2015-06-23 14.01.34

Playtime…

I know I’ve said it before, but never mind, I’m going to witter on again. The thing is, when you spend most of your creative time making extremely slow art, you do occasionally have the uncontrollable urge to do something different, the bubbling juices just have to be uncorked.

For some time now, I’ve been hatching a plan to do something I haven’t done for, well, let’s just say, it was before Mrs Thatcher’s era…

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I started putting my plan into action – I bought a small selection of oil paints and a bottle of brush cleaner. Yes, I’ve decided that I’m going to spend time this summer revisiting the joy of my teens, oil-painting.

Way back then, I was so lucky to have an art teacher who let us experiment with oils, in fact he positively encouraged a group of us who were being channelled down an academic path, to relax at the end of each week in the Sixth Form, by going along on Friday afternoons to the art department, to paint for a couple of hours.

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I can’t imagine now, why I didn’t keep it up after I left school. Probably I was simply too caught up in the whole forging ahead in your career imperative to think about making art very much in those days. And at times of stress – and there were plenty of those – I turned to stitching as my relaxation.

But for a few years now, certainly since I’ve well and truly left that world behind, I’ve occasionally hankered over oil paints again.

And now, having finally managed to scrape out a tiny space in the house, where I can set up an easel and leave it, I’ve taken the plunge.

Yesterday, having started off in what I’m going to call a slightly prickly mood (you know the one, where you turn green and scaly and begin to breathe fire), I knew it was the right time to crack open the paints and the turps substitute and get down to some serious playtime.

It didn’t take more than a couple of minutes before I was that teenager all over again.

So, there you have it. My plan for the summer (apart from the three weeks in Scotland), is to reacquaint myself with the special alchemy of oils. I’m not anticipating any startling results on canvas, but if yesterday’s experience is anything to go by, I will at least expect to be smiling most of the time.

(Although, thinking about it now, I wonder if the turps substitute had anything to do with lifting my mood…)

Have you ever returned to an old arty love? Do tell.

Happy creating!

<3

 

 

2015-06-13 14.48.27

Pilgrimage…

In which even the persistent rain couldn’t spoil the pleasure of a visit to the home of my historic hero, Bess of Hardwick…

It won’t surprise anyone who comes here often, that Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire exerts a powerful allure for this particular history junkie, combining as it does the attractions of a seriously grand Elizabethan great house, with an unsurpassed collection of historic textiles.

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Hardwick Hall – more glass than wall – as they say…

And perhaps adding the real cherry on top, is the fact that both the building and the textiles exist here today, due to the efforts and vision of one truly remarkable Elizabethan lady – the redoubtable, Bess of Hardwick.

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Bess of Hardwick, later in life when the widowed Countess of Shrewsbury

I don’t need much encouragement to go along to Hardwick, so when an opportunity came up at the weekend, off I went!

Hardwick Hall is in the care of the National Trust, which considering the nature of the building and its fragile and delicate contents, is probably a very good thing. But the downside of showing so many historic tapestries, embroideries and needleworks, is that they  keep the light-levels very low to avoid light damage. So if you have the chance to visit on a day when it isn’t raining – grab it.

Sadly, I didn’t have the option, and so I apologise here and now for the poor quality of the photos. I’ve done what I could, but as you will see, it was wet and seriously dark on Saturday afternoon, so try to go with the sepia flow…

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View from the New Hall to the ruins of the Old Hall (also largely rebuilt by Bess) and a ‘must’ when you visit the New Hall.

Anyway, I’m sure many of you know all about Bess of Hardwick (if you don’t, read about her here, or better still, read this book: Bess of Hardwick: First Lady of Chatsworth Mary S. Lovell).

If Bess’s wasn’t exactly a ‘rags to riches’ story, it wasn’t far off. Honestly, I don’t understand why dramatists aren’t all over her story – married 4 times to wealthier and wealthier men, life at the court of Elizabeth I, sharing her home with Mary Queen of Scots, arranging marriages for a brood of children, building at least 3 magnificent houses, acrimonious divorce, deaths – her story has the lot!

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My favourite portrait of Bess: Aged about 30. Oh how I wish that picture could talk…

And the best bit – Bess wasn’t some pawn in the game, she was a lead player. Time and again, Bess confronted difficult situations and worked at them to the advantage of herself and her family. She is for me, an incredible example of a strong woman, standing up for what she wanted and what she thought was right and at a time when this was certainly not the norm for women.

Luckily, much of her correspondence and her inventories remain, so it’s possible to read her own words, which make her feel extraordinarily real. She comes across as something of a cross between an extremely powerful business woman and your Grandmother – juggling the stresses and strains of a major business empire with the day-to-day upheavals of a complex and sometimes dysfunctional family life.

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The marriages of Bess’s children, celebrated in a heraldic mantel.

I’m not sure that she would have been all that easy to live with, or to work for, but of all the people in history I’d love the chance to go back and talk to, it would be Bess – she is my all-time historic hero.

But of course there’s another reason why I love her so much. Bess was into textiles. Her homes were adorned with every kind of rich tapestry, needlework and embroideries money could buy. And although much was produced by professional embroiderers, she also stitched some pieces herself – which gives me a kind of thrill when I look at the many textiles at Hardwick and imagine her running her hands over them, or even wielding her needle.

Details from the needlework table carpet – Story of Tobit (1579)

Details from a long cushion – Fancie of a Fowler – velvet with applied needlework motifs.

I stood for a long time, working out in my mind how some of these pieces were worked. And I suppose it’s seeing something made over 400 years ago, using techniques exactly the same as the ones I use today, that gives me a special thrill. Occasionally, you find yourself understanding precisely why they chose to work in a particular way, and in that moment, there’s a connection across those 400 years. You stand there and realise that if the embroiderer was standing next to you, you’d be talking the same language.

The building itself is superb, but in a way, it overwhelms me, which is why I usually find myself looking for the odd or the quirky aspects, such as the staggered windows and the worn stone stairs. It’s the sort of house that will speak in different ways to every visitor, I’m quite sure. Certainly on Saturday afternoon, it was proving awesome to many of the visitors – which is really quite some legacy, even after all these years.

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Hats off to Bess!

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Visitor information from the National Trust is here.

For a wonderful and fascinating insider’s story, follow Ellen Scarlett’s delightful and informative blog – View From My Attic – Ellen works at Hardwick Hall and gives fabulous glimpses into the life of the Hall.

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Oh, and the gardens…well, even in the rain, they’re wonderful…

Do visit Hardwick if you can, you’ll be very glad you did.

<3

 

 

 

 

2015-06-05 19.32.35

Doors open…

I’m delighted to say that the weather improved just in time for our Private Viewing over at the Mardleybury Gallery in Hertfordshire, and it was a huge pleasure to welcome so many people there to see our work – I’m sure the allure of the wine and nibbles was only minimally responsible…

I took a few pictures, to give you a feel for the show, but if you should find yourself in the Hertfordshire area during June, I urge you to go and see for yourself – I promise  you won’t be disappointed, there’s a range of simply fabulous art on view.

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To be honest, I’m still pinching myself – if anyone had told me this time last year, that I’d be exhibiting at a gallery, well, I’d have laughed.

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Can you see my pieces up on the wall there – I had some lovely feedback for visitors last night.

A small selection of the work on show…

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Ali Mesley’s work was attracting a lot of interest – not surprising, they are very special.

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The header image for this post is a detail from a collograph print by Jenny Smith-McOnie, evoking the rock pool – truly exquisite.

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I’m going to be stitching and talking about stitched-art at Mardleybury Gallery on Sunday 21st June from about 2pm. Come and chat if you’re around.

)O(

 

 

2015-06-01 09.45.46

It’s all go…

My mind seems to have been all over the place lately.

I’ve been preparing for the Discover Original Art exhibition – more over at my website (click here for gallery details) – which starts  on Wednesday this week, 3rd June. 

I’m so pleased to have had this date to work towards, because although at times I felt as if things weren’t ever going to come together, knowing that I had to get there, eventually worked its way into my subconscious and turned things around.

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This last 12 months has seen the most amazing upheaval in my approach to making art. Twelve months ago, I had a stack of stitched canvasses sitting on a shelf, with no one except immediate family and you, my lovely blog readers, ever seeing any of them. Now, less than a year later, I’ve met and joined a local community of wonderful artists and begun to find my voice in the real, as well as the virtual world.

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In a very literal way, I’m beginning to feel as if various threads in my life are now coming together.

A year ago, I wouldn’t have dared think of myself as an artist. Now, well, it doesn’t feel too far-fetched.

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So having dates to work towards helps remind me that this is real, and at last there’s the freedom to make art without feeling guilty, which for me, is the most amazing gift imaginable.

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Keeping my head together though, with home, family and art to juggle, is helped enormously by the daily routine of walking the Delinquent Dog.

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Over the last week, everything seems to be growing at such a fantastic rate. The pictures in today’s post were taken this morning and last week – proof that however hard we try, nature just does it all so much better…

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Happy stitching…

 

 

2015-04-27 16.21.00

Discover us on Facebook and Twitter…

You may remember, that back in November, I exhibited with the fabulous Discover group of artists.

I’m thrilled to say that Discover is about to exhibit again, this time we’ll be at the lovely Mardleybury Gallery, near Knebworth, Hertfordshire, throughout June.

If you’re in the area, come along and meet the various artists…

demodays

 

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We also have new Facebook and Twitter accounts, so I’d be enormously grateful if those of you who use these, would pop by and ‘like/follow’ us.

Thank you x

<3

 

 

 

2015-05-12 09.54.31

Green – everywhere I look…

I just don’t seem to be able to get away from greens at the moment. I suppose that this year, even more than usual, I’ve been tuned-in to greens, having been working with a green palette for quite a few weeks.

Embroidery – well the way that I do it – is an extremely slow art form, and all those hours of stitching, inevitably lead you into a very close relationship with the different shades you’re using.

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2015-05-01 09.07.03And similarly, the various textures, coarse tweeds, strong wools, fluid silks, all play differently in your hand and in the canvas – all working together in sometimes unexpected ways.

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2015-04-30 08.30.28Trying to plan what goes where I find to be a fairly pointless exercise. Instead it seems to be better to simply let each thread decide, according to what else is happening around it.

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Impossible at this most verdant time of the year, to ignore the way that the countryside changes colour. So many delicate plants appearing in the lane every day now, but all held together by nature’s tapestry of green.

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All photographs taken in the lane on the daily dog walk, over the last couple days. Follow me on Instagram for other daily pictures…

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2015-05-04 11.44.20

Medieval faces…

I’ve been having a few churchy days lately, courtesy of the bell-ringers in the family.

On Monday, I spent an hour at our local church, All Saints, Soulbury. I’ve been there so many times, but I still love to wander around, it’s a fascinating place. But in all the hours I’ve spent in that church, I’d never previously realised there was a little medieval treasure waiting to be found…

Have a good look at this chancel window…

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Now, the chancel windows, on either side, each has that colourful glass border. I’d never paid it any attention on other visits. But while I was there on Monday, I took a closer look.

And it appears that each of those coloured sections is a fragment of medieval stained glass – presumably from the pre-Reformation days. Most of the fragments are difficult to identify, although I spotted a few architectural features, and some fabric drapes, but suddenly, I noticed a face…

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and then another…

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And then more…

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Each one is really tiny, but has incredible, fine detail. It never fails to take my breath away when we get these little connections to people from the past. I would so love to know who painted those faces.

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2015-04-03 14.33.18

Indulging the window fetish…

It’s become a bit of a family joke that I have a ‘thing’ for taking pictures through windows – my daughters now refer to any such shot as ‘one of mum’s’ pictures and have started taking them for me. Even my brother spotted my funny little habit and is now taking them too.

After the recent Yosemite upgrade, (Thank you Apple, I will get over it one day, but possibly not before I have to resort to counselling), I decided it was time to do some serious organising of my photos and while I’ve been doing that, I’ve come across lots of ‘mum’s pictures’ I’d forgotten about.

So, I thought that from time to time, I’d post them here – indulge me…

Today’s picture is perhaps my favourite bathroom window…

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It’s a room in Packwood House – one of my favourite National Trust properties.

I love the sense of humour of the person who dressed this room, take a good look in the bath, under the splendid lion-head tap…

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Fabulous!

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I wrote a post about Packwood House about a year ago, on my other blog The Mists of Time – do pop over and have a look if you like quirky old houses.

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2015-04-30 08.35.18

Happy May Day….

Some people regard May Day as the first day of summer – well, in some ways I agree, there’s definitely a lot happening in the hedgerow now, foliage is growing so fast, you feel as if you could practically watch it unfurling in front of you. But having spent the hour of our walk with my eyes streaming from the cold wind this morning, I can tell you, it doesn’t feel like summer just yet!

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After the last post here and my admission that greens give me problems, I realised just how many greens I see every day on the trip along the lane and through the wood. I’ve been observing them with more attention than I’d normally give it, and what I’ve learned, is that there are more shades of green that I can imagine, and Mother Nature doesn’t seem to mind how she puts them all together – and yet, it works…

I’ll keep trying…

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Happy stitching…

<3

2015-04-20 13.21.07

Meanwhile…

Well, that was a considerably longer blogging pause than I’d expected…

Something to do with a very busy Easter holiday, followed by a brutal three-day migraine – arrrgh!

Anyway, with a bit of luck, the flashing lights and sledgehammer in the brain, have now gone away and something akin to normal service is being restored.

So, since I was last here, I’ve worked on this…

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Sometime around Easter I put the final stitches into this piece. I took this photo in the garden, and it’s made it look considerably brighter than it does in real life. I started this piece in the middle of winter and so it feels wrong to see it in strong light. It was born during the shortest days of the year, as I sat wrapped in blankets to keep warm. As I was making it, I kept thinking that actually it’s home should be a dining room, with flickering candle-light, because it truly glimmers and changes as light catches the metallic threads.

I deliberately avoided straight edges for a change. My intention is to play around a little with fraying the canvas before I mount it. I’m not at all sure how that will turn out, but we’ll see.

Once the purply tree (I’ll come up with a better title for it one of these days) was finished, I thought I’d have another go with my Nemesis – greens…

Am I the only person who has problems with getting greens right?

Anyway, this is where I’m at on that one…

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Umm. Well, we’ll see.

In other news…

I have had a mad spree, picking up a wonderful selection of Shakespeare authorship books – I’ve found that Oxfam book-shops are excellent places to ferret around in for these more obscure titles. We had a trip to Oxford one day, which was very useful – I wonder if it’s where the dons donate their surplus-to-requirement texts…

Then there was the afternoon in Berkhamsted Oxfam – not only a delight to find more Shakespeare related books, but also something I’ve wanted for a long time – a collection of the works of Thomas Traherne.

And finally, a marvellous day out in Hay-on-Wye (my favourite town in the world, oh yes, I’m not exaggerating!) – where I found yet more Shakespeare stuff.

I’m working my way through, so expect another Shakespearean post before too long.

And at last, we made it out on a few of history trips; a very cold and wet afternoon at Packwood House (which included a lot of chocolate), a return to Goodrich Castle, a fabulous afternoon at Skenfrith Castle and church, and a visit to Grosmont Castle. I’ll put the pictures up on The Mists of Time as soon as I can.

Skenfrith church was an extra special experience for me, as I hadn’t known about their fabulous Skenfrith Cope – a simply breath-taking piece of medieval ecclesiastical embroidery. Walking into a small local church and discovering that treasure was something I’ll never forget.

Having said that, the amazing light in the church did test my photography skills way beyond their limits, so nil point there, but in case you’re interested this is what I took…

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I just wish it was possible to know whose fingers made those stitches, and what their daily life was like…

Right, good to be back, lots of catching up to do.

Happy stitching!

We’re on the Map!

Anny:

As a Worcestershire girl, mad about tapestry and history, I just had to reblog this post from the remarkable people at the National Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio – do have a look at what they’ve done – and if you’re near Oxford, pay the finished piece a visit…

Originally posted on Textile Conservation Studio:

Over the last year and a half the Studio has had the privilege of conserving a wonderful tapestry map owned by the Oxford University Bodleian Library. We can now report that it was finally installed last week, and now hangs in pride of place at the Blackwell Hall in the newly opened Weston Building where it can be viewed by the visiting public.

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Depicting the county of Worcestershire, the tapestry is in three fragments. It was woven in England c1590, for Ralph Sheldon to hang in his house in Long Compton, Warwickshire, as part of a set of four tapestries depicting different counties. It is one of a set of three map tapestries, (Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, also in fragments) owned by University of Oxford and a fourth tapestry (Warwickshire) in the set owned by Warwickshire Museum Service.

The designs for the maps are from the Christopher Saxton county surveys, published…

View original 972 more words

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Which canvas are you?

Do you enjoy personality tests?

We’ve all experienced them at one time or another, whether serious ones when applying for jobs (INFJ* if you’re interested), or the marginally less serious ones in personal-development books, online-dating, dieting, and of course the entirely spurious ones in countless magazine features – they crop up all over the place.

For some reason, when I was fishing through my stash of canvas the other day, I couldn’t help thinking that our preferred choice of canvas might well be an indicator of our personality.

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– straight-forward, upright, focussed, likes sticking rigidly to the rules…

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– needs a bit of structure, but bends the rules a little from time to time – prefers having some flexible of space to work in…

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– pretends to conform, but actually quite a rebel, frequently moving off in different directions…

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– entirely unpredictable, potential anarchist…

Yep, use them all – what does that tell you?

Happy stitching!

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*Myers-Briggs test.