Heart Felt Forum

enamel heart complete with paper label

I have just made this broken and mended vitreous enamel heart for an exhibition, Heartfelt Bristol, which is being held between Friday 19th and Wednesday 24th November at the Centrespace Gallery, Leonard Lane, Bristol. The Heartfelt exhibition has been co-ordinated by Bristol textile maker  Jan Connett and she has been working on this project for the last 9 months. Each exhibitor has been asked to make a heart to commemorate their own heartfelt moment and complete it with a label that tells the story that inspired it – so far Jan has over 500 hearts complete with their messages.

I have made this in the nick of time in response to a notice given at the last meeting of the steering committee of Textile Forum South West, which I chair. Jan is a member of TFSW and her work can be seen with many other members on the website. A group of us set up the Forum several years ago when some of the delegates and speakers at the Brunel Broderers‘ conference “No Man’s Land” sat down and talked together over lunch. We enjoyed meeting and speaking to fellow enthusiasts so much that we decided to continue to discuss and meet together in the future and try to include as many other textile practitioners, historians, lecturers and students as possible in the region. Sonja Andrew was the major driving force behind this move; she has since left the area to return to her native Yorkshire, but continues to keep in touch with us.

At the quarterly meeting recently held at rooms at Bath Spa University, Corsham Court, I looked round the room where 8 of the regular steering committee members were discussing our next conference “Mapping the Future – Where are you now?” to be held in March next year. I thought how totally different we all are in our own practice, but we all pull together because we just love textiles..not matter what our discipline we can’t talk enough about the “stuff”.

  • hedgerow.buds.turning.pink. paint and thread on organdie Liz Harding


    From the original group who formed TFSW there are 3 of us left and 2 of them were originally part of the Bunel Broderers group, Liz Harding who is currently studying for a PhD in at Bath Spa Uni and Brenda Miller who has recently completed an MA in Textiles at Goldsmiths University, London. Liz is at present the committee secretary and Brenda is heading up the exhibitions committee. The next exhibition later this month at the Centre for Contemporary Arts and the Natural World, and is called Material Actions which TFSW developed with  Plymouth University Arts.

    digitally knitted panel from video installation. Brenda Miller

    Also at the meeting and studying at Bath Spa for their doctorates, were Kay Swancutt, our strict treasurer, and Alison Harper. Alison had her work selected for the Material Actions exhibitions and it is shown here, she made lengths of “yarn” from discarded crisp packets – those sheeny-shiny coloured ones, winding them into skeins all ready for working with and to quote her in an email to me – “I am currently researching the ways in which textile art and processes can contribute to an ethical dialogue between art, materials and social and cultural change ! so there”

    "Pass Me Another Crips Packet" skeins of prepared crisp packets ready for knitting - Alison Harper.

    I have featured Kay’s work before in an earlier blog, she is looking at the whole idea of re-working patchwork – it’s getting very organic – I share with her the fascination of the written pattern papers still held in old English mosaic patchworks.

    Patchwork in progress. Kay Swancutt
    Jo Beal working in her studio.

    We are constantly looking for ways to sustain the activities of the forum and recently had a grant from the South West branch of the Arts Council – ACESW – where we have been assessing the audience and/or members’ requirements to grow and develop the Forum. Jo Beal is the person in charge of the bidding for grants and she oversees all our applications, we were having to give an account of the money in a written report and this meeting dealt with it. However her own work is varied, she  stitches but she also draws and has her own pages on Flickr.

    This just leaves me with 2 other members of the committee at the meeting, Jan Truman who works in beaded metal wire, I think she would term herself a knitter – but not as we know it.  The image below is ” just one of several projects on the go at the moment. This is part of my 2010 jewellery collection for the Barbican. I exhibit there, with the Designer Jewellers Group each year, so make a special pearl range for the show. Our exhibition this year runs from 11th Nov 2010 to 5th Jan 2011″.

    The "creative clutter" in her workroom - Jan Truman

    And then last but not least – Liz Hewitt  who does a whole lot of different things for the Forum. Her title is membership secretary but she also keeps us all up to date by sending out masses of news clippings and opportunities available between the bi- monthly newsletters posted by the Forum – a round up of everything going on in the textile world – it is worth being a member of the Forum just for these services alone. Also at present Liz is co-ordinating our next conference, as well as showing her dyed and stitched work in  many exhibitions, throughout the country.

    Hand dyed and stitched cotton cloth - Liz Hewitt.

    And Liz and I are meeting together at my studio later this week to talk about the possibility of running workshops in stitching and drawing in the Bristol area, so watch this space….

    But I am leaving you  pictures of the sampling session in the lunch break, where we tried out an idea of Alison’s to make pom poms as an idea for a workshop at the Mapping conference  – the Yarnpomming project. If you are interested in joining TFSW – out of area members welcome as well please go to the website and check in with us.

    Liz hewitt, Brenda Miller and Alison Harper making pom poms
    up close engaging with the "stuff"







    mending more hearts


    You know when you get an idea and a light goes on in your head and you think – why did it take me so long to see this? Well this has just happened to me – last weekend I was looking at the stitched ceramic dishes I had made for the Museum Mending project and thought – why don’t I just stitch these images onto cloth? The mottoes, the hearts, the hands….all these relate to my personal project Make It Through the Night so why don’t I include these into this? DUH!

    I have done all the research, found the mending mottoes and sorted out the drawings of the hands, but what will I stitch them onto? Well when you are broken- hearted what do need to mop up the tears – a handkerchief – which is a ready- made square of cotton or linen – perfect.  And when I looked through my white fabric stash I found a packet of 4  table napkins left over from another project – hem stitched in linen – perfect. I always take these pieces of luck as a sign that I am on the right track.


    I thought I should  try to match the mends with the mottoes and to use the broken and mended heart as a link to the Counterpane/Counterpain embroidery which features in the Make It Through the Night project in Work in Progress section of the blog. I decided to keep the same stitching techniques and colour.

    I started with a cut and darned heart, which would need considerable strengthening at the edge of the handkerchief, so the motto had to be ” that which does not kill you makes you stronger” a proverb that I think has a stoical attitude. Having drawn out my design and checked the correct darning system in an old sewing manual, and taking courage into both hands, I cut from the edge of the handkerchief straight into the heart, tacked a run and fell seam and set to work sewing it.

    sewing manual and darning sampler which provide both the information and inspiration

    I chose to sew it in red thread as in the little household sewing sampler that I had bought years ago from an Oxfam shop.  It is probably from middle of the 20th century and made as part of an infant school sewing class. The choice of red for stitching is a swine as every single stitch glows out whether rightly or wrongly placed, I started to dislike the original needlework teacher – why impose this on to  your pupils?  – well discipline of course….and suddenly my little basic sewing sampler looked like the work of a consumate needlewoman – poor girl –  unlike me she didn’t choose to do it.

    finished handkerchief pinned to studio wall

    You can see by the finished piece above just how personal this embroidery got for me I have hand written “me”  instead of ” you”.   This was quite a difficult piece of darning even though I have worked this technique several times before;  the plain hem stitching on the run and fell seam above the heart was really tricky to get even on both sides. I would choose something easier for the next one………

    I found the motto, ” Red is the ultimate cure for sadness”  and decided to use a patching system using a scrap of scarlet linen, I withdrew the threads and darned them onto the heart. Easy Peasy it wasn’t!

    withdrawing the threads from the red patch.

    The finished red darning piece can be seen pinned to my studio wall, to the side of it can be seen a sample of Darning as Jewellry by Dail Behennah.

    red darned patch handkerchief
    Dail Behennah’s tiny samples in copper and gold wire for Darning as Jewellry, was also made for the museum mending project

    The next piece was also patched, much simpler this time a basic inset patch of fine linen.

    mending manual and school sampler
    cross stitch embroidered patch ready for insertion

    On the left can be seen the set of instructions for basic darning with the sample of the same system next to it. There are many old sewing manuals with all this information in them, up until about the 1960’s when they begin to just talk about machine stitching for  darning

    For this handkerchief I decided to cross stitch the motto onto the patch beforehand, and on the left can be seen the embroidered patch prior to cutting and inserting it onto the heart on the handkerchief, below.

    The image of the small pink and red  broken and mended heart pinned above the handkerchief below is a photograph of a set of 50 enamel badges I made for an ETC project several years ago. Maybe I should make some more?

    patched cross stitch motto

    By the time I got around to stitching the 4th mending motto I thought Mend It or End It was a suitable finish to this series, the  finished piece is the seen at the head of this blog, simple and effective the simple cross – way darn also makes a good warning symbol to make your mind up – the type of real advice my friends actually do give me when I am dithering about anything…I think these mending mottoes will lead to other handkerchiefs, I particularly like the one about the colour Red, I wonder what other mottoes there are about colours?

    first 3 mending mottoes handkerchiefs on my studio wall.

    Making Eyes and Ears

    Here is an old embroidery  ‘ Making Eyes and Ears’  or ‘Our Lady of Interiors’, which I made some 24 years ago in response to a visit to my friend, Lizzie – happily married and newly pregnant. Yesterday I was at her home again for her husband’s Big Birthday party and I met her son, the hidden inspiration for the embroidery and whom I had not seen for about 20 years. I recounted the following story to him.

    I had gone to up to London to have lunch and celebrate my friend’s pregnancy, stupidly taking a bottle of wine and some chocolates; but she was not feeling well, and instead of the usual delicious lunch she informed me we were having rusks in milk, which was all that she could stomach…… But this was a first baby and we had gone through worse together. I have never wanted children, and when any of my friends had children I made a mental note not to see too much of them for a few years…about 20 usually covers it – by then the children have started to get a life of their own and ideas I can relate to. Lizzie knew this but wanted to make me realize what was happening to her and why she felt the way she did.

    One my favourite paintings, Simone Martini’s Annunciation, it is in the Uffizi gallery in Florence and I first saw it when I was a student in the late 1960’s, it had a profound effect on me for its emotional quality and the sheer scale and beauty of its presence.  I used this wonderful blue, gold and red painting as the basis of the embroidery I eventually made. Actually the virgin looks not unlike Lizzie on the day of the lunch, sort of queasy.

    Anyway, back to the story – no sooner had I got used to the idea of rusks and milk when I had a book thrust into my hands and was instructed to read a particular page. The book was called “Spiritual  Midwifery” by Mary Ina Gaskin (see just how useful rigorous research note taking can be) and it was a type of new- age  manual for pregnancy. I most remember the mandalas of breasts with babies’ heads at the centres. I was beginning to feel a little queasy myself.

    But the memorable sentence, which has stayed with me all these years, was stated by Lizzie when she informed me that if I looked up her particular week of pregnancy in the book I would see that she was “making eyes and ears”.  At once I saw the embroidery, an annunciation but not with the usual rays of golden light emanating from a dove or a cloud to symbolise the insemination of the virgin with god’s spirit made flesh, but eyes and ears flowing from a test tube. I couldn’t wait to get home and start work.

    The following drawings and samples are of  gold lurex,  hand marbled silks, vintage embroideries,  gold pigment silk screened leather all pieced together to make a sumptuous interior for a late 20th century version of the glamorous gold stamped and gilded original. Also the drawings and redrawing necessary to get the exact hand position to reveal the feelings of the mother – to be,  the hands in the pre- renaissance religious paintings are always particularly expressive.

    When she heard this story last night Lizzie had completely forgotten the lunch, the book and the embroidery and so had I until I saw “the baby”.

    But now I look back on this very old work, what do I see? Hands and Eyes and Hearts and even a Dream Drawing about a Pakistani or Indian woman in a launderette……which brings me right up to date with all my current work.

    Fabric Enamel/Enamel Fabric

    fabric enamel heart

    I am slowly including all my recent stitched work into the blog. Sorting through the Embroidered Enamels for the Gallery Pages I thought I should show the research underpinning what has become a main preoccupation for me, enamel fabric or fabric enamel  – whichever way round – they are difficult, expensive and time consuming to make but I will never tire of developing them.

    first page of enamel research work book

    The first pages of my enamel research book show how I referenced fabrics to pattern and construct the strips of enamelled copper to look and behave like fabric. This now looks very focused and organised, but I only remember being absolutely lost amidst the wealth of ideas and accompanying technical information I was having to assimilate. The temperatures of the kiln were mind numbing; I cook on an AGA so have no idea of any cooking temperatures, what exactly does 800 degrees feel like – pretty damned hot – more to the point, an open kiln at that temperature looks scary as well.

    workbook page of stitched copper plate and mesh samples

    At the research department at UWE. Bristol I was surrounded by researchers into enamel who were were making such exciting and unusual things and I didn’t realize at the time that I was working with enamellers at the forefront of innovation into this craft,  and I was being given the chance to develop textile techniques within their research area. I was both excited and daunted but decided to stick with what I knew, stencilling and stitching. I used lace, Broidery Anglaise, crochet, any fabric that was patterned with hole and I drilled holes in the metal plates, prior to enamelling, in order to stitch. I hated this drilling; to stitch even moderately neatly you have to drill very neatly and you have to sort out all the placements first…my work books are full of stitch diagrams ….so how else can I get these plates onto the fabric without the drilling?

    enamelled copper shapes appliqued as shisha mirrors onto drawn - thread worked heavy linen ground

    metallic leather applique and cut work sample

    It ocurred to me that the small metal shapes were like shisha mirrors, found on Indian fabrics so I started to applique them into position using this technique. Fabric grounds were really too lightweight to carry the metal shapes and when they are heavy enough they become very coarse so I tried other materials; the metallic leathers were the most successful and I have several large hides waiting for an opportunity to be decorated. Meanwhile I decided  look at metal fabrics which, being woven, are more amenable to being worked like traditional textiles.

    work book with drawn thread and insertion stitched samples

    I bought some amazing woven metal fabrics from The Cloth Clinic, the owner – and at the time a fellow researcher at UWE Bristol, Janet Stoyel – let me buy some of her specially woven fabrics –  sadly no more were made available to me after this. But I used these particular fabrics to make a series or samples based on traditional white work sewing. The  embroidered scrap of copper below is from this collection of metals as are most of the metal fabric samples in the work books; although some of these metals are available elsewhere the Cloth Clinic’s fabrics are really special and worth looking our for. But cost and unavailability of these metal fabrics made me rethink how I could develop these ideas, I even thought of taking up weaving some for myself from copper and steel wire on a small frame…still a possibility…….

    scrap of copper fabric with drawn thread work and printed foil.

    Eventually, after about 18 months I felt confident to design and make a stainless steel, white enamel sampler .It is based on white-work traditional embroidery designs  and vintage fabrics have been used as stencils. The different colours are made by heat reacting with the copper at different temperatures of the individual kiln firings and only white enamels were used for this. The applique and shisha techniques were again used and the ground has  had drawn – thread – work worked into it – very hard on both the eyes and the fingers – the stitching is in steel and copper wire.

    larger enamelled copper and stainless steel white work sampler

    upside down detail of steel sampler.

    detail of enamelled copper mesh heart - well what other emblem did you expect to find?

    Another idea which I had also been developing is patchwork enamel, I had quickly worked out that this was the easiest way to produce enamel fabric, but the thought of drilling all those holes to stitch the plates together, put me off – but now I was used to working with the metals so I returned to a small sample I had made in the first year of my enamelling experiments.

    patchwork enamel sampler stitched and embroidered in wire.

    I made a larger and simpler version of the sample above and the piece of fabric is about 90cms square, a yard of fabric.The separate plates are stencilled and then stitched together with white coated copper wire, suddenly I had a piece of  fabric that draped when held in my hands. Below is the page from my research book with one of the stretched crocheted fabrics used to stencil patterns onto the copper plates.

    workbook record of first large patchwork enamel fabric panel

    I looked again at other types of samplers which could be developed into drape- able fabrics…this small design below was for embellishing espadrilles in a book I had written called White on White by Coats Crafts UK now sadly out of print. I developed a strip sampler as with this type of construction the stitched strips of enamel can be rolled and it behaves much more like fabric, this led me to many more developments, one of which will be used for the Severn Seas Skies hangings featured in the last posting on the blog.

    small sample for espadrille decoration

    workbook page of stitched strip samples for white work patchwork.

    The size of the copper strips has recently become much larger as I have experimented with the amount of weight that the rows of stitched wire can carry. I can eventually make very large sheets of fabric using this method, at present they are about 2 metres long but only 34 cms. wide, this is all my small kiln will accomadate, but I could get up to half a metre wide in my large kin – it would weigh an awful lot though.

    trying out stencil designs for the Black Work Patchwork hanging

    detail of top of Black Work Patchwork, with stitched and stencilled enamel.

    Even More Hearts

    stuffed and beaded heart with portrait of Nimrod, given as a gift to celebrate his owners' wedding.

    Looking for more hearts to update the Gallery  I found this stuffed heart image which I had made to celebrate the marriage of  Tim Tanner to my  niece Jo Haigh (owner of the old mended Barbour) it depicts their dog, Nimrod, Nimmie for short. Nimrod was from a  Newcastle dogs’ home, Jo had visited and asked to see only the dogs on “Death Row” and found this beautiful cross bred dog, we think between a fox hound and something much noisier.  After the wedding they went off travelling, parking the dog with her parents – he stayed with them for the next 10 years on and off as she and her husband worked all around the world. I decided to make this portrait of him for them to take on their travels.

    From stuffed hearts to empty ones…and so to something entirely different :- about this time last year I took part in a Box Workshop run by Elizabeth Turrell, and Matthew Partington at UWE.Bristol.

    stitched paper heart shaped box and lid

    interior of small heart box

    I think the world can be divided between people who can make boxes, wrap up presents and who are neat, neat, neat, and then there’s the rest of us.

    I really didn’t know how to start the project as I like to draw my ideas first and then attempt to make the drawings; but everyone else, jewellers, ceramicists, enamellers and sculptors, immediately started cutting, folding and making intricate and intriguing shapes.

    I did know that I wanted to stitch the parts of the boxes together,  so I did what I always do in such circumstances, fell back on my old ideas, just to get me making – the innovation could come later when I had found something to physically work with. I  cut strips of paper, scored, folded then stitched them together in buttonhole and running stitch and of course some of them became hearts.

    Then looking at them again this morning I realised they reminded me of something I had made earlier with a similar construction…..

    folded steel mesh stilts for holding enamelled wares for firing

    Above is a set of stilts I made for holding my work in an enamelling kiln. Aware that even the smallest stilt leaves an indented mark on the counter – enamelled backs I designed and folded metal mesh shpaes to be seen. These particular stilts were made several years ago to hold a large piece of lasered steel ( 60 cms wide), which had been stencilled with sifting enamel on the front.  But it also demonstrates that absolutely anything I have to make can be invested with the heart’s symbolic significance.

    Stuffed Hearts

    soldier's beaded heart

    On the subject of hearts…..searching my archives for more heart pictures for the Gallery section I remembered the stuffed and beaded hearts I used to make. Above is the first beaded heart I bought, it is probably from the first world war; the ribbons were specially woven for soldiers and sailors for giving as gifts. Here the military ribbon forms the centre- piece of this ornate pinned and beaded heart. I found that it had been stuffed with sawdust and so that is what I always use; sailors often used sand. Below is a much larger heart made by a sailor and again I think, from the early 2oth century.

    sailor's beaded heart

    But my favourite heart is this  dusty and damaged one; it is really small about the size of my hand and simple beaded and sequined message says “to my dear wife”

    I started to make the hearts for presents, just to give to family and friends but they were so popular with people who saw them when visiting my studio that I made a few to commission. The first ones were for wedding presents, a mother for her daughter, I remember it was a winter wedding and the colours used were from the floers of the bouquet which are embroidered in the central panel. The writing is in cross stitch

    two hearts made to commemorate a winter wedding.

    first wedding anniversary present with a stitched portrait of the couple on their wedding day

    Following this I made several wedding presents and left, a first anniversary present – again given by the mother of the bride -I can see the date is 1992 and is made in tiny real gold pins. The couple’s initials stitched in the top curves of the heart in padded satin stitch. I used to embroider family portraits and had some years previously embroidered this daughter as part of a larger piece, so it was really special to have this commission.

    Not given to very romantic gestures on my own behalf this next heart, encrusted with all sorts of wonderful scraps of embroidered textiles, was actually made for my book, Crazy Patchwork – published in 1998 (by Collins and Brown ISBN 1 85585 641 7)

    this was made as for my own 25th wedding anniversary.

    front of a child's birthday heart with applique gingham horse

    back of heart with the dedication and dates in gold pins

    I have also made several hearts to celebrate births and naming ceremonies. Pin cushions were given as gifts for weddings and for a new child as originally when they were made by hand, pins were  very expensive; so small stuffed cushions with pinned messages were presented to both brides and new babies as symbols of good luck.

    The small pink heart ( about 8 cms ) was a first birthday present to my nephew’s daughter Brannie and the glamorous heart below is for the daughter of my husband’s nephew, Ziva.

    be-ribboned heart for a baby girl

    The hearts I make are all fairly small between 8-12 cms. deep, but they feel very good in the hand, a satisfying weight and shape to hold easily. I have made a few smaller ones mostly for workshops and for some reason the one below has stayed with me, it hangs in various places in the house, at present around the neck of an angel  on the landing between the bedrooms and the studios.

    wooden angel with small silk and silver beaded heart.

    Stone Hearts

    This morning, walking my dogs on the beach on front of my home in Portishead, I found a large heart shaped stone. I added it to my collection which I have been making for over 10 years. In all this time I have found about 60 stones, but not all from this beach. I walk here every day, it is just a narrow strip of stony land at the edge of a salt marsh on the banks of the Bristol Channel, where the Severn estuary joins the river Avon. In old maps this area is called The Severn Sea.

    the salt marsh underneath the sea wall at Portishead, our house is the first on the left

    I have collected heart stones from some other beaches and people often bring me them to me as well,  everyone loves the search when walking the dogs; but when they find any  better stones than I have in my collection, they usually take them home with them – I prefer to think that they take them away as a reminder of a good time……

    back of sandstone heart with tiny black gravel heart which is 1cm in length.

    There are rules to what can be accepted as a heart stone, they have to be held to the sky and seen in silhouette, back and front – often the backs don’t have the same shape, they also have to have a top and a base and the cleft has to be indented. However some stones in unusual colours or ones that come from other beaches are admitted….and some days I just have to find a stone before I leave the beach – over time they have become talismans for me.

    I started to collect the stones as a memorial to my oldest friend, Sue Marshall, known to everyone else by her married name of Sue Bernstein. She died in 1998 at 50 years of age, from breast cancer, and on my last visit to her I promised that I make some work in her memory; we had had a conversation where we both agreed that her cancer was the result of a heart broken too often. From this time I have used the broken and mended heart as an ongoing inspiration for my work. A smooth stone has to be  broken before it can become a heart stone.

    For many years I just collected the stones knowing I would do some work from them some time, I kept them in strict rows on top of a plan chest outside my studio, waiting for an idea to develop. Meanwhile I took some of the largest hearts and placed them as a memorial in the area of the garden we use for our dog’s graves. It is planted with flowers that are in keeping with the area, below a Dicentra Spectabilis, bleeding heart arches over the heart stones memorial.

    Dog's graves with hearts stones memorial, the angels wear the dogs' collars.

    Eventually I made a collection of badges for an exhibition for ETC, an applied arts group of researchers at UWE Bristol, (click on to ETC on blogroll to see more badges). I drew round the smaller stones, both back and front and then cut these out of copper and enamelled them using sand and grit from the beach mixed with the enamel, they were then stoned down to take off the shiny enamel finish

    the collection of 50 enamel badges made from the shapes of the beach stones laid out above them

    I also made a larger piece for an embroidery exhibition where I made 5 Icons and Icon covers for a series of enamelled hearts.  I was playing with the idea that the stones themselves are worth nothing, the only value invested in them is by the viewer, the maker – in this case the collector. The surround or cover is made from heavy silver braids and watered silk pinned with all kinds of metal and glass beads. the hearts hang loosely, recessed within the cover which acts as a protective and glorifying surface. This particular embroidery was sold in a Valentine’s day exhibition at the Twenty Twenty Gallery in Much Wenlock.

    Embroidered icon cover for enamelled "stone" hearts, pinned with glass and metal beads and sequins

    I continued to make the broken hearts but slowly they started to get themselves mended…

    broken and mended stones hearts: copper, enamel, mica and silk