looking back, moving forward

It’s been a very long summer of medical appointments and fighting to keep my balance, but at last the tests the different GPs ordered have come to an end, the meds have been tweaked to a point where, while I don’t get any pain relief from the Duloxetene, it is at least holding back enough anxiety and depression that I can unclench my fingers from the safety rails, as it were. The new therapist works very differently to Sharon, but in a useful way, and I feel I have some space to take risks again.

Mast 2009


I have been working with Nick, the therapist, on what I call the ‘collateral damage’ of Andy’s death, that I lost him, but also painting, my allotment and garden and then my health. Breaking my collarbone and some ribs when I tried to save him had some very expensive consequences, painting had been the mainstay of my life for 10 years, had pulled me out of the depths of PTSD and agoraphobia, had made me brave. Losing that calling was very hard, I felt I wasn’t painting at the previous level, and my collarbone dislocating every time I painted was awful, as the physical pain took me straight back to the first days of being bereaved. Todd, the chiropractor also warned me that the more the collarbone came out, the more it would, and that really I should stop. As he has bought two of my 4′ x 3′ paintings, I knew he wasn’t saying this lightly.  It’s very difficult describing the feeling of being robbed of a skill, particularly when it wasn’t just a skill, it was my hope for the future before I met Andy, and very intertwangled with my connection to Andy [we met because I went into the Heathcote Arts Gallery on the last day of his exhibition to measure up for my exhibition, talked for a couple of hours and then I gave him my number.] I used to joke that I flossed my teeth because I was a painter, that’s how central it had been, and I had to struggle to have enough energy for painting when Andy was alive and for coping with the stress levels of living in Hucknall, coping with my step son’s drug addiction issues, coping with Andy’s bi-polar, while I also had my own PTSD to manage. My paintings went from quite serene near monochromes, exploring beauty and the hand made line or grid, to spirals [Humility and the Beautiful Daughters, 2003, No Such Thing as Empty Space 2003 – in Rog Pattinson’s collection] and eventually to multicolours after Andy died [Death of a Poet 2009, Flagships for the Landlocked 2009 – collection Jill Parkinson – and Flying Colours 2009, one of the very last I painted before my final exhibition of paintings in 2009.]

Flying Colours:


I was very surprised no one bought Flying Colours, it’s very enjoyable and accessible compared to Cherish the Beloved [a 4′ x 3′ red oblong with one payne’s grey line vertically bisecting it by a third, with a very fine translucent grid overlay in cadmium orange, think ‘Fire Walk With Me’!] but there you go…

Anyway, while I immersed myself in the Advanced City and Guilds Machine Embroidery course, which gave me a great structure while I coped with bereavement, losing the allotment and painting, and then developing fibromyalgia, I didn’t miss painting too much, but as I built up my fibre and textile skills to a point where now I feel I am working at the same conceptual level as I was in the process paintings, I still just really miss messing around with paint… About 18 months ago I started trying to paint by other means, art quilting ideas, collage stitching [which I had managed quite easily on the course, but seemed much harder now] brusho on collage and prepared surfaces, and then finally acrylic paints in spray bottles on lace and net curtain. I discovered while making art journals that painting patterned net curtains is good fun!



Somehow I couldn’t get much further… one reason is, that having made quite intense, internally sourced abstracts, I find it very hard to incorporate found images in collage – anything too ‘finished’ or too obviously someone else’s work feels like stealing, plagiarism, and wrong [ you need to imagine Nigel Planer reading Death’s voice from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld! WROOOOOONNNGGG! ] and that really puts the kibosh on free flowing creativity.

However, I have been edging my way back into collage again, I made a quote collage piece for Onni, about historians earlier this year, Letraset galore over found papers with more collaged on.

I have read some very helpful books lately, Vron gave me Jane Dunnewold’s Creative Strength Training* for birthday and xmas, and I lucked into The Art of Mistakes ** by Melanie Rothschild, who makes art from paint poured on flat surfaces and then peeled off when dry… she shows lots of other techniques, but not that one, but I’m going to have a go when I’ve found the shower curtain I got Cherise to buy for me! Anyway, my creative juices have been thawing from the frozen tundra of  meds-changeover depression, and together with therapy prompts and explorations and an internal clock ticking towards the tenth anniversary of Andy’s death, some sort of momentum has been building… yesterday I was in town for a chiropractic appointment and decided to nip into WHSmith’s and buy some more tube acrylics and some really BIG bulldog clips to help with squeezing 😀 Today I woke early and made soup, put some music on and set up a painting corner on my sewing table. Handily I finished the quilting on Uditi’s quilt last weekend, so there was already some cleared space, and the prepared boards I used today are only A4ish. I decided to start the quest for a new method with palette knives, as I had occasionally used those before, when I wanted a very wide mark.


I laid down some cream emulsion with a brush on the first two samples, and scraped excess off those onto the third with the palette knife. Then I used squeezy tubes, spray bottles and drip bottles to apply colour, and the palette knife and a fine crochet hook to make the marks and lift excess paint, oh and some dried out baby wipes to clean tools and fingers and blot areas. I use quite a lot of the babywipes with aloe in as they help enormously when my eyes get that horrible sticky gummed up allergic reaction I had for a couple of months in the spring. And can feel again now, I do hope it’s not an allergy to acrylic paint fumes, that would be the tin lid!

Anyway, I played around a fair bit, building texture with neat paint and filling areas with the diluted acrylics, and then making lots of meandering loops:








I think you can see from the detail shots that there are some pleasing effects emerging, a marbling as the two strengths of paint meet – apparently there is a rule that you shouldn’t mix acrylics, probably because of this reaction. Like all rules, it depends on what effect you wanted! More will be added, when the paint has dried, apparently up to a week for very thick acrylic is sufficient, after waiting up to 6 weeks for oil, that seems  very handy. I miss the smell of linseed oil, it used to remind me of walking past a chip shop, whereas the smell of acrylics mixing is far more plasticky… I had the door open while I was painting, and I will open it again when I finish this and take my coffee into the garden, as I know you need good ventilation for acrylics, and the last thing I want is a toxic reaction!

I feel very VERY happy to have found the energy to start experimenting. This method may not work out – I felt my internal rotator cuffs grumbling at one point, so if I ache badly afterwards, or my eyes go gummy, this won’t be the way. But I feel like there will be other things to try now, it won’t be too upsetting if any one method fails. Fingers crossed, eh?!





CW: medication switch struggles, depression, loss of self


Well, I have been very low and it has taken me a really long time to pull round ‘enough’ to want to post again. Most of the trouble has been connected to coming off Citalopram after 10 years, and switching onto Duloxetine. They are both anti-depressants with strong anti-anxiety effects, and Duloxetine is also supposed to help with pain management, though so far it has not had that effect for me, but the two friends with chronic pain I know taking it who feel a benefit are on far higher doses. I’ve also had an allergy to the treatment for the allergy to the treatment for my eye trouble… sigh. Itchy eyes and blurred eyesight are not conducive to creativity and it’s been over 6 months now. Another problem has been missing my continuity people, my oldest friend has been away for 6 months and I really miss her wisdom and listening. My therapist of the last 10 years died last spring, and I didn’t get closure as she was suddenly rushed to hospital. I’d like to think I can weather stuff like this, but apparently not, or maybe not when it all falls together with a GP demanding I follow treatments that are traumatic for me, while trialling 4 therapists in 15 months to replace lovely Sharon.

keep growing

I now have a new therapist, a MAN!! [I’ve only ever seen women for 27 years] who is so far impressing me though the usual drawback is occurring – Sharon and I had worked out that a 90 minute session worked really well in allowing me time to trace through triggers and issues in my complex PTSDs and time to re-surface and face the world again, as an agoraphobic going home after delving deep. I’ve now been told by various people [who I found tbh pretty inadequate at their jobs as counsellors, therapists and supervisors] that this was inappropriate, but you know what, it worked. I have atypical agoraphobia in that I can go places and do things others find difficult, but can sometimes find no feeling of safety anywhere, including my home. I challenge myself to stay part of the world, to make art, to be at some level an activist, to not be silenced by my experiences and their perpetrators. 50 minutes to name, explore, trace, untangle and figure out strategies is impossible, without then also the making safe… at least I only have to get a taxi home now and as I am very good friends with 1 of the drivers, and liked by all the others in the small company I use, I can feel safe enough to get home and crash, if necessary. Before I had to take 2 buses home, and change in the busy city centre.  So maybe it only needs to be a 2 minute turnaround? It irritates me that what I know works best for my long term balance and self care is unavailable on my limited budget, because of the Government cuts to disability benefits. Cuts? Yes, they are frozen, and the cost of living isn’t. A bus ticket costs £1.20/ 33% more than it did 10 years ago, a loaf of sliced bread 25p- 60p more, depending what kind you get.


I went to a really good conference last Friday and Saturday and have come out with lots of thoughts and questions, having met some lovely people – potentially 3 new friends! – and while it was an extravagance of spoons/energy, I really needed a bit of a shake-up, as the GP had weighed me down with appointments and bad diagnoses, so I was feeling like my life had no fun, and I was becoming very dull to be around. Though my kind friends have never hinted at this, I’ve been aware of having to ask for extra listening, and of course it becomes that spoonie anxiety nightmare – will I know when enough is too much? Will I wake up one day with only paid helpers coming round? Luckily most of my friends are intersectional in their politics, and often have experience of these issues themselves, but with no therapy holding the space, it has been very hard, and I have cried with friends and others who really didn’t expect it, as their question was a straw that broke my back. Two friends in particular stepped up to the plate, and I am very grateful to them. I have always ‘kept my face up’ as part of my self-defence, so this became upsetting in its own little spiral.


The single hardest day was when I woke up and thought about my artmaking, and just felt the thought settle that there was no point to it. At this point I normally joke, but actually it was very frightening. I have always managed a lot of my anxiety by doing and when I am doing enough, I can then feel safe to be. I grew up with no acceptance of my right to be myself – I was instructed from an early age to be my mother’s comfort and to do whatever it took to cheer her up. One of my earliest memories is of her bursting into tears when my father came home from work, and of feeling I had failed. That’s not a feeling a 4 year old should have. I was also told I wasn’t allowed to make art or study art at various points, and it has taken years and a really supportive tutor on the Access course I attended to break the block, ‘be selfish’ and attend to my own needs by making. My oldest friend is my absolute go-to champion for my making, and after 18 years of her friendship, I thought I was pretty solid on this. I have had solo shows and made some wonderful pieces, had people tell me how much a piece meant to them, but still… I hit that place of feeling the world has no need of my art. And it has been very hard to hold, because if my art is not needed, then I am not needed. I could feel that here was a ‘wonderful opportunity’ to heal some of that bad scripting, and replace it with solid assertion of my right as a human being to just be.


Without a therapist, missing my best ally/friend, feeling the general depression of all Remainers about Brexit, feeling the fear and anger of all disabled people about how the Department of Woe and Persecution is killing thousands with the Government’s blessing and the Opposition’s silence and the media’s collusion… yeah, that’s a bit of a tall order.


Instead, I am holding onto making what I can – patchwork, painting components, recently tie-dye and dressmaking. And now I have a commission for some textile art and a request for some collage art I had already planned to make as a gift for that person, and they are slowly creeping forward. I have plans for a new quilt in grey and sunshine yellow! I have bought a swimdress and am planning to go to a disabled swimming session, I have found a new doctor… I am resurfacing, feeling the sunshine on my skin, looking out in my tiny garden or on the terrace of the British Library, reading lots and thinking about things and being present. Being. Being me. Breathing, being, breathing. Phew.

hanging on in

Plastic Challenge Audit

Like so many other aspects of ethical living, everything has to be weighed up for whether it’s sustainable in the long term – making yourself super anxious about every last shred of clingfilm is not kind and KINDNESS must be at the heart of all our efforts to improve life on our planet, reducing our impact on all the other inhabitants and creating more flow and joined-up thinking in our daily living. And because it is OUR daily living, that means intersectional awareness – the busy working parents can’t afford as much time as the pensioner, who might struggle washing out every milk bottle, the chronically mentally ill might not be able to think about any of these issues as they struggle to stay balanced as yet more deathly policies are handed down by the Tories. People with loved ones in hospital, prison, detention centre, dying on sanctions… plastic will only matter again when those crises are over. We all need to give and share space to others and ourselves on what we can or will take on. The financial implications of switching some products are a good example – I have bought bamboo toothbrushes from China because they are very affordable [50p each] and using a local quick-grow, carbon offsetting product, which is shipped here, not flown. Many people who use eBay can manage that – they can’t afford £6 deodorant. I used my birthday money, because that worked for me. So this post is very much sharing what worked for me, and encouraging anyone in the right space to consider what might work for them.


Briefly, I learned lots about my plastic consumption, some exciting new alternatives to plastic packaged products and also some new-to-me recycling possibilities. Well worth doing!

In all, I was left with about 950g of plastic in this 5 week month – I forgot to weigh all the milk bottles, so there’s a bit of guessing in there, but that’s pretty close. Next month should be quite a lot less!

How it broke down:

can’t be re used or recycled 229g :  wrapped sweets 30g, cling film 44g, brittle plastic 48g, veg wrap 48g, blister packs for medications 38g, toothpaste tube 21g,

30g of this I have found plastic-free substitutes for – some of the veg  and sweetie packaging I hope to reduce by more mindful choices and seasonal cooking.However, there’s a hardcore 60g in medication wrapping and toothpaste tube that isn’t going to shift – most toothpastes make me sneeze or my gums itch [allergies] and I have stockpiled at least 6 tubes to futureproof myself should this brand ‘improve’ its recipe too…

can be re-used but then goes to landfill: bubble wrap 18g,

re-using, then recycling 150g eg large margarine tubs 150g

recycling via Sainsbury’s plastic carrier collection point 97g stretchy plastic eg bread bags 50g and cereal liners 47g

recycling via Council bin 460g [grand total 707g]

123g of these were easily substituted – see bathroom buys!

I decided to see what I could change easily and was delighted to find that some things are far more affordable than they were a few years ago. Everybody has to make their own decision on what mix of ethical priorities works for them, so some of these won’t work for others.

Bamboo toothbrushes: these used to cost about £3.50 and aren’t always easy to find  outside healthfood shops. I won’t buy from Holland and Barrett because I remember when I found out they were owned by Dewhurst the butchers! I think they’ve changed hands again since, but I still avoid them. So, I looked online and was completely won over when I found RAINBOW bristle bamboo brushes for 50p each! They are from China, which will be unacceptable for some people, but I understand some farm shops carry a UK version and some Waitroses. I also can’t put pig bristles in my mouth, so am hoping a hemp plastic will eventually replace the nylon bristles on the bamboo bristles I chose.


Now I use old toothbrushes to clean grout etc but eventually you have to throw them away and that’s 18g of longlife plastic 😦 The bamboo brush comes with nylon bristles, but only about 2 grams, which you can cut off after use and turn the handle into a plant label! Yay! I also bought a bamboo hairbrush which is very gentle on my scalp.

Another easy bathroom win is the switch to shampoo and soap bars – more people are making these and it’s worth checking out Conscious Crafties


or on ebay I found some lovely products by Funky Soap http://www.funkysoapshop.com/ whose approach matches mine perfectly, ‘green’ palm oil, no parabens, no sulphates [kill the daphne that fish eat] which a lot of the cheaper bars include, to make foam.


I’ve tried the malva and citrus shampoo and citrus soap so far and my hair has loads of shine and volume, and my scalp and skin feel better – I get very dry skin/psoriasis as part of the fibromyalgia. I like the mild scent, I feel clean and fresh and not too invasive of other’s space, but there are a huge variety of flavours available, including Castile l think, which is plain.

Deodorant was also simple to replace [thanks to eagle-eyed Cherise who spotted a voucher code] –  Kutis Skincare make different flavours, the Citrus is lovely and works well on me, and I bought a Rosemary and Lemon for myself too, and Rose and Grapefruit as a gift. That would have been £18, gulp, but the voucher helped. I can’t tell you how long it will last yet, but after a week I don’t seem very far down 😉 £6 is dear for me, but they are handmade by a small business in Wales and I really like the way they’re presented. https://www.facebook.com/kutisskincare/photos/a.188407244823952.1073741829.153250998339577/587856678212338/?type=3&sales_promo_bypass_snowlift=1&sales_promo_id=10154976299955614&sales_promo_referrer


I’m not sure if the cardboard container would be too aromatic to put in a compost bin, but you could certainly soak it with other card to make paper pulp and papier mache. It will definitely bio degrade anyway.

Onto the kitchen!

This was harder, partly because I can’t do my own shopping most of the time. I order online from Morrisons [who are VERY good about taking back plastic bags and you get a credit, so more people will do it] and occasionally from Wilko so that my homehelp can go straight to Customer Services to collect [they have a bad habit of wrapping everything in huge clingfilm] and sometimes manage a few things at Lidl [near my counselling appointment] or the corner shop.

Vegetables are wrapped in irritating amounts of plastic – Iceland [Frozen Stores and Supermarket, not the country 😉 ] has just announced it will go plastic-free on its own veg but aren’t very local for me or either of my homehelps.  I get the Morrisons Wonky Veg Box, which is fantastic value at £3, none of the veg are wrapped and the box folds up easily, and then I use it to send cans and rice etc to the foodbank at Himmah. Frozen veg however comes in stretchy plastic bags [like bread bags] and these, oh frabjous day! I have discovered can be recycled at Sainsbury’s. Obviously, wash the bread and veg bags out and turn them inside out to dry, so no nasties get in. These can be handed in with carriers at the collection point in EVERY Sainsbury’s 🙂 Happy rollie dance!

That won’t work for salad, but it’s a good start. You can grow salad leaves fairly easily on a windowsill or sprout seeds, and maybe make a trip to a proper greengrocer who uses paper bags [or provide paper bags, or recycle the plastic bags you’re given.] This is where the tailoring begins again, what will work for you, may not for another.

Sugar – Silver Spoon British beet sugar comes in paper bags which can go in compost or recyling, and coming from the UK involves less fuelmiles. Fairtrade brown sugar sometimes comes in that thin plastic film, which might be cellophane [which IS biodegradable] and comes from plant cellulose. Could be worth a petition campaign to Billingtons etc to make clear if their plastic is cellophane or if they could swap back to boxes. [I remember when brown sugar came in boxes!] I’ve also tweaked some recipes so that I use molasses [comes in a jar] or golden syrup/ black treacle [comes in a tin.]

Some things can be solved by buying in bulk, so that the plastic container you’re left with becomes very useful – eg vegan margarine comes in 2kg tubs, which is a useful size if I am giving cookies to the free cafe [it also reassures vegans that I really did use the dearer marg 😉 ] or freezing large amounts of things. The 1kg tubs are also more useful than the 500g for families freezing soups and sauces, and this goes for yoghurt too.

Bread – as I said earlier, Sainsbury’s take CLEAN bread bags and other stretchy plastic in the plastic carrier bag recycling point.

Boiled sweets – I really like butter mintoes, however they come individually wrapped in cellophane/film, in a plastic bag. Luckily when I went to Lidl last time they had tinned travel sweets, which aren’t wrapped , in Eis [acid drop] and ACE [vitamin a,c,e] flavours. There is a plastic seal, but the tins can be re-purposed for candles etc or recycled.

Chocolate – the more expensive fairtrade brands come in card and foil, the worst offenders are the foil coated plastic individually wrapped multipacks eg Cadbury’s. As Cadbury’s [Kraft] forced their fairtrade farmers last year to accept a drop in wages while insisting on keeping the f/t logo [grrr] this is a good time to consider buying full on f/t chocolate all the time if you can afford it, or buying biscuits. Biscuit wrappers can be recycled via Ellie’s Fund https://www.facebook.com/emptybabywipeseastyorkshire/ among many other unusual things – see their info!



by following the challenge I have made a shift of 15% by simply researching alternatives  – 153g  may not sound like much, but 123g is completely away from plastic, so not even sending items to recycling. Then there are reductions in what will go to recycling by repurposing eg using 2kg tubs of margarine for plant pots/watering tubs for homegrown tomatoes etc, for gifting food to the free cafes [otherwise I have to use clingfilm] and though they will perhaps put them straight in recycling, I hope someone thrifty will think, ooh, handy freezer tub 😉 

One very positive effect of taking part in the challenge has been to create a ripple effect – at least 4 more people have joined in because of conversations/Fbk info posts I’ve shared,  and because I have given people soap, shampoo bars and toothbrushes there has been a lot of happy chatter rather than earnest lecturing. This was a less happy aspect that came up, I am very aware of how lacking in intersectional awareness many eco-conscious people are, some very middle class attitudes towards approaching the workers in scoop stores came up in one group – these are people who either work on zero hour contracts or below the living wage, and that includes the owners of the business, standing for very long hours. Check your privilege before you ‘demand’ an alternative to a plastic bag that Market or Supermarket regulations may mean they are supposed to use. Instead, take some clean/new paper bags along with you and ask if goods can be weighed into those. They can be composted afterwards, but asking someone to refill your margarine tub or cloth bag which may be covered in cat fur as far as the staff know, is just unreasonable. Bakeries will often do this because they can reach around to drop a loaf in, but anything where your container touches a scale or could shed anything on open food is asking for someone worried about hygiene to report them. Small, local businesses rely on local goodwill and operate on tiny margins. Don’t feel people are being unreasonable when they find your request too difficult. There are plenty of small, local and even ONLINE businesses that are set up to provide plastic-free packaging, support them instead. In Nottingham UK, we have the Food Assembly and Sneinton Vegan Market, where you can take your own container, and PlasticFree Pantry is an online business who can deliver to Food Assembly if that’s easier than waiting in. Ask around, and go with the flow, pushing market traders is counter-productive and just plain rude.


So, overall, I feel it’s been very successful, though because there are things I can’t work around, I have decided to do a plastic ‘offset’, the way travellers make a carbon offset. I am researching an ocean cleaning charity to make a donation to, and  I have bought 20 of the bamboo toothbrushes, and gifted some to friends and some to the Himmah foodbank. I’m also considering being a collection point for biros and other pens/felt tips etc for Ellie’s Fund, but I need to think if I have spoons and space – you have to save 1600 to send off at once! They recycle items like biscuit and plastic wipe packets by collecting bulk amounts and then sending using a special postage label to a company who then credits their fund for research into brain tumours. The lovely mum of a very dear friend is currently affected by this, and my own granpa died of a brain tumour, so I feel very inclined to support them if l can make it work in my bijou flat 😉

This kind of joined up thinking, recycling making money for a research charity, or San Francisco’s street collections of refuse now producing enormous amounts of compost for local farms/ eco projects are exactly what we need to turn our society’s addiction to throwing things away into mindful re-purposing.






tutorial: machine cords

apologies for some blurriness, my eyes are very dry because of the fibromyalgia or the meds, and the gel that helps the pain gives my eyes a mucky windscreen effect, so making sure the camera is focused is no fun at all! Thanks to Cherise for taking the clearer shots!


Machine cords are very easy to make and have dozens of uses. They’re a useful way to use up half bobbins of thread and scraps of yarn and to add a different texture to your collages or fibre sculptures. If you want to cut back on wrapping paper etc tying a bow with cord round books or a bottle adds a festive touch, that can be re-used by the recipient too.

1.Choose your colours/textures to suit your end use, or just for fun, a piece may arise from a random choice 🙂

2. Set your sewing machine to widest zigzag the foot will allow, and longest stitch your machine does.

3. Hold the 4 or 5 yarns together loosely enough that there is some give, but firmly enough that you won’t drop them. Holding them too tightly is dangerous, because if you get a snarl up, you may strain the needle or worse, the machine timing.

4. Hold the yarn ends with your left hand well behind the foot – do not tug! again, you might break a needle or the timing! – and your right hand between the machine and your lap, to keep the yarns smooth and tangle-free.

5. Put the foot and needle down and start the zigzag slowly. If you are used to piping this is ridiculously easy, but if you are a beginner, just take your own time until you are confident. I now have a sense of which spangle threads or eyelash yarns cause trouble and rattle along at top speed, but that’s taken a few years!

6. I normally make at least 3 metres of any cord, but it obviously depends on what you are using up, or your end goal. Cut the yarn before it goes through, and reverse it under the foot.

7. How stiff do you want the cord? If you want to crochet with it, or bend it at all [think bows] then reduce the stitch width by 1-2mm and the length by 2/3 maximum. If you want it super stiff, then you can either stitch at 1.5mm or several times in different colours until you have the effect you want. If you want it looser, or you’re in a hurry, then reduce by 1/3rd of the maximum stitch length.

8. Hopefully you now have a beautiful length of cord and are thinking, wow that was easy! It takes a lot more explaining than it should – as long as you hold the yarn in position and it doesn’t tangle, it is very very easy, so please don’t be put off that I’ve made 7 stages!











I was taught this technique on an Advanced Machine Embroidery City and Guilds and used the cords as part of my final piece, and in lots of art and craft work since. I particularly enjoy making heavily embellished fabrics, with ribbons, cords and laces stitched down with variegated threads. I’ve used it on book covers, bag handles, jewellery and gallery work. In Threads of Empire, my piece Tangled Freedoms used machine cords and sari ribbons stitched with variegated silks to represent rivers, the huge distances people travelled as part of the East India Company, the struggle for communication and the tugs on loyalty… people didn’t necessarily understand all that, but they commented on the shimmering cords and the connections they made 🙂



[detail 60cm x 1m of piece 60 x 360cm Tangled Freedoms 3 made for Threads of Empire exhibition, Nottingham Lakeside Arts Centre, 2017]

Plastic Challenge 2018

I’m setting myself a challenge for 2018 of reducing single use plastics. I’d been thinking about this for a while and then someone on Zerowaste Nottingham suggested a zero single use January. I already know I’ll fail the zero goal – my meds come in plastic sheets with foil seals and I take 6 to 10 tablets a day… but I’m interested in what wangles my creative mind will come up with that will reduce my usage 😉

I think how I give/pass things on to others will be a major area – from using black binbags for landfill rubbish [mainly cat litter! which as I trained Nonie to accept wood pellets will at least compost and not make huge quarries, ugh] to plastic bags for slices of cake to friends.

I was very pleased with myself for re-using polystyrene pizza bases as platters for the muffins I made for a local free meal cafe [open to anyone street homeless or who attends a foodbank] but then had to swathe the pile in enormous amounts of clingfilm as the platters were slightly the wrong shape and the film couldn’t tuck in. Sigh…

The wins: the polystyrene and the old show cards re-used for ingredient listings; a friend gifted me lots of stuff she won’t use following a diabetes diagnosis so some went in; most of the fruit in the muffins were actually those fancy pressed fruit bars they sell in gyms that I bought vastly reduced from Approved Foods, unwrapped and cut up with scissors [spoonie tip!] and the cocoa and cherries also came from AF, our friend in fighting bbf stupidity. I’ve worked in catering and know what to watch out for with things like flour going off/getting infested, but surely most people know anything with a huge sugar content is going to last for years?

So, lots of wins/ saves from unnecessary waste there 🙂

The painful losses, hmm some of these come from a form of vanity [professional appearances!] but also from the way things are sold nowadays. Mainly clingfilm! Oh my, I wrapped and re-wrapped when the gap became clear. Then how to transport them? They were being picked up by another foodbank supporter and in the end, cursing the rash dispatch of AF boxes to the recycling, I remembered the battered Bags for Life the friend sent stuff in – I hope someone bethought themselves that they can be renewed at the supermarket for the foodbank use, but didn’t want to seem too preachy/ teach my elders to suck eggs so didn’t say. It was very hard to hand over food looking so shabby, but as my favourite saying goes you can save your face or your ass [read planet] and shabby did the job. Then there were the tubs the margarine, cherries, dried fruit etc came in. Hmm. More later! For the moment, a loss.

The next batch I had thought through a bit more and saved the wrapping from some decorative balls I bought for my next art installation



an aside – do you KNOW how LONG it took me to find out those balls with the slices on are called sola balls? 18 hours of scrolling through floristry and interior design sites.. finding anything when you don’t know the name for it is incredibly difficult, I started with the image pages and apparently most other people don’t know either 😀

So I had the beautiful packaging complete with pretty dangle tag and after airing them for a few days, put the next batch of muffins in the presentation bags. The trays of winter spiced flapjack and gingerbread went in the huge ziplock bags the lotus pods had been delivered in, again after airing [lotus pods aren’t poisonous!] and the info tags were made from scraps of paper and upcycled show cards again. The foil trays I sent the tray bakes in can be washed and re-used if the free cafe people are careful how they slice the cakes [really sharp knives cut through the foil if pushed too hard] as can the ziplock bags I sent the xmas cakes in.

So, much less waste – but even making the cakes makes waste because of the way I’ve been buying ingredients. To be fair, I only decided to offer cakes again when a few friends had said they would help this year, otherwise it is too many spoons. Having company, someone to spoon the mixture into the muffin tins another friend lent, maybe to wash up, it all helps. Also someone able-bodied to nip to the shops in the Xmas throng for emergency cherries 😀 But now I am in the swing and prepared to commit to at least once a month donations, then it would make sense to buy margarine in 2kg tubs, as they can be washed out to be delivery packaging. I already use the little fruit tubs for painting, as I make up a big batch of a colour to keep continuity across different materials, and they tend to need a hard scrub after use as I use craft/acrylic paints which are non-toxic but clod together as they dry. They can be cleaned and put in local recycling though.

The clingfilm/cellophane on the much reduced price fruit ingredients etc and the plastic bags that sugar comes in aren’t recyclable, so I either decide they are an exception clause A [because they make my donations financially possible] and/or pay a plastic toll to a group who do ocean clearing I think… One solution with the sugar is also helpful for spoonies and vegan recipes – using the ‘boiling’ method of cake making, making the mixture in a pan, using golden syrup or black treacle or natural blackstrap molasses or even CAJ concentrated apple juice instead of crystalline brown sugar, as you can buy these in tins or glass containers. White sugar is even easier, as Silver Spoon comes in paper and is from British sugarbeet, so hasn’t travelled thousands of miles to get here either 🙂

Meanwhile, friends will be getting their slices in re-used margarine tubs for a while!

The items that sparked my personal use twang of conscience were shower gel and shampoo. After a fair bit of research it turns out you can get shampoo/shower bars that do NOT contain laureth sulphate/lauryl sulphate, not because of the effect on human skin, but because the toxology tests on animals are utterly disgusting [warning: included only for accountability, reading it is extremely upsetting  http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3109/10915818309142005  ]

and because of the effect on waterways – fish can cope with SLEs to a certain extent, but what they eat can’t, see effect on Daphnia:


so that means suppliers like Lush are out. I’ve found a lovely supplier on eBay who managed to send a box out in time for Xmas, though I’d intended it for New Year 🙂 she guarantees no SLEs and various other things are reset to vegan-friendly. I’ll give you a fuller report when I’ve started using them 🙂

So much food for thought – as usual, a mantra I will be chanting is ‘don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough’. I know I will fail a zero single use plastic challenge, but trying will be very interesting 😉




lampshades and seeing the light

CONTENT WARNING: trauma, the pain of recovery, government death by DWP policies


Sorry that title is a pun to try and get myself to lighten up about the piece I’m trying to finish 😉


This is the part I currently like best of the work, it’s fully embellished, and is attractive to people who aren’t necessarily interested in [my] art. This gold hoop and a white one were found in the airing cupboard at this flat and work better with the main armature – a wire lampshade in a roughly goblet shape – than the wooden hoops I’d acquired.

The lampshade itself has been interesting to work with – the yarn slithers unless I anchor it and then the bare steel shows. That feels appropriate, but looks ugly. Sigh… that is actually what the work is about, the pearls and barnacles of trauma recovery. The scars and stigma, the increased awareness and gifts to the world that result.


The indented bayonet holder of the frame can stand for the permanent reshaping of your life that complex PTSD makes. The torn tissues, wounding and furred scarring that trauma leaves, however hard you ‘work’ to recover. People can be very judgemental nowadays – even bereavement is something to be medicated away, so grief at a lost self, a life of possibilities now gone gets very short shrift. Austerity Britain with this heartless Tory government is astonishingly cruel.  DPOs [disabled people’s organisations] are now estimating that as well as the 10,600 disabled/chronically and terminally ill people persecuted to death by the DWP in 2014, a further 120,000 people have died because of austerity policies, DWP sanctions, housing benefit changes, treatment of the homeless, cuts to care in homes, cuts to all kinds of medical services that support disabled people and the vulnerable. It’s heartbreaking that even Labour barely respond. There’s a thing on Facebook at the moment, ‘which Miliband meme do you most like?’ I’ve probably alienated a few people by commenting ‘where’s the ‘I don’t give a shit about the disabled’ one?’ because when I see Miliband I just think of the Opposition who didn’t oppose the Con/Dem death by DWP persecution policies. He may have cared, but he never mentioned it in the House of Commons, and I’m very sure he had weekly postbags of constituents testimony to the impact.


The long strings of beads are connected to this, they look pretty, but my experience of feeling like words/ memories were being pulled up from my guts like fishhooks or stones, from where they had been trapped in my flesh, that isn’t pretty.


I think in this piece I’m trying to express the imbalance it creates when life is a minefield of triggers, when all you want to do is make the best of what’s left, but every day is a challenge to even take all the tablets and supplements that help but don’t contain the pain, because nothing works completely on fibromyalgia pain, just as it doesn’t for cancer or arthritis, but those are respected in a way that anything connected to trauma isn’t. Maybe if you were a serving soldier, but then there is all the macho toxic masculinity that covers even the women vets, that you must ‘soldier on through’, even when you have an illness that affects every tissue, every fascia, when pain can stab at you from any direction, with no rhyme or reason. I talk a lot about my ‘bad’ leg, my hands, my collarbone, but plenty of other areas hurt, but some are not ‘socially acceptable’ to mention. Pain is a taboo topic, so pain in taboo body parts is really out of bounds.

Something I want to acknowledge is that I could have made this piece in angry colours, full of pain and the ugliness it causes. I haven’t because it would feel like drowning in the dysfunction, and my response to the PTSD I have lived with so long is to fight back with colour, with grace – a state of spiritual awareness and compassion, of openness including hope. That could be a failure, and I can see fellow sufferers wondering why, but I actually want to open some doors in the minds of those outside the experience, I want to neutralise some of the pain’s power and re-instate myself, the person living with the condition. Creating a neutral palette gives me some space as I make to keep a balance between my own needs and the needs of the piece.



I am very attached to the beach colours, aqua, duck egg blue, sand from off white to black, tiny particles that glisten with salt… mmm, I am drifting off to the seaside in my mind! Making 2 pieces in a row with roughly this palette has been very soothing.

I have been working on a ‘technical’ problem too, how to make pieces that express the distortion trauma creates without making them impossible to photograph! I already have intricate details getting lost in the sheer size of some pieces, so this time I am deliberately bringing some elements back closer to the main armature – the bowl of the lampshade.


So about that name – maybe Balancing Act? The hoops remind me of jugglers… and from some angles it looks as though they have escaped from the lampshade bowl. It carries some of the constant tension too, like tightrope walkers. Phew!





falling into place

I’ve always enjoyed autumn, a feeling of things being gathered in and then a time for deep mulling over and consideration going on deep within, while on the surface there are lots of new learning opportunities available. I used to really enjoy looking through the adult education classes and workshop lists, and seeing if anything appealed – mind candy 😉


Anyway, so here I find myself, at the turning of the season, wondering how I can make some abundance… I have been reading more again, the Threads of Empire curator arranged some Amazon vouchers as a reward for us artists which was really kind, and set off a buying spree on my part!

I really recommend going to see 1745 – a short film:

When two young black slaves escape into the wilds of 18th century Scotland, they must use all of their courage and strength to survive, unite, and stay free.

1745 highlights a forgotten part of Scotland’s history: while Scotland was fighting for its national freedom in that fateful year, its economy was in large part founded on the booming colonial slave trade. While the majority of slavery happened elsewhere – off-stage, across the Atlantic – there were African slaves here, kept as trophies and pets in the houses of their rich merchant masters. “1745” was inspired by advertisements that writer, Morayo Akandé, discovered for runaway slaves, placed in Scottish newspapers of the time.


{see https://www.1745film.com/synopsis}

for me, this sparked an interest in Scotland’s uprising in favour of the last Stuart, and the slavery that was funding the Scottish economy at the time… people wanting religious freedom but not giving freedom to people stolen from their homelands. I grew up with a granny telling me never to bring the flowers known in England as Sweet Williams in the house – as a Mackenzie/ Robson/ Black they were considered bad luck and an insult, and known as Stinking Billies. They are named for William, the Butcher of Culloden who massacred thousands in his Scottish campaigns, including civilians, children and old folk. The 9 of Diamonds is also the Curse of Scotland – though there are many ‘explanations’, a common one is

Anyway, suffice it to say I really, really recommend seeing the film, it’s only a short, maybe 11 minutes, but they make them count. Just seeing the sisters running through the rain [ filming must have been horrible!] I realised with a jolt that I had never seen an eighteenth century tartan dress on a woman of colour. The textile/costume historian in me was fascinated…

And that sparked reading Philippa Gregory’s ‘A Respectable Trade’ where a white woman trains a small group of slaves, but [minimising the spoilers] feels so attached to one of them, that she is terribly reluctant to give him his freedom, because without that power over him, she will lose the connection that has made life worth living for her. An even better read was ‘Joseph Knight’ by James Robertson [https://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/jun/07/fiction.alismith]

which was so well written. It starts with a young lad being ordered to run away before the massacre at Glencoe by his father, who is later hung, drawn and quartered by the Hanoverian King for treason, watched by his younger brother. The difference between the brothers in how they treated the slaves on their plantation is apparently based on family history and records and means you start with sympathy but end with horrified confusion at how this plays out. A lot of trauma in there, and the way Joseph Knight is almost unknowable because he was snatched as a toddler and has very few memories of himself before slavery, and has been shaped by that into a mask protecting a core of iron is very convincing. I found the ending, where his family are accepted by the recently freed colliers of the West Coast of Scotland very moving.


I found the new making ideas that arose from watching 1745 made me want to push on and finish the two pieces I have been working on. The freeform aqua and sand piece I am making as a companion piece to Organic Process is now being attached to a lampshade armature someone gave me and is looking very underwater/coral/barnacle crusted, so I am pleased. The Tangled Freedoms piece [from Threads of Empire] has returned and l have plans to extend it, with embroidery I have been making from lace, ribbon and fabrics, and a short quote on the decay of empires that Onni used in the exhibition. Poor Cherise will be back to pinning things on the floor again!


Doing the research for Tangled Threads reminded me that although I finally understood the waves of the French Revolution by reading Marge Piercy’s ‘City of Darkness, City of Light’ I had never understood Napoleon’s coup d’etat and the disintegration of the revolution that followed. I still don’t understand all the implications by far, but reading ‘Desiree’ by AnneMarie Selinko made me understand a lot more. I find reading a novel helps me remember the sequences of events better. Both Marge Piercy and Annemarie Selinko create understandable versions of historical people, giving them intuited backstories that make sense, whereas some of the historical analysis I’ve seen of Claire Lacombe and Desidera, Queen of the Swedes has been insultingly disrespectful, assuming they are just ‘flighty’ women responding to whatever impulse of the moment occurs, grrr..


So I think my new interest/pursuit for this autumn is to be catching up on history. My mobility and spoons are very limited at the moment, but the wonderful internet is there to explore – with a shovel of salt handy on some sites, of course! Being still, in my own place, but peeking through time and space to other lives… and being inspired to make of course, it all comes back out through my hands…