In a few weeks time I’ll have been self employed for 10 whole years – hard to believe really. So I’m joining in with this years Birmingham Open Studios. Please click the link for more details of where to find me etc – I’d love to see you… and there’ll be cakes ๐Ÿ™‚

I spent the weekend in Mum & Dads Norfolk garden soaking up some sun and live inspiration for some stitchery.

My dad was pleased as punch that this giant hollyhock self-seeded and grew this big in just this year.

And I enjoyed translating it into embroidery.

I’m out of sync I know but as I write this blog mostly for myself and posterity, I’m feeling free to update it after the event – one month after the event!

I love Paris, I love France, I love learning & (trying at) speaking French.

My eldest is currently living & working in the South of France and there’s a large part of me who’d have liked that as another life path.

We spent our Nectar points on Eurostar tickets and headed south to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary in the City of Light.

It was sunny, full of culture, art, art shops, food, croissants, coffee, Aperol Spritz and walking, walking, walking.

When I go on a trip anywhere I love to find recommendations from people whose interests I share.

So in that spirit here a few of my favourite places from our trip to some of the Hebridean islands (see previous post)

My favourite yarn shop was the very inspiring Shilasdair yarns – also known as Isle of Skye Natural Dye Company – on Skye.

And as the name suggests everything is coloured with natural dyes gathered from the landscape of Skye.

The whole set up of yoga, b&b, workshops and retreats is very enticing. You can read the evolution of the company here. And yes, I did bring home some sock yarn in a beautiful caramel shade from some Ling Heather.

I also really loved visiting

also on Skye and in particular, liked the work of Julie Whatley (below)

I brought home a lovely cup with an abstract design on in shades of blue and I am enjoying drinking from it and remembering the sky and seascape of Skye.

Also on Skye was Dunvegan Castle which was full of gorgeous colour and pattern.

It’s beautifully kept and from the moment I walked in and saw that super stormy blue colour on the walls, I knew there’d be some treats ahead for the ‘colour-loving designer’.

I find stately homes often provide lovely colour palette references and patterns to inspire.

The old wallpaper in this room was delightful and set off with lovely vintage textiles and paintings.

The staff here were fun and knowledgable too and filled us with stories of the mis-matched marriage that offended the parents and ended up with the daughter down in the dungeon.

Other places on Skye that we loved but didn’t photograph were:

Lenz Ceramics – well worth the wiggly drive to find it,

and

Maggie Zerafa – a beautiful and fascinating process to her ceramics.

*******

On the Isle of Harris we visited Talla na Marra for a night (where we also hooked up in the motorhome) This is some work from Marigold Williams of the Isle of Harris studio.

Talla na Marra which is part cafe, arts center and community enterprise – there is a cluster of artists studios, designer / makers, painters and chocolatiers.

This little studio set up caught my eye – imagine that being your working view.

We also really enjoyed wending our way down the coast and finding clusters of galleries and home studio artists – the road from Goosebay to Rodel was good for this.

Mission House Studio was one of a cluster of nice galleries to pop into. The ceramics were gorgeous but I also loved being able to nosey around in the artist work area.

The Harris Tweed museum was worth the visit to just to look through this beautiful book by Ian Lawson.

His photographs marrying the landscape and nature of the island and how it translates into the colours and patterns of the tweeds was just beyond beautiful.

Holmasaig gallery was a super home studio showing the very varied work of Margarita Williams.

And then further up in Lewis is the wonderful Blue Pig studio – we got such a warm welcome (and coffee and rock buns) that I hardly took a photo. Jane runs a lovely gallery from her workspace and is generous and welcoming so do go.

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Well if you happen across this and it helps you on your trip, do let me know. But I hope it’s provided some armchair travel for everyone ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m currently hard at work producing my own artistic responses to this wonderful trip, so I’ll be back with all that soon.

I am just now finding time to leave a post here about the most wonderful trip we took for 3 weeks of April to some of the Hebridean islands.

Loch Lomond, Scotland

It was the most beautiful, relaxing and inspiring holiday we’ve had in many years.

We hired a motor home from a firm in Glasgow and drove up to Loch Lomond for a night en route to the ferry at Oban.

Loch Lomond, Scotland

When we awoke on the first day and saw the sunrise over Loch Lomond we knew we were in Scotland – there’s a special light, the skies are large and there’s usually a body of water amplifying it’s beauty.

Our itinerary

Our first island of the Hebridean chain was Barra – we only stayed one night as the ferry crossing from Oban is 4+hrs and we were keen to get going. But we’d do it differently with hind-sight and explore it.

Isle of Barra near Airport beach

This was our first taste of the awesome beaches we would find – this one completely made of shells. I was in beach-combing heaven.

We moved onto Eriskay next after a short 25 min ferry transfer and cut our teeth on a few nights rough camping in the motorhome. It was our first time in one – it took a few days to orchestrate the dance needed to both move around but never be in the same place. But we settled in well and got to like the simple life a lot.

Lottie came too and it took her longer to like the van especially when it moved to the sound of clanking objects. Once she realised the payoff to moving was a new place to run about and smell rabbits, she knuckled down and endured!

The peaty landscape of North Uist en route to Lochmaddy.

We did have a diesel scare when all the pumps (there are only 3 on the island) were dry. It’s true what they say about island life – it comes when it comes and luckily for us it came the next day but it did make for a nail-biting night.

Isle of Benbecula – North Uist

We also struggled to buy our back-up Calor gas as apparently there was a national shortage – again we struck lucky but after some perseverance. Where you can have contingency, do!

Lochmaddy

The landscape of South and North Uist was very appealing to my artists eye – very peaty and full of rich browns and carmine hues. It’s also threaded through with numerous lochans so there is always a glint of silvery, grey-blue water.

I did paint and draw most days. I had packed (too much) art materials expecting less rain and to be able to work outside. On the occasions that I did, rain or mizzle came in quickly and wet the page.

It was just hard to set up quickly and work fast and I didn’t have an easel and couldn’t put things anywhere to hand – hence this photo of me dropping my new tin of pencils on the ground.

I could set up in the cab if we had parked up with a view and one day it was fine enough to stop for an hour and sit on the ground.

Painting near Armadale, Skye

I found that my iphone had no O2 coverage almost the entire time. Wi-fi and electric hook up was one reason why we booked into campsites every few nights. It made looking things up on the fly difficult- so go prepared.

West beach textures

We then somewhat controversially went off Uist and onto Skye. Honestly I didn’t think about it much when planning – it does add extra cost and time travelling to Skye and back onto Harris again. The plus side was a little bit of bigger island life: with Skye being connected to the mainland now, it felt less cut off from amenities should we need them (which of course we didn’t)

The Quirang, Skye

The North of Skye is breathtakingly beautiful to look at and windy to rough camp in. The Quiraing is a mountain ridge of the Trotternish peninsula. The walk along was it was four seasons of hail, wind, rain and sun in one stretch but totally worth the weather and the nail-biting winding road up to the car park.

Four seasons in one walk!

Skye was the only place where we got a parking ticket or saw other motorhomes with them. It’s worth reading the complete small print of the parking charge info board – slipped in is the phrase ‘vehicle modified for sleeping’ so if you’re scanning for the word ‘motorhome’ like we did, you’ll get caught out too.

The Braes, Skye

We enjoyed stopping whenever we saw the words ‘coffee’ and ‘Gallery’ – some were very homespun and not all were open. The advantage of going in April slightly ahead of season was to avoid the midges and lots of tourists but it did mean that some places weren’t up and running for the summer season. We also like coffee but didn’t find all that many places serving it outside of towns.

Coral beach, Skye

We found loads of lovely places to walk on Skye; my fave being a lovely 30 min walk to a beach made entirely of coral and shells. In one handful you can capture hundreds of beautiful, tiny metalic shells.

Coral beach, Skye

We then ferried back to Tarbet, Harris and camped in the West Harris Trust campsites ; my favourite being the Seilebost School one which was literally a walk over the dunes to Luskentyre beach. This beach has two bays to it and when we arrived the pink and purple shells were glowing in a delicate lilac light as the sun set. Everything you read about this beach is more than true; in fact it would be in this area that I’d choose to live after all I’ve seen so far.

Luskentyre beach, South Harris

South Harris has an interesting landscape which either looks like a moonscape with deep pools of dark peaty brown water or wide open beaches edged with machair that looked Caribbean.

Uig Sands, Lewis

The drive up north to Lewis gave us our first sight of the change in landscape as the central section is numerous broken pieces of land and water and is very flat and somewhat bleak. We headed to Uig sands which is beautiful and gave us the last taste of what we were used to.

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

We enjoyed seeing the Callanish stones and the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village and discovering Borrowdale, or more accurately The Blue Pig studio where we were met with such a warm welcome (and fresh coffee and rock cakes) that we felt like part of the community that had gathered to celebrate together.

Seilebost, Harris

Our remaining time was impinged by the quietness of Easter Sunday followed by a bank holiday and also the most rain we’d had for the whole trip. It’s here that a motor home comes into it’s own – you can get togged up (take nylon everything) go out and get wet but come back in and dry your clothes while making a cuppa and reading a book.

Clachan Sands, Isle of Benbecula – North Uist

My recommendations in summary:

Barra – The small shell beach en route to the Airport beach (just where the ‘do not stop’ signs begin)

North Uist – West Beach and Clachan Sands, both on the Isle of Berneray, North Uist.

Look out for the food van at Eriskay ferry terminal.

Barra – The small shell beach en route to the Airport beach (just where the ‘do not stop’ signs begin)

The North coast of Sky – the Quiraing.

The south side of Skye from The Braes through to Armadale.

Skye- Coral beach,

Harris – Luskentyre and Uig sands ( there’s also a camping spot here)

A great website

Last weekend I visited the Britta Marakatt-Labba exhibition at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham. I went expecting to enjoy it but also came away really touched by the deep, unwavering meaning woven into the creation of the pieces and by the obvious beautifulness of the work.

Marakatt-Labba creates “embroidered resistance” art using embroidery to illustrate stories of Sami culture and mythology. The work appears gentle, the materials soft but the stories they tell and the meaning of the pieces is strong, critical and with deep roots.

These pieces use stitches and thread (as line and pen) to illustrate and speak out against colonialism, environment issues and the loss of Sami indigenous lands and ways of life and Sami traditions.

Embroidery is not the first medium you’d maybe think to use for protest art but that is actually where the power in it lies – it catches you unsuspecting through its beautiful and gentle crafting but presents a clear and dissenting message against unfair state management and offences against Sami populations.

Marakatt-Labba grew up in a Sรกmi administrative unit in Lainiovuoma, Finland and experienced racism and being treated at ‘other’ from a very young age. She has been embroidering these protest pieces with conviction for the last 40 years and we are only now finding her work in the wider world. I find that type of belief and unswerving commitment to ones own style and deep meaning to create, really inspiring.

In addition the work is exquisite – the use of materials is paired back to those that best represent the chosen theme so there is stitch, applique, screen printing, couching and cutwork but used only when it’s the best choice to do so and not as part of a cacophony of methods fighting for attention.

It switched me on to embroider better, use textile processes with more clarity, to become more knowledgable about past & present Sami culture and the impact of colonialism and to be happy staying in my lane creating my work as authentic to me with Britta Marakatt-Labba (now in the 70’s) as a role model.

It’s been a while since I’ve painted much. You have to be in the right emotional space to create like that. And not too busy with other things! But in recent weeks the Spring flowers have been calling me and I’ve pushed myself over the line and wet my brush.

On Saturday 7th May I’m running a lovely workshop at Winterbourne House & Gardens, Birmingham, where we will create little garden landscapes using heat reactive dyes, fabric markers and hand stitches. I’ve also booked wall to wall sunshine so we can fully enjoy the gardens ๐Ÿ˜‰

If it sounds like something you’d like to do then please book here and I look forward to seeing you there.

Happy New Year. It’s been a busy start but I find being out teaching has a positive effect on the time I have at home to create my own work – better time management when there’s less of it to ‘waste’!

Early in 2019 we took a trip to SE Asia – Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. 3 years later and I am still sketch-booking away through all the visual reference I collected.

I have printed, sewn, drawn and painted a lot of work and now I’m pinning it all up to live with and waiting for another wave of inspiration to guide me as to what to make of it all next.

Happy Christmas to you and thank you for being here to read this. 2021 was the year that made me want to re-kindle my blog in a meaningful way. With connections, face-to-face workshops and just the equilibrium of life stretched thin due to Covid, it has been reassuring to find this quiet corner and a small interested audience still.

Have yourself a very merry Christmas xox

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