Burton Agnes – January 2017

Tuesday 24th January

The walled garden sleeps
I am the only one here
Life will return soon

Yesterday I paid my first proper visit to Burton Agnes Hall to find it shrouded in fog and sparkling with frost – a beautiful combination.

The walled garden in mist

The walled garden

I’ve always been fascinated by walled gardens – entering a secret place separate from the outside world.  It was a strange feeling to be wandering around a place like this entirely on my own and I had the feeling that the garden was sleeping around me, not at all bothered by my presence, just waiting for the longer days for everything to wake up ready for a new year’s growth. It was too cold to linger long in any one place – the frost wasn’t kidding!  –  and I was very glad I’d brought my chic fingerless gloves …

Even these geese looked cold …

Looking on the ground there were already signs on new green growth mixed in with the dead leaves of last year, which are now a rich mix of browns, rusts and purples

and tiny leaves poking up through the cracks in the paving.

Here and there are small splashes of last year’s colours.

Looking up a bit higher there are gorgeous patterns and textures on the walls and tree trunks.

During my visit the mist gradually lifted and I could see bare branches, that would be hidden in summer, making patterns against the sky.

I think the first thing to do is a colour family to give me a palette to work from …


I was feeling in a rut just before Christmas so, on a whim, I wrote to Burton Agnes Hall to ask if I could be a sort of itinerant artist in residence in 2017. The idea was to visit this glorious Elizabethan home once a month during the year and produce a body of work that could lead  to something like limited edition hand-bound books.

The hall is a lovely mellow place that has a real family feel – even the state rooms look as though they were lived in at some point rather than just being a film set – and is surrounded by a gorgeous walled garden, woodlands and part of a Norman manor house.  It’s full of artwork from classical to the current day.

I’m delighted to say they’ve just said yes! Crikey – a mixture of excited and slightly nervous. I thought it would be interesting to document my work here on the blog so, as they say, watch this space …

Stone walls and porridge

I’ve started doing some work on stone walls and have been debating how to get the basic stone effect. I played about with using porridge (oatmeal) as a resist a while ago and had, um, mixed results. So, this time I thought I’d go about it in a more structured way.

I’ve taken two different soda soaked fabrics, cotton sateen and linen, the sateen having a very smooth surface and the linen a more textured surface. I then mixed jumbo oats with an equal amount of boiling water, stirred it and left it to stand for about 10 minutes. This gungy mixture was then spread on the fabrics, one area thickly and the other thinly on each fabric, scraping some marks to roughly indicate the gaps between the stones. The amount of porridge I mixed (500ml oats plus 500ml water) treated roughly a metre by half a metre of fabric although this will vary considerably depending on how thickly it’s spread. 

wet porridge

This was all left to dry thoroughly.

I painted half of each section with thin dye and half with thickened dye. As you’ll see in the following photos, the thin dye gave a much softer result than the thickened version. This, to me, looks much ‘stonier’  which is what I’m after. 

As for the fabrics, the sateen, as expected, gave a crisper result and the line a rougher look as the weave showed through nicely. I think I’m going to continue working with the linen.


The basic technique and the recipe came from ‘Visual Texture on Fabric’ by Lisa Kerpoe – ISBN: 978-1-60705-447-4.

The changing face of self-publishing

I’ve written and published two books so far, Cyanotypes of Fabric in 2006 (yep, it really was that long ago) and Digital Imagery on Fabric in 2010. When these both came out the only real option, if you didn’t want to approach one of the main publishers, was to pay a LOT of money to have your book printed, tying up a lot of cash and giving you the problem of safely storing the books. Until you’ve seen 1000 books arrive it’s difficult to visualise just how much space these occupy!

I decided to revise my cyanotype book and duly did the work, adding some gorgeous new pieces by different textile artists, re-wording some sections, adding bits here and there and so on.

Now, one of the problems I came across with both the books was the sheer cost of getting physical books anywhere beyond the UK.  Getting books to potential stockists in the States, for instance, could add 50% to the cost of the books making it uneconomic. So, this time, I wanted to investigate all the options now open to me and boy have things changed in such a short time. The huge influx of tablets, smart phones and laptops has encouraged the emergence of e-books – I was aware of this but hadn’t realised that on-demand printing had also taken off in such a huge and accessible way. A lot of people still want a physical book in their hands so which way do you go?

So, I thought it might be useful if I documented some of the things I’ve found out along the way that might help other textile (or other) artists who would like to produce a book but are a bit daunted by things like ISBNs, e-books and file formats. So, watch this space …

Experiments with linen

I’ve been working on cotton sateen for a long time now – it has such a beautiful surface, takes colour beautifully and has a really close weave which gives great detail when I’m screen printing, digital printing or cyanotyping. A good, all round fabric until now …

No, the fabric hasn’t changed but I’ve started hand stitching and the sateen is an absolute so and so for this. So, I’ve been thinking what I could use which would give me the qualities I like in the sateen but with a looser weave that I could get a needle through without so much swearing :-).

I have a great sister and she gave me some very old linen sheets so I thought I’d experiment with those and see what results they would give me with my favourite techniques. So far, so good.

linen tests 1

Good, strong colour.

 linen tests 3

and a good surface for printing and scraping.

I think I can feel a discharge session coming on next … 🙂

Combining digital and hand dyed fabric/Korean Pojagi

As many of you know, I’m not much of a sewer – although I’m working on it :-). But when one of my students, Catriona Warburton, told me about the Korean textile art of Pojagi it rather took my fancy. Pojagi, sometimes spelled Bojagi, is a form of piecing fabric. Now I’ve never been attracted to cutting up my fabrics only to sew them back together. I can appreciate the skill that goes into a pieced quilt but just haven’t had the urge to do it myself.

However, traditional Pojagi is made using a variety of hand stitches to make the joins so that the seams are part of the design rather than something which should be as invisible as possible. Celebrate the seam!

Using the techniques from Youngmin Lee’s DVD, http://www.youngminlee.com/project/5705, I thought I would start with a Yemulbo, a cloth for wrapping gifts. I dug out a couple of pieces of hand-dyed cotton and decided to print a digital image on to cotton to go with them. I used a favourite image of hedgerow but added a custom gradient map using colours from the scanned hand-dyed fabric. Here are the before and after versions.


I then printed this one on to cotton with an inkjet printer and pieced it with sections of hand dyed fabrics using whip stitch and a contrasting thread.

This is the finished Pojagi made using the hand dyed and injet printed fabrics. the inkjet section is the middle one of the right hand panel. If you click on the image to see a bigger version you should be able to see the little white bat symbol which is supposed to confer good luck on the recipient :-).

Bojagi cloth 2

This is what it looks like when it’s wrapped round a small gift. It makes a gift token or cash look like a much more personal gift :-).

Bojagi cloth 1

If you want to see how to make one of these I’ve included some basic instructions in a downloadable file –  Bojagi wrapping cloth

Cyanotypes in negative and positive

manutex panel

It’s surprising where ideas come from. The inspiration for this piece came from the bottom of a pot – no, not that sort of a pot ! It was a smear of manutex (sodium alginate thickener) that had dried out while it was waiting to be washed, creating lovely frost-like patterns. So, taking that idea, I spread a thin layer of manutex on to a transparency and left it to dry.

manutex 1

I then scanned it and cropped out the middle panel, played about with it to increase the contrast and bring out the details, and ended up with this.

manutex 2

Next I split the image into 9 panels and printed each one on to an A3 transparency film. Now, I’ve always liked playing around with the positive versus negative versions of images so I thought I would convert my manutex scan into negatives and print those also on to A3 transparency film. So, I had two sets – 9 negatives and 9 positives – but couldn’t decide which ones to use for my cyanotype panels and ended up printing the lot on to treated cotton sateen. This fabric has a beautiful, smooth, slightly sheeny surface which absorbs plenty of solution and gives a gorgeous colour.

I played about for a while with different ways of combining my positive and negative cyanotypes and ended up with the version above, simply alternating positives with negatives.

The moral of this is – always look at the bottom of the pot before you wash it up 🙂 .