Listening to the work

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Today is the day to finish off a textiles piece I’ve been working on in my current care home residency (part of the Colour Me Purple project). It is made up of many pieces of fabric, hand printed by residents and myself.

I pin them together, hoping to quickly machine-sew the work and be done with it. After the first few lines, the pieces of fabric start to object. They slip and slide out of place, and the picked up piece refuses to hang together in the way I have planned it. I become frustrated and impatient, until I realise that the first section (which I tacked together by hand) is sitting much better than my machined pieces. Calmer, stronger, more cohesive.

In my stubbornness, I don’t listen to the work and carry on attempting to machine it. I am ignoring the quiet yet persistent voice of what I wish to create, telling me it wants to be pieced together by hand, gently and slowly. The different weights of fabric (some heavy, some delicate) are stressed by a mechanical process, and join together slightly awkwardly, just like people in love who won’t give things time.

I stop, break for lunch. I had much planned today but art will not allow it. I feel slow, sleepy and in need of solitude. When I return to the piece I pick up a needle and thread. Accepting now that I must take my time, I begin to slowly stitch each part together. There is no master plan here, I am just letting the work tell me what it wants as each fragment becomes one with the next. 

My playlist of music has come to an end, and I don’t put another song on. The work wants quiet; sounds from the outside, wind rustling down the chimney and the muffled beats coming through next door’s walls. The needle is small, but she is so strong, sharp and persistent. With each stitch I pierce time itself, spacing out each and every second.

Found in Translation

This month I’ve had a great week working with Donnington Wood Primary School. I was commissioned by Meadow Arts to deliver a week long project at the school as part of their multicultural week. The teachers at Donnington Wood were interested in working with visual language and found poetry (one of my most loved combinations), so I was immediately inspired. Drawing upon my past life in graphic design (and love of unusual letterforms), I designed a workshop where the students could make stencils of non-western typography. We began by looking at text from around the world.


Saudari: Balinese for sister

Each student then drew a letterform from my selection of lettering from Japan, Burma, Bali, China, Russia, India and other countries/continents. From the drawings we made stencils and printed them on squares of fabric (material from Scrappies, one of Shropshire’s little gems!).

After these workshops, the other half of the year group wrote acrostic poems about some of the school’s values, including peace, compassion, friendship, trust, wisdom, service and tolerance (the school is Church of England, being Buddhism and yoga orientated myself I found these values easy to relate to). We then stamped some of the lines on long strips of white fabric:

…..and then I wondered off home with a LOT of half-dry inky fabric in my car, with inky fingernails, looking like I’d been down the mines for a week. My original idea was to sew the work together into several long hangings with letterforms and text, what happened was quite different:


It was satisfying to make a large-scale piece of work (double bed sized) from all the lovely work the students had done. I think the format was inspired by text & textiles work I like from artists such as Tracy Emin and Sara Impey. I also enjoyed the timescale of a week-long residency, culminating in the piece being presented in the school assembly. During this, Steve Wilson at Meadow Arts told the children how important creative subjects are. Given the state of publicly funded arts at the moment, I am heartened by organisations like Meadow Arts who provide opportunities for artists like me to do well-paid and well-organised work, and for people of all ages to participate in creative experiences 🙂

Paper Rebellion

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This week I’m looking forward to a couple of days in historic Worcester, running workshops at The Commandery as part of my Paper Rebellion project. Paper Rebellion is an ACE funded year-long project (thanks to fundraiser Manda Graham) which aims to to creatively engage young people and visitors with the aims of the English Civil War. Using collage and book making, I am showing groups how to make their own pamphlets, and we are making five collaborative artworks.

The group collage pieces are based on the idea of mandalas. A mandala can be a symbol, diagram or map which represents a microcosm of the whole. In various traditions and practices they are used for focusing the attention and as a form of guidance. Creating a mandala is said to promote a sense of balance and understanding. They usually are circular in form and contain some kind of symmetry and balance. The lovely team at the Commandery made these fabulous easels to display the artworks while they evolve:

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To make both the collaborative artworks and pamphlets, we are using photocopied material from the era, combined with today’s newspapers. The site once housed a printing press, and it was during the Civil War era that printed media became widely available. Political groups like the Levellers designed and printed their own pamphlets and manifestos, so in times of control and oppression it was still possible for marginalised groups to have a voice.

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The artworks each have a theme: peace, freedom, conflict, belief and power. Through these themes, and the powerful medium of collage I hope to help people connect their learning about the Civil War to their own lives today, and create something relevant to them. For example, here’s a pamphlet I’ve been making on the theme of power:

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The Commandery has a colourful history, and as well as being a significant site in the civil war it was also a Medieval hospital for travellers, and at one time a college for the blind. As both an artist and yoga teacher, I am keen to draw out ideas about health and healing. Belief is also an interesting theme, at the time of the war people were very religious and believed in things like witchcraft.

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Well, who doesn’t believe in a little bit of magic? As well as symbols like oak leaves and swords I am weaving in a few symbols of my own, which are artistically and spiritually meaningful to me. Butterflies and moths are amongst my favourite images, for their ephemeral beauty and the sense of freedom I receive from them. In life (as in war) fragility is so very often intimately entwined with strength. Look out for more Paper Rebellion updates this year, and details of public events.

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Found Poetry & Text Art Workshops

It’s been a great summer, and I’ve loved developing my Found Poetry & Text Art workshops. Working with lovely groups in Shrewsbury and Hay-on-Wye has been an absolute joy, and I’ll be repeating these classes on a regular basis.

In the class we get creative with words, making poems, stories and our own artwork out of book pages and magazines. Using drawing and collage, I demonstrate simple techniques to help you read between the lines and work with text on a new level. Here are some photos from previous sessions:

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The next workshop is on Friday 9th September in Shrewsbury, full details and booking information is on eventbrite. I hope to see you there or at a future workshop! Keep an eye on the events page for new dates.

What previous students have said:

“ I found pleasure in bringing pictures to old forgotten words “

“ Combining the words with images was very relaxing, the workshop opened my mind to new ideas and flow”

“Fun and fascinating! Emily is a very enabling tutor”

“Pleasantly destructive! Cutting up old books is rather thrilling”

“Time just flew, I really enjoyed Emily’s delivery and her fabulous ideas for starting points”

“I really enjoyed that, Im going to take my work home and frame it!” 

“Lots of fun and a kind of magic, I could do this all day!” 

New collage pieces

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Detail from Intimacy With Moonlight and Precious (2014)

Warm pinks delicately compliment Indian handmade paper.

                    A circular rust mark on a piece of muslin becomes the moon,
                    words emerge to bask in it’s light.

Fragments of an ancient language are preserved,

                                                                revered,

                                                                      made precious. 

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These pieces are both available to buy in my new folksy shop