Waiting for the muse to strike? No thanks.
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

We all create differently. Some people positively glow with creativity as a deadline looms; others become paralysed as that dreaded date approaches. Some thrive in a chaotic work space; others get distracted if their pencils aren’t lined up correctly. Some sit in front of a white page or piece of white fabric waiting for the muse to strike; others just get started confident that the ‘muse’ will turn up at some stage. OK, these are all generalisations. We are all individuals and there is no right or wrong way to be creative whatever form that creativity might have.

But self awareness; taking the time to understand and, critically, accept the way that works best for you can make you more productive and less frustrated. This is something that I took the time to think about and I am a much happier ‘creative’ for it. Let’s take the muse / deadline bit first. For me ‘waiting for the muse to strike’ is like waiting for Amazon on Christmas Eve to deliver the thing your loved one wants more than anything in the whole wide world, that you have told them they will get, that they have posted on Facebook that they are getting. Normally your neighbours would take the parcel in but that tried and tested method isn’t working - they have gone on holiday. And so you take a day off work, you get up early just in case, you sit around in your front room as you know your doorbell doesn’t always work and Amazon guy doesn’t hang about long enough to knock twice. And, of course, the first time you nip upstairs to the toilet the doorbell rings and ……

Now I don’t mind sewing on labels and adding sleeves the day before an exhibition starts but I don’t apply for gallery space, let alone announce it to the world without having a plan of what I am going to exhibit and having confidence in my ability to deliver. For me this is made easier because I took a conscious decision a few years ago to work in series and to have multiple but connected series going on at the same time. Even if the newest series is just in my head I am never ‘starting cold’. The thought is just too scary, too uncertain. My ideas evolve as I work, they do not just appear fully formed. I also started logging my studio hours and analysing how long different activities take. I know how long, on average, it takes me to create 1 square metre of finished quilt so I can back calculate when I need to start work on pieces for an exhibition based on how many pieces and of what size that I want to have ready. Or, as was the case for my solo gallery at this summers Festival of Quilts I was able to make a decision to include a few older pieces in order to free up time to work on another, equally important project, in this case my first book.

I also understand, and embrace the fact that I am not productive / creative when surrounded by chaos. A well known quilter once told me that before she can start work on new ideas in her studio she cleans her house. At the time I was still working in a room in our house and I totally agreed with her. Thankfully when we built my studio at the bottom of our garden the need to create in a clean tidy space transferred to the studio. The house could be an absolute pig-sty but so long as my studio was clean I was happy and productive.

When I was getting ready for my exhibitions with Helen Conway last year the studio was all mine. Messy was a few threads on the floor and a dirty coffee cup in the sink. But now I share my studio with my students and I have had to figure out how to ‘work’ in a different space. Turns out I need to clean up everything after a class before I can settle to create my own art …. even a pile of dirty drop cloths in the corner waiting to go through the washing machine bothers me (solution = dump them in front of the washing machine in the house!). Turns out I also need to move the tables around. Physically pushing the student benches together to create one big table switches my brain from teacher mode to artist mode. Yep, self awareness is a powerful thing!

Over the next few months I will be moving the tables around a lot!

Happily exhausted!
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Two four day shows in successive weeks with just two days at home between them was always going to be a ‘challenge’ but what a wonderful way to exhaust myself! The Fashion and Embroidery Show at the NEC, Birmingham was brilliant. I was delighted to be given a bigger stand than expected as it meant I could take more quilts to show. I decided to show one of my big Ruins quilts on the back wall and was overwhelmed by the response - so many wonderful comments. Big, big thank you to everybody who stopped by the stand!

And a super, big thank you to my son, Joe, who came to both shows with me. I simply could not have done without him. He even did a bit of printing when I was busy away from the stand! This is definitely a family affair.

And now I’m home and have just finished washing fabrics, cleaning screens and catching up on paperwork. For those of you who watched me printing at the shows below are some of my demonstration pieces from the shows. The piece at the top of this post was printed in Birmingham.

I’ve indulged in an afternoon nap and a couple of early nights. Batteries fully recharged. What next? Making lots and lots of art for my exhibition at this summers Festival of Quilts. Living the dream!

Printed in Glasgow, breakdown printing and printing using screens with torn masking tape resists.

Printed in Glasgow, breakdown printing and printing using screens with torn masking tape resists.

Printed in Birmingham, all breakdown printing.

Printed in Birmingham, all breakdown printing.

A quick thank you!
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A quick, but heartfelt, thank you to all the lovely people who stopped by my stand at The Creative Craft Show in Glasgow. I can’t help but be a bit nervous when I’m demonstrating as being at a show is not a great place to print some uninteresting / downright ugly fabric. This time around however I really liked some of the pieces I printed. As soon as I get a moment I will wash the fabrics out and share with you. No surprises that the pieces are breakdown printed!

But that will have to wait as I am back on the road on Wednesday ready for the Fashion and Embroidery Show at the NEC in Birmingham. The show runs from Thursday to Sunday and I’ll be on stand L40 in Hall 12. I’ve spent the today preparing more breakdown screens. Fingers crossed for lovely fabric!

Just what I needed!!
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I am my own worst enemy! I have a habit of taking on just a little bit more than I should then setting myself challenging deadlines. I did just that with the decision to write my first book, Breakdown Your Palette. But the late nights were worth it - I have been completely overwhelmed by the response and a big thank you to those of you who ordered the book and who got in touch to tell me how much you liked it. I am feeling very loved right know!

Having launched the book I was feeling just a little bit tired. By chance (or maybe by careful planning!) last week was my annual five day retreat with members of the North West Contemporary Quilt Group. It was wonderful. Lovely location on the edge of Grasmere in the Lake District surrounded by hills and sheep. Great weather. And fantastic company. This was our ninth retreat together so we are very ‘comfortable’ with each other. We did some things as a group but mostly we worked on our own projects in a room that was filled with chat, with laughter and sometimes with a gentle silence.

It was just what I need to recharge my energies and redirect my focus towards creating new art for my solo exhibition at the Festival of Quilts in August. I spent many hours at my sewing machine working on a new large piece in my Ruins series inspired by the Cotton mills in the area I live in. This was great thinking time and I now have a clear plan for the pieces I need to make. And yes I have probably given myself a little bit more to do than I have time for but it worked with the book so I will make sure it works for the exhibition!

But before I can get ‘stuck in’ though I have two shows - one in Glasgow this week and one in Birmingham next week. I will be giving a 90 minute workshop each morning called Colourful Cityscapes (you can buy tickets by following the links) and will be demonstrating breakdown printing on my stand in the afternoons. I’ll have lots of copies of my book with me as well. If you are visiting the shows please stop by the stand, it is great putting faces to names!

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Breakdown Your Palette - the story behind the book
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About 10 months ago I made the BIG decision to leave corporate life and to earn my living as a full-time artist, teacher and now, author. In some ways it was a really easy decision to make - I am doing the things I love most, in the place where I am happiest, I can be a better carer for my husband and can provide support for the rest of my family when they need it. I have swapped 90 minutes each day sat in traffic for an absolutely ghastly twenty metre commute to the bottom of the garden! And with any luck I will never have to wear a suit again! I am living my dream!

But it was still a big decision because of money. What else? We still have a mortgage to pay and a big, old house that costs a fortune to heat and always seems to have something that needs fixing. We were also used to a good income and the comforts that come with it. Stopping spending money on stuff we really didn’t need was an easy sacrifice to make. But could I make enough money to keep the lights on and food on the table? On paper, with a business plan and a lot of determination and hard work the answer is ‘just about’. But not immediately.

I have been amazed by the response I have had to my workshops but, currently, the income from them is erratic and I think it will take a year or two before I have built up a good reputation and student base. It would be wonderful if I could make up the shortfall by selling my art but I am a realist. So I needed to look at other income streams.

Cue my good friend Ruth Brown. Having written two very successful books herself, she was able to show me the financial advantages of investing my time in writing a book. More importantly, she believed I could do it and gave me loads of encouragement when I had all those moments of self doubt. Thank you Ruth x.

And of course the book had to be about breakdown printing - I have spent the last few years obsessed by it. Having a science background I have inevitably focused on trying to control the process and it is this depth of understanding that I have tried to convey in the book. Along with a practical, common sense approach to screen printing at home - after all I didn’t always have a lovely studio to work in.

It took me a little while to decide on the structure of the book but then I got to make lots of different samples - heaven! I have been so focused over the last few years on working in series and with restricted colour palettes it was an absolute joy to work in lots of different ways with lots of different colours! Not that every sample worked out first time - yes I made some pieces of truly ugly fabric along the way but then had fun figuring out how to ‘rescue’ them!

I couldn’t figure out how to photograph myself whilst printing. Cue my oldest son Joe. No previous experience but now photographer par excellence! We took over 2000 photos of which most were discarded and ended up with over 350 images in the book. Digital photography is a wonderful thing especially combined with Photoshop!

The ‘writing’ part of the book came relatively easily as I had some experience writing technical documents and manuals in my previous life. Although I am indebted to Ruth and to my daughter Jess for their proof reading skills. I tend to write like I speak, without drawing breath. Luckily Jess had an endless supply of commas. And don’t get her started on apostrophes. Apparently I am hopeless.

And I am doubly indebted to my daughters partner, Matt Walkerdine who, conveniently, is a graphic designer. He got me started using Adobe InDesign for the book layout and held my hand as we prepared the files for printing and submitted them. The geek in me has thoroughly enjoyed learning how to use a new piece of software. Jess and Matt also run a small indie publishing company which has been useful.

This book has been a labour of love. And a family affair. I am a very lucky woman and chuffed to bits with my first book! And very, very happy with the response it has got - thank you everyone for your kind words and your orders x.

Wonder what I’ll write about next?

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Breakdown Your Palette - the book!
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I am so very excited, and rather proud, to announce that my first book ‘Breakdown Your Palette’ is now finished and available!!

It is a step-by-step guide to breakdown printing spread over 124 colour pages with over 350 images. If you read this blog, or follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you will already know that I love, love, love breakdown printing or deconstructed screen printing as it is called in the US. The two step process in which dye is first added to the screen then the screen printed creates the most wonderful complex, organic often textural prints that can’t be achieved by any other surface design method. Whilst it is the unpredictability of the process that often produces the magic it is possible to influence your outcomes. To create pieces of fabric that are recognisably derived from your personal inspirations and colour choices.

Breakdown Your Palette is a mixture of detailed ‘how to’ sections and, hopefully, inspirational examples. I show you how to breakdown print using Procion dyes on cotton, silk and other natural fabrics. In the book you will learn how to use recycled, re-purposed and easy to find tools and equipment to start breakdown printing at home. You will learn about single colour printing, multi-colour printing and how to use temporary resists on your screen. And I have included a section on how your breakdown printed fabric can be enhanced by adding or removing colour. The book contains recipes and details of the dyes and other chemicals you will need along with a list of UK stockists. There is a brief section on colour blending and lots of little asides about how I work in my studio.

The book costs £18. It can be purchased on my website here with delivery cost added at checkout. I can post world wide. And of course I will have lots of copies with me at the two shows I am doing in March and when I have my solo exhibition at Festival of Quilts in August.

Out and about in Glasgow and Birmingham
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I’m off on my travels again soon so have been busy in the studio this week getting ready. Preparing and printing handouts, laminating new signs for the stand (I love laminating), deciding which quilts and fabrics to take to display and, the time consuming bit, mixing textile inks, cutting fabric and making up workshop kits. And figuring out what I need to take to demonstrate breakdown printing and screen printing. I really enjoy the occasional week like this - I started with a very long to-do list and have been diligently ticking them off turning what seemed like a mountain of work into a tidy and labelled set of boxes ready to load in the car.

All this activity because in three weeks time I (and my partner in crime, son Joe) will be at the Scottish Quilting Show (part of the Creative Craft Show) at Glasgow SEC from Thursday 7th to Sunday 10th March. I will be demonstrating on stand ZM26 . I’m looking forward to the show especially because we’ll be staying with my daughter who lives in Glasgow.

The following week I’ll be at the Fashion and Embroidery Show (alongside the Sewing for Pleasure Show) at Birmingham NEC. I’m there from Thursday 14th to Sunday 17th March on stand ZL40. I’ve booked an AirBnB for the duration - not as nice as staying with Jess but better than a hotel.

I will also be doing a 90 minute workshop called Colourful Cityscapes each day at both shows. It’s my first time at these shows so if you are visiting please come by and say hello - it is lovely seeing friendly faces!

In case you haven’t noticed I am most definitely not a last minute person! But getting ready three weeks early is early even for me. That’s because I have two groups of students in the studio between now and then. I also have some BIG stuff happening which I hope to share with you next week. And I’m taking 5 days off to go on my annual retreat with my buddies from the North West Contemporary Quilt Group.

Yes I am taking 5 days off. I will be taking my sewing machine and expect to put in many hours quilting my next Ruins piece surrounded by good company and sustained by good cake and the odd glass of wine. Can’t wait!

Discharged with full honours!
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My day a month Introduction to Surface Design students continue to amaze me! This last weekend we focused on discharge which is the process of removing colour. We used four different discharge agents, two as liquids and two as pastes. This allowed the students to screen print, thermofax print, resist discharge in a vat, paint and use low immersion techniques. Great fun albeit a bit smelly at times!

Linda Hill - thickened Formosol applied using a screen with a masking tape resist

Linda Hill - thickened Formosol applied using a screen with a masking tape resist

Jean Martin - collection of fabrics discharged using thickened Formosol and deColourant

Jean Martin - collection of fabrics discharged using thickened Formosol and deColourant

Using discharge can add new lines or shapes to a dyed or printed fabric. Although it is a process that removes colour the fabric rarely goes back to pure white. More often you get pale shades so I think of discharge as a process that adds more colour. It is an integral part of surface design. But it is also a great tool for ‘recovering’ fabric that you don’t like. I call my Thiox immersion vat the redemption bucket!

The discharge process is also covered in depth in my 5 day Colour Your Palette workshop. Places are still available for the course in April. More details can be found here.

Jan Walmesley - thickened Formosol used with a thermofax screen

Jan Walmesley - thickened Formosol used with a thermofax screen

Lynda Edwards - discharged using household bleach

Lynda Edwards - discharged using household bleach

Deconstruction - Reconstruction - Evolution
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It is exactly 6 months until the opening of my solo exhibition, Deconstruction - Reconstruction - Evolution, at this years Festival of Quilts in Birmingham. I have a lot of work to do between now and then but at least I have finally decided on a name for the exhibition.

I am working on three connected bodies of abstract work taking their inspiration from industries that have touched my life, or have shaped my environment. There will be new work from my Traces series that looks at the coal mining industry and those iconic structures that have been erased (deconstruction) from our landscape. There will be new pieces from my Ruins series. This time I’m looking at Cotton mills in Manchester and how some have become homes to studio spaces, retail units and light industries. This is the reconstruction bit. And finally, a new series looking at evolution in the print and publishing industry as it adapts to change in demand and changes in technology. Sometime between now and then I will write / agonise over an artists statement that puts my ideas into good English but hopefully you get the idea.

It is a big 6 metre x 9 metre corner gallery so I have two outside walls that I can hang work on. I’ve also asked for an internal wall about 4 metres long that divides the space. Taking into account entrances I have about 40 metres of wall to work with. I have finished pieces for about a third of the space. And I have two piles of printed and dyed fabrics ….. Yes, I am going to be busy!

The other thing I got round to doing this week was a tidy up of my website. I’ve added a few new images. And I’ve removed the finished artworks from my shop although they are still for sale (contact me if you are interested). The number of sales / enquiries I get for finished work is tiny compared to those for my workshops so I decided to de-clutter the shop page. I think it looks much better!