Being born second of two girls and with a five year age difference, I spent much of my own world in imaginative play. The great outdoors featured largely in our lives, in fair weather or foul, with time spent each day riding Shetland ponies and playing with various dogs, making ‘houses’, mud pies and collecting ‘treasure’.
My father’s many brothers and sisters were all creative people and we were encouraged to paint, draw, knit, embroider and generally be creative. Skills that were further encouraged by the nuns at the convent school, even if we had to knit with the battleship grey wool for everything. They must have been given a job lot.Looking back at this wonderful childhood, I realised that nothing has changed for me. I still love the feel of a pencil or paintbrush, stitch daily or "play" in the large garden I am lucky to call mine.
Creating is such therapy, whatever medium I use, but, I must say stitch is my favourite. I don't consider myself an expert in anything, but more a "Jack of all trades", who can turn her hand to most things thanks to my father's encouragement to explore and investigate how things work. One of the best things I have ever undertaken in life was to study City and Guilds Textiles and Embroidery with some wonderful tutors who made me really look and see beyond the obvious. It's a family joke that family are seldom seen in holiday photos - mostly they're of drain covers, rust, peeling paint, shells, tree bark, debris on the beach etc.
I find Inspiration and excitement in the most mundane or obscure places. Stacks and stacks of carved terracotta pots in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, crystallised fish bones for as far as the eye can see on the shores of the Salton Sea, moody and misty mudflats off Mersea Island, the desolated buildings and gravel of Dungeness with rusting machinery on the shingle banks, majestic Yosemite and the wonders of Gothic Architecture. I need a dozen lives to make use of the visuals that inspire me.
Looking back at those early years, I realise how formative they were. I still have the collecting bug - boxes and dishes of shells, nuts, seeds, pieces of bark, fragments of lichen, feathers, tiny delicate animal bones, rusty washers and flaking paint. That's before I even mention the threads and fabrics! Being a typical Pisces, I float through life, sometimes devoid of discipline, other times, totally OCD especially about storing threads by colour, in labelled boxed, by weight, by fibre content, by usage. Many a happy hour is spent "sorting". A typical avoidance technique, I know, but a pleasure in itself.
Recently, I was lucky to attend a workshop taught by Amanda Hislop. It was a revelation to me. I love colour of any hue, but I restrained myself on that course to using shades of white, grey and beige. What a release! I loved the work I produced, the calmness it brought to the end result and the process itself. It's a well known fact that our eyes see colour first, shape second and then if you addpattern, the first two become scrambled. By using the calm whites, greys and beiges, the work retained a crispness that I softened where required with strands of fibre and torn papers. Saying that, one of my favourite pieces I produced isn't based on a visual starting point and isn't in pale colours. It's a piece I entitled "Meg Merrilles" taken from the poem by John Keats. It's based on scenery and colours from the life of Meg who lived on the brooding moors in Scotland. I hand dyed all the fabrics and layered them with simple stitches to form a panorama of the moors. It's a piece I look at and think -"Yes, I can live with that one"..
I travel around the north of England teaching workshops and giving talks. It will never make me rich, but as my husband says, it keeps me off the streets. (The nuns will be so relieved to hear that). Meeting like minded people is such a comfortable place to be. People who "get" it when you scramble to save a special sweetie wrapper or save a dead bumble bee to go in a glass jar so that you can study it's "fur" later. I may be there to teach, but I learn so much from the people I meet. Little snippets of information or expertise. What a lucky person I am to earn money from such an enjoyable job. I'm currently stitching into old letters and cards after buying a batch from a market. Most are from the same household and dated from the 1920's. I want to do them justice - they are so poignant, especially the collection of black rimmed envelopes containing death notices. I'm also working on a much larger piece in brighter colours for a specific place at home. See what I mean - totally random assortment of ideas.
I envy people who are so focused that they have a "style" to their work and are instantly recognisable. I flit from one technique to another and most days are spent with at least half a dozen projects on the go at once. In fact I keep a fat, little notebook next to me to record ideas and thoughts as they pop into my head. A futile attempt to harness thoughts and to try to achieve some semblance of order in the chaos of my mind. I have deadlines for four projects at the moment and as I write this, it's the week before Christmas. A time of wall-to-wall family, meditation and feasting - so I'm grabbing "me" time whenever I get the opportunity.