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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

I was delighted to be tagged to take part in this by the very creative, talented and witty Iz, from Threadnoodle and it was lovely to welcome people who had popped over from her blog. So this week is my turn to talk in a bit more depth about myself and my creative process.

I live in North Lincolnshire in the UK although I’m originally, like Dickens’ David Copperfield, from the little village of Blundeston, in Suffolk. Among other things, I’m a writer, a jeweller and textile artist. But not necessarily in that order.

1. What am I working on?

Erm… everything? I have a second book of short stories and a novel both on the go as well as an article which has been back-burnered for various reasons. There’s a box of partly completed rings,

silver acorn ring

pendants and other odds and ends which need finishing.

Norwich stitch pendant

Journals, books and altered books,

York Minster altered book

kits, summer holiday diary fragments,

holiday diary fragment

the crazy patchwork cushion for my son,

James' cushion strip 1

felted and goldwork brooches,

Goldwork brooch

 

my hearts commission,

hearts commission

my rusted fragments art quilt…

rusted fragments art quilt

…you get the picture. I long to have a go at everything and greedily want 36 hours in each day to try, test and explore my latest passion to its full extent.

My latest obsession is upcycled jewellery, whether replacing broken/damaged elements with beads like this vintage necklace…

 

broken vintage wire necklace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

upcycled m.o.p and haematite necklace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

or adding textile elements – felting and beading…

 

Felted beads

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncycled felted bead necklace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… embroidery or patchwork.

Bullion rose upcycled pendant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

upcycled patchwork earrings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love being able to make something from bits that someone else has discarded as worthless. Little things fascinate me too, and each of the projects is so small that I can be almost finished before I start to get bored. I really admire people with the stickability to work on large ongoing projects, but that’s not me. Whatever I do tends to be small, detailed, and precise, whether it’s stitched into fabric, wrought from metal, words on a page or even part of a show in theatre. For me, the devil (and the interest) is in the detail.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

That’s a difficult one. As regards my jewellery, with its mix of metalworking and fine embroidery, I’ve certainly never seen anything quite like it. There are other artists who create  jewellery with textile components, but it seems to fall into two categories – fairly traditional jewellery shapes such as earring drops, pendant and rings set with pieces of textile work, or textile work with metal findings to make it into earrings, pendants, brooches etc. I do both…

Turquoise spiral brooch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bullion rose upcycled pendant

…but prefer to do neither

Moss mixed media pendant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indigo book charm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I suppose that everything we do is unique, but at the same time, everything we create is the result of our experiences. I’ve often thought that if we could break down the DNA of a piece, trace its bloodline of influences and inspirations, it would be fascinating to see precisely how it was born from the tiny fragments we draw from so many things we’ve seen, done and experienced.

3. Why do I create what I do?

Every project gives me pleasure to work and it also gives me pleasure to see how it is received by other people but essentially I create because I need to. Like so many creative people, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t create, from wobbly junk models and roughly stitched dolls’ clothes to furnishings for my doll’s house and stories set in imagined worlds.

It’s my way of responding to something of the beauty in the world I see around me, my way of revelling in the power of fashioning something that is mine alone. I bend the media to my will and I say how it turns out – mostly!

4. How does my creative process work?

The first thing to fire it off is usually a single item but it can be anything: a bead, a thread, some fabric, a fragment of something, an image or artefact. The alliums piece below was the response to the challenge, ‘A flower beginning with ‘A’ for an Embroiderer’s Guild competition.

Alliums sketchbook page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alliums hanging

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An idea from a curtain I saw on a course

kantha patches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and an image from a dream…

Dream kantha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It can be a very dangerous process to sort through my stuff – I get sidetracked onto new projects very easily!

In terms of how things then evolve, I let my creative subconscious do a lot of the work. Usually I have clear idea of the starting point and an image of roughly what the end point will look like (I write like this too). Then it’s a case of starting and seeing how and where things go. If I get stuck I just walk away for a while and its unusual for that break not to have straightened things out in my head.  If I’m lucky, things work out as well, or sometimes even better than I’d hoped. If not, then it’s good to learn from your mistakes and chances are, I can always turn it into something else one day…

Phew! I think that’s the wordiest post I’ve ever put up! If you’re still with me, then please go and visit my two nominated bloggers.

Firstly, Debbie at Debbidipity. I met Debbie at our Embroiderers’ Guild when I joined several years ago and we’ve been good friends ever since. In the last 5 years, as a mature student, she’s done ‘A’ levels in Art and Photography and then followed them up with a Fine Art degree at Hull. She likes to experiment with all sorts of media and her inspirations are rooted strongly in the natural world that she loves.

From the local to the other side of the pond and Penny at Art Journey. Penny creates wonderful textile artwork in areas that I don’t tend to dabble in but love to look at – punch-needle, doll-making and beading are some of her latest delights, and I consider myself very lucky to have Valentine, one of her wonderful unique dolls sitting on my shelf watching me as I type.

Penny's Valentine

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the next stage of the bloghop!

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Driving down a tiny Cornish lane towards our cottage for the first time. Dog tired after 7 hours on the road but fizzing with excitement and anticipation for the week to come. Trees are encircling the lane: crowding overhead but never oppressive. Sections of dark velvety shade alternate with bright patches where sunlight streams through the leaves.

It was enchanting and I felt I had to somehow capture it as the first piece in my journal.

Shade and light 1

 

I started with watercolour on calico to mark out the road and the patches of light and shade and then used free cross stitch in variegated stranded Stef Francis silk to loosely cover the painted areas and add texture.

Shade and Light 2

After consideration I decided to keep the darker green section in the middle and the road as plain painted fabric to give contrast to the layered and overlapping texture of the stitches.

Shade and Light 3

The stitching was pretty straightforward but the words took longer.

Shade and Light 4

Still doesn’t quite express what I wanted to say. Perhaps I’ll never quite manage to capture in words the way my heart soars when I travel down these lanes but I can still feel an echo of it when I look at this tiny scrap of embroidery.

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I’ve had more than enough to occupy my hours since we put ‘Guards! Guards!’ to bed but I’ve managed to do the final edit on a short story I wrote recently.  I’m pleased with it.  😮

Black Shuck

“Black Shuck, the calf-sized dog that some say still haunts Norfolk and Suffolk. Sometimes he was invisible, only his hot breath, his footsteps…giving warning of his presence.” The Folklore of East Anglia, Enid Porter 1974

 It was believed that anyone who saw Black Shuck would die within the year.

 A railway station: late at night. The harsh white of the lights an island in the darkness. Smell of oil, diesel, cold concrete and the remains of a fast cooling cup of coffee from the buffet which had closed half an hour ago.

 He was in no hurry. The train would arrive when it arrived; deliver him back to home and the weight of responsibilities that went with it.

 He glanced up as footsteps clattered down the iron footbridge. Light steps mixed with the sound of claws on metal. A slight woman with a mass of braided and dreadlocked blonde hair came into view down the final set of stairs. She was accompanied by a huge rough-coated black dog. He didn’t recognise the breed. Some cross between a mastiff and a Newfoundland, it looked like, but bigger and shaggier than either.

 The woman gave him a slightly wary glance and dumping a large duffel bag on the next bench, sat down. The dog obediently lay down beside her with a wuffing sigh and laid its massive head on its paws.

 A pause. She leaned back on the bag and toyed with a tangle of pendants at her throat. He crossed and uncrossed his legs, trying to make it look as if he wasn’t staring: which he was.

 “Lovely dog. What breed is it?”

 “What?” She seemed surprised he had spoken.

 “Your dog. What breed is it?”

 “Er, I don’t know. Bit of a mixture, I think.”

 “It’s very well trained.”

 Half a smile warmed her rather angular fine-boned face. “He is, isn’t he?”

 “What do you call him?”

 She hesitated slightly. “Shuck.”

 “Chuck?”

 She shook her head. “No, Shuck,” she enunciated carefully.

 “Unusual name.”

 She smiled once more but made no attempt to explain. Shuck wagged his huge tail in response.

 He held out his hand towards the dog. “Hey Shuck; good boy.” The animal lifted its head and sniffed. Intelligent eyes gleamed amid the tousled black fur. Unhurriedly it got to its feet and lumbered over to allow him to make a fuss of it.

 “Sensible to travel with a companion like this,” he commented.

 Her expression was strange. “I suppose so.”

 “I meant with you being a woman travelling alone at night.”

 She didn’t reply to this either. Shuck gave a rumble of pleasure at having its ears so thoroughly fussed and nudged his leg to encourage the attention to continue.

 “A bit late to be travelling?” he asked after a while.

 “I’m meeting someone. You?”

 “Going home.”

 “Business trip?” She had obviously noticed he had no luggage with him.

 He shook his head. “Been to Leeds: St James’ Hospital.”

 She left an encouraging silence. It was suddenly easy to fill, to get all the things that had been whirling round in his head out into the open. “I’ve had an appointment with my consultant. Brain tumour – I was diagnosed five years ago. I had treatment, chemo, radiotherapy, surgery, the lot. But it’s back. They say more aggressive this time – like terminally aggressive.” The words were pouring out now, almost as if she was conjuring them from him. “I don’t want to go through treatment again but I’ve got a family. Wife, two girls. The youngest is about to start university. I missed my train home. Truth is, I wasn’t ready to go. Wandered round and round, trying to think. What should I do? What ought I to do?” His hands worked rhythmically in the Shuck’s fur.

 “Do for whom?” she asked gently.

 “For me? For them? Without treatment, I’ll be dead within the year. With, a few more months, but at what cost?”  

 In the distance, a dull, heavy rattling. The electronic screens flickered and updated. A bored, disembodied voice informed them that the next train at that platform was the 23:27, calling at every field and hedge bottom between there and its destination.

 The huge dog rolled over and invited him to stroke its massive expanse of belly. Automatically, obediently, he did.

 “The consultant said he’d support me whatever choice I made but it’s easy for him. He doesn’t have to go home and tell Cheryl and the girls. Less than a year without treatment, eighteen months to two with.”

 The train was visible now, headlights raking the tracks as it snaked towards the platform. The announcement came again, against the rattle of wheels and brakes and hiss of doors opening into a deserted interior of brightly coloured seats and white plastic. He got up blindly and the Shuck scrambled up with him. He gave it a farewell pat.

 “I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean to unload all this shit onto you.”

 She smiled up at him, a dazzling smile of such warmth and compassion he couldn’t help but smile back. “It’s alright, really,” she said. “I hope it helped.”

 He hesitated, half in, half out of the doorway. “It has, somehow. Thank you. I think I know what I’m going to do now.” Then the doors closed, the engine struck up and the long, lighted snake pulled away.

 The Shuck padded back to her. “I know what you’ll choose too,” she said, softly, her eyes fixed on the receding red lights. She ruffled the dog’s shaggy head. “Most people would not want to see you, you big hairy, smelly beauty. But there are some…”

Copyright Alex Hall 2012

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There wasn’t much to finish on Thursday’s Tintagel piece either, mostly due to the amount of time I had to work on it in the interminable traffic jams on the M5 between Exeter and Bridgwater on our way home.

I’ve never stitched in the car before, mostly because I am ‘WifeNav’. ‘WifeNav’ has the edge on SatNav as it is able to dispense sweets and snacks, arbitrate arguments in the back, hold an intelligent conversation and also get the driver back on track after a wrong turn by such skilful map-reading that he doesn’t even know they went wrong in the first place…

But doing an average of 5mph on a motorway we didn’t need to leave  until we got to Birmingham meant that if I was free to apply my attention to something else and the Tintagel piece was first out of the bag.

This is how it arrived home:

As I said in my last post touching on this piece, the deep water on one side of the headland is called the Haven. I love this word with its overtones of safety and security. It’s more than home, it’s a completely safe place.

At the end of the novel I’m currently working on I wanted the characters to leave Britain via Tintagel, and one of my reasons for visiting the headland this holiday was to do some research on whether that would be possible. I was delighted to find out that it was! And very fitting – these characters all need a haven.

Ecru silk french knots for the waves crashing against the headland.

The headland surrounded with the french knot foam.

Finished.

I’m very pleased with this.

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Before the steel making industry forged Scunthorpe into the town it is now, it consisted of a number of small villages which still exist within the town as areas of it. I live in Ashby and the next village/area is Brumby.

The grounds of Brumby Hall, a brick built 18th century house, have become a  sports ground, with lots of facilities and it was here that we were putting on ‘Cycle Song’ over the weekend of the 13th-15th of July. Also on during the same weekend was the first ever ‘Brumby Bash’

an Arts Festival which the organisers hope is going to become a regular yearly event.

On the Saturday Scunthorpe Little Theatre Club were showcasing a choreographed stage sword fight to a piece of stunning music called ‘Warriors’ by Ronan Hardiman from ‘The Lord of the Dance’ and they offered opportunities through the day for people to have a go with some of the practise swords.

My youngest couldn’t resist!

She was there to sing in the Scunthorpe Cooperative Junior Choir Training Choir (her big sister is in the award-winning main choir). The main choir are well known for their uniform of black waistcoats covered with brightly coloured spots and the little ones have red spotty waistcoats.

And eat sweets given to them by SLTC members who think they look cute!

On the Sunday afternoon I had been asked to take a slot in the small tent reading some of my short stories. As it was a family event I had to choose what I read quite carefully, but as it happened, there wasn’t really much point. I had an audience of three. A good friend and two people I knew through the theatre who stayed to the end out of politeness. I sold no books and on top of the disappointment of the craft fair, the stress of a very full few months both inside and outside of work, I became very demoralised.

Any sort of creativity, as Karen remarked in a reply to my craft fair post, is baring your soul in some way and takes some guts. I’ve crafted stories ever since I could string together a narrative but sharing my writing has always been far more difficult as it was belittled for so long that I still lack any confidence in what I write.  And seeing people wander over, listen for a few lines, or sometimes not even that and then walk off, fed all those distant whispering voices telling me that I really am no good.

I’d dared to bare my soul and the world, it felt, had mocked it.

But there is always hope left in the bottom of the box.

So I went into my cave, scrambled through the end of term, and emerged with a needle in my hand.

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Although I haven’t actually physically wandered anywhere. But I did take on far too much and it all rather caught up with me: hence the absence.

First up: ‘Regency Romance’. As Museum Liaison Officer for Scunthorpe Little Theatre Club (SLTC) I work with the local North Lincolnshire Museum to find opportunities for our members to perform outside the main shows we do at the local theatre and to enhance the stuff they are doing. About a year ago it was suggested that we do something at Normanby Hall during their annual Food Fair on June the 17th.

Inspired by a wonderful intimate piece of promenade theatre that I saw at Stokesay Castle in Shropshire several years ago, I developed and wrote a six scene short play called, for want of a better title, ‘Regency Romance’ to take place in six locations in and around the Hall and grounds.

Lord George Henley, his wife Valeria and their daughter Charlotte are at their country residence for the summer.  A visitor is expected and John Stanton, a young undergardener, is sent up to the house with more flowers for the table.

He is met outside the front of the Hall by Lizzie, an underhousemaid, whose interest in him only matched by her love of gossip. She tells him that the visitor is a rich lord who is going to be betrothed to Miss Charlotte. Disgusted by her tittle-tattling, John tells her to hold her tongue and storms off, but his angry reaction makes Lizzie suspicious. Why should he be so interested in Miss Charlotte?

Shortly after John has stormed off back to the Walled Garden, Charlotte slips out of the House and sets off for the garden, ostensibly to choose some bunches of grapes for her mother, but actually to meet with John: the two are having a romantic affair.

Lizzie’s words have given John a wake-up call.  He realises that there is no future in their relationship across the social divide and that Charlotte’s chances lie in the advantageous marriage the visiting lord can offer.

Even though it hurts them both, he tells her this and heartbroken, Charlotte runs back to the house.

Meanwhile, Viscount Rickinghall has arrived and is shown into Lord George’s study where he explains how he fell in love with Charlotte during her last London season and wishes to marry her.

As a very rich man he can offer her every advantage. Lord George is delighted and immediately goes to break the good news to his wife and daughter.

Lady Valeria is equally delighted, but for Charlotte, even though she appreciates the honour of such a rich and important man seeking her hand in marriage, the pain of her rejection by John is far too raw.

Lord George, sensing her reluctance, wisely leaves her with her mother. Lady Valeria is completely unaware of Charlotte’s mental turmoil and starts to reminisce about her own youth and some of the unsuitable men she fell in love with as a way of explaining to Charlotte how well her own arranged marriage to Lord George has turned out.

Some of what her mother is saying makes sense to Charlotte and by the time the two of them leave the room, she is no less heartbroken, but now understands what John was trying to tell her. 

Lizzie sees her opportunity to get back at John and follows Viscount Rickinghall out into the formal garden.

She pretends to be crying over her love, who has cast her off because he is in love with someone else and this, she hints slyly, puts her into the same situation as Rickinghall. She isn’t prepared for the way Rickinghall turns on her and she certainly hasn’t thought far enough ahead to realise that she may have endangered her own job with her spitefulness.

Rickinghall feels there is enough in her story for him to investigate further and decides to question Charlotte. If she is in love with someone else he will leave and not press his suit. He sends Lizzie into the house to ask Charlotte if she will show him around the Walled Garden.

Oblivious, Charlotte joins him outside the front door of the Hall and they stroll along the drive , making small talk as they go.

Charlotte soon starts to feel that some of Rickinghall’s comments are pointed but she doesn’t know why. As they cross the stableyard, John, pushing a wheelbarrow, comes round the corner.

He is just in time to see Rickinghall, desperate to know whether Charlotte actually does love someone else, grab her by the shoulders. Without thinking he snatches a hoe out of the barrow and attacks the Viscount.

Theere is a brief fight, broken up by Charlotte, terrified that they are going to kill each other and then both men regain control. Rickinghall has finally pieced the story together, and in spite of John’s glib explanation about thinking the Viscount was going to manhandle Charlotte and doing what any of the family’s servants would have done to protect her, he realises the truth.

He asks Charlotte directly if she is in love with someone else, and Charlotte, encouraged by an almost imperceptible shake of the head from John, replies that she is not. She takes the Viscount’s proffered arm and the two leave to take a turn around the park.

It was a wonderful setting and despite a number of very stressful problems we had beforehand and on the day, none incidentally to do with our fantastic cast and crew, it was a privilege for me to see my words and characters brought so beautifully to life in such fabulous settings.

So, June 17th and the first project out of the way. Next goal, the craft fair on July the 1st.

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I recently started a Writer’s Circle at SLTC, and the focus of the last meeting was monologues. I love memories and anecdotes; precious fragments of lives, and one of the things that interests me most about stitching is how memories can become part of the stitched work. Perhaps through memories associated with the fabrics used, perhaps more actively through stitching as journaling, but most fascinating of all, through the memories, experiences and emotions that the person was undergoing when they stitched it. For me these so often end up in the piece as a record, invisible to everyone but me, of where I was, physically and emotionally when I set those stitches.

At the Writers’ Circle we write for a blessed uninterrupted hour. This is how I explored some of my thoughts about stitching and memory.

The Quilt

The speaker is an elderly woman in a care home somewhere in the American Midwest. She is talking to a visitor who has admired the patchwork quilt covering her knees.

 Thank you. That’s real nice of you. Yeah, I guess I am surprised. It’s been a part of my life for so long I’ve never really thought about it like that. It’s just a quilt. It’s soft, it keeps you warm; it…it…it ain’t anything special. Not like these fancy quilts people make nowadays. Goodness knows how they get ‘em all pieced and quilted so neat and fine and those fancy fabrics they use; silks and stuff. There’s only one piece of silk in this whole quilt. Course, I ain’t sure if it’s silk exactly. It’s a scrap my Grandma gave me. She said it came from the bodice of her grandma’s wedding dress. I don’t know if that’s true but it’s a pretty story. It’s that piece just there; feels soft, don’t it?

 I pieced that block through a real bad snowstorm we had one winter. Lasted two whole days and knocked all the power out from here to Fort Wayne. Frank and the boys shovelled a path to the barn, dug out all the old lamps of his mother’s and that’s all the light we had for weeks. Don’t look too close – that’s why the stitching ain’t too even. Lily was just a mite then. I used to rock her off to sleep in the old cradle and then I’d sit and sew with the mantle of that old Tilly lamp hissing away like a kettle on the stove and that heavy sort of quiet you get when the snow’s deep and thick, just thinking and stitching.

 That’s some of Lily’s first summer dress right there. Yeah, that pretty blue cotton with the flower sprays; came from Mason’s closing down sale in the spring of ’49. I bought a bunch of stuff that day. We’d not been married long and money was real tight but I knew it’d all come in at some point. Mason’s? It became a drug store for a while after old Mr Mason sold up and then the whole area got pretty run down. Course, it ain’t there now, it was on one of those blocks they flattened in the Seventies when they built the High School.

 That was from Mason’s too. I had a sun dress in that green with the flowers and cherries. It was so pretty and comfortable. Wore it for years and then when I put on weight I cut it down to make pinafores for Lily and Sylvia. That was from a shirt I made for Frank one fall. Remember I just had enough to make one for Kit too; brushed plaid cotton. I had such a bother to match the pattern – I reckon there was more cussing in those two shirts than in anything else I ever made – but they came out a treat. You know, I can see them two boys now, heading down the track to the creek with their denim pants tucked into their boots and their matching shirts and Kit’s little blonde head bobbing up and down by Frank’s waist. He was so proud to be going fishing just like his Daddy.

 Course, that was when Jack was too small to go with them. He’d stand by the kitchen door, sobbing and hollering in an almighty temper and then he’d start slamming and kicking the door till sometimes I’d no choice but to take the back of my hand to him. He always was the odd one. But there’s so much of him in this quilt. Not the material: I think that might be from one of his baby shirts and that’s definitely from a bowtie I made him when he was in High School and nutty on the Sanderson girl, but…no, not an awful lot. Not compared to the others, I mean. He’s there in other ways. In that block mostly. I was stitching on it the evening he came home to tell us he’d enlisted. Frank was a mild-mannered man but he’d seen enough in Europe in the last war and he said he weren’t having no son of his jauntering half way round the world and getting himself killed for some bunch of foreigners who couldn’t even run their country properly.

 And then they started shouting. I knew it’d do no good me saying anything when those two had their danders up like that so I just sat tight and sewed. Jack said some awful things about Frank being unpatriotic and un-American and then he called his father a ‘dammed Commie’ and slammed out of the house. Frank never forgot that, you know. It weren’t true but it hurt him more than anything and of course, they never had the chance to say sorry, either of them. Sometimes I wish I’d spoken up but that’s not what you did in those days. I just sat tight and sewed and it’s like I sewed every word into that block and it’s still there.

 Goodness! I don’t know what’s gotten into me, rattling on like this; you must be bored silly. After all, it’s nothing special. It’s just an old quilt.

Copyright: Alex Hall January 2012

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