Keeping it together by Karen Alderson

There has been a lot happening in the UK since my last post; the bomb in Manchester and the attack in London, these events, combined with the election, are creating quite a charged atmosphere for everyone. Manchester is not far from where I live, the city prides itself on the peoples’ capacity to come together and support one another. I am holding onto this.

My domestic life also has been turbulent, my daughter has come home and the theme of support and repair is uppermost in my thoughts. Phew.

Walking helps me feel calm and, recently, I have become conscious of the earth beneath my feet, noticing, in particular, the patterns of road surfaces.

Memories of being acutely aware of the stones in the tarmac as I climbed out of the car after the road accident came flooding back, others who have been through traumatic experiences can also recount in great detail certain physical data: sights, smells, sounds, how things felt to touch. The present moment becomes amplified, a zooming into things we usually miss in our busy lives.

Taking the time to really look at what is directly in front of us is a way of meditating on the present moment, it can help to calm our over stimulated minds from information overload.  Read how Cait Flanders went on a social media detox

Getting perspective and staying grounded is leading me to become interested in the slow movement, here are two links to finding solace in the little things:

Here are some samples inspired by the surface.

I decided on which sample I liked and then incorporated stitching into a quilt. The quilt was flat and although this reflects the road surface I wanted to invoke some sort of altered sense of reality and so cut the strips up and resewed them to change the shape of the piece.

I went back to another piece and distorted that one even more. I then sewed it to a back cloth.

I have noticed that I tend to work on a piece of work in stages and usually have at least three pieces of work on the go simultaneously, working on one for a while then returning to another, letting the work “rest”until it begins to ‘speak” to me again. If I stay with one piece and “push” my ideas onto it then it loses something vital that I cannot explain. Clare Pearl and I were talking about each others process and how we develop a relationship with our work, her with a canvas, myself with textile. Clare mentioned how she had watched a video of Paula Rego explaining how she approaches a drawing: she begins with an idea and slowly the drawing takes on a life of its own which seems reflect a dialogue between her artist self and the dark feelings inside. Hmm, feels familiar. Here’s the link:

I put together a quilt from hand dyed fabric. I had used discharge paste on a piece of cotton to depict a railing but the image looked too representational. I ended up cutting up the cotton and inserting it into a quilt and then cutting up and resewing some more. It began to remind me of the mills just off Shay Lane.

At this point I was happy to leave it but after the terror attacks I felt this need to add hand stitch on some of the darker pieces, I left it for a day or two but then came back and had to cut it up even more, this time including cuts on the horizontal.

It feels finished now so the next thing to do it to attach it to some backing fabric.

My attention is now moving towards displaying the works and frame making, there are 6 months left before the exhibition (November) and the end is in sight so I feel a gear change. Secondly, I want to do some more handstitching, I have some ideas for this but they are not clear, it is about putting more human touch into the fabric, I may use some of the clothes I found on Brow Lane.

After Chagall by Jane Pugh

After my last blog, I continued to think about my niece and her family and I decided to base one of my paintings on ‘Woman with a Bouquet’ by Chagall. I love the way he includes memories and objects and uses colour and texture to give a visual feast. I find that his paintings evoke memories of my own, and many of them are emotionally charged. I visited his work at the major exhibition Chagall: Modern Master at Tate Liverpool in 2013 several times. On one occasion I visited on my own, then with friends, and later with a group of adults on a coach trip that I organised. The experience was very influential, and those, in my art classes, who attended the exhibition, afterwards discussed their own amazing memories and produced some very thoughtful work.

But now it is my turn, and I am starting to focus on the idea of paintings which include objects with meaning, sometimes buried or secret, but of great relevance to the individual. The unfinished figures, the creatures and objects of the embroidery are a part of this.

Image 1. woman-with-a-bouquet-1910‘Woman with a Bouquet’ by Chagall

I sketched this and then drafted a design for my own painting. I then worked on a more finished one on my ideas sheet.

Image 2. Sketchbook


Image 3 Figures


Image 4 Figures

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Image 6 FiguresLife is quite hectic at the moment. Sometimes you seem to have a quiet time and then suddenly you are rushing around in response to the various demands of life. So our regular Ellipsis meetings with our updates and plans, as well as the regular blog entries, are important to keep me focussed and developing my work. I am finding it helpful to work in my studio at The Artworks where it is quiet and away from my domestic obligations! I usually photograph what I have done after each visit but one day took more photographs than I intended, and which have now, via Movie Maker, become my third animation. This, as you might imagine, is very time consuming but the outcome is fun, and gives me a great sense of achievement.


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.

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.

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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’.

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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?

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Or a cloak of many colours…

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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.

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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.