Welcome to Whitstable Tails: Where mermaids and fairy folk flirt with carnies and Kahlos.
Maker of large soft sculptures with stories to tell. I create 2D and 3D illustrative and textile narrative based work from the realm of the fairy tale and childhood memory.
Since I began to make large scale soft sculptures in 2014, they have rather taken over my life. They are familiar figures in the local area, although everyone refers to them as ‘mermaids’ regardless of the size of their feet.
Made from calico or old bed linen, and often stuffed with recycled duvets; they are dyed with tea for age and painted with watercolour for softness, finished with embroidered details. Old familiar stories come out of the end of the needle altered. The story of the Ugly Sister’s grew too full to fit onto her feet, and became a fabric book of its own, made from old table linen: it wasn’t the Ugly Sister’s fault, the Prince is vile, and Cinders’ kills him with the knife that butchered her sister’s feet. Illustrated with modified vintage embroidery transfers, the story stitched in tiny cotton chain stitch.
I like to encourage visitors to touch my fabric friends, to pick up the Ugly Sister’s poor bleeding feet and read the words in red thread. The Fairy GM (under construction) is not very nice, but it doesn’t stop people wanting to hold her hand. Initially intended to be a story of genetic modification, she became entwined with bindweed, strangling everything in its greedy advance, and her story changed.
During the working process, I may carry a limb, or a head, around with me, stitching as I listen to live music, visit a friend, sit on the beach. They become part of my life. A companion, talking to me, telling their tale.
Watercolour is my preferred media for the bodies, with embroidery details. Much of the material I use is inherited and donated, and again this governs directions the work takes. As can a song lyric heard on the radio, a phrase caught on the air, or a sycamore seed spinning down to earth.
I began to make dolls from my drawings as props to photograph and redraw, and then to exhibit alongside the drawings to add interest. I wasn’t prepared for the fact that people would want to buy them.
A lot of the materials I use have been preloved. Both my partner, a restoration engineer, and myself, are prone to coming home with “things’. People give us stuff that they don’t want to keep any more but cannot quite bring themselves to throw away. We are trusted to breathe new life into broken objects and odd bits and pieces. He says its as though I have Art Tourettes – the things in my head just have to get out, and is very tolerant of not being able to sit down because everywhere is already occupied by my fabric friends.
I am also the co-founder of the Profanity Embroidery Group, in Whitstable; organise and curate exhibitions and Open House events.
In another life, many moons ago, I was a secretary, and my art was a hobby, often expressed in dressing up. In the 1980s I worked for Zandra Rhodes and the Crafts Council, before joining the Guardian Women’s Page team via Hackney Probation Office. I should clarify, I worked in the office; I was not on probation.
A problem with my hands (RSI) made me realise time was running out to do what I really wanted. I began arts access courses in 2000, completed an Applied Arts Degree in 2005, ran away to the seaside and have never looked back.
I am also a proud member of SEW: the Society for Embroidered Work
Come and visit:
Hopefully some of the exhibitions which were cancelled due to lockdown will be rescheduled during 2021.
Please visit my Etsy Shop: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/WhitstableTails
Mermaid cards are usually available from the gorgeous Seagulls & Flamingos in Harbour Street, Whitstable.
Art Dolls hang out at Story Interiors in Margate – alongside other wonderfully eclectic and bizarre original gifts – and mermaids at New Kent Art Gallery in Broadstairs.