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.

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.

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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?

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Following on with my newly learnt basketry skills (thanks to Joe at www.creativewithnature.co.uk) 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.

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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!

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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!


Autumn leaves and eyelash yarn by Julie Turner

I ended 2016 and started 2017 with 2 very different ‘nests’, firstly, a charity shop find which spoke to me: this ceramic tea light holder looked hard and uninviting as a nest but with some clever embroidery with what is often called ‘eyelash’ yarn it changed into a softer more inviting nest. By leaving the ends of the yarns to hang inside and adding more yarn, it became softer more inviting.


During an autumn walk in the scenic Yorkshire countryside my family and I collected some beautifully coloured fallen leaves which I took home to play with. Using an old broken basket that I had hung onto (every artist knows it will be needed sometime! Don’t they? Or is it just me?) I decided to try to weave a nest using only leaves and twigs. This was extremely frustrating! The leaves kept sliding off the twigs and while adding more leaves the twigs would push the already ‘secured’ leaves off. I persevered and after much trial and error I managed to get a nest shape which had no base and was very delicate to the touch. I left it over night in disgust which was a huge error! The following morning all the leaves had dried up and were ‘crispy’ and brittle to the touch! This meant no more playing with these particular leaves and I have not touched them since! The gorgeous vivid colours have remained intact and I have had a few ideas for these new crunchy leaves which I will experiment with and let you know how and if they worked. Some may even make it into the exhibition display areas just for added colour and interest.


Sheep Wool and Horsetail by Julie Turner


I decided to make the first nest out of some hand spun Ryeland wool yarn I had previously made from my son and daughter-in-laws pedigree Ryland flock. I chose to weave in a circle. I have several small looms for circle weaving but wanted this one to be bigger than any of them I had so I began to search for something I could use as a loom. I used a flan dish. By winding the thinner more even warp around and under using the grooves for placement this ‘loom’ was sturdy and ready to use. I used a thicker more textured handspun yarn for the weft, which gives it a rustic, natural look. Having done circle weaving before I know there is a tendency for the weaving not to lay flat but become bowl like if the weft is pulled too tight. With this in mind I began weaving the centre without pulling weft too tight to form a flat base for the nest. Once I was happy with that I pulled tighter on the rest of the weft as I wove to create a traditional nest like bowl. You can see the flat centre of the bowl showing in the picture before it was cut from the ‘loom’.

The weaving was then cut off the loom and as predicted the bowl shape appeared. I loosely knotted the warp threads in pairs with one next to the other and left them to hang. I like this look of the threads hanging. I decided to leave them like this for now and may reassess later in the project.


The next nest inspiration came from a charity shop find. I saw a metal basket and immediately pictured it holding a hammock style nest. Knowing I had a similar basket and some wool blanket lengths I had bought some time ago, I knew I had all the ingredients I needed. I cut the blanket lengths into strips after roughly measuring the length required and started to weave. At first the lengths were too long as the ‘hammock’ sat on the floor of the metal frame. I tied the ends in a loose knot which I felt did not enhance the design as it was too bulky. Therefore I cut the ends into 4 pieces to create a fringe around the edge. I also cut the lengths shorter at this stage so it floated above the floor of the basket. I am pleased with how this nest has turned out, and I love the fringe.

Whilst grooming my horse Harvey the other day I gave his tail a thorough brushing and as always happens some hairs came out on the brush. I put these loose hairs to one side whilst thinking about how I could incorporate them into a nest. Sat watching TV one evening I decided to finger crochet a single tail hair. Finger crocheting creates a chain of connected loops. I really liked the way the crocheted hair chain curls around in a spiral shape. I crocheted more and gathered a small pile. I’m not sure yet how I will create a nest from these beautiful twists of hair but for now I shall put them to one side until an idea or opportunity presents itself1-single-chain





A couple of weeks later an idea came to me in the form of a bag of potatoes! I decided to try to make a vessel using the mesh as a base and threading the crochet chains through it. I thought this might enable the delicate beauty of their finished form to still show whilst not being overpowered by the ‘holding’ vessel. I cut the mesh piece out of the bag. As it was loosely woven with raw edges it may have a tendency to fray so my first action was to turn under the edges and using a running stitch and horse tail for thread I secured these new hems. Then sewing the two short ends together I formed it into a tube. I added a bottom by cutting a circle in the same material and sewing it on. I then began attaching the crocheted horse tail hair chains by threading each end through a different place in the vessel ensuring the ‘loop’ of the chain was maintained. I felt this really showed off the beauty of the individual chains and was pleased with the outcome.






Since adding the initial first few horse hair crocheted chains I have added several more and really love the effect it gives. The soft chain of loops on the outside against the sharp straight hair ends of the centre. This nest, although beautiful does not look inviting to me. It looks sharp, pointy, hard and harsh. However it isn’t and the look denies the secure, comfy, practical and safe space it is. I have added a small duck egg to show that although the inside of the nest looks uninviting it is in fact very adequate as a nest and may in the wild serve to ward off potential predators.







Human Hair, Tree Bark, Bones & Nests by Julie Turner


The starting point

A couple of weeks ago the group met to discuss progress so far and support each other on this exciting project. I discussed the fact that I will be 50 in December and would like to incorporate this into my part of the project. Following the meeting Jane and I went to meet Ebony the Collections Officer at Bankfield Museum as she had found some items which might have been of interest to us following the brief which we had given her. It was very exciting and because we went together we got to see the possible starting pieces for the other too. So double the excitement.

I had asked to see items which were spun or woven that included unusual items such as human hair, tree bark, animal hair/bones etc. We went to one of the offices where Ebony had placed some of the pieces for us to view. We were given white cotton gloves to handle the items and instructed how to view them, mainly gently, carefully and one at a time. Each item was laid on white tissue paper and all were labelled with a unique number. Ebony had already cross referenced the items in the museums vast cataloguing system so she could give us as much information about each piece as possible. Jane and I were across the table from each other. We both felt like kids in a sweet shop we were so excited and we both commented on how privileged we felt to be handling such old and delicate pieces of history.

Ebony once again did not disappointed. She had located several human hair pieces as well as some animal hair wearable items. The human hair pieces were incredibly detailed and were even more intricate than I had ever imagined they could be. I fell in love with one piece in particular and wondered if this might be my starting point item.



Ebony mentioned that she had not taken any of the woven vessel type items out of the store as the majority were behind glass and I could go to the store and see if there were any I wanted to look at more closely. Luckily the slip ware that Jane wanted to see was in the same store room behind glass opposite the vessel display so we went together. Almost simultaneously on entering the store room both our eyes were drawn to a textile piece propped up against the glass. It was a delightfully intricate embroidered picture with 3D elements on it. Jane took pictures and may share it on her post. I had already decided although it was beautiful it wasn’t my starting point item.

Looking at the vessels there were some unusual ones made of cigarette packets, crisp boxes, strips of plastic and many made from natural materials such as reed, willow, grasses etc. Then I saw it. My starting point item. A small natural material (reed possibly) woven, shallow basket which held a drop spindle and some natural cotton ready for spinning all nestling on what looked like cotton fabric. In the display case between much bigger vessels it almost looked to me as if it was standing on its own with a bright light shining just on that one item.  I asked to look at that one in more detail. Being a hand spinner I don’t know why I was surprised that I felt so drawn to this item.


Back in the office I scrutinised the vessel and its contents. I turned it over. I held the spindle. I measured it. I photographed it. I loved it. The catalogue number on the label told Ebony that the piece had come into the collection before computer cataloguing and she found it in an old hand written volume in which items were logged.

The entry detailed that the vessel and contents came from Sama Naga Assam and was donated as a gift to the museum in 1922. Ebony suggested that it was probably made in mid 1800 and would have been donated as an ethnographic example of textiles.

The shaft of the spindle is wood and the whorl looks and feels like stone or slate. The spindle is quite heavy for one so small. I hope to go back to weigh it so I can compare it with one I regularly use.


There was also another vessel I had been attracted to which Ebony also took out of the display cabinet. This one was also made from natural materials (reed again possibly) was dyed blue and looked like a pod I would like to climb into and snuggle up, safe and secure. There was little written information about this one but Ebony suggested it was a 1980s piece, maybe that’s why I was drawn to it as my teenage years were in that era and it was familiar plus I had always wanted one of those wicker hanging chairs which it reminded me of.  As I was examining the vessels I realised how these items could fit into the Secret life of objects projects for me. I recalled I had thought about the spindle nestled in the basket and the blue vessel as a safe and secure pod then it came to me. – NESTS –  I would explore the idea of nests and what a nest would mean to me and I would create 50 different nests using a variety of different mediums both conventional and unconventional  1 for each year of my life, using the textile techniques and methods I use regularly.



I started to create some spider diagrams to help my thinking.

This is the beginning of a very exciting project I can’t wait to see where it leads me.



Wheels and looms by Julie Turner.


A few weeks ago I went to Bankfield  Museum to meet Ebony the collections officer to look at some items which I hoped would appeal and excite me and become my ‘starting point’ object.

I had asked Ebony if I could look at spinning wheels and weaving looms. As a fibre arts practitioner these items excite me. Ebony didn’t disappoint as she took me into the museum stores and into the spinning wheel room. I was overwhelmed with the number and variety of spinning wheels, drop spindles and a whole host of spinning paraphernalia. The different woods they were made of varied in colour shade, style and decoration. From the municipal basic to exotically turned and decorated models but each one offered the same service – to spin yarn. Not one of them stood out and spoke to me for this project so we moved on to the next room. The loom room. The contents of this room were slightly less overwhelming mainly due to the fact that many looms take up a large floor area, making them hard to store assembled therefore many of the looms are dismantled for storage. I asked Ebony about an old display upstairs at Bankfield which housed many examples of ethnographic fabrics and the looms they were woven on. She informed me that these looms had been moved into storage to make space for the new king and country exhibition.

Being overwhelmed by the amount of exhibits which fit my brief of spinning wheels and weaving looms, I left Bankfield Museum feeling I needed to think again about my ‘starting point’ objects.

Over the weeks since this first visit I have researched, deliberated, discussed and challenged my initial ideas for my ‘starting point’ objects. Sticking with the broad ideas of spinning wheels and weaving looms I have focused in and become more specific. With this new detailed direction to travel in I have contacted Ebony and asked to view spun, woven or both objects which include unusual items in them. The items which come to my mind are human hair mourning pieces, ethnographic spinning or weavings including items such as tree bark, animal hair/bones etc.

Ebony will now look through the museums vast catalogues and let me know when she finds items fitting this new more precise brief. It’s very exciting; I wonder what she will find!