Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Digbeth Street Art

I thought I would share with you some of the most amazing street art we have recently discovered during our meanderings around Digbeth (a district of Central Birmingham) in search of real ale, food and art. Digbeth is dominated by old industrial buildings with some dating back as early as the 18th and 19th Century and was once the manufacturing heart of Birmingham due to its nearness to the River Rea, the Grand Union Canal, Digbeth Branch Canal and the arrival of the railways in the 19th Century at Moor Street Station. Today Digbeth is a cool and creative hub with galleries, pubs, bars, restaurants and independent shops taking up residence in converted factories such as the old Birds Custard Factory aka The Custard Factory which is at the heart of the regeneration of the area.

Walk round any corner and you will be met with pictures like this.  Take a trip to Digbeth and explore the streets and see what you might find in the way of great beer, food and art.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

So Just Who was Balaclava Man and Who is H?

What a cracking series Line of Duty 4 turned out to be. Absolutely edge of the sofa stuff in Sunday's season finale.

Much as I am absolutely hooked on Line of Duty, is it me or am I the only person who gets a bit baffled and bewildered by all the forensics that AC12 spew out in those brilliant interview scenes?  Fibres from this, DNA from that, blood spatters from whoever.  There are only so many times that Other Half will put up with having to rewind that particular bit of evidence. 

The fate of DCI Roz Huntley's arm was always a slow burner throughout the series but I think we all guessed it was on borrowed time once she started wincing with pain and getting the plasters out. It was starting to make me feel queasy everytime she changed the dressing so I was glad to see the back of it to be honest. She recovered quickly enough though - a mere flesh wound! Losing her hand put me in mind of that memorable scene from ER Season 9 when Dr Romano's arm gets chopped off by a helicopter blade. Ultimately helicopters were his undoing poor chap as one fell on him in Season 10 but he was a bit of a nasty character anyway so no loss there.

And who can forget that jaw dropping scene of hijinks from Mad Men Season 4 when after the John Deere account is signed and in the bag, office secretary Lois takes a John Deere tractor lawnmower for a spin round the office and ends up accidently cutting off advertising executive Guy's foot.  OK yes admittedly Roz losing her hand was not quite so dramatic but still bizarre all the same.  
On a complete digression here, a la Ronnie "so I said to my producer" Corbett, how I love that we Brits seem to have now adopted the American way of referring to each TV series in terms of seasons and not just plain series. I believe this is to do with the fact that most American TV seasons actually do last for a whole season i.e. they air on American TV in the Autumn and go on till Spring and can be anywhere between 10 - 22 episodes long. And have you noticed how mid-season there is always a  Christmas or thanksgiving episode slotted in which is timed to air during the festive season in the US. By the time we get to see these episodes in the UK though it's usually BBQ season here. We do our own bit though with TV series over here by having Christmas Specials to air on Christmas Day or Boxing Day.

I first noticed the use of Season not series when US dramas took off back here during the 80s/90s with great TV like Thirtysomething, LA Law, Ally McBeal and Sex and the City and I started buying DVDs of whole seasons of favourite TV programmes. Loving the use of the term Season Finale too as it sounds so much more exciting than final episode don't you think? Of course now with the advent of streaming channels such as Netflix and Amazon Prime we can binge on Box sets watching season after season, perfect for rainy bank holiday weekends.

So back to Line of Duty and the burning questions remain. Who was Balaclava Man?  Who is H? And no it can't possibly be Ted Hastings.  Did Frank Ifield (oh no he was a popular singer back in the 60s who everyone thought was Australian but came from Coventry). Did Tim Ifield dismember those girls and when are Steve Arnott and Kate Fleming going to admit they have feelings for each other and get it together?  If only LoD lasted a full season of 22 episodes.  Bring on Season 5!

Monday, 24 April 2017

Fashion & Embroidery Show 2017

After blogging about the Cardigan for Cardigan in my last post I said I would show you some of the fabulous textile pieces I found at the Fashion & Embroidery Show at the NEC last month. Combined with Sewing for Pleasure it really is a great showcase for the very best textile art around. Here are just a few of the ones that particularly caught my eye: 

I love the patchwork jackets of textile artist Maria Thomas.  Maria creates these jackets from found materials such as this one made from a vintage linen tablecloth combined with food packaging. Her work is inspired by memories and experiences of family life and domestic chores. 

Loving the use in this one of an old paper sewing pattern and tape measure.

A jacket made from vintage denim jeans.  Another idea perhaps for all my old pairs of jeans.

And I loved this piece she made using old bottle tops and sweet wrappers. Maria will be Solihull Embroiderers guest speaker on 2 May talking about her journey through stitch and displaying her work so please come along if you can. Visit Solihull Embroiderers Facebook page for details of the event. 

Who remembers wearing cute little smocked dresses such as these? 

Girls will be Girls is a celebration of exquisite dresses that butter wouldn't melt little girls used to wear. A unique collection of heirloom-sewn dresses created by Wendy Hickson, textile conservator at the National Needlework Archive. 

For fans of Game of Thrones this amazing embroidery was created by members of the Embroiderers' Guild and consists of 4 panels butted together to make one vast embroidery 5.5m long and 3.8m high. To celebrate Game of Thrones Series 5 HBO commissioned the Embroiderers' Guild to create a special artwork featuring a 'White Walker' from the series.  

I have never got round to seeing Game of Thrones (late in coming to the party again but am hinting to DH for the box set) but this really was a sight to behold and the work that has gone into this piece is stunning. Along with the Royal School of Needlework, members of the EG from all over the country took part including Deborah Philpott from my own Solihull branch of the EG. It has since become known as the 'Hardhome Embroidery' after the battle that took place in GoT. Who said embroidery was dull?

Oh to have a waist like this but the poor women who had to wear this style of dress back in the day must have suffered dreadfully.  

All of these historical French costumes formed part of an exhibition called French Dressing and were created by Olivier Henry from Ecole Duperre in Paris. 

The High Street Stitch-Up - Crickhowell in Stitches - Two panels, one depicting the East and the other the West side of the High Street of Crickhowell in South Wales and the result of a commission from Arts Alive Wales.  

Over 600 people took part in the community art project with many of the  participants depicting themselves and their own shops and trades. 

Always enjoy browsing the trade stands so treated myself to a Merchant & Mills paper pattern which I am going to make up in linen. 

And a little bit of whimsy to end on. Couldn't resist this dapper little hare in his tweed suit.

Monday, 10 April 2017

A Cardigan for Cardigan

Last  month I made my usual visit to The Fashion & Embroidery Show at the NEC.  We are lucky living in Birmingham to be so near to the big sewing shows and festivals.  This one is one of my favourites as it showcases textile arts, embroidery, experimental stitching, knitting, mixed media and fashion design. Now as the title of this blog suggests, I do love a good cardigan so was delighted to come across this beauty.

The Aberteifi Cardigan was designed by artist Lisa Hellier whose idea was to bring together the townsfolk of Cardigan to create a huge 5 metre cardigan to celebrate 900 years of the town's heritage. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund over 300 people of all ages and walks of life in the local community knitted pieces to make up the cardigan.  The knitters had free reign to create their own patterns and shapes, meeting every Sunday and listening to talks about their town's history as they knitted. All in all the cardigan took 9 months to knit and a further 6 weeks to sew it all together. 

Lisa works as an illustrative map maker and graphic designer and designed the cardigan as a knitted map of the town of Cardigan and the coastline. This really was the mother of all cardigans.  Just one of the highlights at a fantastic show which is heaven to me and all who are interested in textiles.  More to follow about the show in my next blog.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Image Transfer - Do Try This at Home

So for me and  I suspect for a lot of other artists working with fabrics and textiles, the holy grail of techniques is image transfer. That is transferring images and text onto fabric in order to incorporate that piece of fabric into a quilt or stitched project.  The other week I had the pleasure of attending an image transfer workshop taught by well known textile artist and tutor Annette Emms

There are myriad ways to do image transfer and much has been written on the subject involving some really convoluted methods using nasty chemicals but what Annette has done is demystify the whole process by paring it down to a few key tried and tested techniques and all using items found around the house such as emulsion paint, cling film and a hot iron.  

As always after any workshop I attend I like to consolidate my learning in the comfort of my own home. In other words go home and have a go myself accompanied by a cheekly little glass of something chilled. So here are my results both in and out of the classroom. 

This image was transferred onto cotton calico using emulsion paint.  Haven't we all got photos like this of unidentified relatives that have been passed down through the generations from parents and grandparents?  I have a few that were passed down from my mother and I have no idea who they are and she didn't know either as by the side of one of the photos in an album she has written 'your guess is as good as mine'. Photos like these lend themselves perfectly to image transfer to give an  ephemeral quality.  

This method used gel medium.  It's one of my daughter sat gazing into a mirror in a restaurant while we were on holiday. One of my favourites of her. When using images like this in my work I am not looking to achieve that perfect facsimile of the original but more of a distressed look.

This method uses sellotape then stuck down onto cotton.

Sellotape combined with page from a vintage book.

Another using emulsion paint but this time transferred onto brown paper.

The iron-on T-shirt transfer method

And at the end of a very creative and productive day all my results are neatly collated along with copious notes into a little handmade notebook from Annette. Another successful workshop and Image Transfer demystified.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Clear Desk Policy

There is a saying that creative minds are rarely tidy. I agree with that to a certain extent and it would be great to have a large studio space where you can really let go and be as untidy as you want without always having to clear up after but when you are restricted to a small work area then I am afraid for me tidying is obligatory. I am by nature a tidy person (much to husband's annoyance) otherwise I feel suffocated by clutter which stops the creative juices flowing. Trouble is then once I have spent time tidying I have ran out of time to be creative. Anyhow I had been on the lookout for a perfect desk tidy to contain all my pens, pencils and general desk detritus and found it in a great antique shop Bishopgate Antiques in Bishy Road on a recent trip to York to visit my daughter at university there.

To be honest I seem to always be in tidy-up mode when in my sewing den, because although when I am not actually creating I still think I am doing something worthwhile. This has been a necessity in recent months as I had to somewhat reluctantly relinquish a quarter of my space to my other half who has invaded with his work desk so a big sort out was in order.  I find de-cluttering very liberating as it's freeing up space plus I always feel quite virtuous when taking my 'unwanteds' to the charity shop and hoying a few bits and pieces in the recycling. 

All the sorting meant I finally got to chop up all my felted jumpers (felted on purpose you understand, not because I  had the washing machine too hot) into neatly stacked and tied bundles ready to sew them into a throw. 

Why settle for one iron when you can have two.

Ikea solutions! And you can't beat a bit of Billy for books.

More Ikea storage for my Embroidery and Quilting Arts magazines and I knew those vintage bobbins would come in handy. 

My precious Rowan knitting magazine collection going right back to Issue 1. What I would save in a fire (as well as sewing machine and Mulberry Bag of course).  So enough sorted and thrown out for a while. Let the creative juices flow! 

Monday, 27 February 2017

The 20 Year Cardigan

So I have been thinking about all things vintage just lately after discovering a great blog by vintage aficionado Lynn Holland called One I Made Earlier Today. I have been into vintage for quite a while as I collect vintage textiles and table linen and also the odd item of vintage clothing especially vintage jackets as I have a particular penchant for jackets. Lynn has a great sense of style and snaps up the most amazing bargains that she wears with great aplomb but what I particularly liked was her recent post of a lovely pink lacy cardigan very much resembling a classic one my mum used to knit in several shades and this got me thinking of course about cardigans. 

I have a cardy in my wardrobe which took over 20 years to knit. It is a Fair Isle pattern which as any knitter knows is a real bugger to knit taking heaps of concentration to follow the pattern chart in order to know when to change colours, not to mention a magnifying glass, so you can't exactly knock off a few rows each evening while in front of the telly.  This is the chart rather like graph paper with one tiny square representing each stitch and knitted up with about 8 different coloured yarns with a different symbol for each colour. I felt like I had cracked the Enigma code once I had figured out the meaning of all the symbols and colours. It was all very mentally challenging and hard on the old eyesight.

During those 20 years I got married, moved house, had a daughter and tried to keep those plates known as work, child care and housework spinning, so the cardy got forgotten about and was swiftly relegated to the spare room aka the dumping ground as I was just too knackered to knit each evening after Emily was in bed. Then as she got a bit older and life seemed a little less hectic shall we say, I started to pick the cardy back up every now and then and knit a few rows. After all, having invested quite a bit of money in buying the wool in the first place, as you need to buy one ball of each colour used in the pattern plus the main colour (and we are talking Rowan here and 100% Lambswool!) it seemed such a shame to leave it all to the moths. I started taking my knitting on holiday to while away the time while marooned in a tent on a Cornish camp site sheltering from the rain.  Knitting and Fair Isle became hip again which gave me the incentive to finish it and in 2012 all the pieces were finally sewn up to become a complete cardigan.  I have to admit though to going off the purple shade a bit and also it was a bit on the short side as it was only waist length. I do wear it though occasionally and it is very snuggly in winter. Annoyingly too I ran out of the main colour to finish the button band and had to finish with one of the contrasting colours. No chance of getting any more of the wool after more than 20 years. Here is my well worn creased copy of the original pattern bought in 1990.


Back in the 80s I would knit up a new jumper or cardy every 2 or 3 weeks. Me and my friend Jayne would eagerly anticipate the latest issue of Woman and Woman's Own to check out the weekly knitting pattern then dash off to buy the wool from WH Smith (yes they used to have a large wool section believe it or not) or Rackhams, or the Phildar shop (a really lovely French brand of wool with shops all over the UK which to our loss all closed. At that time big fluffy mohair jumpers and cardies were de rigeur and the knitting departments and shops were always busy. Remember this was the time when there was a wool shop on every high street and they all offered to keep the wool on one side to stretch out the cost.  Bizarrely after Emily was born I never knitted her anything, not even a pair of bootees.  

I found these patterns on Ebay just like the ones me and Jayne used to knit.  It was the age of power dressing and sometimes we would sew in shoulder pads. 

This is the more sedate kind of lacy pattern my mum would knit. She may even have got the pattern out of the Woman's Weekly which was always good for knitting. Unfortunately women's magazines no longer feature knitting patterns these days. They feed us boring gossip about soap stars and D list celebrities and really who gives a monkeys about them?  Bring back the weekly knitting pattern that's what I say.   

And this is Lynn's lovely lacy cardigan.  Just like my mum's.  It's time to get out those pins and start knitting again. You can never have too many cardigans!