Here’s something I’m very chuffed about! You may well be aware that I am one of Ma Polaines Great Decline’s biggest fans ; not in that stalkerish worrying sort of way, mind you – just in that staggering up to them and going ‘I really love your stuff’ in that arm waving boozy Sunday afternoon in the Dukes sort of a way. Which happens a lot in Whitstable.
Anyway, last year, when they were working on their new album, they asked if I would like to have a think about some artwork for it. Would I??? well, what do you think? So, they sent me the work in progress, and I listened, and sketched, and then listened and stitched.
The tracks illustrated are Volcano – which was mostly hand stitched on trains and in Nobby van, Paris is Burning (which I always think of as Dead Man in the Closet) and Morphine – both of which are machine stitched on Nina the Bernina, reusing fabric from my recycle pile, and painted with a watercolour wash.
This album has become rather a Whitstable project, with local artists and musicians adding their skills to the beautifully composed music and lyrics.
Produced by John Gallen, photography by Phil Miller (exhibition currently showing at The Sportsman, additional bass playing from Martin Elliott… this is a band that the Bubble has really taken to heart.
Give them a listen – or even better, go see them, and buy the cd!
Aware of a deadline for an open exhibition I wanted to enter, equally aware that I hadn’t even started thinking about what to make, I opened our blue front door to welcome a friend, and as I stepped back, realised that I’d only ever lived in left handed houses.
What I mean by that is that all the houses had the front door on the right hand side, so that when you enter the house, you turn left into the rooms – otherwise you’d go splat straight into the party wall, which would hurt, and might upset the neighbours.
I’ve never been much of a mover. I don’t travel light and have way too much stuff. Books and fabric and records and pictures and ornaments and nicknacks and just stuff! I read, sew, draw and paint, garden. I didn’t always garden, I did when I was small, helping Mum, and even having my own little patch to grow tiny radish and carrots. But then music and dancing took over and it was some years before growing things became important again. That was after I bought my flat. Planting a tree makes it even harder to move. Eventually though, we (for it was ‘we’ by then) dug up the nectarine tree, and the peonies, and an artichoke or two, and moved on.
This house we moved to, is only the sixth house I remember living in. There was a house when I was tiny, and I’ve seen photos, but I do not remember it. I know it in terms of stories: the kitchen-hatch my Dad made, the mice my brother loved to watch careering round his bedroom floor, the neighbours my crying drove demented.
I can’t draw that first house. I know the road name, but not the number. There were trees in the road, but the trees in the road I grew up in had spring blossom. One had both delicate white blossom and green leaves, together with heavy blousy pink blossom and plum coloured leaves. The trees have not fared well these past few years, and the gutters no longer fill with fallen blooms. We had a green front door, and a pyracantha tree in the corner, which my Dad kept trimmed to a lollypop shape.
When I finally started going Out, I stayed at friends and boyfriends, in Camden, in Kings Cross, in Haringey and somewhere in West London that involved a complicated process of hiding under a van to gain access to the house; going home to my parents for a change of more or less identical artfully ripped black clothes. My friends (and boyfriends) meant visits to Sheffield and Glasgow and Manchester. But my ‘stuff’ all stayed at my parents. My room was always there, and after a hot dinner, a warm bed, and maybe a Dynasty with Mum on a Friday evening, I’d head back off again. Sometimes I turned up and someone else had eaten the dinner and nabbed the bed, as my parents always looked out for our less fortunate friends.
After approximately 8,431 days, I moved across the River, into a room with my boyfriend. It was a big house with no shared living space, 15 miles north from my parents. My Dad drove me there in a car full of stuff, lit a cigar and laughed a lot. He hadn’t smoked for years. The boyfriend and I stopped talking to each other around 182 days later, I found myself another room in a different shared house, less than a mile away, and wonderful new friends. It was an unmitigated shithole, but with a pint of red wine in one hand, a big old funny cigarette in the other, and helping hands all around, I moved in. It had a big rambling hedge, that was never trimmed, and I think had a gate – or at least a gatepost, when I arrived. It was gone by the time I moved on, about 1,187 days later.
My next home was just around the corner, not even a quarter of a mile from the last, with, as usual, more people most of the time than actually lived there, plus four cats and two dogs. We had the offy on one side, which was very handy. I never saw the neighbours. Probably just as well. They must have suffered. The garden was crazy-paved all over, but had a tree. The huge ground floor bathroom had French doors. The offy had a German Shepherd dog that sat in their yard and howled, generally whenever things seemed quiet enough to chance a bath on a sunny day with the doors open.
Sleep began to seem a more attractive and necessary idea, and I began to think it might be nice to have somewhere of my own, maybe a garden. 912 days later, I found my flat, two and a half miles uphill.
My brother borrowed a van from work and arrived to help me move, as by then I had rather a lot of stuff, including a wardrobe and shelves to contain it. He said “we’d better unload the van first”, as it was pre-loaded with all stuff from my parents’ house, plus some things they thought might be useful and a small white table and chair from Granny. My parents’ house breathed a brief sigh of relief, before my parents set about filling all the now available space with yet more books and ornaments and records and things of their own.
I met my partner, The Engineer. He lived in Nobby Van, had a motorbike, tools, a couple of cassettes, but no stuff. He built a workshop on the back of the flat, and we took over the garden next door as our allotment.
4,716 days later we were moving on, 163 miles East to the seaside. Everything went into storage as our new house wasn’t entirely habitable, some might say it still isn’t. The Engineer was astounded and horrified by the sheer stuff volume: it kept appearing: cupboards disgorging their contents like Tardis. Added to which by then was his Edwardian safe, my full size kiln, and other death-defying one ton objects of a whole new level of stuffness to move. And my greenhouse – a leaving present from my last ever proper job some years before. That didn’t want to move. It had taken root along with the white peach tree and the big pink rose that bloomed all year, the magnolia and the apple trees, and the um, Japanese Knotweed.
So here we are, 4,836 days and counting, in my sixth left handed house, with a Cat That Isn’t Ours, and lots and lots and lots of stuff. One day it will all be in the right place, neat, tidy, accessible. Ha ha ha, say the Fabric Friends.
Six little houses, all in a row. Stitched by hand and machine, onto fabric from the stash. I had so much stuff I wanted to squeeze into this piece – names, and latitudes and longitudes, and dates and times, and distances. I wanted to map my infrequent moves, my travels with my stuff. The houses weren’t having it. They’ve formed themselves into a single terrace, stuff firmly behind closed doors.
Six little left-handed houses, with their post codes. I’ve only moved one degree East, less than a degree North or South. And I’ve never lived in a right-handed house.
I’ve only ever lived in left-handed houses. Machine and hand embroidery and crayon, on old bedlinen.
My friends have been laughing that this is going to be a good year for opticians, and I’m guessing they are right. I’m tippitytapping this with transformed spectacles held on with welding wire arms, with gluegunned tips for behind ear comfort, fashioned lovingly by The Engineer after the arms just randomly fell of my specs, leaving me balancing my varifocals pince-nez style – which meant only a matter of time before we had specs in soup and beans on specs.
Like one of my Big Dolls, my arms are not long enough. No amount of holding at arms length is going to bring small print into focus. I’ve thought about making some longer arms, more like Big Alice’s legs, but I don’t think they’d really be much help. I can imagine them trailing along behind me down the High Street, tripping people up, and wrapping themselves around lamp posts, and being quarter of a mile behind me when I did actually want to read something. And they’d need an awfully big sort of puppet frame mechanism to function, which might be rather heavy for walking far. I suppose I could put them in my shopping trolley and just bring them out when I need them, but then, where do I put my shopping – in another trolley that I tow behind me and the arms? Actually, I’m beginning to feel quite exhausted thinking about all this, and considering I wasn’t particularly thinking about it before I started typing, I think it is best I just stop now. And make an appointment to see the optician.
However, as we are now in a New Year, and my spectacles are, for now, correctly positioned, I am busy sorting out diaries and calendars (and trying to make sure I write the same information on the same day of each). So here is a list of what is afoot (or a-fin) so far for this year in the House of Mermaids.
First up, the Profanity Embroidery Group Annual Exhibition will take place from 12th to 18th February at the Fishslab Gallery in Whitstable.
May 28th to 2nd June, the Big Dolls and I shall be joining Meg Wroe, Bev Sage and Clair Meyrick at the Pie Factory in Margate
July 10th to 16th sees the Mermaids in residence at Show Off in Harbour Street, Whitstable, alongside Alma Caira and Katrina Taylor
During the Whitstable Oyster Festival, in July, the house shall be Open for the Made in Whitstable: Arts, Craft & Vintage Trail
And quite frankly, thats enough to be getting on with. So on with it I get. Happy New Year!!!
Facebook has just told me this photo was 5 years ago. Big Alice, as nature didn’t intend. Strangely my first thought was about how the Terminators arrive nude. Not that Big Alice is very Terminatorish, but Big Alice wasn’t terribly happy at this point, and having difficulty managing those legs and feet. She’s still the biggest doll I’ve made…. so far.
Anyway, when I was making her, if I wasn’t busy busy busy, I was thinking “what on Earth?”. Not a question I asked at all once she was finished. And once she’d cheered up too. Not to be like those people who walk around going “Cheer Up Love It Might Never Happen” (who do deserved whatever might not happen to promptly Happen to them), but having a glowering larger than life fabric friend sprawling all over your studio like a malevolent teenager was rather unnerving.
Last week I started being busy busy busy again. And then I stopped and came up for air and thought ‘What On Earth?”. I’ve been possessed by my new sewing machine, and she’s making me do things I wouldn’t normally do. This wasn’t the plan, not one bit. All I can hope is that with time, I’ll accept that I’ve made a sort of appliqued quilty thing, and enjoyed the process, and that I’m sure some good will come of it one day….
Come and see what you think. Save me from the evil/conforming influence of Nina the Bernina, and let me get back to my dolls. Its East Kent Artists Open Houses time again, and we open for the following three weekends, 12/13th, 19/20th and 26/27th October 2019.
“What does this say?” enquired a lovely visitor, holding one of my articulated paper mermaid dolls. The room was packed, as it was during our very busy Open House for the Whitstable Oyster Festival, this last weekend.
First, find spectacles underneath a couple of goats. Next, focus. Goodness, I don’t think I would write anything quite so small any more. Not that I designed this an awful long time ago. Obviously pre these specs though.
“Malacophonous Magnicaudate” says I, with satisfaction. “Yes”, says lovely visitor, “but what does it mean?” I think, I think, as I dredge in my brain, that it means….. ah yes, gently voiced. And big tailed.
A room full of incredulous faces turn to me. “You made that up”. No, no, I didn’t. Honest. Look I’ll show you. Oh no you won’t, says internet. Internet says no such words exist. Butter wouldn’t melt in its technological mouth as it asks me if I mean all sorts of other things because it has never ever heard of those two words. Never. Lying little internet. It gave me the words in the first place.
“I think it means ‘Bad’ – you know ‘mal’, it means bad. Its all cod-Latin. You definitely made it up.” No, not Bad. I know my mermaids are quite often naughty, but I really don’t like to advertise the fact. And I can remember being delighted when I came across these words, because they were so perfect. And I do so like a perfect word.
Finally the pixies of technology decide to stop messing about, and throw up one lone dictionary definition to back me up, allowing the Malacophonous Magnicaudate Mermaid to swim off to her new home, laughing at all the fuss she had caused.
Not everyone was convinced, I could tell. One online dictionary doesn’t prove anything. And I do like to tell stories, so you cannot blame my visitors for their lack of trust. Of course, later, much later, the Big Old Dictionary finally wakes up, and I find “malaco- or malac- denoting softness: from the Greek malakos”. I missed it because it was hiding behind a snail, slightly above a bunch of herrings and salmon. And if you want to know what I’m on about, you’ll have to look in the dictionary. A proper one, with paper pages. None of that online pedanticness.
I like the Walrus best,” said Alice, “because you see he was a little sorry for the poor oysters.” “He ate more than the Carpenter, though,” said Tweedledee.”
Even the Walrus and the Carpenter would be hard pressed to eat all of the Oysters that will be around Whitstable next weekend. It is the annual Whitstable Oyster Festival from Saturday 27th to Monday 29th July, and the Oysters shall be gadding about all over town, with their shoes all clean and neat (and this is “odd because you know, they haven’t any feet”)
“The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
And whether pigs have wings.'”
The sea, it must be said, is not boiling hot.
It is always the line that has least interested me in the whole of Lewis Carroll’s 1871 poem.
Unlike “whether pigs have wings”, which is of great interest, for I do so love to be able to say “they’ll be pork in the treetops come morning”. This is of course a direct quote from Queen Eleanor. Or rather, Katherine Hepburn in “The Lion in Winter”.
Pigs and their wings have been mentioned since forever it appears, for no one seems to know when they became a symbol of the improbable, and general consensus would have them first appearing in Scotland. But it could be Germany. Ob Schweine Flügel haben.
But I do, of course, digress. This nonsense post was just to tell you that I am taking part in the Made In Whitstable; Arts, Craft & Vintage Trail on 27th and 28th July, and you are all invited to visit. And seeing as it is a Fringe Event for the Whitstable Oyster Festival, I thought I’d talk a little about Oysters. Instead it is about pigs and their wings. Oh dear.
Well you see the Oysters shall definitely be ready for the Oyster Festival. But my readiness involves Pigs and Wings and Improbability Drive (lets not even go there…)
There will definitely be mermaids though. Definitely.
This morning has that lovely sort of ‘aaaah’ feeling of a piece of work finished and handed over, and the sewing machine is putting its feet up and blowing fluff from its hot little motor.
Lately I’ve been beavering away on my latest piece for the Profanity Embroidery Group’s Load of Bollocks exhibition, which opens at the Undercurrents Gallery at the Birds Nest Pub in Deptford on 28th June.
My piece was one of my super duper “I know what I’ll do” ideas of speed and efficiency.
As usual, it did not pan out like that.
I am however very pleased with the result, and with the response from the rest of the group, which was ‘ooh, the photos don’t do it justice’.
If in doubt, in my family, we turn to Soviet propaganda. In fact, I’ve just done another one for Father’s Day, and I need to send my Dad the reference material I stole from, as he is unfamiliar with that particular image. But I digress: my plan was to rip of Rodchenko’s Books poster with machine embroidery. Drawn out in seconds, Russian for Bollocks verified, scrap bag rummaged in and machine sewing begins. Great start.
Then I want to watch a film so start filling in by hand – and sew over half the hand. Realise. Debate unpicking – ask my friends and embroidery colleagues over on Instagram – who as one say ‘sod the unpicking’. Yay. Cheers guys.
Wise words from an experienced machine embroiderer in PEG “don’t oversew or it will pucker”. I oversew. It puckers. Puck it.
Then rattled off next batch of letters. Filled them in. Didn’t like it. It was almost as though the God of Unpicking was determined to have their input, and having not succeeded at first, tried again. God of Unpicking now having had its pound of flesh, I was allowed to complete the project.
Me and the sewing machine – both with feet up and nice cups of tea. Or rather, a drop or two of oil for the machine. Not keen on tea, sticky stuff, he says.