Friday, 26 April 2013


Hmm it is not going terribly well today. I have spent a day and a half (and thirty pounds) on a disaster otherwise known as Pudding Lane. The fantastic vision I had in my head of a felted street scene in which to stage the Great Fire of London, with 85 children's felted flames, looked kind of alright with only a small but nevertheless embarrassing dose of amateurism. It was (and at the moment still is) about eight feet long and two feet tall. Quite an effort. I had worked on it in three separate stages and had to keep rolling it up to work on it as it was too huge for my kitchen table. If truth be told, the novelty had worn off after half-timbered house number three. I took some photos to show you as I was making it. Then I thought I had finished felting it and took it over to the kitchen sink to give it a rinse and that's when it happened: under its own weight (and the weight of the pints and pints of soapy water it contained) it started developing several holes and coming apart where I had been a bit mean with the wool layers (lesson: never try to cut costs by using too little wool). I tried to salvage it with a bit more rubbing and then I was pondering whether I could machine stitch it to sharpen it up and in so doing, patch up the holes. But by this point exhaustion and despair from manhandling such an unwieldy thing set in. Who was this for anyway? Would anyone at school appreciate a cobbled-together woolly oddity they had never asked for in the first place? Was it just a sad attention-seeking exercise? It had literally and metaphorically worn a bit thin. I went for a drive to try and forget it; the car radio was spouting a lot of misery about suicide and chemical weapons and after some tears I have come to the conclusion that what I have made is some interesting pieces of pre-felt that can be chopped up and used in other pictures. The sky had been a (bad) sunset but the colour blends will be handy for something in the future. Just not today. And no, before you ask, I'm not showing you the photos.

Still there has been some positivity in a way too busy week. I have had 4 of my better pieces back from the framers, the lovely Picture Framers Chelvey. Almost everything is ready to go for Arts Week now. Here is another taster or two:-

I am really chuffed with this as I always knew my roses needed a frame to make them complete. The purple frame seems to bring out both the roses and the vase even though it matches neither. 

My dear old familiar friend here is back and looking a bit smarter. For those who suspect it might be a self-portrait, I made it just before I started doing the 5:2 diet (have you heard of it? 5 days eating normally and 2 non-consecutive days of eating just 500 calories, every week) and so far I have lost a stone. Maybe one day I will felt a slightly more svelte version if I ever feel like admitting that it could be me...and if I ever feel like felting again after today's catastrophe.

Friday, 19 April 2013

On fire...

More pieces framed in readiness for North Somerset Arts Week and things are hotting up. I made a facebook page for our venue and we are getting plenty of "likes" from the people we know (we need plenty more though to really spread the word). The room itself has had a good tidy and clean this week too and we are starting to get a vision of how things will look. I have had my September picture back from my brother yesterday and I had forgotten how pleased with it I was:-

In its tiny version in the Arts Week brochure it looks a bit less than impressive but in person I think it packs a punch, especially with the purple mount and amazing frame my brother picked for it. At the other end of the scale I am also pleased with my latest sea pictures in their box frames. Here is a little glimpse of one (again excuse the photography, I think I will need to get some training in this if this blog is to ever get off the ground):-

In the meantime I seem to have landed myself a new and enormous project. I was helping out at school on Wednesday as usual and suddenly heard some words coming out of my own mouth before the brain had kicked in to shut them up. Why does that keep happening to me more than ever before? My offspring have started a topic on the Great Fire of London and I found myself suggesting that we could get three classes of children making felted flames that we could put together into a big felted scene of the fire. Originally I had a vision of a simple night scene of a street (black silhouettes of houses with a sunset sky) but as time goes on I am starting to veer towards half-timbered houses. I thought it would be useful to see what the children might be capable of, so after school last night the three of us had a practice at flames. They loved the process and the results look pretty good (of course flames are great to make because they can be any shape and if colours move about while they are being rubbed, so much the better):- 

It turns out that mine was not at all the best one, maybe you need to be seven to be extra good at felting! The only issue with the whole thing is the size it will have to be to fit 85 children's flames on; it could well need to be about 6 feet long and my biggest felting project to date was about half that. Oh and I am happy showing my two what to do but the thought of showing another 83 (under the beady eyes of trained professionals) is pretty daunting if I think about it for more than a couple of seconds at a time. Still, everyone needs a challenge sometimes and my friend Laura has been urging me to do something like this for well over a year. These things are all meant to be...

Monday, 15 April 2013

Frames and Paris

I can tell that North Somerset Arts Week must be getting near because all of a sudden the emphasis is on frames. I now have 7 things in frames, picking up 4 more tomorrow, and can properly believe that they are really works of art and not just woolly rags. Here is a taster (please, more than ever before, forgive the appalling photography: not easy with glass reflections and getting in the right place to take a decent picture):-

I haven't found anywhere to put them yet and I can tell that just having them near the front door for the last two days is annoying my other half, no words exchanged as yet but it won't be long. However he is off to Paris and will be gone for two nights so I'm keeping them out for a bit longer so that I can keep checking on their gorgeousness until he's on the plane home.

So Paris for a full 24 hours and he is wasting it with a sheet-metal trade fair. I could SO do it better. For one thing I am fluent in French and he can barely muster up a "merci". And I could really use that time wisely. I have such a great list of things I could do and the Eiffel Tower would not feature at all:-

  • E. Dehillerin: the best, most old-fashioned and bizarre kitchenware shop I've ever seen, wooden paddles for beating aligot (mashed potato with more cheese and garlic than you could shake a, erm, wooden paddle at) in every size imaginable from handbag-size to something you could row a boat with, cast iron pans, copper pans, whisks in more sizes than anyone would ever need, moulds for everything you could imagine and then about a hundred more.
  • La Droguerie: The most beautiful shop full of ribbons, buttons, beads, lace, yarn
    and cute necklace kits.
  • Alleosse: the most renowned cheese shop in all of Paris, where we were given our receipt with all the cheese names on and told to go to the wine shop next door where they would pick out the perfect bottle of wine to accompany them (and they were right).
  • The Musee Marmottan: the loveliest and least heard of museum, full of room upon room of Monet's waterlilies, a feast for the eyes. And I have a vague memory of the most remarkable patisserie and cafe on the way back to the metro station.
  • Chez Allard: I can't remember much about my starter or main course when I ate there but the cheeseboard came and was a great flat basket the size of a truck wheel and it had at least 25 different sorts of cheese on it, some of which were nearly dripping off the sides. 
  • Aux Deux Canards: the loveliest restaurant bizarrely themed around oranges - vin d'orange, duck a l'orange, a lesson on making "miel d'orange", a concoction of orange peel and sugar kept in a jar for months as a cooking ingredient to be added to white wine (to make vin d'orange) or to a duck sauce. And a very masterful and memorable front-of-house guy (named Gerard if I remember correctly) who would talk you through the menu on a blackboard at great length with a pointy stick. I hope he's still there.
  • The food market on rue de Buci. Piles of wild mushrooms, seafood, charcuterie to dream of, the powerful fragrances of ripe fruit - when do we ever smell ripe fruit in England?
Oh dear I've just seen that my list only includes one thing that doesn't mention food. It also sounds like one hell of a twenty-four hours. Maybe a trip to the sheet-metal trade fair might be easier on the stomach.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Cabin fever

So often my children force me to do things I would have never believed possible. This week being chicken pox week number two, I am again under house arrest for more time than I feel comfortable with, for the second time in three weeks. I am having fantasies about driving off into the sunset with music blaring, and of getting some fresh air and exercise (it must be bad, I don't often hanker after getting out of breath!). But enough about me, Spotty Boy has been really very unwell and has done the full range of upset, from downright whiny, to screaming out loud, to slumped in front of television for hours, to a profundity seldom seen in a crying seven-year-old in the middle of the night: "The world is so huge and I am so so so small...".

The confinement has had its bonuses: lots of tidying time, not a stitch of washing left in the dirty washing basket, ironing done and I've managed to do a little bit of felting. The aim was to do a couple of smaller cheaper items for North Somerset Arts Week that I might try to sell unframed. I went back to my favourite subject matter (maybe wishful thinking, I could do with being by the sea):-

The next day I was deliberating whether or not I should get a ruler and rotary cutter and crop them into rectangles when I realised that they have both unintentionally turned into perfect squares, if you were to trim off the frilly bits round the edges. One is 23cm square, the other 20cm. I found it out when I was playing around with an old 25cm Ikea box frame that fitted the bigger one perfectly. And actually not having a mount made the frame look like a cute little window, almost a porthole. It looked great! The old frame looked too tatty (and too Ikea) so I have ordered some new box frames, one in a deep blue for the top one, one in white for the other, and another teeny long thin white one for one more sea scene (in almost bookmark dimensions) I did a while ago. A bit of stitching on the waves and maybe beading and we will have three simple little framed pieces that I know I will be really pleased with, and that I won't have to put a big price on. I am now considering two things:
  • If I could lay my hands on a cheap secondhand round porthole mirror, could I open it out, take out the mirror and pop a felted sea and sky inside instead?
  • If I did another sea scene and got a deeper box frame, could I put the sea scene at the back and put a few real pebbles in the foreground, as if on the beach? Obviously it would only work when hung on a wall, and could be horribly rattly in transit (and possibly damage the frame or glazing). Would that look good or just cheesy? I have spent too long at home in the company of a sickly seven-year-old, and might just have lost the plot a tiny bit with this one.
So much for making something unframed... 

Saturday, 6 April 2013

More readers!

I have noticed a strange phenomenon... Since Wednesday afternoon the number of people looking at my blog has increased noticeably. A friend pointed out that this could be because of the North Somerset Arts Week brochures starting to be distributed but I didn't believe her at first. On day 2 though, I had to start believing as there wasn't any other reason why more people would be coming to have a peek. If you are looking at this as a result of getting an Arts Week brochure, I'd like to thank you very much for your interest; I hope you find something that pleases you (most of the things I'll be exhibiting are on the earlier pages so have a look around), and if so, do please keep coming back to see more. I am honoured. It would be lovely to meet you in person during Arts Week.

I have picked up in total 2400 brochures (out of 40,000 printed in total) and passed most on to fellow artists to distribute, and between us all they should soon be going viral all over the region in libraries, shops, cafes, schools, surgeries, galleries and various other locations. They look beautiful and it is good to be so involved. I have a few more plans for things to make in preparation, and am in the process of getting my original meadowy picture back home from Norfolk to display at the exhibition. It seemed the right thing to do as it's the picture featured in the brochure.

It's my birthday today and plans were slightly scuppered by a boy waking up with chicken pox this time. It's lucky I have a tiny bit of a hangover and don't feel like doing anything very much. I did have a little time and energy to do some sewing this morning:-

I am feeling good about the definition of the trees now I've stitched round them, and the way the felting process has made them look gnarled and wintry. I just have to work out whether the ground is finished and whether I need to put something else in the background. I think I need a second opinion...

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

London, back to nature and Arts Week

It's been another busy few days. After nearly a week of being stuck in with chicken-pox-ridden girl and no holiday, we went stir-crazy on Good Friday and booked an apartment in London for the weekend. How different from the shopathons I used to do in London before children! Instead of trying to look cool and not catching anyone's eye on the tube, we had to talk about every little detail of our journey with two fascinated children. All the sights and then the Natural History Museum. But offering treats for children who tried lots of new foods, we managed to get a hint of the old London trips: dim sum in Chinatown, a lovely Bombay-style breakfast in Dishoom and, most enduring in my memory, after children's bedtime, takeaways from Wahaca, burritos, tacos, guacamole and salsa vibrant with flavour and texture and colour and freshness. A new Mexican cookbook and an authentic variety of different chillies and Mexican condiments requested for my birthday treat as a result.

An early but proper birthday treat today from my dear friend Laura: a huge wodge (is that the proper collective noun do you think?) of 4 different natural coloured Shetland wools for felting. We wrestled with thoughts of dragging our children out into the bitter wind to the park but after a while we realised that we were the only ones in need of something to do and we succumbed to our felting urge. The colours of the Shetland wool made me think of a book I have seen by Andrea Hunter with wonderful monochrome felted pictures almost reminiscent of charcoal drawings. I was thinking a lot about her wintry trees. Someone a while ago suggested I did trees but I wasn't sure how until today. Here is what I produced...

I am quite pleased with the dark tree but need to think about what to do with the all too sparse background. A little stitching here or there might go a long way. The Shetland wool is rather endearing too; it felts well, and has a very authentic sheepy smell. Bizarrely after cooking dinner and several hand washes, my hands were still smelling of lanolin and were dramatically well hydrated and smoother than normal. Can I find a way of felting with my face?!

North Somerset Arts Week is going great guns; brochures have been printed and I picked up 28 boxes (1120 brochures in total) this morning to circulate to the other artists; 27 more boxes tomorrow with luck. And the other day I got my cards back from Moo to sell during Arts week:-

I am really pleased with them. And the backs:-

Just a little bit daunted now - the brochures are out with my name in, no backing out now! Not so much Arts Week as Judgement Week...