New maps for Great North Museum’s interactive workshops


Recently, I was asked to make some additional pieces for the Great North Museum’s school interactive workshops collection. In the past I have made all sorts of weird and wonderful things for them including a full sized Egyptian mummy to be used to show the process of mummification, to a large Triceratops head, squirrels tails to run around the gallery in and large interactive map of South America to show the effects of deforestation.

ancient egypt, map, Louise Underwood, schools, interactive,

Large canvas map of Ancient Egypt.

I was asked to make replacement maps for the paper versions they had been using for sometime and continually needed replacing. The maps were to be for their workshops about Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece. I choose to hand paint the maps on lovely, heavy cotton canvas which gives the appearance and texture of an old map. The maps were to be kept quite simple in design, as they were to be used with children from all Key Sages.

To ensure that the maps received the best care when used by school groups, I decided to finish them off as though they were a prized object from their ancient collection and finished them with a tie ribbon and a bag which looked and felt like it was made from soft suede. Hopefully, this will help to bring longevity to the pieces – as many of the pieces I have made for the GNM are now over 10 years old and been used by tens of thousands of school children.

map, canvas, Ancient Greece, schools, interactive, Louise Underwood,

Hand painted canvas map of Ancient Greece.


New interactive pieces for The Sill, Northumberland.

The Sill, is a new landscape discovery centre in beautiful Northumberland, very close to many of the famous Roman sites along Hadrian’s Wall. The Sill helps visitors to look deeper into the landscape, culture, history and heritage of Northumberland.

View from The Sill roof

View from The Sill roof

Last year, whilst The Sill was still being built, I was asked by the Education Team to work with them on creating some interactive bags for schools and community groups to use whilst visiting their building and galleries.

Inside The Sill

Inside The Sill’s gallery, which explains many of the uses of the landscape, materials and habitats found in the area.

A large part of last year I spent working on the Shipley Art Galleries Centenary Quilt but as soon as that was finished, we started planning in more detail what interactive materials The Sill would benefit from first and how they would like them to look. So the first two interactive bags I worked on was the Moorland Curlew Bag and the Geology bag.

Curlew 1

Curlew Children’s mask

The Moorland Curlew bag was great fun to make. The bag itself is large enough to carry all the interactive pieces in plus room for teachers notes. I always find children love as much opportunity to dress up – so any chance to make wings and masks is great!

Curlew 2

Curlew wings, child size.

The Curlew bag also had a crochet nest, with eggs plus worms for the Curlew to eat!

Curlew eggs

Curlew nest and eggs.

Habitat bags always need a predator and what better than a fox – great fun for interactive role play!

Fox mask

Fox mask.

The Moorland Curlew bag itself had two sides, as the curlews nest in the moorland building their nests on the floor and they also spend their time at the seaside amongst the mudflats – which you may have seen, with their long, curled, distinctive beaks.

Using bags in the Sill

Moorland Curlew (mudflat side) and Geology bag being used at The Sill.

The geology bag looked at how the stone and the Whin Sill had been created over thousands of years. The bag itself illustrates very simply how the stratigraphic layers in the area have built up to create the landscape and stone in the area.

Geology bag strat layers

Geology bag cover, textile illustration of the stratigraphic layers in Northumberland.

To help illustrate to children visiting with schools and community groups, small textile panels were made to show how the local stone is used in Hadrian’s Wall, making roads, sandstone walls and limestone kilns.

This bag was also quilted so that rocks and stones, plus other materials could safely be placed inside.

Interactive 'stone' pieces

Four textile panels illustrating the use of stone in the area: top left – road building, top right – sandstone walls, bottom left – limestone kilns and how limestone enriches the ground and bottom right – Hadrian’s Wall.

These bags have now been delivered and I am now working on a ‘Dark Skies and Mythology’ bag plus a large, layered map which will be used up on the grassed roof, to assist discussions about how the landscape has changed over the last two thousand years.

How to: English Paper Pieced Patchwork

Patchwork has a long tradition of using precisely cut, paper pieces to ensure that the complex geometric designs fit neatly into place, ensuring fewer mistakes and more economical use of fabric – which was and can be expensive.

Patchwork 7

Finished, hand stitched Pinwheel design.

Follow these simple instructions below to help you with your own English Paper Pieced patchwork.

Patchwork 1

Stage 1

  • Pin the backing paper to the ‘wrong’ side of every fabric patch.
  • Fold over the seam allowance and pin it so that the paper and fabric are the same size.
Patchwork 2

Stage 2

  • Tack around this edge – contrast cotton works well as it can be easily removed later.

TIP: When sewing the corners, use your nails to ensure you have folded the fabric neatly to the points, then create ‘wings’ in the excess fabric, which will remain on the underside of your patchwork piece – giving you a neat sewing edge on top.

Patchwork 3

Stage 3

  • Place two patches, ‘right’ sides together, line them up carefully so that each corner you are going to sew from matches.
  • Pin along this line.
Patchwork 4

Stage 4

  • Then sew a very small whipstitch/over stitch, sewing this edge together – try not to sew through the backing paper.
Patchwork 5

Stage 5

  • Continue placing new pieces together.
Patchwork 6

Right side of English paper Piecing.

  • Looking at the ‘right’ side of the fabric, you should be able to still see the hand sewn whipstitch you used to sew the two pieces together. This gives it it’s authenticity and adds beauty to the piece.
  • The tacking stitches you can see around the edge (and the paper inside) will eventually be take out, once all of the patchwork/quilt has been pieced together, before the backing fabric is placed on.
Patchwork 7

Finished, hand stitched Pinwheel design.


Hell Creek and Carboniferous Swamps!

I am very lucky in the work I get asked to do and often the Great North Museum, Hancock ask me to do some really cool things. In the past, I have made for them replica Egyptian mummies, with internal organs for school children to pull out of the mummies body; large applique maps of the Rainforest; beautiful seat covers for an exhibition about story telling and Triceratops full head wear! To mention just a few!

In a blog post in April, I posted images of some of the interactive school bags I had made for them, which I had back over Easter to mend their handles through very excessive use! Also, as part of that re-commission, I had been asked to make some more pieces which aided school children’s understanding of fossils, which linked to the Carboniferous period, this illustration shows ‘Hell Creek’ where T-Rex ruled, and the Upper Cretaceous period. I was to make textile, inactive pieces which illustrated an image from the time, the creatures which lived and with ‘flaps’ to show how they fossilized.

Hell Creek at the time of T-Rex

Hell Creek at the time of T-Rex

The pieces are each 60 cm square, with five interactive flaps.

T-Rex full skeleton.

T-Rex full skeleton.

As the Hancock Museum has such an incredible collection of fossils, it was decided to highlight those that could be seen by the school children in their galleries. They even have a full size mould of a T-Rex skeleton!

Ornithomimus in 'found' position.

Ornithomimus in ‘found’ position.

The image above, is the ‘lift a flap’ for one of the first creatures to be found to have feathers, it’s called an Ornithomimus. This represents how often fossils could be found lying in strange positions.

Carboniferous swamps and rivers.

Carboniferous swamps and rivers.

The second piece I made illustrates the land/water creatures that could be found during the carboniferous period in and around the swamps and rivers. Some of these creatures eventually evolved into mammals, like the Pholiderpeton at the top, seen about to go into the river and swimming as well below.

The one creature I did enjoy painting was the Rhizodus, a very strange looking ferocious fish, which had very sharp teeth!

Detail of the Rhizodus.

Detail of the Rhizodus.

Now I have finished these pieces, which took quite a lot of time and certainly research, at the start of June I am looking forward to starting a large painted panel which illustrates a section from the Egyptian Book of the dead – the weighing of the heart, also for the Hancock Museum. That will be great fun!

Low House Haven

Recently, I was delighted to be asked to create a series of C2C, Cycling and Northumberland inspired lino prints using some very old Bartholomew’s and Ordnance Survey maps for Low House Haven. Low House Haven is a very charming, former Youth Hostel on the ‘C2C’ (Sea to Sea) route which travels from the North East coast to the North West coast through beautiful areas of Northumberland. Originally built to be used as an inn in 1600, Low House Haven has had rather a colourful history!!

Northumberland inspired lino prints on display at Low House Haven.

Northumberland inspired lino prints on display at Low House Haven.

The maps I have produced to be sold as a souvenir of a lovely relaxing and refreshing stay, reflect the many different outdoor activities visitors enjoy such as cycling, walking, map reading etc, using beautiful vintage maps which illustrate the terrain visitors have travelled.

'Cycling' lino print on vintage Ordnance Survey Map.

‘Cycling’ lino print on vintage Ordnance Survey Map.

Working with beautiful old maps, always creates different images every time I print on them – they way the map has been folded, the type of paper or fabric it was printed on and even how detailed the contours of the land it follows are – makes each piece fun and exciting. Over the summer, there will be plenty of visitors to Low House Haven for either the homely hostel accommodation on the camping on the route. It will be lovely to see how they respond to these emotive pieces.

REWIND: Ravenswood Primary ‘School Values’ window hangings.

In the Spring and Summer term of 2012, I was asked to work with the children of Ravenswood Primary School to create a series of banners which illustrated the ‘school values’ and to be hung in the large windows of their dinner hall. ALL the children in the school, from Nursery to Year 6 were involved in the design of the banners and painting them – well over 500 children! It was a fantastic and exciting project to be part of.

All ten window banners, hanging in the dinning hall.

All ten window banners, hanging in the dinning hall.

Every year group was allocated a school value and in their lessons, they came up with a design for it – often linked to areas of the curriculum they were working on.

'R' for 'Respect'.

‘R’ for ‘Respect’.

I transferred the children’s designs onto cotton fabric, 2 metres by 80 cm to fit the windows. Then every child in school from that year group, would spend some time painting on their hanging.

'A' for 'Achievement'.

‘A’ for ‘Achievement’.

Using the mid weight cotton and COLOURTEX by Specialist Crafts, we were able to create a ‘stained glass window’ effect.

'V' for 'Valued'.

‘V’ for ‘Valued’.

As you can imagine, sometimes trying to co-ordinate so many children was a bit tricky but the teachers, classroom assistants and parents all helped to ensure it was a very smooth running project.

'E' for 'Enjoyment'.

‘E’ for ‘Enjoyment’.

'N' for 'Nurturing'.

‘N’ for ‘Nurturing’.

On each of the hangings, the children decided it would be great fun to paint a Raven, a symbol of the school, which they could have fun looking for whilst sitting in the dinning hall eating their lunch.

'S' for 'Self-confidence'.

‘S’ for ‘Self-confidence’.

'W' for 'Working Together'.

‘W’ for ‘Working Together’.

The large textile window hangings, also help to absorb the sound in the dinning hall, so it doesn’t seem so noisy for the younger children.

'O' for 'Opportunities'.

‘O’ for ‘Opportunities’.

'O' for 'Openness'.

‘O’ for ‘Openness’.

Besides the different year groups, some of the school clubs also created their own designs for a ‘school value’. The Drama Club painted the ‘Self-Confidence’ hanging and the School Council design and painted the ‘Openness’ hanging.

'D' for 'Diversity'.

‘D’ for ‘Diversity’.

I must admit, one of my favourite window hangings was by the children in the Nursery. There was approximately 63 children in Nursery at the time and each one choose a butterfly shape then painted it in their preferred colours.

The window hangings are much enjoyed by the children and are a lovely talking point for them, as they are able to remember which elements they painted of the hanging when they were lower down in the school.

This is a detail from the hanging painted by the 63 children in the school nursery. Their school value was about Diversity, so they each painted a butterfly, different in shape and colour. The raven appears on all of the hangings, as it is part of the school insignia and a fun image for the children to find on the hangings whilst eating their school dinners.

Learning resources for local museum.

Over the past ten years, whilst working as a freelance textile artist, I have been fortunate enough to work considerably with the Hancock, now known as the Great North Museum. It is a fabulous Natural History Museum, with even a full size T-Rex skeleton. Over that time, I have made Habitat Bags and Dinosaur Bags to be used by schools. The textile bags illustrate the theme of the self-led workshops and contain lots of fun interactive pieces inside.

This week, during the school Easter half-term, I’ve temporarily had the bags back as all their handles needed repairing. The Learning Officer at the Hancock, told me that the 13 bags I have made are used, on average, by 10,000 school children a year on self led school workshops! This is a remarkable number and the photos I have taken and used on this post show how the bags look today – almost like new!

Under the Sea, Octopus Bag

Under the Sea, Octopus Bag

One of the most fun bags I’ve created was the Octopus Bag, which not only meant I could work with beautiful colours and fabrics to evoke the colours of the sea, but that I could also have a great time with freeform crochet to make an octopus hat for the school children to wear whilst taking about and exploring the octopus habitat.

My youngest daughter modelling the Octopus hat!

My youngest daughter modelling the Octopus hat!

Camouflage is an important aspect of the way ac octopus lives, so I also create a mat to aid teachers when introducing the idea of camouflage.

Octopus camouflage mat.

Octopus camouflage mat.

Another very popular bag, deals with the Arctic and that’s the Polar Bear bag and as you can see from the photos it is great fun! I ensured that when I made the polar bear paws, they were accurate in size to help the school children understand the enormity of the creature!

Polar Bear Bag.

Polar Bear Bag.

My youngest daughter modelling the polar bear nose and paws.

My youngest daughter modelling the polar bear nose and paws.

Squirrel for the Woodland Bag.

Squirrel for the Woodland Bag.

Squirrel's 'Drey'.

Squirrel’s ‘Drey’.

Above is a picture of a squirrel’s ‘Drey’ or nest, with other elements like crinkly sound making leaves and acorns.

Meadowland Bag, the Durham Argus butterfly.

Meadowland Bag, the Durham Argus butterfly.

Dinosaur pre-history bag.

Dinosaur pre-history bag.

This coming week, I’m making some additional elements to the dinosaur bags, to help school children with the visual understanding of fossils. These photos show some of the bags that these additional pieces will be put in. The bags deal with the swamps, the nests they built, creatures that evolved in the seas, reptiles and amphibians.

Evolving creatures.

Evolving creatures.

Evolving creatures under the sea.

Evolving creatures under the sea.

Besides the Hancock Museum, I have also made the Animal and Habitat Bags for Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens and the Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Liverpool.

Marsh Harrier habitats bag contents.

Marsh Harrier habitats bag contents.

Marsh harrier mask and wings.

Marsh harrier mask and wings.

Owl bag and contents, including dressing up wings and mask.

Owl bag and contents, including dressing up wings and mask.

Once I have completed the new pieces to go into the dino bags this week, I shall then begin fabric painting a banner to be used for schools to be used as a resource in the Egyptian workshops. The image will show a section from the weighing of the heart in the Book of the Dead.

Dachshund cushions commission

After the recent Open Studios, a lovely lady asked me to create some cushions for her daughter’s Christmas Present, as she loved the Schnauzer cushions but they were the wrong breed of dog!! I had a glorious time choosing the fabrics and patterns that would compliment each other best.

Dachshund applique cushions

Dachshund applique cushions

I have used woven silk fabrics which I buy from the silk mills in Sudbury and they are appliqued with floral cottons.

Red and white woven silk and black floral dachshund

Red and white woven silk and black floral dachshund

Blue/green floral woven silk and green leaf dachshund

Blue/green floral woven silk and green leaf dachshund

In the cushion above, the dachshund looks like he’s out smelling the flowers. He makes a lovely silhouette against the light background. This was the cushion the lady choose, so I will need to find a home for the two red cushions…