Thursday, 14 December 2017

Stains and discards

Today I was determined to get on with a challenge I set myself and a group of co-artists. I gave everyone some old packaging – bubble wrap, corrugated card, fishing line, string … And we were to do ‘something’ with it. Two other collaborators (Marianda and Helene) have been busy already.

I was really looking forward to getting into the studio for a solid day of play on the ‘discarded packaging materials’ challenge. I had thought of using the materials to print – but Marianda did that on fabric and Helene on clay (see @fabricatednarratives).I did still spend a little time taking prints from the materials.

Printing on tissue using packaging materials

Printing on tissue using packaging materials
Then started ripping the corrugated card into strips with the intention of printing with these, rolled them up into 'beads' and liked what happened. I realised later that this may well have been a semi-sub-conscious response to the reflections of clouds and sun in the thin skin of water left on the sand as the waves receded that morning.

I sprayed the rolls of card with iridescent paints and glued them together. This overlapping and linking giving changes in direction of the corrugations appealed.
Playing with discarded packaging

Playing with discarded packaging

Last weekend we had a get together at the beach for drawing and experimenting with mark making with materials around us.
Marianda working into her indigo piece
My contribution was limited mostly to chatting, though I did make a couple of simple sketches and today tried mostly unsuccessfully to print with seaweed. Because this didn't work as well as I had hoped, I coffee stained some of the materials and made pamphlet books; forced papers through the pasta machine and added some simple stitch marks into my pen marks  continuing some of the ideas from my ‘Permutations’ work last year.
View over the beach

Playing with quick mark making based on the rocks on the beach

Spray and resist patterns with seaweed

Spray and resist patterns with seaweed

Ink sketch of the beach, coffee stained and black thread

Ink sketch of the horizon, coffee stained and black thread
All in all, today was a good start.
One of the issues I find with settling to work is clearing my mind of other jobs which are on the to do list. I am wondering whether you are able to ignore other work or whether you have to get stuff out of the way before you can concentrate on your creative time? I used to be great at leaving a domestic mess and paperwork behind me, lately I seem to want to get these out of the way first.
With one of my ‘children’ (is there a word for your grown-up offspring? The word ‘child’ doesn’t seem right) home from university at the moment I still feel that I have to organise my time around her, slipping back into parenting mode, and when another of the brood drops in and stays (he’s a boy, so usually no prior notice, no help with the domestics - how did I bring up a boy so poorly that he slips into this male stereotype when his Dad isn’t at all like that?) At these times I can’t settle to being in the studio, feeling that I should drop everything to spend time with them. After all I say to myself, these are my children and I don’t get to see so much of them nowadays. On the other hand, I don’t think they are aware that they are interrupting my ‘flow’ and that working from home does involve working!  
Since returning from the UK, it seemed to me that I had to clear the decks somewhat before I could concentrate on new projects, thus I have been doing this, including trying to  spending one day a week on my accounts (all I can stand to do even if I am well behind) and a day a week getting the garden under control (still needs lots of attention). I was asked to write a feature about my work for the New Zealand Artist magazine which was fabulous, I have sent work and cards to a new (to me) gallery outlet.
Beach finds and stitched bauble hangings by Alysn Midgelow-Marsden
I have built a new website ( featuring my textile art and am working on the next website about the art materials and workshops I offer – I’ll update you when that is ready to be seen. Recently of course, as with everyone else, I have been preparing for Christmas - yeah! I do love the gift buying for family and friends and making cards and presents to send out. All of these seem to be getting under control now and I am looking forward to spending more time in the studio from now on, in fact, the sun is out so I’m off to walk the dogs and then get to the studio now. 
The boys are waiting for me!
Have a cracking Christmas and New Year.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Making up stories and turning everything blue

We all do it, we make up stories, we imagine things, we construct a narrative around an object or a moment. This may be a true story or it may be completely imaginary. This fascination with the difference between imagined realities and real realties and how we portray ourselves and our place in the world lay behind my exhibition proposal for 'Fabricated Narratives'.

The artists participating in this exhibition have been selected for their previous connection to this theme in their chosen media. Their challenge is to create works which examine their own ‘fabricated narratives’ or simply fabricate stories for the objects and stains of objects. Whether historically accurate or playfully inventive, each work in the exhibition is part of a fabricated story. There is much new science which helps us to understand both the psychology and the philosophy of how and why we construct narratives to help us through life which the artists will be asked to investigate as a part of this exhibition.

The artists (Helene Carpenter, Di Halstead, Marianda Twydell and myself) have varied backgrounds – textiles, paint, design, photography, sculpture and book art amongst others and these skills will be not only used to create the artists individual ‘fabricated narratives’ but to collaborate with the artists using other media to create ‘fabricated narratives’ in shared ways.

As a textile artist think I will be approaching this through the long standing traditions of reusing and repurposing materials through darning, slips, boro, kantha, pojaki and other patchwork and stitch techniques used all over the world to conserve precious materials and to repurpose them. However, there is a long way between concept and outcome and I always keep my endpoint fluid at these early stages, so we shall see!

As a part of the progress towards ‘Fabricated Narratives’ (which will initially be exhibited at the Knitting and Stitching Shows in London, Dublin and Harrogate 2018), we have to each share a smidgeon of our skills and interests. Not so much in the expectation that we will use these in our projects, but to help us to understand each other’s work in a more visceral way than simply talking about what we do. We hope that these sharings and the time discussing work and approaches will create an ongoing connection between us.

Marianda wanted us to delve into one of her passions which is indigo dyeing. Indigo dyeing is both ancient and fascinating. If you have ever a had a session with an indigo vat, you will know exactly what I mean. It is the magic of the dye. To watch the colour change from a beautiful green (which I would love to be able to make stay as it is such a wonderful emerald which tones perfectly with the dark blues of the indigo), oxidising through to the classic indigo.

On a previous indigo dyeing session most of us there ended up getting (partly) undressed and dyeing as many of the clothes we were wearing as we could! Imagine a group of us emerging from a village hall dressed in coats with little left on underneath and bags full of wet blue fabric – memorable!

With Marianda we were more restrained with our clothing, but more experimental in the variety of materials. We dipped various fabrics, fibres, papers, threads, bones, shells and almost anything else we could into the vats. Some were shibori folded or stitched in advance, others plunged into the vats as they were. Helene, being a painter used the dye as paint and with some beautiful brushes and some masterly brush techniques began to explore using indigo directly onto stretched fabric.

Helene's marbles all tied up

Fabric folded and clipped
Unfolding silk from around a pipe. 
Hanging out to dry
The fabulous green showing when the fabric is first lifted from the vat

Then everything turns blue!
If you want to keep up to date with Fabricated Narratives, the easiest way is @fabricatednarratives on fb. See you there, or at the exhibition.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

A mindful moment

No workshops, no art even today, I simply wanted to share with you a recent moment of peace and quiet.
It is not that these moments are necessarily rare, or that I am so overworked that I don't get to take much appreciated times out, in fact most mornings I take the dogs down to the bay and almost always there are sparks and swirls of pleasure to be found. Today I was thinking about a friend whose life has been chaotic, tiring and too, too busy recently, feeling rather impotent to help and glad I wasn't her, hoping that she can hold together just a little longer when the worst should be over.

Sunshine after rain 
Last week the dolphins came to play for me, a wondrous highlight to observe their sleek, swift and playful antics.

This morning the sea was calm, the light  little hazy and somehow the sounds around were muted.

Calm waters

It felt so removed from everywhere, encouraging me to take more time than usual to observe the gentle, subtle patterns and textures in the sand created from differences in the colours of the grains of sand; from the tidemarks created by varieties of shells and their remnants; from rivulets of water running over the sand.

Not to mention the intricate layering within the rocks I clamber across and the organisms clinging to them.

No flaming sunrise or crashing storm waters. No dolphins playing this morning.
Simple peace and simple quiet.
A little precious time.
Find these moments for yourself when you can, be grateful of them, help them to ground you.

Monday, 16 October 2017


A trip over to the pretty heritage town of Devonport just across the water from Auckland on Friday night to see the 'GLOW' Festival.
More than 100 second-year Architecture students from Unitec Institute of Technology transformed Devonport’s Windsor Reserve into an outdoor gallery of light installations as part of Auckland Artweek.

The students designed and prefabricated a diverse range of light pavilions working to a zero budget, zero waste brief.  

Some were better planned and executed than others, as you would expect, but contained intriguing aspects. Cool to see the ideas and innovations developed on a zero budget.

Thousands of biodegradable cups stapled into orbs creating a tunnel of light. This was the outside.

And from the inside, no camera tricks.

Projected colour onto reflective surfaces, with shadows as people moved across the space

Bags of coloured gels sweeping over the overhead projector created the colours

A tunnel of plastic bags

From the inside ...

There was also a stage for fire dancing – ably critiqued by my son who occasionally still gets out his fire poi and devil sticks for our entertainment – though not as much as I would like. He knew names of the moves and gave a running commentary on the quality or otherwise of the performances! Performances were by Dragon Poi, Lucent Entertainment, Precision Pyromancy and Auckland Fire Dancing .
You Tube: 

And we were just about visible on the national news feature – in the background with my back turned! We were walking through a lit bamboo structure which was probably our favourite. 

Creative Construction Christchurch Quilt Symposium 2017

The Interim Cathedral, aka The Cardboard Cathedral, venue for the opening ceremony and awards night 

Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand is recently infamous for a series of devastating earthquakes. The city is still getting back on it’s feet, and so it must have taken both optimism and determination for the local Quilters Guild to decide that they would take on the mammoth task of organising the biennial national Quilters Symposium. This event is huge – not only by New Zealand standards, but for anywhere - and is run by many dedicated volunteers.

A few of the volunteer committee.

There were 57 (I think) tutors drawn from both local experts and the elite in the world. Tutors were drawn from NZ, UK, South Africa, USA, Australia, Denmark (think that was the complete list, but apologies if I missed any countries).
I was definitely one of the least ‘quilty’ tutors, so a round of applause to all who took the chance on one of my classes rather than techniques they might be more familiar with!
What a great chance for the (more than) 600 daily participants to gain experience and knowledge. It was also marvellous for me to be in the company of these inspirational mentors and teachers. The down side of there being so many tutors and courses available was that there was no opportunity to see the outcomes from the other classes, which means I can only tell you about mine, though I can show you a few images from the tutor exhibition.

Michelle Hill (Australia)

Helen Godden (Australia)

Lyric Kinnard (USA)

Judy Coates Perez (USA)

Hazel Foot (New Zealand)

Sherri Lyn Wood (USA)

Glenys Mann (Australia)

Clare Smith (New Zealand)

Charlotte Yde (Denmark)

Rosalie Dace (South Africa)

Brenda Gael Smith (Australia)
To find out about others, see @QuiltSymposium2017 on Facebook.

And there is always more to the events than just the workshop time – for instance - great shopping opportunities in the sales hall.

Shopping opportunities! Yeah!
Some of my favourites were:

Felted and Stitched 

BerninaNZ whose support lending almost 300 sewing machines to the classes, setting them all up and providing ongoing, friendly and interested support is vital to the event.
And further interest with exhibitions, entertainment nights, talks, drinks and more private get together's between old and new friends. Sadly the weather was not great and that prevented any explorations of Christchurch which would have been worth seeing, I’ll have to save that for another visit. The school 'St. Andrews at Christchurch' was a fabulous venue, just imagine being able to go to school in this setting ...

These rhododendrons had a beautiful scent.

St. Andrew's School

St. Andrew's School
St. Andrew's School

My first 2 days were a short version of ‘Deconstruct:Reconstruct’. This combines sampling many metal stitching techniques, observational exercises and mark making then developing an individual piece.
From Deconstruct:Reconstruct workshop by Alysn Midgelow-Marsden

From Deconstruct:Reconstruct workshop by Alysn Midgelow-Marsden

From Deconstruct:Reconstruct workshop by Alysn Midgelow-Marsden

From Deconstruct:Reconstruct workshop by Alysn Midgelow-Marsden

From Deconstruct:Reconstruct workshop by Alysn Midgelow-Marsden, and look at that expression!

Second was a 1 day, quick workshop which examined the structures of the Zhen Xian Bao thread booklets (see post) and we had time to learn how the folded sections come together and make a simple three pocket example from silk or Lutradur and a cover using gelled papers and Evolon.

Zhen Xiao Bao workshop (Workshop delivered by Alysn Midgelow-Marsden)

Zhen Xiao Bao workshop (Workshop delivered by Alysn Midgelow-Marsden)

Zhen Xiao Bao workshop (Workshop delivered by Alysn Midgelow-Marsden)
Zhen Xiao Bao workshop (Workshop delivered by Alysn Midgelow-Marsden)

Zhen Xiao Bao workshop (Workshop delivered by Alysn Midgelow-Marsden)

Zhen Xiao Bao workshop (Workshop delivered by Alysn Midgelow-Marsden)

Then finally a very relaxed two days using hand needle felting, hand stitch and beading, gilding and creating a multi-part, multi-coloured and multi-textured hanging.

Hanging Pods workshop outcomes, tutor Alysn Midgelow-Marsden

Hanging Pods workshop outcomes, tutor Alysn Midgelow-Marsden

Hanging Pods workshop outcomes, tutor Alysn Midgelow-Marsden

Hanging Pods workshop outcomes, tutor Alysn Midgelow-Marsden

Hanging Pods workshop outcomes, tutor Alysn Midgelow-Marsden

Hanging Pods workshop outcomes, tutor Alysn Midgelow-Marsden

If this has interested you, the next Symposium is to be held in Auckland in 2019  from 1 -6 October.
Expressions of interest are open if you would like to book your space anytime from now.

And then it was all over - bags packed and homeward bound ...

I am tremendously excited to have taken my first Retreat booking for the studio here at Kotare House. A group from the south will be visiting for a 4 day creative session next year. If anyone else is interested, contact me to see what we can arrange. It will be great to work in my studio with everything we could need and space to create in peaceful surroundings.

On the way home I received word that a friend and fellow creative, Liz Welch, had finally succumbed to breast cancer. Liz was determined, enthusiastic, family loving and so much more.  Read her journey at Rare Lizzie. Though we had known for a while that her death was inevitable, it was still terribly sad to hear the final news. Though treatments are improving all the time for cancers, we continue to lose friends all too often.

Liz Welch

Thank you Liz for your time with us.