November 2017 WORKSHOP with Elizabeth Almond “Blackwork with a Twist” (report by Miranda Farby)
Our Blackwork with a Twist course started with a fantastic display of a myriad of different blackwork pieces from Elizabeth Almond. The first surprise was that the name blackwork didn’t mean we only had to use black thread, as the variety of work showed. Blackwork is a counted thread embroidery technique, using repetitive patterns, which has been popular since the 15th Century. Liz did recommend that the blackwork would be more effective and have a greater impact if we stuck to a limited colour palette.
Our packs were full of a selection of designs to choose from, to suit the beginner or more experienced embroiderer. She’d even given us a choice of fabrics, even weave or Aida, suggesting that we shouldn’t be too proud to use the cross-stitch faithful Aida as the effects are just as good. Looking at the Lady Margaret Bellingham piece Liz had brought with her I couldn’t help but agree.
It didn’t take long for everyone to select their chosen piece to start with from Morning Star, Stitchtime, Sweeties or a freestyle flower. These were worked in many different colours, not just black. One stitcher even chose to design her own. The morning flew by and it was lunch in no time, although many of us felt we’d barely got started! By the end of the day, it was really exciting to see how we’d all got on, although I felt like a slowcoach having learnt a new stitch (Palestrina stitch) all morning, so had barely done any of the blackwork design!
Liz wowed and impressed us with all of her projects and we wondered how she had time to sleep. Her passion for neglected stitches and forgotten traditions, such as Kogin from Japan, really inspired us all. (Watch this space as rumours of a Kogin course in a few years’ time!) Look out for Liz’s work on the mini-series “The White Princess”, based on the Philippa Gregory novel, where she designed and produced the embroidery pieces that the ladies-in-waiting complete, to a very tight deadline. If you have the time before the festive season, Blackwork seems ideal for Christmas decorations and little gifts. Liz left us with the advice to “step outside your comfort zone” when embroidering!
More details about Liz Almond’s work can be seen on her website Blackwork Journey
October 2017 AGM and TALK with Mr Ron Bate of Historical Maritime Society (report by Kim Parkman)
Our branch was treated to an entertaining talk by Ron Bate of the Historical Maritime Society, on Captain Cook and the life of sailors at the time of the Endeavour voyage. This gave us valuable background information for our Endeavour project and was an interesting insight into the origin of some of the phrases used in the English language.
Ron was dressed in a possible uniform of an ordinary sailor of the time, with canvas trousers, neckerchief, checked shirt, wool waistcoat and short jacket, topped with a black waterproofed hat with ‘Trincomalee’ written on it. He was a re-enactor, based at HMS Trincomalee, which is now berthed at Hartlepool. The surprising fact was that there was no uniform for sailors until around the 1850s. Sailors paid the purser for their uniforms and an on-board tailor usually sewed them. The only exception was the uniform of the Marines. The red jackets turned black in contact with sea water and had to be renewed each year. Captains with prize money from captured ships sometimes showed off their gains with fancy uniforms for the crew. HMS Harlequin had sailors in harlequin costumes and HMS Sultan’s crew wore turbans after such occasions, which must have been embarrassing when the crew went ashore!
Captain Cook (who was actually a Lieutenant at the time, but was referred to as Captain because of his command of the ship) was the right man in the right place for the Navy when the Endeavour voyage was formed. Although he was the son of a farm labourer near Middlesbrough, his father’s employer noticed that he was clever and funded his schooling, where he did well at maths, mapping and charting and astronomy. He was apprenticed to a coal merchant, who sailed to London and the Baltic. In order to be a sailor you had to pass exams and Cook was soon a master’s mate and was offered the chance to be master of a coal ship. At this time Britain and France were at war, so instead he volunteered his services to the Navy. He was sent to Canada to survey the St Lawrence River and Newfoundland and his charts helped General Wolfe, who sent Cook his thanks. Cook was also on board when there was a solar eclipse. After the war ended, the Navy were looking for a captain who could chart undiscovered territory, help to record the transit of Venus and was capable of sailing Endeavour, which was the type of ship that he had used in the coal business, rather than a fighting ship. Cook was the right man in the right place. Joseph Banks, who had also been in Newfoundland on a botany trip, was the perfect companion. Ron has always been interested in Captain Cook and has kindly given the branch some information packs about his career, which can be used for information and inspiration.
Cook chose experienced men for the voyage, especially those who had been on the Dolphin, which had returned from a long circumnavigation of the globe and brought news of the existence of Tahiti; the perfect place from which to view the transit of Venus. The voyage was literally into uncharted territory and Cook had to map everything that he found on the trip for future sailors. His charts were so accurate that they were used by the American Navy in the Second World War.
Ron gave us a lively account of everyday life aboard the Endeavour. The sailors not on watch slept in hammocks, with only twenty two inches of space each. During the day, these hammocks were rolled up and put away, although in war time they proved useful in the netting to stop splinters harming the crew. We saw a shilling from the days of George III, which was the standard pay for a day, which compared favourably with the normal pay of three or four pence on land. The sailors were not given money, as this would encourage gambling, which was a flogging offence. Ron showed us a felt ‘board’ for the dice game of ‘Crown and Anchor’. The board could be hastily shoved in a pocket if it had to be hidden away. We were surprised to learn that sailors were good embroiderers and not only mended sails and nets, but sewed to while away long hours at sea. They also carved bits of whalebone and ivory to make scrimshaw carvings and played musical instruments. There was a regular round of duties to keep them busy and the ship had to be kept ‘ship-shape’ to ward off diseases.
Food at sea was more challenging and, again, Cook was the right man for his crew. He used sauerkraut and other sources of Vitamin C to ward off scurvy and in the three year voyage of the Endeavour did not lose a man to disease until he got to Batavia (now Jakarta), where a third of the crew died from fever and dysentery. The Navy supplied good meat from its own slaughterhouses, but everything had to be salted to preserve it for the voyage, then steeped in water to make it edible before cooking. They also had dried split peas and beans, oatmeal, flour and some sugar and other preserved food. The crew were split into ‘messes’ and took turns to cook food, wrapped in tagged muslin bags, for their group. It was the ship’s cook’s job to make sure that the fire was lit in the galley at six in the morning and extinguished at midday; not to actually prepare the food. The only change from the rations was the fresh food that could be purchased when the ship landed and took on supplies. The Endeavour crew also had some interesting dietary additions from the specimens that Banks collected. The turtle soup, kangaroo and cuttle fish must have made interesting eating! We saw an example of a ship’s ‘biscuit’, which was fifteen years old. It didn’t look too wholesome, but would have been welcome on board ship. They were triple-baked and would have been place at the bottom of the square plates (origin of the ‘square meal’) and the stew poured on top to soften it.
Water was considered undrinkable, as it was full of bugs, so the sailors had a ration of a gallon of beer a day: at a specific gravity of around six per cent, this would have been difficult to consume, so sailors just took a drink when they were thirsty or with their meal. Water would only last a month on board ship, so the emptying casks were topped up with brandy, arack or rum to help disinfect it. There was also a ration of half a pint of wine, usually ‘blackstrap’ – a rough, red wine from Portugal. No wonder that we have the image of the ‘jolly sailor’!
At the end of the talk, Ron brought out a ‘Brown Bess’ musket to show us, complete with a model of a cartridge and some lead shot. This prompted a tour around the phrases in our language that come from naval terms. The best sailors were allowed to the top of the mast (they ‘rose to the top of the tree’); those below were only ‘learning the ropes’. The musket was made from ‘lock, stock and barrel’; it could ‘go off at half cock’; cause a ‘flash in the pan’ and a poor shooter could be ‘caught napping’ with his flint. We all agreed that the talk was not only enjoyable, but taught us a great deal at the same time and gave Ron a hearty round of applause.
4th October 2017 members of MEG went to TALK to N. Wales E.G. (photographs copied from N.Wales E.G. Facebook page) (report by Kim Parkman)
Earlier this year North Wales EG branch sent three speakers to Merseyside to share their stories and skills in embroidery. On 4th October three of our members, Liz Shelbourne, Elsie Watkins and Janet Wilkinson, travelled to Llandudno to show examples of their work.
Our group arrived early and, of course, found a local cafe for refreshments before setting up the display tables. It was the day of the North Wales branch AGM, so we were able to take advantage of some unseasonably warm weather and had our lunch sitting by the sea.
Liz was the first speaker to talk about her method of work and show both her finished pieces and work in progress. She has just retired from teaching art and her skill was evident in the sketch books that she fills in every spare moment. Her recent holiday in Croatia was a chance to fill a concertina sketch book with ideas for the future and remember the beautiful countryside in greater detail than any photograph. She takes every chance to visit galleries and museums for sources of inspiration, as well as using the Welsh countryside to develop work that shows the texture and variety to be found in the surrounding landscape.
Liz starts with drawings and photographs to develop work that is almost like ‘painting with threads’. The works that she showed used lots of different techniques, such as felting, batik and machine embroidery, to build up layers of textile and texture. A work based on Parys Mountain in Anglesey, was instantly recognised by members of the audience. In this piece she painted directly onto the canvas and used Bondaweb, voiles and small bits of fabric, as well as embroidery, to give added texture. A large piece, it is still being added to when inspiration for a new section strikes. Other pieces, although smaller in scale, showed the same layering techniques and love of texture in greater detail.
A work that explored the texture of rocks was the result of collaboration with another artist by correspondence. Liz also links up with her artistic sisters to experiment with both textiles and paint. Later in November, she and her sister will be holding an exhibition at the Calderstones Gallery in Liverpool.
Elsie Watkins also taught art, but told a very different story about her development as a textile artist. Like most of us, she started off with traditional embroidery lessons at school, but her love of art was nurtured and developed by a fantastic art teacher in her secondary school. She showed us a painting of some glass bottles that had been turned into a tabard as a sample of her school work. This love of art led to a place at an art college, where she learned lots of printing techniques, but no embroidery skills.
The discovery of machine embroidery changed the way that Elsie’s work developed quite dramatically. Like Liz, she is inspired by the environment around her, but her machine enables her to bring a huge amount of detail and texture to her work with the use of a needle. The pictures that developed from a balloon ride had fields covered in stitchery. A picture of a bird in flight looked like there were small pieces of material to form the background: on closer inspection, it was entirely formed of machine embroidered squares in various shades of blue, using the different directions of the stitches to add texture.
Elsie’s love of vibrant colour is well-known in our branch and we saw an African-inspired piece that was made during Magie Relph’s workshop; the bright green of the balloon ride pictures and other pieces in bright purple and fuchsia. The medieval buildings of Limoges that she saw on a trip with school friends showed a softer palette of colours and the reflections of a gentle blue sky were beautifully captured on the window panes.
Janet told us that she was an accidental textile artist. She originally started a correspondence course in textiles to give her an interest while her husband was studying a business course. She was bitten by the textile bug and eventually went on to study at Hope University. She was taught to embroider by the Merseyside branch president, June Hodgkiss, and always thinks ‘what would June say about my stitching?’ whenever she sews a piece, and tries to keep up to June’s standards.
For Janet inspiration comes from materials and threads, rather than drawings and photographs. Many of her pieces have an autobiographical background. She showed a lovely triptych of her family members, with their photographs printed on the fabric, surrounded by trimmings that were personal to them, on a pink background, with green printed ‘doors’ to cover the picture. Other pieces were made from old family blankets, one covered in a bright pattern made from the contents of an old button box.
Janet likes to experiment with unusual shapes or materials. Another triptych of a city was made from three printed scenes, stretched over circles of different sizes. Her final degree pieces were two ‘dresses’, constructed from the actual pattern pieces stiffened with interlining and either adorned with printed scissors or with a printed cloth belt. They were robust enough to hang on real coat hangers for display. Other pieces of textured work have been made into books and book covers.
This love of experimental work has developed into a working collaboration with other members of Review Textiles for a series of exhibitions. Their current exhibition is on at Farfield Mill in the Lake District.
At the end of the meeting, the North Wales branch were very enthusiastic and talked with our speakers about their work while we all had a welcome cup of tea and some delicious cakes. The exchange of ideas between branches has generated a lot of interest and shown us not only the range of skills that are within each branch but also given us new techniques and ideas to take away and use in our own work.
September 2017 WORKSHOP with Lizzie Wall “Raw Edge Appliqué with Free Machine or Hand Quilting” (report by Brenda Muller)
Just us chickens!
September ‘s workshop was Raw Edge Appliqué with Lizzie Wall. Workshop days to me are opportunities to open doors into new worlds of sewing techniques, and MEG certainly does that. Lizzie is 100% energy, enthusiasm and talent. As an experienced teacher in primary and special needs, her style was relaxed and reassuring. Our subject today was a chicken appliqué, and in similar style to the Richard Box workshop, we were given packs of fabrics and a template to trace onto Bondaweb. Bondaweb is a wonderful thing, and helps to make small pieces of fabric easier to cut and handle, and stops fraying, so raw edges become neat edges.
We spent the day tracing, ironing, cutting, and choosing from a huge range of wonderful coloured and patterned fabrics brought by Lizzie. We learnt how to make the most of choosing colours and cutting around print and design details on the fabrics to represent chicken feathers, tails and feet. Though we were all working to the same pattern, individual choices meant that there were lots of very different looking chickens, but all with exuberant colours and fantastic tail feathers. The gaily attired chickens looked dressed ready to entertain us with some Samba dancing, and we all went home inspired and exhausted after our exciting day. Look out for our display of chicken cushion covers at the Christmas party.
August 2017 TALK by Glossop EG members “Sharing Good Practice” (report by Margaret Crichton)
Members of Glossop Embroiderers Guild attended the above meeting and we were given inspirational talks by three of their members.
Sue Astles gave a very passionate and illustrated description of the paintings, sketch notes, diaries by her artist uncle Harry Ousey. The work of Harry Ousey has inspired her to further research of his work and his place in the art world. One of his paintings has been the inspiration for 16 members of Glossop Embroiderers Guild to complete a panel and exhibition piece.
Liz Smith described how the group project came about from an A1 photograph of an abstract painting by Harry Ousey which led to the completion of 16 A4 pieces of embroidery. She gave details of the motivation and progress of the work from inception to completion. The 16 pieces were all different but came together as the whole to form the display shown today.
Judi Brown had on display some samples of her beautiful silver jewellery. She described the transition of her work with metallic materials to combine with machine embroidery using metal wire, woven copper, woven stainless steel, Mistyfuse. Her samples included the different ways in which metallic foils can be changed with the use of inks and other chemicals.
Sheila Conchie gave a humorous description of her experiences of attending summer schools which led her to use Revenna mosaics as her inspiration to make embroidered caskets using fabrics, beads and buttons from her late mother and mother-in-law’s dresses as the basis for the work. She showed samples of the caskets and miniature purses.
Our members expressed their thanks for a very enjoyable, interesting and inspirational afternoon.
July 2017 WORKSHOP with Kathryn Thompson “Japanese Thimbles or Yubinuki” (report by Mal Ralston)
Kathryn Thompson led our workshop and instructed us in the art of Yubinuki or Japanese thimble making. These were born out of practicality and the Japanese desire to avoid waste and are now works of art. The technique can also be used to decorate bangles or as a decorative band to encircle an emery filled needle cushion. She also showed us how to decipher the patterns printed in Japanese books, very useful for future solo projects if any of us get ambitious!
From a simple kit of lip balm, cardboard, wadding, and threads, we learned to construct an intricately patterned thimble (or two). The lip balm was used as a form to make the shape, but any suitably sized cylinder could be used (perhaps avoid fancy lipstick cases!)
First layer on the form was open bias binding which was stitched around coiled cardboard using herringbone stitch to make a ring .Two layers of padding were then stitched into place. Then followed the Maths lesson! The aim was to mark accurately spaced divisions onto the smooth side of the third piece of wadding using smudge proof felt tip. Kathryn showed us how to mark graph paper to make a simple grid which was used to make evenly spaced dots on the wadding. The lessons to remember were that an even number of spaces needed an odd number of dots and stitching would end up at the same place each round, whereas an odd number of spaces(7) needed an even number of dots(8) and it would take 2 rounds of stitching to get back to the starting point.
Then the decorative stitching began using the darkest colour of No 8 perle cotton first, with all stitches going off the ring, never towards the centre, and zigzagging from side to side. The constant buzz of chatter grew a bit quieter and you could almost feel the concentration in the air!
After lunch, we were encouraged to start a second ring form and try a more complicated pattern with threads going in both directions. Some of the patterns in the book had 6 threads weaving back and forth- I don’t think I’ll be trying them any time soon! At the end of the workshop, most members had 1 or 2 lovely decorative thimbles and it was interesting to see how the different colour combinations had turned out. It was lovely to have learned a new technique from a very friendly and knowledgeable tutor and make such a useful decorative thimble.
June 2017 TALK by Caroline Fogell “The Linus Project” (report by Jenny Mullis)
We were given an interesting talk today by Caroline Fogell who is the Liverpool Co-ordinator for Project Linus. This started in 1995 in the U.S.A by Karen Loucks who heard about a little girl who had cancer and who found comfort in her own personal blanket i.e. her comfort blanket. This idea of sick, disabled and disadvantaged children having their own unique comfort blanket spread to the UK and World Wide. Appeals are sent out for volunteers to make blankets either patchwork quilts sewn from fabric or knitted. There are now a large number of volunteers in the U.K. Each blanket is made especially for an individual child. They are made by groups e.g. Knit and Natter groups or individuals. They are made for children in Alder Hey Hospital and Ronald McDonald House. Also, for homeless families. Simply Knitting magazine has published an article about the project. Appeals are made from hospitals for colourful sheets instead of plain white, e.g. Christmas theme fabric for a Christmas present. Also, requests are made from hospitals for incubator covers and hold-all bags for children to take their belongings home from hospital. An example of a generous donation was from a widow who gave her deceased husband’s 62 shirts to the project. These were cut into squares to make a patchwork quilt. This particular quilt was one which was exhibited at Central Library, Liverpool. When the completed blankets, sheets etc are delivered to a hospital they are taken to a central point and inspected for hygiene regulations. It was heart warming to hear about so many volunteers giving their time to make a disadvantaged child’s life more comfortable.
31st May 2017 – Gill Roberts, Val Heron & Elsie Watkins TALK at Glossop EG (report by Kim Parkman)
Several of our members went on a visit to the Glossop branch on Wednesday 31st May to talk about and display the variety of skills that our members have.
Our first speaker was Gill Roberts, who came armed with lots of different samples and a PowerPoint presentation. Her first work samples took us right back to her early beginnings in embroidery. There were lots of nods when a cotton hanky holder, complete with flower decorations from a stencilled design and a gingham apron were displayed. Gill took us through her development as an embroiderer, and included some slides and samples of some exquisite evening bags, jackets and, of course, her stunning corsets. One corset alone took 150 hours to embroider a beaded design. Her latest designs feature dresses to go with the corsets, including bespoke designs for people who are unable to find what they want in the shops.
This was not just a personal talk, as Gill, and Elsie Watkins, our third speaker, were involved in the large community project to commemorate the 2008 City of Culture Year for Liverpool. The sheer scale of the project and the fact that it was completed by absolute beginners as well as experienced embroiderers, showed what can be done with good organisational powers and a lot of hard work. On display at St George’s Hall, the Liverpool 2008 Tapestry is a permanent reminder of an extraordinary year in the city.
Our next speaker, Val Heron, also concentrated on group projects. This time it was the turn of the Young Embroiderers’ Group. Val had a display of recent work on her table, but talked about the group’s projects for exhibitions, competitions and commissions. It all started when the group entered the de Denne competition with the theme of light. The completed work, ‘Happy Planets’ was the national winner and featured on some of the Guild publicity and it is now on show at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital. The Young Embroiderers were then commissioned to make a piece entitled ‘In My Liverpool Home’ by the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies. This piece showed parts of the city that were important to the children (whose faces were featured on the piece) and, peering over the whole work was the little girl from the famous mechanical giants that toured the city after the success of the large spider during the Capital of Culture year.
Val brought us up to date with other projects and the last De Denne piece with the theme “all that glistens”, which also won the competition: the ‘Golden Fleece’. Like ‘Happy Planets’ and ‘In My Liverpool Home’, the work will go on display at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital. The success of the ‘Golden Fleece’ was brought to the attention of the Lord Mayor, who entertained the children to a cream tea.
Our final speaker was Elsie Watkins, who took us on a tour through her work, from a cushion made at primary school to the present day. Elsie was an art teacher and textile artist, inspired by a fantastic teacher at her secondary school to take up a place at an art college which left her with an obsession with colour, which she demonstrated with some striking pieces. One series was of Indian dancers, which she sketched as part of a course. The patterns of observed objects, such as reflections, buildings and the colours of stained glass windows, showed how simple, everyday things could be developed into beautiful pieces of work. Even patterned tiles made a starting place for experiments in colour and pattern.
Elsie says that she is inspired by plants and nature and this was shown in the three pieces that she made from the views of the earth from a special balloon ride. From a distance, the work looked amazing, but the intricacy of the machine stitching in close up brought lots of comments from those who went up to view her work after the talk.
Another piece that was much appreciated was a large panel that Elsie made after a trip to Limoges with some old school friends. This combined architecture, reflection and personal memories in one embroidery.
Three speakers from the Glossop branch will come to speak to our members in August. If the work in the travelling books on display is anything to go by, we are in for a treat!
April 2017 WORKSHOP “Making a Napkin Box” with Val Heron (report by Alice Bradley)
Didn’t we have a “luverly” day, the day we made napkin boxes!
I am trusting that Hilary will have some great pictures to illustrate the efforts and achievements of the workshop participants, and also the pinnacle to which we were striving. Who knew what talent we had in our midst as members of MEG! Val Heron led us on a journey to make a fabric box. But there was a hidden agenda in this workshop. She was also teaching us how to lace fabric onto card. We all admitted that here was a skill missing from our repertoire. Some had made an attempt, in the past and wouldn’t put it any higher than that.
Val brought along some examples of boxes she had made and explained the art of the creations. One of her samples had a lid which had been made from an evening skirt she bought at a jumble sale, and we all agreed that the fabric took on a much better role as part of a fabric box, than it could possibly have done as a skirt – well each to their own of course. She explained how the boxes make lovely presents for those people who have everything, and a napkin box can be enhanced by matching place mats or table runner.
Prior to the workshop, Val had prepared a work pack for each of us, beautifully presented in an envelope file. Each pack contained what we needed to make a box, with the exception of the fabric- pre-cut pieces of card and interfacing, clearly labelled in separate component parts and two pages of detailed instructions. We were absolutely forbidden to open the pack until told to do so, but when we did we could see she had done a tremendous amount of preparation for us.
We took along our own choice of fabrics for the inner and outer of the box. It’s always a nice moment to see what the other course members had selected – and the variations were immense. So on with the learning. Val demonstrated the construction process of the sides and base of the box and the art of covering the padded card pieces using Lace Stitch. The box pieces were then joined using Ladder Stitch. The day involved a lot of stitching, and a lot of chattering. Topics included the forthcoming election, Politics in general, Mr (and Mrs ) Trump, exhibitions, museums, The Guild, the weather forecast, all as you would expect when a group of ladies gather over a needle and thread.
Very grateful thanks are due to Val, for her preparation beforehand saving us so much time on the day, for her knowledge on time and penny saving tips, for her demonstrating skills and for being prepared to share her talents with us. I do hope that the fellow workshop members will bring their finished boxes to a future meeting for us all to enjoy. And a bonus is that we now do not have any excuse for not presenting our “works of art” properly laced onto card for display. Thank you Val.
March 2017 TALK by members of N.Wales EG “Sharing Good Practice” (report by Marie Stacey)
We had a real treat on Saturday 18th March, with the visit of 3 colleagues from the large and thriving Embroiderers’ Guild from North Wales, each of whom gave an absorbing talk on totally diverse aspects of stitching and textiles.
Ronnie has been working in felt for around 10 years; currently she is doing a City & Guilds course in Feltmaking. Ronnie loves the tactile nature of what she says is a simple process at heart. She showed us the basic materials of hand-made felt, passed around several items which had been made with wool and silk fibres, some of which were delicate scarves, and sculptures using tough materials which enabled the felt to stand. All the items were strongly textured and a delight to handle. Hangings developed from Ronnie’s own paintings were vivid representations of the Welsh landscape and coast.
Linda showed us the research, planning and designs which went into completing a commission from close friends – who gave Linda an open brief to start with, but who had quite definite ideas at points during the process! The final piece was a totally brilliant and imaginative depiction of Conwy Castle in medieval times.
Moya returned to stitching after retirement, attending various courses (including one run by our own Ruby Porter!) and joined the N Wales branch in 2002 – a move which has had a powerful impact on her development. She showed us an amazing cross section of work, including fascinators using dissolvables, knitted wire, handstitched pebbles, beautiful stitched seascapes, and 3D flowers inspired by Bodnant gardens. What a rich and diverse collection!
February 2017 WORKSHOP “Fabulous Fragments” with Shelley Rhodes (report by Janet Wilkinson)
I was intrigued by this workshop from the moment the requirements list arrived and following its instructions was a creative journey in itself. First to find inspiring fragments that would fit in a match box and then to take close up photographs of them to manipulate and print out. Then filling a shoe box with materials and tools with which to draw, colour, fragment and assemble. All with no idea of what I was going to end up with on the day – very exciting.
Shelley brought samples, finished pieces and fascinating sketchbooks to guide us through the day and show how she had developed this particular way of working – originally inspired by Japanese Boro textiles. We started by making a series of varying size background papers by tearing, layering and sticking the photocopies and papers that we had brought. Introducing a limited colour palette with pastels, paints and inks. Not a bit of A4 white to be seen when we had finished.
Shelley demonstrated pen and ink techniques to produce lovely line and wash sketches and lettering. All done with flexible homemade pens easily put together from drink cans and coffee stirrers. There will be lots of these appearing in Liverpool now. She got us sketching and mark making with all sorts of media and tools with tricks to make us relax and not be precious about the marks we were making. Beautiful drawings appeared. We then moved on to distressing papers and fabrics using prompts like rip, tear, scrape and crumple. Then to assemblage of all these previously worked bits. Very focused – with some people working on the floor, using stitch and other fastening methods to layer all the elements together. Then a reworking of these compilations.
A non-prescriptive day so lots of variation in how these pieces emerged and grew. New directions taken as ideas popped up during the making process and in response to the materials and images. Tables filled with patches of bright pinks, soft seashore colours, fiery reds and greens, found object assemblages and beautiful soft pearlescent structures like the interiors of shells.
An inspiring and absorbing day that could go further in all sorts of directions, I was particularly taken with Shelley’s a page a day A6 sketch book and already have my pen making kit ready to go!
January 2017 TALK “Maker of Mad & Beautiful Things” by Heather Wilson (report by Eileen Sampson and photographs by Mal Ralston)
So a new year starts for MEG, and now we are 61. After all the highs of our 60th Anniversary, culminating in our epic finale, some may be wondering if this year will be a bit of an anti-climax and leave us all feeling a bit flat? Well if our first speaker is anything to go by, the answer is a resounding No, definitely not! Heather quite literally burst upon us with actions and an ensemble worthy of Cap’n Jack Sparrow, magnificently coiffured peacock blue hair and all topped off with a two tier miniature top hat with a shark on it. Possibly two sharks. For well over an hour she kept us wonderfully entertained as she shared her passions and covered topics as diverse as how to remove an unwanted relative from a family painting, and how to take a loo break in the Indian bush. We laughed (a lot), cried (a little), were treated to a whole range of regional accents and finally witnessed an impersonation of Prince Charles that would have had even Camilla fooled. Oh yes and then we finished off with cake.
Heather is originally from the South of England but is now based in Hebdon Bridge, Yorkshire where she has a studio shop. Her main interest is personalised watercolour paintings, but she ended up doing a modular degree in Ipswich covering a variety of topics including theatre set design and costumes. This resulted in the idea to make a mad hat, despite having no training as a milliner. She discovered a company called Parkins of Oldham who supply ready made bases for hats and fascinators. Starting with these the only limit is imagination, and Heather has no shortage of that.
We were enthralled as she showed and described a range of items, each more fantastically decorated and named then the previous one. All items are sewn and nothing is glued and they contained all manner of things. There were two very elaborate feathered fascinators entitled “The Pheasant Plucker’s Niece” and “The Pheasant Plucker’s Great Niece”, a bizarre blue confection with a budgie on it called “Who’s A Pretty Boy Then?” and a green hat trimmed with fake grass, a tree and a model cow which had the wonderful title of “Who Are You Calling A Lying Cow?” However she admitted that some of her more dour Yorkshire ladies definitely didn’t understand the humour and irony of her naming strategy. Some however were blunt enough to shock even her. The top tier of the shark hat is a wedding favour box and can actually be opened to store things, and while explaining this to one old lady she suggested sweets or bus fare, only for the old lady to reply that she would use it to store a…..Well let’s just say an item usually bought in barbers and known as “a little something for the weekend!!
Her business has not been without its setbacks and twice in recent years she has lost many unique and irreplaceable items due to extensive flooding. She considered re-locating to the Midlands but this was neither feasible in terms of potential customers nor cost effective, so undaunted she simply cleaned up and started again, but the shelves in the shop and studio do keep getting higher and higher. Heather’s other great passion is producing very personalised watercolour paintings each of which is absolutely unique to their recipient. Nothing is made up and they are produced after detailed discussions with family and friends of the subject and many, many photos. The subterfuges involved in the projects would be worthy of a spy movie and a very funny one at that.
Her folder of copies of each one was wonderful to view and her descriptions fascinating. The attention to detail is unbelievable, even down to a person’s favourite food or their tattoos. Each picture was a riot of colour and an absolute mish-mash of strange items and themes, but then each one was nothing short of a person’s whole life story. Nor does she shy away from the unhappy moments. There must have been several of us who had a lump in the throat and a few tears when she pointed out the name of a deceased little one whose name was shown in fairy dust in the clouds in one painting. Her most bizarre commission was to commemorate the 10th anniversary of a liver transplant.
Such wonderful commitment must surely make her an honorary member of most of the recipient’s families. In fact many do come back for future updates when a marriage occurs or a new baby arrives. All this started from simple cards made to mark a birthday or a christening and has now grown to the point where she has a truly global client base. And the unwanted relative? She simply supplied them with a cardboard cut-out to cover her up if or when the rest of the family finally persuade the husband to divorce her!
Heather finished her talk with a detailed account of her visit to India on a three week textile tour taking in Gujarat , Rajasthan and Goa. The party was led by a formidable lady called Lorna who was definitely a throw- back to a more imperialistic past and held attitudes frowned upon today. Despite that Heather provided such a comic take on her outrageous behaviour that we couldn’t help but laugh. You could almost picture her, a pith helmet topping off tweeds, a pink gin in one hand and an elephant gun in the other. However even this lady could not overshadow the incredible hospitality they all received wherever they went. We saw a range of photos illustrating amazing costumes and textiles and then were able to view the real thing in the form of an outfit of a skirt and top and embroidered cloths. The degree of detail was intense. There were examples of tie dying that were almost microscopic and certainly put the T-shirts of our youth with their dinner plate sized designs in the shade. There were even paintings made from rubbish picked up in the streets. As for her description of the loo breaks, well you just had to be there to fully appreciate the humour in that case.
As an ending Heather drew our attention to a strange painting made up of buttons, bits of dress patterns, scissors etc and said it was called “The Contents Of My Mother’s Sewing Box”. It was a very poignant moment and there were many murmurings of “just like my mum’s”. However before we all got tearful again she launched into a poem she wrote herself about Prince Charles’ visit after the floods and soon the tears were due to laughing. Throughout her talk Heather said four words several times. They were simply “I love my job”. At the end of the afternoon none of us were left in any doubt as to that fact. So if that’s the start of our calendar, then bring on the rest of the year! (and hopefully more cake)