Reasons to be cheerful…

Funny how just a little thing can change how you view the day…Getting out in the garden in dressing gown and slippers with the puppy BEFORE the rain starts is always a good start. Higgins hasn’t got the hang of the fact that the more times you make a run for the door without doing what you came out for just prolongs the agony.  He is struggling with country life really, too much weather, he should have gone to live with Paris Hilton. 

Todays mail was very exciting… firstly, red polka dot cake tins…

So good, I had to do styling…

…and my Spoonflower fabric…

When I first discovered Spoonflower I was too intrigued to go away and come up with a new design, I went for the nearest jpg file, my faithful pink sheep, and like it so much I ordered a fat quarter as a test run. My pink sheep started life on an invitation designed by my son Thomas Taylor for my Graduation party four years ago and was originally wearing  a mortar board. I loved her too much to send her off to oblivion, so with the help of Photoshop she hung up her mortar board and joined me here on Planet Penny. I’ve offered to make Thomas a pink sheep bow tie, but strangely, he’s declined…

I was so excited by all this I initially overlooked the fact that my latest copy of ‘Selvedge’ had arrived…Oh. Joy!..

…with this beautiful image on a card inside.

After a wet morning, a band of blue started to spread from the west, and the wind became a breeze, just right for a spot of exercise.  I’ve tried to get round the short dog = cold wet tummy problem with a rather smart fleece jumper for Higgins.  Apart from the fact that I could have bought myself two fleeces for the cost of a tailor-made miniature dachshund one,  getting it on is a bit like putting  skin on a sausage. Then you have the problem of persuading him to get out of bed…

We got out there eventually though…

Even the sugar beet looks good in the sunshine, and you can just see home across the field…

All that was left was to make a cake to justify the fact I had bought not just one, but three tins to put cake in.  I had some windfall apples, so a quick flip around Google and…Easy Apple Cake? …yes, we like easy.   Well, it was easy enough to put together, but who has a 20cm x 30cm tin to hand?  And how would the capacity of a tin you haven’t got compare with the one you have got?  So, a round cake instead.  Fine.  But…how does that affect the cooking time?  Answer – a lot.  After the allotted 40 minutes a gorgeous crispy crust trembled above a completely liquid interior,  another twenty minutes, then ten and then another twenty five minutes before the ‘sod it’ moment when I got it out and decided that was IT.   

And it was.



All Booked Up

I’ve just spent the weekend sheltering from the wild wet November weather with a lovely group of ladies making books. Outside the wind raged and the rain lashed down, but inside the atmosphere vibrated with concentration as everyone wielded rulers and scalpels and flexed their mathematical brain cells with varying degrees of success. It’s painful for textile practioners to get to grips with the unforgiving nature of paper and card. There’s no scope for cunning little stretches, or a few discreet gathers, and while there is no point trying to make a handmade book look as if it’s been machine made, a degree of accuracy is essential if the finished piece is going to work.

I go through agonies of self doubt in the run up to teaching a course. Even my years as a mature student haven’t erased the self doubt left by my schooldays.  Miss Marshall has a lot to answer for!  Although I’ve been doing it for a while, I’m suddenly struck by the fact I may have a degree to say I can do things, I don’t have a piece of paper to say I can teach those things to other people! As I draw up the lesson plan I have visions of everyone saying ‘Well, I knew that already’, of having exhausted all my ideas by midday of the first day or of everybody falling asleep with boredom! I’m pleased to say, that hasn’t happened yet!

Once we’d worked our way through the accuracy thing, which happened remarkably quickly, the atmosphere soon lightened into enthusiasm, and that feeling we had all escaped from the daily round to do something just for ourselves. Having mastered the basics of accordion folds and simple pamphlet stitching we moved on to a ‘wrap’ book,which needs very little glueing, and  even makes a good cover for a little purchased notebook. 

What is lovely at this point is to see all the different directions in which the same  basic instructions will take people.  Once all the’ bits and pieces’ bags had been upended everyone had a amazing variation of materials to realise their individual little books, and as they chatted and compared notes all sorts of new ideas came into being.

By the end of the day, even a visit from Higgins hadn’t distracted the students too much, although Joy inexplicably thought he was gorgeous and adorable and wanted to take him home…if only she knew!  As I left for home Alison, who was staying over at the centre, was still at her desk, and was there the following morning when I arrived.  I was assured she had gone to bed at some point!

After the second day, when we had covered stitching signatures into a codex, different types of hard and soft spine covers and  Origami books and folded pages, the room was a frenzy of activity.  Despite a brief hiatus when the torrential rain, coupled with a howling wind came in through the Victorian windows of the old school and had to be stemmed with an entire drawer of teatowels, by the end of the second day I counted well over 30 completed books, and a pile of stitched pages ready for working on at home.

Usually when a course is over I, and my trusty sidekick Kit, have so overdosed on the course subject we want to go home and do something completely different – bunjee jumping anyone?   This time we are both full of even more ideas, and as we saw everyone off it felt more like the end of a party with friends than a working weekend.

Next year we are taking the whole thing further, with coptic binding , Japanese stitching, slip covers and book boxes.  I will take a copy of the positive things written in the visitors book home to look at when I get my wobbly moments and the spectre of Miss Marshall hovers threateningly…

In Search of Rose Pink

You’d never know, would you that my favourite colour is blue?  I’m not quite sure how the whole pink thing came to loom so large in my life.  I suppose it’s a statement, a sock in the eye, in a way that blue can’t be, unless you count the chroma blue used in film making and that’s far too scary.  It’s got better associations too, no-one wants to feel blue, but its nice to be ‘in the pink’.

I’m definitely ‘in the pink’ at the moment.  Sunday’s introspection has been wafted away by a new project.  Among the colourful blogs I gaze at with longing are ‘Attic 24’ and ‘Do you mind if I knit’.  Both are filled with the most lovely, colourful, woolly objects and I want to do something colourful and woolly NOW.  Unfortunately I seem to have accumulated a wool stash from other peoples leftovers consisting of brown, dull green, beige, maroon..why can’t I ever say no? 

The rainbow of woolly loveliness I envisage would require a small mortgage if  bought all at once from Rowan or Debbie Bliss…but I have DYE!  And now, thanks to Ebay, I have wool.  500 grams of soft sheeny 4ply Bluefaced Leicester wool yarn.

I’ve decided to break the habit of a lifetime and be methodical about this!  If I am, there’s a slim chance that if I produce something wonderful I can replicate it. (This never happens when I’m cooking)  Thanks to Ewa’s tuition, I’m all set up for microwave dyeing. You really aren’t supposed to use the same microwave  that you scramble your eggs in, so I have a cheap and cheerful one in the utility room, and an assortment of dyes left over from Art School.  The easiest to use though are the Easifix All-in-one acid dyes from Colourcraft, so I’m working my way through Golden Yellow, Ultramarine, Turquoise and Magenta.

Magenta.  That’s really, really pink.  That’s what I used to dye the wool for my felt hat.  It’s not subtle. 

Having carefully read the instructions and done some sums (Sums!) I decided to wind off 25g hanks of the natural wool, and to dye a hank at a time, recording the results.  (Mother-in-law would be proud, she was an industrial chemist)  I started with the Ultramarine and after 15 minutes in the microwave had a gorgeous blue, and still some colour left in the pot.  In went the next hank, a sky blue this time but althought there was still a tinge to the water I couldn’t believe it would have any effect on the wool.  I did the same with the Golden Yellow and was surprised at the depth of colour in the second batch. 

Then on to the Magenta.  This was scary at six o’clock in the morning (I have a puppy you know). Even the second batch was shocking.  I peered into the dye bath, so pale I couldn’t believe it had anything left to give, chickened out and put a teeny, tiny bit more powder in.. big mistake, more big pink.   So, final hank, I put it in the barely tinged dye bath, back in the microwave  and lo and behold…Rose pink! A beautiful delicate pink, and the dye bath water was faintly yellow.  Now I know just how far I can take the dyes my multicolour creation is getting more ecomical by the minute.

Of course, I have ordered the Scarlet dye, the Leaf Green, Deep Violet…oh, and another 500gms of Blue Leicester 4ply…

Um…Tim isn’t reading this, is he?

A Feeling for Felt


Spending the weekend with Ewa and the rest of the Felt Hat Gang has made me think afresh about my whole love affair with woolliness and how it evolved.  You can see that living on Planet Penny with a Pink Sheep has made me pretty woollyminded!

When I started at Norwich School of Art and Design (as it was called then) back in 2001 I had had a long history of dabbling in textiles under one guise or another.  I went on to the Visual Studies Degree Course determined to find out what else there was out there. Visual Studies is a unique course in that it gives you the opportunity to explore every medium to find out exactly how you want to express your ideas.  In the first year we had workshops in photography, welding, Photoshop and web design, textiles, etching, silkscreen printing, woodwork, blacksmithing, casting, machine embroidery, creative writing…At the end of that, if you realised that your raison d’etre was to create a wonderful three dimentional steel, patchwork edifice on a wrought iron base etched with embroidered poetry you knew it would be possible. 

To begin with I struggled with the fact that despite trying all of that with varying degrees of success, in the end my heart was still firmly textile bound.  I struggled because it felt like laziness.  But I realised after a while that  I now had a whole new perspective on making, and materials and what they could do.

I also rebelled against the expectation that to be Art it must be uncomfortable, even unpleasant.  Ever since Duchamp shocked society with his urinal ‘Fountain’, it seems to be obligatory to be outrageous, to the point of tedium.  It doesn’t matter if the message is lost, create your piece with pigs blood and elephant poo and it must be good.  I was even told that I would ‘get over’ my desire to make things which would make people happy!!

So my little corner of the communal studio became a little oasis of comfiness.  Because of the M.E. I had to have a comfortable chair to retreat to, and there I sat, and I knitted.  I knitted tiny tiny things, a huge sock you could use as a sleeping bag, a cocoon into which you could retreat while you worked on becoming a butterfly.  I wound a huge ball of wool using all the oddments of wool that Norwich’s charity shops could supply which prompted endless debates around ‘what would happen if ‘ scenarios..  Once I started deconstructing wool, discovering the sacks of Merino rovings in the college supplies shop, the rainbow of dyes in the textile workshop…

I’m not going to write a dissertation of how amazing wool is, or the history of felt or any of the things I found out about it, and myself on the ‘journey’ (popular buzzword) that was my degree.  However, my theme for the degree show, which had hovered scarily in the the background all through the preceeding years, became obvious to me as I explored the protective qualities of felt.

Hence my attempts to stem the coastal erosion at Happisburgh with a cosy wrapping of red felt…

 and needle felted cocoons for the safe transportation of glass. 

A late discovery of needle felting led to the arrival of Tallulah, a slightly raddled old stripper who has seen better days,

… and to continue the cosiness, a nice pot of tea.

Getting ahead with a hat…

Absolute bliss this weekend to creep off and leave the boys and spend two days having fun!  Ewa always turns up with yet another cunning plan to make felt making slightly less hard work and I’m all for that.  I’ve always felt slightly scared about making hats because of hat blocks and steaming and all the things you see in the more intimidating manuals.  It’s a big outlay if you turn out to be rubbish or you only have one hat in you. 


By the end of the first day of measuring and drawing, deciding on the colour schemes and laying out the fleece, we ended the day with each studio table holding a large amorphous shape of soggy wool, covered in plastic.  It was hard to imagine that any of them could posibly be transformed into any sort of head wear.

That’s what I love about felt making though, the magical transformation from a wet sheep to something with form and structure, colour and substance.  Wool absorbs dye so well, the colours are intense and saturated, a visual feast.

I was pretty pleased with my hat, just the thing to wear on Planet Penny…

…now… a hat block…I’m just off to Ebay!

The book’s in the post…

 Doing my research for ‘All Booked Up’ I came across the idea of a Mailing Journal in the book ‘Making Books and Journals’ by Constance E Richards.  I do try to put my own spin on the ideas I get from other sources, but I lifted this idea straight off the page just to see how well it works.  It makes me feel I’ll never buy another pack of ‘notelets’ again!  It can be as lengthy or as succinct as you make it, as colourful or simple as you like, and designed especially for the recipient. I do have a tendency to buy beautiful wrapping paper which I then can’t bear to see torn off and discarded  so this was a good use for this fabulous double sided piece.

I’m still digging round in the button box…

…and finding more in my wrapping paper stash.

Today I must remove my book hat,  replace it with a felt one and get ready for a weekend of making…Felt Hats!  I’m off to Broadland Art Centre, as a student this time, for two days with Ewa Kuniczak, felt maker extraordinaire.

Enough of all that!

I’ve just remembered I intended to blog  about creativity, not puppies! I haven’t had a lot of time for that recently, but it’s now the first of October, and at the end of the month I am teaching at Broadland Art Centre.  We are very lucky to have such a unique venue so close to home. BAC is housed in an old  school in a pretty little village on the river and the classroom is the perfect place for a small gathering of students. I feel very privileged to be numbered among those teaching there, as the calibre of past and present tutors is so high. Among them the textile artists Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn,  the main features of last year’s Knit and Stitch Show at Alexandra Palace, the internationally renowned marine artist, William Calladine, and, AND… ( I speak his name in reverential tones), the one, the only Kaffe Fassett!  Oh yes, I did go on his courses.

Passionate Patchwork - Kaffe Fassett

Passionate Patchwork - Kaffe Fassett

Attending a few courses at the Broadland Art Centre was one of the contributing factors to my eventual decision to become a mature Student at Norwich University College of Art in 2000 so it’s nice to have the association with it now.

This year I, and my partner in crime, Kit, am running a course called ‘All Booked Up!’ (yes it was my idea to call it that, and yes, it has caused no end of confusion to people reading the brochure, and yes, I’m really, really sorry!) and we are making books. Not formal bookbinding books, because that’s an amazing and exacting craft requiring great skill,  accuracy and training.  We’re making pretty books, jolly books, books for people who have a vast collection of lovely little bits of fabrics and papers, buttons and beads,  and piles of gorgeous bits of textile art left over from experimenting…that they don’t know what to do with and can’t possibly throw away.  Well, we’re going to make them into little books.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be flexing my making muscles to get them in trim for two days of demonstrating and teaching, and posting the results so you can see if I’m slacking.

  I will regain my focus on artistry and creativity, I will aspire to a state of Zen like concentration,  I will reach the end of each day uplifted by what I have achieved, I will… excuse me, I just have to go and mop up that puddle…