Chicken wire deer in the grounds

I went with a friend this week to Burton Constable Hall, primarily to see Hull and East Riding Broderers Embroidery Exhibition “Now we are one and twenty”, which is on until the 5th September 2021. The main part of the exhibition is in The Coach House Gallery which is included in the garden price ticket, and open from 10am to 5pm.

Some of the exhibits are in the main house which is open 12 to 4pm, and at the moment there is a timed entrance, worth booking if you are travelling any distance. We were lucky and got in later in the day, having just turned up.

There are also walks round the lake and woodlands, but we didn’t have time for that, by the time we had seen everything else we had wanted to see and had lunch. Another day.

The light and space in the Gallery was very good. The work was a mixture of before and during Covid; some are responses to the group’s challenges, and it was interesting to see how different members have responded to the same brief; some original work / designs; others were kits or patterns by other people, including quite a lot by Alison Larkin who is a member of the group, but also teaches her own classes. She is also the co-author of “Jane Austen Embroidery” with Jennie Batchelor. Some of the folk in her classes (including me) tested some of the designs for the book, pre-publication.

Jo Berry also went to the Thursday evening classes that Sandra, Sally and myself attended and she has produced a prolific amount of beautiful work in the couple of years we’ve known her. It was going to Alison’s classes that prompted her to join the group. Her confidence in her abilities has grown hugely and she now does some of her own designs, as well as kits and other people’s designs. It was good to bump into her with her family at the exhibition, having not seen her since before the first lockdown.

Work by Jo Berry
Designers for the various pieces of work above

I’d heard about the “Dead Bod” group project that they did for the 2017 City of Culture, and may have seen Alison’s piece in progress, but it was good to see the whole finished piece and read the story below. It’s one of the things locals know about, and assume everybody else does too. The responses were so varied, it must have been a challenge in itself to put it together and make it look a cohesive whole. It would be good to know who had done which piece.

“Dead Bod”

I’ve only shown the first and the last pieces of work, there are 67 others between them, so plenty to see! And that’s just in the Coach House. After a lovely lunch, we had time to walk round the garden and the Orangery before it was our 1.30 pm timed slot to go in the Hall.

1.30, our timed slot to visit the Hall

There are 30 rooms to look round, with a one way system to prevent congestion. The guides were keen to answer questions and share their knowledge, but none felt pushy. There’s some beautiful furniture, paintings and artifacts to see throughout the house. Stunning plaster work and ceiling decorations: I didn’t do my usual trick of lying on the floor to take photos, but a few good ones all the same.

This one made me think of a pleated skirt

The embroidery group work was mixed in with the house decorations and fitted in as if they were permanent features. Boxes of Curiosities in the museum room, these unfortunately didn’t all photograph very well as they were in glassed box frames and the light reflected off them, distorting the curiosities. I love this one by Rosemary Cousins, many of the items I have in my own sewing memorablia. I’m intigued to know whether she has made the sectioning herself or whether it is a bought box.

This beautiful goldwork, again by Jo Berry is a design by Kathleen Laurel Sage called “Moonlight Hare”; it just looked as if belonged in the House, the only give-away was the label.

Section of goldwork “Moonlight Hare” by Jo Berry. The design / kit is Kathleen Laurel Sage

Alison’s “Inverted Wyvern” and her other dragon pieces fitted in perfectly with all the other dragons in the stunning Chinese room, with its beautiful wallpaper and stencilled doors.

The exhibition and the house itself are well worth a visit. The food was very good in the cafe too.

Washed shells

It was far too hot for our regular walk on Tuesday morning, so I decided that I would do something creative instead. But, what? So many to choose from. I thought a good starting point would be to look at the sea-glass for the crazy patchwork. There are some interesting pieces, but most were too green. (Yes, I really did say too green!)

I settled on four little pieces, but still wasn’t quite convinced that they were right. Then I remembered the bag of shells still sitting outside the back door from when we went to Sandilands weeks ago. I had picked up several really, really tiny ones that might just work.

I emptied the bag into a bowl of cold water, the perfect task for a scorching morning, swishing about sorting shells in cold water. It cooled me down beautifully, washed the sand off the shells and left me with an old tea towel full of shells of various sizes. The colours looked beautiful when they were wet too, not that they don’t when they are dry, but somehow more vibrant, and less subtle variations of shades and tones.

Different types of shells

There was also more variation of types of shells than I / we usually pick up, both in size and type. What is it about a particular shell that catches your eye among the thousands lying on the beach? Of those that I actually pick up, rarely do I discard them again. Something just seems to “speak / call” to me. A lot of the ones that I picked up that day were creamy and broken or holey, with spiralling curves that I thought would be good to draw, but would also string together, some worn smooth, others quite textured.

There were also some really tiny perfectly formed ones, probably the smallest I have ever seen, but not as many of these in the bag as I thought I’d picked up. Some are only about 1/4 inch (1/2cm) long, so may have got lost along the way. Certainly a few blew off my hand on the beach to rejoin the thousands of others!

The bottom right grey one is about 1/4 inch (1/2 cm)

There are also more than I remember with shells wedged within a shell, so may have lodged themselves in the bigger shells as they got jostled in the bag. They look like miniature sculptures in their own right. Having watched a programme about Barbara Hepworth the other evening you can see why she was so inspired by St. Ives.

Miniature sculptures

There were also more oyster shells than I have seen here before. Two fused together to make a display piece, but I’ve not managed to photograph it to do it justice yet. They are all so tactile, and the more you look and feel the more you see, with fantastic subtle changes in layers, colours and textures.

Oyster shell
Layers and layers with fragments of other shells wedged in

Not quite the same as a morning lazing on the beach, but a fun, playful morning all the same, and some of the shells have found their way on to the crazy patchwork piece.

I’ve used the natural holes to stitch through to attach them to the silk. I laid out the ones I thought would work, and began stitching carefully trying not to move the layout. I left the end to finish off later on the flat single piece and moved on to the tiny group, where I got so absorbed in what I was doing that I forgot that there were still loose ones! However, it worked out for the best as it meant I put less in the little group and the sea-glass got rearranged. That’s not attached yet, I need to decide how best to do so.

Used the natural holes to attach the flat piece of shell
Sea-glass is still loose

Progressing slowly, but happy with how it’s coming along, and stitching good memories into it.

Magic weaving bag

I finally finished the magic weaving bag that we had a workshop on with Ann Pocklington a couple of months ago. It took me less than an hour and a half to do while talking to friends on “Messenger” the other morning.

The main reason I hadn’t picked it up sooner was that I need some dark brown thread, and by the time I’ve sat down in the evening and remembered I need it (again and again), I couldn’t muster up the will to fetch it. I rarely sit down in the evening until it’s nearly dark, and at this time of year that’s not far off bedtime.

It needed the bottom of the loop blanket stitching to stop it fraying any more. I did a couple of rows over the same section, just to give it a little strength and make it last longer.

Blanket stitch round the loop.

Then the weaving needed attaching to the lining, just a couple of rows of hand stitching to hold the layers together. And voila!, I have a bag that holds my phone and sunglasses or glasses, it will hang from a belt loop on my jeans or on a cord round my neck, the lining and the zip ensuring nothing can fall out. See “Magic bag weaving” blog post 21.5.21 for how to make a magic bag.

Weaving attached to lining

The other finish this week is a scissor keeper for my serrated goldwork scissors. I had done a sample “D” at a taught session on calico somewhere (?), using different types of gold threads. I can’t find any notes or instructions that go with it, which suggests it’s been around for a long time, as nowadays I try to keep together in plastic wallets all the relevant bits for a project.

Gold thread had been couched down, but the top of the “D” was not finished; it had the two threads separated and didn’t look right at all, so a bit of a rethink and it became a simpler flourish. The inside had some purl cut into beads and stitched down. Had the intention been to do more? I don’t know. But I left it as it was.

I did a single strand of thread to do another “D” for the other side (back?), traced from the first one to make it the same size. There’s slightly more room to put pins or needles in this side.

Couched thread.
Which gold for thread cording?

I cut out two circles of white funky foam and did running stitches to gather the fabric around each “D” and stitched the two layers together. Then all it needed was a cord, but which gold thread to use? I felt like Goldilocks choosing which porridge, chair and bed was best.

The one on the left was not flexible enough, and wouldn’t twist well. The one on the right was too fine, but might work for really tiny cording (or in lots of strands). But, the middle one worked perfectly (Goldfingering(?), label long gone), two strands twisted together and folded over to cord (four strands altogether).

I’ve stitched them over the join of the circles and left a loop to thread them over my scissors.

Attached to scissors
Back of scissor keeper
Close-up of front
Close-up of back
Selection of threads from crazy patchwork project.

Crazy patchwork seems an appropriate project for these crazy, uncertain times. All the talk of things easing off shortly, nobody quite sure what’s the best way forward, how we as individuals are going to change our current behaviour or not, what we are comfortable doing, masks or not, etc.,etc.

In the last few days, including just as I was starting this post, I’ve heard of friends who have family that have tested positive or are having to self-isolate because of close contact (through track and trace). Yes, many of us are now double vaccinated, but we still need to be cautious and take sensible precautions to avoid catching this unpredictable virus. None of us know in advance how it might affect us or our loved ones.

This piece of crazy patchwork was started several years ago. It came as a kit that included the silk fabric, a pattern for the block and instructions. I missed the taught session, but one of my friends chose the beautiful colour of my pack, which was slightly out of my comfort zone, but not too much because the threads are my own.

I was sort of relieved to have missed the session, as the rest of the group hand-pieced together the 6” square, made up of the silk patches. I decided to machine-stitch mine together, although it was a bit tricky, as the backing was to be incorporated too. I used the flip and stitch method, but had to make up bits as I went along. I seem to think there were several bits of unpicking. It probably would have been easier to follow the instructions and hand-stitch!

Back of the work, you can just see the machine-stitched lines.

We were given a sheet of suggested stitches to try, along the seams. I did a buttonhole wheel adding a bead in the centre, I then outlined with my “go to” reverse chain stitch.

Detail of beaded buttonhole wheel and reverse chain stitch.

I then did variations of fly and feather stitch using a single strand of stranded thread, some with French knots, some with tiny glass beads at the end of a stitch. I did the longest seam in flowing lines of reverse chain stitch, crossing under and over each other using a variegated thread.

Fly, feather French knots and chain stitch.

In the middle section, I did woven-wheels and spider’s web stitches, using five legs for some and nine for others; it’s still got the pen lines that will be removed once the whole piece is finished.

Spiders webs and woven stitches, beaded fly stitches.

By this stage it was making me think seaside, seaweed and waves, so I added some more organic, flowing lines of reverse chain stitch in the variegated thread. And this is where it got abandoned until recently.

When I started again I added more reverse chain stitch along the long seam, thinking of strands of seaweed moving in the sea, loose and flowing. It’s now covered most of the biggest piece of silk, and I’m happy with the balance of this side,

I’ve been pondering where to go from here for several days, then spotted three pieces of abalone in a tiny glass tray on the window sill when I was closing the curtains last night. Perfect colours.


I’ve offered them up on the piece, but it just doesn’t work, neither as a group, nor any of the pieces individually. They look too heavy, and dominate that corner. They sort of look OK in the centre, instead of the woven spiders webs, but I don’t really want to take them out.

Too heavy.
Not sure!

The other idea is to stitch shells in the cream blocks. Before lockdown we did a drawing workshop called “Take a line for walk” with Bronwen at Lincolnshire Embroiderers Guild. Some of the quick drawings may have some useable lines. We did timed drawings, non-dominant hand ones, and blind drawing.

3-minute continuous line drawing
3-minute blind drawing

I quite like my 10 minute shell, and think that might work in the bigger cream block, or maybe on the darker green block. I need to do some tracing and offering it up, probably altering the scale to make it smaller to make it work.

10-minute shell drawing

So, the pondering continues!

This is the back of the promotional flyer that has been delivered to all
the houses in Epworth about what’s going on at the Old Rectory
now that it’s re-opened after lockdown.

On Monday, six of the Grasby Embroiderers group met at Epworth Old Rectory to hang our long overdue exhibition. It’s quite a different sort of space from our usual exhibitions. There are nine rooms in which to place the work, rather than a stand at a sewing exhibition, such as our display at “Sewing for Pleasure” at the NEC, or the “Fashion and Embroidery Show” at Harrogate, or Grasby church or Village Hall, or a white gallery space.

The Old Rectory is the home of the Wesley family, Samual and Susanna Wesley and their ten children, two of whom John and Charles founded the Methodist movement. Susanna was ahead of her time and educated not just her sons, but her daughters too.

The work was grouped into themes that had some relevance or connection to a particular room. Lorna’s vegetable books, Jessica’s piece that had a connection to honeycomb, and my “Just hanging out” all have domestic connotations, so these are all in the back kitchen. Some were grouped by colour or scale.

On the table in the kitchen are the nine “Lockdown Challenges”, each one grouped and linked together, so the different ways each of us works and the variety of responses to each challenge can be seen. Unusually, this work can be handled and examined by visitors.

The rest of the work is not for touching, as with most artwork. Touching is often very tempting with textile pieces, as fabric and thread by their very nature are tactile and beg to be handled. I often going round quilt exhibitions with my hands in my pockets to stop me from touching. The work would soon get grubby, if everyone fondled it as they went past.

“A host of angels” is part of the body of work that was done specifically for the house. We were all given the same wooden frame, the same size to work with, except as normal it was too small for Mary! Her frame does match the others, but is larger, and very beautiful it is, too. Ordinarily, we would have seen the work progressing month by month, but instead we had a big reveal date to send each other our finished framed pieces. It was a fairly even balance between neutral colours and predominantly blue, with a variety of techniques being used.

My angel is 3D, made with a pipe cleaner armitage, then wrapped in yarn, that was covered with stockinette. I then made a dress that was stitched in fine gold threads which hang loose at the bottom. The wings were cream long stitches that I had initially intended to weave, but once they were done, I decided I liked them as they were. Long straight stitches in gold for the halo finished it off.

Dress test piece in paper

We all also did a flower or flowers specifically for Epworth, and I chose a tulip. I again wanted it to be 3D. I had lots of drawings, sketches, paintings and photographs from real tulips on the kitchen table over the space of a week or two for each bunch. Working from when they were tight buds, gradually opening up, going through an ugly stage and then becoming beautiful again, as they start to curl and dry, and the vibrant colours fade.

Quick sketches
Loose painting of faded tulip
Refining the shapes of the petals
Colour study and playing with texture

I had also taken loads of photos of the tulips in the garden last year when even that was tricky with my broken arm. But these proved invaluable when I was trying to capture the detail of the stamens and stigmas for my solo tulip.

Detail of the centre
Montage of photos from the garden

I used red velvet for the petals, and embroidered the stamens. This was a bit trial and error as I wanted them to be loose and look realistic. After several attempts, buttonhole stitch and wrapping gave me the effect I wanted. I did a pattern for the leaves from one of my drawings, and looking at a tulip in front of me, it looked strange flat, as that’s not how we see them, so I wasn’t convinced it was quite right. I gently took apart one that had basically had its day, placed it over my pattern and much to my surprise it was almost the same.

Pattern for tulip leaf

I used some fine green silk fabric for the back (inside) of the leaf and some ”fabricky” tissue paper that I’d saved from a bunch of flowers, which I machine stitched together. I did the stem with a rouleau in the silk, another pipe cleaner, and once the leaves were wrapped around it they all moved in a fairly realistic way.

My “I am little” body of work was put in the nursery, as it is based on my sister and me, when we were three or four, and five or so.

Also in there is the alphabet quilt, a joint piece that we all did a couple of letters each, stitches echoing the printed design before lockdown, passing it on when we’d finished. The plan had been to do another round, but Covid put a stop to that, and Mary had the “parcel” when the “music” stopped, so she finished off the rest of the letters. At our first meeting we all discussed how it should be finished off. Lorna put the backing on and tied it together, and printed off a fabric label to go on the back.

Label on the back of the quilt

As a gift from our group, it was presented to Gillian (the Rectory Curator) at the end of the day when we had finished hanging all the other work. She was really chuffed with it and told us that Susanna Wesley had all the children learn the alphabet on their 5th birthday.

Presentation of quilt to Gillian in the nursery

At the moment you need to book in advance to go to the Old Rectory and the exhibition, but it’s well worth a visit and not just to see our work. however, there’s much more than I’ve written about.

Elephant in the park

I’ve had a very exciting trip to London this week, a long weekend with Miles and Lera. It’s a very long time since I last stayed in London overnight, and only rarely had day trips. On the Monday morning Lera needed to get a visa to travel for work, so they decided to make a weekend of it and asked if I wanted to go with them. Yes, please. Now we are fully vaccinated and taking all the necessary precautions I felt it would be safe to go.

The train was very well socially distanced, on the way home from Doncaster to Scunthorpe I even had a whole carriage to myself. We didn’t use the tube at all, all preferring to walk so we would see more. We did use an Uber, but only once each day when we had time constraints on timed visits, and to take our luggage to Kings Cross left luggage on Monday morning, before Lera’s meeting and Miles working in the London office for the day.

Comfortable shoes were essential, as we walked 70,000 steps / 54 kilometres over the three days. Colin was pleased he’d stayed at home! We were staying in an Air B&B on the other side of Battersea Park, so a long walk along the river and through the parks to get to and from the places we visited.

We crammed a lot in, but somehow it all felt leisurely. Some of the things were planned, others things we found by happy accident. Miles and Lera’s train from York arrived about 10 minutes before mine from Doncaster, so it was lovely to be met with hugs. Then I had my photo taken at Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4, and even here there were only a couple of people queueing. The first photo of many, because Lera takes photos of people. I’m usually behind the camera not in front of it!

Into another world

We had several hours before going to the theatre to see “J’ouvert”, a bright, lively performance about Notting Hill Carnival. We tried to get into the British Library, but it was fully booked. Another time, and so close to Kings Cross that in normal times it’s a good place to visit while waiting for the train. We spotted an interesting church, St Pancreas and the gardens, with a huge London Plane Tree, and the old gravestones that had been collected up from the cemetery to make space for the station with a tree growing through them.

London Plane
The Hardy Tree
Tree growing through the old grave stones

Lera wanted us to go to a Georgian restaurant that she had found, so we headed towards it and found Coal Drop Yard by chance “en route”, a relatively new development with interesting walkways near the canal basin, little shops, cafes and restaurants. This led into Agar Grove with outside exhibitions.

Agar Grove

We got to the restaurant just before it opened, and explained we had limited time because of theatre tickets. We asked what would the lady recommend: the casseroles dishes would be the quickest, so we had a lamb, a chicken and a beef one and shared them with a big basket of their own bread. Very good. An Uber to the theatre and a quick walk through China Town. This was the busiest place we were in, but we walked briskly with our masks on, somewhere to linger in other times.

China Town

We walked along the river and through Green Park where we saw a herd of elephants, there’s a bigger herd in another park (72). I can’t remember where the lady said, I was already on overload! So much visual stimulation everywhere.

Lera with the elephants.

We walked past Victoria Station and the bus station where I recalled catching the bus/coach back to Birmingham about 40 years ago, carrying a huge plastic bag of polystyrene beads to make a bean bag, which Miles thought was crazy, until I explained that you couldn’t buy them easily then.

We were all relieved to arrive at the Air B&B; aching feet and aching shoulders, in spite of travelling light and Miles insisting on carrying my roll-along / rucksack for much of the way and me only carry a cloth bag of stuff needed during the day. The place was modern, clean and well-appointed.

My single room was in a different block of flats / maisonettes from theirs. On the map it looked to be around a few corners, in reality when I came out of my front door to meet them, I could hear Miles calling me. I couldn’t see him until he waved out of the window two floors up directly opposite across a quadrangle. Both had well fitted kitchens, so we found a supermarket to get a few supplies. Miles cooked and there was outside space with a picnic table at mine, where we ate. On Sunday night it was too cold to do this, so we ate in their room which had two chairs and a table at the end of the bed, so Miles sat on the end of the bed.

On Sunday we walked a different route, then along the river to the Tate Modern where we had timed tickets. We spent a couple of hours on one floor and one more gallery. I came out with lots of ideas and things I want to try.

Artist that I was suggested to look at when I was doing my degree.
Beautiful fabric covered books

We had tickets booked for late afternoon at the Science Museum, where we saw a superb exhibition called Medicine. We were all fascinated by this, and spent a long time looking at an interactive body showing X-rays, MRI scans, etc. of different areas of the body. We had barely finished looking at that before announcements started giving us time warnings of closure, so we separated and looked at the rest of it individually, wizzing round and looking at the bits that caught each of us. The part about Thalidomine made me think / realise how lucky we were that mum didn’t suffer with morning sickness as both my sister and I were born in this time period. One of mum’s friend’s oldest daughters, only a couple of months older than me, was one of the victims. We could all have spent a whole day just on that exhibition.

Monday was rainy for most of the day. I had a quieter day at the Barbican, with its fabulous library. Unfortunately the art section was closed because it didn’t work with the one-way system, but one of the Librarians brought out a selection of embroidery books for me, three or four that I already have. There were a couple of interesting exhibitions, one about Matrix, an architecture company that specialised in building for women in the 1980s. One bit had black and white footage of the centre of Birmingham in the late 1980s, including the Rotunda (long ago demolished) where my nanna used to work.

I met Lera in the cafe for lunch, where she worked for a couple of hours after her meeting at the Embassy. I left her working, and met up with her later to visit the Conservatory, where she found a new hat.

New hat!

Lots of photos taken in there, close-ups of flowers and leaves, giving me ideas for future work. All in all, a great few days, that have recharged my batteries. I’ve had a productive few days in the garden and three more long walks, good to get my walking boots and thick socks on to cushion my feet the first day back! And I was certainly pleased that the weather was cool and mainly dry over the weekend, if a little grey at times.

Hemswell antique centre

Treasure, treasure, treasure. I’ve had two trips to Hemswell Antique Centre this week, the first with Colin on our way back from a visit to the Sam Scorer Gallery in Lincoln, the second with stitching buddies. The Gallery was real art work, not just images on-line, and one of the group of artists, Christine Plummer, was (wo)manning the exhibition. I have done a couple of workshops with her years ago, one making little garden books. Sadly, it’s the final exhibition by the group, but there was some lovely work. And very good to chat with a real person about the work and the group.

My garden inspired book

At Hemswell with Colin we went in a building we haven’t been in for many, many years. It went more up-market, and more furniture orientated, but I suggested we have a look. It’s changed again, and still a tendency to be more expensive, but found a couple of delightful children’s books: only £6, for the two.

Two of my treasures.

I think Molly Brett was the first children’s illustrator that I was captivated by as an adult. I’d bought a greetings card, complete with a story that one of my early pieces was based on. It took 20-plus years to finish, and had three different teachers’ input and suggestions. It was probably the first thing that made me realise how influenced my work is by what I see around me seasonally. Seeing new forsythia and cherry blossom made me dig it out and work on it again, but I would lose impetus, again, a few weeks after the flowers had gone. Once I recognised this was what happened, I determined to finish it the next year.

It’s a mixture of hand and machine embroidery, fabric painting, quilting techniques, the pond has a cellophane-y / plastic-y bag stitched over the silky, painted blue water, and the lily pads and goldfish are silk painted, and cut out. The bee is velvet stitch with gossamer wings. The fairy is scanned and transferred with image magic (?), she has a little wadding behind to make her slightly 3D with the stitched details. The butterflies are my own photos and transferred on to silk so fine, that they flutter slightly. If I had finished the piece with the first tutor, this stuff didn’t then exist, so the final piece of work would have been very different, as my skills also increased and improved over the years. To do it now, it would be very different, but I was pleased with the final result.

Molly Brett inspired piece

The Mother Goose is quite a find (for me). It was published in 1988, by Walker books. Our son Miles was born in 1992, so we spent many hours looking at and reading children’s books, bookshops and library visits when you would expect to have seen it around. At two he was dragging us into book shops, not that we needed much pulling! Every room in the house has books and bookshelves which we continue to fill and read.

It is full of many of my favourite children’s illustrators, and some new to me. I love children’s books, and when I applied to do my degree, as well as applying for Fine Art, I also applied to Lincoln to do a combined Fine Art and Illustration (and was accepted) course. It was a tough decision between Hull and Lincoln, all the places I applied to were equidistant from home, (Grimsby offered a place, and first on a reserve list at Doncaster, I only found out at the interview that the course was already full). But, I was pleased I chose Hull, and didn’t do the illustration (more prescribed briefs).

Close up of cover

I’ve only had a brief browse so far, but love the dedication and the foreword talks about the Opie archive, now (then) called The Opie Collection of Children’s Literature, collected over 40 years by Peter and Iona Opie. So, a new field of exploration.

In the front of Mother Goose.

I couldn’t resist this chocolate box when I was with the friends. Was it once full of exquisite, luxury chocolates? I can but dream! Or, was it made to be purely decorative? It’s constructed like a Brie or Camembert box, so it won’t take anything very heavy. However, it’s big enough to take a hooped sewing project and threads, etc. Far better for the figure than the chocolates it could contain!

Chocolate box
Exhibition poster

Today the Grasby Embroiders had our final meeting before we hang our exhibition in a couple of weeks at the Old Rectory in Epworth. This was only the second meeting we have had since the end of February 2020, 15 months ago. The exhibition should have been last summer; of course it was delayed because of Covid restrictions, so we all have everything crossed that it will go ahead this year.

A lot of work and preparation goes into our exhibitions. Usually a major body of new work is exhibited every two years, and for many years it was at the NEC Stitching Show in Birmingham in the spring, and / or the Harrogate Show later in the year, plus smaller, more local exhibitions.

We all have the same starting-point or theme, but the final pieces are very different and individual to our own interests, preference of style of stitching and techniques.

Ordinarily, we meet once a month to view, discuss and critique each others’ work, make suggestions and give encouragement when any of us has difficulties, blocks or technical problems. We also plan our exhibitions and workshops, both in-house and with other textile artists.

Felted scarves workshop with Vivienne Morpeth

Group projects have also been undertaken over the years, the most recent one being a large banner with “Grasby Embroiderers” stitched on to a canvas background. We were each given two letters to stitch in shades of green, using our own choice of technique and stitching. They all ended up very different, some were more textured and raised than others, all were capitals so the R’s, B’s, E’s and S’s could be shifted around until a cohesive and balanced whole was realised by careful arrangement of the letters.

Once the letters were finished, we chose a thread that worked with all the different shades of green. It sounds simple, but several samples of the needle-weaving were done before a suitable variegated thread was found. The canvas was then attached to a slate frame, and we worked from the middle in both directions to begin with. A maximum of four could work round it at any one time. It was useful that there were a couple of left-handed stitchers in the group, but all the same it sometimes took a bit of shifting around of who sat where. It seems crazy now, how closely we had to sit together to work, and the piece had to be moved several times to work to each end.

Then the letters were stitched down, edged with metres and metres of our own-made cording. The backing was attached, a sleeve to hang it, and a cord, just to keep our options open depending what’s available in the exhibition space.


Several bodies of work will be hung, two lots for the first time, and the nine Grasby Lockdown Challenges will be displayed. (See previous blogs.)

Hidden waterfall from a spring in Broughton Woods

I had my first real piano lesson since lockdown last week. It was so good to see my teacher for the first time since March 2020. She’s a young 89 year-old, and actually looked better than when I last saw her, having had some health issues at the end of 2019.

An inspiration to us all, she has walked for an hour every day, up and down the hilly area where she lives, with a wheeled frame that she is now only using for balance rather than support. She has managed to continue her lessons on-line via messenger, a bit hit and miss to connect with her sometimes, but we’ve managed, and my progress has continued albeit slowly since we started last November (too easy to use my arm as an excuse!). She is also learning new pieces herself, in spite of having played since she was 4 or 5 years old, and can identify with the struggles of her pupils. And she continues to improve and learn new skills in her art work, working on it on a daily basis, often for several hours, still working at midnight when she had planned to stop at 10pm, having lost track of the time.

I could do with some of her self-discipline!

Even as a child I was inspired by young at heart old ladies. I was 10 or so when I first met several, at Saturday workshops at a nearby school; they were my age now, and I barely consider myself middle aged! They were learning dress-making and sewing, taking yoga classes, walking and gardening. I became good friends with several for the remainder of their lives, some of them remaining fit and healthy well in to their eighties, and interested in what was going on around them.

They were good role-models. I hope and intend to follow their example. It’s good to learn new things and challenge yourself with things that are out of your comfort zone.

Nobody would ever have guessed I would want to learn the piano, having never been musical. I did go to three violin lessons at the start of secondary school, but it clashed with gymnastics club, and my friend and I aspired to being the next Olga Korbut, with dreams of making the 1976 Olympics! I was delusional even then!

But the discipline of daily piano practice is good for me. Perseverance and not letting things beat me makes me determined to stick with it and master the pieces I am learning. Getting the timing and rhythm right is even more difficult for me than getting the right notes. Many years I go I told a friend I couldn’t tap in tune (nor sing) when I meant in time. On been prompted to tap along to something while he played his guitar, I was informed I tap to the off beat, which I’d never even heard of! But it entertains me for a while each day. Colin shuts the door on me as it offends his poor ear (deaf in the other one). But, at least I’m trying. Very, he tells me.

A friend this week has said she wants to feel light-hearted, which set me thinking what makes me feel light-hearted, and that we all need to do more of those things (especially at the moment).

One is riding my bike, which gives me an incredible sense of freedom, especially going down-hill and feeling the wind rushing past. I did think I would get my bike out last year, and then broke my arm, so it just didn’t happen. Even when it had healed, I couldn’t take my weight on it on the handle-bars. The garage has been cleared enough to make it easily accessible again, so on Monday morning the tyres were pumped up and I went to a friend’s in the village on it, and came home the longer way.

They say you never forget how to ride a bike, and I think it’s more or less true. It felt very high up for a few minutes and the ground a long way away, but I soon got the hang of it again. The gears are taking a bit longer to get used to, but I’ll practise with them. The feeling of freedom was just the same as when I was a kid / teenager.

Yesterday, I ventured out again. Further this time, all down-hill to Broughton Bridge, to meet a friend walking back from Brigg along the riverbank. The perfect excuse to push the bike back up the hill, as we walked and chatted in the sunshine. I’ll cycle back up the hill next time!

Another thing that makes me feel light hearted is lying in the hammock with a book, preferably under the wisteria. Not quite warm enough in the shade at the beginning of the week, but in the sunshine with a blanket or two, looking at the leaves against the blue sky was good. The scent of the “pineapple” tree wafting in the breeze. It’s good, as I can’t see the weeds and what else needs attention in the garden, which will not go away, but will wait for me.

“Pineapple” tree, it looks and smells like pineapples.

The garden is looking and smelling beautiful at the moment, all the rain we had last week has made everything shoot up, and look lush and green, followed by the warmth and sunshine, and the flowers have come out.

Smells beautiful
Same rose bush, a bit more open.

I try and go for scented plants in the garden, a treat for the nose as well as the eyes. The lilac flowers are bigger than ever, a double white with flowers as big as my hand span.

Huge blossoms this year

The new orange poppy petals look crumpled and in need of ironing, but they soon look smooth.

New crumpled petals

This allium looks like an old ladies’ hat from my childhood, something my great grandma would have worn with pride.

The chive flowers are pretty, the smell of those make me feel hungry for homemade potato salad, with fresh parsley in too.

Chive flowers

I don’t like the smell of geraniums but couldn’t resist the fabulous red of this one from the lady up the road. I bought some purple petunias from her too, and they smell like honey. It’s only the purple ones that are scented for some reason. I just need to decide where to put them.

Geraniums waiting to be planted up.

My favourite light hearted bit this week was a real treat. A friend who we’ve not seen for two years is here visiting her mum and dad with her two little boys. So I met them in the woods, where I found them paddling in the beck in their wellies. Having fun, wobbling over the logs that have been made into stepping stones. Exploring downstream, until the little one got his welly stuck and had to be rescued by grandad.

We then went on an adventure to find the hidden waterfall, where they both got stuck and had to be rescued, wellies full of muddy water.

Hidden glade

Then the little one, followed by me with the others behind, led the expedition up the hill and down a path that I thought was long since gone. The “Spider Path”, we called it, because if you were first down it in the morning the cobwebs would tickle your face as you walked along.

It’s a privilege to see the world through the eyes of a child(ren), a couple of hours with them was good to share.

Back of orchid

The last of Mags Bradley’s zoom painting classes have been this week. They have been running since the autumn, but numbers have been dropping the last few weeks, as people have been allowed out more. About now, the real classes normally stop until September, when we are ready to get back after (normally) holidays and days out during the summer. We do sometimes have a few ‘en plein aire’ sessions at the coast or class members’ gardens, and Mags allotment (I’ve not managed that one yet), and we may have a few of those if / when the weather gets better / more predictable than it has been of late.

They have been good, in many ways, but they have involved a lot of preparation for Mags on a weekly basis, as well as learning to navigate Zoom herself, and helping the rest of us to use it too. It certainly hasn’t been as easy to correct our mistakes as we go along, or to yell ‘stop’ before I (and a few others, apparently) overwork our piece. But it has made us all have to be more self reliant on decision making, as we go along.

We have painted a large variety of things, including landscapes, seascapes, woodland, flowers, plants, still lifes of a range of objects, and unusually our own hands.

In the real classes we often had an arrangement of objects, or real flowers or plants in the middle of the room, all of us having a different view of the set-up. Mags would demonstrate, and talk about what we were going to do. We mainly used watercolours, but occasionally acrylic inks, coffee, watercolour pencils or Neo colours.

For the Zoom classes we had to work much more from photographs, Mags sending out ones for us to print out at the beginning of each week. She would then demonstrate, and we would more or less follow along. We would share our work (if we wanted to) with the group at the end of the session. In real classes we always went and looked at everybody else’s work, too. It’s a good way to learn more, and see different ways of working.

Often we are all quietly absorbed in what we were doing, but it was good to chat at coffee-time, and at the beginning and end of the sessions. This was more difficult to do on Zoom, but it was good to see one another, and get to know a little bit about folk from the other classes. There were three real classes, each week, but two zoom ones. I usually did both.

As always, my results were better in some sessions than in others; sometimes it was the subject matter, other times getting or not getting in the zone. Also for me, I like to work from life, or at least from my own photos. When. you take a photo you are already deciding which aspects interest you, and you have a mental image of more than just the photo in front of you (or I often do).

When I went to Howard Boyd’s (O.H Boyd) pencil-drawing class nearly twenty years ago to learn to draw, he insisted that we drew from life. He could always tell who had done their homework from a photo, where the image is already flattened to 2D, rather than your own interpretation of making something 2D (your piece) from 3D (reality). Yes, you really can learn to draw. I wasn’t convinced at the time, but having told him I couldn’t draw, he asked if I could write my own name. Yes, well, in that case, he told me, you have the manual dexterity to draw, all you need is to practise, to learn to look / observe, and to draw what you see, not what you think you see.

Especially in last few weeks I have worked from my own photos, with one notable exception: a canal scene with some cottages. I was quite pleased with my cottages, because usually I struggle with buildings, and even their reflections in the water. Then Colin came into the kitchen to make a coffee about half way through the session. “I wouldn’t want to live there, it’s getting flooded” he remarked. I’d got the perspective all wrong.

Section of canal paining with a rainbow over it
from a crystal hanging in the window.

Mags learned something from my mistake too. When I held it up for help, she found she could mark a line where I needed to change the bank.

It’s still a work in progress, but at least the cottages are not getting flooded now.

Improved, but room for more.

Sometimes, in the second session of the week, I have continued with a painting from the first session, or more often gone back to it, while waiting for paint to dry on the current painting. This orchid was tricky to apply Howard’s “draw what you see, not what you think you see” as the blooms are normally symmetrical. This one isn’t, so I made it more so (with artistic licence) or it would have just looked wrong. I ended up doing three sketches which just didn’t look right, and ended up drawing the back, not from the photo above but from the orchid in front of me, where I was able to draw just the flower and not the dishwasher behind. The disadvantage of photos is that you can’t change the background, where the eye focuses on what you want to see, sometimes not even being aware of what’s behind until you look at the photo.

Sketch of the back and guidelines on the watercolour paper
Detail of the back of the orchid

Also, with artistic licence you can change the orientation.

A sideways-on orchid looked wrong, but I drew it as I saw it, then turned my paper round. It is floating in mid air, but I just wanted to capture it, as it is, rather than thinking about composition.

Front of the orchid

In this close-up version, I had thought about the composition and wanted to focus on the details of the centre of the flower.

Composition decision

I’ve enjoyed the classes, and they have made me draw and paint at least twice a week. I need to continue on my own, and often the second (plus) attempts have had better outcomes. Practice, practice, practice leads to improvements.