Sunday, 28 October 2007

season of mists...

A few autumn images I'm intending to use as inspiration: First a leaf from the sumac tree - such an amazing pinky-red (I feel a dyeing session coming on!)

and a picture of a spray from the same tree, showing the contrast with the underside of the leaves:

The effect of the dewy cobwebs onthe leaves fascinates me:

And I'm also fascinated by the colours and shapes in this plane-tree bark:

Couldn't resist the horse-chestnut:

And I love the light and general mistiness in this one:

And finally a close-up of a passion-flower which I couldn't resist, with its amazing shapes and patterns:

Thursday, 25 October 2007

my neighbourhood

I live in a large terrace/town house in Leeds which is in the middle of Yorkshire in the UK. Originally built soon after the turn of the century for tradesmen and business people, Leeds has row upon row of these, separated by back alleys or "ginnels", which is where a lot of the socialising between neighbours takes place. The one above is where I live: the houses are larger than most and it is leafier than many.

This picture is of some of the houses across the alleyway from me, taken from my back doorstep a couple of days ago on a perfect autumn morning: I love the light and the colours in this one.

Nowadays the neighbourhood is a mixed one: some people who've lived here for forty years and more (I've been here for 28) and an increasing number of newcomers (to estate agents it is up and coming, as it borders onto one of the trendiest areas in Leeds and you get more house for your money down this end); most of the original residents like myself would not be able to afford to buy their houses if they were having to do so now. There's a mixture of professions too - builders, mechanics, nurses, shop assistants, teachers, social workers, university lecturers, media people - and it's also racially mixed, mostly people born in this country with a good proportion of people of Asian or African-Carribean origin. Makes for a vibrant enjoyable place to live. And for a city the neighbourliness is still outstanding.

There are some wonderful things in the gardens at this time of year:

(I now know that this is called a sumac)

And if you're not a keen gardener you can always walk a hundred yards or so to the local park:

And if it all looks strangely empty that's because I took these photographs on a Monday morning when most of the population was at work or school!

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

a couple of new pieces

This piece is called Untangling - the meaning is both literal and metaphorical: at the moment I am trying to get the various strands of my life untangled and sorted out and - the literal bit - it started with a tangle of hand-dyed twisty rayon thread - very strong (it was once used in the making of car tyres) but twists and coils like snakes when it gets wet; it is also impossible to take through any fabric that isn't very loosely woven - beautiful, with immense possibilities but intensely frustrating to work with (two of those could also apply to me, though I was quite pretty in my youth!). Started by simply attaching (machine zigzag) to the centre of the fabric sandwich that forms the base, then pulled out and couched down coils one by one. When I started I thought that was all I was going to do, but when I looked again it looked rather stark and unfinished, so filled in some of the space with free-machining in my favourite rayon thread, Natesh and various rayons bought from Asian shops in the neighbourhood: I find Indian rayon thread wonderful to use - runs smoothly, rarely breaks and costs a lot less than rayon thread I've seen elsewhere - highly recommended. I cut off the remaining threads at the centre and let them coil. It still needed more. Had bought some beads on impulse in the sales and dug through these, adding them a few at a time over a period of several days (one of the risks I run is overdoing things) until it looked finished. Here's a close-up of the beads:

and finally a picture that shows the stitching a bit better, though it is a little pale:

The second piece is called Mellow Fruitfulness (I'm definitely in Autumn mode these days) and is based on a notion of seed-pods (don't bother consulting the botany books, this species exists only in my imagination).

The idea with this one was to try the approach I used with the previous one (do - question - respond -do and so on) but shorten the time-scale.

When I began it I had a very definite idea of what I was going to do - very simple fused cotton in autumn colours on bright blue - and I did get as far as making a quilt sandwich with the blue on top. At that point I started to play with fabrics, tried out a bit of scrim, ir0ned it and placed it on top of the blue:

Loved the effect of this so decided to use the combination as my base fabric. Auditioned various fabrics and eventually settled for some dark rust-coloured dyed cotton wadding - takes rich colour and really soft after dyeing: you can also get sculptural effects with stitching. Cut shapes directly into the fabric (fun - if it goes wrong it's only a bit of fabric and you can probably use it for something else anyway) and laid them on the base then stitched:

Next the seeds - what to use? The only beads I had were too big and looked clumsy. Felt was too like the wadding in texture. Could have made 3D seeds in fabric but difficult to do them in scale. Tried rolling some silk roving bits into seed-shapes but difficult to get them to stay in shape without lots of stitching or alternatively using fabric medium and waiting for them to dry (getting impatient by this time. Eventually settled on silk noils, which had the right nubbly texture - put a lump of fibre in each pod and used free-machining to anchor:

and then stitched in circles to suggest seeds using a polyester trilobal variegated thread which had touches of turquoise with a lot of orange which I thought would help bring the whole thing together.

Finally I quilted the whole thing with the same thread using a sort of free contouring (a doodle I've been doing since I was a kid - it used to fascinate me the way that by changing the contour slightly you could gradually change the whole shape. I left gaps in the contouring which I filled with shapes that echoed the groups of seeds.

I tried satin-stitching the edge - lazy thinking and it didn't work - but eventually used a chunky chenille thread I'd dyed some time ago which did. I used a blind hem stitch to couch it (I'd already brought the dges together with the satin stitch) which worked better than a zigzag in that it didn't flatten the thread.

All done in under three hours (including a very brief coffee-break). This is what the cutting/putting together area in my studio looked like when I'd finished:

Friday, 19 October 2007


I've been tagged by Marion ( The rules say I have to list the rules here, write seven random/odd facts about myself and tag seven other people. So here goes:

  1. Link to tagger and post these rules;
  2. Share seven facts about yourself, some random, some weird;
  3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them);
  4. Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs.

Seven facts about me:

  1. I'm of mixed Welsh/Portuguese-American (originally Azorean) parentage, though I know little about the Azorean bit since my parents divorced when I was tiny and I have had no contact with my father since;
  2. I played goalie in the school hockey team (originally played in goal because it enabled you to wrap up warm and avoid freezing to death in games lessons);
  3. Blues musician John Mayall played at my 21st birthday party after being brought by a friend;
  4. I have an M.Phil in Cultural History (my tutor for part of this time was Sir Ernst Gombrich);
  5. When I wasn't being a teacher I worked as a Women's Equality Officer;
  6. I am a cat person and addicted to;
  7. I am terrified of snakes, though did bring myself to stroke one (briefly) a couple of years ago and am fascinated by the mythology/symbolism of snakes and by their beauty (Professor Freud would doubtless have a field-day on that one!)

That's the easy bit. Finding people I thought might not mind being tagged and who did not appear to have been tagged recently was a lot harder. So here's the list, with apologies if I've tagged anyone who doesn't want to do it (no obligation folks!). All their blogs have lots of fascinating work to look at and are well worth a visit:

  1. Arlee
  2. Fiona
  3. Terri
  4. Barbara
  5. Waltraud
  6. Kim
  7. Evie

Phew! Done!

Saturday, 13 October 2007


For those of you who have been following Nibs's fortunes I am afraid I have some sad news. Yesterday evening he died suddenly as the result of a heart attack. It was particularly unexpected as he's had a check-up on Tuesday and the vet had said his heart was sounding good, and his various medications had seemed to be working well. At least it was quick, over in well under five minutes. But still upsetting for all of us, me and the other cats, especially Pepper who was close by when it happened.

Nibs arrived just over two years ago as a stray. Initially he was taken in by my neighbour on the understanding that I would take him over if she couldn't find his owner as she was leaving and going to India for a year. Before he moved in he seemed on friendly terms with my cats, playing with them in the garden and wandering into the kitchen to mop up their left-overs.

Once he moved in however it was a different matter - no fights but he clearly had a very intimidating stare and the others avoided him partly because he repelled all their advances in no uncertain terms. The turning-point came after they'd all had a brief visit to the cattery over Christmas - Nibs had been in a separate pen and on their return home they all seemed glad to see each other again and took to curling up together.

Shortly after his arrival, Nibs was diagnosed as hyperthyroid, which may have explained his aggression towards the others. He got along fine on the tablets until earlier this year when he had a minor stroke, losing his eyesight totally for six hours, and then almost totally after bleeding into the eye. After his thyroid tablets had been adjusted, and he'd been prescribed beta-blockers, his blood-pressure and thyroid levels returned to normal and his eyesight improved, but never completely returned to normal. This marked the end of his days of being boss of the neighbourhood, but he was still able to enjoy most things - good food, the company of other cats, cuddles and accompanied strolls round the neighbourhood, all of which he continued to enjoy till the end.

We'll all miss him. Me especially - in recent months he tended to follow me wherever I went in the house and curled up to sleep on my pillow at night. But at least I know he had a happy life here and was well cared for.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Fashion and Embroidery Show in Harrogate

On Sunday I paid a visit to the Fashion and Embroidery Show in Harrogate. This used to be my favourite show in the days when it was run by Madeira Threads when it was run as a showcase for textile students and makers. Though it has changed since being taken over by a commercial organisation there were still exhibits from colleges and makers and groups as well as some interesting exhibitions; though it lacks the "buzz" it used to have it was still an enjoyable and inspiring day out, with a couple of particularly good exhibitions from the Quilters Guild.

Photographs of the exhibitions were not allowed. I'd planned to take some of some of the trading stands instead but only managed to get to Oliver Twists before the batteries ran out:

I always find Jean Oliver's displays and products very inspiring: I've known her since I used to trade in dyed fabrics and she was one of the people who was really helpful to me from the beginning. Nowadays we bump into each other only a couple of times a year when I visit shows and try tocatch up between customers. This time I was very good and didn't buy any of the dyed stuff (thus avoiding being told off for not dyeing it myself) but did come away with a big bag of silk rods and another of throwsters waste for dyeing.

Other favourite traders were Ario , Art Van Go, Colourcraft, Magie Relph's African Fabric Shop, and Bombay Stores so though I kept, broadly speaking, to my shopping list, I did come away with a lot of stuff to play with. I also managed a chat with Kim Thittichai (her book Hot Textiles has recently been published) and the people on the Braidmakers Society stand who showed me several easy and inexpensive ways to make braids (watch this space!)

Friday, 5 October 2007

morning stroll

As I've mentioned elsewhere Nibs has been demanding I accompany him on his morning stroll round the neighbourhood, something I've come to enjoy - watching the day-by-day changes in the gardens as Autumn advances, chatting with neighbours and so on - a very small part of the day that puts me on track for the rest of it. Yesterday I decided to take the camera with me...

Don't know what this tree is called but it's going to get even more spectacular. It grows in an absolutely idyllic courtyard garden.

I'm fascinated by the patterning on these ivy leaves

and the gradual change in colour on my neighbour's flowering currant.

Pepper's enjoying the view too.

The last sprigs of lavender are still growing in my garden.

Bixy and Nibs are eager for their breakfasts...

whilst Django's still hiding from the dog that barked at him ten minutes ago...

and that's how my day starts, folks!

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Fame at Last!

On a whim I entered this photograph for the Photo of the Month competition on AOL UK - it has made it through to the first of the October heats. Had forgotten about it completely until it suddenly appeared on the AOL homepage this morning. Yippee!

Go to to see it.

to vote go to the AOL homepage (above) and either click on the link (the photo is one of several items that comes up in rotation at the top of the page); or go to Homes and Property then Pets and Hobbies (on the menu on the left) and click on the link there.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Sorting the Stash

Still working on my studio - or getting back to it - I'm now sorting my non-traditional fabrics. This is the contents of a box of cotton scrims and butter-muslins (cheesecloth) I dyed some time ago: gorgeous stuff - I keep taking it out and playing with it but really need to buckle down and work out how I'm going to use it!

I also found a whole lot of satin pieces: this is viscose satin which takes dye beautifully:

And these are some of my favourite pieces:

The patterning on it is amazing: I think I'm maybe going to machine-quilt it as a sort of wholecloth.

Some of the pieces are plainer: here's something I played with earlier: fused silk organza on top of the dyed satin quilted with shiny rayon threads. The first picture shows the colours, based on the colours I see when taking Nibs on his daily strolls (he still insists I accompany him even though he can now see again, and I find it a pleasant and sometimes inspiring way to start the day). It's taken without flash and is slightly blurred:

The second piece is taken with flash which has bleached out the colour a little but shows the quilting.