6 - NEEDLEWORK
My first encounter with the art of needlework was with my great aunt Flo who lived along with three other aunts in the top floor flat of my grandparentsí house. She had been a court dress maker but now in retirement stitched wonderful silk work pictures and dressed dolls for charity raffles. On our arrival at my grandparents I would be whisked off at the earliest opportunity to show me her latest creations. A large white painted lavender scented chest of drawers contained all her fabric offcuts and making materials, and in the bottom drawer wrapped in tissue paper was the latest doll dressed in the most intricate and heavily petticoated costume every item of which could be removed with the smallest of buttons. On her bed nestled in lace cushions was her old wooden doll which I still treasure along with one of her little silk pictures. During my days as an antique dealer I admired the extra ordinary skill and beauty of 17th century stump work but could never afford it. Only after five years of being up on the isle of Lewis did I decide to try sowing with yarn left over from the local Harris Tweed weavers. After several years of collecting discarded bobbins of wool from the local weavers and charity shop I started my first picture and was delighted to find friends describing it as painting with wool. The dying process for tweed is such that the wool does not have a solid uniform colour and so lends itself well to pictorial work, however the work is slow and whereas I could paints a picture in a matter of days stitching one takes months. Experimenting with stump work brought another dimension and depth to the images as I started on a series of six images inspired by animals in the bible. The work took three years to complete and as such remains work to be admired but not purchased. Alongside this serious stitching came the lighter hearted sheep on tweed and in the truly vernacular island tradition of using whatever comes to hand I stitched images of the neighbours sheep, spinning and felting wool found on the crofts then stitched on to remnants of Harris Tweed.