Thursday, 21 November 2013

Wildflower garden.

In July our herb group had a walk around the wildflower garden at St. Johns Mill where we have been asked to redesign the two herb areas. We were very lucky that Andree Dubbeldam who designed and planted the wildlife garden could spare the time to give our group a guided walk around it. There is an enormous range and diversity of plants there all beneficial to the wildlife. The garden also has a pond and is open to the public who want to spend some contemplative time there.
As well as designing the new herb area, our herb group are hoping to start a database of the plants in the garden which would include common names of the plant, uses past and present, beneficial aspects for wildlife and any medicinal or dye usages.
Here is a selection of some of the plants in the wildflower area.
Flowers and grasses to be found in the first bed nearest to the Mill are as follows;
Pendulous sedge, greater birdsfoot trefoil, yellow rattle, purple loosestrife and sneezewort.
The first plants to be found in the next bed are,
fleabane, melancholy thistle, dotted loosestrife, ragged robin, tufted hairgrass, ladyfern, native broom, rosemary, greater  woodrush, valerian, French cranesbill, square stalked St. John's wort, marjoram, common sorrel, greater willowherb, cotoneaster, cape figwort, herb robert, lady's bedstraw, mediterranean spurge, ornamental alliu, wood forget-me-not, woodruff, tormentil, knapweed, lemon balm, red campion, privet, grey willow, teasel, bell heather, goldenrod.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Our fragile craft art exhibition

I have been involved in an exhibition at St. John's Mill called Our Fragile Craft involving 12 artists using different media. These included, photography, acrylics, oil painting and textiles. I produced 3 new pieces of work for it , one of them called cooperation was a sunflower using golden rod dyed lambswool with couched leaves and a plant dyed bee. I have taken great delight this year in watching the vast number of bumble bees of all types in my garden.  Below is a photo of this work. Another plant design was a sowthistle which seeded itself outside my back door which I did sketches of and took photographs of to produce this hand stitched design on hand made paper. I will deal with the final piece of work in another blog as it is complex and experimental.
 I am really enjoying hand stitching again, my first love, and have recently joined the Hand Embroidery Network which is a group of like minded people who are inspirational and very gifted.
I am going on holiday for two weeks so will not be blogging for a while. I am going to Slovenia for a week to a hotel in a National park with a view outside the window of the Julian Alps where I hope to do lots of sketching and photography to get ideas for my next major exhibition based on biological forms. I am then spending 5 days in London with my son, and my daughter is joining us for 2 days. I have been reading On Growth and Form by D'Arcy Thompson and  the beautiful book, The Hidden Geometry of Flowers by Keith Critchlow and will be doing research in the Natural History Museum in London.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Magical Fantastical Exhibition

I have work hanging in two exhibitions at present, one of them is the Magical Fantastical exhibition held at the Hodgson Loom Gallery with the wonderful work of Julia Ashby Smyth on display. I have three pieces on show, one of them is called Yggdrasil, based on Norse Mythology, where a dragon lives below Asgard and chews the roots of the mighty ash tree. The base of the work is made from plant dyed wool and cashmere which has been hand stitched. A detail of the dragon is shown below; it is stitched in stem stitch using stranded cotton. Other features in this myth are deer, a squirrel, a snake, an eagle and holy wells which are shown in a larger view of my work.

Thursday, 17 October 2013


Finally a new post after a very busy year in the garden. On the 12th June my U3A herb group met at Ballaghenny nature Reserve. Here we found a profusion of wild flowers but especially Burnet roses [rosa pimpinellifolia] of varying colours which spread by suckers to cover a wide area.   We studied various facts about roses and found several recipes using them. The rose is the national flower of the USA and the birth flower for June, in fact roses were Benjamin Disraeli's favourite flower.
Both the flowers and leaves of roses are edible, rose petals, once the bitter white portion is removed, along with lavender and violets add a sweet flavour to salads. Of course rose hips are widely used, those of rosa rugosa grow along one side of my pond. The outside flesh can be nibbled at as the hips are so large but be sure not to eat the internal irritant hairs. I also make rose hip syrup by adding two parts sugar or honey to the strained liquid of boiled hips. This keeps for a couple of weeks in the fridge. A tea can also be made from  the hips by pouring boiling water and letting them infuse for 10 minutes They are a wonderful source of vitamin C. Burnet Roses photographs from Ballaghenny are seen below.

Roses are also used in perfumery Attar of Roses is the essential oil extracted from various rose petals and rose water is a by product from the production of rose based perfumes.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Floral salad

This is the type of salad that I eat all year round, including many different leaves and flowers in season with only rarely a lettuce to be seen. This particular one has the following in it;
Japanese greens, American land cress, oregano, pot marjoram, curled mustard, salad burnet, fennel, red veined sorrel,nasturtium alaska leaves, sweet cicely, amaranth leaves, leaf beet and the following flowers;
Rampion, oregano and pot marjoram florets, nasturtium, mallow,  borage, evening primrose and meadow cranesbill.
As you can see it makes a wonderfully colourful palette especially when you include flowers of complementary colours. Some of the leaves are quite strong tasting on their own but when blended make a dish with subtle flavours. These are all growing in my garden and even when the snow is on the ground in the winter I can pick fresh salading. I also at various times of the year include what could be classed as weeds but to me they are a salad without any work attached. My garden is now at the stage where a large amount of self seeding occurs which also makes life easy.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Felted hanging

 Last Autumn my daughter and I went for a trip to the Curraghs Wildlife Park where we took a lot of photographs of the animals and birds. I was also struck by the wonderful colours of the foliage and trees and the quality of the late afternoon light. I particularly liked the image seen below on the left which I have subsequently used as the basis of a new felted hanging. I used several elements of the photograph which I particularly liked; the group of silver birch trees and the purple grey colour of the sky.
The majority of the work is made from plant dyed fibres including ivy and elderberry dyes as well as materials and snippets of fibre from my huge stash. I have incorporated both hand and machine stitches which allows me to introduce plenty of texture and subtle colours. The hanging is in an exhibition at present along with another work which is a framed piece with 4 miniature scenes done in machine stitch.
This hanging has now been sold.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Rushen Abbey

Our U3A herb group met at Rushen Abbey gardens, Ballasalla during May. We studied the plants which would be found in an Abbey garden. The plants were well labelled with information on their uses, some of the more unusual herbs planted there are the Gladdon Lily, Masterwort, Motherwort and Vervain. We then had a meeting in the Abbey restaurant where we had tea and cakes while discussing the history of herb gardens. We were fortunate to have access to a book in the i-museum Douglas which was written in 1919 by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde. It is called the History of herbs and has parts of it reproduced from a 1719 manuscript written by a butler. It was fascinating to discover the herbs used throughout the centuries and to learn that the use of vegetables in Britain, once common in Roman times, were not used by the majority of the population until early in the 19th century. Many flowers were used as herbs including roses, lilies, gillyflowers, periwinkle and peonies. Herbs were used in large quantities in Tudor times as stuffings and stewings for the huge quantities of meat that were eaten then.
The use of potatoes as a feed for the general population did not become common until 200 years after they were brought to England in Tudor times. Walter Raleigh's favourite cordial was strawberry wine.
Below is a photo of our U3A herb group and some of the plants in Rushen Abbey herb garden.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Norwegian artists

A group of 31 Norwegian artists visited the Isle of Man during the first week of May. Many of them were felters, spinners and knitters. They visited attractions around the Island and went to a farm to see the Manx Loaghtan sheep. I arranged a buffet for them at the Pavillion restaurant in Laxey where a group of 14 artists, dyers, spinners and weavers had a chance to network with the visitors and show some of the work that is done on the Island. The food was excellent and there was a great atmosphere as we all forged new links and friendships. I am photographed on the right wearing my plant dyed stole alongside my friend Jenny another textile artist. Below left is Heather who makes exquisite plant dyed weavings of scenes and and animals of the Island. Below this is a picture of myself with Karin who arranged the trip from Norway. She is an exceptional felter and has a gallery in Norway where she runs courses in all aspects of art and craft. She presented me with some brown Norwegian cheese which is delicious and two hanks of grey wool from the wild Norwegian sheep which at one time were facing extinction. Luckily, as with the Loaghtan sheep there has been a breeding programe so that there are now healthy numbers of each breed.
Below right is a fine specimen of the Manx Loaghtan sheep which as well as providing wool has meat which is very tasty and healthy.
The other picture shows one of the wild Norwegian sheep which come in a variety of colours.

Sunday, 12 May 2013


WOSAT is the Western Open Studios Art Trail which was held over the last 4 days in Peel Isle of Man; an event run by the Creative Network in which 47 of its members took part. It involves work being displayed in galleries, shops, the Cathedral and open studios and demonstrations. I had the great pleasure of taking part in this event. I had two pieces of work in the Isle Gallery, one of them a block printed wallhanging called the Land of the Beaver and the Bear based on North West American Indian totems. I had a llama felted wallhanging, hand stitched and with Angelina fibres which was called Peel Cathedral Windows in the Cathedral itself. Yesterday and today I demonstrated at the Corrin hall with a group of other artists which was an amazing experience. We had hundreds of visitors and it was wonderful explaining about the felted and stitched work that I brought to show them. I have made many new friends. The top two photos on the left are from Peel Cathedral Windows llama felt. Below these are the Land of the Beaver and the Bear printed using water soluble printing inks. There is also a photo of me demonstrating in the Corrin Hall. I thought I would be able to do lots of stitching at the event but spent all of the two days talking about my work. I have started work on a white felted llama piece, another version of the Cathedral windows.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Tadpoles at last

After losing a lot of frogspawn due to the heavy frost, some sensible frogs have laid a lot more since then and I now have many tadpoles swimming around the pond. The ornamental cherry tree is in full bloom with thousands of small flowers opened. Unfortunately because of the severe weather there has only been one visiting bumble bee, albeit a very happy one! I have a good production line going in the greenhouse with very good germination rates. I am concentrating on growing herbs, vegetables including many heritage varieties and dye plants. I will keep you updated on the results and the uses I have for them. The ground where I dug in the Bokashi composted material now has a very deep and friable covering of soil. I planted garlic, shallots and onions in there during the autumn and they are growing very well. On the right is a piece of work that was entered in the Isle of Man Art Society Easter exhibition. It is based on a photograph that I took in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. I have called it Egyptian lovers and it is created by photo transfering the original image using bondaweb onto calico. I then hand stitched it using fine cotton and silver threads worked in straight stitch, seeding and french knots. I have nearly finished a large Llama felted hanging in brown fleece and have just started a second in white.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Cathedral Window

This piece of work was made from felted Llama fibres using the fleece in the original colour. The fibres are extremely light and warm and produce a felt with a beautiful sheen, lovely to work with on these snowy days! I sewed shapes for the window originally with gold metallic thread in a zigzag stitch and then cut out the desired areas. Hand stitching in coloured cottons was added followed by sewing a piece of blue metallic  organza to represent the stained glass window. I am at present working on a larger version around 3 feet in length to be displayed in the Creative Network Open weekend in Peel in early May. I have just washed some white Llama fleece to use for making a second large hanging for the same event. I will post photos of them when they are ready to hang. The work shown above has now been sold.
I had a huge quantity of frog spawn laid in my pond a couple of weeks ago, a bit later than usual. I thought that as it was so late it would be safe from frost for a change. The unexpected severe frost and snow has damaged it but I still hope to have plenty of tiny froglets to hop around my garden. MyJapanese contorted cherry tree is full of thousands of tiny flowers, usually covered in bumble bees, but it is too cold for the bees to venture out. In fact, a few weeks ago with Spring looking near, butterflies had started to emerge. It is difficult times for the wildlife. I had an old feather pillow which had burst open so I let the feathers blow onto my lawn. Today I have spotted a sparrow filling its beak with them to line a nest. I make sure that I don't hang my washed cashmere and Llama fibres outside at this time of year. I am sure that they would be most appreciated as bedding for nestlings, but it is a bit too precious for that.!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

February and March U3A

Christopher gave us a spellbinding talk and slideshow about plants seen on one of his trips to South Africa. In particular the photographs were taken in the Fynbos a natural shrubland or heathland in a small area of the Western Cape.The word Fynbos means Finebush. It covers 0.08% of the world's surface but has 3% of the world's flowers. some of the plants he showed in his photographs were Proteas, Heathers and Buchu, the latter cultivated for their essential oils which have medicinal properties. Hottentot tea, the Coral bean tree and Euphorbias were also shown. The wood from Camphor trees is used to make chests to store blankets as it protects against moths.
PlantZAfrica is a useful website to learn more about the indigenous flora of that region.
In the March meeting I gave a description of plants that are perennials but which many people do not know are edible. I shall be trialing out various ones and keeping you posted on what I think of them.
Useful books on the subject are: How to Grow Perennial Vegetables and Creating a Forest Gardening both by Martin Crawford of the Agroforestry Research Trust. He has an excellent website where you can purchase trees, plants and seeds. You can find it at

Spring nibbles

I am busy in the greenhouse at present sowing my new batches of seed, always an exciting time.

I have also been using some of the new spring growth for eating. One of the main plants that I eat at this time of year is Alexanders. It grows along the roadside in the Isle of Man but I have a well established patch outside the door of the greenhouse. I use the leaves chopped up in salads and also in stir fries or as a steamed vegetable. It has a slight celery taste if slightly oily. I use it in bulk as it grows so luxuriantly. In fact, because of the mild winter we have had I have been using it for the past four months, and it has not suffered in the heavy frosts we had last week. It produces large black seeds in the summer which apparently can be ground up as a pepper but I have not tried that yet.
Previously I have nibbled on the flowers of Columbine while walking round the garden, they are very sweet, but today I tried eating the leaves. They are my new favourite leaf to eat, peppery to begin with but followed by a lingering sweetness. Above left Alexanders right Columbine.
I purchased a Hemerocalis plant last year (Day lily} and am intending to get a clump of them established, slugs permitting. The flowers are edible. Pick the buds in the morning and flowers at the end of the day. They have thick, sweet, crunchy petals which provide good substance in a salad where they are eaten raw. They can also be battered and deep fried or stuffed. The buds taste like French beans.
Soon it will be time to try out some emerging shoots such as hops and bamboo. The young shoots of hops are like asparagus and can be cooked slightly and used with a sauce if so desired. The shoots of bamboo are cut close to the ground and split to reveal the tender core. This can be then stir fried in many different dishes. Cutting the emerging shoots also prevents unwanted spread.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Llama and angora goats

I have been felting some Llama fibres that I was given. Some of them were white and the ones that I am using at present are a rich dark ginger colour. I am working on felted textiles based on the architecture of Peel Cathedral on the Isle of Man. I have done a small piece of work as a trial. After felting the Llama fibres I cut away areas for the windows and hand stitched around them and added floral decoration. The felting was very easy and produced a very smooth, lustrous finish.
Today I tackled a very large felting, again with Llama fibres. It is about three feet long. I laid out the fibres in three layers and then hand stitched them between lace curtain fabric to hold them in place.
I then laid it out on the floor of the bath, turned on the shower and sprinkled a solution of olive oil soap over. I then threw it onto the floor of the bath 100 times. After that I took the felt out of the nets, checked on the level of felting, and threw it again another 100 times. I am now going to produce a larger version of the cathedral window and will put something like organzas behind the cut out areas to represent stained glass.
I went to see a lady this week who has started to breed Angora and Boer goats, the Boer is for meat and the Angora to produce Mohair. I bought an Angora fleece and am looking forward to using my natural dyes on it. The mohair is beautifully soft and lustrous with lovely curls.
To find out more about Llamas visit the British Llama Society website. Visit the British Angora goat society and British Mohair marketing to find out more about Angora goats. I will post some photos in a few weeks of my finished textiles.
I have also been dyeing calico, wool and threads with a mix of coffee grounds, tea bags and onion skins, basically kitchen leftovers. I heated the dye pot for a few minutes and then put the fibres and materials in the dye pot and left it for a few days. I repeated this using the same dye bath and obtained a variety of strengths of colour until the dyes ran out. I have materials and threads now in a variety of browns/ginger to use in different projects.

Friday, 18 January 2013

fire 2

This was my entry into the Fire competition at the Hodgson Loom Gallery. I won the prize in the 2D mixed media category. The embroidery resulted from a photograph I took early one morning a few years ago, of a close up of one of the trees in our field. This was bonded upside down onto a bamboo cleaning cloth ( Yes, the ones you are supposed to use for dusting!). Bamboo fabric has the feel and lustre of silk. The white paper on the back of the printout was then rubbed away mostly with a sponge. More of it than I intended was removed so I then worked inktense pencils and sepia pen into certain areas. The whole was then stitched using stranded cotton in a Kantha stitch.
The U3A herb group met on Wednesday. Three of our members did short presentations. Jenny did one on herbs used by North American Indians and gave us some beautiful print outs. Sandi told us the fascinating history behind recently discovered illuminated manuscripts in which cats are depicted wearing medieval clothing and there are borders of herbs and flowers surrounding them. At a later date we are going to try to work out which plants are illustrated. Lesley talked about the myths behind some of the herbs used by ancient Greeks and Romans. I gave a short talk about knot gardens which led to discussion about box blight and alternative herbs that we could use as edging plants.
We also exchanged information about seed catalogues and discussed possible venues for visits in the spring and summer.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013


The theme of the annual competition at the Hodgson Loom Gallery this year is fire. I was struggling with my entries as the colours of fire are a lot brighter than those that I usually work with. I like to research widely before I begin a new textile piece and this led me to study Native American fire symbols and I was also attracted to images of the Lightning bird. I originally was going to work one large felted area with hand and machine stitching. Much of the wool used in the felting was from local Jacob's sheep, incorporated with other plant dyed wools. The wools were mainly dyed with Dyer's chamomile flowers from my garden which I put in a flask with alum mordanted wool. Due to the unusually warm weather we have been having. The chamomile has been flowering for many months, so I keep picking them and drying them on the windowsill. I started to machine stitch on the resulting felted area but did not like it. If in doubt I can be quite radical, so I cut the felt into small squares. On each square I hand embroidered a North American Indian sun symbol. A large piece of yellow dyed wool was then felted separately and on this I hand stitched a colourful lightning bird, The whole lot was then laced together over a piece of orange organza.