Wednesday, 5 December 2012

mixed herbs

We had a small Christmas party at the U3A herb group and I also gave a short introductory presentation on the basics of garden design. We ate a selection of herbal foods including some fabulous scones cooked by the owner of the Pavillion restaurant in Laxey where we meet. Two sets of scones were made using herbs from our member's gardens; they were Lemon Verbena with almond topping and Oregano, Thyme with red onion-they tasted great on their own or with butter or jam. Other members cooked-small herb omelettes-lavender biscuits-rosemary and currant biscuits and I brought along a mixed herb salad.
Myself and Sheena Quayle who had an joint exhibition this year at the Hodgson Loom Gallery in Laxey have an article in Be Inspired which is the first annual brought out by the national stitching magazine, Workbox. It is a very fine publication, the Workbox team who took over a failing magazine have turned it into one relevant to present day textile artists. I especially love the fact that it often features articles on fibre art. One of the pieces of my work featured in the magazine is called Byzantine Cross which is based on a cross that held a relic in its central portion. I made some paint with soil dug from the bottom of a post hole that my husband was working on. This was subsoil so it had a beautiful ochre colour which I then mixed with gum arabic to make the paint which was then applied to paper and distressed by rubbing to give an aged appearance. Beads and plant dyed silk thread were sewn on to a cross shaped area cut from this paper and the whole lot was stitched on to black velvet.

Saturday, 24 November 2012


At the U3A meeting on Thursday, I did a short presentation on Frankincense and Myrrh, both of which produce aromatic resins. This led me to investigate other plant resins. Amber is one such resin and the trade in amber goes back to the stone age and the use of cannabis resin(hashish) can be traced back to the bronze age. As I described in the talk, there was an extensive trade in both Frankinsence and Myrrh, by the Arabians, for many centuries starting from at least 1000Bc. The Mayans also used incense from around 600BC, using resins from Pinus and Liquidambar species.
 Honeybees collect resin  from a number of plant sources and bring it back to the hive where it is masticated with salivary secretions and mixed with beeswax, to make propolis. Poplar bud resins are the most commonly used especially, black poplar. Propolis is used in folk medicine to treat internal and external sores and ulcers. It is also strongly antimicrobial and can produce surface anaesthesia.
Native Americans chewed Liquidambar resin as a tooth preservative as well as to cure fevers and dysentery.

Thursday, 22 November 2012


The Creative network of which I am a member has an exhibition running at present called journeys. It demonstrates not only the personal journeys as an artist but also physical journeys.
The piece of work that I have entered is based on photographs that I took of our old farm machinery when we retired from farming. The free time allowed me to begin my journey as a textile artist, basing a lot of my work on rusting machinery, nature and the lives of people all over the world who have worked the land. The exhibition piece is a photo transfer of our old combine, worked over in hand stitch. I am always amazed at the beautiful colours obtained when something decays, in this case, pinks and lime greens. The technique that I used to transfer the photo involved bonding the reversed image onto calico using bondaweb and then gently rubbing away the back of the paper with a sponge and my fingers. The image, below left is one of my photos of the combine. On the right is the hand stitched image which is almost like an abstract and it is left unglazed to get the full effect of the crunchy texture.

Friday, 9 November 2012

U3A November

The theme of this month's U3A meeting was herbal medication in the animal world with a particular emphasis on self medication of animals in the wild. One of our members did the presentation which showed fascinating insights into herbal medication both in the Ireland of her youth but also stories from her time in East Africa. As they were incidents that she herself had witnessed, the talk had a particular relevance to our studies. A great variety of cereals, herbs and grasses were found by early Neolithic times(10,000) years BCE. We were taken from stories about wild Barbary sheep  of the Sahara to Monastery gardens in the Medieval period where peasants had a duty to help in the herb gardens.
She recommended the book and film The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco which gives a wonderful background to herbal practice in an Abbey.
I have talked about flax in one of my previous blogs. Linseed oil from flax(Linum usitatissimum) is also useful as a horse poultice as it holds the heat well. It can also be given as a boiled mash to horses as it is good for general well being and gives a shiny coat.
As we were discussing the Neolithic Age earlier, I have included, on the left, a felted image from one of my cave painting based textiles showing a bison and a reindeer. To complete the piece of work I sewed the image on to a box frame and used grey and brown acrylics  painted on coarse acrylic medium as a border.
This work has now been sold.

Monday, 29 October 2012


It is pomegranate time again, one of my favourite fruits which I eat on their own or with a mixed leaf salad. I also loved drinking fresh pomegranate juice while I was in Turkey last year. The pomegranate, Punica granatum is a shrub which grows to between 5 to 8 metres. It has been mentioned in the Book of Exodus and the Quran. The fruit is used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat diarrhoea and intestinal parasites and the seeds and juice are considered a tonic for the heart. In Ancient Egypt, the pomegranate was a symbol of prosperity and in Ancient Iran it was a symbol of fertility, it is a also associated with the myth of Persephone. I bought some pomegranates a few days ago but forgot to eat one, so as I hate waste, I boiled up the whole of the rather rotted fruit and made a dye. To the dye bath I added Alum and then mixed fibres and cloth such as carded cocoon strippings, wool threads, calico and cotton thread. Each fabric and thread took the colour in a different way, the calico turned a soft pink, some quilting wool turned yellow and surprisingly the carded silk became a dark chocolate shade with areas of ginger.
I created a piece of work for my Amulets and Talismans exhibition. The design was produced using sketches of tiles from a courtyard in Granada. The wool was dyed with Brazilwood and then hand stitched. Some beads were recycled from a necklace, a lucky find as they closely resembled the seeds of pomegranate. This can be seen above. This piece os now sold.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

october U3A Nettles

We had a very informative meeting with a talk on nettles by our group member, Claire.
She covered a wide range, from nettles in literature through medicinal uses and growing, to a most interesting and indeed scary section on nettle type plants in other countries. Some of the latter for example the Stinging tree from Australia and the Little nettle from the USA could have very severe consequences to humans and animals when touched.
A Modern Herbal by Mrs. Grieve provides us with some further information. It states that the juice of the nettle provides an antidote to its own sting; it being applied brings instant relief. Rubbing the affected part with rosemary, sage or mint leaves is also claimed to be beneficial. The Anglo-Saxon name for nettle is said to be derived from Noedl {a needle] either due to its sharp sting or in reference to the fact that it was this plant that provided the thread used in former times in Germanic and Scandinavian nations before the introduction of flax. Its fibre is very similar to hemp or flax. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Nettle fibres were still being used in Scotland for weaving the coarser household napery. The nettles need to be retted like Flax but is a stronger, more hard wearing fibre than Flax and not as harsh as Hemp.
Clothes and camouflage nets made using nettle fabric and dyes were produced in the two great wars by both Germans and British. Ramie, the fibre of the grass Boehmeria nivea, a tropical nettle, was widely used in the wartime to make gas masks.
Nettles are again being investigated as an alternative fibre plant for the manufacture of eco clothing. The fibres are hollow allowing them to trap air and thus provide insulation. For summer clothing the yarns are twisted to reduce this insulation. The juice from nettle stems can produce a good green dye while the roots give a yellow colour. See the website for further interesting information on Nettle as a clothing and fibre plant. A most excellent book, Hedgerow medicine by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal, provides us with many more interesting uses for nettles.

Saturday, 29 September 2012


 The top photo shows the results of dyeing llama fibres with Elecampane flowers in a flask; I was pleased with the resulting golden yellow shade. The second picture shows the dyed Elecampane on the right while the left hand shot is llama fibres dyed with diluted Dye-na- flow paint which turned it a soft, coral pink the latter needs to be heat set.
I have started using the compost from my Bokashi composter. After leaving it in the compost bucket for 2 weeks I dug a trench, put in the partly digested plant material and covered it with soil. On returning to inspect it 2 weeks after that, I found the ground to be friable and free of debris even bones had decomposed. As the weather has been fine I have planted out garlic, shallots and onions to overwinter followed by peas and broad beans.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

u3a herb group Sept

The u3a herb group met in Laxey where we initially discussed my trip to the Chelsea Physic Garden followed by a short tour round my forest garden. We are keeping herb related information in files, one of them contains recipes which we share around the group. I have been harvesting some of my dye plants; dyers chamomile[Anthemis tinctoria] and elecampane[Inula helenium], the latter I have not used before so I will keep you posted on that. There is a photo below left. I see that elecampane has many medicinal uses, it contains many vitamins and minerals so strengthens the immune system, lowers cholesterol, is used against chronic bronchitis and helps restful sleep. It is the elecampane root that is mostly used medicinally.  Further to my blogs on fibres I have posted a photo of my work below called rebirth. It is based on the birthing cloths used in Africa. I used an interesting combination of fibres; ivy dyed wool, some cashmere and llama fibres which give the fluffy white appearance. I then embellished it with beads. the whole piece had a delightful soft feel and was extremely light.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

fibre plants

 On my recent trip to London I visited the Chelsea Physic Garden where I found information about fibre plants.The first photo shows ropes made from various plant fibres: they were Flax and Sisal. Flax is one of the oldest fibre plants, its use to make linen goes back to at least ancient Egyptian times. Parts of the plant are also used to make cloths, dye , paper and fabric. The fibre is extracted from the bast of the stem. It is soft, lustrous and flexible.[ See an interesting article on eco interiors from the Telegraph on the web, also look at  for more  information on both plant and animal fibres.]
Sisal is an agave that produces stiff fibres that are used in the making of rope, mats and even dartboards! Brazil is the main producer of sisal, during production the leaves are beaten with a rotating wheel with blunt knives to leave only the fibre. Sisal is used to make speciality papers, can take certain dyes and is used in macrame. Sisal is also used for example in Maharashtra, India to make bags and mats which last a long time and don't need any special care. See the website>Leaf, Fibre & Stem for fascinatind details about Indian crafts using natural fibres.

Saturday, 15 September 2012


Here are the first few photographs of the Floriade which I have recently visited in Venlo, the Netherlands.
The top picture shows outdoor planting in drifts of colour including Echinacea plants which seemed a very popular flower at the event.
The next two shots show some of the flower arrangements in one of the main arenas.
Great use of textured materials such as wood, fibres and stone featured strongly in the very creative displays.
The bottom photo shows a reptile made out of abaca fibres which come from a banana plant native to the Philippines[musa textilis]. The plant is harvested for its fibres which come from the trunk and they were once known as Manila hemp. It used to be used mainly for making twine and rope but now has more specialised uses in the making of teabags and banknotes among other products.
I intend to source some of the fibres and use them in my textiles. I have already used tissuetex which is made from abaca. It looks like tissue paper but is very strong and takes dyes and inks very well. I have used it previously in in my piece of work called Herb Garden. In this case I coloured it with Procion cold water dyes to use as a background for stitch. The bottom photo shows some of the coloured tissuetex. I did also buy some coloured hemp fibres from the shop at the Floriade, these were made in Nepal. I look forward to using them.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Dyer's chamomile.

I have previously posted a photo of Dyer's chamomile and would like to tell you some more about it.
It is a perennial plant thet flowers profusely. In fact, last year, the first year that I grew it, I was picking flowers all summer and even throughout much of the winter. I pick flowers as they appear, always leaving some for the insects, and put them in the south facing windowsill to dry. I then use the flowers for dyeing in the following manner: I firstly mordant my threads and fibres usually with Alum and then put a handful of flowers in a flask with some hot water. I then add the fibres and threads to the flask and leave them in it for several days. I have had great success with Merino wool , silk, cashmere and cotton dyed using this method. The colours from the flowers are a strong, vibrant bright yellow.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


The U3A herb group met today to study a selection of plants, some of them widflowers.

We brought along a good selection of books to help with identification. The first plant was a scented leaf Pelargonium with a citrus smell which led us on to discovering information on the uses of this group as  culinary herbs and in aromatherapy. We also looked into the growing conditions necessary to help them thrive. An old copy of the Herbal review contained some interesting articles especially concerning Culpeper's herbaries.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

ramsey gardeners

The Ramsey Gardening Club kindly asked me back again to do a talk. this time based on natural dyeing. I brought along, as always, many pieces of my dyed felt projects for everyone to look at and feel. It was a very pleasant evening. I had my Rainforest hanging with me and described how it was worked. I did not felt this work but gathered together many plant  dyed wools, this time mostly dyed with ivy and snowberry branches, leaves and berries. I also used chiffons, organza, metallic braids and other fibres which I then tacked down onto a wool fabric background. I had picked up some hanks of dark brown wool thread which I opened up at the top and bottom and spread out to resemble branches and roots. The whole lot was then loosely tacked and then machine stitched with hand stitched embellishments. above is a further detail of Rainforest

Friday, 3 August 2012

raining again

As it has been pouring again I thought I would post some of my cheerful photos from the garden and also some floral embroideries that I have worked. Plants photographed above are Helianthus Vanilla Ice, Courgette and Dyer's chamomile.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012


The first meeting of our U3A herb group was held today at my house with very enthusiastic and interesting members.
We had a brainstorming session where we made a list of possible subjects to cover; well over 20 so far. Afterwards I brought a bag of herbs from my garden to look at, some we tasted, others had lovely scents and a few were distributed for people to take cuttings from.
I have been making more jam but have felt rather overwhelmed by it all and mixed the strawberries with the raspberries in the jam pan by mistake. It will be interesting to see how it turns out, I have called it summer berry jam.
All the terrible wet weather we have had this summer reminded me of a piece of work which I enterered for the 2011 Hodgson Loom Gallery competition where I won the prize for the wallhanging category. It was titled Rainforest and some photos of it are shown below.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012


The University of the Third Age has started a branch in the Isle of Man. The first joint meeting is on Thursday where the ideas for new groups will be announced. I am starting a herb group where we will explore the many and varied uses of herbs, their history, herbs in Art and mythology.
I grow a large variety of herbs in my garden and use them as food, medicinal and dye plants as well as being an endless source of inspiration for my textile art.
Above is an image of a wallhanging that I made a few years ago using herbs as the source.
The image on the left is a block print of fennel, the centre one is Calendula and that on the right is chives. Tyvek paper was painted with acrylics and then ironed lightly to distress the surface. They were further embellished with hand and machine stitch.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Bokashi composting

Have been working in the garden today to clear a new area. I intend to dig a trench and fill it with compost from my Bokashi composter. This type of composter allows me to recycle meat and bones as well as green material. I am finished harvesting the redcurrants and am still picking blackcurrants. The raspberry and strawberry crop is enormous as I allow the plants to spread by themselves around the forest garden. I have made some redcurrant jelly and am beginning to make raspberry conserve. It is very easy to make the conserve; I put equal weights of berry and preserving sugar in a bowl and leave this in the fridge for 24 hours. This mix is boiled for 5 minutes the next day and returned to the fridge when cooled, for another day. It only takes a few minutes after this to bring the raspberry mix to setting point. Above is a picture of a frog in my greenhouse. There are very many of them in the garden , all different sizes and colours.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Forest garden produce

I have a forest garden which produces large quantities of food. At present I am picking berried fruit; we are eating them fresh at the moment but also freezing plenty to have with my yogurt for breakfast during the rest of the year.The fruits I am harvesting at now are; raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, salmonberries and jostaberries. We had a barbecue today and one of my herb salads. I use many different ingredients in the salads. Today I had lettuce, fennel, calendula petals, meadowcranesbill petals, yellow archangel leaves and Munchen Bier radish pods.

Amulets and Talismans

I have a shared exhibition running at the Hodgson Loom Gallery, Laxey until 11th August. The theme is Amulets and Talismans and their historical backgrounds. The pieces are worked in a variety of media.
Below left, is an image of the Eye of Horus produced using photo transfer and chain stitch. The right hand
photo is part of a larger work depicting herbs that were thought to protect against the plague. I painted the flowers and transferred them onto silk paper incorporating plant dyed fibres using Ario transfer paper and embellished with machine stitch.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Shaman's coat

Shaman's coat
I made this Shaman's coat for a competition at the Hodgson Loom Gallery in Laxey where I won the 3D category, The coat is made from a hand felted fleece , dyed using Iris root. It is made in four panels each one representing a different era of cave art. The images were hand stitched on a machine stitched background using mohair thread.