Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Noah's Ark - a felt wallhanging

On 20th June I had children from our very small Sunday School making a felt picture of the story of Noah's Ark. They had come after school a few days earlier to make a start, making some half-felt in all the colours of the rainbow and a selection of different neutral shades for making the ark and the animals. Last thing on the Saturday afternoon before I shut up my studio for the day, I laid out some fleece to make the background to the picture so that on Sunday morning we were ready to go.

We cut strips of different colours and made a large rainbow. The ark was made from strips of brown half-felt - this was different colours on each side, which means when fully felted the bottom layer peeps out around the edges of each strip giving a plank-like appearance rather than just flat colour.

Next came the animals - giraffes, elephants, tigers, sheep, horses, monkeys and penguins had all got a home on this ark.
The children seemed to really enjoy the process - lots of soapy bubbles and physical activity always goes down well! We didn't quite get it finished in the time available - it needed a bit more rolling and then the rinsing, but as one child wanted to take the picture into school, his mother took it home to finish off. They brought it back this Sunday and I got this lovely photograph. It will now get mounted on some canvas and hung on the wall of the church hall.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

New Celtic Cross Wallhangings

After my relaxing week making felt in the garden during my "open studios" event, it has been back to work with a vengence trying to catch up with embroidery orders.

The last couple of days has been spent making large Celtic Cross wallhangings for Iona Abbey. This batch includes two new designs. Last summer I was able to visit the abbey and I took lots of photographs of the wonderful collection of Celtic crosses and grave covers that are housed in the abbey's infirmary museum.

I already had designs inspired by the wonderful St John's and St Martin's crosses, but I wanted some simpler, less "busy" designs. These two stones particularly appealed to me and both designs were relatively straightforward to depict in embroidery. The wallhangings are approximately 40 x 60 cm and are made with Harris Tweed.

The plain ringed cross was just a bit too plain so I have used artistic license and added in some Celtic knotwork. Although this is my own invention, it is entirely in keeping with the style of many of these stones and follows the rules of this artform.

These wallhangings, along with two new priest's stoles will shortly be winging their way to the Abbey, where they stock many of our products such as bags, scarves and hats.

We make two sizes of Celtic cross wallhangings - large ones like these, and small ones just over 10 x 20cm. The larger ones often get bought to be used as pupil falls in churches. The small ones go all over the world - the last one that I sent off was being taken out to Malawi. The next design that I have to work on this week is the Kilnave cross on the Isle of Islay and this will be on the small size of wallhanging.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Back to winter

After two lovely days in which we sat outside in the garden, today was cold and windy. As the day wore on the grey sky cleared and the sun came out but the wind felt as though is was blowing straight from the north pole - and it was blowing hard.

I retreated to my studio and spent the day making felt. The hard work of felting and milling helped to warm me up, but my feet were frozen.

Today's project was inspired by two things - the flowers in the garden and some balls of rainbow dyed merino pencil rovings. Pencil roving is the term for fleece that has been taken through the preliminary stage of spinning for commercial spinning. I have found that with the aid of a battery powered "hair braider" it makes really good twisted tassels for a fringe. I cut lengths of about 12 inches and twisted them up, then brushed the ends with fine mini carders and blended these fluffy ends in with the fleece that I used for the rest of the felt. This piece of felt will be used as a base for one of my Celtic knotwork embroidery designs. My intention is to stitch a quite open knotwork design so that it looks rather like a garden trellis and then possibly add in a few little flowers to pick up on the colours of the felt.

It is quite amazing how quickly the garden changes. When I first opened the studio for our Highlands Open Studios event last Saturday the irises were only just beginning to flower and the foxgloves were just beginning to grow tall, no buds in sight. A week later and the irises are beginning to wither and the foxgloves are beginning to flower.

At the end of the afternoon I spent a little while preparing for tomorrow's Sunday School group. We will be making a felt picture of the story of Noah's Ark and the rainbow. If it works out, the pictures will appear in my next posting.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

A sunny day in the garden

Highlands Open Studios - half way through our open studios event, today we had beautiful warm sunshine which made our day in the garden very pleasant.
I have some orders for our Shetland Angels and that involves spinning Shetland wool to make a yarn for tying the angels "wings" to the body, so today I sat at the spinning wheel and spun enough yarn to keep me going for the next few months. Fortunately I have prescription sunglasses!

Mary spent a couple of hours working in the "sweatshop" upstairs, but then came out to join us and sat labeling items for several orders. Here she is doing the rather tedious job of labeling keyrings but it has to be done, and is more enjoyable outside in the sunshine.

For the last few days Val has been making her jewellery inside the gazebo. Today it was stifling in there so she joined us on the patio. Her activity today was making beautiful, delicate polymer clay roses. She is considering adding them to the range of items that she sells at craft fairs - some as individual roses, others possibly included as part of jewellery pieces, but there are various things she needs to consider. Does anyone have any idea what sort of price these roses might fetch at a craft fair? Email Val through her website if you feel you can offer her any advice on this, or indeed if you want to purchase one of her flowers.

Later in the afternoon we had a visit from a young family. The children come to Sunday School at our church - St Michael and All Angels, Inverness - and we are planning to make a felt picture on Sunday. Today we made a start by creating some half-felts in various colours. These will get cut into the shapes we need for the story we plan to illustrate on Sunday - come back next week to see how we get on.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

New blue photographs

Mary was back at work today having spent the weekend at Rockness Music Festival. She had got her hair dyed with blue streaks and we thought it might be fun to photograph a few of our blue items while they were all out in the gazebo for our Open Studios event.

First off - Maggie hat - in teal blue with toning embroidery around the brim - visit the Anna Macneil website for full details. Mary assures me that this style of hat is very popular with festival punters.

It was really far too warm to wear this lovely silk-lined "Celtic Splash" scarf, but it did match Mary's hair.

Always popular - our mobile phone pouch - or it can be used for a small digital camera. There is a spring-lock toggle on the cord allowing the cord to be adjusted in length so that it can be worn on the hip or round the neck, whichever is more convenient.

Then after all the effort of posing for photographs, Mary sat down with an embroidered wrap around her shoulders, to sample the new chair that her father had just bought!

Wild Garden

A lovely sunny and warm day today so I headed out to the garden with enthusiasm to open up my feltmaking studio. I have hooks on the walls either side of the double doors so that they can be kept open when I am working. I went to hook back one door and saw something weird filling the hook. At first glance I thought it was some sort of seed - lime green and knobbly, but then I realised that the surface was moving and it was in fact a mass of tiny spiders. I don't know much about the life cycle of spiders but this nest was definitely not there yesterday evening when I locked up the studio. The whole mass was only about half an inch across.

Yesterday I finished the felt panel with the iris flowers - needs some work done on it to give a bit more definition to the flowers, but as a quickly done sample piece I think it turned out not too bad. I went to photograph the irises today and found one growing out of the pond, which looked a bit strange.

The cats kept me company today while I spent time making buttons for bags and cutting up all my scraps of tweed for making keyrings and Celtic hearts. The good weather brought out some visitors and among other sales I took an order for a tartan draughts set - a wedding present that will be heading out to Spain when it is finished.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Busy Monday

This morning it was rather grey, but dry. I had an early start and went off to the supermarket - always better to go first thing when one can get round and back home within 45 minutes. I then spent a couple of hours in the kitchen before heading out into the garden to open up my studio for our Highlands Open Studios event.
Yesterday I had laid out some fleece and had it all ready to wet down and make some felt. I spent the rest of the morning working on this. I am not sure yet what I will do with this piece - probably embroider on it, or perhaps use it as a rug.

Val took a break from jewellery making to come and make felt beads using some half-felt that I had cut off from the edges in an effort to get the felt into a better shape. She likes to sit and watch me working hard!

While it is wet the contrast between the bright red and the darker blotches is a bit strong, so I am hoping that by the time it is dry it will be a bit more subdued.

At lunch time a local woman called Laura turned up and asked if she could try her hand at felt making. We spent a very pleasant afternoon going through the basic principles and then building up a felt picture inspired by the buttercups growing at the side of the garden pond. She will be back tomorrow to do the hard work of rubbing and rolling.

While Laura was cutting out yellow petals for her buttercups I decided to see if I could do something with the lovely blue irises which have just opened out today. The flowers are almost at shoulder height and they look very impressive. It remains to be seen whether I can do them justice in felt.

All in all it has been a very pleasant day in the garden and we now have clear blue skies and sunshine. However, the day to day work doesn't go away just because I have been "playing" and I now have to head upstairs to the workroom and get on with making purses for an order.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

A very wet Sunday afternoon

The forecast for today was right....... wet.....wet....wet!

I have my studio open, but I really am not expecting any visitors. I certainly wouldn't venture out today. I can see the pond clearly from the open door of my studio - lots of ripples from the rain.

I started off with good intentions and have laid out a lot of fleece and got it all ready to start felting, but decided that it is so wet outside, I wanted to keep dry inside. If there are any visitors brave enough to venture out, I will at least have something ready to show them how it's done.

My visitors yesterday were keen to watch and some of them stayed watching for well over an hour. Below you can see the results from yesterday afternoon - this piece of felt measures 45cm across by 69cm long. The grey felt and white felt were done separately to the half-felt stage then I cut out the grey felt to create the Celtic knotwork design before felting the two layers together. Today's piece will be very different - bright red for starters! It is much more abstract with lots of different textures achieved by using mixed fibres on the top surface - curly bits of wool, silk, mohair and fine angelina. I will leave it till tomorrow to start felting so for now it is covered with a piece of organza so that the bits don't move. This piece (provided it works according to plan) will form a background on which I embroider - and it remains to be seen what form that embroidery will take.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Highlands Open Studios

This week I am participating in an Open Studios event. From today (12th June) till 20th June I will be ensconsed in my felt studio in the garden along with my friend Val Ford - a jeweller. Both of us will be making things while we are here and people can watch us at work if they are able to drop in and see us. For contact details visit my website.

We have work for sale - to suit all pockets. Visitors can also try their hand at either felt making or bead making while they are here - or indeed they might even make felt beads!

At the moment it is a bit grey and overcast. The weather forecasters are predicting showers today and torrential downpours tomorrow - so we have our wellies to hand! So far it has stayed dry and the only moving water is that in the fountain in our garden pond.

Two gazebos joined together allow us to dispay our wares.

I have more or less our full range of products on sale - though in rather limited quantities. The shops we supply seem to have been busy and they keep ordering more things, so our stock levels are low. If you can't make it to the studio, why not visit our on-line shop and order something through that. You can choose from things that we have in stock, or choose your own colour and we will make it up specially.

Val makes lovely jewellery that involves a combination of beads and silver chain-maille. You can visit her website at www.highland-gems.co.uk/

Val setting up her space in the gazebo

I know it's a bit early to be shopping for Christmas, but our decorations do seem to be popular year round, so why not!

Some of Val's Jewellery

Thursday, 10 June 2010

New work at Morven Gallery

I have just returned from a fleeting visit to the Isle of Lewis. As usual, it was a multi-purpose visit. The main reason for going was to attend a seminar on colour and fashion trends with an emphasis on Harris Tweed. It was an informative morning and good to meet up with other people working with Harris Tweed.

The weather there was lovely. Not hot by mainland standards, but in fact we seemed to have the best weather in the UK for that couple of days. It was wall to wall sunshine and despite a cool breeze, it was T-shirt weather.

On Monday I visited Harris Tweed Hebrides mill at Shawbost in the morning and purchased a few more lengths of tweed. These will soon be made up into bags or hats. I will add them to the swatches page on our website as soon as I get a chance.

After that my mother and I went to Morven Gallery for our lunch and to deliver another order. This lovely gallery is only open for the summer months, but during that time they have all sorts of lovely art and craft for sale. Here you will find some of my large one-off embroidered wallhangings along with our Celtic Thistle cushions and velcro purses. If you are visiting the island, this is a must - and the cakes are wonderful! The pictures here show some of my work on display in the gallery.

Later on that day I headed up to the Butt of Lewis to visit Callum Maclean, a very experienced weaver of Harris Tweed, and discussed some new tweeds that I want him to weave for me. It will be a month or two at least before I have these available, but when they are ready they too will be added to the swatches page.

The seminar was on Tuesday morning and then it was a quick lunch at Woodlands before catching the ferry back to the mainland.

The next task it to sort out my felt-making studio (a grand title for what is really a garden shed!) because from 12th to 20th June I will be participating in Highlands Open Studios and have my studio open to the public. I will be joined by jeweller Val Ford and we hope to welcome lots of people into the garden to watch us at work and perhaps participate in some mini workshops. We just have to hope that the temperature picks up and we don't freeze to death in the garden.