The Covid Interrupteds

Like many people the lockdown knocked all of the momentum out of my making. These half done projects are the Interrupteds. They are an extended family of landscape experiments and textural pieces and tree examples, a mix of machine work, applique, and paint.

I have had this in mind for a while, but the Banner was the perfect excuse to avoid doing it. Now that I have had to clear the studio in town and bring everything home, it meant even less excuse – doing the ‘quilt’ would ‘help’ tidy up- at least everything unfinished would be in one place all the time!

The backing was ready made – it was a rejected prototype for the Yorkshire Gothics hangings- so out with the scissors and pins and the left over wools from the needlepoint done in January and we were off! All of the sewing is by hand and I am trying hard not to cheat – nothing new, nothing made to go into the mix, and everything wonky!

I keep declaring it done, then finding another abandoned piece – one of the perils of tidy up I suppose. ( Knew housework was bad for me)

Merchant Taylors :And it all ended….

It is finished, de-whiskered, tweaked and handed over – gone. And of course now I have cleaned my glasses I can see that I should have taken better photographs. Of course!

Brief – banner for the Merchant Taylors, York. To be hung in the guild hall and used to process through York to the Minster. To include guild coat of arms, name. Antique but sharp. Texture rather than flat graphic. 1m x 1.5m. Not frilly. Natural linen, technique – mine.

While I do pictorial and abstract work, this is a first. It had to be read clearly as it is, after all, the identifying symbol of the guild. – Fudging potential – limited.

Layer one: the fun bits, lots of experiments in textures and materials to get intensity at this scale. The coloured linens helped to bring the design together – they make the small shield, the base for the giant flourishes (moustaches) and the yellow is one of the fabrics used on the cameleopards. I would only know if these worked as as a whole when the piece went together.

Phase two: assembling. Quite a lot of stabiliser, trimming out, bond a web and stitching later, the pieces are mounted on to the larger shield. This does not appear on the coat of arms but was used as a design device to focus attention and hold all of the parts together in the centre of the banner- giving it more presence. It also let me work on a lighter and smoother linen than the backing, much easier to handle.

Once it came together and I could see the overall plan working for the first time, Background One was discarded for being too obvious and bland. The next choice didn’t have enough body to carry the uneven weight of the applique, but the third option was worth waiting for. A linen and flax cloth- practically loom state, lots of slubs and inclusions giving it a warmth and texture, wonderful for the aged idea we were aiming for. (Smelt wonderful too – summer meadows!)

Putting the whole thing together took took far too much effort. It didn’t seem to matter how it went together there were always problems. The intention was always to quilt – the raised surfaces would catch the light and give a sense of movement. The central section had to be hand quilted – I need a bigger machine and bigger muscles. The borders were machine quilted to give a subtle interest – based on the beautiful stained glass window in the guildhall (the thread and needle originated from there too) And then many finishing handsewn details to add (that is the fourth needle by the way) and it was done.

Summary – A fabulous commission, a sincere ‘thank you’ to the Merchant Taylors. A lot of fun to do and a real challenge, but also frustrating at times. Many of the problems are down to me, being stubborn about materials, getting sequences wrong and over thinking at times. Lockdown has had an impact too, making sourcing materials difficult, but in the end it has turned out really well. It has a life, a personality to it. And yes, it is a ‘him’, of course! Are there things I would do differently? another ‘of course’, it would be disappointing if there weren’t!

It was collected yesterday and the initial response from the Merchant Taylors is positive, I hope it lives up to their expectations and gives many years of service.

If you are interested in the making process then please see previous posts which follow it through all the stages.

Technical information.

It is big and heavy. Made by me. Sewn on linens of various weights, including vintage pieces, appliqued silks and various found fabrics scraps. Threads – various, vintage machine twist, rayons and modern utility threads.

Leonard ( here pronounced leo-nard) the Cameleopard ( pronounced cam-el-o-pard) is off to his new home! Hurrah! I am already missing him.

Merchant Taylors

Lettering done , twice . the first was trying too hard to be perfect and came out looking like a computerised machine had done it rather than wobbly line me! Now it works much more sympathetically with the rest of it, with the imperfections and misalignments and the two tone colour- I shall call those ‘character’ from now on. Also the cameleopards have had a bright shiny yellow dash of colour, they look much happier. Leonard and …. still can’t decide… Reginald or Sidney?

Looking at these photos I really should have pressed the linen more – just trying slightly different layouts. Placing the two ribbons of lettering… I like the top one ( with a proper shield shape), but the bottom one is rather slick and smart. But now I am wondering if the background shield shape should be there at all? should it be one piece of cloth right to the edges- there is a quilting design element to fill in around the main coat of arms. Must make decisions!

Merchant Taylors update

I have been commissioned to make a banner for the Company of Merchant Taylors in York. This has been on going, you may remember earlier posts.

It is nearing completion – of course progress has been affected by the lockdown. Getting hold of supplies has proved a major stumbling block – either companies have closed for the duration, or limited in what they can offer, or the postal service has been unreliable. Some of these you can deal with but the uncertainty has been difficult to cater for. I want a stronger colour background but I think that many of the samples I ordered have gone feral in the system somewhere…. I only have a short pathway to the letterbox but the postie keeps walking past, I even cut the hedge to entice him in…. one day my turn will come… soon, I hope.

This is it at the moment, all the major pieces are done or hovering in creative anticipation, but not sewn down. We have achieved cameleopards! Like most of it they are at about 85% done – that 15% is left for fine tweaking and detailing. At the moment I feel they are a bit dull ( want to call one Leonard, and may be the other Geoffrey, says it all). They are still on water soluble stabiliser until the colours are finalised and are ready to be stitched in place. When/if I can get hold of some other options for the background (Monday was promised) I will know what needs to be done. The title is also waiting to go – again I have to know about backgrounds to get the scroll colour and the lettering colour right. Please let it arrive on Monday!!

Now for some gratuitous cameleopard shots. But which is a Geoffrey? As you can see lots of little things to do – more gold, outlines, rose centres, eyeballs, flagpole, trimming out and of course the pattern in the background, making up with tab tops and quilting. And yes, it is big – 1m x 1.5 finished size -about the size of the fabric it is laid out on!

Still Here 3:

The abstract hangings have caused some concern this last couple of weeks. Tip from House of Brammer – never, ever second guess yourself. First they decided they needed a little brother tree -( Baby Ronald) – machined this on the same fine cotton using water soluble fabric as a stabiliser. Thought it looked great until I tried to photograph it with the others.


I should dye it to give more substance to the workings. Got scared so only used very dilute colour. Ended up grubby grey (subtle and soft dove grey).


Dye it more strongly. Lost all definition of the thread. Bleached it back to grubby ( subtle and soft dove grey).


Looked so promising in the sink!

Want colour- not too overpowering, hints and shifts to engage notice and to catch the light. Even had a sample to experiment on. Which is still looking great, just as I imagined. Shame about the main pieces. (delicate shifts of tone with hints of hue) Do I dye again, the danger is going for overkill out of frustration.


Do love them in the sun and shade. But still can’t catch it on camera. And now have to finish the edges properly. And do a couple more trees. Hate it when I don’t win!

So as an antidote to all that subtlety…. Iris time again. That intense blue of the Siberian iris, how they pose and dance- total little show offs. Love them!

And I had some sample silk paints to try, and some silk scarves to be painted, and the sun was shining- what else had to be right?

Well this is me, the wind blew and so did the pot of blue. This is why the last one in the top right is mostly not blue. Great fun to do all the same.

Still Here 2

Trying hard not to go daft with the continued isolation – failing, as the picture above shows. I run a Sunday sew-er kind of community day on Sundays on the Viking Loom’s facebook page. Very small but it does seems to be entertaining. One of last week’s posts was about how to dress up this large ceramic chicken that sits on one of the gateposts by the shop. The Biggles scarf came out top. Could get my head around the scarf but not the rest of the flying helmet , goggles etc. The shop owner added in the glasses. Rather more Hollywood Starlet than Flying Ace!! But fun. Fool that I am I have dropped a line in one of this week’s posts asking for more ideas – fortunately I don’t think anyone has noticed it yet! Most seem to like the idea of having a rummage for vintage/inherited sewing kit and the memories it evokes.

top third

And my creative work – still in denial apart from the large slow stitch hanging. This just eats time and leaves me with sore hands so progress is minute. It is hanging, stretching, at present before I put in a round of tucks to get it to hang square to the floor. No. 2 is different in character, with greater densities and bigger spaces, but less raised areas. That may of course change……

bottom third

Do these detail photos remind you of field patterns, of crop lines and the imperfect geometry of agriculture. The faintest lines are meant to be like a history to be read in the details of a landscape – those of us who grew up watching Time Team will understand…. I hope. There is still a lot to be done but the back of the repetitive work is done, it is the tweaking and balancing left to do – this may include more frustrations but the end is in sight!

I am back!!

Not that I went any where, mind. Things have changed because of the staying still. I am missing Colin the older troublemaker of my tribe of sewing machines –

My sewing has been minimal, sewing a batch of scrubs for York Hospital (5 sets in 2 days is the standard rate-) caused a flare up of ye olde arthritis, which is subsiding now. I will stick to making laundry bags and token hearts as and when requested. So little bits have been done, mostly hand work to exercise the joints and I have surprised myself by resurrecting an old painting project…. Inches. May be by the end of this I will actually make it all the way round the house. I keep getting distracted by the scrap fabrics on the worktables (or floor).

Creativity has been subverted into working on the internet and practical sewing. I am now handling the facebook page of the Viking Loom from home, while the owner is swamped by the insane levels of mail order. I am trying to keep the community of textile enthusiasts who have always supported the Loom (it isn’t all sales and serious stitching – there are biscuits/home made cake and quality chat too) together and connected. The experiment with a Sunday Share – asking for comments, pictures, shares from all, has been tough to get going but it is starting to get a little following and some valiant regulars. It seems that many of our customers don’t use facebook, so I am fielding pictures and text from all quarters – it does make me look uber efficient/billy no mates with nothing better to do!

Add into that getting the York Textile Artists group newsletter together and publishing it (last minute herding of cats syndrome) and I don’t want to press anymore buttons for a bit, oh, Instagram alert, and WhatsApp x 2, no, 3- make that 4. Was that an email coming in? I quite like this month’s, has cute workroom cats, WIPS, a gallop through Julie’s house inspired by National Textiles Day, and inspirations. But it was a relief to have it out there (probably gone feral by now).

I would guess that my tale is echoed everywhere- I feel that I am very much on the edge of things. I am considered ‘vulnerable’ by the bureaucracy so have to keep out of the thick of it, yet consider myself fortunate – worrying, but so far friends and family are well, I have a garden to enjoy or blitz when the frustrations take me that way, I have strong circles of friends – have you ever tried doing a paint-along to a shared image on Zoom/Hangouts?- it must be tried! One lady delivered handmade date and walnut spiced loaf so we could all have a slice and a cup of tea during the sewing group’s video meeting! And of course there is always making, or painting, or a weeding frenzy, or creatively sitting in the garden to come between me and the housework!

But I think we would all admit, this isolation is not easy.

It is the Little Things

I am still trying to organise the workroom so that I can sew with out having to mountaineer or crawl under the table! So until this is sorted I have been experimenting. With video. Very badly.

I couldn’t think of anything simpler and quicker to do. The sketch and each colour of stitch should be under 2 minutes each………..

I have concluded it is me, not the various technologies. I thought I would share my insights with you.

  1. Check you have enough battery, memory and sanity before starting.
  2. Don’t record directly into Instagram on my phone – the ‘record’ button has to held only leaving one hand to sew with.
  3. Enter a state of zen like calm in preparation – do you realise how much we move when breathing? and no one wants to hear you huffing and puffing in the background.
  4. Make sure you can see the object of the video clearly, in the centre of the screen, and make sure it is large enough- amputating fingers because they always get in the way should not be required.
  5. Sewing fast causes vibration, your camera will ‘walk’ out of line and then fall over unless it is secured, and the mini tripod too. Sometimes even gaffer tape is not enough. In fact, have them on an entirely separate surface/structure for safety. And remember not to knock them over.
  6. Do not have the tripod too close, it will be side swiped by the action.
  7. Avoid auto focus. It will be on the work, then the machine, then your hands, then the work, your hands, the work……..
  8. Lighting levels will never be right or consistent.
  9. Remember to ban every sound making device/creature from the room/ continent/hemisphere.
  10. When editing – oh dear. Read the instructions, if the software has any. Leave three or four times the amount of time you imagine it will take. And add an afternoon for luck. It does not get any quicker. You do become more familiar and competent but then start to play with more buttons and ideas.
  11. When uploading – remember Instagram only takes 60 secs. Beyond that your are into IGTV. It looks simple, and it is once you know your way round. Do remember to load a cover pic and a preview. Do read the instructions and triple check before publishing.
  12. Auto sharing from Instagram to your facebook page is good. Much easier than trying to do it manually. Trust me.
  13. Remember that the plan I am on with WordPress does not include posting videos.


Video clip 1 – quick sketching of a tree

Video clip 2 – quick stitched version of the quick draw tree

Video clip 3 – to be published tomorrow – adding a colour layer to the tree.

Video clip 4 – yet to be done, a top layer of light colour on the little tree. Recording will be tomorrow’s task. Deep breath.

This is not advice. It is hard won experience. I think you can guess at the kind of week it has been! You should also note that after so many attempts I have plenty of little tree studies to make a whole new stock of greeting cards!

And no, I shan’t include myself in these. After a week or so of video chatting I have seen far too much of me already!

York Open Studios – cancelled of course, but this was to be the taster exhibition weekend so have a look at the facebook page for artists’ sneak peeks of their work, including mine. On the actual weekends we will be sharing our work and studios on line and intend to join in with the ‘Art in the Window’ idea. Calling it an open window event may excite burglars.

Imaginery onto Fabric

Subtitle : best intentions.

Field patterning, Marston Moor, March 2020

We left it with sketches and some exploratory work. Teasing out responses is fun, messy , but I have to move quickly so it doesn’t become more important than the end goal. So this paper work led straight to textile ideas, samples and snippets exploring media, techniques and questioning just what I wanted to do.

Areas to explore – markmaking, colour, scale, textures and combinations. Then purpose, composition, focal points, structures and sequencing.

Plan – work through a list of questions in a clear and methodical manner.

Reality – put kettle on. Sample paint on fabric to check density and absorbency. Drink coffee. Next day – put kettle on. Heat fix paint, wash out and whizz some bits and pieces through sewing machine. Drink coffee. Read book. Go straight into painting larger piece. Play about with some thin bleach. Next day – put kettle on. Heat fix piece and add fuseable interfacing as a stabiliser. Little bit more whizzing.

By this time it was clear that working in the studio was not a good idea so everything I could stuff in the car came home, (including armchair (seriously bad idea)). I have been gradually unpacking but the creative work has been at a minimum, the mind set and focus is different. Being at home means that frustration can go into recreational violence known as gardening rather than being reused as creative drive. I am not a gardener by any stretch but as with sewing, give me sharp metal blades and power tools and I am happy!

This piece is going to evolve on the hoof, I like working with latitude and broad tolerances but this is completely cut loose, I have no clear vision. the sampling has left me woollier not clearer, the range of vocabulary is equally vague. I think it is going to be a get started and work it out as I go and rely on me to be able to sort problems as they emerge and also to identify and follow opportunities that occur. It is a ski slope approach but has the potential to be an exciting challenging ride but still may end up as a disaster. Oh well, what’s new?

A piece of textile work in its underwear!

This is the very first beginning, paint on a loose weave heavy fabric. How much of this will be seen at the end? Not a clue! Where and how to add raised textures? Foreground should be lumpiest. Is it going to be a picture? Time to get the pins and scissors out. At least I have the far too comfortable armchair in the workroom. Such a good/bad idea.

Keep safe folks.

Playing with imagery

All of the current pieces are tied to opportunities lost due to social distancing…. so time to start anew and work with the restrictions. I am going to try to be true to who I am for as long as is responsible – who wants to be dictated to by a bug? but I imagine that time is coming …

This has no deadline, no purpose or goal, it just is. It is about being in the landscape, about being alone with that landscape and how perception shifts given time and space. Interpretation and response rather than fact.

I went out sketching, not expecting much from it other than an excuse to be outside, for head space really. It is a spot I know and have worked from before, between two villages west of York. It is a secretive landscape, a battlefield site of deceptively ordinary farmland, looking open and honest. I watched a man walk down one of the farmtracks and he promptly disappeared and re-emerged, and again, and again. There are dips and pleats that are hidden, boundaries and areas that are unknown as you drive past but it looks so flat. It must have been a devil of a place to fight over (Marston Moor – 1644, English Civil War – Royalists(Cavaliers – long haired romantics) v Parliamentarians- (grumpy frumps inc Oliver Cromwell as a calvary officer)).

At first it did not excite, but after a wander and a giggle at the info board about the battle I settled down with some charcoal and drew. It was meant to be bold and incredibly messy – even took some babywipes!- but it become precise and more about the patterns made by cultivation fitting onto the land and with in its structures. A lot more thinking happened than drawing. The sketches were ok but not focussed enough. I still get caught trying to make a “good” drawing, what ever that is, rather than a useful one.

Change of scale, change of media, change of location. Away from the source so I didn’t get caught up in making a likeness, in the studio – which is bigger than the ground floor of my house- and a neutral space, and with simple media, black and white slap it on paint and charcoal on brown paper. Fun morning playing, making layers, painting in and painting out. Bigger, more gestural, less inhibited, yet far more focussed and precise in their purpose. These are the two I got most out of doing, not perfect but they were never meant to be – they are stepping stones to a textile piece. It is now at fester zone, thinking, plotting, defining before doing, and probably redoing and redoing before it feels right. I am planning on going back in later today to take another look and make some more mess – the handwashing directive comes naturally when working with charcoal and bad habits like finger painting.

Of course, for various reasons , certain parts appeal more than others! The next questions are about how to translate into fabric.

This blog is about my work and I want it to be that still. I am sure that many will be writing and posting about the pandemic etc, that is not my way of dealing with the situation.

If you are a bored creative, feeling a bit isolated and frustrated try out the York Textile Artists public facebook page. We are planning to post challenges and projects for you to get involved with, some as daft as a brush, others more proper and textiley. If you don’t do facebook go onto our website and sign up for our newsletter – we have plans……….