crazed but not broken

I’ve been feeling very odd – changing medications is no fun as many of you will know better than me. I have a history of either being absolutely fine and not minding ‘minor’ side effects or getting the most extreme, even life-threatening ones possible. An early experience with Duphaston that the dreadful GP refused to report lead me to be very wary of medication for nearly 20 years…

Then, for me, Citalopram has been nearly the best thing since sliced bread, and to be coming off it after 10 years was a little daunting. My lovely GP hoped Venlafaxine could help with the ‘phantom’ pain fibromyalgia creates and help me use less painkillers and maybe gain more mobility, and also as my mood has been understandably but increasingly low as the fibro has got worse, maybe help more than the maximum dose of Citalopram could. She wanted me to start before she left, and helped me by setting a smooth transition with no tapering [as recommended by consultants] and l’ve now taken Venlafaxine for 4 weeks.

At first it was fine, just a very dry mouth, but drinking extra was easy enough, though by the time l started craving ready salted crisps, it occurred to me that yes, you can drink too much… the lovely chiropractor reminded me to take care of my electrolyte balance as he could see and feel the difference when I went in this week. A friend cooked me a lovely lndian meal including dahl, which confused things a little, as legumes now give me gripey wind, so when l saw my ‘new’ GP I was clear I felt wretched, but wasn’t sure how to separate some of the symptoms out. She briskly told me it was too soon to tell [hmm, 3weeks+ ??] and would see me in early January meanwhile here’s another prescription. I left feeling disgruntled on top of feeling sea sick and on heavy ‘amplification effect’, a most disagreeable fibro symptom where you feel like all noises are TOO loud, all smells are chokingly invasive, everything is clashing with everything else…on top of sea sickness, it’s a peach…

The surgery/practice I go to is patient-centred by ethos, so I am planning to go see a different GP should this one remain brisk/ unhelpful/ dismissive when I go back, if it wasn’t heading for xmas [what, it’s still November?!] I would try to fight for another appointment, and I will definitely be more prepared to argue my corner. An inbox conversation with a friend in London really helped clarify some of what is bothering me, and luckily I went from the doctor to my therapist, so we worked on it there too.


Meanwhile, I have been struggling with no immediately engaging artwork around to help me focus and cope, and failing to make much at all as being too nauseous to eat enough to take the painkillers means there’s extra pain on top of all the other symptoms.

Creativity is the singing bird for me, and the tree feels very lonely without her… not all of this is because of the meds, some is because I have been ill now for 6 years and made many changes to my lifestyle, more meds, more help, more pacing, less everything else, from showers to walking, to seeing friends, all while dealing with bereavement and losing not just my allotment, but my ability to garden, and moving from being a painter to a mixed media/ fibre artist, because of damage to my collarbones. That’s a lot, and inevitably there are times when it feels like too much…but lately with the accumulated tiredness from living in a country currently run by entitled sociopaths who are draining money from democratic infrastructure like the NHS and National Insurance benefits, mostly for their own pockets, but also to fund missiles that can never be used… oh, my…that’s way too much…

Another week of feeling sea sick and resting/ lying flat and leaving my face on the floor [instead of keeping it up and smiling!] and being gloomy as all get out, has passed, and gradually the space made by letting all that gripe out has started to allow some more positive thoughts to hang around. I even managed to make some software help me [techno fool win!!] and start rebuilding my lost list of over 200 blogs/resources I used to have on my dead laptop. It has really helped, deciding that Venlafaxine is not for me and that going back to Citalopram is not perfect but will be a lot better than this, if I can also structure in some more…something? Acknowledgement of how hard chronic illness is? Not sure…

What has come to me so far is this, the affirmation that however damaged we may feel, we still have value, all the ones being Westminstered to death and painted as the problem in the media, we are treasure houses of experience and human in ways the pretenders are too frightened to acknowledge.

I’m researching around kintsugi again, and think this will be the key to a new direction or piece of work… my life/ sense of self/ sense of possibility has been shrinking and something wants to fight back…

We are strong in the broken places, we know how to live well, we know what matters, we can be the gold that illuminates…


the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique. As a philosophy it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. [Wikipedia]

Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated… a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin….Mushin is often literally translated as “no mind,” but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions. …The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject. This poignancy or aesthetic of existence has been known in Japan as mono no aware, a compassionate sensitivity, or perhaps identification with, [things] outside oneself.
— Christy Bartlett, Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics



Necessary Friction: Funky Felt Marbling for Spoonies and Chronic Pain Peeps

I loved the felting class Clare Brewer led, but needed to find a less energetic version. One way of avoiding the rolling and thumping is knitting to felt, but knitting is still hard for those of us with spoon [energy] and fork [pain] issues. So I was delighted when I came across photos of Carol Cypher’s felt rock [for a write up of her workshop and thought, hmmm, bet that can be done in the washing machine ;)


The best bit of felting [to me] is the colour blending so this method makes the most of that.

Choose a prefelt [soft felt squares needlefelters use to embellish, about £3 per 50cm square] some fibres/tops, some rovings [wool that is untreated and will felt at a 40 degree wash AVOID Superwash] and prepare to have fun :)


l cut slits in a 20cm square [feel free to change the size to suit you] and wove the wool/rovings through and then laid some loosely on the top of the prefelt too. The slits seemed to make no difference, so save your wrists!!


Then l laid pinches of tops/felt fibres over the sheet until it seemed well balanced and interesting – l wanted a rippled effect when the swiss roll was sliced open. lf you want it to be more even, keep your fibres blocky and separate by rolling the prefelt sheet fully round one ‘sausage’ of fibres before moving to the next colour :)


Then I rolled the sheet and all its filling up, trying to roll quite tightly – so l went back and rolled tighter after this photo!


Next l tied the roll up as if l were tie-dying, so a lot of strings and knots to keep it all together. This was the bit that was most strain on my hands – l have damaged soft tissues from a bad fall and old bone breaks and fibromyalgia pain sneaking in where it can, and your pain will probably need you to pay attention throughout the first time.


After this you repeat as often as you can, and then the rolls get put in the washer. TO SAVE THE FILTERS please put them in a muslin or net bag, so they can bounce around to be felted, but not clog your machine or the neighbourhood drains!


I use an organza bag from my Love Knitting orders, but a lingerie washing bag is good too: just tie the bow! Or you too will be chasing 30+ felted pebbles round the fitted sheet when you get the washing out!

I have a setting that is Mini30, a short wash and spin, and it works fine – l get the felting out and then give the rest of the washing an extra spin. l put the towel from a sheet felting session in the wash too, so there was a LOT of washing up liquid helping it all felt, but if you use the washer balls l think that would be enough friction to felt, definitely on a longer wash, as when l wash knitting to felt it has worked. To dry them l leave them on top of a gas fire or radiator – NOT a convector heater!

Meanwhile l hope you had your feet up or took a nap – pacing! Now for the big reveal:




You need strong wrists and sharp dressmaking shears to cut these rolls open, and if l was making a big batch l would get a friend to do the cutting. Carpet shears or electric scissors would be good – the density is like carpet and the open slice feels like the velvet of new laid wool carpet – all those fibres looking fresh and bright too, really lovely!

I hope this tempts you to have a go, perhaps invite some friends round so you can share costs for the fibres and prefelts, that’s a lot of fun for under £30 and some birthday present possibilities, necklaces, bracelets, embroidery supplies for embellishing cushions etc. Take care of yourselves and keep making!

Felting Class with Clare Brewer at Nottingham Women’s Centre

I really enjoyed the 5 week course Cherise and I attended – well, we all did! We started out with maybe a very vague idea how felt was made and now at least 3 of us are going to continue at home and all of us would like the course to continue so we can learn even more :)

How did we get from here: DSC_0077   to here: DSC_0089

Clare was very careful to explain there are no mistakes, only learning and to check our strength and mobility – it turned out three of us have fibromyalgia and some other conditions affecting our strength. She was very positive and supportive about troubleshooting – taking breaks, standing up or sitting down, getting help with rolling out the felt and generally thinking round problems. So we all ended up with a towel, bubblewrap, a bamboo blind, some net curtain and a pile of floaty, wafty clouds of colours to wet with warm and bubbly washing up water [clean!] Another stage Cherise particularly liked was carding, where the fluffy bits of wool could be custom colour blended on giant dog brushes ;) well, those pads with pins anyway…

A second layer of net curtain, a rolling pin and lots of elbow grease reduces the clouds to flat sheets, which can then be embroidered as pictures, made into journal covers, flower brooches and corsages… whatever you like:


I really wanted to make a pot/vessel and one whole class was spent on this – having learnt to make a sheet, we learned how to shape fibres round a template and blend edges and make a smooth pebble that then gets cut open. To decorate it, you need to remember only the base layer and top layer will show, but when you cut the pebble open, there’s a lovely reveal, and if you make the opening big enough, the inside decoration will show a little :) Cherise and I got hooked on this and made different colour effects on our pots, Candy went for dense glowing colour but different textures and Nicole made beautiful landscapey/ abstract patterns on hers, so annoyed l didn’t get a better picture of her vessel:




This pot is now on my windowsill being embroidered and embellished with mother-of-pearl buttons, beads and a tinkly bell, because the curled edges make me think of jester’s hats :)



I loved June’s use of colour, her bright green flowers really made me smile :)

Playing with colour was really good for cheering up on rainy days and the finished pieces feel really pleasing, so if you get the chance, l would recommend having a go, just bring along someone to ‘roll’ for you if you are a spoonie. I think we were all really pleased with what we made and it’s a shame l don’t have more photos, Candy always left early because of work, and l had quite tired, shaky hands by the end of a session, so my photos were a bit disappointing… Cherise may be able to share some of hers and we will be continuing – we already bought more fibres and some pre-felts to help cut the rolling down for me. What are they? Soft flexible sheets of fibres waiting for top layers – this is how people can afford to sell embellished covers etc, l realise, they have ‘bought time’ by investing in the prepared sheets – aha!

So a big shout out to Nottingham Women’s Centre for holding the course and choosing such an empowering tutor, thanks!

National Poetry Day

Keith Turner made a lovely film of my artwork for Peace Week 2014, so today seems like a good day to give it another airing ;)

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 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




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