More guilty pleasures…

or ‘How what you read in your teens can scar you for life…’

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Last week, with the girls still at home for Easter, we found ourselves in need of some new books – as you do…

Naturally the first choice on these occasions is Hay-on-Wye, but as it’s over four hours away by car, it isn’t really an option for a quick mid-week fix. Instead we opted for Berkhamsted, (of Ed Reardon fame), where I have a soft spot for the Oxfam bookshop.

I really do think it’s the sort of shop where they should have lock-ins, like pubs once did. I’m pretty confident I could spend several hours (quite possibly days) working my way through the shelves there without ever getting bored.

I came away with an old Folio Society version of ‘Richard III The Great Debate’. It contains Sir Thomas More’s History of King Richard III, and Horace Walpole’s Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard III.

I blame Rosemary Hawley Jarman for my Richard fetish. I read We Speak No Treason when it first came out in the 1970s, at that impressionable age, and have been in love with him ever since. Loads of history books, TV programmes and a car park exhumation later and I still enjoy reading anything about Richard and that era.

I’m looking forward to reading what More actually wrote. As a chief propagandist against Richard I’m naturally inclined against him – even studying Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons in the Sixth Form didn’t make him any more forgivable and Anton Lesser’s portrayal in Wolf Hall fits better with my view of More. But the great benefit of being a history junkie not a proper historian, is that you can happily indulge your own prejudices to your heart’s content.

I know next to nothing about Horace Walpole, so that section will be educational on several levels.

The useful thing about Berkhamsted, is that if there’s a book you want but can’t find in Oxfam, they’ve thoughtfully built a Waterstones just down the road.

I didn’t want anything else and was just browsing while the Daughter looked for a specific title when two more books leapt into my hands – as they do…

Mary Beard’s SPQR A History of Ancient Rome and Ruth Scurr’s John Aubrey My Own Life.

My knowledge of Ancient Rome is best described as patchy, being the result of a few lessons about the Greeks and Romans which I had when I was about eight years old and from watching (avidly) and then reading (almost as avidly) I, Claudius when it was on TV in the 1970s. It feels like having a few pieces of a jigsaw puzzle without the picture to guide you and lots of bits missing. Hopefully Mary Beard will help me put it all together and fill in the gaps.

I hadn’t heard anything about Ruth Scurr’s book before I saw it on the shelf, but I have  been a fan of John Aubrey’s Brief Lives, since I read it as a history obsessed teenager.

At the time, I’d only encountered history text books and historic fiction, so to find Brief Lives was a revolution, here were snippets of information about famous and now largely forgotten people in a style unique to Aubrey.

So to find a biography of John Aubrey and one written in such a delicate homage to Aubrey’s style, weaving history and biography together, is a fabulous treat.

Looking at the books when we got home, it suddenly struck how they all linked so much to the teenage me. I suppose some things never change.

Happy reading…

 

 

 

 

 

More guilty pleasures…

Morning routine…

or ‘the unanticipated benefits of a photography habit’.

Hands up if you’ve never deliberately attempted to start a habit of some kind…

Me? I’ve tried loads, and I mean loads! But the fact is, I’m rubbish at it. I’m really good at reading the books that tell you why you should regularly do something, I understand the benefits they tell me I’ll see as a result of establishing these habits, I want to experience those benefits, I really do, but in the end, I just don’t seem to have what it takes to tick the habit box. A few days into trying anything habit-like and chances are I’ve already lost the plot.

But there is one thing I do which I think does qualify for habit status – not a habit I ever deliberately intended to make a habit, but which has happened anyway, and that is the habit of taking a photo (or several) of the countryside every day when I walk the dog.

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Long-service readers will know this began with photographing a particular oak tree in the lane. But although I decided to record the oak, I didn’t set off with any intention to make it a permanent thing, I didn’t anticipate any particular benefits of doing it, I simply wanted to see how that tree changed over the period of a year.

But you know, it’s now well over 3 years since I started taking those photos and I still do it every day – I think we can agree that counts as a habit.

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Now let’s be honest, this habit hasn’t done a thing for my ability to keep the house clean or tidy, it hasn’t turned me into a highly successful business person, or (sadly) prevented me from eating my own weight in cake at the slightest provocation.

But you know, there are a few benefits I think do stem from this habit.

These days I am much more in tune with the changing seasons. The whole cycle of life, the ever-changing weather moods and the ebb and flow of energy is something I feel better connected to, even anchored in, and much happier as a result.

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And this once fairly ignorant wildlife watcher has now become fascinated by the flora and fauna in one mundane English country lane. I now own and frequently consult books on wildflowers, trees, insects, mushrooms and birds – and now, just occasionally, I can actually call something by its proper name.

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Having never really been able to commit to a daily drawing practice, I do find that looking carefully at the natural world around me has improved my eye for texture, pattern and subtlety in colour, with the added benefit of having a record to go back to if I want to research something for an artwork. It may not be the creative habit of Twyla Tharp, but honestly, I think it works for me.

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But the best thing of all, is that when you’re having a dull miserable winter and your friends comment on how it seems to have been grey for so long, you can immediately jump in and bore them rigid with precise details of exactly how many days it’s been since we had any sunshine and then show them all the photos to prove it… I know, because I am that woman!

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So there you have it, an accidental habit worth having…

I post a picture from my walk most days over on my Instagram account, do come over and say hello if you’re on IG.

I don’t own a camera – all the pictures are taken with my smart phone, which is tucked -dawn to dusk – into the pocket of my jeans. I was thinking just the other day how lucky I am to live in the digital age, and giving thanks to the inventor of the camera app.

Do you have any accidental habits that make your life better? Do tell…

 

Morning routine…

Slow Art In Action…

Growing a tree…

Once upon a time there was a woman who was fascinated by trees. She went out almost every day taking photos of them, and when she wasn’t snapping pictures, she’d be gazing at trees, and occasionally talking to them…

It just happens that the same woman is an obsessive stitcher (yes, it’s me – you guessed).

So she decided – not for the first time – to grow one in stitches.

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She didn’t know exactly what it was going to look like, but she had an idea – a touch of awen– which she sketched onto the canvas.

A riot of colours were swooshing around in her mind, and eventually she chose the ones she was going to use.

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It was autumn and lots of things were happening in her life, but gradually, stitch by tiny stitch, the tree began to appear.

2016-02-02 11.21.40She took the initial lines and gradually elaborated on them with the threads, letting her imagination decide where to take them.

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Sometimes, when there were dark days, the repetitive, meditative process of stitching took her mind away from problems and sadness, and gave her peaceful, mindful moments. And all the time the tree continued to grow – watered just a few times with her tears.

2016-01-15 13.29.24But there was a lot of happiness too. She thoroughly revelled in cosying up on the sofa when it was cold outside, thick woolly socks on her feet, listening to the radio or TV while on she stitched.

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Time passed, Christmas came and a new year began.

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The tree took shape.

2016-02-02 11.23.16And all the unknown spaces, all the blank areas on the initial design, were filled with silk, wool and metallic threads.

Until at last, one day, there were no more spaces to fill…

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Slow Art In Action…

Busy month…

You really have to pity my Other Half. Less than 7 weeks after Christmas and he is hit with the triple whammy of St Valentine’s Day, Number One Daughter’s birthday and my birthday, all within the space of 6 days.

So one way or another it has been pretty busy around here, thank goodness for half term which conveniently contains all three events.

We’re not massively into celebrating St Valentine’s so that didn’t cause too much trouble, but the Daughter’s birthday was a very significant one – she can now legally have a pint of beer after bell-ringing (oh and I suppose vote, get married etc etc…)

There was cake.

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I had thought about making a sophisticated affair, but then I decided that although she might now legally be an adult,  she will always be my baby, so instead I went for the ‘add as much chocolate as possible’ option and risked death by fire with the full quota of candles.

We celebrated with what is becoming a traditional day trip to Bath.

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What a fantastic place Bath is, even on days when it rains continuously (like it did last Wednesday), it’s beautiful.

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Our family tradition, stretching back to when the new adult was not much more than a toddler, is to play a round of mini-golf while we’re in Bath. Interestingly, although by no means our coldest round, it was certainly our wettest.

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Have you ever watched a golf ball gently descend into a hole filled to over-brimming with water? And then to have to plunge your hand down into the extremely cold water to retrieve your ball? It’s different, that’s all I’m going to say…

Still, a tradition is a tradition – these things have to be done.

My own birthday was a much lower key event. Having enjoyed being 39 for some years now, I see no reason to change it. I suppose the time will come when I will have to consider being 42 or maybe even 44, but I’m in no hurry.

So Number Two Daughter and I set off for a day trip yesterday, to mark the end of half term with a little bit of culture.

We both love Packwood House in Warwickshire, so that was our first stop. It occurred to us that we’ve never been on a really warm, sunny day. Do you have places like that?

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Each elevation is so different at Packwood…
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Very fond of asymmetry me…

Our initial plan had been to go next to Baddesley Clinton, another favourite, but warned of ongoing work there, instead we thought about either Kenilworth Castle or Hanbury Hall. Neither of us could decide, so eventually we tossed a coin and Hanbury won.

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Restoring the symmetrical balance…
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For some reason, my favourite view of Hanbury…

I felt considerably older than my 39-again years as we were walking round Hanbury, as I kept telling Number Two how much it had improved since my first visits back in the 1970s. But it really has.

So, it’s back to the routine again this week. The Delinquent Dog and I walked along the lane this morning listening to the birds who are quite certain it’s now spring, even if the weather hasn’t totally decided.

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From other people’s blogs and IG feeds I’m sure our lane is not as far on as some others, but I don’t think it will be long before we have flowers and blossom.

Happy stitching x

 

 

 

 

Busy month…

January stitching…

Nearly the end of January and I hope everyone is now getting back into some sort of ‘normal’ routine. (Oh yes, I can hear the cackles from here…).

Around here, things have been going quite well. I’ve somehow managed to get back into a semblance of a domestic rhythm – which is not something the feminist in me would ever have expected to write – but still, there’s no escaping the fact that for me at least I function better and get more creative work done when the boring bits are under control.

But I eased myself in gently. A visit to the V & A at the beginning of the month to see the Fabric of India exhibition, was a great way to get the creative juices flowing. I’ve decided that 2016 will have more Artist Dates* – it’s too easy to get caught up on the hamster wheel of daily life and we need to step off and recharge from time to time.

Fired up by the trip to London I’ve managed to get back to stitching properly this month. Unusually for me, I started the month with two pieces in progress. The first is an experiment with a different style of stitching, inspired by a summer’s day on a Scottish beach.

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I remember sitting on the beach (at Sango Bay to be precise), looking out at the sea and sky and realising that there were distinct bands of colour running horizontally and suddenly thinking that it might make a good subject for a stitchy piece. I didn’t have the phone with me, so instead, I scribbled notes about the different colour bands in a little book I was carrying, and hoped it would be enough description to enable me to interpret it when I came home.

When things were a bit rough before Christmas, I started putting this idea together, and I think having a completely different, ‘see-how-it-goes’ approach made it easier to pick up when I felt able.

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detail from ‘Beach’

But although it’s definitely producing the look that I was after, I have to say that I don’t find I enjoy long periods of stitching this way. Dare I say it, it’s almost like weaving, in as much as I have to progress from line to line, working lineally. Which explains two things – first, why it remains only about half stitched, and second, why I am now totally concentrating on the other piece – yes, yet another tree…

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I am much more ‘at home’ creating tree pictures, especially if they contain lots of spirals.

While I’ve been curled up, stitching away at this latest specimen, I’ve been thinking more deeply about this addiction to trees. I thought that if I could go back and collect up all the drawings, pictures and doodles I’ve ever done, I’d hazard a guess that well over half would have featured trees. I have no idea where this all started, but I know I was already doing it when I went to secondary school.

My Instagram feed is full of tree pictures – my own and those of the many other people out there who also share this fascination. Last week I met another lady, also an embroiderer, who does exactly the same thing and takes a daily picture of a favourite tree – it’s a small world.

You don’t have to be obsessed with trees for long before you become engaged in exploring the mythology surrounding them. I had originally thought I might write about that in particular, for instance the Tree of Life, Yggdrasil, Druid oak groves, that sort of thing – but it’s such a huge topic, these are just Western mythologies, and trees feature in the mythos and cosmology of cultures all around the world – I wouldn’t know where to begin or end.

So if trees speak to you too, then I’m sure you’ll have your own thoughts on why you’re attracted to them and there’s a very good chance the enchantment goes right back into the mists of time. Something to ponder as the needle goes in and out…

And I shall carry on with this one and wish you all happy stitching!

* Artist Dates: Julia Cameron’s suggestion in The Artist’s Way that artists should have a weekly ‘Artist’s Date’ to charge their creative batteries.

 

 

 

January stitching…

Back again…

I really must begin by thanking you for bearing with me over the last few weeks. I know I’ve always maintained that blogging should be done as and when you feel you have something to say, not to some self-imposed schedule, but even so, I have been well and truly off-piste since November, so I do appreciate you sticking with me.

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The last couple of months of 2015 were pretty full-on for me. A mixture of dreadful lows and  gorgeous highs, set against the unrelenting onslaught of Christmas. I’ve learned now just how much energy this kind of ricocheting takes and discovered that I can now say ‘no’ fairly effectively (I recommend it!). I’ve also been humbled by the tremendous care and help my daughters have offered over this rocky time, they’re growing into extremely lovely young women and I’m proud of them.

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I want to apologise to all you wonderful bloggers who I’ve failed miserably to keep in touch with lately. My one and only resolution for the New Year is to get this back on track. Blogland is a wonderful community and I love being here with you.

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And so, 2016 – what’s happening?

I’m hoping to use 2016 as a year of exploration. The old loves, history, nature and landscape continue to fascinate me – more than that, they have me enthralled. I think I’ve always known that these threads were calling to me, this year I hope to weave them together in a way I hope will begin to express their importance to me.

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Last year was an enormous learning curve for me on the practicalities of being an artist. For this year I’m intending to protect more time for making art. I’m going to brush the rust off some of my old organisational skills to help me achieve a better balance – in fact I think I might adopt balance as my word of the year.

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When my dear friend died last year, far too young and with far too much still to give, it really brought home to me how precious life is and how important it is that we use our time for the really important things, and so that’s what I intend to do.

May you all have a wonderful, happy and productive 2016 – be you!

I continue to photograph the oak most days on my morning walk. The shots in this post are from the end of December and beginning of January – too much grey, not enough sunshine!

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Back again…

The Wheel Turns…

November – It’s been a pretty grey month for me. Literally grey most days, with very little sunlight managing to lift our spirits and emotionally grey too, with the loss this month of someone who was and always will be very dear to me.

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I’ve rather auto-piloted through most days.

But the wheel doesn’t stop, it keeps turning and we go along too. I find comfort in that.

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And I am reminded how important it is to live life fully and gratefully.

So when nature drops a dragon in your path – obviously you pick it up and take it home…

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The Wheel Turns…

Tools of the trade…

A few weeks back, when the Discover Original Art group was discussing our upcoming exhibition in November, it was suggested that we each share online, details about the tools and materials we use to make our art.

I loved this idea, because there’s nothing I like better than having a nose about other artists’ studios, seeing what they use to create their work: imagine the fascinating tools used by printers, glass makers, stone carvers, oil painters, mixed-media artists, eco-printers!

I was just happily nodding away, when it dawned on me, that my own tools of the trade were somewhat less exciting – in fact I did spend a few minutes wondering if it was possible to write a whole post about needles…

But then, there is surely beauty of a kind, in the simple, the mundane?

So although I can’t offer you the oooh factor of printing-presses or kilns – here are my particular tools of the trade…

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Big and thick, short and thin, but all with a large hole and a blunt tip…tapestry needles

It took me a long time to realise just how much difference using the right size for the job would make – duh!

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I would like to hug the person who invented the R & R Craft Frames – for me, the number one choice every time… which is not to say I don’t occasionally use others, but well, the flexibility of the R & R suits my stitching style.

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The floor-stand gets a lot of use, but so do my knees, the steering-wheel (followers on Twitter will know what I mean) and the edge of tables – all depends on my mood and where I’m stitching at the time…

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Loose-weave canvas: linen scrim, cotton crash – you name it, if it’s loose-weave, small holes, and reasonably robust, I’ll give it a go…

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Don’t think of them as yarns or threads, think of them as a paints – that you can stroke…

And last, but not least…

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Without which, nothing would be possible❤

 

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Tools of the trade…

Putting into words…

I was delighted to read the latest post from artist Stephanie Redfern this week, where she explains her decision to work in needlepoint. Stephanie understands completely the slow nature of this process and rather wonderfully refers to it as ‘slow motion magic painting’ – I love that!

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I smiled as I read some of the comments on her post – mention needlepoint, and patience is always the word that people associate with it. And yes, like Stephanie, my own patience does not extend far beyond the stitching.

When I talk to people about the pieces I make, so often there’s amazement at anyone being prepared to take the time to create in this way, they generally ask why I choose to do it. And this is where I struggle to express myself adequately.

Because however clichéd it may sound, hand stitching is one of those things you have to do, to appreciate the why.

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And then, with serendipitous timing, today I read the latest post from my stitching hero, Judy Martin. I’m sure Judy’s work is familiar to you, but if not, I urge you to see what she does, because I don’t know a better or purer expression of the power and beauty of hand stitching.

At the end of her post, Judy says…

Hand stitching.
Evidence of time.
Evidence of thought.
Evidence of connection.

And really, there, in a nutshell you have the whole story.

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There’s a wonderful article here by Martha Sielman, about Judy and her work which sensitively expands this expression – I’m sure it will resonate with all hand stitchers.

Pictures are details from the stitching of my latest piece of needlepoint embroidery, completed this week.

Putting into words…

A Day In The Life…

There was a short series of programmes on the BBC a while back, called ‘What Do Artists Do All Day?’ Be honest, you wonder about it too don’t you...

The Discover group of artists will be staging an exhibition of our work in November and in preparation, we thought it would be a fun thing, to each describe a typical* day in our arty life.

So, here’s the answer to what this particular artist does all day…

Beginnings

Oh how delightful it would be to rise before dawn for an early mediation as the sun rises, to soak up the peace and quiet of a new day, write 3x A4 Morning Pages** to clear the mind and after 20 minutes of yoga, to eat a breakfast of mixed berries…

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My Grannie’s flat-iron, my mum’s enamel jug and my steam iron…

However, in the real world, I do get up pre-dawn, but then it’s straight into the ‘getting the girls off to school’ routine, which you’ll be familiar with I’m sure, (that or something similar). It generally involves the domestic pleasures of making packed-lunches, coffee, ironing, vacuuming, taxiing and if by some chance I’m very organised, deciding what we’re going to eat for dinner…

After that, my day begins again

I don’t write Morning Pages, but for me, the daily walk with the Delinquent Dog is a form of meditation and the time when I clear my mind. We take the same route every day, which is a wonderful way to tune-in to the changing seasons, watching subtle changes and feeling the immediate connection with the weather. It’s simultaneously grounding and relaxing.

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Followers on Instagram may remember that I photographed the same oak every day last year, an exercise that taught me much more than just how an oak changes through the seasons.

I pause most mornings at my Thinking Gate – sometimes I am actually thinking when I lean on the gate, sometimes I’m just listening, just being.

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The ‘Thinking Gate’…

I’m not consciously looking for inspiration on those walks, but I’m sure something seeps into my unconscious which probably finds expression in my work.

Middles

Back home, and I try to do the things that need brain power…

My trusty accomplices are the Mac, my Filofaxes, my pencil and my smart phone (with which I take all my photos – I don’t own a camera).

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And then, it’s time to stitch…

Stitching is wonderfully meditative. It isn’t long before I’ve drifted off somewhere in my mind. Most of my work is only lightly planned, with the details coming as I go along. If you’re familiar with the Druidic concept of Awen, that’s very much how I feel about inspiration and connection, which for me expresses itself in my stitching.

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I’m fuelled by coffee, strong and black, which I take a break for, every couple of hours or so.

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Once the family are home again, I slip back into the domestic routine.

Working from home can make it difficult to separate work from home life, and I used to suffer a lot from feeling resentful at having to keep stopping to change roles, but gradually, I’ve found the balance that works for me, and now I try to give myself entirely to family matters until after dinner, when usually I’ll have time to relax with my stitching buddy and embroider for a couple more hours.

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My stitching buddy – the Delinquent Dog – he likes to help me by putting his head on my lap while I’m sewing…

Ends

Finally, I’m an avid bedtime reader. I’ve recently acquired a bookshelf to go right next to my bed, which is better than having huge piles of books teetering on the bedside table. I have a postcard picture of Bess of Hardwick which I use as a bookmark. I love Bess, she’s my historic heroine, a strong woman living in a man’s world, a loving mother and a brilliant needlewoman – I often wish her goodnight when I turn off the light…

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* Obviously there’s really no such thing as a typical day – just typical elements, but you know what we mean.

** Morning Pages, as many of you know, is part of Julia Cameron’s Artist Way. Although I don’t do them now, I did do something very similar a couple of years ago and found it extremely helpful.

A Day In The Life…

Rock, Water, Cloth…

Being a slow artist has its challenges – not the least of which, is how to blog about a ‘work in progress’. I quickly realised that a weekly update here on my stitched tapestries would end up more like a ‘spot the difference’ competition.

In recent months, I’ve gravitated towards Twitter and Instagram as the places to share occasional stitchy updates, where it feels more natural to post a simple picture as I settle down to stitch with the Delinquent Dog curled up alongside.

If you use these platforms, please do keep in touch that way – it’s always lovely to receive messages ‘in real time’.

But today is one of those special days – a day to share for the first time, a work no longer ‘in progress’, but finished! 

Very often I find it difficult to know where the inspiration for a particular piece comes from, but at least with this new work I have a pretty shrewd idea.

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It all begins with that ages-old fascination for watching water moving over stone. I wonder how many generations of people have felt transfixed by watching waves glide over a pebbly beach, or have felt the hypnotic power of staring into a pool of still water at the edge of a river flow, or indeed have been caught up in a fountain’s magical dance.

I for one, can easily lose myself, simply staring into the water.

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Now, clearly only a lunatic would attempt to capture that watery, mercurial sensation in a medium as distinctly static as thread – ahh well…

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But as ever, the process of stitching has itself been a meditation, a way to drift into a flow of sorts, an escape to another realm, if not a watery one…

Stitched between June and September 2015. Wools, linens and silks on linen scrim.

29 x 39 cm

If you’d like to see it ‘in the flesh’, I’ll be showing it at the Discover Original Art Fair on November 28th & 29th 2015, at the delightful Ivinghoe Old School Community Hub.

 

 

 

Rock, Water, Cloth…

Teetering or tipping?

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These crows have been providing the soundtrack for all our recent walks…

I’m sure by now, some jolly soul you know, will have cracked the ‘ooh the nights are really drawing in now’ line – which really helps lift your mood if you’re already feeling a touch of autumnal melancholy…

But of course they’re right (well for those of us up here in the Northern Hemisphere at any rate), this is the time of shortening days, we’ve passed the tipping point of the autumn equinox and it’s all wooly scarves, thermal undies and stew for dinner, until winter gives way to spring again.

For the last few days, I’ve been obsessing over the whole concept of balance. We’re told how important it is to achieve balance – in life, in work, in our diet…, balance is described as something to be attained and held on to, it’s an objective, a target, something to strive for. But in practice, surely balance is an extremely tricky customer – and the energy required to maintain balance is exhausting – try the Tree (Vrksasana) or my favourite Eagle (Garudasana) poses in yoga if you don’t believe me.

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The first touch of autumn amongst the oak leaves..

If you’d asked me a few months ago if I was happy with my own balance, I’d have said I was, but just lately I realised that I wasn’t so much balanced as teetering – wobbling about in roughly the same place, desperately trying to keep everything the same, but feeling that at any moment, I should really be heading off in some new direction.

Then today, right on cue, while I was walking with the Delinquent Dog, I realised that I’m not teetering any more – I’ve tipped.

Weird, because I’ve no idea what pushed me over the edge, all I know is, I suddenly feel as if I’m moving forward again. Perhaps I’m someone who enjoys the journey more than the destination, or perhaps we’re just not designed to spend too long in one place, – perhaps as someone who embraces a cyclical attitude to time, I just tried to stand still too long.

Whatever, I have to admit to feeling much happier again now.

 

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Did anyone in the UK watch Midwinter of the Spirit last night? What did you think?

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I’ve really enjoyed stitching this piece – not much more to do now, then I’ll show you the whole tapestry. I’ve used a lot of un-dyed wool this time – Wensleydale and North Ronaldsay, both from http://www.blackbat.co.uk which has added quite a lovely variety of texture and tone, although it’s been moderately more challenging to work with.

We have a date for the new boiler – yippee!

Teetering or tipping?