I pack the bike paniers for the beach – a place that I know is today in a wind storm. Laying the blanket upon the fine sand, making ready to start knitting the gloves with my online Ravelry Knit group is wonderful moment. It is THE perfect location to sit and knit, think, feel – the sea rolling and heaving in front of me, the bike tyres being quickly buried under small sand drifts behind me. I dig into the bank of the crescent beach and unpack a speckled banana and Christmas biscuits in an old tin, my 5 year old Thermos from Japan, my note book, pen, yarn and chart.
I sit as if a child on a picnic for no one and watch the weight of water lift the surface of the sea in front of me. Waves break and reach the shore line as if they move along the keys of a piano – right to left along the entire long beach.
Sand grains settle on the surface of my tea as if in a grain huddle, in the base of the open biscuit tin, on the blanket in the shape of the base of my shoe, in the threads in the ball of yarn, on the canvas yarn bag that travelled a thousand miles, in my hair, on the scarf.
I scan the sea for whales – the whales that came in to the bay last Weds when I was at St Ninian’s. The weight of the sea water, rising and sinking, ebbing and flowing – covering secrets below its surface in the cold, cold depths of ancient sea sounds.
Today is the first day of my online Ravelry Knit Along where you can join me until 12th October in a group to knit the Smola gloves – named after my home in Shetland. You can ask questions, add photos, let me see your projects. THANK you to all those who have bought the pattern for the gloves already.
Happy knitting, happy sea and beach thoughts – If you’d like to join me on the beach next year, I will be offering Air B&B for single lady crafters, artists and explorers. Message me if you are interested in staying in my 200 year old house by the sea.
Around the 18th March, I began to receive multiple messages from friends on different platforms with a link to a tiny house in Shetland. On that day, I should have already been in Lerwick, but I wasn’t because the hostel had finally closed on 16th and the interview on 19th that I was going for, was finally agreed to be a skype call because of the Virus which we are all now well familiar with. I’d been looking for a little house in Shetland for some time, having looked at one myself, in the old lanes in Lerwick, in November. Then, a friend, went to look at another for me in January. But March, the little house in the sunshine-flooded image didn’t just speak to me, it shouted my name which appeared to be written all over it.
I called the agent who had a viewing day of Smola, on Saturday 21st, the last of all viewings of properties before lock down. As I couldn’t attend, I was sent the house report and two small videos – one of inside the property and one of the byre. Although the tiny house is basic, it is perfectly formed and without question, it seemed ideal for me and the dreams I have of living in Shetland, but on the Monday 23rd , one of the Saturday viewers had put an offer in on the tiny house and I lost hope and duly whined about it on FB on 25th March. This was not just a house to me, it had become a dream filled with ideas of sharing it, offering artist exchanges to exchange and share skills with each other artists and the wider community, artist retreats, workshops, air B&B to friends and people who have connected with me on Instagram, but most importantly, it would be a home where my (art) work / and life would become without borders – indistinguishable.
I was screaming inside, it should have been me because during the preceding developing 7 days, I had been booked to be in Shetland and could have been there, seen it, felt it, put the offer in but instead, I was in my tiny flat in Sheffield forced in to lockdown feeling helpless.
Then, Beate, a friend of mine, messaged and said, just put an offer in. It was the most practical and real advice I had been given, so I spoke to Emma, who put me in touch with Barbara, who in turn, put me in touch with Chris, who had rented the little house for 3 years and he told me about it. So, the house was more known to me and some questions were answered. And, in any case, I had already fallen in love with Levenwick last August
Are you still reading? After all the chronological dates and lost hope? Here’s Levenwick when I was there last August
That weekend, I thought about nothing other than the tiny house and artist exchanges and workshops on knitting and design whilst all the time mentally composing a letter in parts to the owners of Smola, in order to compete with the offer on the table already. Without seeing, smelling or touching the house, the letter flowed. I was honest, direct, clear and shot from the hip on the financial offer. On Monday 30th, I emailed it to the agents with the letter and offer, then promptly let it go. I went to work at Ryegate Children’s hospital where I’ve been a temp medical secretary since early Feb. Just because of a pandemic, the children don’t stop being ill with severe neurological issues, so I didn’t stop going to answer calls from worried parents, arrange medication and type consultant letters from clinics. I got on with my week. The pandemic gathered steam and I started knitting. Below are some of my recent designs.
On Thursday, 2nd April, I got a call from the agent. I assumed it would just be a rejection call. But it wasn’t. The sellers had accepted my offer on the proviso of a non refundable deposit to take it off the market and that they would wait for me to sell my flat. Since 2nd April until 17th May, two Shetland solicitors have been involved in writing the agreement for this non-refundable deposit, which I signed, in a wood in Sheffield on 8th May, honoured by my friend Deborah witnessing and co signing the document, and Lola the jug waiting as patiently as she could tied to a branch.
So there you have it, just over 8 weeks after seeing an image, both moving and still of a little house in Levenwick, I have signed a document to say that I will pay the non refundable deposit, deductible from the cost of the house, if I finalise the Scottish missives and all the papers to purchase within 3 months – an IMPOSSIBLE task. After the initial 3 months, I have a further 3 months agreement with the same terms but the first non refundable deposit isn’t carried over – that becomes lost. I was asked by a friend, – ‘what do I get for my non refundable deposit?’ and I said TIME but my wise friend Deb added, security . So, I have 6 months to turn everything around, still in lock down, during a pandemic and a recession to sell my flat and to purchase my dream.
I have 6 months to make this dream come true.
A dream to truly live a life fully in Smola, without borders between creative thought process and daily life, with my 2 cats, to go swimming with Barbara D and the Selkie swimming group in the sea, to write the book with Shetland knitters – of their mothers and mothers’ mothers and their knitting patterns and the homes they lived in, to make site-specific art, to offer air b&b to friends and artist whom I have come to know over the years through my artistic practice.
I can imagine the artistic exchanges that I hope to offer twice a year to share skills and art with other practitioners including and open call to hand block printers, wallpaper printers, basket makers, knitters, painters, writers and I can see it all happening in that tiny house. I am keen to be part of the village of Levenwick, keen to give and not take by being a supportive member of the local community and I want to make art, knit, share Smola with other artists, create exchanges and opportunities for others to come and work in and draw creativity from the fine little unassuming place.
This is my dream.
If you are interested in supporting this idea, please contact me.
If you are interested in future residencies or exchanges, please sign up to this blog so that you will see further progress on my move to Shetland because if it does not happen with Smola, then it will be another place.
If you are interested in coming to share skills, stay in the tiny house with me as an air B&B, also please let me know by contacting me through this website then I can see how many people would like to share of this dream.
If I do not make the exchange within the time – I will realign my dream.
In the meantime, if you would like to support me, you can do this by buying one of my knitting patterns here.
I am also looking to create a website for Smola and the creative business I will carry out there and I am looking to buy a new camera to capture the beauty of this place and to capture the offer to others.
I also have started a new Instagram page for Smola, which is here and where you can follow progress.
I’m hoping to share this dream with many people. When we are allowed to take visitors, I will be offering Air B&B for single travelling women – I’ll also be offering residencies and looking to create artist exchanges. If you are interested in any of these ideas, please email me on the contact form.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this new move
If you would like to keep up with my move to Shetland, please sign up to the blog here.
The light in the croft house dims sooner than at Mati’s house. The croft’s windows dictate the change in the amount of light within. Two – feet deep walls hold the place up. The deep walls narrow into the windows – each of which look out to every corner of the globe on this island which is only three miles long. I look out south-facing to the light house and gauge the weather by the grass waving or whipping in the wind and by the waves crashing or ebbing on the sea.
The intention is to leave no rubbish after my 9 day stay here. Everything has been bought at the one and only shop at great expense. Everything has come a long way and been handled by much transport – even from Lerwick, either by the local plane or boat from Grutness. I hand picked all the vegetables and packed them in brown bags. All of the peelings will be saved for the pigs at Mati’s, which are owned by four people and brushed by Saskia. I’m learning about animal behaviour from those pigs. They have grown from shy piglets arriving in a cage to grunting and squealing with anticipation at their one and only priority – food. One even bites the other.
Even after 3 weeks, Fair Isle is now so deep in my soul that
I already miss it and yet I am still here – how can that be? I miss the island when I am deep in the
moment of it. It’s like I don’t want to
lose it or I can’t lose it for to do so, would be to give up on a life less
I’m here with Mati as a knitting intern, (maybe the oldest intern in the West at age 56) I’m learning a lot, not only about knitting but island life, the sea, the wind, the land, grass, animal behaviour, the sun rise and whether the plane will come. Where can ‘A Body’ see an unbroken horizon at every window without hesitation. At every lift of the head, a huge deep basin of silver sea greets you. Seeing the sea, hearing it, tasting it makes it seep into your soul. The nights are so pitch dark that my heart quickens at the deepness of the darkness, when I open the door. Nothing can be seen when ther is no moon, except the light house light but even so, it adds to the eeriness of being able to cut darkness with a knife.
There is a book full of old images of Fair Isle islanders
here. I look at the women’s expressions
and how they stand unquestionably, stoically face on. They are all working hard with oxen, ploughs,
knitting, or peats. Maggie Stout of
Shirva is the woman that interests me the most. I cannot stop looking at her
looking at me. I can almost feel the middle
parting of her black hair with my finger – it is so pronounced. This place I am living has a long history. You
can find it easily. It is written across the stones in the grave yard. On a wet
Sunday afternoon, I look for Maggie on the stones. It’s beautiful. The names are listed on the stones, where
they lived and who they married. Women appear to bear their maiden names even
though they are married. History is
tangible here, as across all of Shetland.
How many women moved a curtain aside to look out to sea and wonder about
their men out there, wondering about their safety and return. The weather
changes at a pinch. The stones bear many stories of death at sea.
In this place are larger than life ship wrecked items of great beauty – two identical figurines and two mismatched simple chairs which add character and richness to this small croft house that I am staying for 9 nights.
On the second day, Marie and I cut tussock grass, which is growing just below the chapel, with house scissors. We bag it. I want to knit it and make a lace curtain from its yarn. I’ve long since loved Shetland grass which grows at great length untouched, untrodden on and forms in dune-like shapes carved by the wind. We cut it without knowing its possibilities or strength. I spend 3 days and evenings plaiting the grass into a long length and a ball of grass yarn. The grass is strewn across 3 floors and stuck to everything. When knitting and unknitting, because I am dissatisfied with the results, the grass yarn bears the memory of the stitch.
I am using the resources of the island to create something to connect both with the island and with the age old practice of knitting in order to make site specific / site responsive work back in the Shetland landscape. It will be about the women knitters and a skilled craft that when placed within the landscape, will create a personally constructed context or narrative. My work is created around the theme of gendered women’s creative knitted work that is often undervalued and underpaid. I work within a place to learn the skills embedded within that area and I position my work back into the landscape to connect place, time, history, women’s craft and that pure moment in the present. If it works, for me, there is a distillation of experiences.
As I am working with the materials to hand – grass – and the thought of the women who lived in the croft houses here and how they knitted to subsidise the crofting income and how they dressed and looked in haps – I will choose to knit a hap lace edge and find the right window to place the lace knitted grass. It will be a window that women will have looked out of many times, over many generations whilst working on a croft in Shetland.
At every visit to Shetland over the past 4 years, I always
take time to return to an isolated, derelict, lonely croft house on Bressay where
I respectfully and quietly develop a creative practice that speaks to me of connections
The deterioration of this 2 roomed croft house has been logged since I first saw hand stencilled flowers painted across the walls at waist height in 2015. The last family who lived in this small home painted those flowers but now they are gone. The croft house may be small in size but I have spoken to a woman who was born there, as were her brothers and sisters and her mother and her own children. It was her grandmother’s house and I heard of three generations of women who went home to give birth to their children there.
Because I know this, I hear the sounds in the plaster on the
walls that is now, year by year, disappearing away down to the stone fabric of
For weeks before returning this time, I had made preparation
for my reunion with the shell of a house, by making it a gift of hand-block
printed wallpaper with a Shetland Bird’s eye and a Brother / Sister lace
design. This wallpaper has been a couple
of years in the making from learning CAD knit to using the stitch pattern to
create a laser etched rubber stamp to print the design. Material process and practice led research has
always been the core of the development of my art practice. I have long questioned – is it craft or art
and is it relevant today a Contemporary Art arena in a time of changing
families, fragmented families, home life, belonging, gendered women’s domestic
craft of knitting and narratives of those women.
The world is speedily changing and what can we say through
art that will make a difference to someone for a moment to stop and think and
Last week, on my first day back on Shetland, I nipped to see the derelict croft house. As I was rounding the corner on the hill, my pace and heart quickened at what sight may greet me as it had been 15 months and a cycle of 7 raw weather seasons each taking its toll on the exposed walls since my last visit. I hoped the house would be standing proudly as before which it was. It felt like meeting an old friend. Returning to make work here is not a safe option. It feels as if I am breaking and entering, although the house has no roof and takes the label of ‘barn’. I know it was a loving family home that just happens to be falling down on farm land which is owned by another person. I visit it like an old relative. I look forward to first sight of out and in. Each year, I notice change.
On Tuesday, I returned again. This time, I carried the wallpaper,
paste, brushes and measure to wallpaper around a window that I know so well. I
had a hope of making creative work that spoke of belonging and connection to
place and women’s domestic craft of knitting, maybe something of my own
personal journey to this point.
I measured, sized the walls, and hung the strips of paper on crumbling plaster in the hope of creating something that touched on the embedded experiences I had during the making process. A connection of past and present. I’m interested what other people see. My critical eye firstly noted that the water based ink ran when touched by water based glue, and that the design would have probably looked better with one style of lace pattern and at best it could be described as imperfect and at its worst – well, you can only say but actually, on a practice led research level, the piece did work because in the right place, with the right print, I know I can create a piece of work that does speak of belonging.
After I stepped back from it, I recorded my initial responses and photographed the work then I pulled the paper off the wall, folded it and took it away for the bin back in Lerwick and Left No Trace.
Leave no trace, only record the moment of a coming together
of a conceptual and expressive property which remains personal. What is this work – is it Art? Textile art?
Ethnography? Materiality? Am I telling stories? Am I making stories? I’m trying to understand it in a way in which
textile materials and techniques are expressed in contemporary site-specific
art in order to tell a story.
Interventionist, Pop-up, Site-specific Renegade Art, or, Art
placed to raise a smile, make a connection or engage?
Today, I did something either quite interesting, or quite
stupid. I’m edging on the side of the former.
On the 14th floor, lightly taped to a window, in meeting room, in the Architecture department, in The Arts Tower, I left a Paper Laser cut of my knitting. It’s an intervention between paper, view, light and viewer.
After creating digital laser cuts, to place in derelict
croft house windows across Shetland, I find that I am now looking around at
making site-specific work within the City that I live. And questioning why, and what for and what
does this really mean to me and to anyone else? Is it legal? Is it damage or
intrusion? Is it pop-up fun? Is it harmless? What is the purpose? Should I or should
On New Year’s Day, I purposely looked, from the car park, at the Arts Tower – having never been inside it, never used the Paternoster lift, never seen the view of our City from its heights and I considered that it seemed the perfect location to place my laser cut work in one of its windows. In a Site-specific, pop up intervention. For the work to stand as a chance to have a moment of exchange with a passer-by. To engage, in some way. I never want to, or will I damage or deface any location. I want to interact with people in a positive, maybe a thought-provoking way. My work requires the viewer to interact, if only briefly.
To look up, look through it, look at it, take it down, tear
it down, contact me, ignore me. I don’t
mind but in placing this laser cut in a window, in a room, in a building that I
have never been in before – I wanted to touch some ONE in a small way, to
intervene with a view unlooked at, through blinds half down and half up, to
maybe touch someone, connect with someone – a positive intervention. This moment
of connection is a gift, from me to you.
At first, we caught the Paternoster lift. A completely new and exhilarating experience. I, and my friend, were a little scared so we
waited. We waited to see how fast the
lift moved, how many seconds we’d have to get in and then out whilst it was
moving. We were a little scared to do something that scared us. So, we waited a
little longer then went for it.
Riding up in the lift car was a short but completely mindful time. I had packed my scarf away, held my bag tight and concentrated before stepping into the moving lift and it felt good to overcome being scared. It was decided on ascending, that we’d get out on floor 15 because if we delayed getting out, there were still 2 more floors before we’d have to launch ourselves out. But at floor 13, we were too apprehensive of the exit so jumped out at floor 14. I looked to my right and there it was – A perfectly placed meeting room with a wall of windows, opening up to a wide vista and view across the city.
So many meeting rooms across the city are just used without consideration of where they are. How many people looked out of those windows 14 floors up, amazed at the height from the floor the the view point, amazed to be in the sky overlooking the busy city? I don’t know. The blinds were up and down. The location instinctively felt right as it had done in the past when placing site specific work. I unrolled my laser cut whereupon it was gently held open so as it would not roll into a tangled mess, and I taped it lightly at the corners, to the window pane to create an intervention between the outside and in, a breaking up of the view so that it now had to be looked at by peeping through knitted paper. It’s a trial, it’s not bespoke but could be. If the room had laser cuts on the windows, and when the sun shone through, there would be knitted lace shadows across the table. It’s a start.
This piece is not entirely finished. When someone engages with it to look at the city
landscape through it, this will be the moment of completion.
It’s harmless pop-up art that sits in one of the most iconic
buildings in Sheffield, to open up an interaction between viewer, location, and
art work, to intervene between view and seeing, to stop someone just for a
moment and for them to wonder what it is and why it is there.
A moment of exchange.
We interact with our architecture.
We break the unseeing eye.
The work is called ‘Bird’s Eye’ for two reasons – the laser cut is developed from a simulation of my Lace knitting which is inspired by Shetland and the many lace designs created by generations of lace knitters going back to the 1800’s, who knitted to subsidise their family income.
This is a Shetland Bird’s Eye lace pattern and secondly, I called it Bird’s eye because, for no other reason than that – It’s a Bird’s Eye view
I’ve never had an Artist studio for a number of reasons:
– it is an expense that I cannot really afford, I live a 4-mile cycle ride from
town so to get to a studio and back is a chore, and in the summer, it felt odd
to call myself an Artist. One miserable,
wet, dark, raining night in August, I did look at a studio at Kelham Island,
but it wasn’t right. I couldn’t find the right place, at the right price.
In the end, I did buy a desk and was delighted how
that desk, in my home, made me feel and instantly became my work space. It was enough. It is enough. My flat became
exactly how I wanted it – a live/work
space at any time of the day.
Then, in November, when I was accepted on to the
AA2A Artist residency programme at Sheffield Hallam University, I moved old
papers and prints into the MA studio at Sheffield Institute of Arts (The Old
Head Post Office) It is a small space with a perfect wall area to overlap
things, put things up, leave things, remove things, reflect. So, until the end of June ‘19, that is exactly
where you will find me every Monday and Tuesday. Take
this as an open invite to come visit.
There is nothing not to like about this gorgeous,
strong building which was, for many years, The Old Head Post Office in
Sheffield. The floors in the large exhibition space are mosaiced, the walls are
still tiled in dark rich brown and cream and everywhere is conducive to creative
thought with old remnants of a by gone postal service in town which litters the
walls, floors and views. The technical resources are second to none. Space is
The AA2A residency came at exactly the right time. I applied 2 days after the closing date, the
submission was accepted, I was interviewed and proceeded to naïvely cover the
interview table with examples of processes and work. It was a shamble of words
and lace knit and photographs and, of course, laser cuts. I was over the moon
when I was accepted.
Now, is a new phase – a progressive time to learn,
experiment and develop by using the resources available to me. In return, I will show work to the current
students, do presentations and workshops, be around in the space, ask and
answer questions. I’m also mentoring a
little. Alongside that, there are countless
students doing their thing, and we share information. They’ve got used to seeing me and I look
forward to seeing them. In the new year,
I’ll offer workshops and add information to their notice boards of competitions
I did not want repeat my creative practice,
therefore, I expose myself to a very creative environment as what can be called
‘A Young Artist’ and I will add – at an older age because I’m not young but I feel
it. But, to repeat is out of the question
– where do I start?
I could only start the residency at SHU, where I had
left off at Nottingham Trent Uni but I had never used a laser cutting machine
myself as this is done by the technician at NTU. At Sheffield Hallam, the
students use the laser cutting machines themselves. They’re shown how to use them and off they /
I go. I collected all of my files from NTU but they are not compatible with the
software at SHU. So the learning curve of preparing files started.
Initially this seemed daunting but, only 3 weeks in, daunting is a memory. I’m learning by trial and error but the errors are mine and I continue to learn from them, build a new portfolio and a new-found confidence as a practicing ‘Artist in Residence’. Silly mistakes during the process of live tracing an image and digitally cutting it open up steps to understanding what I can try next and how to overcome errors. When I fail, I try again and again until, after I feel that I have some small grasp of the technique.
Students come into the laser cutting room, we discuss our practice and technique, we share learning experiences and own it. Every student fully owns their own work when they create and cut it. After two successful (ish) laser cuts, I needed a location to place the work in order to really see it.
I could hear a voice in my head asking myself why I thought
that laser cuts of lace knitting which were inspired by Shetland could ever fit
into Sheffield. There were no links between lace and Yorkshire. Did it need a
link? Could I create a link? Was it becoming inauthentic or decorative? Or, was
I repeating myself. And, that would never do.
Showing my work has previously been an easy act to
do as I chose remote extreme outdoor locations to place laser cuts or lace
knitting and Only I saw it. In Shetland,
the work merged with the landscape and each relied on the other to give
meaning. Pure Symbiosis
Today, I do not have access to Shetland to continue to place laser
cuts into abandoned croft house windows but I have done that already,
photographed it, shown it and understood it.
Now, I only have digital files that stem from my original lace knitting
CAD patterns. And I am placing them into Sheffield Institute of Art (SIA)
I looked around the SIA building, the stair wells, and corners at the working windows – mostly sash, and mostly aesthetically pleasing. I even used a measure and made diagrams. In Shetland there was no time for a measure of any sorts – not of windows or of place – I came across places and the site-specific work was entirely intuitive. It was placed quickly, in wind and gales and rain or snow. Here lies a clear difference, I have the luxury of choice and measurement – though this may remove the rawness of the work.
At SIA, location can be more considered than in Shetland. The work can be left in situ at SIA and not
blow away. Consciously, I knew I wanted
a window of great beauty, subconsciously, I wanted a window in a location with
great foot fall. I also considered the
view that would be seen through the laser cuts. I wanted people to walk past
and either look or not, to stop or not, to think about the laser cuts or not
but I did want the work have ‘the option to be looked at’. I didn’t want it hidden.
I chose this window on the half floor at Sheffield Institute of
Art, between floors -2 and -1 from the reception to the studios and laser
cutting rooms. A stair well of much foot fall.
I must admit, I put laser cut 1 and 2 up quickly because I had no permission and I felt nervous. Nervous if I could be stopped, or asked what I was doing or, and this was the biggest thing, – was the work interesting enough and would it ‘work’ into this location. Laser cut 3 went up – doing it felt good and I didn’t hide it but I could no longer reach to place the next row. At this point, I tried to enlist the support of Jim, a technician, who was obviously going to ask the question I had been avoiding – Who gave me permission to place this work in this window and had I had it covered by H&S?
So, now after the work has been checked and cleared by H&S,
Jim placed 3 more panels and I am thinking of placing renegade work across the
city and then in galleries. New Goals. But
for now, this window is my canvas.
Happy Christmas. Here’s to 2019 and new things that I don’t know exist yet.