Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Great Tapestry of Scotland

I've not been a very good blogger lately, have I?  My last post was in October and now it's nearly Christmas.  Tut tut!

I do have an excuse though - every spare minute is currently spent stitching a panel of The Great Tapestry of Scotland, and I've not spent anything like as much time on the computer as I usually do (which is no bad thing!).

To find out more about the tapestry you'd be best to follow the link to as there's lots of info on the official website.  It tells the story of Scotland in 163 hand stitched panels - everything from the formation of the land 300 million years ago, through standing stones, the Black Death, many battles and monarchs, the Forth Bridge, ship building on the Clyde, right up to Dolly the Sheep and the Scottish Parliament (and much, much more).

It's a very exciting project to be involved with.  I love the thought that people will be visiting the tapestry for hundreds, maybe thousands of years.  At 160m + it'll be more than twice as long as the Bayeux Tapestry!  

My panel is no.155, The Steamie, depicting a woman doing her washing.  Tony Roper's hilarious play 'The Steamie' set in a 1950's Glasgow steamie (public wash house) is a hugely popular draw for theatres all over Scotland and will ensure that this slice of social history is never forgotten!  

At 1 metre x 50cms I'm very happy to be sharing the work with a local lady, Gail, who I'd never met before.  Seemingly we were the only people in this area who volunteered to help with the stitching, so we were paired up.  

Ready to go - the panel stretched nice and taut on a frame and wool in various colours.  
Now where to start...

The first stitch!

The outlines are to be a prominent feature of the entire tapestry.

Starting on the dress.  I've worked this in split stitch using two shades of purple together in the needle.

Gail and I have agreed to swap over every couple of weeks, and although I missed having Jessie around for a fortnight, it was lovely to see her back again carrying a beautifully stitched basket!

I've now completed her sleeve and given it a textured appearance so that her clothes aren't too flat looking.  I've also started work on her apron.  Our guidance notes suggested that her apron may be soaking wet so I'm using two shades of wool, blended where they meet each other, to give this impression.

Hopefully I'll be able to get a bit more of the apron done before handing her over to Gail again.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Worcester & Birmingham Canal

Last October we went on a canal holiday, cruising the Cheshire Ring.  It was the first time we'd tried a holiday like this and it was incredibly hard work, but we all loved it and decided to do the same again this year.

This time our starting point was Worcester (a city very special to me as it's where I spent my student years) and we had plans to set off northwards along the River Severn before joining the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal.  However, due to the large amount of recent rain, we were told on arrival that this wouldn't be possible.  Pilots were being sent out to boats already on the river to guide them safely back to the marina so a complete change of plan was needed and we set off up the Worcester & Birmingham Canal instead.

This turned out to be a fascinating route, mostly involving travelling (slowly - max 4mph) through beautiful scenery, and also visiting Birmingham city centre.  I haven't been to Birmingham for many, many years, and I was delighted to see what a pleasant city centre it has become.  I used to work on New Street when it was choked with traffic but now it's a very pleasant pedestrianised area.  I kept thinking how Aberdeen could do with taking a leaf out of Birmingham's book.  It was great to see the redeveloped Bull Ring and I even visited the Rag Market and bought some fabric - so pleased to see it's still thriving.

Our 60 ft narrowboat, Magnus.  
Equipped with a small kitchen, 2 toilets, shower, seating area and plenty of sleeping accommodation. 

Lovely countryside - this was taken from the Tardebigge Reservoir.

Some of the winding mechanisms were a bit stiff!

We moored by canalside pubs overnight and ate out in the evenings - such a treat!

We went through several tunnels, the longest being Wasts Hill Tunnel (also known as King's Norton Tunnel) at a mile and a half in length!

We moored right beside the Sea Life Centre in Birmingham.

The city centre was a huge contrast with the mainly leafy rural canal.

Following lots of overnight rain, on our return journey many of the locks on the Tardebigge flight of 30 were very full.  Water was gushing over the top of the lock gates which made walking across impossible.

In 6 days we travelled through a total of 112 locks!  That's about ten more than last year, but they weren't so stiff and heavy as the nightmare locks we'd experienced in central Manchester (never again!).

So, where do we go next year...?

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Fabulous Felt Exhibitions

On Sunday Kirsty and I enjoyed a fantastic day out in Perthshire visiting two exhibitions of stunning felt work and walking in the autumnal woodland.

Our first stop was 'The Dying of the Sun' at the Bield in Perth. This exhibition has been organised to co-incide with International Felt Day, which this year has the theme of 'Fire'.  It was great to see different interpretations of the theme by feltmakers from all around the world.  Here's a selection.

Katharine Huggett

Tracy Markey

Penny Dixon

Angela Barrow

Jackie Lunn

Tessa Mendez

Mattie van del Heuvel

Tessa Mendez

This shows part of a collaborative piece with contributions sent from individual felt makers 
including my bloggy friend, Ali.

This stone circle with the sun above it must have taken an awful lot of felting!

From Perth we drove to Birnam where we visited an exhibition called 'Felt Excited' which showcased work by the Scottish branch of the International Feltmakers Association. 

Heather Potten

Jenny Mackay

Jennifer Alexander

The venue, the Birnam Institute, is a beautiful building, community owned and largely run by volunteers.  It's really quite an incredible achievement, and there's a very impressive programme of events of all sorts going on throughout the year.

The building houses a permanent Beatrix Potter exhibition and the garden outside reflects this theme.
Here's Peter Rabbit and friends.

 Close by we came across the narrowest bridge we've ever seen!

We went in search of the famous Birnam Oak - all that remains of the ancient woodland made famous by the witches' prophecy in Shakespeare's 'Macbeth'.  Our walk took us alongside the wide River Tay.  

Here's the mighty oak.  
"Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until 
Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill
 Shall come against him."

 It has a girth of 7 metres and the first 3 metres inside are hollow.

Close by is this much younger, (approx 300 years old) but even bigger, sycamore.

What a fab day out - constant sunshine, autumnal colours, fabulous felt and lots of fresh air!  The 150 mile round trip was well worth it!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

A little ring of metal

This little metal ring has made me exceedingly happy today! 

It's a free machine embroidery foot which arrived in the post yesterday.  
When I first bought such a foot for my machine, the only one I could find to fit a Singer was this one.

It's really hard to see what you're doing and I've never liked it very much.
Disaster struck last week when the machine made a horrible sound and ground to a halt.  
The foot and needle must have become slightly misaligned, the needle had pierced the plastic of the foot and become firmly embedded in it.  It's now utterly unusable as the shape of the hole has changed so much that a needle can't fit through it.

Reluctant to buy another foot exactly the same, and irritated by the inability of my machine to lower the feed dogs, I was actually thinking of buying a new machine that's more suited to being used for free machine embroidery. I was Googling away, trying to justify the expense, when miraculously I came across a 'proper' foot for a Singer.

I still can't lower the feed dogs (they have a cover) but I fitted the new foot this morning and had a very quick play with it.  It has completely transformed my machine!  

It is a million times easier to use and has made me very, very...

I couldn't have done that with the old foot!

Saturday, 8 September 2012

'Under the Sea' wall hanging

I had so much fun making this, which is just as well as it took forever!! 
It combines lots of different techniques...

The fish and seahorses were made by fusing all kinds of fibres with my embellisher, cutting these to shape, 
hand stitching them on to the background and lightly stuffing them.

  The jellyfish was made by fusing angelina fibres.

The sea bed is a combination of shibori felting and pebbles made from circles of fabric, 
gathered and stuffed into pebbly shapes.

These tubular sea plants are made of small, thin lengths of felt which were rolled 
into tiny tubes and wrapped with gold thread.

Finally the shoal of small fish are made from shiny gold fabric, carefully applied with tiny stitches.

The whole piece was finished off with silver bias binding and backed with turquoise felt.