Wednesday 30 November 2011

Scenes of Domesticity

I had an impromptu trip into Cambridge yesterday to visit the exhibition "Vermeer's Women: Secrets and Silence" at the Fitzwilliam museum. The title is a little misleading as there are actually only four Vermeer paintings among the thirty two on display, but that does not distract from what is a beautiful exhibition. At its heart  is "The Lacemaker" on loan from The Louvre, an exquisite little painting no bigger than 12" square. You can almost see her hands moving, working the bobbins.

Johannes Vermeer, The Lacemaker c.1670, Musee du Louvre, Paris

But there is so much more to see - beautiful domestic interiors showing women inhabiting their private spaces, at work or at leisure. Intimate scenes of domesticity.

Jan Steen, Woman at her Toilette, 1663, The Royal Collection, Her Majesty the Queen

Each one a masterpiece of 17th century Dutch painting.

Jacobus Vrel, Woman at her Window, c.1650, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

For me one of the highlights was seeing how beautifully the fabrics had been painted - lustrous satin, rich velvets and jaquards - each one truely magnificent. I found a quote about Vermeer in the Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Art and Artists that sums it up beautifully - "Domestic life is raised to the level of poetry."

Gerrit Dou, Woman at a Window, 1663, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

In addition there was a very small exhibition (just one cabinet) of 17th century bobbin and needlelace which was stunning - but no photos allowed nor postcards available. (Although I'm tempted to go back and draw).
Back home I created my own little scene of domesticity and got the Christmas cake in the oven... I own up, I cheated this year and brought everything ready measured courtesy of Delia and Waitrose. (Although my girls provided the eggs)

The house smelt wonderful last night... and now begins the task of feeding it.

Don't be fooled by my being so well prepared... the odds are I'll still be doing the marzipan and icing on Christmas Eve.

Monday 28 November 2011

Lace Books

If you read Lesley's blog you will know we've had a book swap going on between the pair of us over the past few weeks. A throw away remark from Lesley in my comment box referring to a book swap, resulted in me taking up the challenge and before we knew it we had agreed some rules, a theme (lace) and a date for posting. Lesley's parcel arrived on Thursday and as soon as I read the beautiful printed card with its quote from Coco Chanel, I knew I was in for a treat.

Lesley took her inspiration from this lovely stamp featuring Sir Walter Raleigh wearing a rather fine lace ruff.

One of our "rules" was that our books should have some sort of container and as I pulled this fabulous box from the parcel my excitment could hardly contain itself.

And with just cause... because inside the box was an amazing "lace ruff" book

There are 91 of the most amazing tiny little books each stitched onto an embroidery frame creating the ruff.

And each little book has a cover printed with lace and pages that contain snippets of instructions from a book on lacemaking.

And if all that wasn't totally amazing enough, Lesley made me a second book (She broke all the rules you know!) Another exquisite little gem which I think is called a lotus book.

With folded pages made from little square lace doilies... to be honest Lesley... that alone would have been enough... it's beautiful!

In return this is what I sent Lesley. You may remember my drawings of samples of lace from a few weeks back. I ended up making ten little A6 studies of lace from which I cut away selected areas

These were then assembled into a "blizzard" book structure, with front and back covers covered in a fabric printed with a lace pattern.

For my container I made a box (this was a first for me) with a lid covered in the same fabric

I think both Lesley and I have spent hours on this swap but I know I would quite happily do the same again, without hesitation. It has actually given me a lot of pleasure when I have felt very stressed over the past few weeks. To be able to escape for an hour or so of drawing and cutting at the end of the day has been a delight. However Lesley did remark should she be so careless with a throw away comment again, such as "how about climbing Kilimanjaro"... I should ignore her. I've been trying to find out what date she had in mind but she's having none of it!

*update* I've had a request for how to make the blizzard book so you might want to check out this tutorial that I posted about two years ago should you want to give it a try.

Saturday 26 November 2011

Pass the Chocolates

I'm sure I've shown you these felt chocolates before... (totally calorie free!)
Well, today we thought they would be a good project for our Young Embroiderers.

Now, I know my girls are good but never for a moment did I think they would do such a brilliant job...

I gave a couple of quick demos and they were away... coming up with their own designs, their own colour schemes and their own decorations to create their very own unique box of chocolates.
I think I should point out that the oldest of these girls are only 11 - 12 and we have some as young as 8.

Every single one was just amazing.

Well done girls... I can't wait to see what you achieve at our next meeting.

It's been a lovely day... thank you!

Friday 25 November 2011

A Decision

It has been a pretty torturous couple of weeks as I've tried to reach a decision about my Masters degree. I'm not someone who is afraid of a challenge, I like to feel pushed and I hate to give up on something once I've started but the last couple of months have not really worked for me. I've struggled to balance work with studying and still maintain something of a normal family life but it has been impossible and as a result I've been exhausted, run down and miserable for quite a long time. I've swung from feeling totally overwhelmed to telling myself to get a grip and get on with it... but ultimately something had to give... I started to think how I could cut back on my teaching.

Work from students at Missenden Abbey last w/e

So I have decided to withdraw from the MA. I've had a full on week of teaching and it occured to me that this is what I love doing best of all. I originally started the BA in Embroidered Textiles as a way of pushing my own work so that my teaching would remain fresh. It was a challenge at times and hard work but I loved it, distance learning suited me and would never have considered giving up... yet that decision was made for me when the school went into receivership. Then I got the chance to transfer to the MA at Hertfordshire and I jumped at the chance. It seemed too good an opportunity to miss. But it has left me feeling drained of energy and I think my teaching has suffered as a result.

Work from students at Art Van Go on Wednesday

But it has been so difficult to come to this decision. I've talked it over ad nauseum to anyone who will listen. Giving something up has negative connotations of failure and I knew I would have to come to terms with that. But I'm seeing it as a positive decision to withdraw which will have postive implications on my quality of life. I will still work on my research, visit exhibitions and exhibit my own work alongside my teaching. I have all sorts of plans that I had put on hold "until I finished my degree" which I now intend to pursue. In fact, all I see at the moment are the positives. I'm sure I will have occasional times of regret but really all I feel now is a huge weight off my shoulders. For the third time this week I've been told that I'm looking well... much better than in weeks which says it all really.

Work from students at The Letchworth Settlement on Thursday

There is so much more I could tell you about my decision making process but really all that matters is that I'm happy with it. And when I look at just a small sample of the work produced by my students in the past week and listen to their feedback, I know I've made the right decision.

Tuesday 22 November 2011


You know what it is like when you see and hear yourself speaking... slightly mortifying and cringeworthy!!! (Can that really be me?) But here I am... DVD is available from me too at the special price of £18 until 1st December. Just  drop me an email. I promise I won't keep going on with this shameless self promotion but I've never been on youtube before.

(I'm mightily impressed with the editing and retouching!!!)

Thursday 17 November 2011

Thank You

I'm back! That didn't work did it... switching off my comments... you all emailed me! But I'm not complaining because you have all been very kind, offered excellent advice and made me realise I have a lot of very caring friends out there... even the one who started with "Hey snotty grotty" who made me laugh very loudly!
I wasn't sure about writing the post and then when I posted it I wondered if I should delete it but Elizabeth sent me this link which expressed very eloquently some of how I felt.

Yep, I'm still a bit snotty and grotty but a good night's sleep has done me the power of good and I'm not about to make any rushed decisions. I'm not a quiter and hate to give up on things (through sheer bloody mindedness if nothing else) so will probably hang on in there for a bit longer. Although I did have a thought that if I got my fees refunded I could afford to go and see Joe in New Zealand... just a thought...

Anyway I'm back sooner than planned because I have exciting news about my DVD. It will be available from 1st December priced £22 (including pp)... however it can be pre-ordered from me for a mere £18 (including pp). Although it is aimed at beginners or those fairly new to machine embroidery it has a lot of tips for those wishing to brush up their skills. So if you think you might like a copy, email me and I'll give you more details. The pre- launch price is only available until 1st December and the same offer is available from the Colouricious website should you prefer to order from them. (Although if you order from me I actually get to earn some money for this venture!)

This time I probably will disappear for a week or so... I'm off teaching at Missenden Abbey for the weekend and then I'll be back at University on Tuesday and teaching again next Wednesday and Thursday... nothing changes!

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Feeling Miserable

Today I gave my work in progress presentation at University to my peer group and a couple of tutors. It went okay and on the whole people said constructive things and had good suggestions - nothing negative. But I've come home feeling very miserable and despondent. I'm left feeling that my work so far lacks focus (well, I knew that) and direction and has very little gravitas. I don't know where to take it next and frankly I don't feel I'm up to taking a Masters degree. I think it is very easy when posting photographs on the blog and glossing over my processes to be swept along with all the wonderful positive comments. Don't get me wrong, I love getting your reaction to what I do - it's always supportive and kind but it does rather blind me to what I'm really doing. Yes, I can make pretty images but I've come to the conclusion that's about as far as it goes.

I'm trying to stay positive and realise that I feel partly like this because I don't feel well. Whatever virus that caused my voice loss last week now seems to be back with a vengeance and I've a sore throat, thumping head and bunged up nose. I know I'm trying to do too much and I can't carry on with this level of teaching as well as taking a degree, so something has to give... and it's not good that it's my health. I never seem to have enough time for family and friends either and that is something I find really difficult.

I'm in two minds whether to publish this post as I made a conscious decision when starting a blog that it would be a colourful, positive and upbeat place, which I think does reflect how I feel most of the time. I don't want it to be a place where I moan and complain. However I don't feel positive and upbeat at the moment, I feel miserable and as this is my space I think I have the right to have a little cathartic moan. I've switched off comments because I'm not after sympathy - I just need a bit of space to come to a decision about my future.

I promise I'll come back next week all smiles, with some good news about the release of my DVD. Thanks for listening.

Monday 14 November 2011

Looking Through Holes

As I delve deeper into my research I'm looking at photographs of old lace

I'm making drawings of the lace with a fine black pen and then cutting out selected areas. By laying the drawings over red paper the cut away areas stand out. I like the idea of partially revealing what is behind.

I'm still not certain where this is taking me but I'm having fun finding out

Thank you for all the good advice and concern about my voice which has now returned.

Friday 11 November 2011

The Sound of Silence

It's true, I'm in denial about Christmas. Far too many other things going on to think about it yet... until I looked in my diary at the beginning of the week and had one of those "Oh, no" moments. It would appear I've committed myself to a couple of open days this weekend.

After hastily sorting out what stock I've got, I ran up some extra Christmas cards last night and I think I'll be alright...

Except I've now lost my voice. It started to crack yesterday afternoon when I was teaching and has now virtually disappeared.... nothing... just a pathetic croak. Which is a little alarming because I'm giving a presentation about my work at University on Tuesday, so I'm hoping this will do the trick.

Meanwhile, if you are in the vicinity do pop in for my Open Days...
I'm open from 10am until 4pm Saturday and Sunday.
There will be mulled wine and mince pies...
I just won't talk to you!

Wednesday 9 November 2011


When your friend buys you a book on how to make felt zombies for your birthday...

It is only fair that she should get a felt zombie for her birthday.

Although I fear this little zombie kitty at only 3" tall, is more cute than gruesome.
But it did give me a chance to try some paper cutting that was not pretty and lacy.

Happy Birthday Jude!

Tuesday 8 November 2011


Lots of pictures and not so many words today as I begin to explore ideas for my MA practice.
Continuing from my initial ideas, I cut more leaves...

gradually expanding the cut sections

to create a lace like structure.

I notice the shadows.

And play with the light to create a lace shadow.

I cut more... and used them as a stencil to print patterns in my sketchbook.

And then used a photocopy of the resulting print as a template to cut out some lacy pages

And loved the way they looked when only partially cut.

And loved them even more as I pulled apart the layers and could see through the holes to the layers underneath.... revealing and concealing.

And thought about the possibilities of this on a larger scale.

I sprayed one of the pages black and liked the way it looked when positioned slightly out of register with the white page. Again, seeing through to layers beneath.

And even the newspaper that was protecting the floor becomes interesting with partially revealed text.

Meanwhile, the original leaf has started to dry out and curl up, creating more possibilities.

So many ideas, so many starting points, I'm not sure where to go next.