since June…

I needed a blogging break after finishing my course but it grew rather longer than I intended. If anyone is still here reading, this is what I’ve been doing since then.

In July, I was given a couple of Tiree fleeces, a Jacob and a Suffolk, by a very kind crofter friend, and spent some time learning how to turn this


into this,


and then to this.


August brought visitors and walks by the sea.


In September, we sadly said goodbye to Tansy, our darling companion of almost 17 years – this photo was taken in the spring. She loved to run on the beach and the machair right up to the week she died. I miss her so much.

Tibetan spaniel

In October I collected blues, yellows and greens together and made some little pieces of felt for the International Day of Felt. But I didn’t get myself organised in time to get other people involved as well – I will next year, I hope, when the colours will be Red-Purple-Blue.


While all my flat surfaces were filled up with blues and yellows and greens…

fibre and fabric

I spun some of it too.

handspun yarn

In fact, I’ve been spinning a lot in the last few months. I’ve woven scarves with some of these yarns now, but the basket keeps filling up again.

handspun yarns

I think my birthday visit to the mainland deserves a post of its own, for another day. I don’t quite know how this blog will evolve without the focus of the OCA course. Mostly textiles still, of course, but maybe a bit more of life as well. I’ve tried keeping a separate blog for ‘other stuff’ but since it’s a challenge to keep one blog alive, let alone two, a more eclectic mix may be the way to go from now on.

the last lap: the table runner

While I was looking at napkin rings and cuffs on Flickr, I saw this beautiful forest poetry cuff by Cathy Cullis, and it gave me the clue I needed for the final element in my hospitality piece. I loved the combination of fabric and text, and the frayed ‘wabi sabi’ quality, which echoes with my ‘imperfect’ theme. A cuff, writ large, could be a table runner. With that thought my objects suddenly turned into an installation.

I had the fabrics (and had already used most of them in the woven napkin rings).

indigo collection

I had the words, collected in my theme book. And I had – just – the time.

Piece, piece, piece and stitch, stitch, stitch.

work in progress

A day later – much later – and I had a table runner. The fabrics are all my own hand dyed indigo shibori pieces from various workshops long past. (Now I need to dye some more!). The text includes words from the Bible and quotations from Christine D Pohl’s Making Room and Jennifer Kavanagh’s The O of Home. I had puzzled about how to attribute these if I’d stitched them on a napkin; in this format it was easy, with a label on the back of the work.

So this is it, the culmination of all the work and experimenting and agonising and learning. The photos were taken in a bit of a hurry and a bad light before it all went into the package to catch the post (you have to get to the sorting office by mid-morning here, as the mail goes on the plane to Glasgow at lunchtime). When it comes back from my tutor I’ll take some better pictures and put them on Flickr.

table runner

table runner detail

There isn’t really anything I would change about it, a few small technical things maybe. I don’t think I’m really cut out for distance learning but I’m glad I stuck with the course and managed to finish with something I like. I couldn’t have got through this last week without the large amounts of encouragement and coffee provided by Alan, he was wonderful. I’m off for a walk by the sea now, and the next big thing is Woolfest – I can’t wait. I’ll be there both days and would love to say hello to any blogging friends who are going.

the last lap: developing the theme

I should warn that this post is going to be long – it’s the tale of my final assignment for OCA Textiles 1, “A Design Project”. I’ve posted the package, I’ve written the evaluation, I just need to record the process and – I’m done. Three years including my deferment and my extension – and I’m still working right up to the deadline (today). A sensible woman might have written several shorter posts as she went along… Actually, I think I will write several shorter posts, just all on the same day…

This is where I had got to by 24th May:

I have probably enough ideas now for a whole series but have finally settled on a set of felted placemats with a blue and white colour range. Blue and white is used in two iconic types of china: willow pattern and Cornishware; in textiles indigo resists immediately spring to mind. I am currently looking at uses of indigo and blue dyeing in various cultures, shibori of course, but also adire, and work from India, Java and Hungary and will be starting to make samples shortly. I want the mats to make a united set but each one will be different, expressing the idea of welcoming a diversity of people around a table.

I serendipitously came across a recently published book by Jennifer Kavanagh called The O of Home, and think her ideas about embracing circles and broken circles feed into my concept. I was already playing with circles when looking at plates and bowls, and they are a recurring theme in my work as well. I see each mat with a blue and white circle or radial on a white/cream background (from undyed fleece). I have a number of ideas for the circles and will sample to find out which ones work best or if something different emerges…

I was also struck by a sentence in Christine Pohl’s Making Room about hospitality offering people ‘a journey towards visibility’. I am thinking about each mat having words free machine embroidered round the edge in white/cream, merging into the background – maybe quotes from the women at Yarl’s Wood or other people who have needed refuge and sanctuary. However, I think I probably need permission to use other people’s words in my work so it might not be possible to obtain that from the people involved, some of who may now have been deported. Another option I am considering is religious quotations about hospitality. Either way I would want these to be very subtle so that from a distance they are just an embroidered border and only emerge as text on a closer look. Sampling will tell me if I can pull that off.

Based on this I started to play with design ideas in my theme book. Because I planned to use nuno felt techniques I had a dyeing day to lay in a good stock of sheer blue fabrics; and I gathered together all the blue and white fabric/yarn/fibre and paper I could find.

dyeing blues
blue fabrics

I then made some felt samples. I began by making a couple of plain mats using different fibres – Shetland, Blue-faced Leicester, and one that was a mix of those two with some Merino. I decided to go with the BFL, which has a lovely textured surface when felted.

I also bought some sample packs of African, Javanese and Indian fabrics online (from The African Fabric Shop, Textile Techniques, and the lovely Glitz and Pieces on Etsy). I looked at some beautiful indigo textiles from Japan and Hungary as well, but they only came in big pieces, way beyond my budget.

fabrics from Africa, Java and India

These are the ideas for circles on felt that I recorded in my theme book. I was thinking that they should all be open in some way, circles without edges, to symbolise that within this enclosing shape, no one is shut out.

sketchbook circles 1
sketchbook circles 2
sketchbook circles 3
sketchbook circles 4

Meanwhile, I wrote to the Yarl’s Wood Befrienders who kindly gave permission for me to use the words of detainees from their web site.

playing with colour

One final post about the ‘Textile Structures’ module – though actually it’s the first exercise – working from a visual source and analysing colour, texture and proportion. Choosing an image and first painting blocks of colour, then wrapping card with yarn, is intended to make you look closely at the colours and their qualities and proportions. I lost some of the lightness of the image in my painting and in the yarn wrapping but regained it, I think, in the fabric wrapping, which is much more visually textured.

analysing colour texture and proportion

I liked the result of wrapping with fabric a lot so I made another, this time just working with the colours in the fabrics. When it was done I realised that the sketch book page on which I’d used up my left-over paint would make just the right background for it!

colour wrapping

Wrapping is often used solely as a design exercise but an artist here on Tiree has made it into her own very distinctive art form. Susan Woodcock creates evocative seascapes and landscapes, full of colour and movement, combining paint and textiles in a way that perfectly captures the island atmosphere. Her husband Colin Woodcock, is also an artist, a painter whose work explores ‘the interplay of land, sea and sky’, and is filled with the beautiful light that is so special to Tiree. Together they run the Blue Beyond Gallery, where Colin also creates his dramatic raku pottery. Every week in summer you can go to watch the pots being fired – a fascinating process – and very hot!

Plan A

I’m working on ‘A Piece of Your Own’ which is the first extended assignment of the OCA Textiles 1 course I’m doing. I never really got going again on the course after moving house last year and though I’ve only completed half of it, I would have run out of time round about now, but the OCA has kindly given me an extension and a new deadline of early next summer. Right now I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or not!

The textile piece is to form part of an item such as a garment, cushion, bag, wall hanging – it doesn’t have to be the whole item, and you are asked to keep an open mind about the end product for as long as possible.

The piece has to be developed from design work and techniques accumulated throughout the course so far; I gathered a lot of previous work together and did some design development on the computer back in July, and then some felted samples using ideas that came out of that. Gathering felt was one idea that I’ve already blogged about; these are some more experiments with that, before and after felting.


Then I took another of the computer designs and have been playing with it. I tried stitching needled merino before wet felting (using yarn made from the same fibre so some of the yarn would ‘disappear’) and felted half onto muslin and half onto white fleece.



Nothing is really working though and I desperately want to get this module over with since I’ve been stuck on it forever… It’s not that I’m not producing textiles at all – I’ve made several felt scarves over the summer – this is the latest.


I wish I could just use this scarf for my textile piece! I’d be tempted to but there’s no link with any design work, which has to be the starting point, or if there is, it’s inside me somewhere. When I make something in ‘real life’ I usually have an idea to work to – in this case a wrap and the word ‘flame’, or something I’ve seen or heard that’s inspired me, and the materials do the rest. Sometimes I write down words that extend the idea, like a mind map. My imagination tends to be verbal and then tactile. I don’t seem to be able to start visually, with drawings and designs, and then progress to something that means anything to me. When I draw or paint that seems like an end in itself. I don’t understand why I find a visual design process such a struggle, but it feels like there’s a magic casket and I can’t find the key – and it’s frustrating because I’m sure my work would be stronger and more defined if I could get to grips with it.

Anyway, enough moaning, my plan is to persevere with the circles design and to try and interpret it in fabric manipulation (using nuno with silk). Silk painting was one of my favourite bits of the course, so I’ve painted a big piece of silk to sample with and, well, I still prefer the original computer design, but if I don’t compare it with that I am quite pleased with it, apart from the dark splodgy bit in the middle where I used too much salt! I want to see how it looks with the background ruched and the circles felted, and vice versa, and if either works it could be a cushion cover or part of a bag or scarf. That’s Plan A, at any rate…

silk painting
silk painting
silk painting