Tuesday 21 November 2017

Travel tags and looking back...

'the only time you should ever look back, is to see how far you've come...'

Well, the first good news is that both of my most recent robin pictures have flown off to new homes, which is just amazing - it's still a great feeling to sell work, and to think someone likes what you have done enough to want it on their own walls.

I've needle felted a few robins over the years and sometimes it's good to look back to see how my technique and ability has improved.

There are times I feel a bit defeated and deflated with it all, but having looked at older work I can see that I HAVE made progression and I HAVE got better...I hope you agree!!

Earlier robins going back to 2013

I think looking at my earlier robins, I have since improved on my blending of colours and the addition of details and shading.  My latest two robins are below:

I think I've got a much more realistic feel to my birds now, which is definitely a step in the right direction! Though I do struggle with feet...often resorting to a well positioned leaf!   Keep practising!! 

I hope these latest pictures give joy to their new owners...farewell my robins!!

I do like doing the needle felted birds, but I also enjoy trying new things because I'm still not convinced I've really found my 'thing', do you know what I mean?!  Will I know when I've found it?  I really hope so!!

Travel Tags

Following the Anne Kelly workshop that I wrote about in my last blog, I joined in with her 'Moving Memories Project' where anyone is able to contribute a travel tag which will be included in one of her exhibits.  The following is taken from her blog which you can find HERE

This is actually quite a thought provoking project, and can be taken down any number of avenues, including one's own personal experiences, but I decided to make one along the refugee theme.

I started by cutting out my tag base out of thick watercolour paper, and then layering on tea bag paper and hand dyed chiffons - the rest then just sort of evolved.

I played around with a few different ideas and eventually decided that whilst I wanted to include people in my tag, I didn't want to make them too stereotypical of race or religion.  The blank faces, in retrospect, are probably quite apt as refugees are often thought of as a 'whole'  rather than individuals with names - other human beings with  a life story that perhaps we would rather not hear.

I created the main face with gesso,  pressed through an oval stencil and added oil pastels, metallic paint, stitch,  words and a little more chiffon to complete the tag.  I backed it with some rust stained cotton.


I think the tag has ended up being quite moving  - and after all, shelter, compassion, love and peace are basic needs for us all aren't they?  It is hard to imagine feeling the need to make a long and dangerous journey to another country in the hope of finding these things...what a broken world we live in.

On a lighter note, I decided to make another tag, this time featuring the most amazing little bird - the swallow.

Living on a farm, we have many a swallow come to stay every summer, returning to their nests after travelling on the wing for over 9000 km from South Africa - a pretty epic journey don't you think?!  I love to watch them swooping and diving over the fields, feeding on the flies and insects; they are true aerial acrobats.

When they leave here at the end of the summer, when the days start to become shorter and the change of season is in the air, they set off on their migratory journey across the channel to France, down through Spain, across the sea to North Africa and over the Sahara to South Africa - just incredible.

I did intend to include words on my tag, but working on such a small scale it was a bit tricky, and actually I like it just the way it is.

I attached coloured silk to my tag for the sky and coarse organza for the 'grass' - the addition of dried seed heads, stitch and a skeleton leaf added some surface texture.  I glued a  paper swallow I had drawn and cut out onto the tag and then hand painted it (which was a bit fiddly!).  A final flourish of glittery  powder gave it a nice bit of sparkle.

So these will be sent off to Anne very soon to join all the other tags - some from all around the world.  It should make for a very interesting exhibit.

New Ideas

Working on the travel tag has spawned an idea for a larger piece about swallows and their journey, and will fit in nicely with the new theme we are working to in the St Ives Textiles group - 'Fur, Feathers and Fish'.  I'm sure some handmade felt will feature, and maybe some needle felting, but I'd really like to try and mix it up a bit more.  I enjoy playing around with mixed media and printing, so I'd like to try and include some other techniques - maybe in the form of an art quilt or wall hanging...maybe!! The ideas are there floating in my head, but I can't quite get hold of them properly yet - anyone else have that problem? 

I wonder if during this process, I might find my 'thing'...or maybe what's more important is to just enjoy what you're doing, regardless of method and style. 

Monday 23 October 2017

Anne Kelly Workshop

...try new things and keep growing...

A little while ago I was lucky enough to take part in a workshop with Anne Kelly (Textile Artist).

I haven't taken part in many workshops, and I have to say I was a little nervous about it.  Why?  Oh, I don't know - worrying about whether I'd be 'good enough' or that I would just generally feel out of my depth!  Also, you know when you follow artists on Instagram and Facebook, have their book and admire their work, it's kind of like meeting a celebrity isn't it?  (or is that just me...)

I probably just don't get out enough!

I needn't have worried so much, it ended up being a lovely way to spend a rainy Saturday and Anne was a great tutor who created a calm and easy going environment for us to, essentially, play with the techniques she shared with us.

The theme was 'Drawing with Plants' with the aim of creating a fabric concertina book.

I went armed with ideas, sketches and photographs - and actually didn't really use them much!  Instead, I just went with the flow and let the process take over.  Perhaps you can be TOO prepared and end up restricting your creative play!  ...and play we did - cutting, printing, drawing, layering and stitching. 

I had some pieces of vintage table cloth I wanted to incorporate, as well as teabag papers, ribbons and cotton doily scraps from my stash.

During the course of the day (punctuated with cups of tea and slices of homemade cake) I managed to get all my layers done and had started stitching - a project to take away and continue to work on at home.

In typical Tanya style, I didn't make easy choices of how to stitch my layers together.  I decided I wanted to hand stitch over the entire piece, with just a few areas left untouched.  I hadn't consciously thought of Kantha when I decided to do that, but it is reminiscent of this type of embroidery which originated in India. 

'Kantha' translates to 'rags' in Sanskrit, which reflects the fact that Kantha embroidery is made up of discarded garments and cloths, the stitching bringing together  the many layers into a new, usable piece of fabric - recycling at its best!

So the stitching began...many, many stitches! I started fretting a little about having a 'plan' to my stitching, and keeping my stitches even etc - however once a few had been laid down I began to relax and the pattern and direction of the stitches just kind of evolved.  They curved and twisted around the different elements  I'd placed on the panel, just letting the needle and thread weave in and out in a way that became quite meditative. A spattering of french knots were also added.

That continual running stitch was something I looked forward to doing each day in a quiet moment - in fact because the piece was a good, portable size, it was often in my bag when I went out.  That ten minutes in the car waiting to pick up my daughter from netball was no longer filled with trying to find some decent music on the radio, it was spent thoughtfully stitching in peace.

I chose to create a similar style panel as the backing, but with a much simpler layout and inclusion of words.  I incorporated some dried hydrangea flowers and leaves, and a hand stitched quote:

I understand that Audrey Hepburn quoted 'to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow' (if you believe everything you find on the internet!) so I adapted that with my own added words.

I decided to keep it more simple on this side, and just sew the running stitch in horizontal lines.

After joining front and back, so my folding fabric book was borne!  Not only that, but I was actually really chuffed with it!  It most certainly is not perfect, and some may sneer at some of my stitching, but somehow the imperfections add to its charm...and look, not a scrap of wool in sight!

I will definitely do this again - I see these fabric books as a lovely way to create keepsakes of different times in your life, or to make as a very special gift. 

I am thinking of ways to incorporate some of these techniques into felt making (oh, there I go, can't keep felt making out of the picture for long!) and I have loved the Kantha element - definitely sparked a few ideas there


In other news I've also been trying to get a few commissioned needle felted pictures completed, and I'm about to embark on something new with some lovely white and grey fibres and textures - I'll hopefully be able to share this with you on the next blog.

Goodness, my next blog is likely to be in NOVEMBER - I can hardly believe we are hurtling towards the end of October already! Where has this year gone?

Have a wonderful week xxx

Wednesday 27 September 2017

I heard a robin this morning...

'I heard a robin this mornin'
I'm feelin' happy today
Gonna pack my cares in a whistle
And blow them all away...'  
Al Jolson

Whenever I post a photo or create a picture of a robin, there always seems to be a lot of love for this little bird.

It's the time of year where 'our' robin starts to hang around the garden a little more, becoming more trustful and daring.

Fiercely territorial, the robin is a feisty little bird and yet its song is an absolute joy to listen to - a little melancholy with rippling notes and trills, announcing its presence in full voice.  Our robin sits either on our wall or on top of the washing line pole to sing, choosing a good vantage point to make sure it is heard by all.

Many people associate a visiting robin with someone close that they have lost - I have heard that a number of times, and indeed a couple of my needlefelted robin pictures have been purchased by people that find the robin a comforting sign that a loved one is still with them in some spiritual way.  

I love that sentiment.


This is our little robin, sitting on top of the garden wall quite happy for me to get close to take his photo!

 As our robin has been hanging around in the garden a lot more lately, I was inspired to do another needlefelted portrait.  I worked it into a printed linen background (which is actually a piece of a tablecloth I picked up in the reduced section of Sainsbury's - love a bargain!)

I was really pleased with how it turned out, and if this picture doesn't find a new home it is more than welcome to hang on my own wall!

Let's make sure we look after our little birds as the weather changes - time to fill up those bird feeders!

Have a great week

Friday 1 September 2017

Not Just a Card...

Well, with just a week left until we set up for the St Ives Textiles Exhibition, I've been finishing off some cards which will be for sale.

I buy lots of cards for myself, usually printed art cards of paintings that I've admired and can sadly not afford to purchase - cards that I never intend to give away, but will keep and perhaps frame in lieu of the original.  A way of enjoying inspirational art without hurting my bank balance!

I have some printed cards of my own work which fit the Cornwall theme, however I wanted to create some handmade cards as well - each one unique but with a little hint of Cornwall in terms of colours, words and images.  You may recall from a previous blog post that I had experimented with printing choughs, so I have made a series of images incorporating that very special Cornish bird. I also made a few with plant monoprints.

I really enjoyed making these - I didn't plan them too much, I just let the creative juices take over! Sometimes it's nice to  try something new and a bit different, away from felting, and I'm pleased with how these turned out.  I used text from an old book (aptly titled 'Cornwall') as well as teabag paper, fabrics and stitch - and of course the odd button!

I told myself I wouldn't make any more felted items before the exhibition, but I have one more thing I'd really like to make, and my fingers are itching...I may have time over the weekend, but I'll have to see...watch this space!

If you're in town in the week of the exhibition, be sure to pop in - we're a friendly bunch, and there will always be a couple of us there stewarding.

Best wishes, and have a lovely weekend!

Saturday 19 August 2017

Can't 'resist' the challenge...

'...stop dithering and just get on with it...' I told myself

Well, I've been trying to fit in as much making as I can around 'life', and amongst some smaller things I took the plunge and made a couple of larger felted items using the resist method. I knew these would take a long time to make, so I managed to block out a couple of Saturdays so that I could commit to the process!

First up was an attempt at making a bag, taking inspiration from rock formations for the design and making it seamless in a 'made in one piece' method.

Resist-felting is basically felting around a shape or form which eventually gets removed in order to give you a piece which can be shaped and hardened through rubbing and a lot of elbow-grease to give a 3-d shape or bag.

Before starting, I needed to work out roughly how much shrinkage would occur, and make a resist taking that into account.  I used some sturdy bubble wrap that came with a sofa delivery as my template, and made it a approximate 30-40% bigger than I wanted the end bag to be. 

Size of my 'egg' resist

I'll be honest, I was a bit daunted at the size of it and how much work it would take...but I boldly carried on!

It was then time to lay the fibres out - you need to bear in mind the first layer you put down will be the inside of your bag, so I laid down a couple of white yarns to give a little bit of interest inside, and then used black merino wool over the top.
Covering the yarns with black merino wool           
Yarns laid down first - these will show on the inside of the bag

I won't spend a lot of time here giving the full method, there are lots of tutorials out there for resist-felting that can be found online, but basically you layer on one side of the resist, wet it down with soapy water and begin felting it (but not too much!) and then flip the whole thing over and layer on the other side of the resist, carefully wrapping over fibres to full encase your resist.  You continue doing this until you're happy with the thickness and evenness of fibres - your final layer will be whatever design, if any, you want to show on the outside of the bag.

Wetting down the fibres to begin the felting process

My outer layer was made up of a hand-blended concoction of black merino, grey shetland and brown merino, with strips of brown chiffon laid across in bands with the white yarns laid over the top of that.  This design was inspired by the quartz bands in the cliffs between Rinsey and Porthleven.

Beginning the top layer - hand mixing/blending different coloured fibres

laying out the final outer design

Once layout was finished, it was then lots more rubbing, paying special attention to all the edges. Once it passes the pinch test, it gets rolled many times in a bamboo mat.  Eventually, it starts to shrink and you notice the resist inside start to buckle.

The final layer wetted down

Trying not to be too daunted by my big woolly egg!

It then gets to the point that I always dread - getting the scissors and cutting it open in the right place and removing the resist - at this point I often abandon it and grab a strong cup of coffee, partly as a delay tactic, and partly to give me courage!!

I needed to cut it around the top to start to form the handles.  Then once it was felted further and the resist removed, I cut the circles (with held breath) to complete the handles.

It was then, essentially, a bag!

Once cut open and the resist removed, you can see the inside design revealed - white yarn against black

Felted, fulled, shaped and hardened - just needs to dry off!

But I worked on it for a lot longer, rubbing the inside of the bag and shaping it all the while - it was a lot of work!!  It did eventually shrink by almost 40%.

The end result is quite pleasing, though I'm dithering about the handles - do they need strengthening? I've hardened them a lot through the process, so I'm thinking they'll be okay, but I'm wondering how I might do that better next time?

I don't have a final photo of the bag yet, because I just can't decide whether I'm done with it yet...procrastination at it's best!


Glutton for punishment, I made a felted vessel as well - again using the resist method, but one of a different shape.  

I took inspiration from our shoreline, and loved using the blues, turquoises and incorporating sequinned netting and white chiffon to great effect.

Laying out fibres, and prefelts to create 'pebble shapes'

View through the bubble wrap during felting
Merino wools with sequinned net and chiffon incorporated

When it got to the cutting point, I cut an irregular wavy top before removing the resist.  The vessel took a lot of shaping and hardening - it needs to keep its 'vase' shape and be able to stand up.

With resist removed, the shaping and full begins - this is part way through and still wet

I really like how this turned out...in fact I'm rather taken with the whole resist felting method.  The possibilities are endless.

Dried out - and still standing!!

My bag and vessel are basic resist felting, but you can get very adventurous with shapes, openings, pockets and appendages - I'm not sure my little brain can cope with that at the moment...but maybe when I have some play time I'll give something a bit more sculptural a go!

Over the next week, if and when I get time, I want to make some hand-stitched cards for the upcoming exhibition.  Eek, not long to go!

Upcoming exhibition

  The St Ives Textiles blog can be found here - this week the work of Jo McIntosh has been highlighted.  I can blame Jo for indirectly introducing me to felting many years ago at one of her fab workshops!  Jo has a website and Facebook page - if you are looking for a craft workshop Jo has a huge range of skills to pass on; check out her pages to find out what's going on!