Show and Tell…

As promised, here are a few pictures I took at the Artists’ Network Bedfordshire’s exhibition last weekend. This was the first time I’ve ever shown any of my stitched tapestries to anyone ‘outside‘.

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You’ll no doubt remember my problems with getting anything from the ‘stitched‘ state, to the ‘showable‘ state over the years. The brilliant thing about having the opportunity to show at this exhibition, was being gently forced to face up to the issue and find a solution.

Thanks to Kathy (Of Gardens, Grandmothers and Gleanings), blogging about the The Eye of The Needle exhibition at the Ashmolean, I went over to Oxford and saw how the Feller Collection had mounted some of their fragments of needlework, using calico stretched over a canvas frame, with the needlework stitched to the calico. Ta Dah! At last, a way to do it that seemed sympathetic with my pieces and achievable without too much difficulty.
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Here’s my table with Firmament, Hedonism and Brian.

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So what did I learn over the weekend?

IMAG7479I discovered how good it feels to be part of a group of like minded people. Making art in many forms is a largely solitary existence, so getting together with other people was a wonderfully uplifting experience. It’s wonderful to find kindred spirits out there! And as you can see, they’re a talented and versatile lot around here.

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I also learned that people are very interested in how we make our pieces. I hadn’t anticipated how chatty visitors would be, and it was quite an eye-opener to realise that complete strangers might actually want to know more about the process and the inspiration behind our work. I also discovered how much I enjoy talking about my stitching (I do hope I didn’t bore for England, but once I got going, I found I loved explaining all about it).

So my first foray into the real world was a very happy experience, and now I know that I can do it, I’m sure I’ll be doing it again.

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Tree Time: September

In which we know it’s autumn…

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Nothing quite like a blue sky for lifting the spirits...

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Nine months of watching the changes to the oak tree on the lane. Above is a picture from each month of 2014, starting in January and ending with the picture I took this morning, showing how the tree – and the hedge – has changed over the weeks and months.

In August, although I felt that something was beginning to be different in the air, you still couldn’t really say that we’d moved into autumn, but now, despite afternoon temperatures on many days reaching summer levels, you certainly know at 8am in the mornings, that the earth has turned into the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…

The oak is changing colour now. There were hints of change last month, but they were difficult to pinpoint, the quality of light makes such a difference to what you can see each day. Now I can see the beginnings of a golding, as if someone has lightly sprayed antique gold paint across the leaves. But it’s still subtle, green continues to dominate.

But change is more obvious in the lane.

The lush growth of midsummer is dying down now. Bracken is tinged with brown as the first fronds die back. The cleavers that I thought would strangle the nettles have all but disappeared. And everywhere, the huge abundance of fruits is evident. The hedges are red with haws and hips, and sloes and blackberries hang heavy along the way.

Gradually I’m beginning to be able to see through the hedge again to the fields beyond, which until now have been hidden behind a curtain of tall, thick green foliage.

This month I’ve surprised a couple of pheasants and been mocked by dozens of squirrels – they obviously think that teasing the Delinquent Dog is a jolly good game. And is it me, or can I hear more birdsong now – it certainly seems so.

I haven’t quite had to resort to gloves and a scarf yet, but it didn’t feel far away today – I might get them out ready.

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I post my daily photographs of the tree and other snaps from walking the Delinquent Dog on Instagram – either follow me there, or see the mini-versions on the right-hand sidebar of the blog for regular updates.

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Scotland and other news…

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Scotland is very much in the news at the moment with the vote less than 24 hours away! But I shall have Scotland in mind throughout 2015 thanks to Jo Woolf at The Hazel Tree, who has produced a fabulous calendar featuring her wonderful photographs of Scottish scenery – and best of all for me – Scottish castles…

If like me you’re in love with Scottish countryside and history and you’re not already following Jo’s blog and website, do go over there right now and have a look around. I thought I knew Scotland pretty well, but since I’ve been reading Jo’s posts, I’ve acquired a long list of places I must visit the next time I go north for a holiday.

I’m not sure how many calendars Jo has available, but there’s a link here to take you to her Etsy shop if you fancy a little piece of Scotland on your wall next year.

(I’m sure you know me well enough by now, but just to reassure you, this is a personal recommendation and not sponsored in any way – I am just a big fan!).

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And in other news…

Well, I’ve finally done it – I have decided to dip my toe tentatively into the real world with my stitchy stuff. At the weekend, I’m hoping to have a small number of my stitched tapestries on display at the Ivinghoe Community Hub, (really close to Ivinghoe Beacon for those in the know) as part of the Artists’ Network Bedfordshire September Art Trail.

Having played around with various ideas, I’ve finally come up with a simple, but I hope effective way of presenting the tapestries, so the last few days have seen me busily putting them together, stabbing myself in the finger far too many times with a very sharp needle and having much more fun than is strictly allowed with a roll of bubble-wrap.

If anyone is in the Beds/Bucks/Herts borderland this weekend and fancies tea, cake and original local art – Ivinghoe is your place to be (the tea room in the same building is absolutely first-rate – it really is extremely good, and you know I’m fussy about these things!).

Wish me luck!

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Little treasures…

The other day, while I was looking for something completely different, I came across this little box which had belonged to my grandmother.

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Not very exciting is it. But then, what happens if you take off the lid and peep inside?

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Here are the sides…

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I’m sure many of you will know now exactly what it is…

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…opened out, it’s obvious – a needle-case.

Dozens of rusty (but still very sharp) needles. And what’s in the middle?

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Just more needles – still wrapped in their black tissue.

A gift to my grandmother from her brother, fighting in France during The Great War. (He survived).

Not all family heirlooms are valuable, some are priceless.

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A sense of home…

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I was delighted to read Catherine’s latest post over at Knotted Cotton – part of the current blog hop that’s introducing creative sorts from around the world and giving us glimpses into their individual processes and idiosyncrasies. Catherine kindly mentioned Dreaming In Stitches (thank you Catherine). 

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my own creative process, which I think includes most of the questions covered in the blog hop – the link to it is here if you’d like to read it again. But one question I didn’t cover then was  -‘Where I live, or have lived’.

This for me, is both the easiest and confusingly also the hardest question to answer.

The simple and straightforward response is that I currently live in the Home Counties, just inside Bedfordshire, but so close to Buckinghamshire that I cross into it every morning when I walk the Delinquent Dog.

I was born and raised in rural Worcestershire, went away to university in Yorkshire and lived there for near-as-damn-it ten years, before coming south to work in the 1990s.

I met the Other Half here. This is where we married, where our children were born and where they are now at school for a few more years at least. I have lived here longer than anywhere else, it is where the others call home. But is it where I call home?

And this is where it becomes complicated.

Because although our house, our family home, is undoubtedly home, my home, my nest, my sanctuary, – at the same time, I can’t put my hand on my heart and honestly say that this area feels like home.

Deep inside, with a yearning that is so powerful it makes me come over all emotional, I want to go west. My body may be in the Home Counties, but my mind and my heart are somewhere between Hereford and Harlech. It isn’t a recent thing, although as I get older, the desire gets stronger. I long for hills and mountains, for rivers and streams, for castles and hill forts, for history seeping out of the stones.

I ache to go west and I suspect it may be in my genes. My paternal grandfather retired to Pembrokeshire and my brother has now retired to Carmarthenshire – coincidence? My mother’s family were Jones’s, so perhaps the pull comes from both directions, who can say. All I know is that if I stand for a while in the garden, I swear I start to lean over towards the west.

I’m acutely aware that this could be a recipe for huge discontent, especially since without the Other Half making major changes in his working life, it’s not likely to happen soon. Even tentative ideas for retirement are still rather more in the realms of fantasy than reality. Dwelling too much in the land of what-ifs could blind me to the beauty of what-is and I’m determined that that won’t happen.

So I make the conscious effort to tune in to the patterns of nature, to go with the same rhythms of the year that I’d experience wherever we lived and to appreciate the elements from the flat-lands as much as I’d do if I was on top of a mountain. I don’t put my enjoyment on-hold until some future time.

It’s just that when the spirit of a place burrows into your soul, it’s very difficult to ignore. I live here and I live there too.

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Standing on top of Raglan Castle, looking west… pure heaven.

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Tree Time: August

Shhhh! If we all keep very quiet, I might manage to write this before the teenage daughters materialise from their beds. I don’t generally find August compatible with blogging – we’re either out and about doing too much, or we’re in, but I can’t get anywhere near my computer for girls watching YouTube or playing fantasy games. So let’s be quick…

When August started, you could still make a fairly convincing argument for it still being summer. We had plenty of hot sunny days with a few gloriously blue skies off-setting the wonderful greens from the oak and the hedge in front of it.

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But it wasn’t long before I felt there was quite a change to the air on the early morning walk. A tinge of coolness on the edge of the breeze that hadn’t been there before. Much of the hedgerow undergrowth has died back now and views are beginning to open up again through the gaps in the hedge.

By this morning, there really isn’t any doubt that we’re now at the beginning of autumn.

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Thick dew on the field this morning. And berries appearing all along the lane.

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There was a different quality to the light through the trees.

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Autumn is my favourite season.

I’m not going to dwell too much on this, but this morning, I noticed how extremely glossy and gorgeous the holly bushes are at the moment – and how many berries they seem to be growing – isn’t there some country saying about the amount of berries and the harshness of the winter?…

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Too soon to be thinking about that.

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Sounds from upstairs – time to be off.

Enjoy the rest of the summer, back into the swing again very soon.

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For more or less daily pictures of the oak and what’s happening on the lane, follow me on Instagram or watch the bar at the side of these posts.

 

 

The Year In Books: July & June

A literary pick ‘n’ mix…

So it’s summer and of course that means we’re all sitting by the pool, reading something light and airy.

Or maybe not…

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To be entirely truthful, my reading over the last few weeks has been extremely patchy. I’ve certainly downloaded and read a lot of sample chapters on the Kindle, but as for actually reading through a whole book, ummm, well.

The trouble started when I decided after buying the next Gareth and Gwen novel, not to read it straight away. I’ve gulped down so many series novels over the years, I suddenly thought I’d wait and read this later in the winter. But what to read instead?

I won’t bore you with all the titles I tasted. In the end, on the Kindle I have lined up the following;

  • The Passion – Jeanette Winterson (thank you to My Search For Magic for the recommendation)
  • The Gospel of Loki – Joanne M Harris
  • The Enchanted April – Elizabeth von Arnim (guaranteed to make you feel good)

While I was dithering about what to read, Jo at The Hazel Tree posted her review of the classic The Old Straight Track – Alfred Watkins.  This is one of my favourite books, so after reading her post, I dug out my copy and promptly starting dipping in again. Not only is it a fascinating read, but for me it’s quite nostalgic, bringing back lots of happy memories.

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Then my yoga teacher lent me her copy of Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness – Erich Schiffman, so I’m gradually reading through that too.

Which would probably have been more than enough to get my teeth into. But then, a few days ago, I happened upon the new Marc Morris history book – The Norman Conquest. What is a history junkie supposed to do! I like Marc Morris’s style, and I thought before I buy the new book, I’ll re-read his previous one, about Edward I – which I did.

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And then – big mistake, I looked Marc Morris up on the Kindle and found he’d written another book, about castles – Castles: A history of the buildings that shaped medieval Britain. It’s at times like these someone should take my Amazon account off me. Naturally I demonstrated no self-control whatsoever, not only did I order Castles, I also found a copy of Prof R Allen Brown’s classic, English Castles online, which I’ve also ordered.

Which would have been alright I suppose, if I hadn’t then decided I might as well buy The Norman Conquest anyway – which I have…

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My name is Anny and I am a history-bookaholic.

Happy reading

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Tree time: July…

Phew, we made it to the last day of term! Things are a bit behind around here, but I’ve just stolen a few minutes to write up the latest from my daily tree project, before I pour a large glass of something red and delicious and head to the sofa.

This was the oak at the beginning of July

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As the weeks go by and the hedges fill outwards and upwards, it’s getting harder to see the tree behind the green screen.

And here it is today (July 23rd) – the bird box is now almost invisible behind all the growth.

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Seven months in and the best thing for me about this whole project so far, is that I’ve gone from sort of noticing what was going on around me, to really being interested and looking out every day for changes in the hedges and trees along our route. I’ve become much more aware of what’s growing where and the developing leaves, flowers and now fruits too. I wish there was a pet naturalist handy to come along on the odd walk and tell me more about what I’m seeing, but I’m definitely learning a lot about the local plant and animal/bird life.

A while ago, I realised that I’m inevitably going to want to be able to compare what I’ve seen this year with what happens next year. At first I tried keeping a daily diary – on paper and then digitally, but I just don’t have the time to keep up that pace, so I thought I’d try to do a summary here once in a while.

So the highlights of July on our daily walk have been…

IMAG6720_BURST001Seeing the baby conkers start to form.

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But being concerned that the horse-chestnut trees already seem to have gone into autumn mode – they’re all like this, is that normal or are they ill?

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Ok, you’re probably wondering why I’ve put this picture here. Well, until mid-July the whole lane was a mess of huge, dangerous pot-holes (which it has had for as long as I’ve been walking this route) Then one morning two weeks ago, as the dog and I stood clear of a fast approaching Audi, we watched him hit a particularly big hole and blow out his front tyre. I stopped to talk to him and he said the council should sort out the road - oh yes, I thought, and pigs will be sprouting wings any day now, but just look what happened a week later!

Mind you, it was a very patchy job to say the least, as you can see by the amount of water still filling the holes after the mid-month thunderstorms…

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Can you see the squashed traffic cone in the hedge – it used to mark the biggest hole. You’d still be foolish to drive, walk or cycle in those puddles.

Talking of rain, we’ve certainly had our share this month. The lane becomes a fast-flowing stream – which I love, but the dog hates…

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The sky has been wonderful

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But perhaps the best part of the month has been watching the fruits arrive in the hedgerow…

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elderberries, not ready yet, but there will be plenty.

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Hazelnuts,

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and blackberries, although there are still a lot of brambles in flower.

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These thistles are nearly over now, but I loved their shape and texture.

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The lane feels more like a tunnel now that the hedges are so high. This was the lane in February

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And today.

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I think I may have become a tiny bit obsessed with all this :)

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Harvington Hall, Worcestershire

A house of secrets…

One very hot afternoon last week, I headed up to Worcestershire to carry out a couple of family errands and to reward myself with a visit to my all-time-favourite historic house – Harvington Hall.

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This isn’t the first time I’ve written about it. After a Christmas trip I wrote a post for Mists of Time explaining some of the historic background – which in essence is: Elizabethan moated manor, incorporating older hall section. Famous for having at least seven priest hiding holes, created by NIcholas Owen, none of which ever gave up their secrets during the time they were being used.

Oddly enough, in all the many years I’ve been going to Harvington, I don’t remember going before on a sunny day. I wondered how it would affect the atmosphere, because although I’ve always loved it, you couldn’t really call it a particularly warm house. The word I’d usually used to describe the Hall was brooding.

But I may have to revise my opinion after the latest trip.

I get the impression that Harvington is having a bit of a resurgence. Back in the 1960s when I started going, it felt as if it was only a few winters away from ruin, now it almost feels inhabitable!

And now instead of an overriding atmosphere of broodiness and secrets, it actually feels warm and welcoming. The creaking floorboards sound like people having a good time rather than ghosts shuffling across a room.

I’m going to stop waffling on now about how wonderful it is and just show you a few of the photos I took.

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This is new – now you can really see how a Tudor kitchen might have looked.

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I loved this little touch (although I think they should have some adult sizes too).

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One of Harvington’s secrets here. This isn’t really a fireplace, just a dummy which conceals one of the hiding places – neat!

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And there’s another hiding place here – but you can’t see it – a clue: the vertical panel on the top right rotates to give access to a hide. It would have been hidden behind a bookcase originally.

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The herb garden has been created in a tiny space between the Hall and the moat, you can’t tell it’s there unless you know where to look – a green secret.

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Years ago I couldn’t imagine wanting to spend the night at the Hall, but now, I’m not so sure.

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The original staircase was stripped out and reused by the Throckmorton family at Coughton Court – this is a recreation. Oh and there’s a hide under the stairs too.

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One of the new secrets about Harvington is that the food served there is absolutely wonderful. You can eat in the tearoom which is in the oldest part of the Hall, or take your lunch outside – beware the rapacious ducks.

The Elizabethans were singing and playing. I’m not generally a fan of this sort of thing, but on that afternoon it felt perfect. My eldest daughter says that if she were ever queen, she’d insist on being accompanied everywhere by minstrels…

And finally, the secret of the wall paintings. They’re very faint, you might want to click on the gallery to have a better look. Imagine just how amazing this old brick and timber house would have been in its painted hey-day.

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Well, I couldn’t end without another window… looking out over the moat.

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Harvington Hall is owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham and obviously greatly loved and cared for by a host of devoted, friendly and enthusiastic people. It may not be the grandest house, it may not have any major works of international renown, it may not be on many visitors top-ten attractions list, but it is and always will be my favourite – summer and winter.

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For visitor information, see this link here.

Under one roof…

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Many of you will know that I have a passion for historic places and keep a blog where I record my various visits. This seemed like a good idea when I started, no need to bore people who expected stitchiness with historical stuff over here, and visa versa. But – you knew there was a ‘but’ coming didn’t you – but, having had things arranged like this for a couple of years, I’ve decided to risk it and bring the historic stuff under this blogging roof.

To be honest, keeping it separate has always felt a bit weird, but when I started blogging, the advice was all about being topic specific. However, I think the latest post from Annie Cholewa (AKA Knitsofacto) sums it up perfectly, especially her quote from Mark Kerstetter .

‘The best blogs are acts of bricolage, a new kind of collage, incorporating images, texts, ideas. Why not use them all? And while you’re at it, be yourself.’

Until I brought the history stuff together with everything else, I wasn’t really being myself.

I apologise in advance for any pant-removing boringness, but at least you’ll now be getting the whole me.

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Why I Stitch…

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If you spend half as much time trawling Blogland as I do, you’ll no doubt have seen a fair number of bloggers lately writing about why they write. I love reading these posts, I suppose we’re all fascinated by what brings us back to the blank screen, time after time.

I started thinking about writing one myself, but before I got very far, the word stitch booted out the word write and just wouldn’t go away. So why I write will have to wait for another day, this post, shamelessly using the same format, is about…

Why I Stitch…

What am I working on?

This is what I’m stitching at the moment – well, I would be if I wasn’t also running a part-time taxi service for two teenage daughters, doing daily battle against the invading laundry pile and attempting – frequently in vain –  to keep on top of the cooking/shopping/gardening and cleaning.

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This time I’m going for some gentle texture, so it’s what I’ve taken to calling a canvas embroidery as opposed to the stitched tapestries which are smoother (because they’re all done in tent stitch).

How does my stitch differ from others in the genre?

Ummm, is there a stitched tapestry/canvas embroidery genre? I’ve never been able to decide if what I do fits into any category, which is probably why I find it difficult to know what to call it. All I can say that I know is perhaps unusual, is that I much prefer to stitch into loose-weave canvas materials rather than the rigid monos and interlocks – it makes for interesting times trying to square anything up, but I like the feel, the weight and the drape of the finished pieces much more than anything I’ve ever done on stiff canvas.

Or perhaps I should say that for me, stitching is just painting in threads. I use wools, silks and cottons as a painter would apply oils, acrylics or watercolours – thread just happens to be the medium in which I’m most at home.

Why do I stitch what I do?

I was tempted to answer this ‘I stitch, therefore I am’ (sorry Mr Descartes). I don’t know why I stitch, but I don’t seem to be complete, to feel at one with life the universe and everything unless I have some stitching on the go. It’s just something I’ve done for so many years, it’s integral to who I am.

I tell people that I find the process of stitching meditative and that’s true. When I’m repeatedly passing the needle backwards and forwards through the canvas, I find a peace and inner calm. But when you think about it, that’s not surprising because it’s not something you can do quickly, so it forces you to slow down, and then finding the tiny holes literally requires one-pointed focus, both characteristics of meditation techniques.

As for subject matter, I always wonder where inspiration comes from. I’ve mentioned before how the druidic concept of awen* appeals very much to me, I like to embrace that idea. And somewhere deep in the machinations of my mind, my love of all things ancient and historic, of medieval arts and crafts, and of the patterns and textures from the natural world, coagulates into the designs that finally end up in the canvas.

How does my stitching process work?

Much easier to answer this. I’ll generally start with something loosely seen in my mind – it might be a combinations of colours or a pattern or something that has kindled an idea. I might try to sketch something on paper – probably getting the paints out too, although I never end up with anything even vaguely akin to the cartoons tapestry weavers may use. I just try to see how it might sit in two dimensions.

Then I lay out the canvas and draw on a rough guide (one advantage of using loose-weave scrims and crash, is that it’s much cheaper than tapestry canvas, so I’m not afraid to get anything wrong).

Then I rifle through my stash of yarns and pull out all the colours and textures I think I’m going to want. (If the project starts with a colour concept, this stage will come before the design). Often I’ll decide I need to add shades, so it’s off to whoever has what I’m looking for – I love that part! And frequently, once I’m into the piece, I’ll decide it needs additional shades, so these are bought in as and when they’re wanted.

I mainly use a clip-on frame to hold the canvas because I like to be able to move around it – I suppose this is where I really depart from woven projects which have to be created line by line and this is also why I tend to think of it as painting in threads, after all you don’t paint from the top up or visa versa, you go all over the canvas as the piece requires, and this is to some extent how I stitch (this is also how I decide how to fine-tune which colours to use where).

And after that, it’s just a case of sitting down and stitching and stitching and stitching until all those little holes are finally filled with threads.

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* Awen: It’s not an easy concept to sum up in a few words here. The wiki link is a start, but there are druid bloggers and writers who do a better job – albeit in many more words if you’re interested.

A couple of Why I Write posts I’ve really enjoyed are from Sue at The Quince Tree and Jessica at Rusty Duck. Check out the comments on both these blogs for links to more lovely bloggers’ posts – you’ll need a large mug of your favourite beverage and half and hour at least to while away, but it’s one of the best ways to meet some new Blogland heros.

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Do continue the hop if you haven’t already, whether it’s why you write or stitch, or, well – whatever makes your heart sing.

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