plastic waste, Louise Underwood, Northumberlandia,

Recent ‘Green Pledges’ made for Northumberlandia Residency

Over the Summer I have been busy working on making individual ‘Green Pledges’ to illustrate some of the environmental commitments visitors to Northumberlandia in June and July have made by making small lifestyle changes.

plastic waste, Louise Underwood, Northumberlandia,

‘We pledge to try and reduce the amount of plastic waste we are using’, Green Pledge.

In a couple of weeks, all of the ‘Green Pledges’ made by local school children, young visitors to Northumberlandia made onsite and those I have made to reflect visitors environmental commitments, will go on display within the woodlands at Northumberlandia.

Here are some photos of a few of the finished pieces, with brief information about the environmental commitment that inspired the piece.

reduce plastic waste, green pledge

‘Reduce plastic waste’ Green Pledge.

The ‘Green Pledge’ above, illustrates some quite shocking statistics:

  • Over the last 65 years, more than 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic has been produced.
  • Plastic can take over 500 years to fully decompose.
  • But only 9% of that plastic has been recycled (12% incinerated, the rest landfill/litter).
plastic folks, green pledge, Northumberlandia, Louise Underwood, textiles,

‘To use no more plastic folks’, Green Pledge.

recycle, green pledge, Louise Underwood, reduce, reuse, recycle,

‘To recycle more plastic items’, Green Pledge.

bee bombs, green pledge, flowers, Louise Underwood,

‘Planting bee bombs in our garden’, Green Pledge.

green pledge, nappy bags, Louise Underwood,

‘No more nappy bags’, Green Pledge.

The above piece reminds us that over 3796 disposable nappies are used by babies up to the age of 2 1/2 years old. I tried visualising that – not a nice vision, and all that to go to landfill. The materials used in disposable nappies are extremely slow to decompose. Many children will use more…

vegan, green pledge, Louise Underwood, Northumberlandia,

‘To follow a Vegan diet to help save the planet’, Green Pledge.

I admire all the people who have been involved with this project and set themselves a challenge to improve things for the their local environment and, often, themselves. There are many statistics about the positive benefit to the planet if more people have days where they follow a vegetarian/vegan diet instead of meat – a big reduction in carbon dioxide reduction would be one benefit and the use of land purely for food production would be another, to just name a couple of things.

green pledge, Louise Underwood, bees, flowers,

‘Planting flowers in our garden for the bees’, Green Pledge.

One thing I must highlight is that the majority of all the pieces of work made for the residency and the Green Pledges, are either made from recycled, vintage materials or from ‘found’ objects, which I have then further worked on – some in great detail. A great deal of my work is made this way. I collect vintage fabric from markets and charity shops, often I am given textiles that are still lovely but are of no use to the owner. I also ‘find’ things on my walks and recently, I have been bringing home plastic bottles etc that I have found littered whilst walking the dog in the park.

One piece I have made for this residency is made from just ‘found’ pieces like bottles from the park, cardboard dumped in our back lane, recycled wood and yogurt pots our council will not recycle. This piece is my ‘Gull’ which you can see below – I hope you like him!

gull, seagull, plastic, recyled, art, Louise Underwood, Northumberlandia,

‘To do a litter pick every time we go to the beach’, Green Pledge.



Needlecase community workshop


Needlecase project and ‘maker’ essential equipment.

Last year I worked on a large project to create the Shipley Art Gallery Centenary Quilt, whilst doing that I worked with a small, lovely group of women who were part of the ‘Syrian Family Group’ who met up regularly in Gateshead. The women made about 10 of the hand stitched patchwork squares for the quilt that is now on display at the Shipley Art Gallery.


Hand stitching a needlecase.

Recently, the women have asked if I could work on developing some other projects with them, to help them get back into sewing. We decided it would be helpful to make up ‘sewing maker packs’, so that everyone had the essential equipment to get them going back at home. The pack included and pair of scissors, needles, thread and pins. So it was decided to make a needlecase as the first sewing project, to keep the needles and pins safe.


Sewing flower designs onto the needlecase.

The needlecase was made with felt, so that it was practical, versatile and gave a lovely finish. The cases could also be further embellished with buttons and extra stitching.

We meet this Saturday at the Shipley Art Gallery and had a very busy afternoon. When crafting in groups, I always love the social aspect of it: lots of nattering, laughing and cups of tea!

Here are some of the finished hand stitched felt needlecases made by the group on Saturday.


Life giving bee

The series of artworks I am preparing and making as part of my artists residency at Bergby Konstcenter  in Sweden are part of an interest and a need to make art which makes you question our right to be caretakers of our planet.

Bee lino

‘Bee’ mini lino print.

I have been looking at the effects mankind has had on many it’s surroundings and the bee is a prime example of the onslaught it faces from habitat destruction, air pollution, climate change and pesticides.

Bee 3

12 inch square, hand embroidered bee, sewn onto recycled fabric.

The worrying element, besides losing beautiful insects, is that bees are decreasing in numbers rapidly, yet they pollinate 70 of the 100 crop species which feed 90% of the World. If we are talking money, that is 30 billion dollars a year!

Bee 4

The bee’s wings are made using recycled net from one of my daughters dresses, this is then appliqued on with hand embroidery.

We also need to also consider the knock on effect if we began to lose the plants which bees pollinate. The chain reaction will be felt by the animals which eat those plants and onto the animals/people who eat those animals…


Detail of the bee with embroidered poetry and flowers. The background has been painted with inks to create a ‘hive’.

In my work, I use traditional textile crafts, to create beautiful pieces which address issues close to my heart. This piece has been made using recycled/upcycled fabrics from children’s dresses and upholstery fabric, painted with inks and very slowly hand embroidered.

As a parent, I feel very strongly about helping the world to be a better place for my children to grow up in.

bee 6a

Detail of the hand embroidered strawberry fruit and flowers.

My family are coming with me to Sweden and as part of my artists residency, my children and husband are also using it as an opportunity to be creative. They have been testing out their art equipment, planning what size paper to work on and looking forward to just being able to draw. My 8 year old has been researching environmental art and the work of Andy Goldsworthy .

At schools, there is less time factored into the curriculum to allow for artistic creativity, yet it acknowledged that is encourages us to ‘think outside the box’, look for new ways of addressing problems and it is very good for our mental health. Plus, we are not all going to be engineers. I am hoping it will allow us all a freedom to be creative which is rarely given.

Bee 5

Finished ‘Life giving bee’ pennant.

One last fact to give you, which I found on the Greenpeace USA site, is that a single bee colony can pollinate up to 300 million flowers each day – remember, that’s the flowers of vegetables, nuts and fruit besides the flowers in our gardens and hedgerows!

Life giving bee


Pollen detector, avid collector,

Constant in your drive

Frequent flyer, hard wired

To a life giving hive.

Black bold, fierce gold,

From flower to flower descend

Pollen taker, food maker

May this never end.


Louise Underwood July 2016


Exhibition at Gateshead Civic Centre

I should have blogged about this sooner, but I have only just been able to get images of the pieces up and the lighting was quite heavy, so the photos aren’t great. So, I do apologise.

I was asked if I could put together some pieces of work that reflected my love of the natural world. It was a pretty quick turnaround, so I was unable to make any new pieces. My work was to accompany the winners photos from a national Nature Photographers Exhibition, which has some fabulous close-up photos including amazing spiders and puffins flying!

Three of the pieces are made using hooky matting technique – which I love as it’s a great way of using up bits of fabric, has a lovely texture and has a great long tradition.

Red Poppy, Yellow Poppy. Made using hooky mat technique.

Red Poppy, Yellow Poppy. Made using hooky mat technique.

The two pieces above, I intend to be part of a seasonal set. They are inspired by the designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, which I have seen many times but absolutely fell in love with when we went to visit Hill House at Helensburgh.

I also included ‘Caretakers of the World, UNITE!’, which is inspired by the Lindisfarne Gospels carpet pages, introducing nature elements into the design.

'Caretakes of the World, UNITE!'

‘Caretakers of the World, UNITE!’

And of course, my ‘Portrait of a Green Man’.

'Portrait of a Green Man'.

‘Portrait of a Green Man’.

I also included some of my bird lino prints, which worked well with the photography exhibition. Copies of the lino prints are on sale at the Civic Centre reception desk.

It has been lovely have the opportunity to display my work at the Civic Centre in the Bewick’s Cafe, which is a busy café used by visitors, local families and the council office workers.

Lino prints of birds.

Lino prints of birds.

Whilst visiting Gateshead Civic Centre, I was also able to visit their printing department, as I am hoping to get some prints made of my now finished William Morris portrait – ‘The Maker’ – and of my War Poets. I am looking forward to seeing the samples next week! Exciting and ready for the ‘Late Shows’ which I shall be taking part in, in the middle of this month.

Centenary of the death of Rupert Brooke

If I should die, think only this of me:

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is for ever England.

Extract from The Soldier, 1914.

Today, at 4.46 pm, 100 years ago, the poet Rupert Brooke died of septicaemia on a French hospital ship, moored off the island of Skyros, where he is buried. He was on his way to  Gallipoli to fight in that historic First World War battle.

Embroidered portrait of Rupert Brooke.

Embroidered portrait of Rupert Brooke.

I decided to start of my series of portrait of First World War poets who died during the war, last year. I was actually trying to find the right inspiration for another project and I could never get the right idea. The ideas and imagery for the portraits came to me whilst on a long car drive. Since I was a teenager, I had loved reading the poetry of Rupert Brooke, my favourite poem being ‘The Beginning’. As a teenager, the fact that Brooke was a beautiful man, dying in tragic circumstances, also aided my admiration for him. By it’s an admiration for his work, that has never waned.

Hand stitched, the poem 'The Beginning'.

Hand stitched, the poem ‘The Beginning’.

The portrait of Brooke, was the first I completed. I have decided to keep the portrait quite ethereal, through the simple line drawing of the sewing machine to the delicate hand stitched details of his life. Upon his tie, I hand stitched the words of the poem ‘The Beginning’. Behind Brooke, as though a school map on the wall, is stitched a map of the World, with the words of ‘The Soldier’ stitched around it.

The poem 'The Soldier' hand stitched around the map of the World.

The poem ‘The Soldier’ hand stitched around the map of the World.

Throughout the portrait, I have stitched metaphors of Brooke’s life. Framing the picture is the olive leaves which are found in the olive grove where Brooke is buried. Hibiscus flowers and hollyhocks, symbolise his lost loves in England and Tahiti and the lilac flowers represent his famous poem ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester.’

Hollyhocks and hibiscus flowers.

Hollyhocks and hibiscus flowers.

This weekend, there will be many events to commemorate Brooke’s life in Grantchester and Cambridge andThe Second I Saw You: The True Love Story of Rupert Brooke and Phyllis Gardner’ and new book written by Lorna C. Beckett is having it’s official book launch.

Close-up of Rupert Brooke portrait.

Close-up of Rupert Brooke portrait.

In Newcastle, the Biscuit Factory, the UK’s largest contemporary art gallery, is currently exhibiting my portrait of Rupert Brooke, alongside that of Wilfred Owen, to commemorate Brooke’s death.

Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen portraits, exhibited at the Biscuit Factory.

Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen portraits, exhibited at the Biscuit Factory.

Portrait of a Green Man. Finished!

Portrait of a Green Man

Portrait of a Green Man

This has turned into a much more detailed project than I had originally planned. Started as a portrait of my husband and just to be a ‘bearded man’, he’s evolved into something else. On some of my previous blogs, you will find the portraits I did of my daughters ‘The Three Sisters’, which are lively, include torn papers from books and mainly machine embroidered. I think, as this was meant to be a ‘warm-up’ piece before I went into war poet Isaac Rosenberg‘s portrait, I just became carried away and used some of the techniques I am using on that series of portraits.

Portrait of a Green Man, detail of Robin.

Portrait of a Green Man, detail of Robin.

During the winter, my husband does have a beard – he hates shaving and it keeps him warm when cycling to work! In the ‘Green Man’s’ beard I have sewn Rosemary, Violets and small pretty pink flowers, these are to represent our daughters and it was his idea to turn him into a green man – traditional in areas of England, seen often on Churches and pubs (how appropriate!) The flowers are stitched with embroidery silks, as are the books and the robin.

The Robin, as a good friend of mine said, is like the spirit of a friend or family member popping by to check on you whilst you tend the garden. Robin is also one of my husbands middle names. It is also, the most heavily worked area of the portrait. A sort of mini project within the portrait.

Portrait of a Green Man, detail of books and cap.

Portrait of a Green Man, detail of books and cap.

The photo above shows the detail of the ‘tweed’ cap, embroidered using sewing machine thread as I wanted it to be finer and not as ‘heavy’ as the silks would have appeared. It took this picture into the framers this morning and cap was the area the framer was very excited about – he looked like a cap wearing kind of man, too.

I love the books. Books are one of our passions at home and we do have a lot of antique books with lovely decorated spines. Once the outline of the books were machine stitched, I painted them with acrylic, hoping to get the lovely vibrant colours old, bound books once had – acrylic is also used a little on the beard and eyes. I had great fun deciding which designs to sew onto the spines of the books, what colour silk to embroider it with etc.

Portrait of a Green Man, detail of the words.

Portrait of a Green Man, detail of the words.

Originally, I had planned to find some lines from a book, a song or a poem to sew across the shelves, to express a little bit more about the ‘Green Man’ but one afternoon, while walking the dog, I put together this which seemed to sum up the feeling:

Living in,

Once Industrial City,

Green pledges,

Charge your crown.

Portrait of a Green Man, detail of the eyes.

Portrait of a Green Man, detail of the eyes.

As I have done with my war poet portraits, this picture was initially coloured with tea. This has given it a lovely, all over subtle tone and stronger, more stewed tea was used for the beard, eyebrows and shadows behind the books. I am also very pleased with how the eyes look, they are very tricky and I’m not saying I’ve got them ‘right’ but there seems to be a vibrancy and life behind them. They were initially painted with acrylic but the very last touch I made to the portrait was to add the flecks of white which travel around the pupil.

This morning I took the portrait to the framers and last night I entered it for the Royal Academy Summer Show – fingers very tightly crossed as annually over 12,000 entries are made for around a 1,000 places…

W.I.P Potrait of a Green Man, week 2

Sometimes there are rapid changes to this portrait, other times it can be terribly slow and frustrating. I am very happy with the stage I am currently at but have plans for further embellishment.

Portrait of a Green Man, testing frame size.

Portrait of a Green Man, testing frame size.

Below is close-up of the cap, which has been hand stitched to create a ‘herringbone’ tweed effect.

Detail of Cap

Detail of Cap

Hand stitched into the beard, using embroidery silks, are images of rosemary, violets and pink flowers – some even flowing out of his nostrils!

Detail of the beard.

Detail of the beard.

Using acrylic, I have painted the books behind the Green Man in heritage/natural colours which reflect the colours in the beard and my plans for the Green Man’s jumper.

Heritage painted bookshelves.

Heritage painted bookshelves.

With these colours in mind, I started embroidering oak leaves onto the Green Man’s jumper with a Robin sitting on one of the branches!

Silk stitching the robin over yesterdays sewing!

Silk stitching the robin over yesterdays sewing!

Embroidery Silk Robin.

Embroidery Silk Robin.

Over the next week, I intend to start embellishing the books on the shelves, colour the beard further, paint the Green Man’s shirt and add some hand stitched writing along the book shelf, maybe from a poem or lyric from a song.

Rupert Brooke portrait, work in progress, hand stitching (3)

Rupert Brooke detail 1                               Rupert Brooke detail 2

Details of the hand sewn flowers on the portrait, including hollyhocks, hibiscus, lilacs and olive leaves. Once I have finished hand sewing the details, I will then decide whether to paint a gentle wash over the colours in the flowers, leaves and maps in the background.

One of plans I have to finish this portrait of Rupert Brooke, is to hand sew one of his love poems, which are often reflective about love lost, on his tie. Ties are often seen as phallic symbols, symbols of male dominance but, reading his poems, I feel Rupert was not the dominant person in his relationships.

Rupert Brooke 4

Showing the stages of how this Rupert Brooke portrait is worked.

There is probably about another weeks work on this piece and I shall continue blogging about it’s slow, gentle progression.  I have started to plan it’s companion piece, which will be a portrait of Wilfred Owen, a First World War poet who came from Shropshire and died near the end of the war aged only 25.


Rupert Brooke, work in progress, hand stitching (2)


Stage 2 of Rupert Brooke portrait.

Now that I have hand stitched the words from the first verse of The Soldier, from the 1914 series of War Poems, I have started to plan the next the next phase in my stitching. I have decided to add symbolic elements to the portrait, such as lilacs which are represented in The Old Vicarage, Grantchester, olive leaves which represent his grave in Skyros, hollyhocks found in a photo of Rupert when convalescing and hibiscus flowers to represent his love he left in Tahiti. These are all being hand sewn, a very slow process, in gentle colours. Once these are completed, I will then, decide upon the next details.