A story

Once upon a time a shy snail met a vibrant yellow and they fell deep into conversation.


I am yellow. Gold, lemon, acid, bright, sunshine. I am the colour of fear and the colour of joy. Light floods in where I shine, shadows are deeper, purple, gray. I taste butter and honey, see gold buttercups, see the light shine under a child’s chin, see laughter, hear laughter. I say, I shine. Buttercup open holding pollen holding petals to the answering sun.

I am snail. I hold my shell as a hiding place. As a home. The shell’s spiral leads to the centre. I slip slowly, close to the earth. I leave silver where I go. I am slow, often still. I pull myself in, within, to find refuge from danger. My eyes explore outward, outward, once and again. I unfurl.

Yellow: Welcome, snail. I see touches of myself in the swirl of your shell. See how it catches the light.

Snail: Your light is too fierce, it will desiccate me. I must hide.

Yellow: I am not the white fierce light of the sun, I am the dappling of gold on the floor of the forest, I am the edge of shadow. You can move through me, your shade is all around.

Snail: I see you, with my eyes gazing here and there, with my rasping mouth I taste the fall of leaves you filled, now soft and brown. My silver trail traces small pathways across your dappled ground.

The beginning.

Deflected double weave explorations

Ever since I first saw this deflected double weave scarf by Madelyn van der Hoogt, I’ve wanted to play with this version of the weave structure – the idea of interlocking yet distinct layers of weaving sparks my imagination.

screenshotIt seems to me like a metaphor for the layers of meaning and ‘otherness’ that intertwine through life, the ‘thin places’ and thresholds of enchantment I glimpse in the everyday. The original scarf is woven with a fine merino but I’m trying to use what I have whenever I can, so I chose some of my handspun yarn and adapted the draft to suit. I used unfulled handspun for this so there was plenty of scope for of felting shrinkage.

handspun yarn

The weaving is straightforward, the ‘layers’ alternate, and one layer weaves plain weave while the other floats. It goes relatively fast because of the size of the yarn and all the spacing. Spaced deflected double weave in progress

Off the loom, the weaving is quite fragile and needs careful handling to minimise movement of the yarns. The unfinished width off the loom is 25 – 28cm.

Spaced deflected double weave before finishing

I divided it into 5 pieces to experiment with different ways of finishing it and these were the results. They don’t have a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ side but the two sides are different because of the dominant direction of the yarns.

This first exploration was hand washed and I spent some time rolling some of the float areas between my palms to felt the yarns together. Felted and fulled. Finished width 16 – 17cm. The two layers stay separate, and the gaps are bigger so the layers move independently.

The second exploration was put into a washing machine with a normal load of washing and washed at 40 degrees on a quick wash setting. Felted and fulled. Finished width 14 – 15cm. The most densely felted and textural. The two layers stay separate but are closely integrated.

The third experiment was steamed (I have a washing machine with a steam setting – I haven’t tried steaming on the stove). Lightly felted and not fulled. Finished width 15 – 16 cm. The layers and the yarns stay separate. Very soft, squishy, and fluffy, rather than robust.

My fourth exploration was finished by rolling and rubbing using feltmaking equipment, the same way that felt is made from fibre. Felted but not fulled. Finished width 21 – 22cm. I decided not to full it as I like the way the yarn has felted into solid flat strips in place and didn’t want to shrink these further at this stage (maybe later or next time). The layers are largely separate but have felted together in a few places. I could probably avoid that by separating them more assiduously between rolling.

The last experiment is similar to the fourth but with the addition of some sari ribbon and sari yarn between some of the layers and using this nuno felt tumble drier technique, except that I used a warm setting so it would be possible to dry some washing at the same time. Felted but not fulled. Finished width 21 – 22cm. The layers are mostly either joined deliberately by the fabric or felted together by the process. I had less control in this one than in number four, and the yarns have also felted together a bit more and with more energy and crinkliness, all of which I like. And I love the effect of including the fabric.

So, with several interesting transformations, I’ve gained a much deeper understanding of this form of deflected double weave, and there’s still so much more left to explore.

Seeing double – weave explorations

It’s feeling very spring-like now in west Wales. I love this time of year with the blackthorn blossoming and the birds shouting their joy a little bit earlier every morning. For the last couple of months I’ve been on an online course with Cally Booker – Understand Double Weave on 8 Shafts. It’s been a delight and there’s so much more I want to explore. Cally is an excellent teacher with her own ways of seeing and explaining that somehow make everything fall into place.

Choosing colours was fun and I always love warping the loom, which is something I still need to practise – a lot!

We started out making panes and chequerboards with our blocks (only two double weave blocks  are possible on an 8 shaft loom – but what a lot you can do with them!). The colours on the top layer are reversed on the bottom layer, sometimes the ‘back’ is more exciting than the ‘front’.

Then we wove tubes and folds. You can use these techniques to make bags and containers. The choice of weft colour – the colour decisions you make as you weave – makes a huge difference to the colour of the cloth, and not always in the way you imagine.

After that we studied microblocks, pickup and padding. I had a lot of fun playing, padding the blocks with thrums (the ends that are left after you cut the weaving off the loom) and chunky twisted cords. Definitely something I want to revisit.

The next lesson explored more variations on the theme: weft interchange, introducing twill in one of the blocks and my favourite part – colour and weave effects.

By this point I was running out of warp, and the course had officially finished. The final lesson offers various suggestions for further exploration and the one that makes my heart beat a bit faster is double weave huck (huck is a lace weave). I haven’t yet woven huck at all, though, so my next learning project is to find out how to do that before I plunge into weaving it in two layers.

The meaning of making

A conversation the other day about artistic identity reminded me about this piece I wrote a few years ago for UK Handmade; I noticed that it’s no longer available there when I tried  to revisit it and I’d like to share it again now.

Recently I have been musing on what making means to me. I think it is very personal and yet also quite social, a way of being in a world I often find mysterious and confusing. My making is influenced by beauty and curiosity, by the magical details that catch my eye as I walk with my camera. Mostly I use wool, which is plentiful and various, together with precious fibres like silk, and worn or waste fabrics with their imagined stories.

Ivy berries

Making is a process of transformation. As I make, the materials are changed, and I am changed also. An idea is inside me, then it is outside me, made visible yet still part of me. Making is an extension of thought, not simply an expression of thought. We grow in the making.

Making is a child at play, seeing pink and yellow castles in the landscape and constructing them with green paper and blue crayon. It is the absence of preconceptions. ‘A lack of knowledge has turned into a refreshing asset,’ writes Jessica Hemmings of Kustaa Saksi, (Natural State, Selvedge 63, p.34).

wool rolags

Making is beginning, and beginning again. As Thomas Merton says, ‘We do not want to be beginners, but let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners all our lives,’ (Contemplative Prayer, 1971, p.37). Making provides space for the amateur – which, by the way, means the lover. Making means always learning, and the freedom to be wrong.

And making is mastery – the assurance of long practice held in tension with the uncertainty, the vulnerability of experiment and exploration. Making is order, and channels in deep waters. The process sets boundaries on the imagination, freeing us to create. Limits hone choices.

Making is a woman whose voice is barely heard, slowly able to make herself known in another language altogether. Making is an antidote to hiding. Focused on a stitch by stitch rhythm, a profound stillness descends on a heart scattered by chaos and distraction. Making is a way of remembering, an embodiment of experience. Hands can recapture skills the mind has forgotten, and lay down new memories for the future.


Making is frustration, fear, disappointment. It is the tearing out of hair. It is sobbing and throwing things. Making is messy and mad. It is breaking and mending. Making and re-making. Making is a powerful healer.

Making is a sacrament – an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. As we make, we are made. The story that undergirds my life starts, ‘In the beginning God created…’. Imaged as one who knits, throws pots, bakes bread, the Maker calls me also to create.

soda bread

Making is material. When I wonder about the value of creating more stuff in an already overcrowded world, I remind myself that the pace of the handmade opposes the excesses of mass production. Take time, make less, care more.

Making is communication and connection. It draws individuals into community and offers a nurturing place for learning to understand the other. ‘Craft brings people together, creating a social space where ideas are swapped and made sense of, quite literally with the hands.’ (Ben Cartwright, Making the cloth that binds us). Making is a metaphor for inclusion: only by respecting the unique qualities of wool, or cloth, or clay, can we create a new, true, whole.

Making is a gift. Making is for everyone.


What does art mean to you?

What is art? What does it mean to you? These are some of the thoughts I wrote down a few days ago when I was asked to reflect on these questions (by Anastasia Azure):

Art is making that expresses meaning and intention, questioning, exploration, attention. It does so by representing, by abstracting, by simply celebrating its own being. It can create or discern meaning, or even say that there is none. It springs from the longing of the artist to recreate in another way what is seen, heard, felt, thought, eaten, worn. It asks questions and sometimes suggests answers. It can break and mend your heart, transform your thoughts, make you want to dance or be still.

rusted groyne

A handmade bowl can be a beautiful vessel for soup in the mind of the cook and an expression of grief for the destruction of the oceans in the mind of the artist. Yet another person sees nothing but that it is beautiful and places it on a shelf to be gazed at. All these meanings are held, often in tension, in the art work.

I deeply believe that art is for everyone: that the way a person washes the dishes or makes the breakfast can be art; that art can be fleeting or solid, hidden or visible; that art not shared can still be art. I think that a child can make art; that imperfect art can be perfect, even that bad art can be good – perhaps it brings creative joy to the maker, perhaps we don’t need to judge.

I would love to know what art means to you…