Friday, 23 October 2009

Peter Randall-Page at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

I'm lucky enough to live half an hour's easy drive from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, to my mind the finest sculpture "gallery" in the UK. This Autumn sees a major exhibition of the work of Peter Randall-Page, a UK sculptor whose work explores natural patterns (probably one of his most famous works being the his sculpture Seed at the Eden Project in Cornwall.
The majority of his sculptures are in indoor galleries and therefore I could not get photographs or - however tempting - touch them (some of the stone used such as the limestone is fragile enough to be damaged by the touch of numerous human hands). The bronze above is one of a series and is called Bronze Dreaming Stone. The sculpture below, definitely one of my favourites, is Secret Life. One of the fascinating things about it is the way in it changes with the effect of light.

I've been fascinated by nature's patterns for some time now and had decided, even before seeing this exhibition to make them the focus of my textile work for the moment so this exhibition was very timely for me. Luckily it's on for a couple of months yet so I shall have chance of several revisits. Highly recommended if you get the chance (only a mile off Junction 38 of the M1 and well worth the detour - you can also avoid motorway services and have a good meal in the Visitor Centre restaurant).
If you can't get to Yorkshire Sculpture Park you can see the sculptures (plus drawings and prints that are also on exhibition there) on

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Blog Action Day: Great Tits, Tulips and Funny Weather

What do these three things have in common? They all give us reminders that climate change is here with us now, and accelerating rapidly - not something we can afford to forget about since it'll be so long coming that we can be sure it won't affect us.
The Wytham Woods Great Tit population is monitored for climate change research: nesting times have been getting earlier year on year. Planting tulip bulbs at the traditional time of year results in the pushing their heads up just in time to be killed off by the first frosts so gardeners are having to plant later, and in this country snow has become such a rarity that a heavy snowfall last year brought many areas to a standstill, including the capital city!
So what can we do about it. Well one of the things is to try to influence those in power: if climate change were a top election issue, changes really would start to happen - it's getting there in this country but a bigger push wouldn't harm. Influencing those outside the political arena too would be useful: for example persuading those in charge of public transport facilities to improve services to encourage people to use them instead of getting in their cars.
And there's lots of opportunity to influence those in the retail trade: they're beginning to dawdle in the right direction, but they need to up the speed. Sending stuff twice round the world before it reaches the shelves needs to be seen as no longer the sensible option in business terms.
As individuals there's a lot we can do. Maybe leaving the car behind for journeys within walking distance for a start (we'd all be a lot fitter; I've been doing this for a while now and have been rewarded with getting several inches thinner and a lot healthier. Asking for local produce in the shops, not using plastic carrier bags, recycling, minimising waste and so on. Inidivdually it may not seem like much: multipled by the whole population it would make a vast difference.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Journal Quilts May - August

This series of four continues the steps theme by celebrating journeys. The first, a walk through Bolton Abbey Woods in May. There's a shelter on a path that takes you on a steep walk up through the woods and while you eat your lunch and draw your trees you look down on the view on which the first journal quilt is based.

I've called it May with its Light Behaving from one of my favourite W.H.Auden poems. It's made by first stitching the outline shape of the river onto the wadding, then cutting it back. I did this in hand-dyed viscose satin, two layers, one river-coloured, one green; flipped up the green to cut away the grey (avoids having two layers of thick fabric), then used reverse applique scissors (also called lace scissors) and carefully cut away the green where the river should be. Then laid pale viscose organza over the river, free-motioned outlines of the shapes and cut this back, and did the same with green hand-dyed silk-metallic organza over the trees. Finally had lots of fun with free-machine quilting, stitching very closely over the exposed edges to secure them (usually I use granite stitch (small overlapping circles) to do this, but there are other options). And isntead of binding I've couched down some metallic/viscose hand-dyed chainette.

The second is inspired by a view I had to reconstruct from memory. Driving to Contemporary Quilt Summer School I decided to take the scenic route through the Forest of Bowland; after taking a wrong turning it became even more scenic (I knew I was in the right direction so I wasn't actually lost, though there was a hairy moment when a signpost had got turned round).
I rounded a corner and suddenly came across this view - nowhere to park up and not really safe to stop on narrow winding roads so I had to simply drive slowly and commit it to memory. It was chiefly the colours, the golden field full of buttercups, the green hedges, the blue hills beyond. The whole area is the essence of The Shire in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkein knew the area well and used local place-names from this area, so I've called it Not All Who Wander Are Lost.

Hand-dyed silk habotai and taffeta, overlaid with gold chiffon (field) and blue (hills) organza, then free-machine stitched. For the binding I cut the rolled hem off the gold chiffon scarf I'd used, rolled in the raw edge and couched it down.
I had planned to combine a visit to my brother with Festival of Quilts, but in the end FOQ won out as I thought if I tried to do both I'd miss out be not being able to give either my full attention. So after making the decision in July I used a remembered walk from Christmas and imagined what the Dead Tree Walking would have looked like with late summer woodland colours behind.

More silk hand-dyed habotai with hand-dyed silk charmeuse fused on, and the whole thing FMQd.
Another walk in Strid Woods was the inspiration for my August journal quilt. A favourite place. The colours came from a photograph my late husband had taken of the Strid many moons ago at this time of year. This is the one I had most fun making. It's built up in layers. Silk charmeuse, viscose satin, silk habotai as a base layer, then built up in snippets and layers of silk organza, with some layers being partially cut back, with a layer of undyed white organza for the frothing water: a combination of onlay, reverse and shadow applique. The final layer was the stitching, added a bit at a time (I have a tendency to overdo it). I loved doing this, and though I have reservations about some aspects of it (this is normal for us all, right?) I really like the finished piece. Though I didn't enjoy binding it in velvet, it did work better than any other fabric for binding.

This one could end up being the first in a series. Now on to September and beyond...

Monday, 7 September 2009

Wildwood - final part:

The final episode begins with the second set of trees. First the autumn trees, then the spring ones:

Next at the front is the fallow deer one of the three kinds of deer in Wytham Woods (the others are roe and muntjac) A deer-fence limits them to part of the wood only, to minimise damage to trees.

On the other side leaves and a scarab.

Next the toad - I kept him safe, well away from the grass-snake:

I'd originally intended to use bracket fungus as the reverse, but whatever I did to it it just looked toad-shaped. Surprisingly, the mole worked much better:

The back of this section begins with the dragonfly. I remember once walking along the bottom path on a hot summer day with thunder in the air being followed by a huge emperor butterfly which kept pace for about half a mile. My mother used to be scared of them, as are many people, but they are in fact completely harmless.
On the reverse a moth. It started as a copper underwing but bits got added ... you know how it is!

Last in this section is the tawny owl, on the back of which is a Daubenton's bat (they're the ones with short ears)

And finally as the endpiece we have, appropriately I thought, a hibernating common dormouse: it took a number of goes to get this right:

With, on the reverse, a brimstone butterfly, one of the earliest of butterflies to fly in the year: hence I've paired it with primroses.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Wildwood Part Two

To continue: there are two double sided pages that serve as links between the groups of four: Above and below are the first of these, one with spring and one with autumn colours:

The next group of four begins with, on the front, great tits. The great tit colony in Wytham Woods is the focus of climate change research, for example in recording earlier and earlier nesting times.
and the green woodpecker on the reverse of the page is one of my favourites (though more often to be found looking for food on the ground than on tree barks, so this pose is a bit of artistic licence.

Next the odd one out, the ghost orchid. I have seen one but not in these woods. When, as little more than a child, I saw a whole group of them and discovered from my plant book that they were rare I was really excited. Didn't know then that even at that time they were so rare that people got really excited and reported their findings.

On the reverse are bluebells from my favourite time of year in the woods. Doing this page was a challenge, but eventually I traced each drawing onto opposire sides of a piece of tracing paper with different colour pencils, adjusted as much as I could then cut out the bits where there was no plant, which has actually worked out well and has provided each with an interesting background. Could have saved a lot of problems if I'd thought of this approach earlier. If you look closely you will see that I had to use a pale pink in order to get the highlights on the bluebells to come out the right colour - another example of what's there not being what you expect to see!

The back pages begin with the plantains - not specifically a woodland plant but you do get them, especially where the paths and tracks adjoin fields.

And on the other side, for spring, I have ramson buds. Otherwise known as wild garlic. These I drew from life in Strid Woods (couldn't get to Wytham that month!)

And the final page of this quartet begins with the crows, witty birds and amongst my favourites, here shown in tender domestic mode. I adapted this from a photograph on the Arkive site - - by the late Maurice Tibbles, including details of my own drawings of crows from the stuffed specimens in Leeds City Museum's Development Centre:

And on the reverse a violet ground-beetle (more violet than is usual in real life) with all sorts of oddments including toadstools, leaves and a centipede:

One more instalment to come!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Wildwood - Part One

It seems very self-indulgent showing both sides of all sixteen book pages' but people have asked to see them so here goes! To begin at the beginning, with the title page. It was originally going to be much grimmer (the working subtitle was A Story of Life and Death) but I chickened out of showing things like crows feeding on animal carcases though I am annoyed with myself about this as it would have been more honest to have done so, and would have developed a more interesting theme, i.e. the way in which death for one kind of life-form becomes life for another.

Next to the titl-page comes the fox, in his uncorrected state (I did later elongate the front leg out of the picture so it got to be back in proportion.

And on the reverse, what else but foxgloves! All the pages are see-through (shapes cut in painted pelmet vilene with a scalpel; then covered in hand-dyed silk organza - for each side; then stitched and sandwiched together with dyed silk net in the middle, and finally quilted, the organza cut back in places so that the light could come through in a similar way to the dappled light in woodland). Designing double-sided pages proved challenging: this is one of the more successful ones.
The next page in the middle bit shows a squirrel: not one of the most successful pictures (though as my art teacher pointed out you can see its a squirrel:
backed by a stag beetle, one of the pages I like best:

On the back section is a grass-snake (not normally associated with woodland but my dog once found one curling itself round his hind leg after running into some undergrowth, and you do still find them in the more open bits of Wytham Woods).

with brambles on the reverse: they do tend to throw out suckers which makes them appear to grow in loops and coils - and I was relieved, after a great deal of trial and error, to find something woodlandy that would go on the back of a snake!

And the last page of this set of four has snails...

and on the reverse badgers. They are fat because they are from the badger colony adopted by my sister-in-law's father who feeds them on suitable left-overs. Once has was asked to stop feeding them while Oxford Wildlife Films (some years ago) could make a documentary about the effects of drought on the Wytham badgers; they then phoned and asked him to come back - the badgers refused to come out and be filmed until Sid reappeared with food and water...
I suppose that's the badger equivalent of Equity rates!
Next instalment coming soon.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Back from Festival of Quilts

Back home from Festival of Quilts - very enjoyable but ill afterwards - I tend to forget that the CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, what used to be called ME) I once suffered very badly from never actually goes away completely and got hit bad this time. Very much worth it though. Not only some amazing competition quilts and other pieces but also a wealth of exhibitions, and a chance to meet up with friends old new and virtual! Finally got to meet Maggie(, together with Kath Danswan (, and Hippopip (, plus renewing acquaintance with fellow Contemporary Quilt members Margaret (, Mai-Britt ( who won the miniature section with a beautiful art-quilt, and a judges choice with an equally gorgeous larger quilt, and - briefly - Marion ( and other margaret ( whose quilt in the Guilds Challenge section should have won a prize but didn't. Not forgetting of course Julie ( who I spent a really good evening with - part of it hilariously driving round Birmingham getting lost!
I did spend some of the time on various stands. For three of them it meant a chance to sit down and talk to people. For the fourth, not a chance to sit down or relax - the tombola was amazingly busy (who knew quilters had such a worrying gambling addiction?) and hugely successful, taking £9,800 or so; enormous fun to take part in as well.

Apart from that I spent some time on the Contemporary Quilt stand - very relaxing as I was surrounded by people who knew a lot more about CQ than I did ; SAQA - Studio Arts Quilt Association - -(this being the second SAQA exhibition I've stewarded I felt like an old hand and didn't have to make too much of an effort to "sell" the organisation seeing as the exhibition was superb - a number of visitors thought it was the best in the show); and last but not least, SDA (the Surface Design Association) -
where we managed to up European and UK membership significantly - thanks to the organisation and selling skills of Lindsey Lang, the UK rep.
People have been asking to see my entry so here goes. First a bit of a grumble. FOQ organisers had asked for detailed hanging instructions so I obliged by giving details of the size and height of stand needed (and sent in a life-sized model to boot) only to have these details ignored so that my effort suffered by being displayed in a way I had specifically asked for it not to be at coffee-table height and with very poor lighting. I'm sure it made no difference to the overall result - the winners in this section were amazing - I'd just have liked - after all that work - for it to be displayed in such a way that people could actually have seen it as it should look. So here's a ccouple of photos (above - seeing as blogger won't let me drag them to anywhere else on the page) taken at home: I was hoping to get a better one at the show but the poor lighting prevented that.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Just a taste

Just a small taste of this year's entry for Festival of Quilts, and artists book based on the varied wildlife found in English woodland, partly based on Wytham woods where I grew up. Many of the pages remind me of specific incidents - the dragonfly which followed me one summer afternoon, the grass-snake which found itself wound round my dog's hindleg. The stag-beetle, above, used to terrify me when I was little, it looked so ferocious. The ghost-orchid, below, which is now extremely rare, is a flower I once saw during my career as an amateur botanist - not in Wytham woods but elsewhere - I did not know at the time how rare it was but even at that stage I knew to content myself with looking and then move on...

The pieces were made first by cutting designs from silk-painted pelmet vilene (timtex), one for each side of the page (producing double-sided designs was an enormous challenge but I managed sixteen of them). I used a scalpel for this - the first time I have done so, and the perfect tool for intricate cutting - providing you take great care. Then each page side was covered in hand-dyed silk organza (one of my favourite fabrics - it takes dye beautifully) and the design was stitched on: with the more intricate designs I drew it onto tracing paper and stitched from the back to outline the design accurately, taking out the paper before continuing. Next the two sides of the page were sandwiched together with a piece of hand-dyed silk tulle net as a "filling", and then quilted through all layers before being finished off with satin stitch. Finally I cut back some of the organza to reveal the net underneath. Using translucent fabrics means that the light shines through the pages which is meant to imitate the way you get patches of light shining through the woods.
That's why I've been so quiet recently!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Harvey and John update

By the time the programme ended I was already getting asked for information so here goes:
website is:
phone: 01859 530 485
address: 1 Lickisto, Isle of Harris HS3 3EL

I was prepared to be impressed but found it even more impressive than I expected it to be - and love the idea of secluded campsite pitches coupled with good-quality facilities. They deserve to be successful and I'm sure they will be.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Harvey and John on t'telly

From here...

To here...

Harvey and John, my friends who left Leeds to move to the Isle of Harris for a different kind of life are on television tomorrow (Wednesday) night - UK television programme Build a New Life in the Country on Channel 5 at 8 p.m., repeated on Thursday at 8 p.m. on Fiver. I've just watched the programme on
and even without knowing Harvey and John I think I would have found it riveting to watch them working ro restore the buildings and prepare to open a campsite business on thirteen acres of land through sheer determination and on a tiny budget all done with their usual wit and good humour. For those of you not in the UK you can see the programme on the link above.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

the one that didn't make it...

The reason I've been so quiet recently is that I've been making a project for Festival of Quilts. Never one to shirk a challenge, I've been making an artists book with double-sided see-through pages (one of my neighbours said "Isn't that ... sort of ... difficult...?" which has to be the understatement of the year) using silk organza, silk tulle net and pelmet vilene all hand-dyed/hand-painted. It has been a lengthy process and a testing one and I am now looking forward to getting it finished so I can get on with something else (like normal life perhaps?).

During the process there have been some cast-offs and casualties. The moth above is definitely not a cast-off (apologies for the inadequacies of the photograph though), merely the other side of something that really did not work, namely a dragonfly that looked as if it might sink if it ever managed to launch itself. The metallic thread seemed like a good idea at the time; by the time I finally admitted it wasn't the two halves of the page had been sewn together, and ditching the dragonfly meant I had to - very reluctantly - give up on the moth as well.

Thursday, 21 May 2009


Django came in out of the garden this morning very very wet and looking extremely sorry for himself - and couldn't understand why I was not exactly delighted when he insisted he needed a cuddle. I did point out that there had been grey clouds overhead but he had still insisted on going out but he still insisted it was my fault, the way cats do.

Luckily the other cats were kinder to him. Here's Pepper checking he's OK (though the concern did not extend to letting him share his footstool in front of the fire):

and Bixy helped him to lick himself dry.

Then tried to hypnotise me into thinking that he'd worked so hard he deserved a second breakfast. I ask you, does he look like a starving cat?

As you'll have gathered, I haven't much to blog about at the moment. Most of my time is taken up with either decluttering the house or with a project for Festival of Quilts which I want to keep under wraps for the moment. And the weather is too awful - rain and hailstorms - to go for any interesting walks.

Bixy says I should mention that the above photograph is cruelly unflattering and he is losing weight (admittedly at a rate that means he will reach his target weight in about two years' time) and that I am actually starving him to death...