Posts in Studio
Well I wasn't expecting that!
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2018 was an interesting year. Interesting is one word for it. Unexpected, eventful, scary, wonderful would all be other good words. But I think I will settle for life-changing.

I’ve just read my post from 31st December 2017. I was pleased that I had spent more hours in the studio in 2017 than in 2016 and produced more work. I was busy working on pieces for the two exhibitions I had with Helen Conway in spring 2018. And I was planning to enter more calls for entry in 2018 and to find further exhibition opportunities. On the family front we were all still reeling from my mother-in-laws illness and passing but hoped for a quieter, healthier, less sad 2018. I was out of work but fully expecting to be back wearing my corporate hat within a few months. Life was on track.

Turns out that life wanted me to take a different track.

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It proved difficult to find the right job and with an unexpected increase in my caring responsibilities at home I eventually realised that the life I thought I was going to have, balancing a demanding day job, caring for my family and making art was unsustainable and would probably make me miserable trying. I needed a Plan B. A plan that better fitted my family and that allowed me to continue to make art.

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Teaching surface design was something I had planned to do a bit of in my sixties as I creaked towards retirement. I had given the occasional workshop to different textile groups and always loved it. And it was something I always intended to use my studio for. But would people want to learn from me? Could it pay the mortgage?

So I did my research, crunched some numbers, talked with friends who were teachers and friends who might be potential students, talked with my family ….. and made a big decision.

A seriously big decision to become a full time artist and teacher. And because I am ‘me’ I have given it my all. The studio has been named, Urban Studio North, reorganised and a rather splendid bathroom has been built. Courses have been developed and guest tutors booked. I’ve had stands at shows, demonstrated and given short workshops. And best of all I have taught some absolutely brilliant students and loved every minute of it!

2018 was a year of ‘firsts’. Full of change and full of new challenges. But there is so much more that I plan to do in 2019! So many more challenges to face, so many more ‘firsts’. …… Happy New Year!

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Happy Christmas Everyone!
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The presents are wrapped. The cards have been posted. The tree is decorated. The fridge is overflowing. And the house is clean. Well, as clean as it’s likely to get. Hooray!

Time to get back to the studio and more breakdown printing! I’m keeping it seasonal. The above print was made by embedding crumpled Christmas wrapping paper in thickened dye on a screen and letting the screen dry under a stack of books. Well you didn’t expect me to use a traditional Christmas photo did you?

That said, I would like to wish everyone who reads my blog or follows me on Facebook / Instagram a very Happy Christmas and Peaceful New Year. And I would especially like to say thank you to my lovely students - 2018 has been a year of firsts and your support has meant a great deal to me.

Love and best wishes,

Leah

Simply WOW!
Work by Lynda Edwards

Work by Lynda Edwards

This last weekend the eleven students in my Introduction to Surface Design groups printed some absolutely fabulous pieces of fabric. It was a real pleasure to watch them work and witness the occasional happy dance. The sessions were on using screen printing, thermofax screens, masking tape, string and paper resists to create backgrounds. They all watched me give the same demonstrations and had access to the same tools but each produced truly unique work. Brilliant!

Work above by Sue Wharburton, Maggie Pearson, Debs Nixon and Lynda Edwards. And below - breakdown screens ready to be pulled during next months sessions.

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Better get a wriggle on!
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I have my two ‘day a month’ groups in the studio this weekend and it is a bit of a tip. Since getting home from Harrogate I’ve been busy breakdown printing different samples, soda soaking fabric (and drying it in the studio), ordering and sorting out Christmas presents (bah humbug), doing paperwork and generally making use of every bench. Around all of that I have been doing a bit of mark making and have done a bit more decorating in the bog shed. I may even have got some sleep!

Before my lovely students arrive for their Introduction to Surface Design session on screen printing I need to:

  • Soda soak a few more pieces of fabric then clean up the mess this leaves on the floor. The weather has been very uncooperative this week!

  • Varnish another 5 screens - meant to do this months ago when I could have left the studio doors open to get rid of the smell (apologies students!)

  • Rinse, wash and iron all the breakdown samples and put a few of them up on my design wall. Hide the ones that are perfect illustrations of how NOT to breakdown print.

  • Load the rest of the design wall with quilts and samples that show various aspects of screen printing.

  • Make some more thermofax screens based on mark making for my students to use as background texture this weekend.

  • Decide on the colours I’ll use in my demonstrations this weekend and test drive the new thermofax screens.

  • Top up the print paste and thickened dyes.

  • Double check that all my screens are really clean - a speck of leftover dye goes surprisingly far.

  • Move Harrogate / show boxes out of the studio into the storage part of the bog shed.

  • Clean the bog shed.

  • Open the Amazon boxes, wrap presents and find somewhere in the studio to hide them away from my grandson.

  • Clean the studio. A bit.

  • Make it look a bit Christmassy (but not too much, bah humbug).

  • Make sure there is a good supply of tea, coffee, juice and biscuits (must hide some of the dark chocolate gingers for the Sunday class). Thought about making mince pies. Decided to do more breakdown printing instead.

  • Get some sleep….

My next Introduction to Surface Design courses will start in February. If you’re interested have a look here. My studio might be a tip today but by Saturday it will be an oasis of calm and creativity. But only if I get a wriggle on …

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Sampling for others

Whatever I have done in life I have always tried to do well; to be the best that I can possibly be. Now I recognise that there are lots of things that I’m never going to be any good at (foreign languages, clean manicured hands, nurturing plants ….) but that’s OK because they are not important to me. However teaching in my studio is important to me so I am striving to be the best that I can be.

I have worked hard to organise and equip my studio so that my students have lots of space to work and so that they don’t have to bring masses of stuff with them. I have had great fun making colour wheels to help and guide my students. And I’ve worked through my lesson plans to make sure I have lots of relevant (and hopefully inspiring) samples. But I realised whilst I was at the Knitting and Stitching Show last weekend that I don’t have enough breakdown printing samples. Don’t get me wrong, I have metres and metres of fabric printed ready for the art I need to make for my solo gallery at next years Festival of Quilts but those fabrics are in ‘my’ colours and have been made using breakdown techniques that fit in with my personal inspirations.

Not everybody wants to see rust and black fabric inspired by the decline in the cotton and mining industries. Strange but true. So this week I have been playing with other types of breakdown printing and with a slightly broader colour palette. I can’t quite bring myself to do pink flower inspired things or green landscape inspired things but I’ve had a thoroughly enjoyable time releasing my inner Jackson Pollock and squirting dye about. I may even let all my inhibitions go and print some screens at wonky angles. Blimey!

A matter of convenience
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Using the magic that is scheduled posts I thought I would share the story of the bog shed with you whilst I am busy peddling my wares at the Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate. Yes I am talking toilets. Or bogs as us Brits sometimes call them. Specifically I am talking about a toilet in a shed. A bog shed.

(Bogshed were a very noisy punk band, much loved by my husband, much less loved by me).

When we built my studio a few years ago it was just for me so we didn’t bother plumbing in a bathroom. Instead I learnt to make art in two hour sessions. That being the cycle time to make coffee, drink coffee and for my middle aged bladder to want rid of coffee. It was very tempting to pee in a bucket rather than run the 10 metres or so to the house when it was cold and raining but the system worked.

Until I decided to teach in my studio. We quickly dismissed the idea of using a toilet in the house - we have 2.5 bathrooms but none on the ground floor; husband is rarely ‘human’ before midday and could scare the uninitiated; grandson litters the house with lego and other death traps; and I would have to clean my house loads. (The last reason was the real decider). Option 2 was to built a bathroom in the corner of the studio. But that would have meant sacrificing part of my giant print bench and part of the design wall. Nope. So we settled on option 3 - an outside toilet. Which is kind of funny because our Victorian house actually had an outside toilet when we brought it but we took it down so that we could add another window in the kitchen.

We needed to keep cost down so my father-in-law, Bernard, and son, Joe, took on the project. We lovingly(!) refer to them as ‘bodger and badger’ which will probably only mean anything to those of you in the UK and of a certain age. (Barry Chuckle RIP).

In the meantime my lovely students had to use a portaloo. A very nice one that was serviced and cleaned every week by a lovely man but did start to feel a bit drafty as we moved into autumn. Thank you to the weather gods for giving us mild, dry teaching days!

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On paper we only needed a very small shed but then I thought about the added storage potential if we went a bit bigger. And so a 6ft x 8ft shed was ordered and five weeks later it was delivered and installed. Then the fun began. I kept the studio door firmly closed and tried to ignore the crashing and swearing. I did consider leaving the country but thought that might appear a little ungrateful.

First there was insulation. Floor, walls, ceiling, even the door got insulated - snow came early as the garden filled up with polystyrene balls. Then there was flooring, plasterboard, wiring and long consultations about where the toilet and hand basin should go.

Daily trips to B&Q brought more and more lengths of pipe, plastic brackets and bends along with enough electrical cable to surely rewire the whole street but eventually the shed was plumbed and powered up. It was tested by the grandson who, like all 9 year olds, couldn’t aim for toffee. He was officially banned from the bog shed.

A small dividing wall and internal door were added to give a better sense of privacy. Yes, the door is on upside down - there was a reason for this I’m sure. And then it was time for me to start painting and tiling (no way was I letting bodger or badger loose with a paint brush). Some nice soap and towels. Just in time for my day a month students to use a couple of weeks ago. The bog shed is officially open (except to Riley who is still banned).

Creative Surface Design
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I’ve just finished setting up the studio for this weekends classes with my day a month Introduction to Surface Design students so it seemed like a great time to tell you about my new course - Creative Surface Design which starts in September 2019. I have developed the course for those of you who have had exposure to lots of different surface design techniques and have a head full of ideas but are not sure how to transfer ideas into finished cloth.

The course will be run over 5 weekends spread over an 8 month period. I’ve chosen this format rather than a day a month as being able to leave work on the bench and come back to it the next morning allows for deeper exploration of an idea; it allows you to take your time rather than hurrying to finish. Because I am ‘me’ the course will start with a focus on colour and the power of using a restricted colour set or family. There is a loose structure for each weekend but the exact content will be largely driven by the individual students. I’ll give demonstrations as needed but I am assuming a basic understanding of dyeing and printing techniques.

I’ve mentioned before in this blog that I’m not a ‘sketchbook’ type of person as I tend to work directly, intuitively onto fabric with a lot of my design process happening in my head. But I do keep a journal where I write down ideas, and importantly, where I critique my own work. I will be encouraging students on the Creative Surface Design course to keep some form of personal record - whatever form they are comfortable with - and will have a one to one review with each student each weekend to support them as they develop their ideas and their own way of working.

All the details are on my website. Or, maybe you can come see me at the Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate, 22 to 25 November, stand TG626!

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Simply Screen Printing
Hilary Kimber: open screen over a string resist

Hilary Kimber: open screen over a string resist

I ran my first two day screen printing workshop this last weekend and loved every minute of it. With only two days it was difficult to know what to include. I started with a focus on using temporary resists that are readily available and relatively cheap; masking tape, freezer paper and sticky back plastic. You could probably spend two days just on masking tape resists but I wanted the students to go away with a sense of the range of options open to them. Their work was wonderfully varied.

Judy Tomlinson: masking tape resist pulled through with three values of turquoise and yellow giving some lovely greens

Judy Tomlinson: masking tape resist pulled through with three values of turquoise and yellow giving some lovely greens

Jean Martin and Judy Tomlinson: masking tape resist pieces

Jean Martin and Judy Tomlinson: masking tape resist pieces

We moved on to breakdown printing - where the thickened dye / print paste that is dried on the screen acts as a temporary resist. The weather wasn’t kind but the screens just about dried over night. I loved hearing the students ohhs and ahhs and can’t wait until next May when I teach my 5 day Breakdown Your Palette class.

We looked at different ways of using an open screen - on pinned out fabric, on scrumpled fabric and, with wonderful results, onto fabric with string on the surface. Love Hilary’s piece! And somehow we found time to play with thermofax screens.

It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling seeing the groups confidence grow in the two days! I am so glad that I took that big step into teaching. The next two day class in February is already full but there are still places on the workshop in 27th and 28th April 2019. Can’t wait.

Anita Bennett: using thermofax screens to create texture

Anita Bennett: using thermofax screens to create texture

Maggie Pearson: repeated layering of a thermofax screen

Maggie Pearson: repeated layering of a thermofax screen

Living the dream!
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This time next week Festival of Quilts will be in full swing and the halls at the NEC, Birmingham will be buzzing with 1000's of quilters, embroiderers and textile enthusiasts. There will even be a handful of long suffering husbands and partners ... And I will, hopefully, have lots of visitors to my stand H35. My life plan didn't have me doing this until I was in my early 60's but life is never a straight line and so here I am and I couldn't be happier. I will turn 55 next Thursday and have already given myself the best present ever by deciding to become a full time artist and teacher. 

Deciding to take a stand at Festival at such short notice has meant that I've been working long, long hours in the studio. Being me I marked out my stand full size, decided what size tables would work and spent a really lovely few hours figuring out how to display my hand dyed fabrics. I folded fabric, I printed labels, I wrote and printed wash care slips, I ordered black fabric to use as table cloths, I brought some paper bags, I created a blog subscription sign up sheet and, one that I hope gets used lots, I made a workshop sign up sheet. 

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I marked out the three walls of my stand on my design wall and went through my older quilts to see what might fit and look good. Most of my recent work is just too big but I did have a small Ruins piece that never got exhibited so, after fusing on 'urban studio north', this has become the centre piece of my display. I didn't have the right mix in my existing pieces so have had to make two quilts - Off The Grid which is a rather nice example of breakdown printing and Pass The Tequila which showcases a tray dyed piece of fabric. I've also made a funky little 'workshop' quilt. It has been a long time since I worked on anything that wasn't part of a series or destined for an exhibition and really enjoyed making them. It's been fun.

I've also decided to develop a couple of 5 day retreats for 2019. The first one will be called 'Breakdown Your Palette' and will focus on breakdown printing and the benefits of using a limited selection of colours to create a cohesive collection of fabrics that can be used as whole cloth, pieced or used as yardage for clothing. The second will be called 'Colour Your Palette' and will focus on the addition and removal of colour through various dyeing and discharging methods. Again the emphasis will be on creating fabrics that work together. Both will be launched at Festival. 

Oh yes and I also heard last week that I will have a solo gallery at Festival 2019! Super excited! Going to be super busy! The Art gods have been shining on me - I am living my dream!

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