Many creatives have been inspired to show their support for Ukraine in various ways in the last few months – a way of enabling many of us to deal with our sense of helplessness at what we have seen unfolding on our television screens. These have been my small contribution, and since both sold (with some of the money going to the DEC Ukraine Appeal), I probably need to make some more.
I knew one had gone to a member of the clergy who was working to support families trying to host Ukrainian families, in the Salisbury Diocese. However, when watching BBC South Today, I was rather startled to actually see not only her, but the necklace I’d made, which she had been wearing daily as a witness to our need to support Ukrainians in whatever way we can.
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.
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.
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.
When I was putting together my stock for the shop at the Sustainability Centre recently, I was asked to create some price tags for my items. Whilst it would have been relatively simple to use a photo of one of my items, I thought that could be a bit limiting in a weird sort of way, because there’s such a diversity to the stuff I produce, depending on where inspiration takes me.
So I’d been on the look out for something ‘Ramtops’ related – ideally a ram doing something creative, or similar. That’s the name we gave our house nearly 25 years ago, and comes from the name of one of the mountain ranges in the Terry Pratchett Discworld books. Being ‘Ramtopsrac’ has been my nom-de-plume ever since, across all sorts of social media. I’d kept my eye out, searched various label and stamp making companies, and nothing had seemed to quite fit the bill.
Then among an online network of creative clergy a lovely priest in the Nadder Valley in Wiltshire called Jo Naish produced a series of sheep related cartoons for ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’ (Fourth Sunday of Easter, when the reading is John 10:11-18)… one of which was a ram, on top of a mountain! I love it. I realise it doesn’t reference the ‘making’ process of the variety of items I produce, but it was suitably quirky and distinctive enough to fit the bill, at least as far as I was concerned. Whilst I wasn’t going to use it for the purpose it was shared, Jo was very happy for me to adopt it as my logo, for which I am hugely grateful.
So, here’s my logo, and the blurb I created to go with it. I hope I will get the opportunity to make more use of it in the future.
Here’s me playing catch-up on the exciting thing that happened for me in June: my handmade items are now in stock in a shop! (They have been since 10th June, but one or two other things have happened since then too!)
It took a bit longer to make this happen than originally intended, but given so much of my stuff is natural fibre, upcycled, recycled, or ‘found’ in some way, I think the ethos of the Sustainability Centre and what I’m trying to create are a great fit for each other.
There’s a whole range of items which I’ve made including earings, keyrings, pendant necklaces, brooches and wallhangings. It was lovely to be able to make use of an old basket, inherited from my Mum, and carefully stored for the last 25 years. She had a bit of a hoarding tendancy, which in part is what much of my creativity has been based on!
The eagle-eyed will also note the new logo on the tags! This was the first opportunity for my new ‘logo’ to be pressed into use. More of that in the next blog-post!
I’m very grateful to Lyn the shop manager at the Sustainability Centre, for giving me this opportunity. I wonder if anything will sell?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
sometimes all it takes is a single lit candle in the darkness
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.
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.
This year marks 400 years since the Dorset Button industry started to supply the British fashion industry with hand-made works of art. More knowledgable folk that me have written about its history but it’s worth taking time to read it; in our mass-produced society it’s easy to forget that so much was hand-made in poor light in people’s homes.
More recently, sparked partly by the quest historic accuracy in costume dramas, and partly by renewed interest in traditional crafts, interest has been renewed, and I count myself as one who has come late to the Dorset Button party. However, last year I seem to have tried to make up for it, and have actually lost count of the number of ‘buttons’ I’ve made.
There is just something about the whole form that has really sparked my imagination. The last couple of posts in this incredibly sporadic blog showed ‘seashores’ and a ‘cross’ which then inspired a sermon – not the last point in the year where creativity and calling met. The blog silence since has largely been filled with the sound of my brain giving off sparks, holes being drilled in seashells, and commissions being completed – an unexpected development. Above is a selection of my 2021 output, now all safely resident with their recipients, or kept for posterity.
Celebrations for this year’s Double Bicentenary of Dorset Buttons kicks off today with an “Worldwide Button-along” hosted by Jen Best of Beaker Buttons, the lady whose excellent instructions and creativity got me started on all this (and who’s shop is my main source of materials!). I am looking forward to seeing and being inspired by other people’s creativity, but in preparation felt I needed to expand my repertoire as there are many forms of ‘button’ to be mastered, and they don’t all involve yarn!
So, the last couple of evenings have seen me get a stash of ‘tippets’ of fabric out, and get to grips with the ‘Singleton’ form of Dorset Button. Once again, part of the delight of learning a new skill, is finding that a tiny scrap of material goes rather well with some modern multi-coloured cotton, and some 30+ year old daisy ‘trim’ unearthed from stash inherited from my mother, and beads that I’ve been gifted by friends to ‘feed my habit’. That’ll be up-cycling, recycling, and innovation all in one adaptation of a traditional craft – the results are shown below.
There are other delights to be shared soon too, not least using gifted threads to create posy-brooches, finishing a small wall-hanging inspired by the “hare-ways” of holidays in Suffolk, and the latest commission, a memorial piece with a Shakespearian flavour! Hopefully this DB of DBs (Double Bicentenary of Dorset Buttons) will also see me keeping a better record of the creative processes as they happen.
If you’re interested in buying or commissioning one of my creations, large or small, please look at my ETSY or get in touch via this blog or my other social media @ramtopsrac
Theoreo means, in New Testament Greek, to wonder, ponder, or 'chew over.' Theore0's are my reflections on current issues, facing the Church and Christians. I frequently consider issues such as the relationship between faith and economic life, Christianity and leadership and, other ethical issues. Many of these issues are covered in a book I co-edited called Theonomics (available either through Amazon or direct from Sacristy Press). All views are my own. I aim to provoke and stimulate wider debate, for the common good and hope not to offend.