Galapagos holiday

Those of you who follow me on Facebook or Instagram will know that I’ve been on holiday (yes, again!). But this was a rather special trip, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go – to the Galapagos islands.

All I can say is that the holiday certainly lived up to expectations. I’m always slightly anxious about so-called “trips of a lifetime”: expectations are so high that it seems almost inevitable that they won’t be met.

But visiting the Galapagos was exactly like walking into a David Attenborough documentary, where the wildlife is so unaccustomed to predators that you could get amazingly close (if you were allowed). For there are strict controls on what you can do, which islands and landing sites boats can visit and how close you can get to the wildlife (2 metres max). Our guide made sure that we obeyed all the rules!

Nor is anyone allowed to take anything from the islands. As you can imagine, this was extremely difficult for me, an inveterate shell and pebble collector, but I completely understand the reasons behind the rule.

Instead, when I had time, I used some of the materials I found to create some temporary artworks that would eventually be dispersed by the tide, the wind, or the animals.

This one was made using mangrove leaves on Tortuga Beach on the inhabited island of Santa Cruz. We spent a couple of days on this island before and after the  eight-day cruise.

This second one was made from the legs of pencil sea urchins on the uninhabited island of Fernandina. The beach was awash with thousands of these bead-like objects, so it didn’t take long to create this arrangement. During our snorkelling trips I also saw many live sea urchins with their legs intact!

This is a curve of dead guava leaves on the edge of the caldera of Sierra Negra volcano, on Isabela island. After a drizzly climb to the top, we were greeted by a rainbow in the caldera below us. I really wanted to make seven of these curves to represent the rainbow, but I didn’t have time.

The fourth one was back on Tortuga Beach, at the end of the trip. I had a bit more time here, so was able to record the leaves being washed away as the tide came in!

The last one was in mainland Ecuador, in the beautiful Intag Valley, where farmers try to eke a living growing bananas and sugarcane on virtually vertical slopes.

Now it’s back to dark afternoons and the pre-Christmas rush of fairs and markets, starting this weekend, when I’m back at the fabulous American Museum in Bath for their Christmas Craft Fair.


Another View at Hoxton Arches

Prism is a group showcasing high quality fine art textile practice and craftsmanship, which holds an annual exhibition in London (and sometimes elsewhere – they also exhibited at Birmingham earlier this year).

Their current exhibition at Hoxton Arches Gallery in east London is entitled “Another View”. Here are some of my favourite pieces.

Ross Belton is an artist I’ve followed with interest since his graduation from the Foundation Textiles course at Morley College. “Adornment” is a wonderful display created with found objects and natural foliage born from his obsession with eco dyeing and craftsmen’s tools.

adornment by ross belton

adornment by ross belton

Anita Bruce combined natural history books with delicate baskets and stitching to represent her own natural history.

natural history by anita bruce

Dee Thomas used beautifully subtle hand dyed fabrics and silk thread to interpret the markings on pebbles found on the beach.

Underfoot: the Beach by Dee Thomas

In a brighter vein, Susie Vickery‘s embroidered portraits of Syrian refugees represented them as individuals with hopes and dreams rather than victims.

Aleppo IV by Susie Vickery

Also on the subject of conflict, Jo Coombes‘ print with paper lamination and hand embroidery represents the ruined buildings and shattered lives of wastelands like Aleppo due to intransigent world views.

Catherine Gowthorpe‘s nine intricately embroidered squares explore the variability possible in squares within squares ad infinitum.

Nine Patch View by Catherine Gowthorpe

Another View runs at Hoxton Arches until 29 October.



RHS London Autumn Garden Show

RHS Autumn Garden show

Next week I’m taking part in my first RHS show in London. A lot of my customers are keen gardeners, so I thought this would be a good event to try.

As well as my ecoprinted and indigo upcycled scarves and garments, I’m going to try selling some felt pots. I really like making felt pots, and when I first had a market stall I tried selling them. Although people liked them, the most common question I was asked was “But what would I do with it?”.

Then recently I ran a felt pot making workshop at Brixton Windmill harvest festival. After the workshop, I sent one of the sample pots I made to my friend and festival organiser Magdalen. She promptly posted a photo on Instagram of two pots I had made for her, containing some succulents.

Felt pots
Image: Magdalen Rubalcava

This prompted a lightbulb moment – show, don’t tell! So I’m hoping that by showing people how they can be used, this will inspire them to think more creatively.

felt pot and succulent felt pot and succulent

I will also have a couple of the abstract seedpods to see if they attract any interest.

felt seedpods

Wish me luck!

Scythians: warriors of ancient Siberia at the British Museum

I didn’t know much about the Scythians – Siberian nomads who roamed from Mongolia to the Ukraine from around 800 to 200BC – before this exhibition.

Not that it’s any excuse, but they pretty much disappeared from history until their artefacts started being rediscovered in the 18th century by expeditions sent to Siberia by Peter the Great.

This exhibition certainly dispels the myth that nomadic people lack art or culture. A stunning selection of gold belt buckles, mostly depicting nature red in tooth and claw (a vulture mauling a yak and tiger, a leopard attacking an elk) were, unsurprisingly, snapped up by Peter the Great for his personal collection (most of the exhibits in this show are on loan from the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg). Gold plaques also decorated weapons and even clothing.

Scythian belt buckle
Image: State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

A beautiful piece of body armour consists of overlapping metal scales sewn onto a leather vest – only the upper edges are sewn so as not to restrict movement. By contrast, their shields were essentially made of basketry – wooden sticks threaded with leather!

But what is particularly interesting about this exhibition is the number of textiles on display. There are very few 2,300-year-old textiles that have survived, but in the Scythian burial mound site at Pazyryk in the Altai mountains in southern Siberia, snow and rain entered the tomb chambers and froze permanently, preserving the contents.

And guess what – there’s a lot of felt! A large felt hanging that once lined the coffin chamber has an appliqué border of roaring lions’ heads, while a pair of felt stockings is also decorated with appliqué felt strips and wool embroidery.

scythian felt stockings

More prosaically, there are felt rings used to steady the base of round-bottomed drinking vessels, made from twisted strips of felt and sewn with sinew threads.

My favourite felt object was a swan, with a strikingly curved neck and drooping wings; it was probably a decoration for a headpiece or even a horse mask.

scythian felt swan
Image: State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

Because horses were so important to the Scythians (being the main form of transport as well as providing meat, milk and hide), the animals were buried alongside their masters so that they could carry them to the next world. Decorations on show include a felt mane cover with leather appliqué cockerels, a felt and leather horse mask topped by a ram’s head with a cockerel between its horns, and elaborate bridles covered in gold foil.

scythian felt horse mask
Image: State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

Some intricate stitched pieces have also survived, including a decorated shoe with pyrite crystals perforated with holes less than 1mm across, and a stunning embroidery of a rearing winged bull.

scythian shoe
Image: State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

On decorated belts, some of the stitches have been wrapped in tin leaf to resemble silver.

Analysis of some of the remains has also shown what was used for dyeing – a woollen skirt fragment was dyed with madder and red dye from the crushed bodies of kermes insects (rather like cochineal), indigo, sorrel and tannin.

But it wasn’t just the clothes and belongings that were preserved by the permafrost. In the Altai Mountains the ground was too hard to dig graves except in the summer, so bodies were preserved by mummification. The organs were removed and replaced with horsehair, pine needles and larch cones, then sewn up with sinews. The exhibition displays the head of a tribal chief, teeth intact, along with some of his heavily tattooed skin. Nice!

Scythians: warriors of ancient Siberia runs at the British Museum until 14 January 2018.


Just a Card

Sorry about the radio silence – I’ve been spending too much time in front of a screen building websites and not enough time by the indigo vat! 😦

I’ve just dropped in to let you know that the fab team at Just a Card are featuring me on their blog this week.

If you haven’t heard of Just a Card, it’s a campaign set up by artist and designer Sarah Hamilton to encourage people to buy from independent designer makers, galleries and shops by reinforcing the message that all purchases, however small (even “just a card”), are so vital to the prosperity and survival of small businesses.

The name came about after Sarah read about a gallery that had recently closed, with a quote from the owners saying: “If everyone who’d complimented our beautiful gallery had bought ‘just a card’ we’d still be open”.

All the team are volunteers, and it’s their enthusiasm and dedication to the cause that has made the campaign such a success. Particular thanks to Kate Marsden, the Just a Card blogger, for featuring me on the site this week.

You can support the Just a Card campaign by following and sharing their posts on social media, adding their logo to your blog or site, and talking to other makers and customers.

Thank you!