Needlecase community workshop

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Edward Thomas (1878-1917), hand stitched portrait.

I have been working on this portrait for far too long and I had dearly wished to have had it completed for the 100th Anniversary of his death, at the Battle of Arras, on the 9th April, 1917. My only excuse is that life got in the way, as it does…

The portrait is part of my series of portraits of First World War poets who died during the war: Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg and finally Edward Thomas. I work by spending a lot of time reading and researching about the person first, as I like my portraits to have biographical elements in them, so that you ‘read’ the picture – not just ‘look’.

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The beginning of my Edward Thomas portrait and research material.

I write copious notes whilst researching, noting influences, interests, where the subject lived, loves, past times etc. I also spend a lot of time reading their poetry, to help me develop an idea of who the person really was and what I feel would be important in the portrait.

With Edward Thomas, it was his love of the countryside, how it influenced his writing, for a long time writing prose and being a major author of books about England. Later, through the encouragement of his great friend, the American Poet, Robert Frost, he turned to writing poetry.

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Stage 2 of Edward Thomas portrait, with the map of the Battle of Arras on the day that he died, stitched in the background.

This love of the English countryside and what it meant to Thomas, was one of the reasons he choose, finally, to sign up to fight in the First World War. He didn’t need to, he was older (39 when he died), but through his poems – three of which I have stitched sections into his portrait – go someway to explain why he decided to go (first and last verse below):

For these 

An acre of land between the shore and the hills,

Upon a ledge that shows my kingdoms three,

The lovely visible earth and sky and sea

Where what the curlew needs not, the farmer tills:

……

For these I ask not, but, neither too late

Nor yet too early, for what men call content,

And also that something may be sent

To be contented with, I ask of Fate.

 

This poem was written on the day he decided to sign up, much to his wife Helen’s great distress.

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Edward Thomas portrait, detail of ‘tea’ painting into the areas of ‘fields’.

As you can see from the photos above, my portrait of Thomas, has the battle plans stitched representing the Battle of Arras on the 9th April, 1917. The different vertical lines, show the different stages: red dotted line is the front line, then there is (difficult to see in the photos) the blue, green, brown and black lines. There are also the infrastructure elements of the area, including the roads, railway lines and settlements.

I thought, once laid out and stitched onto the portraits background, the lines from the map resembled the layout of English patchwork fields as seen from the sky, which is how I developed the imagery. Linking back to Thomas’s love of the countryside.

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Edward Thomas, portrait detail of the compass.

As part of the map design, I decided to use a large compass, symbolising Thomas’s own inner moral compass but also reflecting upon his writing before the war Also linked to the compass imagery: he helped train fellow soldiers to read maps, he ‘read’ the aerial photographs and his last post was on the Observation Post, where he died.

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Working on the portrait at the BBC 3 Free Thinking Festival this year.

Besides sewing partial sections of Thomas’s three poems: For These, The Sun Used to Shine and There Was A Time; I have also stitched a small section of Shakespeare’s Sonnet No 73, as Thomas was re-reading his poetry and had a small book of them, which his wife had given him, in his pocket when he died.

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Edward Thomas portrait, detail of the poem ‘The Sun Used to Shine’ – a poem about his walks with Robert Frost.

I have also included abstract representations of some of the flowers he loved and wrote about, including tansy and old man’s beard. These his wife took to his grave to plant, with cuttings from their garden.

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Edward Thomas, portrait detail showing embroidered abstractions of the tansy flower.

This portrait holds many elements and reflections upon Thomas’s complex character. Hopefully it will intrigue and inspire the viewer to read and find out more about one of our much loved writers of the 20th Century.

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Finished portrait of Edward Thomas, stretched, pinned and ready for the framers.

Residency Day 9 -new ‘Green Pledges’.

Before I came out to Bergby Konstcenter in Sweden, I had asked people who had visited my studio in Newcastle if they would like to make a ‘Green Pledge’ and I would make them to hang with the others in the exhibition in Sweden.

Here are some new pledges which have been made:

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‘I will encourage bees into my backyard’.

These new pledges have been made using resources I had at hand in Sweden including plastic bread bags (the tassels above) to milk cartons ( the patchwork below).

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I will stop eating beef.

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I will grow my own fruit and vegetables.

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I will turn off the lights.

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This one contains a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: ‘Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.’

All of the ‘ Green Pledges’ are now up in the exhibition, already more new pledges are being made. I hope to go and hang them all up in the woods this weekend! Then I shall send photos to all the people who have been involved in the project so far…