After a week locked into endless cycles of painting, wallpapering and trying to get the flat into a presentable form for renting the [last weeks] full moon demands I stop and absorb myself in something soulful. I had promised myself this time each month and in these moon days the merino tops have been singing a symphony of raspberry, olive greens with an undertone of chocolate browns leaving me both hungry and thirsty for some felting.
The dying process has become a ritual: lift the box from under the counter unpacking the red chipped enamel pot and the dying towel which holds a history of all the colours I’ve created unlike the stirring spoon whose colours have all merged to form a sludgy mud hue. When it comes to dying I’m a gambler. No charts or weighing just the random science of sprinkling. The more sprinkling involved the bigger the piece of felt to be dyed as I know it will be hard to reach that exact shade again. While I’ve been using powdered acid dyes I can’t ignore the calling to move over to natural dyes and gather lichens and bark and crush and pummel.
I love the initial swirl in which the colour lies briefly in cloudy wisps before dissolving into a uniformed colour. There is magic in submerging pristine white wool and to see that initial shade take hold. If the wool simmers for half an hour or so it will fully absorb all of the dye leaving the water clear. The smell of soaked wool is somehow comforting, then a shot or two of vinegar before a quick rinse and a gentle squeeze before the wool is hung up on a makeshift line across the bath, transformed into a line of prayer flags.
I’d been thinking how I approached craft after reading interviews of artists approaching that 'space' as sacred. The mornings soundtrack a collection of Celtic chants had helped lull me into that space as I prepared everything for the days work. I concentrated deeper and deeper on the words as the chiffon was laid out and the felt cut, checked and rechecked that each layer got thoroughly soaked in water. A gentle observational stage by which the fibre has soaked up around three litres of water. Drops sit heavy on the surface like jewels. I pat in the water encouraging the fibres to soak up the last of the moisture so by now it’s so heavy that when it’s flipped over to the other side everything stays in place.
I apply a little soap, its only part to help to lubricate the microscopic barbs of the wool as they lock into place with the manipulation of force. I begin gently rubbing the surface with a small piece of bubble wrap to encourage an initial felting so it holds together before the rolling begins. I find that craft only initiates a certain quality of mind when it’s approached in a certain way. With the Celtic chants of old Irish swirling around me I feel a connection in the sway of the work, the repetitive rhythms which they must have made in daily life. The chants exist as an expression of yourself, yet also as an expression of the land. I remember my roots, the paths taken from Ireland to bring my family here. The ancestors now in other world’s come to mind and somehow I feel this space exists between worlds and I can exist here helped by the meditative quality of rocking the rolled felt back and forth. I can never quite muster the strength through arms alone to felt this stage and so I remove the 4 foot long tube onto the kitchen floor and use my feet to apply a steady pressure. It seems it’s the only time that the kitchen floor gets a real washing.
Tipping the rolled up felt into the sink I pour out a couple of litres of water, unfurling the felt I pinch the surface slightly to test of the fibres have felted, satisfyingly they lift together. I approach unrolling the felt with an open mind. With this type of process you can never plan exactly what is going to happen, there is always an element of chance, of magic. It’s meeting this without preconceived ideas, giving over to the process. The process offers metamorphoses. I pull away the bubble wrap layers, the towel and old blind which is used as a roller this process mirroring nature the unfurling greenness and underneath my fingers green merges, dissolving into brown – like the outside season, a cycle re-enacted another chance for lessons to be learnt.
In these days of too much computer work and repetitive arm injuries I have to admit I have one more transforming process which somehow knocks out the magic but holds the same excitement in how the item turns out, my secret ingredient - the washing machine! The hours it’s saved mankind in beating clothes off rocks and saving felters arms for a few more scarves!
Everything is looking good and so I trim the felt fingers down ensuring they are in proportion with the weight and sit of the scarf. I often throw it into the machine to felt up those slightly frayed edges (that no one would actually know could do with a slight refelt). This is the final shape shifting where the trickster often rears their head. Unpredictable things happen like scarf wildly shrinking or the fabric pulling off in a new direction and yet it calls for an almost Buddhist like non attachment, a letting go of preconceived ideas. And yet when it does emerge from it’s tumble at 16,000 revs per min (or whatever that number stands for) a changed scarf this is where the ingenuity lies. Of attaching poppers and buttons and positioning it just so – so it looks like this was the planned for garment all along!
My random winner decider for the giveaway is Sue, a very willing adjudicator. I wrapped the participant names up in paper scrunched round a dog bisciut. Sue gave careful snuffled consideration to each entry before crunching her final selection who was Kitty. She then celebrated Kitty's win by eating all the other contestants.
Kitty contact me with your address and i'll post it out to you.
I'm enjoying a lazy saturday, visa forms are posted off as I await my interview date from the American Consulate in London. And to a taste of my new life in the States, here's a wonderful picture of the inside of my fiances truck, brilliant!
I love days like this. The hills are enveloped in mist and the trees sing as the wind blows through them. It's as if the heavens have came down to earth bringing the gods and goddesses to reside once more, as they have always done, in the hills and the stones and all living things.
I have felt so lost over the last few weeks and while on paper I could map my connection to the world in practise I have somehow unwittingly created a dam. That dam is built from letting myself get irritated by the petty details, eating crappy food washed down with even crappier TV.
I need to sit down beside myself, lay out how I wish to live life and have all facets of me sign up to that contract. It's easy enough to submerge yourself in workshops and retreats but today it's holding on to what you've discovered and not let it become diluted with so many distractions.
I've hopped on one leg and sang Cherokee waking songs, I've survived 5 hour sweatlodges and danced all night around roaring Pagan fires but somehow those insights fizzle out. I need one focus, the help of a tradition to see the way.
'What happens to a culture without a living mythology is that it gets addicted to whatever numbs the pain of archetypal starvation and the vacuum of meaning' Suzi Gablik – The Reenchantment of Art
Yesterday I participated in a workshop at St Mungo's museum, lead by FionTulah, head of the Ceile De order. The afternoon was based around chants called Fonn which exists as a song or chant but also describes a state of mind, and of the land itself. She explained that the fuinn work on different levels, harmonising the parts of us which relate to the siritual, otherworldly and the physical.
I've experienced chants and meditations of various cultures but even though I don't speak Gaelic it feels like a link to my Scottish and Irish ancestors. I feel I am participating in something that they were part of, I am touching a living tradition. While the words might be unfamiliar the Ceile de's vision of the world is oh so familiar. Caim agus Corrach translates as Grace and Coracle. I'm familiar with my dad talking about how to make a Corricle and can almost smell the tar pot used to paint the skin. As Fion explained there are many instances in mythology of people being set out (often banished) in a coracle with no oars left to the mercy of the prevailing winds. But within this small chant lay what I needed. On that day Fiontullach was most definitely my Anam Cara (soul friend) prescribing the Fonn my heart and soul needed. Grace is envisaged as the space around you, an aura, the expanse of the soul carrying the body, not the body carrying the soul. It is your state of mind rooted in spirit and not on outwardly fleeting external 'things'.
The coracle is your journey through uncharted space, so that even when you may feel lost and unsure in life you must be grounded in yourself, and understand you are exactly where you need to be and to try and appreciate the uncertainty. And in the chanting of those words I realised that while I had scoured the volumes of Carmina Gadelica for references to the Goddess Bhrighde nothing can compare to having those stories read to you. The full power of the myth evokes images, you are placed in an unbroken linage with the truths and the energy resonating inside. This is the paper on which I'm writing that contract to myself, the roots which I hope will continue to stretch out and keep me balanced.
I came across Aileen's work on Flickr and was quickly sucked into her luscious coloured Scottish Landscapes. Her Croft scenes reminded me of staying in bothy's in wild and beautiful landscapes and of camping by the shore under moonlit skies. Enjoy some musings with Aileen over virtual coffee.
I was really drawn to your needle felted landscapes, especially your use of colour. Why would you say nature features so predominately in your work?
Having spent most of my life living in the countryside and visiting the west coast of Scotland on holidays, I found that when I went to college for four years and lived in a city, I just couldn't function properly. I found the city so uninspiring and when I took off to do a bit of back packing I subconsciously headed west. I found myself on the outer Islands of Scotland and the west coast of Ireland and that's where I felt most at peace, most inspired and rejuvenated. The colours I use in my work probably reflect my affinity for the sea, the sky, the beauty of a sunset etc. And my use of vibrant colour in other pieces might reflect my sense of fun and my sociable nature.
What inspires you, that you couldn’t you live without?
Being surrounded by trees and greenery and our visits to the west coast.
Is the source of the materials you use important? Environmental factors such as dyes used, the source of the wool?
As I become more interested in felt, fibres and yarns I find myself wanting to know more about natural dyes and sources of wool. I'd love to experiment with dyes myself and make them from what I can find in the garden and in the woods. I get given a lot of bits and pieces from friends and family that know I can reuse a lot of old garments etc so there is an element of recycling going on in my work.
Being a wonderfully creative person can you explain what creativity is in terms of what it means to you?
Creativity to me is the inbuilt intuition to do something artistc and make things beautiful. To express oneself in a way that appeals to other peoples sensitive sides. It may be that people express themselves creatively through music and song, through theatre and dance, through writing, gardening, decorating, whatever. When people get in touch with their creative side they experience joy and self satisfaction. I feel very blessed to be so naturally creative though it took me years to understand that it is more than just a hobby or a pass time to be making and creating. Having some sort of creative outlet is a need. Trying to stop that flow of creativity would be like piling up stones in the path of a stream. The stream would still find a way to flow.
When you consider the issues that western society faces do you feel creativity has anything to offer as an antidote?
There are many great projects going on that help people overcome difficulties and problems through creativity but the only antidote for society today is to stop and think and see the blatant greed and corruption going on all around them. I've never been one to make big statements through my work though.
Do you think craft has anything to offer in a spiritual connection? (for eg a connection to the spirit of a place or entering a meditative zone in repetitive work?)
I know that some people do feel a sense of fulfillment spiritually when they get right into whatever they are creating. I don't feel that.
Who is inspiring you right now (eg blogs/flickr)
I find the whole online crafting community a great inspiration. Living in a rural area I could be quite cut off from the creative world but following craft blogs and flickr groups keeps me fired up with new techniques and materials to try and of course the feedback is tremendous.
‘Disasters or experiments? What’s your attitude when it all goes wrong?
I love getting time to experiment. Just go with the flow and see what happens. I don't like wasting time though. I have two children and a house to keep (as do most!) and as my business grows I need to be making the best use of my time. Some disasters can be chopped up and used in another way and sometimes a thing doesn't turn out the way I want but something useful may be learned. I just don't like waste though. I'd hate to be using lots of nice materials and the piece turn out to be no good.
I’m nosey – would you share a picture of your workspace or something you’re working on?
My work space is a cubbie hole behind the stairs which is full to bursting point and I more often than not end up working at the kitchen table. At the moment I am working on some textile seascapes for a new gallery opening in Johnshaven in May and some felt jewellery for a craft fair in St Andrews town hall on May 16th.
Somehow i've been caught in this strange twilight of 'grrr' all week, much like the snarl of my Jack Russell when anyone dangles a hand anywhere near her.
Dan called this morning just as I was getting up, and him heading to bed (in the states) and I could hear coyotes howling their strange and eerie song in the background. Whether domisticated or wild - dogs aye make me smile.
So i thought i'd offer a giveaway. A ring that is, not small dog or Dan - the postage for either would be way too expensive. A giveaway of an 'organza bubble ring' so just share whatever it is that will always make you smile when your feeling 'grrrrrrrrr'.
Got my ‘handfasting/enagaement/wedding’ ring in the post yesterday – I absolutely love it! The design is inspired by the seed pod of the tree peony, which dries black and opens to show it’s seeds.
It's made by Sophie of Duck Duck Goose Stuff – check her out on Etsy http://www.duckduckgoosestuff.etsy.com where you’ll find moon rocks, earthed lightning, moon pools, alien inspired wonders and fantastically she’s a lichen gal – making silver lichen inspired pieces!
I’m loving rings, I like working on such a small scale – and hate to admit there’s something about a quick fix of satisfaction going on.... Here's some i've been working on, I've got a couple on sale on Etsy. Thanks Lesley for the hand modelling!