‘Woven Nature’ Workshop – 21st September

I’m delighted, excited and a little daunted to share the news that I will be running a day-long workshop at Gilbert White’s House and Gardens on 21st September 2022.

‘Woven Nature’ inspired by Gilbert White’s House and Garden

This amazing opportunity has come through Sophie Hacker, the ‘artist-in-residence’ at Gilbert White’s this year. Sophie, who I knew through her connection to Winchester Cathedral, saw the wallhangings on my Instagram feed and wanted to know more. Chatting together, she thought they would make a great workshop subject in her ‘residential’ year, because it fits the ethos of Gilbert White’s; using traditional skills, natural fibres, and upcycled/preloved items, but to create something with a contemporary feel. With Sophie’s encouragement it has also been good to explore how my background as priest, amateur naturalist and occasional gardener also fits with Gilbert White’s own story.

I was privileged to spend time with Sophie in recent months as we’ve explored and shared some of our skills and the delights of Gilbert’s Garden, and I will be delighted to have her as my ‘assistant’ during the workshop. Since she first mooted the project, I have been able to develop some visual ideas based on the scenery in and around the Gilbert’s Garden, some of which I’ve shown here. Her initial conversation with me also came at a time when I was starting to explore the use of willow frames for some of my work, and has been the catalyst for me seeking to extend the range of natural fibres I use, including making twine from garden plants including Phormium (New Zealand Flax) and Rhubarb, more of which in a future post.

Rhubarb twine in the rhubarb patch in the vegetable garden at Gilbert White’s House and Garden.

I will be leading the workshop in the wonderful barn of the Gilbert White Field Studies Centre. Participants will learn to weave a simple hoop of willow and be introduced to the basics of the tradition of Dorset Button making. Sophie will also help participants explore Gilbert White’s garden as they develop ideas for a small wall-hanging which they will be able to create during the rest of the day. Materials will be provided, including willow, threads, upcycled items and a variety of natural fibres. Participants are also encouraged to bring along any fabric and yarn scraps, ribbons or old jewellery that might be appropriate. Further details and a booking form are on the Gilbert White’s House and Garden events page.

A wallhanging I created, inspired by the meadows and woodland visible from the lawn in front of Gilbert White’s house, photographed among the old roses of the Six Quarters Garden.

Sophie Hacker works in a wide variety of media including stained glass and has in recent years produced works for Romsey Abbey (The Calling window, a memorial to Florence Nightingale) and Winchester Cathedral (the ‘Water into Wine’ altar frontal in the Epiphany Chapel). She was the first professional to describe me as an artist! I am indebted to her for giving me the confidence to extend my creative and presentation skills in this way, and to the team at Gilbert White’s who will I know make participants as welcome as they have made me. Do come and join us for what I’m sure will be a wonderful day.

If you would like to explore hosting or attending a similar workshop with me, please do get in touch here on my blog, via Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. You can see a video of me creating another of my designs on my YouTube Channel and a limited amount of jewellery is available on my Etsy, with more in the shop at the Sustainability Centre near East Meon. More items will hopefully be made available during the summer. I look forward to meeting you.

Another wallhanging inspired by Gilbert White’s House and Garden: this one features weaving with twine made from the fibres of New Zealand Flax leaves.
Gilbert’s “Pipe Seat” in the meadow: a wallhanging created using the skills of a Dorset Button maker, art-yarn, remnant threads, a pebble, some dried Pear Tree bark, and some New Zealand Flax fibres for the thatch.

Burn out – remove, replace, refit… renewal?

On Monday we had our kitchen ripped out. It wasn’t new when we moved in 24 years ago: now it wass falling apart in an increasing number of places, and in urgent need of renewal. Having a full kitchen refit is possibly one of the more significant upheavels any household can take on: we’re cooking on a hotplate in the spare room, and I’ve just washed up outside. Whilst this has been several months in the planning, the last month has to a significant degree been focused on this week, and what has turned into a bit of an epic project after significant electrical faults were identified at the end of May – we are fortunate that we’d not gone up in flames years ago.

Laying bare the the old, unhealthy skeleton of our kitchen, ready for replacement and renewal

All this has been tracked, almost exactly, by my emotional resilence and stamina developing significant faults – I had nearly fried myself completely. So, I’ve started to take myself apart too and stepped back from ministry (thankful for a supportive incumbent and permission-giving spiritual advisors). Ironically yesterday was the 8th anniversary of my ordination as Deacon, and I feel bad that I’ve had to temporarily step away so soon, but I had no more to give, so have slowed the pace of my life right down with the active encouragement of my husband. Now, having completed my main contribution to the kitchen project (there were an awful lot of boxes to be packed and put into storage), I can start on my own personal refit: mentally, creatively, spiritually and perhaps even physically.

It’s not the kitchen’s fault, nor the fault of the parishes I serve, though there are contributing factors in both those areas beyond anyone’s control. The menopause, and a slightly rocky start into HRT are also making significant contributions! I’m not sure it’s particularly my ‘fault’ either though my habit of doing to much has caused issues in the past – but never quite on this scale. However, it is a reflection that the balance of the ministry and administrative commitments I’ve voluntarily shouldered is no longer sustainable mentally and physically in combination with other important strands of who I am as a wife, daughter, mother and friend, combined with my calling as a priest and a creative. Having temporarly cleared some things out of the way, it’s time to work out what exactly it is that needs to be integral to rebuilding the fittings of my life, so that I can return better suited to how I make myself available in future.

I have some inkling of what I need to focus on, but not sure I yet have the strength (emotional and physical) to make them a reality. There are some things I can’t control (hormone levels and reactions included) and there are several things that I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to sort out in the past; so I need to work out what things to accept about myself, and where I can realistically create better habits. There are several things I suspect I need to prioritise but first of those comes rest, something that has had to wait until now, when workmen start to take the weight of the kitchen refit. So in no particular order the things I need to include in my own personal “refit” include:

  • Mental rest from doing too much and from constantly ‘double-thinking’ for others as well as myself, a bad habit to have got into. I have a sneaking suspicion that part of this is being a woman and a mother – are we hard-wired to think for others as well as ourselves I wonder…;
  • Physical rest alongside developing a proper pattern of gentle exercise in the natural world I love and which can better sustain me during active ministry (sounds like an oxymoron but perhaps you get what I mean -and it would be easier if hormones weren’t causing me both pain and anxiety);
  • Renewing my personal prayer life – which has always been less than ideal – in a way that sustainably nurtures and has more integrity with what I seek to enable and encourage in others. My prayer life has become saturated with the public bits of ministry, rather than sustained by soaking myself in God’s presence;
  • Enabling the exciting opportunities that God has presented me with through the traditional and creative skills I’ve been developing in the last two years, so that they form an honoured part of the whole of me, rather than the hiding place that they had become, and more than just a way of seeking positive/encouraging feedback. There is a small project in the wings in this area that might prove important, but it’s not quite ready to ‘go public’ yet;
  • Continue the process of patiently grappling with my own particular experience of menopause and HRT and the physiological responses to hormone levels that I’ve had to adapt to and live with since I was a teenager – like all women, but we all have different experiences of and responses to this;
  • Give more time to family and friends who have been sidelined by my unerring ability to step in and ‘gap fill’ administratively and in other ways, just because I know roughly what to do after years of working in various capacities in the CofE;
  • Find joy in reading again, for pleasure and to inspire and feed my spiritual life – I haven’t read a whole ‘theology’ book since I completed my curacy essays 5 years ago, and have read very few of the novels and biographical style books I used to love. As a way of doing the latter I’ve started to re-read the Terry Pratchet Discworld sequence from the beginning – because at least I’ll get a belly laugh along the way;
  • Work out how to stop feeling guilty for… well everything, anything… doing too much, doing too little, having a body that’s a pain in the ass (quite literally at times), not praying enough, not loving Jesus enough, not letting my emotions out, letting them get the better of me… you get the picture;
  • Work out how to include the role/s I hold in the wider community that bring with them anxieties and workloads that are not necessarily helpful, but as significant and important to others; I stood back from one earlier in the year (as a committee member of a local village hall) but I will need to return to my responsibilities as a School Governor;
  • Renewing my working agreement in discussion with our long-suffering incumbent, to better reflect my particular calling as a part-time, non-stipendiary priest, who is most alive to the working of the Holy Spirit (and unsurprisingly most useful to others) in various forms of creativity – artistically as well as in services and sermons (something to address when I return from a much needed holiday).

That seems like rather a long shopping list I realise, and you might suggest I shouldn’t be baring my soul quite so publically; but writing it down like this is as much about trying trying to articulate the issues to myself, as it is about the fact that I believe we should be more open about the mental and spiritual health journeys we take – for our own good, as well as to encourage others.

Currently, I’ve agreed a three month respite with my colleague and churchwardens, which was today approved as a ‘starting point’ by my GP. It may take longer (which is probably not what the parishes want to hear) and any healthy habits I can develop must contribute to, and be realistically sustainable in the long-term as part of my ministry. Most of those bullet-points can’t be resolved in isolation from the advice, direction and prayer of others I may or may not know, as I seek to develop the sort of open resiliance (is that a thing) that will allow/enable God to rebuild and renew me.

If you have read this far as I’ve rather openly thought through where I find myself, thank you. Any words of wisdom or suggestions will be welcomed with an open mind. God (as well as the goodwill of others) is I sense very much enabling this break in ministry, and I hope that my own personal refit can be as helpful in the long-run as I expect our kitchen refit to be!

Learning to felt paint – a Mandarin Drake

In August 2021 my husband and I visited the studio of Nicky Heard, a wildlife artist whose stunning images are created from wool! Call it felt-painting, wool art, needlefelting, whatever you like, her work is amazing and award winning. And she leads classes in her studio in Locks Heath, near Southampton.

It took two attempts, because Covid. Even then, the pattern of classes stuttered slightly, because Covid. But they have been a total joy, despite the two hour round trip from Yateley each time. I have learnt so much, not only through her explanations of how to use wool and other natural fibres, but also by watching her work on her own pieces alongside us.

In January this year, I visited Eyeworth Pond, in the New Forest with my Dad – who used to be Head Keeper for the north of the New Forest. As a young child I had riding lessons in nearby Fritham and regularly passed this pond. For both reasons, this is a favourite place to return to, not least because of the community of stunning Mandarin Ducks that have become naturalised since their ‘accidental’ release there many years ago. One of the photos I took that day, became the subject of my first foray into felt-painting under Nicky’s expert tutelage.

My photograph of a Mandarin Drake that Nicky helped me to emulate – in wool!

I’ve created a short video HERE of how the painting developed, as a memory-jogger for myself, as much as for anyone else!

Nicky has recently been featured in the Guardian Arts magazine, is exhibiting with Chalks Gallery in Lymington, has an online shop and often appears at craft fairs. She will be part of this years Hampshire Open Studios, and with her ocean-artist daughter Jasmin with whom she now collaborates on some projects, will be exhibiting at the Southern Nature Artists Exhibition over August Bank Holiday. I can thoroughly recommend you visit any or all of these – or take one of her classes!

I’ve got some ideas for combining these skills with my contemporary Dorset Button wallhangings… but I must get ahead of myself!

My finished Mandarin Drake – given to my Dad to celebrate the occasion of his 90th birthday.

Woven Willow wreaths for contemporary Dorset Buttons wallhangings

There are lots of exciting ideas and opportunities going on in the more creative elements of m life and ministry at present. The first to go from general idea to something like reality has been making a form of sustainable hoops for my contemporary take on Dorset Buttons.

The Instagram crafting community is both inspiring and informative, and I’m learning so much via that form of social media. That’s where I ‘met’ Louise ‘Rough Around the Hedges’, and we planned to meet for her to teach me to make single hoops, but Storm Eunice put paid to that. However, she’s made some videos for me to follow, so more of that later…

In the meantime, a conversation with Louise about possible sources of sustainable weaving willow in Hampshire led me to the Sustainability Centre at East Meon in the South Downs National Park, and their generous team. Through the generosity of their team, I was given not only some willow to try my hand at making small willow wreaths, but also a pre-made 6” wreath, and the opportunity to make some stock for their gift shop!

A gift and a challenge: a small bundle of green willow gifted me in late winter by the Sustainability Centre in East Meon, Hampshire (on a table in their great vegetarian cafe).
My first attempts at wreath making: on the right, rings made from drier willow that I’d soaked for a couple of days in some plastic tubing, and on the left rings made of green willow.
Working out how to create spokes for a Dorset Button on a Willow wreath.
The first Dorset Button I created on a Willow wreath ring. Made using art yarn from Gaia Fibre Studio, a variety of other yarns, sari silk ribbon, old silk shirts and synthetic as well as natural yarns – basically anything that would create the effect I wanted as the basis of one of my ‘Strandline’ designs

As you can see from the sequence of photographs above, and the finished article below, this has proved a great success, and not just with me – I’ve sold one a bit like this too! The next stage of this element of my creative interest is to go back to Louise’s now complete video’s on how to make single hoop willow rings, and try a similar trial run. But there’s plenty else going on besides that, and some really exciting things to share soon.

The finished ‘Strandline’ wallhanging, featuring beachcombed stones and shells, beads (both new and upcycled), upcycled upholstery tassels and lace ribbon. This will be among the items that I will delivering to the Sustainability Centre for sale in their gift shop later in May.

‘Forest of Arden’ – creating a memorial commission “As You Like It”!

Shortly after Christmas I received a commission for “one of my ‘buttons'” in memory of Professor Michael Hattaway who died last year. The commission was from his widow (a friend), and the brief was a 12″ roundel on the theme of the ‘Forest of Arden’ from Shakespeare’s play ‘As You Like It’ – design to be my choice. No pressure then!?!

I had already got in my head a vision of a ‘forest’ piece, involving trees on both sides of clearing; this seemed to fit the bill. To me, this summarises what a forest is – open woodland with large areas of open land, which may or may not be grazed by deer or other animals. Think New Forest – it is after all where I come from!

The plot of ‘As You Like It’ (which I admit to not ever having seen, though now I really want to) seems to involve grumpy parents, young love, banishment, ‘The Forest of Arden’, disguises and at least one shepherd – what you might call a pastoral affair. An internet search for images related to the play emphasised that idea, but I knew that people and animals would not be my forte (with my current skill set), and the best I would be able to achieve would be some sheep.

The ‘skeleton’ of my ‘Forest of Arden’ piece with some synthetic and art yarns already in place.

So, I set to and created the outline that I had visualised, trying to bring together two trees (which because of the yarn colours I had were in my head a Birch tree (left) and a Beech tree (right). The ‘clearing’ was the most authentically ‘Dorset Button’ element. I had already sourced some lovely leaf shaped beads, which I augmented with further supplies of colours that seemed to fit the summer-y feel of the piece. There’s a list of suppliers below.

Once the embroidery hoop was blanket stitched, and basic outline completed with acrylic yarns (for strength), I used art-yarns to fill in the clearing, and wired additional branches into the two trees, with the leaf beads attached. Branches were then blanket stitched. The slightly hilarious bit was working out what size the needle-felted sheep would need to be, which involved cutting out shapes and laying them on the partly completed piece. These would be only my second attempt at needlefelting, but I had some lovely British fluff to work with (from another ongoing project) and felt the results were worthwhile. The only way I could infer the love stories that lie within both the play, and the commission itself, was to include two intertwined wooden hearts.

Further explorations of the text of the play by my husband suggested that a chain necklace featured as a love-token and created a desire to obliquely reference the famous ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech that features in ‘As You Like It’. The chain I located from a collection of ‘upcycled items’, remnants of my great-aunts collection – she was artist who used plaster to mould sculptures (having had to leave Birmingham Art School for the family jewellry business in the 1920’s when her father discovered she was ‘drawing nudes’!) I referenced the schoolboy element of the ‘Seven Ages of Man’, by making a tiny school satchel using some upcycled suede patching from materials left by my mother. Other items used included modern seed beads, upcycled beads, and a piece of driftwood, probably from Shingle Street in Suffolk last holiday.

Working out the size of the sheep!

It ‘just so happened’ that I completed this piece on Valentine’s Day, and delivered it to my friend, the Professor’s widow on what would have been his birthday! I was very pleased, and not a little relieved that she was delighted with it, and gave me permission to share the details with you. I also discovered that one of the Professor’s ‘things’ about ‘As You Like It’ was his insistence on the concept of ‘forest’ involving wide open ‘lawn’ areas, just like those I grew up with in the New Forest! My only regrets are that I never met Prof Hattaway myself, and that I knew enough to have included at least a cast antler – or a visual interpretation of one – as his penultimate book, the 3rd edition of his work on ‘As You Like It’ published shortly before his death, features a stunning Fallow Buck, just the sort of animal I grew up watching.

‘Forest of Arden’ Wallhanging – original (commissioned) piece by Ramtopsrac

Suppliers:
Leaf beads – Spellbound Bead Co
Art yarn – Gaia Fibre Studio and Spin and Wander via Etsy
Super-chunky Rasta Merino by Malabrigo – Beaker Button at Weyhill in Hampshire (It was a little kit from Jen that started this Dorset Button ‘thing’ in my life.)
Seed beads – Beads Direct and Beads Unlimited
Synthetic yarns – include Lion Brand Homespun Thick and Quick Stripes sourced via The Knitting Network
British wool for the sheep – Thomas Wood and Wool
Embroidery hoop 12” – Hobbycraft (but I’ve got plans for an sustainable alternative – watch this space!)

#Craft as a Spirit-filled, free-will offering to God (Exodus 35:4-35)

I was struck today by a Bible passage I must have read before, but whose significance perhaps had not become so personal until now.

Moses was charged by God with responsibility for making a safe dwelling place for God’s presence among his people; the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 35). He called on the raw materials that the community could provide (threads, jewels, gold and silver etc.), and the talents and skills of the artisans within the Israelite community, to create what must have been a stunningly beautiful and richly decorated piece. There were spinners and weavers, metal workers, woodcarvers, engravers and jewellers, designers and dressmakers, oil-purifiers, bread-makers, and more, some named, most anonymous to us.

All the materials and talents were gifted in response to God’s presence, through what we might now call the Holy Spirit, and then two particularly skilled people were called forward to be teach others, so this might be a community work, bringing to life the dwelling place of God among them.

In Christ, St. Paul reminds the Galatians and us through the readings at Morning Prayer at present (today was Galatians 2:1-11), that if we confess faith in Christ, he dwells within us (through the power of the Holy Spirit). We are not governed by rules that limit what it is that can be our responsive free-will offering to God, because he has given us the skills that lie within us – however latent they may have been over many years.

To someone who can feel guilty for not ‘doing the right thing’ very easily, but who has been given this ‘new’ gift of creativity in the last year or so, a gift that seems to be ‘snow-balling’ and drawing people in (in a variety of ways), this is hugely reassuring. The creativity that lies within all of us, the skills that we have practiced hard to hone, that we desire to learn at the hands of skilled teachers, can all be used to God’s glory, if we offer them to Jesus as a free-will gift. They are not limited to the crafts listed in Exodus 35, and like the craft of poetry that gives words to emotions we struggle to articulate (see yesterday’s post for an example in relation to the Ukraine crisis) they are healthier let out into the open, than shut up within us. Jesus didn’t come to get us to legalistically compartmentalise the different parts of the way God made us into what can, or can’t be used for His glory.

This is probably not news to most of you, but for me it is a huge encouragement. My prayer as I share this is that this might help me to see the skills I am developing as a free-will offering to God, so that there is no guilt involved in the time spent crafting, and so that the gifts and sale items that I create in doing so, give glory to God because they are filled with the Spirit of Jesus that issues from within me, whether that is obvious in the symbolism used or not.

I also pray that this might help you too to consider your God-given skills as a free-will offering to God.

Prayers for #Ukraine and #Peace on Ash Wednesday 2022

In the parishes of St. Mary’s Eversley and St. Barnabas Darby Green we wanted to make extended time in our Ash Wednesday services for prayer most particularly because of the conflict in Ukraine that shocks and concerns us all.

Ash Wednesday reminds us of our humanity, and that of our Lord who suffered on the cross for us, but rose again to bring reconcilation among all who acknowledge him. As we watch the conflict and suffering in Ukraine from afar, we cry out to the Lord of grace, justice and mercy, searching for truths to be acknowledged and known on all sides, however uncomfortable, .

So we pray in silence and aloud:

Father we yearn for all people to recognise and be reconciled in their shared humanity, particularly in Ukraine and neighbouring countries including Russia and Belarus, and for all involved at whatever level to step back from the conflict and bloodshed in which they have engaged…

Lord, in your mercy…. Hear our prayer.

We pray for all displaced people, those of immediate concern on the borders of Ukraine and so many others searching for safety and a place where hope can once again flourish in their lives…

Lord, in your mercy…. Hear our prayer.

Closer to home, we hold in your care and name before you those known to us who are in pain and sorrow, those searching for diagnosis, those waiting for surgery, those grappling with the side effects of treatment, those convalescing and those grieving the loss of a loved one. Lord bring to them and all who suffer your healing, your patience, your purpose, your comfort and your hope…

Lord, in your mercy…. Hear our prayer.

We pray for nations not directly engaged in current conflicts, including our own, to resist the need to involve themselves for political or economic gain, but to welcome all refugees with generosity and mercy and to work with integrity for justice and peace…

Lord, in your mercy…. Hear our prayer.

Lord, we long for peace between Ukraine and Russia, in Afghanistan, in Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and so many others including the land which we call Holy, and seek freedom in life and worship for the persecuted in Myanmar, Uganda and beyond; from the safety and comfort of our lives we pray you strengthen all of us to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with you our God.

We conclude this time of prayer with the words of author and poet John Roedel:

My currently partial and poor attempt to create a Dorset Button on the theme of the Ukrainian flag and it’s national flower, which is the sunflower.

I can’t make the
world be peaceful

I can’t stall tanks
from roaring down roads

I can’t prevent children
from having to hide in bunkers

I can’t convince the news to
stop turning war into a video game

I can’t silence the sound of bombs
tearing neighborhoods apart

I can’t turn a guided missile
into a bouquet of flowers

I can’t make a warmonger
have an ounce of empathy

I can’t convince ambassadors
to quit playing truth or dare

I can’t deflect a sniper’s bullet
from turning a wife into a widow

I can’t stave off a country being
reduced to ash and rubble

I can’t do any of that

   the only thing I can do
is love the next person I encounter
without any conditions or strings

to love my neighbour
so fearlessly that
it starts a ripple
that stretches from
one horizon to the next

I can’t force peace
on the world

but I can become a force
f peace in the world

because

sometimes all it takes
is a single lit candle
in the darkness

to start a movement

“Lord, make me a candle
of comfort in this world

let me burn with peace”

Silence – light a candle

Amen.

Making a wall-hung ‘Wave over the Seashore’

‘Wave over the Seashore’ the prototype and the spoke pattern that creates it.

So, this weekend the double-bicentinary of the Dorset Button industry has been launched online by the ever creative Jen Best of Beaker Buttons. My main contribution was to make the ‘button’ element of what has become my ‘signature piece’ of a rather freeform ‘Wave over the Seashore’ – a riff on one of Jen’s own designs. My original piece, made a year ago, is at the top of the picture on the left. The part-made piece at the bottom shows the start of the process.

Being a wet day, and a weekend off, my husband Graham and I also took the opportunity to set up the tech so I could create a video of the process – simple video editing being a skill I’ve had to learn as a minister during the pandemic! Creating a ‘Wave over the Seashore’.

As I started I thought I was going to be making more than one item in the day, and whilst that was true by late evening (a made a bouquet button brooch whilst the video was processing) not at the time I edited together the video clips. It’s very amateur and simple, I’m rather talkative, and it’s more ‘slow tv’ than a tutorial! The photo below also shows the creative technical space that our loung looked like whilst the whole thing was going on.

Videoing the creative process! (Photo and set up creds to my husband!)

I’ve got another new design to finish embelishing, and a commission outstanding, so this one won’t get embelished immediately, but it was fun to make the video, and I might make it a companion piece at some point. Other creations finished this weekend – and visiting distractions – are shown below.