Looking back and looking forward by Julie Turner

Looking back and looking forward

I have been reflecting on the project so far. With only 6 months before the exhibition opens, I feel I need to make sure I am track to be completed and happy when the big day comes.

I thought I had veered from my initial ideas but when looking back I see I haven’t. I wanted to deconstruct and reconstruct items – well I have. The potatoe sack and bale band are among some of these items. I wanted to make 50 nests – I am still on target to do this too. One thing I was interested in when I asked the museum for items as my starting point was human hair. Being a hairdresser in my early 20s this was a natural interest to me. I still cut some of my family’s hair and I have been quietly collecting hair from my family, be that trimmings from when I cut their hair or asking them to collect their hairbrush hair. It probably sounds weird and gross to some of you but because of my past –being a hairdresser –and now working with animal hair regularly it doesn’t seem that way to me. My family are also used to my sometimes ‘odd’ requests. Even the newest member of our family, my daughter-in-law just said “OK” when I asked her to save her hairbrush hair, she never even asked why, she’s obviously getting used to me!

Here are some of the other human hair samples which I looked at for my starting point. I shared my favourite one the posy brooch in an earlier blog. The small rectangle brooch with the plaited hair inside is the only one with some additional information with it. It says. Samuel Russell died May 3rd 1834 age 31.


My first foray into using some of this hair showed an opportunity recently when after I trimmed 2” off my husbands hair I decided to try to wet felt it. His beautiful silver grey hair was once ginger he tells me. When I met him thirty years ago he was mousy brown with a ginger beard which had 2 tiny white spots. His beard is now almost all white.

The wet felting technique involves hot water, soap and agitation. The fibres in this case human hair are laid out on bubble wrap in wispy sections and layered in a minimum of three layers facing alternate north/south and east/west. This is covered with a fine mesh, hot water and soap are added and then rubbed to encourage the fibres to intermingled and attach to each other by the scales which each hair/fibre has along its length. The rough surface of the bubble wrap assist this process which is usually quite fast to get the first ‘grab’ by the scales and then a much longer process to get the fibres to produce a good thick solid piece of felt. The hair did not felt at all which surprised me so I decided to layer it again and add some Merino wool between the layers. Merino is a fibre that I know felts well and would hopefully be a ‘bonding’ fibre for the hair. I chose a black colour to contrast with the silver grey of the hair and started again. I used the hair wet from the previous experiment which is what you can see in the pictures.


This worked wonderfully, the black merino migrated to the centre with the hair attached and popping out all over it like a fuzzy fabric. I placed the piece over a glass jar fastened with an elastic band for it to dry. This nest turned out even better than I expected. I have left the band on for now as it flops a bit without. I shall revisit it before the exhibition to place a permanent band around it when I decide what that will be. I have no doubt that it will come to me as I go about my life seeing potential nests in most things.


Getting through the difficult stage by Karen Alderson

The past month has been a challenge, a lesson in welcoming a different outcome to what a part of me had planned. I had had ideas of finishing a corset and returning to the walk, however, neither of these things have come to fruition. It seems as if “the work” wanted to go in one direction and I was trying to make it go in another.  A case of one part in me imposing its ideas of how things should be instead of attending to what actually is and finally, through frustration, and a lot of internal conflict, letting go and the work miraculously shifting.

Instead of returning to the walk I went back to the images that I had previously collected.



From these photographs I drew and painted being particularly interested in the colour and patina of the metal.

Inspired by the blues and greys I hand dyed some more fabric and then used discharge paste to take off some of the colour. I placed the fabric onto batting and quilted along lines I had made. Once I had finished, the quilt seemed flat and I felt this urge to distort it so I took my scissors and cut along the lines and resewed it with red thread. This time I was pleased with the way the fabric changed shape.


From here I began to think about distortion and how to make ridges in the material, I tried pin tucks but these were too straight, although looking at them now I may play about with adding chording and changing the tension of the stitching. I like the thread that is left at the end of the lines.


I took small dyed pieces of fabric and sewed along small folds. But none of the experiments “worked” in that they didn’t give me the effect I was looking for. At the time it all felt a bit like groping in the dark, looking for something I couldn’t quite see.



I decided to dye some more fabric with grey and rust hues, this seems to have a soothing effect, an activity I always return too when nothing else is working. I used some of the fabric to do another small quilted sample using the cut up method to distort but the sample was too small, but again, looking at it now, I can see potential.  Hmmm…

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This lead to an idea about folding in order to sculpt the fabric. I folded a small piece of thin fabric but this didn’t seem to work.  Part of me wanted to go BIG, make a huge folded sculptural piece but I don’t have the space or the fabric but maybe this could happen in future.


I tried to ridge another piece but the fabric was too thin.

I watched some videos about smocking and took a piece of cotton and drew a grid and spent a couple of hours meticulously basting stitches over the intersection points finally pulling the threads to create a rouched effect. Again, this did not feel “right” and I felt somewhat disheartened.


By this time the studio was in total disarray, samples of stitching, dyed fabric, pins and wire covering every surface. It was a chaotic mess but the rain was pelting down and my usual escape of walking wasn’t an option. I picked up a thicker piece of fabric and began to iron a ridge, it felt right, I took it to the machine and sewed over the fold, it felt right, I carried on, it felt right. Was this a Goldilocks moment?

Ridging sample

I took some other samples and began to put them next to one another.

And suddenly things began “to work”.

Reflecting on the creative process it seems important that I continued through the unknown chaotic phase even when the ideas didn’t come out as expected. However, there was a point when I began to question what on earth I was doing. And it is interesting that when I look at the samples and experiments  I see other possibilities than when I first made them, so it is worthwhile getting distance from the work and not getting too hooked up on the thoughts & feelings directly afterwards.

This all reflects a difficult month personally, however, I’m pleased to note, as the saying goes, everything changes and eventually things do come to some sort of resolution if I allow myself to experience difficult emotions and trust that my inner artist has a plan.

I Got Lost Here Too by Jane Pugh

In the middle of IKEA, in the children’s section, I found this note, and felt that it was worthy of attention.

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At this point I returned to the embroidery to examine more details from it, and felt that as I tried to research these elements, I was becoming lost too, like the child in the store.

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It was about then that the power of the Cockatrice and it’s fatal gaze brought to my mind the parlous state of the world at present, and of one character who might benefit from it’s attention.

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But as I mentioned before, I have continued to scrutinize elements from the embroidery, turning my attention to, first of all,

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and then,

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I have noticed the reoccurrence of headgear references running through my research and I have referred to this in my very short animation. It was inspired by the tulip in the young woman’s hand as well as by my four-year old great-neice who is astounding all her family and friends against all the odds.