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Our family holiday in the Lake District was over a month ago and despite the persistent rain, we had a fabulous time and I managed to get some stitching done to go in my holiday journal.

I still love to combine found objects, paper and stitch and that’s what I did with a couple of fragments I picked up from the shores of Grasmere.

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The wheatear stitch has a lovely weight to it and works really well for holding down the ring pull.

I insisted on having a day at Blackwell, The Arts and Crafts House, near Windermere and as the girls and I managed to persuade the men to go on a walk without us, we were able to spend a leisurely day there, just wallowing in the utter beauty of the Arts and Crafts rooms and furnishing without being chivvied on. My little one drew, mostly on her phone but also with a real pencil and paper (!)

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Her older sister sat in an inglenook and wrote.

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And I found a window seat in the Great Hall and sewed.

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I’ve worked embroidery inspired by Blackwell before, namely a whitework sample I stitched back in 2015 for my altered book holiday journal…

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…based on a pillow case, which you can just about see on the other page of the book spread.

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The entire place is just stuffed with inspiration in every craft discipline, but this time I was very taken with an embroidered runner in the Great Hall which had a repeating pattern of sycamore keys.

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So I decided to work my own version for the holiday journal. It felt rather odd, but was a real treat to be able to get up and walk over to the original for reference instead of working from my photos!

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Outline in stem stitch.

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Then the solid part of the seeds in satin stitch.

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My single sample is rather bigger than the originals though and the satin stitches were too long and loose in this scale, so after trying various couching methods, I went for good old Bayeux stitch.

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I also decided to stitch a bit of fun, to represent the amazing meal we had on the way at the Brown Horse in Coley. We always stop here for lunch (and have never been disappointed with the food) on the way up to the Lakes. For us it’s where the holiday starts. So…salad leaves…

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… with Stilton…

 

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…pepper salami and parma ham!

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I will be adding olives later!

 

 

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For me, this blog is a place to express and explore my creativity and so I rarely talk about the other parts of my life, but those of you who have been around for a while will have probably worked out that I am, or was, a primary school teacher by trade. That was until just over three years ago when I was moved into the school’s Nurture Room to work one to one with a child who was unable to access classroom teaching due to some very complex needs. At the same time, the school’s Learning Mentor went off sick (and never returned) and I found myself covering her role.

I loved it. I managed a small team and for the first time found myself outside the toxic culture of the primary classroom, where nothing you do is ever good enough. I liaised with outside agencies and support services on behalf of our vulnerable children and families and designed and ran programmes to support children with a whole range of behavioural, emotional, social and mental health problems. It was the most interesting, creative and rewarding period of my entire working life.

Then last year the academy provider decided that the school would be better served by me returning to the classroom. When the current Y6 cohort, which contained some of our most challenging children, left there would (apparently) be no need for my role and the work I was doing three days a week would be covered by other members of staff (it hasn’t…). Bullshit. It was really just about saving money.

It broke my heart. I never even made it as far as the first day of term and spent eight months off work with stress and depression until I took redundancy in April. It was the biggest finish of my life, shutting the door on a nearly thirty year career.

I’m nowhere near retirement, so I need to turn my finish into some new beginnings and now I find myself like a child in a sweet shop, not knowing what to choose as there are so many things I love doing that could become potential careers.

I want to get back to writing. I have a second book of short stories ready to go, a novel I’m about a quarter of the way through, a panto script on the boil and an idea for a book about effective behaviour management techniques.

I also desperately want to carry on doing the sort of nurture/behaviour management stuff I was doing when I was working, perhaps as a consultancy. My behaviour management methods really work and I would love to be able to train and advise teachers, schools and teacher training courses.

And then there are all my creative things. I’m working on a couple of pieces of upcycled furniture at the moment which I am really excited about, as well as all my embroidery and my upcycled and original jewellery. I still love the mechanics of teaching and I’ve really enjoyed the workshops I’ve run at Scunthorpe Embroiderers’ Guild.

It’s like trying to choose off an amazing menu. Each time I think I’ve settled on one path, I think about the others and get really excited about them and change my mind. So I’m not choosing. I’m going to try and work on all of them and see how and where that goes.

I’ve started working as a Primary Behaviour and Social-Emotional Support Specialist with some initial pro bono work for a friend to get my name out there and have updated my LinkedIn profile accordingly. It’s reminded me how much I relish the problem solving and enabling children in crisis to find strategies to help them.

I’ve also started offering textile/embroidery workshops and have already had a few enquiries, which is encouraging. I even designed a flyer to help with publicity so if you’re interested then please get in contact. I can do full days, half days and evenings and am happy to travel (in the UK).

Flyer

And then there is always Etsy, eBay, car boot sales and I’m hoping to find some markets and fairs to attend. I’m dipping my toe this Saturday when Scunthorpe branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild have our 21st birthday exhibition. Some very long time readers might recognise the embroidery on the poster – my North Cornwall Wallhanging!

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I’m having a stall with a range of beachcombed and original jewellery and also a selection of my upcycled jewellery which has been embroidered or is textile-based in some way. I’ve read reams of stuff on how to have a successful hand made stall and have everything crossed. It will be fun!

 

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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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