Display boards and Exhibition Opening date by Karen Alderson

All my work, complete with fixings, is now mounted, wrapped in bubble wrap and stored somewhere safe. Anything more to do? You bet. All the stuff they didn’t teach me on my Fine Art degree like how to arrange work in a gallery and all the other information needed by the gallery for the viewer.

Firstly, the space. It’s small and enclosed so there’s not enough room for all the pieces.  Decisions will have to be made during installation about what will go up.  A large free standing hinged display board is needed to cover a door way.  These are expensive to buy so once I had done some research on how to make it secure I decided to make one myself.

Here’s what I did: I bought two large sheets of MDF half an inch thick, salvaged some 2X1 and other bits of wood from my shed then got my tools for the job: a chop saw,IMG_5020

a drill,


drill bits and screws


ruler, set square, pencil.


Firstly I chopped some right angled triangles and some short pieces of 2×1 wood. I drilled through the triangles onto the MDF then screwed the triangles to the bottom of the MDF. Once the triangles were in place on both sides I screwed the 2X1 to the bottom. Now the moment of truth.  Would it stand?


Yes! Next a couple of coats of paint and it’s all finished. (I want an electric screwdriver for Christmas)

Second, the film. Where will the monitor be situated? Where will the wiring go? What about the sound? Will viewers need headphones? Will the position of the monitor detract from the wall mounted pieces? Decisions, decisions.

Next, the viewer: What information is required for the labels for each piece of work and how big should these be? Different galleries have different protocols. I have already written my Artist statement and the “Group Interpretive Text” and found it really useful to clarify my practice.

And…….the posters and flyers are done!


If you can make it to the opening, and we would be really pleased if you could, there will be refreshments and nibbles.  The Calderdale Open Exhibition is taking place simultaneously so we are recommending that you get to Bankfield Museum earlier (12:30pm onwards) in order to get a parking space.

Should we have postcards or business cards? We decide on postcards. Will these be individual or collaborative? How many? How will they be displayed? Where do I get postcard holders? So many important discussions to reach agreements. I begin to research retail display merchandise, this is a whole new world and far removed from my rural studio. It’s fascinating.

Lastly, marketing and publicity:  The internet seems to be awash with “Social Media for Artists” webinars and courses that recommend I need a PLAN but given that I have drastically reduced my engagement with social media its going to be rather tentative one. Any marketing wizards out there who want to wave their magic wand at me?


Spurn Point, wildness and more repair by Karen Alderson

Having mounted all the pieces for the exhibition I rewarded myself with a short camping trip to Spurn Point, a long narrow sand spit located on the coast of the East Riding of Yorkshire.  A friend said I would love it.  When asked why she replied, “There’s nothing there.” Perplexed I did an online reconnoitre prior to setting off, Grimsby looked industrial and Easington Gas Terminal was visible and in walking distance from the nature reserve.

I arrived at Bluebell Pond Camp site in driving rain, there was no camping reception but thankfully a couple, Darron and Cherry, had just arrived in their caravan and pointed to the reserved notice on pitch number 2. I put my tent up, thankful for investing in expensive waterproof clothing, I wish I had followed suit with the tent: an hour after getting all the paraphernalia in: mattress, sleeping bag, pillow, blanket, table, chair, cooker, clothes, food, I sat with a herbal tea and watched tiny tributaries run into the middle of the tent and form a large puddle. I timed it that I had to mop the water up every 15minutes before it came dangerously close to the bedroom area. I checked the forecast, this was in until midnight and it was only 6pm. There was only one thing for it: put all the bedding back in the van and hole out there.

Thankfully when I opened the van door the following morning the sky was big and blue. Where I live in the Calder valley we have hills in every direction and beautiful that it is you can only see 15 miles on a good day if you haul yourself up a steep incline. But here at Spurn Point not a hill in sight. I stood and looked at the vast blueness and out at the humber estuary, I felt like the top of my head had opened up, a master blaster meditation, “blue sky thinking”.


Spurn Point has been owned by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust since the 1960’s the previous guardian being the Ministry of Defence. There is a strict no dogs policy on the Point, not even in cars, as this is a site of special scientific interest (an SSSI).

A new visitor centre is in the process of being build which is not supported by the local residents. This would be the last time I would stay at BlueBell Pond site as the owner had been ordered to close it down and revert it to the grasslands in line with the needs of the SSSI. After 8 years of nurturing the camp site he was worried for his family’s future.

 The needs of tourism are being imposed on the locals, a community who so far have lived without much interference in this liminal place. Dumper trucks and coach parks herald bureaucracy and crowds, both anathema to those who live on the edge of society. “Keep Spurn Wild” read the boards but to no avail, the regeneration army is unstoppable. Of the few properties more than half have a for sale sign outside. These were interspersed with notices saying “Have you left enough time to get back before High Tide?” The pride and respect for the wildness and the fear of it being domesticated is palpable.

It reminded me of my trip to the Isle of Skye earlier in the year where crowds of people were heading to the faery pools, thrust there by tourist internet sites of “What to do on Skye”

There is an increasing hunger for pre packaged wildness the more our culture is driven by consumerism and urban living. The land is commodified, labelled and sold as “an experience”. People are told how to enjoy it, what to look for, where to walk, how to feel, how to think instead of trusting their own experience. Phil Smith in “On Walking” provides guidelines for how explore your locality with fresh eyes. He recommends imagining you are a detective: investigate buildings, scrutinise the skyline, observe the pavement, sniff out aromas, consider sounds, explore texture, draw what you see, create your own maps. He writes, “Our enemies …are not each other. But the homogenisation, policing and reduction of multiplicity.” See also “How to be an Explorer of the World” by Keri Smith.

I made my way straight to the beach, past Bluebell cafe, the car park & the 24 hour toilets. With the north sea to my right, on my left huge wedges of red clay were peeling away eroding the fragile coastline, this is one of the fastest changing coast lines in the UK. The sea had a slightly pink hue as it crashed against huge bits of concrete once built by the MOD, now destroyed by the tides. It felt like a war torn land.

Across the sea was an ocean wind farm & a north sea gas rig.

I turned around and walked on the sand towards the lighthouse noticing how the sea had eroded the cement road leaving an installation of joists rusted by iron bolts.


They had an Easter Island feel to them, looking out to sea, standing still, witnessing the changes.


At the end of the Point is a lighthouse, a lifeboat station (the only one in the UK that is staffed permanently), 4 houses, a building that accommodates the YWT office, a private jetty and a few odd little buildings, one being an old gun store.


On the way back I came across a hawk, it seemed quite young, I managed to get about 2 metres away from it before it took flight. If you are interested in hawk symbolism click this link: https://whatismyspiritanimal.com/spirit-totem-power-animal-meanings/birds/hawk-symbolism-meaning/  Spurn did feel wild, the summer season had not yet begun and I appreciated having the beach to myself.

Being at Spurn has strengthened the repair process of my inner wild part, something I thought had lost. At home I began a small art quilt incorporating the theme of repair,  I’m conscious that I buy as little material as possible and to repurpose and reuse what is in my scrap store, old clothes & charity shop finds.

I began by cutting out some backing fabric and batting, choosing some scraps and pinning them to it.

I sewed the scraps together and then using sashiko stitch I quilted in vertical & horizontal directions and a circular motif. At one point I decided to add a small bit of red fabric.

To edge the piece I used more red fabric, cut it into a strip & sewed the right sides together then folded it onto the back and stitched it.



I edged the rest of the piece with some hand dyed fabric.


Recovered memories, hand quilting and found messages by Karen Alderson

Things are moving forward! We had a meeting at the museum last week and the conversation honed in on display and marketing, namely boards, labels, flyers and Mayors. The week previous I had visited Bankfield with my tape measure and looked at how the gallery attached frames to walls, the size of frames and how much space was available for my work. Whilst there I noticed the huge map I used as a starting point was on display as part of the museums current exhibition, so if you want to see this amazing artefact now, please visit the gallery.



Somehow I had got into a flap about how I would display my pieces but after some research into methods of displaying textile art http://www.textileartist.org/displaying-and-hanging-textile-art/  I realised I knew what to do as I had done it for open studios last year. Memory….

After the relief of recovering this memory I set to work sewing each textile piece onto black backing fabric, this took a few days sitting in the garden (Oh! The labour of a textile artist). Then each piece was carefully measured to assess the size of frame, a list was make of wood lengths, wood was ordered, wood arrived.

Next, I collected tools and materials: a drill, box of drill bits (where did I put that chuck key?), screws, phillips screwdriver, 2 G clamps, staple gun, staples, batting. Now the fun part: drilling holes and screwing the wood together. Like anything else the first one took ages but by the fifth one I was on a roll brandishing my Black and Decker like a six shooter.

I’m about half way through, however, the process was slowed down somewhat when my 15 year old staple gun finally seized up and a new one had to be ordered.


Mounted work in the studio

All this drilling, screwing and stapling is great fun and I’m still working on a hand quilted piece that references road edges.

I hand dyed some linen thread with the same colours I had used to dye the fabric and once I had machine sewed the pieces together it was back out in the garden to sit in the sun and hand quilt for hours.

Hand Quilting







Goodness, it was awful sat there in all the peace of the afternoon listening to the bees buzzing and birds singing quietly sewing myself into a trance.

Not content with all of this I had a yen to go back to Brow Lane and revisit the fence from which I had based a lot of work. Someone had left a pair of children’s black shoes and a green curtain there.

Further up the hill I came to the place where clothes and household items had previously been dumped, these had been removed and in the lower field brown cows munched happily whilst there was an overwhelming acrid stench similar to that of an abattoir.

I’m not sure of the business in the industrial park further down but it did invoke memories of a long dead uncle who worked at Borthwick’s abattoir, now owned by Woodheads on Regent Street in Nelson and a similar smell always lingered along the valley. Further up I found a broken picture frame.


Still, something urged me back down towards Holmfield Mill.  As I stood outside taking photos I found some stone steps leading to the car park opposite.

I figured I would get better shots from there and as I reached the tarmac I saw an abandoned van with its windows smashed.

I was taken back to the day I collected my belongings from my smashed vehicle at the recovery garage, at the time a part of me had wanted to spend some time with the vehicle taking in the damage, letting the reality sink in but another part wanted to get away from it as soon as possible, the latter won. Being able to closely observe this van seemed like a second chance to really look at how the vehicle had been damaged, in particular, to be able to look inside as both side windows had been put through.


On the floor of the passenger side I found a piece of paper with a child’s scribbles and underneath a child’s toy from MacDonalds. I retrieved the paper and wondered what was going through the child’s mind as it held the ball point pen. I really like the mark making and will use this to inform further work.






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 http://caitflanders.com/2017/06/07/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 https://clarepearl.co.uk 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.

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.

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.


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. http://www.refinethemind.com/facebook-eye/

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.