Shadows Past

September 8, 2007


This silhouette of me is a piece of work I made as an art student in 1992.  I first got a friend to draw round my body as I lay on the floor of my room on a large sheet of paper. Later I cut out the figure, took it outside and chalked round it on the cobbled street, leaving the body as a negative space.  The circular dish is filled with ashes, which later I used to fill in the body shape…….

battlebridge-r18.jpg Battlebridge Road 1992

At the time I made this piece I didn’t really know what I was doing, and recently I’ve been embroidering little slate flakes without quite knowing why.  I suppose in both cases it’s been a kind of ‘thinking hand’ process…….


The unresolved piece I made as a student must have been lurking at the back of my mind for 15 years, since I’ve now decided I want to use the embroidered flakes in a similar work – but this time much larger and far more ambitious.  Rather than using an outline of a body I intend to trace round an elongated human shadow, using the tracing as a template in which to carefuly place the embroidered flakes……..


Pencil sketches never come out clearly when scanned, but this is a rough sketch showing the shadow figure on a low horizontal plinth being admired by two amazed gallery visitors to the left. (The blurred shapes in the lower right corner are just three flakes drawn actual size on the A4 paper) The shadow template will be drawn from life from an actual cast shadow which I may have to enlarge to get the scale I’m hoping for. 

What I particularly like is that the work can be re-assembled within  different shadow templates,  hence I think the working title should be ‘Metamorphosis’.


The idea of using a shadow reminds me a little of Andy Goldsworthy’s ‘Rainshadows’ – (though I didn’t have his work in mind when I hit on my idea for ‘Metamorphosis’).  In his ‘Rainshadows’ Goldsworthy lies on the ground at the commencement of a shower of rain or snow and then gets up to leave a dry ‘shadow’ on the wet ground. To my mind they are among his most eloquent works. You can see one at Yorkshire Sculpture Park  (scroll down their webpage to find ‘Shadow Stone’ )


Returning to ‘Metamorphosis’,  each little slate flake is an embroidery complete in itself – yet each separate flake will contribute to the greater whole of the complete shadow figure. The slate flakes themselves might be considered as analogous to random filling stitches. They will not be stitched down to any backing because I want the work to have a vulnerable and impermanent feel, and as already stated the flakes can be rearranged to fit different people’s shadows in different situations. This mutability is important to the piece.


I hope that a huge shadow of stitched slate fragments cast slant-wise across the gallery floor might  suggest the idea of ‘shadow’ in a loosely Jungian sense of the word. On the other hand perhaps the piece is just about the pleasures of stitching…….




Postscript to Stirling

August 31, 2007

The Scottish Branches Summer School was held this year at Stirling University because the usual venue, Galashiels, is undergoing refurbishment at present.

One of the joys of Stirling University is that it houses a good collection of twentieth century art…….. 

bellany-r50r15.jpg Stirling University Collection

(I don’t know if it’s legal to reproduce a snapshot like this – but I’ve done it anyway!)

The University of Stirling’s Art Collection is open to the public and well worth a visit. To find out more go to their web-site and take the ‘gallery tour’ or better still visit the University and enjoy the art for real!

I’ve had a nice comment from Moira whom I met at Stirling.  Moira keeps an interesting blog, as does Maggie Grey, who I discovered via Moira’s blog. Click on their names to visit!    

Stirling Work

August 29, 2007


The University of Stirling was the venue for this year’s Embroiderers’ Guild Scottish Branches Summer School. I ran  a workshop exploring the possibilities of stitching with unorthodox materials, and students brought with them a variety of things to experiment with including driftwood, old electrical circuit boards, pocket watches, a shoe, nuts and bolts, tree bark  – even the rusted remains of an old wheelbarrow!


 Danger!   Embroiderers at work!



I know from experience that the only predictable thing about these workshops is how unpredictable everyone’s work can be……

wheelbarrow-cr10.jpg Appliqued wheelbarrow rust

ann-r50r15.jpg Wrapped slate shards

judy-cr10.jpg Pine bark strip

slate-boxr10.jpg Slate box

show-r10.jpg General view of Student’s work

show-r10_2.jpg General view of Students’ work 

show-_2-r10.jpg General view of Students’ work

All in all a very successful workshop. Congrats to all!

Farfield Mill Exhibition

August 18, 2007


The exhibition ‘Cloth and Stone’ has just opened at Farfield Mill  near Sedbergh, Cumbria. The show features quilts and blankets lent by renowned collector of Welsh quilts Jen Jones, interspersed with pieces of my own work,  some of which took Welsh quilts as a starting point.

We had a long day setting up the show……





This is my ‘Welsh Quilt’ piece.  The slates rest on shelves, but to prevent accidents the slates are usually tied to the wall with hidden strings behind each separate slate. However, Wilf the technician has glued each of them to the wall with a little dab of silicone, which he insists will simply rub off after the show. 

You’d better be right Wilf!                                                  


 I’ve worked with textiles from around the world, in particular tribal textiles, but I never cease to amazed by the wonderful textiles made here at home in the UK  – and at how little attention they are usually given.


The day ended with a  Private View.  Jen and I swop stories and enjoy a drink.

Thank you to Farfield’s director Clare Hamilton and also to June Hill, who curated the show.

‘Cloth and Stone’ runs till September 19th. 2007  at Farfield Mill.

June Hill has written about the exhibition in the current ‘Embroidery’ magazine.                         


I’m intending to embroider designs and images over the top of carved slates, but at this stage I don’t know if the process will actually work!  I’ve sellotaped paper templates onto the slate so that I can drill at regular intervals around the templates, thus accurately transcribing the design onto an uneven and difficult surface. 

Once all the holes are drilled I can begin couching thread onto the surface of the slate…….

stitchingr12.jpg Couching

stitch02-r12.jpg Close-up

tower-croppedr12.jpg So Far….So Good!

At least the method works!

This is just an initial mock-up to get a feel of how the process might work – and how I might be able to exploit it visually. The background may need more work in some parts and ‘knocking back’ in others to get a good balance between carving and stitching, and I’m still very unsure about colour v. black and white. Nevertheless, all things considered, I’m fairly optimistic about the piece!

Over the next two weeks I’m busy preparing for an exhibition and then running a workshop for the Scottish Region Branches Summer School, so I will get a little break away from ‘Studies’. 

It will be good to let the work rest for a bit while I consider it ‘out of the corner of my eye’ and plan the next stage.


And if there’s time I may even get a few more of these little flakes done…….


Sail Away……

August 4, 2007


This boat is one of the last images to be carved  into the slates which I am about to embroider 

august-first-006r12.jpg Urn

With the last big slate carved I think at last I’m ready to hazard some preliminary stitching…….

august-first-026r10.jpg First stitches on ‘glove’

O.K. I know it doesn’t look much at present – but just wait till I get going!


These pale blue stitches are just temporarily tacked in so that I can stand back and see what they look like – when I’m satisfied with the whole thing all these temporary stitches will come out, to be replaced with properly finished ones. 

A big question to be resolved is colour – I’ve always imagined the embroidery in colour, but black and white may prove more effective.

Eventually I want to create a sort of counterpoint between the carved surface of the slates and the stitching. With this in mind  might ‘Palimpsest’ be a more appropriate name for the piece than ‘Studies’?


For some reason I’ve just started stitching into little slate flakes – this one is about 2″ (5cm) high.  I didn’t give it any thought – just sort of found myself doing it.  A waste of time or the start of a new piece? 

Meanwhile, scraping slate panels for ‘Studies’ continues……..

glove-r70.jpg Workglove

tree-r12.jpg Tree

(The stitching round the sides is just chalked in as a possible idea)

I plan to show the complete ‘Studies’ piece at Loch Lomond in spring 2008, and although  the exhibition is months ahead I want to keep working at the ‘Studies’ while I’m ‘on a roll.’  However I told the Embroiderers’ Guild I would make a large scale embroidery of a human figure during my scholarship year, and that’s what I really should be getting on with.


The stitched slate flakes may turn out to be something to do with the proposed  embroidered figure. I don’t know if they are but I hope so – I really need to get started on him soon!