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…

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 09.06.04.png

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.


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