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.
“When I was a little girl, I had a rag doll” is not strictly true. For one thing, she was a rabbit, still is in fact. Unfortunately due to the current status of my home, I cannot get to her to show you. Current status is not due to me or the dolls making exhibitions of ourselves, it is due to ‘work’ on the house. Anyway, Rosie was the beginning.
My mother was rattling away on her sewing machine after my bedtime. I was always one of those children who was up at the slightest noise. Like a meerkat. She was making these rabbits for my cousins. They were the best rabbits EVER.
Mum eventually caved in and made the annoying meerkat her own rabbit. Rosie had blue button eyes, a little plait of blonde hair, and gorgeous rosy ears and dress. I loved her from the start, but there was a problem. Under the big rosy skirt, instead of legs, there was a strange bulbous shape, and a cold unhuggable zip. She was a nightdress case. She was – for about one day and one night. And then she was filled with whatever was to hand to make her cuddly and round. She came everywhere. Later, that zip could hide a multitude of contraband. Rosie became a bit bedraggled, and was given a makeover. She had orange hair, brown eyes and purple ears and skirt. I’ve thought maybe by now she ought to have green hair, and blue ears. Or something. And if you’ve ever wondered why I have always dyed my own hair, and mixed clashing colours, well, you have your answer.
As you can tell, I grew up in a house of ‘stuff’ where my parents made things all the time. Make do and mend was a large part of it I guess when I was small, but it meant that, rather like in my life now, people always gave them stuff they were getting rid of, ‘cos they might be able to use it. Like fabric scraps. So there was always fabric to make matching green trouser suits for all seven Sindys, and pretend they were a girl band like the Shangri-Las. Original Sindy heads used to just pop off, which made them a lot easier to dress than the later more posable dolls. Never been much of a one for considering fixings – my own dressmaking involved sewing myself in, and then getting mum to cut me out in the morning so I could go to work in something a little more sensible.
And what is it with teenage girls and cuddly toys? I’m too embarrassed to post a picture of my bed, covered as it was. Some of them were fairly awful. Some of them I’d made. I’ve cropped to the Cinderella doll, made from a pattern in one of Nana’s People’s Friends. A topsy-turvy doll. Rags one end, glam the other. I’d like to revisit this design, but want them to be mermaids, and the idea just doesn’t translate. I’ll come back to it, I’m sure. Next to Cinders was my pride and joy. Prince Charming, Adam Ant style. By now, I really was quite old to be making dolls, but obviously not as old as I am now, so let’s not worry about that.
Prince Charming came to a very sorry end. As did Cinders. And the doll that my friend Mary made. Mary’s doll was me. Green and purple hair, huge orange British Rail dungarees, stripy tights and boots. Mary’s boyfriend’s dog, Josh, ate all three. Josh ate so many precious objects in our shared house (none strictly edible) that in the end Mary fed her boyfriend’s full-on furry Russian hat to the dog. Revenge is, after all, a dish best served cold.
And why am I telling you all this? It is because of Daisy. Daisy, the Mary Quant doll, the must-have doll of the early 70s. The doll that seems to unite a whole load of my friends, and suddenly makes it seem not at all strange that I do what I do.
If you are reading this blog, you know that my working process is not always constructive. Displacement Activity is my best friend.
Exhibition deadline waves “hello”. I cut down on ‘other stuff’ to focus in the studio. This used to be precisely the point where one good friend began phoning daily to ask if I was cleaning the oven. Cleaning the oven was the displacement last resort.
The cleaning oven trick doesn’t work any more because we have a wood burner, a big lump of steel, and it is the Engineer who looks after it. Its name is Dean. Our little living room Victorian stove is called Pearl (think about it, and go bah bah bah ba ba ba baaahhhhhhhhh). Pearl doesn’t get used much nowadays. She used to be all we had to be warm and cook with, and then we bought her some lovely new coal and she overheated and buckled. Poor old girl. So then, through Freecycle, we acquired a gas cooker, Heston Greenenthal (it was green) and boy did that need cleaning. Heston used to get in the most mess I have ever seen a cooker get in. And it had one of those glass lids too. That could take ages, just to get the splatters off of that. Now, this wasn’t meant to be a post about our cooker history, but you can see how easily Cleaning The Oven became a major displacement activity – one that could really be justified.
So, no more oven to clean. The Engineer has cut the lawn. And I am in the studio.
And – drum roll please – every morning for the last week when I have reached out to start something new, I have stopped myself. I’ve asked myself why, what for, and am I really going to finish it (and everything else) within the time allowed, including that supposed to be for sleeping. Some things are being started, obviously, but they have been approved by the exhibition committee currently residing in my brain.
Also, the last three mornings I have remembered to move the jar of paint water before I kick it over.
“They” say a lot of things. For time can also fly when you are not particularly having fun – as in Good Lord we are already in February and I have only just actually had some much needed fun. Nor have I engaged in any worthwhile displacement activity. I wonder what ‘they’ would have to say about that!
So my lack of updating this blog is not due to conscious displacement activity – it is due to a month or more of lurgies various, and life the universe and everything (but not displacement) taking precedence.
Having caught up – almost – on orders, and dug out the sketchbook from a teetering pile of stuff, it is time to take stock of what indeed I ought to be displacing from.
The Big Dolls (and hopefully some new friends) will be toddling off to Margate in May to celebrate the Spring Bank Holiday in style at the Pie Factory from 3rd to 8th May. Neon Blue Tales is an eclectic mix of installation, paintings, prints and words. Four creative women – Bev Sage, Clair Meyrick, Meg Wroe and myself shall be transforming this beautiful space.
And then in July, it is the Whitstable Oyster Festival, and once again I shall be Opening the House for the MiW Arts Craft & Vintage Trail. That is, trusting we have a floor and all that, which we don’t at the moment, but that is another story.
This is all looking like rather a lot of work, and I really think the best thing to do now is go back to bed and think about it all. Quietly. With the Cat That Isnt Ours and a large mug of tea. Looks like displacement needs to start in earnest.
I could in fact make a doll named Earnest to top the displacement activity list.
It’s a long old process. I have an idea, and before I grasp it, its flicked its tail and gone. A mermaid brooch. I know that was the idea, but I the how and the why, well, that just didn’t stick around.
Sketches appear. Probably not in the lovely big black sketchbook where it should be. More often on a coffee ringed crumb dusted back of an envelope on the kitchen table.They don’t remind me about being a brooch, and became a drawing, then a print that I have worked on digitally. Other sketches remain a scribble in the middle of a coffee stain – for now. Unless they decide to become firelighters for the stove.
Some time later, it becomes just the thing I was looking for – and in this particular case -it becomes my new logo, used as a lovely big swinging tag on all my mermaids.
Then it becomes the logo used on my stall for the Etsy Made Local fair that I am attending this weekend. A lovely uniformity for my stand – everything all beautifully mermaidy green (sorry Alice – you just don’t fit on a six foot table. Its hard enough with the mermaids – even Big FridaMer might have to stay home for logistical reasons).
And then, some lovely person on Instagram asks where she can get the mermaid brooch with the Frida quote about bourbon biscuits.
She doesn’t exist.
But she’s about to.
See, everything about my design and making process meticulously planned from start to finish. Ahem.
For those who know me, or my work, I am quite sure it shall come as no surprise that there always was a Doll. Not just any old doll. Dolls of great importance. Lately I have been thinking about The Russian Doll, as my family called her, but was not strictly accurate. Like many of my family’s naming and explaining, there was always more to it than fact. By which I am not saying things were total untruths, just detours for the sake of a story, and to link to a time and a place.
The Russian Doll wasn’t a doll. By which I mean I was not allowed to play with her. From when I can remember, she stood on my bedroom window sill, until later when I had a dressing table, and she stood on there, leaning against the mirror. Tall, elegant, a little haughty. On top of her head, she balanced a basket. She had one hand up as though to steady it, I think, but her gaze made it clear that she didn’t need to hold it. She just looked good that way.
Dressed in faded rose silks, full long skirt in layers, shawls and aprons, everything was edged with tiny silver coins. She was exquisitely made up – pale pink cheeks, rosebud lips, finely drawn soaring eyebrows. Her expression backed up Mum’s command. Don’t touch. She is not a toy.
Not being a toy meant she was handled with care and fascination. Not being a toy meant she was confiscated if she was found to be in amongst the rough and tumble of the rest of the dolls and rabbits. Yes, rabbits. I still have two of them. One Mum made that was supposed to be a nightdress case, with a big flowery skirt and matching ears, called Rosey. I didn’t like her flat, un-nightdressed, so she was stuffed instead, to maintain maximum cuddleability. The zip along the size of her lower round half, the now not necessary nightdress access, served as a very good hiding place for contraband. But I digress.
When I finally left home (as in took more than just the paratrooper boots I wore come rain or shine, and leather jacket that was usually on my back), she stayed on the dressing table. She was not for the great unwashed of the shared houses and patchouli oil.
As I moved around, she grew older, and was disinclined to move. She stayed on the dressing table, which was now in my Mum’s room. I’d talk to her every Christmas, pop in and say ‘hello’ when I visited.
Finally I had my own home, and with great glee, my parents loaded a large van of everything that was mine, and promptly set about filling the space with more books, videos and computer parts.
And this is where it gets hazy. I can only picture the Russian Doll on the dressing table. And then one day, many years later, she just wasn’t there.
Mum said ‘oh she was so old – she fell apart’.
Mum said…. but is that another of my family’s stories. Did she come to live with me, and did I break the rules, play with her. Did she start dancing all night, ditch her basket, and then, did she leave home? Trade in her silver coins and head off, back to the Balkans and down to Greece? I do hope so.
So why now am I thinking of her, you ask? Well, she just appeared in my head as I was painting one of my mermaids. The colour palette and her face. I suddenly recognised her in what I was doing. Of course, I do not have a picture of the Russian Doll, but we have the World Wide Web. And I’ve found her sisters.
And now I really must get on as I do have other things that I’d better be doing. I am taking part in the Etsy Made Local Christmas market at Canterbury’s Westgate Hall this weekend, and have mer-angels to finish. And I have a dog to walk, who is waiting not so patiently for me to finish this, sort out the washing, light the fire – he has just fixed me with a look. We walk now.
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 forCalystegia 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”.
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