Sunday, 18 June 2017

Beautiful Bird Portraits: Workshop

A glorious day at RSPB Geltsdale

Over the winter I had my exhibition 'As the Crow Flies' up at RSPB Geltsdale and they asked me if I'd be willing to run a workshop connected to the show. As access to the site can be challenging in the winter weather we decided that the workshop would take place in the summer. It all seemed like a very long time away but as always happens the time flies by and already it's summer and time for my workshop!

Starling, 2016

Jay, 2016

Crow, 2016

I decided to run a 'Bird Portrait' workshop based on my way of creating my hand embroidered birds so that people could learn how I work and have a go themselves. The workshop booked up quite quickly so we've added a second date (at the time of writing there are three spaces left, please contact RSPB Geltsdale directly to book) on Saturday 1st July. It's always a good feeling when your sessions book up but also a little nerve wracking as I want my workshops to live up to people's expectations.

Materials ready to go

Goody bags ready for everyone

Tea and inspiration

I thoroughly enjoyed running this workshop, it was one of those rare days when things just seem to go the way you want them to. The sun was shining, all the participants were lovely and it was a very relaxed but productive day. I really enjoy running workshops like this one; it's a great chance to share my skills and I love seeing how differently people interpret things.

Creating our bird images on fabric

Creating our bird images on fabric

Creating our bird images on fabric

The basic process is quite simple and it was fun working through it with people and being able to share some of the tricks and tips I've picked up. I was really pleased that everybody had a bird (or butterfly) image they wanted to work from and that by the end of the workshop everyone was well on their way to a completed piece.

Happy stitching

Happy stitching

Happy stitching

Hand embroidery is time consuming so it's hard to finish a project in one day. My pieces take about a weeks worth of stitching to finish so I explained at the start that we probably wouldn't finish our pieces within the workshop. However, once they're started they can be picked up and put down easily and worked on when there's time. I hope that everyone went away inspired to carry on and I hope that they'll share some finished images of the pieces with me.

Works in progress

My demonstration piece

Works in progress

For this workshop I packaged up some of the workshop essentials into little goody bags for the participants, because everyone likes to feel they're getting a little treat. On one of my workshops last year one of the participants described taking a workshop as a real treat and that stuck with me, I want people to enjoy their experience and so I've been thinking of little changes I can make to make the day more special. I'm already looking forward to the next workshop!

Works in progress

Works in progress

Works in progress

Works in progress

Works in progress

Works in progress

Works in progress

Works in progress




Saturday, 10 June 2017

An Orkney Adventure

Cliffs near West Manse, Westray

At the end of May we headed up to the Orkney Isles for a week. I've been really excited about this trip, we've been wanting to go for a long time but it is a long way so we've always put it off. We went with a couple of my friends who have been a number of times before which was great as we got a bit of insider knowledge. Orkney is a set of islands and we were staying on one of the most northerly, Westray.

West Manse

Dining room/workroom

One of the sea views from 'Holly'

We stayed at the beautiful West Manse. Sandy and Willy have restored this beautiful Manse carefully and lovingly to create a cosy, peaceful, welcoming space. Mr Stitches and I stayed in 'Holly' which is decorated in calming aqua colours and has views of the sea from all three windows. They were so welcoming and did everything they could to make sure we had a good time without being intrusive in any way. Sandy even let me use her spinning wheel, which I was very pleased about. I took my Electric Eel Wheel electric spinner but it's not the same as a proper wheel.

Whales bones outside the excellent Westray Heritage Centre

Beautiful side door, St. Magnus Cathedral (Kirkwall, Orkney Mainland)

The Knap of Howar, ancient neolithic farmstead

The Knap of Howar, ancient neolithic farmstead

There is so much to do up on the Orkney Isles, so much history and wildlife that it would be easy to get caught up in a rush to see everything and tick all the sights off your list. However, we knew we needed time to relax and recharge our batteries so we decided even before we went that we would just take it easy and do what we felt like doing each day rather than planning lots of trips and sight seeing. I'm really pleased we did this as we ended up having a great week, we did lots of walking and looking but we also had plenty of time just to be and enjoy where we were, meaning that we came back relaxed and calm and feeling inspired.

Coming into Stromness from Scrabster

Coming into Stromness from Scrabster

Waiting for the ferry to Westray at Kirkwall

Coming into Papa Westray from Westray

We were really lucky with the weather, most of the week we had bright sunshine and not much wind. All our ferry crossings were unusually smooth and I even ended up getting sun burnt on Papa Westray as it was so warm! The sunshine also meant that the colours, especially of the crystal clear waters, were beautifully intense. When going to northerly Scottish Islands on holiday one doesn't expect great weather but it's always a bonus when you get it.

Grobust Beach, Westray

Papa Westray

Mae Sands, Westray

Papa Westray

Orkney is famous for its ancient monuments and is believed to have been an important cultural centre of the neolithic world. We visited the Knap of Howar, an amazingly well preserved neolithic farmstead, whilst on Papa Westray and you really can feel a connection to the people who lived there. It's really not so different from a croft or modern cottage. We also visited Westray Heritage Centre (Pierowall, Westray) and the Orkney Museum (Kirkwall, Orkney Mainland) where we enjoyed looking at the various artefacts and learning more about the history of the islands. I was really drawn to the bronze and iron age artefacts and did lots of sketching in both museums.

Guillemot

Fulmars

Bonxie (Great Skua)

Puffin!

One of the things I was most looking forward to about our trip was the bird watching. As anyone who knows me or my work will have gathered, I love birds! We were not disappointed, we visited two of the RSPB's 13 Orkney nature reserves, North Hill and Noup Cliffs, and we also saw plenty of birds on our walks and explorations. Highlights have to include the Skuas (both great and arctic) and their amazing aerial displays, arctic terns diving metres in front of us and my first sighting of a great northern diver.

Guillemots at Noup Cliffs

Gannets at Noup Cliffs

Noup Cliffs

We spent a lot of time walking during the week, almost everywhere is picture worthy so I ended up taking nearly a thousand photographs as whichever way I turned it was beautiful. We walked along the beautiful beaches looking for treasure, we walked along spectacular cliffs admiring the wildflowers and being impressed with the sea birds and geology, we wandered through abandoned crofts reclaimed by starlings and lush farmland teeming with oystercatchers, lapwings and rabbits and we ambled through picturesque villages in search of coffee.

Beach patterns

Beach Patterns

Barnacles and rust

Over the last couple of years walking has become really important both as part of my practice and as a way of keeping happy. Mr. Stitches is a proper walker and whilst I'm not I really enjoy being out with him, it's a relatively slow activity giving us time to think and talk and there's always something to see. It gives us a chance to stop worrying, enjoy the present and experience new sights. Often on our walks I'll find ways of overcoming things I'm struggling with in my work, either by talking it through or just by having clear head time or through something I've seen or found.

Wildflowers

Wildflowers

Cliff walk

Abandoned croft

Whilst we were up on Westray I had some time to do some work, inspired by my surroundings and treasures seen and found out on our walks. I kept a diary of my week and did lots of sketching and sampling, as well as spinning, All the walking and relaxing we did this week has given me lots of ideas for my work and I'm looking forward to taking some of them into my studio and getting stitching...

Spinning yarn from fleece gathered on our walks

Spun yarn from fleece gathered on our walks
Rust dyeing using rusty metal collected from beaches

Knitting and sewing samples