Avocado’s Fork and Bind-Weed’s Sting

“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Avocado’s fork and bind-weed’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble”
Shakespeare’s Song of the Witches bubbled unbidden into my brain whilst stirring this dark tale, albeit slightly altered.  This stitched story belongs to the Fairy GM, that Big Bad Fairy that still is not finished, and will form the binds that tie the poor little Lost Children of the F1 Hybrid That Never Grow True.
As a gardener, you might be forgiven for thinking I spend quite enough time fighting Bindweed, without making more, but I am as ever, contrary.  This year has not been such a good one for Calystegia sepium. Its smothering progress has been slower than usual, as has just about everything that I actually did want to grow. The Fairy GM meanwhile has been drumming her fingers impatiently, waiting for attention.  I was going to say she had been tapping her toes impatiently, but she doesn’t have any yet.  To be honest, they don’t really feature in her overall design. Neither do feet. Or legs. Only Bindweed.
The brew is made from avocado pits, and produces a wonderful pink dye. I foresee a week of mostly eating avocados, whilst I continue with the Fairy GM’s “charm of powerful trouble”.
East Kent Artists Open Houses continue 26th and 27th October, and 3rd and 4th November.
Come and visit, or the Lost Children of the F1 Hybrids will visit you.

A good place


Today I dug out my  my original Alice drawings – along with some other Fairy Tale friends. I’m putting them back up for Open House.

I love these drawings as, for me, they represent me finding my feet. Which is funny, because the reason I did them was because I had my leg in plaster after an operation on my right ankle, and for six weeks could only shuffle about on my bottom (can’t do crutches) so sat on the floor like a child with marker pens and lining paper and my granny’s squeezed out old watercolours, and just drew, and giggled. I didn’t have to be anywhere cos I couldn’t get anywhere, and despite mobility problems (which I knew were only temporary and then I’d be better than I had been before) I felt truly free. A good place.

Come and see the drawings at my Open House, which starts this weekend, Saturday 20th October, 11am to 5pm.  House No.27 on the Whitstable Trail


A little perspective (or a big one for that matter)


Big Alice has me thinking about Time and Scale again, for Facebook tells me it is her Fourth Birthday.   If you had asked me, as I am sure you always wanted to, when I began to make VERY large dolls, I’d have been hard  pushed to tell you, as it feels as though Big Alice has been with me forever.  You might have received a rambling reply about making dolls and why I do. Or I might have talked about the dolls in general, gone off at a tangent and forgotten the point. Most likely the latter.

I had been making very small dolls for a while. Small Alice dolls to shove in bottles and boxes and belljars;  small fairies to keep in little birdcages; and small mermaids to catch straight into jamjars. All of them constricted, caught, and held.

Obviously there was bound to be a backlash sooner or later, I just didn’t see it coming.

When I make the dolls, I draw a sketch, on the back of an envelope, on a  napkin, on whatever is to hand when the doll knocks on the front of my brain and says ‘let me out’, which is annoyingly most often not my sketchbook. Then I draw out the sketch onto big old computer paper.  The sketch doesn’t really change – my dolls are not exactly 2D but neither are they 3D. They are flat, only they aren’t. They are one sided, but the backs are quite important.  I woke with Eureka moment a few days ago: of course! they are Two And A Half D.  On checking with Google, 2.5D does already exist. Of course it would be a ‘thing’, where (and I may not have this entirely right) 2D graphical projections are used to create the appearance of being three dimensional, when in fact, they are not.  What I really like is that it is also called pseudo-3D.

Anyway.  So, I draw out my sketch onto big paper. As we all know, when you make something in fabric, you stitch it up and stuff it, and it is smaller than your drawing.  With this in mind, I set out to draw the pattern quite large. Then I stand back and look at it, check the proportions – sometimes I stand on a stool and take a photo. At this point you might be forgiven for thinking I would realise that it is going to be a biggie.  I work on the studio floor, which as I get busier and busier, becomes a smaller and smaller place, so my sense of proportion gets muddied.  The drawing is not that big, because the working area is small.  Not because the drawing is big. Still with me?

Big Alice was always intended to be quite big.  She was going in The View, which is a wonderful Whitstable gallery, and is very small.  So she needed to be big so that she was uncomfortable in the space.  By the way, my dolls are all very pleased that I have got over this need to cram them claustrophobically into something. Apart from the original Alice doll, who lives in the belljar, which does upset people.

Big Alice ended up being sixteen feet tall.  She lives in our hallway, and looks forward to each Open House.  She has just asked if I can give her flamingo his legs now, and can she have another Cheshire Cat for her Birthday*.

Four years ago, I made Big Alice.  Can’t imagine life without her really.  She is big, but she doesn’t get in the way, and when she’s off making an exhibition of herself I really miss her.  Sometimes people ask if she is for sale.  Can you imagine that?

*Oops – didn’t realise she knew I’d sold the first one.  Can’t pull the wool over Alice’s eyes.  They are just too big, and I can’t reach.

East Kent Artists’ Open Houses begin on October 20th for three weekends.

alice in teh view


Down the Rabbit Hole again!

Blinkers on! here we go….

down the rabbit hole


East Kent Artists’ Open Houses open in three weekends, and I need to shut myself away in the studio and draw and stitch and create.

I am House No.27 this year. A rather good sounding number, which has led me to the spectacularly time wasting pursuit of Googling; a terrific displacement activity for such a busy time.

It is indeed a satisfying number, and is a perfect cube. According to Wikipedia, “there are exactly 27 straight lines on a smooth cubic surface, which give a basis of the fundamental representation of the E6 Lie algebra, being 33 = 3 × 3 × 3. 27 is also 23 (see tetration). 27 is also a decagonal number. ”

I did look up decagonal number, but my brain caved in, and has gone off chasing dragons. 

Back to the loveliness of 27.  It is the first composite number not divisible by any of its digits, and is the only positive integer that is 3 times the sum of its digits.  27 contains the decimal digits 2 and 7, and is the result of adding together the integers from 2 to 7 (2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 = 27). See, how satisfying is that? and did you know that? Bet you didn’t.

The next chunk of Wikipedia’s bullet points are strangely attractive to look at, with all sorts of wonderful words, of which I have achieved no useful understanding.

“In a prime reciprocal magic square of the multiples of 1/7, the magic constant is 27. In the Collatz conjecture (aka the “3n + 1 conjecture”) a starting value of 27 requires 111 steps to reach 1, many more than any lower number. The unique simple formally real Jordan algebra, the exceptional Jordan algebra of self-adjoint 3 by 3 matrices of quaternions, is 27-dimensional.[2] In base 10, it is a Smith number[3] and a Harshad number.[4] It is the twenty-eighth (and twenty-ninth) digit in π. (3.141592653589793238462643383279…). If you start counting with 0 it is one of few known self-locating strings in pi. There are 27 sporadic groups, if the Tits group is included.”

I rather like the sound of the quaternions, which from a very swift superficial glance, appear to be quite naughty and not play by the rules. I wonder if the Fairy GM has an army of quaternions to do her bidding.

Alice, I like to think, would have very much enjoyed testing out all these words and numbers while tumbling down the rabbit hole.  I can hear her in my head repeating them aloud, and changing them as she falls, whilst Dina, (her cat, surely you knew that?) puts her paws over her ears in disbelief at such random disrespect for learning.

However, Alice may not have been quite so amused as I am by the existence of the Tits Group.  Being the co-founder of the Profanity Embroidery Group I am very happy to see tits in algebra, even if it is the name of a mathematician.

We must of course not ignore the Stupid Club. All those wonderful musicians who messily end their careers aged 27.  So my listening shall be made up mostly of Gram Parsons, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. There will be some Nirvana thrown in (it was after all Kurt Cobain’s mum who said ‘he’s gone and joined the stupid club’ on hearing of his fate). What else? well, Sex Pistols for Sid, the Stones for Brian Jones, even some Hole for Kristen Pfaff, topped off with Amy Winehouse.  I shall be watched whilst doing so with my collection of Stupid Club prints by  Sadie Hennessy.  Editions of 27, for £27, obvs.

A blue phase will colour my work these next few weeks – cobalt blue – which has the atomic number of, you guessed, 27.

Best fact of all: 27% of the Universe is thought to be made up of Dark Matter.

And now I have to go, because it turns out I do not have 27 days until Open House. And that is rather worrying. Wonder if the Dark Matter will help.


East Kent Open Houses takes place on 20th and 21st October, 27th and 28th October, and 3rd and 4th November 2018.  Houses open 11am to 5pm.

dolly was lost



A Whitstable Tail


So here we are, back at the beginning.  Why am I called Whistable Tail? I was asked the other day.  Well, it all began with a story, about the Street. “I didn’t know that” was the reply, and I thought, yes, I haven’t told the story for a long, long time, and so I shall now tell you the Whitstable Tail.


Yesterday as the rain almost concealed the sea from view, The Street began to appear.  Some people say this is a naturally occurring shingle spit, and some have said it could be the remains of a Roman harbour. I can tell you it is neither. The truth was whispered to me one day by the sea, when I was watching for mermaids; but I cannot tell you who by.  You wouldn’t believe me anyway.

The Street, that winding magical path that leads you out into the sea for a good quarter of a mile, tides lapping at either side, waves crossing in front of you as you walk, was built by a Boy.

Once upon a time you see, there was a boy with rather large feet.  He lived in Whitstable, and all his family worked on the sea.  His father, grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather, great-great-great-grandfather, all way way back across hundreds of years, were all fishermen. His mother, her sisters, and their aunts, could all dive and swim and pick up oysters – knowing those that were good to eat and those that would have a nice fat pearl.  The family was at one with the water. They lived in and on the sea as though they were part of it. All of them, except for the Boy with the big feet.

Its not that he didn’t try. He just couldn’t swim. His feet stayed firmly on the ground. He could feel the tree roots grow, knew when the bulbs were starting to wake up, when the soil was ready to push the seeds into sprouting. But he didn’t understand the sea.

He spent hours and hours watching the sea. Sitting there, just round the corner from all the boats and fishing and swimming.  He often felt as though he was being watched back,  which surprisingly didn’t bother him.  In the same way he knew the ground was alive, he knew the sea was alive.  He loved the sea, and had no fear.  But he couldn’t so much as dip in a toe.

One day as he sat watching the sea, keeping his feet out of the way of his working family, the sense of being watched back made he toes curl. His hat sprung up from the back of his head where his hair stood shock upright. He waited, expecting a touch at any moment. None came, but something had changed. He knew now it wasn’t the sea watching him, it was someone.

The family, always working though they were, noticed a change in the Boy.  He spent even more time down at the shore, just around the corner. He walked with more of a bounce, and his feet did not seem anywhere near so heavy.  He’d always been the most lovely of lads, amiable and helpful, but nowadays, well, he just shone with a happy glow.  Funnily enough though, he wasn’t anywhere near so helpful.  He was suddenly very very busy.

His brothers called to him to help launch their boat, but he didn’t come.  His father called for him to help land the catch, but he didn’t come.  They were not cross, just surprised.  He said he was ‘building something’. And certainly he was covered in sand and mud, and barnacles – which was quite odd. They were attaching themselves to the edges of his prodigious extremities in little clusters. He was often followed around by a bunch of crabs and lobsters too. Equally muddy and sandy, they were dragging large swathes of seaweed about as though moving it from one place to another. The family saw all this, and thought how wonderful that the Boy was making friends, although it might lead to problems at dinner time.

Years passed, and life on the Whitstable coast continued as it had for the past hundred years or so, with little or no change.  The Boy grew, and his feet stayed pretty much in the same proportion to his body they always had.  The family saw less and less of him, but he was clearly very happy, and they were just so busy. He was no longer followed around by a raggle taggle band of sea creatures, they had all gone back to minding their own business, scrabbling around on their pereopods, and the family thought this was probably for the best.

A visitor to the town, in search of fine oysters, asked the busy family one day who were the people standing so far out in the sea, and what was that rocky road that had led them there.  The family stopped working and exchanged the most fleeting of glances. The sound of pennies falling from great heights was a cheerful tinkle all along the beach. “Ahem, hurrumph, ahhhh  – well”, said the Grand-Father, “its a naturally occurring shingle spit, which some people think could be the remains of a Roman harbour”.

The visitor commented on the fact that he’d never noticed it before. “Its only visible at low tide” said the Father. “Here, have these oysters for your tea, lovely fat ones, have them, as a gift”.  The visitor, greedy for his tea and not quite believing his luck, scadaddled pretty damn quick.

The family put down the tools of their trade, and walked around the corner.  Sure enough, there was the Boy, far out to sea, at the end of a huge winding stone and sand and seaweed street. And he was not alone. He was sitting talking to a girl. And they were holding hands, and looking into each others eyes.  And he had his feet in the water, and she was resting her scaly green tail across them, tickling his toes with her fins.


Well, well, said the family.  They all waved and cheered to the Boy and his Mermaid, and all smiled and hugged Great-Great-Grandfather, who had just arrived on the shore pushing Great-Great-Grandmother in a heavy old bathchair, just a whisp of aged fin showing from beneath her blanket wraps.

History has a funny old way of repeating itself.

A4 tail to print 72



Houses: open and closed

Open House has been and gone, and the big dolls are back upstairs instead of hogging the living room.  Its only a couple of months until the next Open House, but its good to keep them on their toes and stop them getting too comfy. 
In my latest ‘de-Open House’ of our home, I have hung one of my big pinhole photograph prints in the living room. And it has started my brain off on an old tack.
pinhole photograph of a derelict room
Pinhole photograph
Its one from a series for my Arts degree final piece; a research project involving kiln formed glass artifacts and pinhole photography. It was all about the house behind where we lived. Empty for ten years, scheduled for redevelopment, I looked at the house day after day after day. And then one day climbed over the wall.
Deemed ‘A house of no significance’ the property was to be demolished. The council said it had no history. Obviously, if you know me at all, that was red rag to bull territory. I found its history, stuck between the changing fashions in layer upon layer of wallpaper. I spent hours in the house, took hundreds of photos, inspected its scars, and watched its final moments.
black and white photo of a house being demolished
the end of the house
After the house was no more, we moved. The story of the house is in one of my overcluttered filing drawers. The best glass pieces were sold, and the rest relegated to a tupperware pot right in the furthest corner of the loft, ignored and gathering dust. I couldn’t get started again. The kiln I had bought spent five years under a blue tarpaulin at the end of the garden before I sold it again, unused. The woman I bought it from had never used it either.  I hope it had better luck in its new home. I forgot about being a glass artist, and eventually picked up pen and paper and began sketching the people on the beach. And then of course, they grew tails.
Being stuck headfirst into mermaids, I haven’t thought about this body of work apart from raiding photos for my Alice pictures. Today though I can hear Mr Swift talking. Born in the house in 1911, he lived there until 1994. I tracked him down and asked for his memories. He was cross with me when I interrupted his telling tales of the war in Egypt, trying to redirect him back to the house. “Do you want my story or not?” he said. I did want his story, was greedy for it – but I only wanted the narrative for the house. The house was the star, the family the supporting cast, demonstrating how lives and expectations changed.
distressed photograph of an old house, printed on copper
Photo transfer onto distressed copper, collection of Bruce Castle Museum
During our very first Open House, a lovely older couple visited, and seemed a little stunned: turned out, they used to own our house.  They sat on the sofa and looked around, and said “all we can see is what isn’t here”. Their wonderful 1970s home improvements, modernising a bleak Victorian terrace, all gone. Extra walls and concrete fireplaces with modern (condemned) gas fires, ripped out and a Victorian wood burner back in the open chimney. They’d rented the house out for years. Tobacco and coffee stained wood chip covered all, which I’d stripped off revealing orange or green plaster walls, and grafitti: Arsenal, Slade and John Player Special.  Our house is held now in that state of being ‘un-done’. People ask blithely ‘done any more to the house?’ expecting progress. No. Nothing to report. Just a few more mermaids and a Giant Alice.
This morning a Guardian report from the Edinburgh Festival caught my eye.  “Buildings tell stories“. Theatremaker Geoff Sobelle, has created Home, where on stage, a typical two-up, two-down house fills up with all its previous occupants at once. Sobelle, inspired by ripping up layers of lino in his kitchen, says  “My house is my home, but it was someone else’s before that. We share spaces in ways we don’t even see.”  Ours is not a small house, but after more than a hundred years, many of multi occupancy, it would be seriously cramped if everyone materialised at once. I’ve been told snippets of stories. Our house has been a welcoming one, with parties and laughing, a readily opened door; although I do know someone who wasn’t happy here, in the damp front room of a student let.
Somehow I think it is time to listen to my house again. There is work to be done, practical and important and necessary. Things are going to change. But do you know, I think I’ll treat myself to getting a book printed of the Dwelling of No Significance project. One I can put on the shelf; a present from one house to another.
flyer for an exhibition at Bruce Castle Museum, London. A Dwelling of no significance, by local artist Annie Taylor. A critical contemporary art exhibition about a derelict house.
Flyer for the exhibition, January to April 2006. Self portrait in the house

Beware the Slump

Larger than life soft sculpture based on Alice in Wonderland, wearing a pink dress and flamingo, photographed during the Made in Whitstable Arts Crafts & Vintage Trail for the Oyster Festival 2018, with Annie Taylor and another large doll visible in the next room

The Slump is a large dark sludgy green seven legged and nine armed creature, with three eyes on the end of stalks rather like a snail’s.  It has a large spiny tail, which is leaves straggling out all over the place – it just cannot be bothered with tucking it out of the way. You’ll only fall over it anyway, so why bother.

Hugging itself tightly in the corner,  the Slump looks big and scary and slimy. Its not. Not if you don’t let it be so…

The Slump is a miserable old friend that visits immediately after an exhibition. After a deadline has been worked towards, and all stops pulled out.  After the ‘phew, we did it’ and the momentary self congratulation; then comes the Slump.  And here it is, fully formed, hogging my studio, with several of its legs and its tail flopping down the wobbly ladder right into the rest of the house. There is no avoiding it.

Pushing past it this morning to grab items for an ‘activity bag’ as I’m looking after my friend’s studio/gallery, I stood there and huffed at my half made creations. The urgency has gone.  Maybe I’ll just eat all day and jab at Instagram, and look at all the wonderful things other people are making, and feel even more miserable: this is how the Slump works.

So instead, I’m naming and shaming the Slump.  Ok, so I’m on my third bag of crisps, but I’m keeping the Slump at bay. I’m sharing my snacks with it, and offering it a part in one of my stories.  Its not so bad really, its actually quite cuddly.  Maybe it can keep an eye on the gallery while I forage for some more food.