before and ended up relying on my phone to navigate the narrow side streets of London, we finally arrived and I headed straight for the Galleries, intending to investigate the 'shopping' side of the experience later, as it was very crowded. However, it wasn’t that fact, but rather the quality of the work and the artists I met, that meant I returned home with a nearly empty shopping bag but a head full of ideas and inspiration.

First was Alysn Midgelow-Marsden’s collaborative Fabricated Narratives project, which was top of my list. This huge hanging of stainless steel fabric looked wonderful, suspended in the corner; as well as the simple but very effective stitching, I love the patination that occurs when metal fabric is heated and Alysn is the ‘metal maestro’ for me. I had a little chat with her about a collaborative project of our own that Traverse are hoping to embark on next year – this piece was a great inspiration for that. Watch this space for more …

The Ripple Effect - stainless steel fabric and stitch
Heat patination

I spent quite some time looking in detail at this piece.


I must apologise to Alysn's collaborators because I have no good photos of everyone's work but I will post what I have here.

Artists Brushes - Marianda Twydell

Circles of Life - Marianda Twydell

Sadly, I don't even have a title for the following - an amazing indigo-dyed kimono.

Marianda Twydell

Next I moved on to Cas Holmes with her Tea Flora Tales and Textile Landscape – an inspiration to Bernice, who was honoured to have a piece of work included in her latest book, Textile Landscapes. Although the naturalistic forms in the foreground of this piece don’t usually feature in my own work, I loved the way the background is composed of such a beautiful variety of Indian fabrics …


… along with the intricate embroidery and the use of cut-out elements.


Of course, I loved the red madder colour, which was so me, but was also interested to see the complementary pop of yellow, which was so not me! Food for thought …

I really enjoyed chatting to Clare Bullock on the Artists in Action stand and watching her nuno felting technique, which has such beautiful results, enhanced by her wonderful stitching. I’ve had mixed results when I’ve tried nuno felting in the past but her explanation was so clear that I’ve come away inspired to give it another go. (Thanks to Art Van Go’s Kevin for this and some other photos of the artists in action.)

Clare in action

I also liked Clare’s method of working on small pieces, which she carries around, working on them as and when she can, before finally extending and assembling them into a whole; it reminded me of the Indian fabric background on Madder.

Adding and extending into a whole piece

Close-up of layers of silk and stitch - possibly my favourite section

It was very crowded but I managed to find a small space on a bench to eat my lunch while listening to a very interesting talk in the Creative Living Theatre by Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn entitled Capturing the Spirit. I have long admired their work but am always particularly drawn to Jean’s use of the embellisher, as I use it a lot in my own work (as well as demonstrating it at shows). Her part of the talk focused on her series based on the moon and the various design processes she goes through, emphasising the long process of building up layers of print and stitch. 

Cusp 1

Cusp 2

Strawberry Solstice

As luck would have it, Jan and Jean were also on the Artist in Action stand in the afternoon so I had the opportunity to look at several examples of Jean's work in progress up close. She was also very generous in answering my many questions about the effects she achieves with an embellisher and I definitely came away from there feeling very inspired.

Jean in action

Jean's work in progress

There were many other examples of beautiful textile work in the other galleries, although based on people’s comments and having read a few other reviews, it seems there were not as many as in previous years. As this was my first visit, I had nothing to compare it to so I did really enjoy it.

I dashed back to Alysn’s gallery as I wanted to take some photos of a few more pieces, which I hadn’t been able to get close to earlier because of the crowds. I’m on a workshop with Alysn next week and I’m really looking forward to working with a bit of metal and wire again – something even half as good as this would be fantastic! (I’ll try to post a few photos of work in progress.)


Finally, this beautiful wire mobile and its many reflections had an interesting title - Accreted Towards a Whole.



I have a bit of a reputation for being good with words but this was a new one on me and I had to look up the word accretion on my phone; I was very interested in the meaning – the process of growth and enlargement by the gradual accumulation of additional layers and here are just a few of the synonyms that I found - accumulation, gathering, growth, increase, extension.

As I sat on the coach on the way home, reflecting on the day and hoping for a better journey than the morning, I thought how well that word summed up my day – not only in the physical processes I had seen, Clare’s nuno felt, Cas’s Indian fabrics, Jean’s embellished, printed and stitched layers, but also the gathering together in the collaborative element of several of the galleried exhibitions and the growth and extension of my repertoire of techniques and the many inspirational ideas which came my way.

'Never mind about the journey', I thought and I was reminded of one of those inspirational quotes you sometimes get on greetings cards:

It’s not about the journey, it’s about the people you meet along the way


Friday 5 October 2018

Go small

A couple of weeks ago, my local Embroiderers' Guild in West Bridgford was treated to a very entertaining and inspiring talk by Chris Gray and I admit to borrowing the title of this blog post from her. Her message was loud and clear and delivered with much humour - stop keeping all those precious pieces in drawers and boxes, only getting them out to stroke occasionally. Pull them out, cut them up and make something beautiful with them - make it small and get it done.

Wonderful examples of the many painted, embroidered tri-fold books Chris makes by cutting up her treasures

This coincided quite conveniently with my wanting to respond to a question we'd had from someone at the West Country Quilt Show. She was looking at Dia's beautiful silk paper book cover and she asked if we ever made them to sell.

Hand embroidered silk paper on felt

That planted a seed of an idea - a way to use some of the examples from our embellisher demonstrations, which were beginning to pile up.

We decided to prepare some different examples of decorated book covers in preparation for the Creative Craft Show at the NEC. Dia used her embellisher examples to cover some small notebooks ...

Dia's covered notebooks

... and also a beautiful larger album cover, shown here as work in progress - just waiting for stitch!

Sari silk strips and ribbons, together with wool tops, embellished onto a felt base

Following Chris Gray's example, I pulled out a lot of embellisher examples of my own from years ago, when I first got my embellisher and was playing around with different materials - some of them had worked, others were not so successful. With Chris's voice ringing in my ears - 'Get the scissors!' - I chopped them up into strips and embellished them onto another piece of felt before going slightly bananas on the free-motion machine embroidery. One sketch book cover - job done!

Cut up treasures embellished onto turquoise felt - front & back of landscape sketchbook cover

I used some of the left over embroidered fabric to decorate the covers of a few smaller sketchbooks, along with some of my other chopped up hidden treasures.

Several smaller sketch books with decorated covers - some stitch and a few beads

I stitched a little hand embroidery as well as free motion machine embroidery on my last two examples - using the embellished fabrics from my show demonstrations. Another small sketchbook cover ...

Front and back of small portrait sketchbook cover - embellished strips, hand and machine stitch

... and a small needle case.

Needle case with embellished strips, hand & machine stitch, hand made cord tie with Indian beads

I've really enjoyed making these bookcovers - I have found it most satisfying to use up a little of my stash. One of the things I particularly like about using an embellisher machine is the way I can make new fabric from old and this 'going small' project has taken it one step further for me, using my old embellished fabric to make new. Thanks for the inspiration, Chris!