Tuesday, 30 November 2010


My work has been about the missing parts of stories... women's stories. A Lacuna.

Initial visual research led me to the conclusion that gender differences are arbitrary, socially constructed. The textile acquires masculine or feminine traits through association. Lace has feminine associations in both dress and the domestic environment yet has been worn by both sexes throughout history.

I was particularly struck by the similarities of the feminine lace petticoats that form part of traditional Mexican dress and the lace garment worn as part of papal vestments. Lace is a textile of strong contrasts; masculine and feminine, delicate yet strong, demure yet erotic... revealing and also concealing.

It is a textile that does not tell the whole story.

The holes in the lace are a metaphor for the missing parts of stories, the gaps in our knowledge. The idea of looking through holes to see deeper layers led to the idea of pages in a book. The book is a powerful communicator, inviting conversation with the spectator.

Book pages were constructed from pieces of donated lace, each piece bringing with it a story, a history, yet in each case an incomplete story with parts missing. As I stitched the lace together, stories were stitched into the surface becomming embedded within the pages, present yet hidden, revealed yet concealed.

The narrative becomes the thread that holds the story together. The spectator is invited to fill in the missing pieces, the holes, the lacunae. Nothing is obvious.

I could not have achieved this without you:

Sam, Angela, Sue C, Isobel, Carol, Cathy, Celia, Theresa, Lyn, Muriel, Sharne, Julie & Grace, Susan, Maria, Joanna, Linda W, Jan, Gill, Linda B , Val, Lesley, Sue R, Suzanne and Michala.*

Thank you.

* If I have left anyone out or left out a link please let me know

Monday, 29 November 2010


There is a rhythm and routine to Sundays during the winter. After walking the dog, I come home and bake bread.

This week:
Multiseed rolls

I then make a batch of soup

This week:
Curried parsnip and apple with parsnip crisps.

And finally I bake cake

This week:
Blueberry muffins

And there is a warm comfort to this winter routine. Plus of course, there is enough left over that it means there is something good for lunch on Monday too.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Cakes, Brownies and the Nature of Blogging

Whan I posted about my brownies last week I had a request from Virginia to share the recipe, which I am happy to do:

Double Chocolate Brownies
3oz butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 cups chocolate chips
2 eggs (beaten)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup plain flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

In a saucepan, melt together the water, butter and sugar, bringing to the boil. Remove from the heat and stir in 1 cup of the chocolate chips until melted and smooth. Allow to cool slightly and beat in the eggs and vanilla. Sift flour and baking powder together and stir into the chocolate mixture. Stir in the remaining chocolate chips. Pour mixture into a greased and lined 9 inch (23 cm) square tin and bake for 30 - 35 mins at 170 deg C. Cool in tin, turn out and cut into 16 squares.

This is the recipe I discovered when living in the US, it always works and is one that I have used faithfully for the past 24 years. But every so often I like to be unfaithful... and then I turn to Nigella again and make a huge decadent pile of her brownies, laced with walnuts and white chocolate. After some extensive tasting this week, I have decided this is the recipe I prefer.

On a completely different note, after reading this post from Alice, I decided to investigate and as a result I heard yesterday that my blog has also been selected by the British Library to be included in its UK Web Archive. It will be available for the future to represent aspects of UK documentry heritage, available to researchers and anyone who might be interested. This is hugely exciting for me and for a while I was worried that perhaps my blog should assume a weightier tone, providing an intelligent, witty, erudite and insightful view of British life today... but then common sense prevailed and I realised I would probably just continue with frequent photographs of cakes.

It did prompt some thinking on the nature of blogging though. Although my initial reason to blog was to document my degree course it soon became apparent that was not the complete story. If that was all it was, then I could just as easily keep a private journal but blogging is a public endeavour which requires an audience. There is very little point without readers and commentors and as ever I am always grateful to everyone who takes the time to read and/or comment, whether regularly or occasionally. For that I thank you. One new commentor on my blog has written about this far more eloquently than me, and you can read his thoughts here. As for me... I think I'll stick to cake!

Monday, 22 November 2010

The Final Straight

At last, after another six hours of machine stitching today (I started at 8 am) I have finished compiling the last page of my lace book and the final few pages are laid out to dry... without stopping once to make more cake!

Every single piece of lace has been stitched together and every story has been included. With a bit of luck I'll have everything put together and ready to send to my tutor by the end of the week.

My thoughts have now turned to the covers and I've taken inspiration from the books we saw in the Vatican museums. Beautiful embossed metal that looked just like lace.

I'm not quite there with my samples yet and my "gold" looks more like "beige" but I'm confident I will find a solution that will enable me to use the last few pieces of coloured lace that I've been given.

I've been putting my sketchbooks in order too, making sure I haven't left anything out and it is interesting to see those sketches that have been developed into my finished piece...

as well as those that never got beyond the drawing stage...

Although I still quite fancy a pair of lace Doc Martens!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Carrot Cake

Did anyone happen to watch "Nigella Kitchen" last Thursday?

If so, I am happy to report back that the Venetian Carrot Cake...

tastes every bit as good as it looked. Especially with the marscapone cream!

More of a pudding than a cake really. But then who's to say you can't have pudding for afternoon tea. Recipe here if you fancy giving it a try. I didn't have any rum so substituted brandy which seems to work. Might have to try it again with rum though!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Cake Break

Is there anything better than a intensely chocolately, dark, dense and squidgy brownie... especially when you should be doing something else? I'm going back to my stitching now...

Monday, 15 November 2010

Days Out

On the days that I am at home and not out teaching I'm spending about 4-5 hours a day stitching the lace pages of my book so it made a welcome break to go to Norwich for a couple of days at the weekend for an ERTF study day and conference. On Friday we spent the morning at Norwich Cathedral with a member of the Broderer's Guild who showed us the fabulous range of ecclesiastical work carried out at the workshop. There was a combination of new commissions as well as restoration work.

After a quick lunch we then moved on to Carrow House Costume and Textile Study Centre. We were treated to a wonderful array of historical textiles from dresses to pin cushions and a huge range of samplers such as this school sampler dating back to 1832.

One of the most fascinating exhibits was this unusual sampler completed by Lorina Bulwer around 1900. It is a pieced work about 1 foot x 12 foot that contains a hand stitched letter worked while she was imprisoned in the workhouse at Great Yarmouth. I think this made an impression on all of us there and we were particularly struck by how contemporary it looked.

It reminded me of the work of Arthur Bispo do Rosario, who spent fifty years of his life in a Rio de Janeiro psychiatric hospital. He would use unravelled threads of his hospital uniform to embroider onto blankets and sheets, often including passages of text as in the piece below.

We were then shown some of the items from their handling section including a huge Norwich shawl. To demonstrate why the shawls were so big Ruth asked for a volunteer to don a crinoline skirt... well someone had to do it! (Thank you Miriam for the photo!)

We finished our day with a lovely meal and then on Saturday morning made our way to Dragon Hall for the conference. The subject was Concepts and Meanings and we were treated to a fabulous day of inspiring talks and lectures as well as some interesting exercises from Les Bicknell designed to unleash our creativity (my students be warned... I'm planning some of these for you and they involve a wire coat hanger!) We got to see some fabulous work including that of Debbie Lyddon who uses music to inspire her work.

Two days full of inspiration for the "Concepts and Meanings" exhibition next year. But for now its back to the next couple of weeks... and an hours more stitching before bedtime!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

I'm Overwhelmed

by the generosity and kindness of my friends... blogging or otherwise. I have been given some amazing pieces of lace to use in my project, from precious tiny scraps to a whole wedding dress. There has been hand made bobbin lace, crochet lace and tatting. Lace that was bought from a gypsy and pieces made by grandmothers and aunts...

"My aunt Gladys crocheted it for me when I was about seven years old..." "She bought it because she just wanted to get rid of the gypsy" "I’ve had a bit of a turn out and in the bottom of a basket found this lace."

Lace that has been passed down through generations...

"This piece of lace belonged to my grandmother..." "They are from my Step Mother..." . "Someone somewhere loved it enough to keep it for years and I felt a connection. "
"...scraps of lace are from an underskirt belonging to late my mother in law..." "a piece of tatting made for a handkerchief probably by my paternal grandmother" "...from a box left to me by my Mum."

and some that has travelled from far away places such as Latvia, St. Helena, Austria and Canada...

"...hand made bobbin lace made by women from the island of St. Helena, where Napoleon was imprisoned and died"

Pieces of dresses, handkerchiefs, wedding bouquets and table linen...

"Please find snippets of lace that were in my bridal bouquet..." "... two small pieces from a large collection of linen, lace and embroideries cleared from my husband’s aunt’s house..."
"The dress lasted longer than the marriage!" "This is my mother’s wedding dress..."

And some that was made especially for me and this project...

"I have made you one tatted mini doily in ecru for your lace project..."

But it is the stories that are forming the backbone of my final project. You've told me stories that have made me smile and made me cry. Wonderful stories of generations of women, connected by fabrics, needle and thread. I don't have the words to thank you...

"...it is very precious. My mother died when I was a toddler so I never knew her..."
" She always wore lace in her neckline so that her cleavage was covered. "

I am now piecing together every single scrap, together with each story printed out in full. In my stitching I am also writing out each story so that it becomes embedded within my final textile.

These are then being distressed and dyed with tea to give an aged and uniform appearance to each piece. They are then going to be assembled to make a book. A book that will contain each story buried deep within it's pages.

Thank you everyone who has helped me with this. If you have sent lace but not heard back from me please do get in touch. And if you still have some you can send... I'm on a two week deadline! (So I may not be around much!)

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Roman Holiday

We may not have been quite Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck whizzing around the streets of Rome on our Vespa but we've certainly covered several miles of cobbled Roman streets on foot over the past few days.

From our wonderful hotel, centrally based just off the Campo de'Fiori we've explored markets... with their fabulous displays of fruit and vegetables

We've discovered the most amazing archeological ruins whilst wandering around streets off the beaten track...

as well as visiting some better known archeological sites.

We've sat and eaten gelato by fountains (and thrown some pennies in to ensure our return)

We've crossed bridges, some which have stood since 62 BC

We've seen churches and basilica, the beauty and scale of which cannot be descibed.

We've enjoyed the most amazing food... pizza, pasta and my favourite "Carciofo alla Roma"

Not to mention il vino... rosso...

e bianco!

After three days of glorious sunshine our last day saw some typical November weather for Rome... and we queued for one and a half hours in pouring rain to get into the Vatican museums

Although we weren't the only ones!

But it was worth it to be treated to masterpieces by Caravaggio...


and finally of course Michaelangelo. The Sistene chapel was breathtaking!

It has been a fabulous few days, a wonderful break... but as ever, it's good to be home!