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Welcome to Musings – The Loom Room Blog

21 March, 2017

Guilty as Charged, M’lud!

Filed under: Life,Nature — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 11:20 am

I have been told off!  Not once, but twice and on successive days!  What can I say but sorry, and I will try to do better!!

First came the email from a weaving friend in the US – “Have you dropped off the face of the earth, or did you actually move to France?  What is going on over there?  Are you in internet contact?  I must assume not, or we would have heard from you by now – wouldn’t we???? ”

Then from a non-weaving friend from the UK – “Well, I know you moved because you emailed to tell me you had landed almost safely.  So that means you have email connection. So what’s happened to your blog?  Has it not moved with you?”

So to these friends and you, my lovely, faithful followers, I extend a heart-felt and guilt-ridden apology!!  It’s no good my excusing myself by saying I am working on my website (true) or painting guest bedrooms (also true) or creating my studio space and teaching area (complete) or even sorting out the mess that is still my office because I did say before we moved that I would keep people updated with our French adventure and I have completely crashed out of that!!

So, because you wouldn’t want a reallllllllly long post telling you everything up to now, let me start by giving you a few tasters of what we have been up to.  I promise to post more regularly and include other tales from the woods in future posts.

Not only is today the first day of Spring, it is also the day that I am registered for my business!  Most people would not be happy that they have just signed up for paying taxes and the famous French social charges, but it means I am here!!  I can officially sign up for the doctor once my SIRET number comes through, and, once my website goes live, I can start taking bookings for my weaving courses.  Yippee doo!!

We have beautiful wildlife here – red squirrels, deer, woodpeckers, tree creepers, lizards being among the most frequent – but our resident red squirrels came in for a horrible shock last week.  They like to build their nests in between the shutters (volets) and windows on the top floor which is not currently used much except for storage.  It’s nice and quiet – usually!

However, we decided we wanted to air the attic and ensure that no bees or wasps decided to use the space for building their nests, wonderful constructions though they are.  So Graham vigorously threw the existing nest out of the second storey window onto the tiled terrace two floors down.

Unfortunately, and unbeknown to us, there were two squirrels in residence when he did this!  Zut alors!!  They came tumbling out and straight into the clutches of our two killing machines – aka the kittens!!  Merde!!

One was caught by Merlin and taken round to the back garden.  The other was initially caught by Coriander, but escaped (she is not such a killing machine) and scrambled up the wall behind one of the kitchen shutters.

Meanwhile, I was happily playing (sorry – working!) in the studio, setting up the baby jacquard looms, and came rushing out to find out what all the kerfuffle was about.  Rescue-mode ensued.  Cats were caught and imprisoned inside the house.  The nest was re-sited back to its original elevated position.  Now to catch the poor squirrels and re-house them.

One squirrel was sitting out in the open on the back lawn, so I figured that one was the one most in need of capture and recuperation.  It was in shock and I didn’t know how badly Merlin had hurt it, so I found a shoe box and tiptoed up to try to catch it.  It bounded away towards the house, at least allowing me to see that it was moving well so hadn’t been externally hurt seriously.  It then buried its head in a hole in the wall, leaving its posterior visible, so I was able to catch it and put it in the shoe box and return it to its nest.

Squirrel #2 was much easier to capture and return to the nest so we left them there, hoping they would be alright.  We still don’t know whether they were teenagers or adults.  (It turns out that Graham has as big an aversion to catching squirrels as for eradicating rats, and he left it all to me!!)

Two days later we watched the two squirrels cavorting around the trees around the house as if nothing had happened!  Huge relief.

Lesson learnt.  We will not disturb the nest again!

So you will have gathered that we have acquired two gorgeous kittens, now nearly grown into full-sized cats.

IMG_7976Merlin is almost completely white with a few tabby splodges and a grey and black striped tail.  Coriander (Corrie) is a tri-tone tabby with big splodges of all the colours and much smaller than her brother.  Looking back at the first photos, Merlin was so much smaller than Corrie.  Now he is roughly a third larger!!  They are earning their keep and getting extra food by reducing the mouse population, but they also rather like to torture the local lizards – something we are not keen on but powerless to prevent!  But they are hilarious and love to play and sleep together and are a total joy to have around!

Last week a local Frenchman turned up on the doorstep to invite us to the local frisbee night on Mondays in Nérac.  So last night, we went.  Wow!  Baptism of fire!!  Having not done sport for a very long time, we had a two hour session of frisbee in an amazing sports hall.  We were really impressed with what the social charges pay for – a proper athletics track, gym, a martial arts Dojo, a swimming pool, a large indoor sports hall, outdoor sports fields and stadium, and hard courts with spotlights!  And this is just a relatively small town, roughly the size of Uttoxeter.

It was a great evening, apart from me hitting the deck twice as my feet didn’t go quite as fast as my body (or my centre of gravity not being where it should be these days……!) and once having very strong contact with another player’s body on my nose!!  I took myself off after that as the headache wasn’t to be ignored!  However, Graham managed to score two goals although he has butterfingers when catching the frisbee.  I won’t be able to attend regularly once my courses start, but it might be fun for Graham – and he did get to meet a guy who works with craft brewers!!

Next time – a sneak preview of the workshop……

In the meantime, happy weaving!!

29 January, 2017

The Loom Room move to France

Filed under: Life,Travel — Tags: , , — admin @ 6:52 pm

Every day is a really exciting day at the moment!

Each day my workshop becomes a little more like a weaving workshop.

But it didn’t start out that way!

Our main move was on 4/5 January.  All was going swimmingly.  We had managed to pack the van (a transit) really well and had enjoyed a calm crossing overnight from Portsmouth to Caen.  We had even managed to fit in a visit to relatives about 2 hours into the journey.  3 hours later we had resumed and got just 1 hour away from our new home when


Mega-smoke out of the exhaust and sudden loss of power!  It would have been alarming enough if I hadn’t been overtaking two lorries at the time!  OK, so it was a little foggy, but lorry headlights shouldn’t just disappear behind a smoke screen, should they??!!

We limped on the hard shoulder and put our hazard lights on and I continued to drive very slowly to get off at the next junction which, fortunately, was only 5kms away.  Oh, and just to make things a little more interesting, it was the coldest night in France this winter up to that point!

I have to raise my hat to Green Flag.  We phoned them and explained the situation and they sent someone out within 45 mins and he even brought a tow-truck with him to take us to his depot.  We had to leave the transit there overnight, and the rescue man agreed to take us the hour home.  So far so good.

We hadn’t got very far before his new car started showing a red engine warning light!  So we pulled over, stopped the vehicle, waited a few moments and started again.  The engine light went out.  Great!  Just 5 mins later on it came again.  This happened a few more times, and our driver decided that it was too risky to go further, so back we went to change vehicles.

Finally we were on our way again with a car that didn’t show any red warning lights, thankfully!  We were relaxing into the drive and pleased to be on the way home when suddenly, a fully-grown deer started out from the verge right in front of the car!  And we weren’t going slowly!!

What can I say?  The car had very good brakes, and somehow our driver managed not to hit the deer – a good result for all of us!!

We were on full alert after that, I can tell you!

We eventually arrived at our destination about 12.30am – after initially hoping to arrive at 7.30pm!!  But we were safe and sound, even if our transit was a little sick.  It finally arrived back with us three days later, just in time for us to off-load my workshop stairs so that our friend could fit them.  He was coming from the UK specifically to fit them.  It would have been a little awkward if they hadn’t been there!

The transit is unfortunately not well enough to go anywhere now!  The engine is ok, but the turbo is so expensive to repair that we are hoping to sell it to someone who is able to repair it themselves!  We now have a little Renault Kangoo – not the most elegant of vehicles, but very useful for bags and cases for when my students need picking up from the airport.

Things are happening fast now, so I’ll be able to post more news and photos during the next few days!!

In the meantime, Happy Weaving!!




22 December, 2016

Countdown to……. A New Life

Filed under: Life,Travel — admin @ 10:20 am

Have you noticed how many people now countdown days/sleeps before an event?

It seems to be a marketing phenomena that has caught on with the general public.  Generally I can’t stand the idea of people wishing away their lives through counting down one more day until Xmas, or Easter, or a holiday.  Children have always counted down days to a party or a friend coming to stay, or Christmas and their presents, but adults seem to be doing it all the time now – on the tv and radio presenters are always saying ‘One more day closer to the weekend’ – ‘just one more day until the weekend begins’ – ‘ten more sleeps before Xmas’ etc.  It drives me nuts!


This year has been a year of events for us.  Moving from our house to a temporary house.  So many ferries to catch to take (mostly) weaving stuff to France.  Builders coming to do work on the French house.  More ferries to and from France.  An exhibition in Holland.  Xmas with our family and ensuring that all the redirections are done.  Another ferry trip to France.  And maybe two or three more to pick up the final bits and bobs – and baby jacquard looms – in the New Year.

I confess I have been counting down the days to various key points, in an effort not to lose track of where I should be at what time, in which country, at which port, with what stuff!!  I have managed to leave keys behind in France for the UK, miss one ferry by 24 hours, and forget my essential tool box for the exhibition in Holland!

I started off the year knowing where all my yarns were in storage – which box/which building – and am ending the year not knowing where anything is as it has all been moved around so much in packing vans, repacking the storage to fit more furniture in, etc.

In other words, my life has become infinitely more complicated!  And in trying to keep up with everything that is going on, I have found myself falling into countdowns.  Two weeks to go before I need to be there, with that, ready for the other!!  One week to organise this before we have to travel…  Two weeks in France with the plumber coming on Monday for 3 days, the builder on Tuesday for 1 day, the electrician hopefully on Wednesday, and not sure for how long, and we have to leave next week…..  One month before the exhibition …. yikes, three days before I have to leave for the exhibition – but what is in France and what is in England?  Which pieces am I taking?  Where are they?  Where are my tool boxes?  Did they come in the last vanload, or are some tools still in England – and are they in storage or our temporary accommodation?  Are my artworks in temporary studio 3 or 4 in France, or in England?  Oh boy!!

It’s no surprise that countdowns, and lists, can help in these situations.  If you know how long you have got to do something, you can work backwards to find out exactly what you need to do and when in order to complete everything you need to do/organise/pack.

For us, the end is nearly in sight.  We move at the beginning of January to start our new life.  We will still have a few things to come back and collect but we will be based in France.  Countdowns have been helping, but I must confess that I am looking forward to a life without countdowns, where I can get back to living each day mindfully, from the moment of waking until the moment of sleeping, enjoying each day for what it brings, rather than panicking to fit everything in, living with lists all around me and boxes of half-packed belongings wherever I look.

And I am looking forward to being able to settle down, breathe calmly, and start unpacking my life and hopefully making it a little bit simpler in the process.

A very happy Christmas to those of you who celebrate it, and a happy holiday season to everyone.

And, of course, Happy Weaving!!!!



4 November, 2016

Exhibition: ‘Weaving Futures’ London Transport Museum 22/11/2016 – 18/02/2017

Exhibition: ‘Weaving Futures’ | London Transport Museum

Dates: 22 November 2016 to 18 February 2017

‘Weaving Futures’ is an exhibition at London Transport Museum highlighting the importance of woven textile design to the London Transport system. The exhibition explores the process and making of digital woven textiles, as part of the Museums’, Designology season.

Each week, visitors will be able to see invited designers/artists in residence in the Designology studio, who will be working on a project brief and interacting with a weaver. The weavers will be interpreting  the residents  work live  into digital woven textile prototypes and final works on a state-of-the-art TC2 digital jacquard loom.

51977-049‘Weaving Futures’ is  curated by design & research industry experts, Philippa Brock and Samuel Plant Dempsey

The Weaving Futures season will start with Wallace Sewell, who will be in residence in the studio from Nov 22nd – 26th 2016

Other residents participating in the season  include: AssembleBeatwovenPhilippa BrockCamiraCentral Saint Martins, BA Textile studentsSamuel DempseyLinda FlorenceGainsborough Weaving CompanyEleanor PritchardRare Thread : aka Kirsty McDougall & Laura Miles, Josephine OrtegaIsmini SamanidouStudio HoundstoothJo PierceTakram & Priti Veja

Resident artists and designers have been invited to respond to a project brief; exploring the role of textiles in modern transport now and in the future. They will focus on ‘untapped’ sources of data generated by, or helpful to, the transport system. Their responses will then be interpreted into woven textiles, live for museum visitors.

The weavers for the season are Rosie Green & Hanna Vinlöf Nylen

Creative responses may span from future speculations on data capture and its textile use, to new methods of digitising human interactions, to creative interpretations and visualisations of existing TfL data sets.

Design & artistic approaches may include drawing, photography, film, sound, mark-making and model making.

wallace-sewell-overground-weavingThe Weave Shed will highlight each resident each week of the season with images, biographies and contact details.

The Weaving Futures: Data and Transport project brief given to the Designers & Artists explores the significance of Jacquard loom weaving beyond textiles, looking at how the Jacquard loom punch card system led to the development of computers and digital data, and how these have affected transport systems as a whole.

The season will also bring to the fore London’s most loved urban fabric – moquette. Many people who have travelled on the London transport network will be familiar with the patterned seating fabric on Tube trains, buses, DLR, the London Overground and Croydon Tramlink, but they may not know of its rich history as integral to the design of the capitial’s public transport since the 1920s.

Derived from the French word for carpet, moquette is a type of woven pile fabric, in which cut or uncut threads form a short dense cut or loop pile. As well as giving it a distinctive velvet-like feel, the pile construction is particularly durable, and ideally suited to applications such as public transport.
Digital Weaving Norway has sponsored the installation of a TC2 Digital jacquard loom for the duration of the exhibition.

The programme is also supported by CamiraThe Worshipful Company of Weavers and Pointcarré.

Weaving Futures events will take place every week in the Museum’s pop-up Designology Studio from 22 November until 18 February.

All day-time events are drop-in and free to attend with the annual London Transport Museum admission ticket. There is also a Late Debate on the evening of 26 January 2017.

The Designology studio and Late Debate series of events, including Weaving Futures, are part of London Transport Museum and Transport for London’s Transported by Design season which is supported by Exterion Media.

The 18 month programme of events and exhibitions explores good design on the transport network and its role in the lives of the millions of customers who use it each day.

The Weave Shed will cover the exhibition on @weavingfutures twitter and @theweaveshed instagram
@ ltm #designology


Images: Wallace Sewell ( moquettes and loom), Digital weave Norway (image 2)

21 August, 2016

Have loom – will travel….

Filed under: Life,Nature,Weaving — Tags: , , , , , , — admin @ 1:33 pm

Isn’t it funny how certain things make a house feel like a home?

For me, as a weaver, it has to be a loom!  The French house in Gascony now has a working loom in it, and the wonderful and familiar smell of wool yarn means that France is now home!!

At the moment, I am in another temporary studio – #3, I think!  The salon, which will eventually be our rather lovely lounge (with mezzanine library!!) is home to a new-to-me Louet Spring loom.

Salon Studio 4 Salon Studio 3

You can see a little of the yarn stash I have managed to take over to France against the walls, but there is still a mountain of boxes to shift.  We had to buy a transit van to help move my books and yarns across the English Channel and have to be careful not to overload the poor thing too much!!  There are quite a few more trips to plan!!

It was great to put the loom together and to try it out, even if the first warp on was a 7.5m exhibition warp for the Nature In The Making exhibition which Agnes and I are doing in the Netherlands in November!  This is not normally to be recommended – usually I would suggest several short warps with different techniques to find out all the quirks and idiosyncracies of the loom before putting on an important warp.  But still, how many of us actually follow our own guidelines all the time???!!!

Happily, it was a relatively hassle-free introduction.  I’ll write more about it on another blog, but suffice it to say that the loom and I are working well together!

This trip to France also included plenty of physical interaction with the fabric of the building!!  Firstly, we cleaned out all the remnants of old furniture and tiles that had been left in the grange which will be my workshop, and swept it all through, leaving a blank canvas for the work to start in September.

Blog studio renovations 4 Blog studio renovations 3 Blog studio renovations 2 Blog studio renovations 1

It is another TARDIS.  It doesn’t look very large from the outside but the inside is deceptively large.

Then we removed partition walls in a bathroom to allow for two bathrooms – I’m a wicked sledge-hammer wielder – and took off all the floor and wall tiles.  We have also saved all the doors to be re-used.

Then I started weaving, and Graham continued with taking out all the old kitchen, leaving us with a single camping stove, a barbecue and a fridge.  The kitchen was somewhat over-engineered, with re-inforced steel concrete plinths for the worksurfaces, and brick walls, but we shall be able to re-use the cupboard doors and the drawer unit as everything is made with proper materials rather than chipboard rubbish!!

I am very excited, despite the ramifications of the vote in the UK to leave the EU which has impacted on our renovations fund somewhat drastically, meaning that we have to cut back on some of the things that we were hoping to do.  Basically it means that we will have to do several things in different stages instead of having all the work done at once.  Such is life.  It is amazing to us that we are actually in a position to live this dream, so if it takes longer to fulfil everything we planned, so be it….

The time spent in France this summer has been unbelievable, with amazing nocturnal natural fireworks on two occasions (electrical storms!), the fabulous array of summer night markets in villages and towns all around this part of France with their local produce and great music and dancing, the socialising with new friends and neighbours – we have landed in a really wonderful area for welcome, warmth and friendship!! – and the beautiful sunshine and views from our house over the changing fields mean that early mornings and late evenings are especially magical times for watching the landscape transform.

We have also been fascinated by the red squirrel nesting in the space between shutters and window in the attic, taking advantage of the woodpecker holes that appeared in the spring.  She had several babies and, although she has now vacated her nest, taking her babies with her (I think she didn’t like the demolition work happening a floor below her!), she is in the vicinity and we have been waking up to the lovely scene of red squirrels chasing each other round and round the trunks of trees outside the front windows.  Other wildlife has been sightings of two pairs of stunning Golden Orioles who flew in to take advantage of the bounty of our mulberry tree (tasty raspberry-like berries which we eat straight from the tree!).  The birds had the top fruit, we had the bottom fruit – a good balance!!  Bats are in abundance in the area, woodpeckers too, and plenty of other birdlife.

One amusing incident was when we had our first UK visitors.  When we first took over La Tuilerie, we found an old fold-up wooden chair which had been painted and repainted over the years and we decided to use it in our bathroom.  Whenever we were expecting visitors, whether Orange France, or friends, we put the chair at the bottom of the driveway, positioned so that it could be seen from both directions.  A couple of days before our visitors were expected, we saw a beautiful, but dead, pine marten to the left of our driveway on the edge of the road.  Its markings were just stunning – like the snow leopard and silver tabby crossed – although its little teeth were as sharp as needles and would certainly have inflicted a nasty bite!  We didn’t know whether to remove or leave it, and in the end decided it would be best to leave it.  Our visitors arrived, using the chair as signal locator and we had a lovely time!  After lunch, they had to leave and I went down to bring in the chair.  It had disappeared!!  Zut alors!  And so had the pine marten.  Had the local council come along, picked up the pine marten and taken our chair thinking that it too was for disposal?

We decided to pay a visit to the déchetterie – the local recycling centre – to see if they knew where the chair was.  I went indoors, sat down, and worked out how to tell the ouvrier what had happened.  You can imagine the scene – my French is not fluent, by any stretch of the imagination.  I practised the sentences for a while – probably at least 20 minutes – rehearsing over and over and changing the order of the sentences, trying to find the simplest way to explain the situation.  When I felt I probably had it as good as I was going to, we went to the déchetterie – only to find it had just closed!!  Happily we were able to speak to the lady in charge and I managed to make myself understood.

Not that it did any good, mind you….  The council don’t take their rubbish there and she didn’t know where the council rubbish tip was but advised us to go to the Mairie – by then well after 5, so too late for the day.  I confess I chickened out of trying to explain it all again the next day, so somewhere in a council tip near Nérac, there is a lovely old decrepit blue folding chair – unless it has found a new owner, of course!!

It won’t be long before you’ll be able to see the renovations in progress.  With as much of the preparation work done as we could do, things are now ready for the artisans to come back from their August break and start work in late September, fingers crossed!

It’s lovely being able to share this adventure with you virtually, and it would be wonderful if you could come and experience this marvellous place in real life.  In the meantime, until next time,

Happy Weaving!!








23 June, 2016

Art that inspires – Christina Hesford article with textileartist.org

This blog is a sharing of an inspirational article by Christina Hesford in a recent newsletter from www.textileartist.org

My last post was singing the praises of this site and it continues to inform and connect textile practitioners and enthusiasts from far and wide. My reason for re-posting is that Christina has a similar selection of people to me, and expresses her reasons behind their selection clearly and passionately.

This particular article has inspired me to create my own article of 5 outstanding artists that inspire me, so watch out for that post in the near future….
In the meantime, enjoy hers… http://www.textileartist.org/christina-hesford-art-that-inspires/


10 January, 2016

The Power of Connections

I feel very privileged to be living in an era where being an artist does not mean struggling on your own, trying to justify what you do and why you do it against more ‘worthy’ occupations.  I know – most of us work on our own, and yes, we do end up trying to explain, and on occasion trying to justify, what it is that we do, and its validity.  But in the world that has access to the internet and social media, we are no longer emotionally or professionally on our own any more.  There is so much information online, some brilliant, some good, some mediocre and some downright wrong!  But we can reach out, through blogs, through online forums, through social media.

And when we connect with others, we sometimes get criticism, we often realise just how much we have yet to learn about our chosen medium/media, but more often than not, we get support, encouragement, validation, understanding.

I’ve spoken before about getting those ‘aha’ moments, and how wonderful they are.  But I had never before read an account of how these moments happen.  To me, I knew that the connections were made between specific techniques/problems/topics and my more general region and that there is not really much that is new but the individual voice and ‘genius’ comes from connections that are made between things that might not have been connected before, or thought about in that specific way before.  I also knew that many of my ideas come from quiet moments – the middle of the night, just before falling asleep (and thus preventing sleep!!) or immediately on waking, in the shower, walking the dog – and had assumed that my subconscious had been working on things whilst I was actively or passively engaged elsewhere.

Then I read a newsletter from somewhere – possibly Sam and Joe at TextileArtist.org (more of them later) – and the author had written of a fabulous little book called A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young, published in the 1940s.  I searched on Amazon and bought this little tome.  It arrived and this morning, whilst drinking my mid-morning coffee, I read it from cover to cover.  Don’t worry – this is not impressive!!  It is a short book – 48 pages cover to cover.  But it expressed exactly what happens in the creative process in such a lucid and succinct way.

This leads me on to my main point in this blog post.  The world is now a much smaller place thanks to the internet.  We can connect to each other like never before.  The guys at TextileArtist.org are part of this amazing chain of connections and they publish really good material.  If you haven’t come across them yet, please do click on a link in this blog and go and visit their site.  Their story alone is one of connections and curiosity.  Watch the videos that they are currently putting on their site – there is a time limit on them (good publicity ploy!) so go and check it out before the videos disappear.

The only danger is that we can get so easily side-tracked with all this social media  - so many people to connect with, so many wonderful textiles to look at and admire.  But connectivity-wise, we have never had it so good!!

8 December, 2015

The Power of Dreams

Filed under: Education,Life,Teaching,Travel,Weaving — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 8:25 pm

It’s amazing to think how a seemingly inconsequential choice can change the whole direction of one’s life, isn’t it?  And yet, so often that is exactly what happens.  And once that initial choice has been made, other decisions compound the effect until suddenly you find yourself looking at a whole new life.  And all it took was a birthday choice!

Nearly five years ago, my husband, Graham, turned 50.  He wanted to celebrate by going on a cookery course abroad.  Italy and France were on the shortlist, and he decided that he didn’t want to cook pasta.  That choice changed our lives!

The Gascony Cookery School is based in a small village on the edge of Tarn-et-Garonne and the Gers, down in the deep south-west of France.  It is set on a rocky outcrop in rolling hills with farmland all around it hosting kilometre on kilometre of sunflower fields in the summer.  Gramont boasts a chateau open to the public, a wonderful auberge (where cookery school students also get to work), and a honey museum.  In one of those quirks of fate, Graham, who should have been one of six students, was the only student.  (Something similar happened to me when I went to study jacquard at the Lisio Foundation in Florence – there should have been five or six of us, but there were only two!)  Over long leisurely meals with our hosts, Dave and Vikki, it transpired that they wanted to produce a honey beer, but didn’t know how.  Graham (my husband) has been brewing his own beer from the grain since I have known him (well over 30 years) and said he could help.  The more we talked, the more we realised our particular (and peculiar) mix of skills would fit in this village.  Graham with his brewing and music (he’s a good ‘cellist), and his wonderful ability to get on with everyone, and me with my weaving.  There was even an empty property for us to look round that would allow us to do all our activities.

We came home from that holiday buzzing with excitement and potentialities.  We went back to have another look in the summer.  The property was daunting – a lot of building work would be needed to make it functional but we had got the bit between our teeth and approached the sellers.

Not a lot happens speedily in the countryside of France, as many Francophiles will tell you.  That’s part of its appeal!  Because there was so much structural work to undertake before even starting work on making the property functional, we put forward a price which was not accepted.  We hoped that time would encourage the sellers to reconsider.  We went back to Gramont several times.  Then all went quiet from the sellers.

We went back this April, still set on the same property, but this time we decided to see what else was out there.  What other properties in the area would allow us to do our thing or give us a comparison to be able to negotiate a better price?  We viewed 15 properties in one week, and I have to say that the estate agents were all amazing!  Then it happened.  The very last house we looked at just took our breath away.  As we drove up the drive, I said to Graham ‘This is it!’  We felt exactly what we had felt when we first set eyes on Willowgate 23 years ago.  And as we walked round, it felt more and more like home without all the back-breaking work that would have been entailed in the property in Gramont and only 40 minutes away from Gramont.

La Tuilerie with studio

We hummed and hawed for a short while after we got home but that was just nerves.  We had really already made our decision, and in May our offer was accepted.  Just two days later, another offer was put in but the sellers of La Tuilerie honoured their word to us.  And now, finally, at the end of November 2015, we are the proud owners of a beautiful maison de maitre with attached barn for my weaving studio and teaching studio, a workshop for Graham’s micro-brewery, and a small shop to sell our wares!  We will be able to put guests up and offer the kind of immersive experience that we enjoyed at the cookery school, where I can teach weaving and intersperse it with trips to local markets, restaurants, local beauty spots and places of interest so that students and guests can enjoy the tastes and sights of Gascony.

And all because of a birthday decision!!

It will take a while to renovate the buildings to allow us to run the weaving courses and the B&B, but this is the start of a new life.  Graham is taking the plunge and leaving teaching which he has done for 30 years, to devote himself to looking after my guests and brewing his beer.  Of course it will be a challenge – not least the language side of things – and we are not taking it lightly, but there are so many people who are looking out for us and encouraging and helping us, both in the UK and in France, that with a lot of hard work and patience I think we will settle in to a new way of life and really be part of the local community in Nérac and Condom.

I do hope we will have the opportunity to host some of you, my past students, dear weaving friends and fellow explorers on life’s rich path.  I will post updates on FB and here and in my occasional newsletters, but in the meantime,

May All Your Dreams Come True!!  (Because they sometimes do!! :^))


15 November, 2015

The Space Between Awareness and Unconsciousness

Filed under: Life,Nature — Tags: — admin @ 8:53 am

This morning I awoke with some ideas about how I can develop something I am working on.  We are often aware of waking up, the gradual accumulation of senses bringing us slowly to consciousness, but not the other way around – or maybe that’s just me.  And yet, that area between awake and asleep can often be a very fertile area where our minds are free to wander, sometimes bringing us jerking awake with good ideas or, more often, just slipping seamlessly over into unconsciousness.  But how aware are we when we pass from consciousness into unconsciousness when we drop off to sleep?  Even if I try to be mindful of the slide into sleep, I just don’t notice it. Do you?

In fact, for me, the only time I can recall the slide is when I was fainting after severely bending back my thumb just before going on to play in a concert.  It was my own fault – a group of us (early twenties, – should have known better but still only playing at being grown up!) in a lovely village called Thaxted in Essex, which hosted (hosts?) an amazing music festival with superb soloists and an orchestra of young semi-pro players culled from the music colleges of London (although I hailed from the Royal Scottish Academy).

We had not been required whilst the Labeque sisters did an amazing duet stint, which was followed by the interval, so we had adjourned to the pub across the road and were playing silly jumping games over the churchyard wall which was just over knee high.  I was being slightly superior and not joining in whilst the lads did their standing jumps from the pavement over the wall, but goaded and cajoled, finally gave in to peer pressure, lifted my long skirt up to my knees and jumped.  It was a clear jump, but unfortunately, I was wearing heels (not a usual occurrence) and my weight toppled forwards.  I put out a hand to save myself but landed on my left thumb, bending it backwards beyond even its own double-jointed ability!  Oooooooh my word – the pain.

I was assured by the men present that it was similar to being kicked somewhere the sun don’t usually shine!  It blossomed like a hot, fiery flower, engulfing me entirely.  My vision turned into a red tunnel, then got gradually darker.  Once the lads stopped laughing and realised I was hurt, they hauled me into the vestibule of the church and sat me on a bench, head down between my knees.  Their voices seemed weird – a long way away and kind of blurry and muffled.  The interval was nearly over and they were wondering who they could tell and what would they do – I was the only oboe on my part and we were to play a Tchaikovsky symphony next.   I felt sick, my hand was a throbbing entity hanging off the end of my arm and my thumb was in its own kind of hell.  Somehow I managed to put my stoic hat on and a voice from the depths insisted I could play.  It was my left thumb, right?  I didn’t actually have to use it, did I?  It’s only the support for the instrument.  If I could rest the oboe on my knees, I could play, couldn’t I?

Well, the lads got me on to the stage and I sat down, with my oboe on my knees.  I usually play with a very upright stance – arms up, oboe just under a horizontal position – it suits my teeth and jaw shape, raises my rib cage and allows me to get a lovely tone – but this was totally impossible.  I had to hunch over, resting the oboe on my knees and trying to focus on producing any kind of sound!!  Thankfully on this occasion I was not playing 1st oboe, and Tim who was playing 1st for the day (who hadn’t been part of the madness outside) didn’t have a clue what had happened.  He was concerned because I looked a little weird (the cellists who were part of the possé said I looked green!) but as long as I could do the job, he didn’t want to know!  Well, it was a waking nightmare.

I played ok, apparently.  I don’t remember.  All I remember is the music looking a long way away, down this long dark tunnel.  I could only see a little bit at a time, and had to concentrate really hard to stay focussed on this tiny circle of music at the bottom of the tunnel and staying conscious.  I had to try to push away the awareness of pain and stay connected to that little focal area at the bottom of the tube.  I had to breathe and play at the right time, with the right notes in the right order and at the right dynamic.  Thankfully, I had played this particular symphony lots of times and knew it well.  And amazingly Tim, although casting anxious eyes at me from time to time, was totally unaware of the precarious situation I was in so I couldn’t have done too bad a job!!  The cello section kept one eye on me to see if I stayed on my chair as I swayed from side to side occasionally (or so they told me afterwards).  I’m sure if there had been time, there would have been a book on whether I stayed sitting or keeled over!!  Afterwards, they rushed over to me, packed up my oboe, and supported me to the car and drove me back to London.

That thumb took a long time to recover from its wrenching, and I learned not to give in to peer pressure and do something I thought was stupid in the first place!!  But I also learned that I could hang on to consciousness even when close to fainting because I was so determined, at least on that particular occasion.

It’s a weird place to be, between consciousness and unconsciousness.  My perception of time totally changed.  I can’t say exactly how, but all that existed was that small circle at the bottom of the long red tube, and the black notes that were all I could see in the small circle took all my concentration to keep in focus.  My perception of sound also totally changed.  I’d never heard Tchaikovsky underwater before, and probably never will again!!  It ebbed and flowed like tidal waves of sound, sometimes clearer, individual instruments and musical lines,  and sometimes more a wall of sound merging into a mush of aural movement.  And the pain.  That was like a living, breathing thing, changing in intensity every second, striving to take my awareness away from the little circle of notes, trying to compel me to fall into the embrace of the heat and pulse and shout of pain.  I was vaguely aware of feeling very sick all the time, but the focus of my concentration forced that to the background.

What a memory!!  Wow! And out of a single random thought this morning about where awareness and sleep align!!  So, what are your stories?  Are you aware of the boundary between consciousness and unconsciousness?  What does it feel like for you?

And, taking it back to where I came in, which is more fertile in your mental wanderings?  In the lull before falling asleep, or in the slowly arising consciousness of the morning?

8 November, 2015

Textile Society Conference – Textiles and Architecture

It’s been a while since I posted, but life has been busy.  More on that in a blog later this month.  However…..

The Textile Society 33rd Annual Conference was held at the newly extended Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester this weekend.  The topic was Textiles and Architecture and the speakers included Prof Alice Kettle, Dr Lynn Hulse, Jane Scott, Dr Lindsey Waterton-Taylor, Sally Freshwater and Prof Lesley Millar MBE.  It was a full day of inspiration, diverse approaches, technical and innovative explorations.  We were also able to take advantage of a current exhibition at the Gallery called Art_Textiles which has its own publication available from the Gallery.

Prof Alice Kettle started the day’s presentations with quotations from Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space and references to Anni Albers – both guaranteed to grab my attention and get the thinking juices going!!  Taken from The Pliable Plane from 1959, and posing the juxtaposition of architecture (grounded/fixed/permanent) and textiles being not only the antithesis but also complimentary and inter-related, Alice went on to give her definitions of certain terms – walls, curtain walls, etc and to engage us with different approaches in architectural and textiles, including some of my favourite practitioners such as Ann Hamilton, Christo, and Janet Echelman as well as her own work in public buildings and site-specific commissions.

Dr Lynn Hulse presented a very different research project on the embroidered furnishings of the Lethbridge Sisters (1899-1922).  This was a fascinating glimpse into the lives and practice of Lady Julia Carew and Lady Jane Cory who produced some amazing and large-scale embroidered panels and countless interior furnishings for the homes in which they lived. These were much more than home furnishings and were rightly regarded as fine art by the society of the day.  Lynn will be publishing a book on the sisters in early 2016.

Jane Scott, a lecturer in textiles in the University of Leeds, is working with humidity and textile properties to create knitted fabrics that have a physical reaction to their environment, moving in animation when exposed to high humidity and moisture and gradually returning to primary states when the humidity or moisture level drops and the fabrics dry out.  It was totally engaging to watch video of the actions of the fabric.  We are so used to external forces working on fabric, such as drapery, movement of the body, wind, but there was something eerily mesmerising to watch the contortions of the fabric under puffs of water spray, reminding me powerfully of the compelling yet repulsive attraction of watching the squirming of a slug after being sprinkled with salt.  We are used to seeing electronics working within textiles (e-textiles) now, but Jane also incorporated wood veneer within her textiles and used knit together with the wood veneer as a responsive architecture to create dimensional pieces which move according to the climate in which they find themselves.

Dr Lindsey Waterton-Taylor is a weaver after my own heart!  Dealing with multi-layered woven fabric, Lindsey gave detailed cross-section diagrams to a multi-discliplinary audience to express the intricacies of weaving 6-layered fabrics for specific technical requirements in an engineering environment using inelastic yarns and fibres.  As a weaver who uses multiple layers and tubes within tubes myself, this was wonderful brain food!  Our respective end-uses are poles apart but the mental and technical challenges are fairly similar.  Lindsey incorporates the performance characteristics from the woven technical textiles within multilayer multilevel 3D forms into modular forms – think of it as textile ‘vertebra’.  Her work is exciting and has medical as well as engineering applications.  This is weaving as architecture in ways in addition to buildings!

Sally Freshwater is well known for her architectural and site-specific artworks involving the suggestions of sails and other flexible fabrics in sculptural installations.  Looking at translucency and opacity, and looking at various artists who have created large-scale site-specific artwork her talk was more a ‘thinking out loud’ musing of ideas that inspire and promote thinking through her practice.

The final presentation by Prof Lesley Millar was a typically meaty presentation of text, textiles, interior spaces, literary references, and philosophical thinking discussing ‘how the use of textile structures in architecture influence our perception and interpretation, and ultimately our memory, of things experienced’ (taken from the conference abstract).  As ever, it was so jam-packed full of content that I wished for a transcript that I could study with time to absorb all the connections she made.  Using images sourced from exhibitions Lesley has curated in the past, all of which have had a huge impact on how we, in the UK, view and understand textiles as art, including from Textural Space, and Lost in Lace, and also the recent exhibition in Salts Mill, Cloth and Memory, we were taken on a narrative of threads which joined, defined, revealed and concealed interpretations and left us with plenty to think about.

In addition to all this mental stimulation, we were also able to take time over lunch to visit the Art_Textile exhibition.  One of the highlights for me was my first real experience of an Abakan, a large tapestry piece by Magdalena Abakanowicz.  Interestingly, I was also drawn to the shadows created underneath the piece by the positioning of the lighting on both sides of the work.  I was also really pulled in by Anne Wilson‘s delicate stitching of holes on old damask table linens.  They had an ephemeral appeal to me, the tiny stitches of colour like finely ground powder grains, piled on top of each other to give a feeling of brightly coloured growths of decay, ‘blossoming’ on the old fabrics.

At the end of the day, I was left sitting on a crowded train with my brain in overdrive and a contented smile on my face!  Stimulation for mind and soul.  Many congratulations to Sonja Andrew, Dr Brenda King and all those involved in co-ordinating and organising such a stimulating day!

Next year’s conference will be on Saturday 5th November 2016 at the Wellcome Trust, London and is entitled Textile Futures: Technology Materials and Preservation.  It will examine recent advances in textile design, materials and technology, particularly emerging ideas and appraoches that may change the way we design, make, use and preserve textiles in the future.  I urge you to register your interest early : conferences@textilesociety.org.uk

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