wear the green willow

Trying to write about this recent piece of work reminds me exactly why l like making with my hands, from materials less slippery than words!


It started as an idea to make a piece of land art and link it to the 7th anniversary of my husband’s death… but all my confident starts faltered and then extra pain from a slipped collarbone pushed me into a really low space. I’d arranged a lift to a lovely place, Attenborough Water, an area of lakes covering old quarries, and was really looking forward to it simply as a day out. I was at the point of cancelling everything but luckily got a late burst of energy and confidence, took apart many things half done and reassembled them, and finally hit my rhythm again… oh the relief!


So my photos are good for the details as usual, but I didn’t consider just how harmoniously my biggest chain/garland would blend in, so another time I will do things differently ;)


The mandala was drawn by Andy and left unfinished, and it was only on Thursday that I coloured it in – he would have made it more rainbowy, but that is part of what l have lost… l have many wonderful friends and make a life full of creativity and colour, but everyone is unique and that special connection is much missed. He was my first ‘safe person’ [for agoraphobia] and helped me go out in the world again, and l have never laughed so much as in those 7 years we had together… so, he gave me wings and the courage to try new things and the happiness to continue in this life after him, not without him…



so, not green willow weeping after all, but elder, fruitful and comforting, sweetness that stays long after the season…

sea shawls

After all the work on Vital Spark – which still needs finishing, eek!- I have had two major diversions. The unlikely colour palette work lead to making some shawls [l partly blame loveknitting.co.uk for their amazing bargains this summer] but also wanting to make some things to sell at the World Music event in Nottingham. The event was GREAT! well done Rastarella Falade and the team at NoMad :) I had a great time dancing in my seat, but being the first weekend back after the school holidays, money wasn’t flowing… whereas my creativity had been!


Nothing is ever wasted, a dear friend bought the most sea-sidey of the scarf/shawls and it was a joy to see their happy dance ;) Meanwhile I opened the new shop on Etsy, Vital Spark Art


and these will eventually be listed there [listing is so not my favourite activity!]



Coming to the beginning

After working on a piece for a few months, it’s odd to be coming to the end…

I need a hand putting another hook in the door so I can attach Vital Spark to the rod I found among some Andy left behind. He would coppice hazel and carve patterns in and then colour/stain them… this one was left plain because it had an overhead lamp strung on it, so is easy to insert without throwing all the colour balance.


It’s as thick as my thumb, so you can get a sense of how thick those chunky braids are! They hang in a wedge shape framing the ‘web’ of freeform crochet, and then the electric orange feather boa hangs down the middle, with the baubles at either side…

I managed a lot of crochet on my trip to Tate Modern [it helps with the agoraphobia] to see the  awesome Agnes Martin exhibition so have just about finished the webs apart from joins. This one was very variegated both texture and colour-wise, the flames of creativity  fanning out  :)





It’ll be really pleasing to see it assembled and vertical – I’ve been able to hold sections up, even hang them on doors, but may have a lot of fiddling to do, making different ‘strings’ hang well together [hope the chiropractor is back soon!] There’s a bitter sweetness, a pleasure at work well made, the process working, and then a sadness at losing the comfort zone the piece becomes…


Fibre art pieces, the larger installations, anyway, seem to become friends with whom I hang out and have a great time enjoying ideas sparking all over the place, colours and textures igniting lots of positive pathways, that even if they touch on trauma, keep me productive. I’ve been dealing with some deep grief that I couldn’t save Andy’s life – I gave him CPR, and the ambulance team got there fast and worked really hard but he had the kind of heart attack that just doesn’t respond.


So some of The Vital Spark is about what makes life worthwhile, colour and connection and the neurons firing, the difference an hour can make, breathing life into an idea and then the last breath you take being a sudden wall falling that silences all the ideas that would have come. I don’t expect people to see that in it, but the making experience has included me being present to some of that…and being able to see the end of this piece means what for the conversation, the being present?

I have bought more yarn, with at least 2 pieces springing to mind from the palettes they create, and both relate to this – one is about trauma and bereavement, a mixture of blacks and purples with a gorgeous Noro Mossa as its key. The other is about the perfection of early summer, a very English summer, when the foxgloves are out and there is a very light feel and cast to everything, before the heat makes things wilt… this was Andy’s favourite season and means me working in a very light palette, pinks and creamy yellows… It’s a challenge, but I seem to be really drawn to it, so I’m trusting the process. I’ve knitted a few rows [knitting still hurts my hands] and will work a few of the easier elements as I finish The Vital Spark… because, the thing about ends is, they’re also beginnings… which is a cliche because it’s true. ;)DSC_0047



The Vital Spark


There’s a point where the results of exploring ideas, even idle messing around with materials of any kind, suddenly come alive, ‘quicken’ as the work-to-be makes itself known the way a baby does with its first kick… before that there’s a glimpse of what could be, but this is the point where suddenly disparate elements reveal how they will mesh… after that vital [ having remarkable energy, liveliness, or force of personality ] moment, the work can follow its own rhythm. The ‘water waste’ piece I’ve been working on for a couple of years now is ‘content’ to be worked on intermittently, other pieces seem to seize the available energy and demand to be made immediately. Organic Process was like that and for the last month the ‘woodland DSC_0023palette’ piece I was making while moving has been evolving, making more demands…


With the construction of two huge braids it suddenly revealed its structure, a web strung between the braids with beads of many sizes [ some fabric ones larger than tangerines!] attached at web joins… these are the seeds, the nuggets of previous thought that have generated the piece, a mixture of life experiences, material and process questions and thiDSC_0006ngs my mind has snagged on… all gathering embellishments like barnacles on a rock!

So, ‘The Vital Spark’ is about that moment when the urge, the need, the life force of the piece is revealed… and when that moment happened for it, I felt very amused by the spirals and fractals of it all… it feels like there will be more in this series, and the ‘meta’ nature of it all tickles me… I talk a lot about making and thinking with my hands, being led by the materials… and here I am making pieces about that, making it cerebral/intellectual?  Am I trying to bridge build for the people cut off from that life enhancing response to what catches the eye and makes the hands twitch? [in a good way!]


I don’t like being too immediately symbolic, any designs I plan tend to feel hopelessly clunky, but when I just make, I can look at what now exists and see links for nearly all of it… and it’s fine that not all is ‘known’/recognized because that is part of the process too, for me, dealing with how my life and body have been very bent out of shape by random experiences…Being able to make some beauty from it all is more than enough.

Making is vital, a force for living, thriving, engaging and experiencing, living to the full.

Singing Bird Artist – what’s in a name?

Keep a green tree in your heart

and maybe the singing bird will come

I loved this Chinese proverb from the moment I read it: its truth is so comforting, that maybe, only maybe, will the singing bird come to you. As a survivor who has been in therapy for most of the last 25 years, attended hundreds of self help, healing and recovery meetings, groups and courses, and created a few, yes, it is not a given. It would be lovely if we could earn happy endings, but just as we didn’t deserve our bad luck experiences and trauma, so we don’t get to control our recovery more than by doing the right things and seeing what happens.


My husband was my real lucky piece – my first ‘safe’ person [agoraphobic security person] and through him I got to meet and mingle with less fear, though I still have very high anxiety and unpredictable panic at times, it’s not what it was like before knowing him. He in turn was very pleased to meet me – he called me the Queen of Hearts, because when we’d met, he went home thinking about me and found 2 Queen of Hearts cards on the way – the universe is really subtle sometimes ;) We used to have a code for expressing our happiness when he might otherwise be embarassed: “birds sing”. Birds singing was when our lives were running in a good flow of happiness, artmaking, healthy balance. Both of us had been in relationships where our creativity was questioned or invalidated, so making was a very integral part of what we wanted from our connection, support and affirmation and feeling joy in each other’s being an artist.

quilt 093-002

Naming myself Singing Bird Artist was a continuing affirmation of this way of being in the world after he died. I find self promotion the hardest part of being an artist – lots of us do, if we wanted to be in the public eye directly, why would we make canvases and installations? As an agoraphobic it can be agony – I’m an extrovert and love socializing with bright interesting people, but having my photo taken and appearing in public sets off weeks of intrusive thoughts/reruns of things I could have said better through to suicidal thoughts etc etc

Anyway, Facebook has seen fit to close my account, because Singing Bird Artist is not a real name… define real? Particularly if you are a taxdodging billionaire, do not, repeat NOT accuse me of a lack of integrity for using the name/avatar in which I make and show work!


Many people are affected by this name change policy – artists who use professional names that are not US/Eurocentric style; political activists, survivors of attack and abuse and LGBTQ people who might otherwise suffer discrimation, persecution or risk of attack or death on being exposed. I’m bi and the only person I’m not fully out to is my 82 year old devout Catholic mother-in-law, so that bit doesn’t affect me, but the rest? yeah, all of it. The DWP don’t like outspoken disabled people daring to point out the death count from their policies towards us. I moved and changed my name to avoid an abuser from my past being able to find me, and I try to make sure no pictures of me appear anywhere public to avoid being traced. As time goes on I feel safer, but being told by Facebook I was being dishonest for wanting to avoid him fulfilling his threat to silence me whatever it took… that has made sleep very troubled since.

Facebook needs to change its policy. Why is it so necessary for us to be ‘authentic’?

Data mining. Our vital statistics of political, spiritual, professional and CONSUMER preference mean nothing without being able to target us.

Facebook already makes billions and avoids paying its rightful taxes… their ‘integrity’ is far from shining. Their motives are very shady and their disregard for the lives, wellbeing and right to privacy of thousands of vulnerable people chilling. [Human Rights Charter anyone?]

If you would like to sign [another] petition about this, here’s a link:




Progress report


I have been having many small and irksome obstacles recently, against a background of settling in to the new meds – Gabapentin and then Lansaprazole again to manage the digestive system pain and gripes from the Gabapentin. The Gabapentin is worth persevering with because I am able to read non-fiction again! Even just reading a couple of books a week again has been great and my habit of small pleasures is boosted by new releases from favourite authors :) I feel we all need that, but the ones who need it most are now right against the wall, the Conservative Government is pushing as many welfare cuts as it can before it is before the European Court of Human Rights, for crimes against disabled people. People are dying because they cannot afford the Bedroom Tax on the spare bedroom for their carer, and now that the Independent Living Fund has closed, people will be found dead as people who need round the clock care won’t get it. Many more will die very slowly, each day increasingly painful as bedsores become ulcerated, wounds become infected and carers are allotted only a few minutes to shower and toilet with no extra time to change dressings and change beds… Hard Times in Old England, very hard times…


Against that, my own problems feel petty, but it is worrying that going out one day for a few hours means sleeping for nearly a week, that making one day means being too shaky to stand to heat a ready meal. At the same time, I often feel full of ideas! About politics, about making, about creativity as the core activity for humans, and maybe even what Earth is for..insects and birds and fish all make beauty, with species like the bower bird making aesthetic choices that might challenge an Art graduate, as whale music challenges musicians and mathematicians… who knows?



Anyway, I have been working on a piece in ‘woodland colours’ since before moving, chosen to be fun, freeform and easy to keep track of while moving. Suddenly it has a name: ‘The Vital Spark’! It feels like there is maybe a series unfolding, from Organic Process to a next one which I know will have crimson and lemon yellow in, and that’s all so far! The Vital Spark is about the happy point when a new idea flashes into being, lighting up the hearth of old ashes and mossy, greened-over bricks and logs… all those old ideas are the compost for the bright new shoot, which promises such hope, and makes sense of the dullness of winter, when life was creeping along in very quiet ways that were easy to be ignorant of while bigger events shook the tallest trees…


Cherise came round and we talked about what finishing her degree course means and how art is making-led for some [us] and prestige gaming for others, and what fun bright colours can be and how textures can change readings.. and meanwhile our hands worked away and I had great fun playing with beads to embellish some old work that lost its way [mistakes!] and has now become a feature to bridge between the freeform crochet, found wood and bought elements of raffia and willow [remaindered xmas baubles and mini fencing.]



flag waving

After a very bitter election result – make no mistake, thousands will die as a result of further Tory cuts to the welfare budget and health and emergency services – no one I know feels very cheerful at the moment. Luckily I had a project I was already working on, or I might have gone to bed for a week…


Having seen a lot of uninformed prejudice on the subject of transgender identity when I volunteered at the Women’s Centre, I’ve always tried to be a good ally, and speak up where I felt it would help. About 18 months ago, that meant on a facebook thread that was getting unpleasant, and now I have 3D friends who are very involved with Nottingham TransHub. An event was organised for last Sunday and another friend, Keith, was doing the media/sound so I was called on to lend some backdrop cloth…a long and very laughter filled hour followed as he wouldn’t express any firm opinions on what colour/style etc :) The next day I decided to make a quilt to be a backdrop, based on the TG flags and what I feel about gender… that it is both more simple than people make out and much more complex.

People are the identity they feel themselves. Simple as that!

What they feel themselves to be fits on a spectrum much broader and more colourful than the binary of the Judeo-Christian consumerist transnational business heads. Colonialism tried to erase many cultures’ much more nuanced understandings and expressions, but if we listen, there are people prepared to tell us how it can be…


Some transgender people do indeed transition, via surgery and hormonal treatments, so I have used a butterfly to symbolise the transition.

With equal validity, some do not – they define as non-binary, perhaps similar to two-spirits in some cultures, but because they have to work very hard with their intuition to clarify this and stay strong in the face of the pressure to find a binary pole, I have used a heart. The black/variegated batik fabric is very close to the PoC Pride flag colours, which I wanted to bring in as there was an awful lot of white, pastels and Euro-traditional baby colours in the mix, so there are blocks of this in each spectrum too.

So, my quilt is based on these ideas:

at the heart of it all, we live on a blue and green planet

we are personalities based on the energies that run through us [I based this ring on the directional poles used in healing and medicine wheel work – nothing is right, wrong, better or weaker, just itself and powerful/empowering when used in the right place]

we live in a society that acknowledges male, female and TG and is beginning to acknowledge A-genderedness. So there should be 4 poles, not 2 or 3 on that circle…

there are currently a variety of flags used at Pride parades: Trans sexual, Transgender 1, 2, and 3, Neutrois, Genderfluid, Gender Non-binary, Genderqueer, Intersex and Hermaphrodite. I added an Ally flag, too, cos..I’m an ally making it? :)

There will be more embroidery/embellishment, but I finished it Sunday morning, it was used as the backdrop at the Transcribing Gender event open mic that night and it may be used again at IDAHOBIT [International Day Against Homophobia, Bi, Intersex,Trans Prejudice] organised by local activists and the Police, on Sunday again! So better to leave it tidy…



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