Take it Further challenge

I have been mulling over Sharon B’s Take it Further challenge for January – this is from her blog:

The key concept for January is a feeling we have all had, the feeling of admiration for another. Ask yourself who do you look up to and admire? Why? What is it you admire about them?… Take the idea, develop it into a resolved design during that month and apply it to fiber or paper.

There’s also a colour challenge but I’m going to focus on the concept each month as it’s in this area of visualising the abstract that I know I really need to be challenged.

I struggled for a while with this concept, finding that there seemed to be no-one I could admire without reservation – I was relieved to read a very clear articulation of something of the same feeling from Liz at Dreaming Spirals; and stunned by the imaginative way she’s resolving it. I think a combination of stifling perfectionism and a deep-seated desire not to be misunderstood were combining to paralyse me and I wondered about pulling out of the challenge…

But reflecting on what is common to the people I admire – often people whose names I don’t know or couldn’t share (sometimes quite hidden, usually quite humble), I realised that it’s often precisely because they are such a mixture of opposing qualities that I admire them. I’m drawn to the way they’ve confronted their particular darkness by allowing something bright and fierce and tender and courageous to grow in their lives. I began to think about radiance and colour breaking through strong bonds or tangled chains. I’m remembering an image from LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, a ‘clot of black shadow, quick and hideous’. And seeing tendrils, tiny shoots, frail in themselves, but becoming tenacious and powerful as they grow.

This is all a bit scary – I discover I don’t really like to expose my thought processes before I know where they are going or if I can make anything of them. It feels too vulnerable.

As to technique, I’m using the challenge to make myself work more consistently in a sketchbook so at this point I think my entries will be pages from a visual journal. It will allow me to explore the ideas in more than one medium and it fits in well with my other commitments.

seeing shapes

OCA Textiles 1 is (obviously) a textile course, but a significant proportion of the exercises involve design work on paper – I’m still not sure what I think about this or whether I’ll continue to work that way – it’s a big change for me since my previous method was basically to get out the materials and see what happened. It feels good, though, to be challenged so fundamentally. I did enjoy this exercise very much – to isolate interesting parts of an image using a frame and represent them, focusing on the shapes.

framed shapes

framed shapes

appliqué in progress

I made good progress today with the appliqué wall hanging which is my first assessment piece for City & Guilds 7822. I got all the shapes laid out ready to shadow quilt. On the left of the pic is the overall design; on the right, how it will change with painted silk organza pieces laid over it. After it’s quilted I’ll be cutting back into it to reveal some of the coloured shapes and the felt batting again. I’m sure I’ll be tweaking the composition but this is about it. I’m going to treat myself to some variegated machine threads at the Festival of Quilts, so I won’t stitch it till after that, but I can get the pieces fused to the felt and think about the quilting for a few days. Now that I see the appliqué pieces on the felt, I’m not sure that I’d go on to add the top layer if it wasn’t for a quilting assessment, but I think if I’m careful with placing the stitching I can cut back effectively to get some interesting contrasts.


I tried a technique from Tray Dyeing yesterday – not with Procion MX dyes (as used in the book), because I don’t have everything I need for that yet; but I dyed some strips of silk with Javana silk paints. These bits were torn off the edge of one of them to put in my sketchbook – I sent the piece off to my daughter with some other bits, and forgot to take a photo. I used lemon, magenta, and cyan together – I love the resulting zingy colours. The silk was dry and loosely scrumpled in a small box before squeezing the colours on with a pipette.


I was reading a very interesting entry a couple of days ago on Karren Brito’s blog Entwinements – What people will do to wear red – about the effects of dyes on the skin – in clothing, not just while you’re using them. Food for thought, especially as I hope some of my dyeing experiments will end up in my wardobe. If you’re interested in dyeing there is some wonderful shibori including wearables on Entwinements.

time out

The last week has been mad, work-wise, so not much happening, art-wise. I worked in my sketchbook a little, and got round to watching a very interesting ITV1 programme – Harry Potter: The Costume Drama. Ben Shephard was talking to a range of people in the wardrobe department about the way they created the costumes for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. They even have a ‘breakdown department’ where people spend their whole working day distressing the garments after they’ve been made or bought. Why did no-one ever tell you about that kind of job at school?

I was particularly struck by the head of the wardrobe department, Jany Temime, and her approach – how the costumes themselves contribute to the acting – fascinating. She also said – never let your ideas be constrained by what’s practical – you can always find a way to do it. Though I’m not quite sure this can be extended to everyday wearable art (the really wearable kind, I mean) since she also said later on that many of the costumes can’t be washed (they make several of each instead)!

[Here I edited this post to delete a link relating to the programme, for copyright reasons.]

Part of my work week was setting up a gallery for all the entries to a competition run annually by the UK Embroiderers’ Guild for its members. The 2007 theme was Water, and the brief was to create an original design, primarily hand stitched, though the work could include any technique. Working with all those lovely watery images was very soothing… If you’d like to immerse yourself – the gallery’s on the Embroiderers’ Guild web site.


TRACEY have an ongoing call for

“the submission of ‘notebooks/sketchbooks’, crossing the boundaries of science, art, design, technology, education. The intention is to demonstrate drawing as a necessary tool in the thinking process – all sorts of thinking.”

The submitted sketchbooks are displayed online.

They also have a fascinating collection of ‘found drawings‘ – “images arising by accident rather than from any conscious process”.