Corsets and the Scottish Highlands by Karen Alderson

Just before Easter I spent a week in Mallaig in the Scottish Highlands, I went alone and daily found myself sitting at the backpackers hostel window observing the comings and goings of the small port.

View of Mallaig harbour from the hostel

A waitress from a nearby restaurant accompanied me on a day trip to Skye, it was interesting to hear her feelings of disappointment at the lack of tourist shops and cafes on the island.


I had been reading “CounterTourism” by Phil Smith and remembered his assertion that tourist guide books only focus our attention on constructed dialogues about place.

My aim was to drive aimlessly on the island, do an initial reconnoitre before returning again for a focused visit, my aquaintance proposed we visited “The Faery Pools”. We managed to combine both, but when we arrived at the tourist hot spot, miles from anywhere, it was full of other people looking at one particular spot in the landscape and ignoring the rest of the vast expanse of land surrounding it.

The journey to Scotland did me good, getting out of the studio and my usual environment helped me to come alive by becoming aware of different sights, sounds, smells.

Will Self proposes that modern day society moulds us into the micro environments of home, work and consuming echoing the Situationists slogan of “Work, Consume, Die”. It is only 200 years or so ago that we only had horses or bicycles or our feet by which to travel on land, therefore since evolution began we have orientated ourselves in space by walking so that by not walking, i.e. travelling by car between these micro environments, and by the use of sat navs, a sense of disorientation comes upon us, we become easier to manipulate and to look outside ourselves for markers for how to be i.e. advertising.

Walking without a map in a new environment or the local environment without a goal in mind helps us to sharpen our senses to what is happening around us, to begin to look at things that we do not normally see, to break the hold of the illusion that media has over our construction of the world (The Spectacle), to wake up. This really came home to me as I walked around Mallaig, a tiny town but teeming with new sensations.

On the basis of this trip I have returned and considered walking the route again, taking notice of the surroundings without a video camera just to see what my experience would be a second time, I have a need to zoom out again, to research the history of the area, I have contacted the Halifax Antiquarian Society.

Meanwhile, in the studio I have been working on finding out how to make a corset from scratch using the drawing of the fence as a base shape. Firstly I traced the shapes, cut them out, enlarged them, traced around them onto white cotton and then sewed them together and put wire in between the base shapes.

For the first mock up I drew the shapes onto a piece of white cotton, backed it with cotton batting and put a sheet of cotton on the back then used a straight stitch to sew the shapes. I placed wire in the galleys between the shapes

For the second mock up I cut the shapes out of cotton and then sewed them together, I wanted to see if it altered the shape at all. It didn’t, what it did do was to make the process of making three times as long as I had to sew each shape to the other making sure I left enough room for the gully for the wire.

My plan is once I am happy with the mock up I will make another with hand dyed fabric, I am considering using the colours of the iron railings that look onto this fence than the light grey of the actual fencing. I have this sense that I want to incorporate other elements from the location. Time to get my walking boots on.


The Unfinished by Jane Pugh

The Unfinished

I have continued to explore the idea of The Unfinished as I started to describe in my last blog; thoughts set in motion by the unfinished figures in the embroidery then moving on to my own unfinished projects. I have discovered a few facts about unfinished projects including the Zeigarnik effect. Bluma Wulfovna Zeigarnik (1900 –1988) was a Soviet psychologist and psychiatrist, who conducted a study on memory, in which she compared memory in relation to incomplete and complete tasks. She had found that incomplete tasks are easier to remember than successful ones. This is now known as the Zeigarnik effect.

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 18.18.04

Thinking more about my unfinished patchwork quilt led me to add to my collection-of-ideas page. I am recording ideas as small paintings, sketches and collages using watercolours and mixed media and have included some of these in my previous blogs.

I began the patchwork quilt during the 1970’s and I have returned to it during different stages of my life. I began to wonder if it could be hanging around, unfinished, ‘to infinity and beyond’.

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 18.18.21

Relating it to other objects from Bankfield, could I use it to make a basket based on the small painting which continues to intrigue me?

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 18.18.39

Or a cloak of many colours…

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 18.20.16

The eight pointed star which I used in the patchwork is also used in the collaged tea cosy, on one side only, so I took this and used it as a basis for another idea. Using masking fluid at different stages in the painting, and experimenting with methods of application, I explored the idea of it becoming alive and magical.

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 18.20.33

References to the work of Karen and Julie keep occurring to me, affecting my own work. Fences and baler twine spoke to me as I was fixing a fence at the allotment, and a friend showed me a beautiful nest she had found in her garden.

Bale band and jewellery wire by Julie Turner


Bale band secures the bales of hay, haylage and straw enabling them to be moved about securely without risk of the bale falling apart until the bale band is cut and ready for use. The ones we have are usually red and yellow for hay and haylage and this year we have blue for straw bales.

Bale band to farmers and smallholders is a fantastic resource. Once released from holding its cargo it can and is often used to tie up and hold together a variety of items around the farms buildings and fields.

This selection of photos indicates some of the uses we have found for it. To keep a field gate closed, to securely hold open a top stable door which is often battered by strong winds, to fasten closed a jacket which the original fasteners have broke, to tie hay racks to enable sheep to ‘graze’ in the stable whilst lambing.

I wanted to use this coarse manmade fibre to create a welcoming nest for this project. After cutting the knot out I was a left with a decent length to work with. I chose to free form crochet with a large crochet hook. As I created the stitches to suit the look I required for the end piece I was not happy with the way it was working up. I felt it was too thick and dense. I decided to abandon this attempt and split the thick one length into several finer pieces. You can see this first sample in a picture below.

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 08.52.17

Continuing with the largest crochet hook I started to create stitches using this finer more delicate – if a coarse fibre like this can be classed as delicate – into what turned out to be a beautiful natural, fine and delicate looking nest. I had intended to weave in the ends for a neater more finished look, but found I liked them as they were. I felt they added to the ‘naturalness’ of the piece. It reminded me of straw I wonder if I had done this in red or blue it would still look appealing with the ends left in situ?

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 08.52.54

Following on with my newly learnt basketry skills (thanks to Joe at I thought about what materials I had to hand to try a smaller nest. Using the same processes only on a much smaller scale I dug out my jewellery wires and pliers and got to work.

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 08.53.32

Wow this was fiddly and I couldn’t have managed without the pliers for weaving some of the thicker wires, but it was well worth the effort as the nest I ended up with is fantastic. As with the small willow nest from my last blog post I intended to remove the handle once completed however it looks great as it is, so I will leave it and see how I feel about it as I continue with this project. So far everyone who has seen this cute little basket wants one! I may need to stock up on jewellery wire again!

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 08.54.11

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 08.54.51

Borders, separation, repair, talks by Karen Alderson

I’ve been asked to give an artist talk, so far I’ve created three power point presentations and I’m still not clear. Do I talk about my life?  This project? How much do I tell? What do I leave out?  I recently asked  a group of artists “What do you want to know when you  listen to an artist talk about their work?” “Their starting point” one said, “What sets them off.” I begin thinking about another way to tell my story .

Identity. How have we created and continue to create our present idea of ourselves? What are the twists, the turns, the important people, the early influences, the unconscious motives, the economic context?

Time to reflect.

Last week I found myself bidding on Ebay for a vintage old Silver Cross Pram . I had plans to take it apart and rebuild it with car parts taken from vehicles that had been written off. I have shelved this idea for a future exhibition, I’ve given myself permission to not immediately follow every idea that comes into my mind as I write my morning pages. A part of me is rushing, panicking, wanting to make a big statement, not believing in the work that is already steadily emerging at its own pace. I return to it, like returning to the breath when ones mind has wandered during meditation.

The “Pram”idea came about with a vague memory that my mother had had a car accident when she was 6 months pregnant, she had never told me & when I asked she confirmed that this had actually happened. I found myself drawing newborn skulls and becoming interested in the fontanelle.

I obtained a piece of sheet metal, the sort used to repair cars and wanted to make it into the shape of a skull with a space at the top for the fontanelle. First I had to cut a depression into a log and then beat the piece of metal into shape.


This took ages and it did not turn out as I expected, I found it hard to make the fontanelle space at the top smaller than I wanted.  Panel beating was physically hard work.

However, I do like the shape and now intend to make some lace to attach to the edges of the opening. I have been learning how to tat, something my aunts did when I was a child. I find it immensely soothing and like the idea of  juxtaposing the hard metal shape with soft, intricate lace. I guess I will have to drill holes into the metal to attach it.


Sorting through my new found source of scrap metal pieces I find one and put holes in it with an awl and a hammer. Again I intend to “repair” it with lacemaking.

Returning to the earlier  wire and latex piece, I make a frame out of wood, drill holes in the sides then sew each piece of latex  to the uprights. As I sew I  listen to the abridged version of the book. “The Rule of the Land” by Garrett Carr on Radio 4.  The book is an account of the author, a mapmaker, walking the border between Northern and Southern Ireland. It is a meditation on borders and how those that live near them negotiate the imposed separation & how it moulds their identity. He describes how Barry McGuigan, who lived in Clones, a town in Southern Ireland located on the border, was able to slip into Northern Ireland thus being able to have access to greater resources. Later he took on a British identity to enable his path to becoming Boxing World Feather Weight Champion.

Carr also talks about the Peace process that led to the Good Friday Agreement & how Senator George Mitchell utilised vocabulary that encapsulated inclusive decision making in order to involve paramilitary organisations in decommissioning their weapons. It was the use of words as an initial bridge so that groups on opposing sides could choose to walk towards one another without a loss of face.  I thought a lot about how skilled Mitchell was in his sensitive consideration of honour, autonomy and choice in order to build trust & how this was essential to enable agreement and consequent peace. The ultimate goal was to use participants’ words to create the agreement, differences may still have existed but a symbolic unification had taken place.

I re read this article about reducing the sense of separation that some aspects of modern life create.

As I stitch the latex to the wooden support I think about the edges of each material & how different they are, as I handle the latex it it feels like I’m sewing skin.


My other plans are to make some small  simple weaves that will be inserted into a piece of broken fencing. These will replicate darning & will represent the act of reparation.

Moving along by Jane Pugh

Moving along

After researching the embroidery and identifying the mythical creature as a cockatrice, I have been in touch with Agecroft Hall which had been rebuilt in Richmond, Virginia, and waiting to see if they can help in my quest to link the embroidery to the Langley family. I have been inspired by this beast as described in my notes below.

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 09.29.34Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 09.29.52


I have also been making notes about the project on my phone, then exploring these ideas in my sketchbook. The secret life, including the unfinished nature, of the embroidery has caused me to contemplate some of my own unfinished projects.

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 09.30.20



Cassette tape, sleepy mice and willow weaving by Julie Turner

I have been very lucky recently to attend a creative workshop as part of my 50th birthday celebrations. I attended a brilliant basket making course with the fabulous tutor Joe of Creative With Nature in Todmorden, West Yorkshire. Part of the appeal to me of this particular course was the fact that we would be foraging for the materials to make the basket from a local beauty spot. Well it was amazing! The colours and materials we foraged were beautiful: hazel, dogwood, bramble, holly, rubus, birch and ivy were collected and several of them used. The basket I made reminds me of a foraging basket which has two sides and I could imagine the garden produce nestled into the sides. A nest without even planning it! The colours are vibrant now but may fade or change over time.

Joe gave me some willow to finish off the basket at home and I had a small amount left so decided to create a small nest with it. Following the instructions I created the round frame, one for the opening/rim and one for the handle/bottom, lashed them together and inserted the side pieces to complete the frame. Weaving the willow through the frame completes the basket/nest. I had intended to cut off the handle to create an open basket but as I had finished it and put it on the table it balanced perfectly on the extended willow and I decided to leave it as it was. A happy accident!

Another nest I have created was for a sleepy mouse! Don’t worry not a real one, a felted one. As part of my business I run creative woolly workshops for people and recently ran a needle felt a sleepy mouse workshop. Needle felting involves using a barbed needle to manipulate wool fibres so they attach to each other by the tiny scales on each fibre to make a dense sculpted 3D sculpture or 2D picture. Everyone made a mouse nest for their sleepy mouse too.


The last nest I made included a ‘blast from the past’ in the form of a cassette tape. Do you know people of a certain age still say ‘tape that programme, ‘young uns’ don’t know what we mean. For the ‘young uns’ it means record that programme. This old cassette tape includes music recorded for me from a French friend during a Yorkshire/Lille exchange during summer 1982 it included music that I wasn’t too keen on and never really listened to it, so I was quite happy to destroy it for the sake of this project.

I decided to crochet this nest. Crochet consists of a series of loops in a chain which in turn are interjoined to create the desired article. A crochet hook is used to create said loops. This was much harder than I anticipated as the tape was tightening too much on the hook making it hard to ensure the smooth sliding through of the loops to create the pattern required. Needless to say this nest ended up quite small but cute and dainty. I am now on the lookout for a VHS tape to destroy for the good of this project as all the ones I have kept are precious including our wedding video from 1988 – even though we don’t have a VHS recorder to watch them on!


Car Doctors and broken boundaries by Karen Alderson

Car Doctors and broken boundaries by Karen Alderson

2017 has so far been a turbulent year, I am emotionally worn out and have found it hard to concentrate on the project. For me, creative practice requires space to contemplate and engage in the deeper aspects of the work.  I am fixated on the image of the railings and keep going back to the shapes made by the lines. In January I wrote notes regarding experiments putting stabilisers in fabric, similar to bones in corsets. The aim was to play around with distortion of shape by bending the wires in the fabric.


Here I used wire inserted in between two sheets of fabric.



The shapes in the fabric that emerge between the inserts also attract my attention.

I make a wire stencil of the  broken fence,put it on some white sheeting and spray it with grey and white car paint. Later I use red car paint and whilst the stencil is still wet I place it on more sheeting.



p1080575I wrap wire with hand dyed grey cloth and place it on a film of latex.


At the time of writing the latex is still wet & has dribbled on the floor so I’m looking forward to how it will be tomorrow.

I find a piece of broken fencing in the fields and photograph it. I love the distorted squares & angles.


In 2015 as part of a project called Subways, Street & Sidewalks I became interested in fencing on a derelict site. Fencing is about boundaries, broken fences represents transgressed boundaries, inside and outside merging, fusing, separation breaking down, sealed entities spilling their contents, material moving across the threshhold.

I was thinking about the point at which a barrier, like skin, is cut and the outside comes in (& the inside goes out)  and you are no longer a complete whole. No longer safe, unable to maintain the boundary, the prior identity changes it’s form. Even after the skin repairs a scar can develop and, if deep enough, a worry that it may happen again. One’s inner sense of self has now a memory of being entered, of the barrier being cut or torn, violated.

I want to amalgamate the hard and soft of metal and skin, both boundaries, both able to be transgressed, the car being an extension of our personal boundary, acting like a metal skin, yet with our skin inside. I wanted to have something physical to carry around than an invisible feeling, something tangible that others could see than this ephemeral sense of distorted & broken incompleteness, a container that cannot contain, a safety barrier that isn’t safe.

A have a new friend who repairs the body work on vintage cars, he sees himself as a car doctor & calls rust “car cancer”. I like the medical metaphors and ask if he has any rusty metal panels I may have. He does and now I intend to shape a sheet of metal into a sphere that is open at the top, like the fontanelle on the top of a baby’s skull. To do this I will have to chisel a round depression in a block of wood so that I can beat the panel into shape. If and when I manage to do this I want to cover the metal with softer material and a layer of latex to signify skin. This feels like a shift away from the warped fence image, things are finally moving.