Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Two New Wallhangings

I have sent two new large wallhangings to Carron Pottery at Strathcarron in Wester Ross. As well as selling their own attractive and practical stoneware, they have a well stocked craft shop filled with Scottish-made goods of all sorts - including many of the products from Anna Macneil.

Upstairs they have a small art gallery featuring work by many local artists and it is in this space that my wallhangings are displayed. Over the years it has proved a successful venue for showing my one-off pieces of work.

The first piece is an intricate Celtic knotwork design in a teal blue Harris Tweed and measures approximately 40cm wide by 115 cm high. The second piece "Sunset on a Celtic Sea" combines hand made felt and Harris Tweed in rich deep reds with small details of red and gold metallics.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Sticking out like a sore thumb!

Last Friday I was in Raigmore Hospital in Inverness having an operation on my right hand.
Actually it was really two operations side by side. The main one was a trapeziectomy - removal of the small bone at the base of the thumb. As I have also been experiencing problems resulting from carpal tunnel syndrome, the surgeon took the opportunity to deal with that at the same time.

I was offered a choice between nerve block or general anaesthetic and after discussion with the anaesthetist, opted for the former. The appeal of this was that I got to see parts of the operation in progress. Some might consider this a bit ghoulish, but I studied Biology at university and I always enjoyed dissection. Actually, I did have some sedation and slept through some of it. I have no recollection of the final stage of having the wounds closed up and the plaster put in place.

I stayed in hospital for one night and although the stay was comfortable, I was very glad to get home. The biggest problem was coping with the disruption to normal bowel activity caused by the ineffective pain-killers prescribed at hospital. Now everything is back to normal and I am in very little discomfort. In fact today I was more or less back at work. There are lots of things I can't do with my right hand in plaster, but I have found a surprising amount that I can do.

Today I managed to handle both embroidery machines, the electric shears and the laser cutting machine. Mary was at work today and she helped me when I got stuck. For example, I made up an Angus style hat, but I couldn't press the center seam open around the curve of the crown - that definitely needed two hands. Between us we finished off the order for Highland House of Fraser - a highlandwear shop in Inverness - and I will deliver that tomorrow. I also got a wrap embroidered and a few more cut out to stitch tomorrow and they will soon be heading to Canongate Jerseys & Crafts in Edinburgh's Royal Mile.

First thing this morning I walked along to the post office with parcels of hats. One parcel of Morags went off to St Andrew's Cathedral in Fife (run by Historic Scotland) and another two parcels of Mairi and Angus hats went off to De Paz in Italy, a shop in Bologna. It has been quite a summer for hats - perhaps because of the rather dismal weather this summer! In the last couple of weeks we have supplied repeat orders of hats to Shetland, Orkney, Lewis and Harris. Next on the list is Iona Abbey. During my walk I became very aware that I was indeed "sticking out like a sore thumb"! If one wants the sympathy vote in the health stakes, a plaster cast on your right hand is the way to go.

Besides hats, we seem to have been selling quite a few large wallhangings. As many of these include hand-made felt, I had quite a rush in the last couple of weeks making new pieces. Felt-making will definitely be out of bound for several weeks! I got several new ones made before I went into hospital and over the next few weeks these will be heading off to various galleries.

The chemist's shop had also got my "stukie bag" today, so now I am off to enjoy a leisurely bath. Washing has been one of the more difficult things to do without a right hand!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Merkinch Summer Arts Festival - Workshop

Yesterday evening I was teaching a wet-felting workshop in the Bike Shed, home of the Merkinch Summer Arts Festival which runs for two weeks every July. We had seven students, some of whom had attended my class at last year's festival. With just two and a half hours we got to work quickly and I set everyone the task of making a seamless felt purse.

Everyone chose two or three different colours of fleece and started laying it out in preparation for felting. It took people a while to get their heads around the idea of working "inside-out" but we got there and soon everyone was happily creating lots of soapy bubbles under their bubble-wrap.

Then the hard work began and we started the milling. Because these were small pieces we were able to use small cane placemats rather than big roller blinds and everyone was able to work on their own piece.

Finally came the rinsing - shortage of kettles and space at the sink meant this was a communal effort but as you can see from the photograph below, each purse was so different that there was no danger of muddling them up. I seem to have forgotten to photograph one person's purse - sorry! - and my own which I made as a demonstration is sitting waiting for me to finish milling it before it gets rinsed and hung up to dry.

We over-ran our allotted time by about 15 minutes, but everyone was happy with their achievements and a good time was had be all.

P.S. I will be taking a few months off from felt-making because I am about to have some surgery on my wrist. However, if you are interested in tuition at a later date either one-to-one, small groups or for large groups please do email me to discuss what you want. My plan is to use the down-time that is an inevitable consequence of the surgery to catch up on some computer projects that have been sitting on the back-burner for a long time. (I can use the computer left-handed) One of these is to get to grips with designing a website to promote my work as a textile artist - At the moment it is simply a holding page which directs you to either my Ecclesiastical Embroidery site or to my main business site - Anna Macneil.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Crisis Visit to Nottingham

After my drive to Reading I had had quite enough of motorways! On Wednesday I started work after my long trip and everything was going really well until mid afternoon when my laser cutting machine broke down. Phonecalls to the engineer and work with the soldering iron achieved nothing and the machine still kept putting up an error message - "X-axis error overflow" - i.e. NOT WORKING!!!!!!

I use this machine for cutting out all the appliqué pieces that are used for all our embroidered products and also for cutting the ends of our fleece lined Harris Tweed scarves. This machine is not your everyday bit of kit and there is nobody in Scotland that can fix it so there was nothing for it but to load it into the car and drive the 470 miles to Nottingham. This is not like packing up a computer. It has a 1m square footprint and requires the door to be taken off its hinges to get the machine out of the room. It also requires two strong men to lift it down the stairs and out to the car.

I got to Nottingham by just after 8 o'clock on Friday morning and handed the machine over to the engineer in the hopes that he could wave a magic wand while I went off to explore Nottingham.

The first surprise was that there is no castle! There is still a medieval gatehouse (pictured left) and evidence of the old castle within the grounds, but the castle itself was destroyed a few hundred years ago. The castle hill is now occupied by a 19th century building used as a museum.

I had looked on the internet the night before to see if there was anything interesting to explore during my visit and found details of the lace museum. Unfortunately, it has closed and nobody has bothered to update the information on the web. The lovely old building (pictured right) is still there but very closed up and the lace curtains mean one can't see in the windows. The costume and textiles museum has also bitten the dust.

Next I thought I would look for something modern - the Nottingham Contemporary. Disappointment there too! The don't have any permanent displays and were between exhibitions.

At that point I decided to give up on seeking out culture and went into the post office to post a small parcel. I had brought it with me because the queue at my local post office had been too long for me to wait before I left Inverness. By Nottingham standards it was almost non-existant! In Nottingham they are obviously very used to queues - they provide rather comfortable seating! They operate a ticket system - mine was No 164 " there are 41 people ahead of you in the queue". It was swelteringly hot outside and my feet were sore so I decided to wait and test out the seating - it was a welcome half-hour break.

After that I wandered about through the the streets and the market square before ambling back to see what progress had been made with my machine. I timed it really well as they had just finished the work - it needed a new cable to feed the X-axis motor, relatively simple once you know what's wrong! So car loaded up and back on the road again.

I decided to make a detour on the way home and visit Texere Yarns in Bradford. I have bought lots of yarn over the years from their website but never before had the chance to visit. It was good to see the colours and feel the yarns - things you can't do on the internet. Unfortunately by the time I had found my way there, managed to find somewhere to park and got to the shop I was seriously hot and exhausted and that effectively limited my thinking powers so my spend was quite small. 4.30 on a Friday afternoon is not a good time to leave Bradford - it took a long time to get out of the town through rush-hour traffic and I was very glad that I had sat-nav.

I broke my journey in Ayrshire staying overnight with my sister and then got home by lunchtime today. The machine is now back upstairs. The door has still to be screwed back in place but the machine has been tested and is working as it should. After driving 2,500 miles in the last 6 days, I will be quite happy not to drive anywhere for quite some time!

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Shopping for fibres

My son Simon has finally fled the nest! He has a new job in Reading and last week moved into his own flat. He doesn't drive so I volunteered to drive him down to Reading with all his gear - computers, rowing machine and other things that it is not really practical to move by public transport. He flew up on Saturday morning and we drove down on Sunday - 650 miles, 11 hours, but trouble free apart from confusion over how to pay for the toll motorway. (Up here in Inverness we don't even have motorways, never mind ones you have to pay for.)

Anyway, the advantage of driving to the south of England was that I was traveling north again on Monday. Wingham Wool Work has the largest stock of fibres for spinners and feltmakers of anywhere in the UK. They have a large mail-order business, but there is nothing like seeing it all for yourself and picking what you want. The shop is only open on Sundays and Mondays, so traveling north on Monday was my reward for driving south on Sunday!

I made a list before I left of the colours of Merino fibre that I particularly needed to stock up on. The shop consists of a large barn with 3 large sheds. The stock of Merino fills one large shed and it is just a question of collecting a large polythene sack and filling it with as much wool as you can afford. I filled two sacks for myself and one for a friend, then headed to the shed with all the natural fibres. Ruth Gough runs the business and she is very happy to give advice on all the fibres she stocks. (This photo shows Ruth beside a display of Scandinavian carded wool.) She is an expert spinner and we had a long discussion about what would be the best choice for me to try spinning enough yarn to knit a jumper.

I have done this once before - a lovely white Shetland wool jumper with a random check pattern created using a combination of moss-stitch and stocking stitch which I was very pleased with. Unfortunately I spread outwards and the jumper shrunk in and it is now too tight for me. It still fits Mary and she is wearing it in the bottom right photograph of the bags page on our on-line shop website.

On Ruth's advice, this time I have plumped for Blue-faced Leicester and I will be spinning up a combination of white and beige mix fibres and plying them together to get a nice tweedy appearance. If you come back in 4 years time I might have finished the project! My spinning is not bad for an amateur, but my knitting is slow and tends only to happen when I am traveling on a ferry or sitting with my elderly mother-in-law waiting for a doctor to arrive. I reckon that if I were to try and sell a hand-spun, hand knitted jumper I would have to get £4000 if I were to get a reasonable hourly rate for my work! I will stick to embroidery and felt making for earning my living, but I do like having something like this on the go.

The whole process of shopping at Wingham Wool Works took well over two hours and I had lovely conversations with other fibre enthusiasts - a feltmaker who lives in Abu Dhabi and stocks up every time she comes home to the UK, and a spinner from Yorkshire who had recently visited Inverness while on holiday.

In this photograph you can see the car loaded up with my sacks. I would have loved to get more but I have limited storage space and the credit card might have melted if I had bought any more!

The next thing is to do some more felt panels which I will then transform with embroidery into large wallhangings. At least now I can choose my colours freely rather than being restricted to those I had in sufficient quantity.