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Finding your Social mission

Why do you do what you do?

What makes you tick? What is at the very heart of your passion?

These are the questions I’ve been asking in order to find my Social Mission, the deepest Why? Of my business.

Keep asking “Why?”

Recently I was told if I want to get to the root of why I’m here I need to keep asking Why?

I’m looking at a business where my profits go towards running craft and art classes for homeless people

Why?

Because I want to build confidence in homeless people

Why?

Because I don’t think they see their value. I don’t think others see that they have a value.

Why?

Because living on the streets makes you feel worthless

(Some Whys can be more specific – you might need a critical friend for this)

Why homeless people?

Because everyone else has something of their own

(If you hit a wall try backtracking)

Why art and craft?

Because it’s what I know…

…because everyone can draw or make something…

Why?

Because people appreciate art & crafts
When you’ve been beaten down its hard to accept love for yourself, it’s easier to accept appreciation for what you do rather than who you are.

Maybe learning to be appreciated for what you make is the first step towards accepting appreciation for who you are. 

Why is it important to accept appreciation?

Because maybe, if you can accept that others love and appreciate you, the next step is loving and appreciating yourself.

Why is that important?

Because, can we really change for the better if we don’t love ourselves?

Because I know what damage hating yourself can do.

I believe change comes from a belief in self worth.

I believe that art & crafts can be learnt by everyone.

I believe that creating space for arts and crafts can be the starting point.

In my own situation, life started to change when I met people who believed in me, but it was only when I learned to believe in myself that life changed permanently.

I believe if I can create an art space where everyone is accepted then lives can begin to change.

If I can show people who feel worthless, their value, I can begin to turn the tide of lives wasted.

If I can begin to change a few lives, we can change the world.

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Meaning in the cloth – rethinking the prayer shawl

I used to read the story of Cain and Abel and wonder what was Gods problem.

In case you don’t know the story here’s a little summary…

Cain was a farmer while Abel, his brother, was a shepherd. Both brothers came to God with a sacrifice. Cain brought some of his grown produce while Abel brought his best first-born lambs. Now God liked Abels offering of lambs, but, well… not too fussed with the veggies. The rest of the story can be read in Genesis chapter 4.


As a kid I didn’t get it, two guys brought a gift to God and God was a wee bit picky. 

Being British we’re raised with the ability to smile and look pleased whatever the gift, but God obviously isn’t British (where were his manners?).

Shouldn’t he be grateful that he’s getting something?

It’s not for me to argue with God about his reactions though, He wants the best, the first fruits and first borns. God wants to be the first thought on our minds and have the first portion of our gifts. In everything we do God wants first place.

I don’t think it was about making sure they gave 10% and perhaps it wasn’t even that the carrots weren’t the biggest. The meaning behind the gift is what riled God. You can imagine Abel looking over his flock, inspecting every animal for flaws and size, then picking the best of the best, as though this gift was for his beloved. Cain, watching Abels fussiness, laughed to himself while throwing a handful of the nearest veg into a basket, “that’ll do” he thinks.

You might know that feeling at Christmas when you give a gift that you’ve chosen especially and being aware that the real excitement is in the giving. Was Abel thinking of Gods face lighting up at the sight of God looking at his gift and seeing that most beautiful of lambs?

Similarly we might also know the feeling of giving a gift in politeness, those folk at the bottom of the Christmas card list who get whichever card is next in the box of 100. Who cares what the card looks like, its giving for the tradition and politeness rather than the Joy. That, I suspect is what riled God that day. He didn’t want a gift out of politeness but out of love.
When thinking about a prayer shawl what is our first thoughts?

Learning a new technique? Wondering how quickly you can get it finished? 

Do you have any thoughts on the reasons why you make the shawl? 

I know what its like to make something with royalty in mind (yep, I’ve kept quiet about that!). I chose yarn from a Yorkshire mill that could promise British only fleeces. I spent a couple of days hand dying the yarn myself. Every little bit of the item was made as thought the Queen herself would see it, no detail was missed, the stuffing wasn’t your average polyester, it was British wool, even the pipe cleaner arms that would never be seen were chosen by hand from a local pipe cleaner factory. The item was to be my very best work.

If clothing the naked and feeding the hungry is the same as clothing and feeding God then each prayer shawl should be made as though God himself was the recipient. Similarly, if each recipient is to see the shawl as a gift from God, then each shawl should be made with our best effort as though God himself had commissioned the gift.

Therefore, making a prayer shawl no longer becomes a second rate ministry but a valuable resource in the church.

Say what you like about the value of a church band, but someone in need has to come to church to hear the band play, they need to know the words to the tune and understand the poetry in the song. A prayer shawl is one of the few gifts that go beyond the church walls, beyond the boundaries of language and country. Giving a gift that has been made with so much thought and love, then given to be used when encouragement is needed is one of life’s most beautiful pleasures.

After the band have played the last note, the choir have sat down, the sermon done, the Amen said… the prayer shawl continues on and travels with the person in need.

The prayer shawl though, isn’t a magic cure. It isn’t a vessel to carry healing, and touching the shawl won’t turn around test results, if healing comes it comes through Gods choosing. It’d be romantic to imagine a physical prayer soaking into cloth, but the shawl, at it’s basic level remains simply a shawl. 

However, it still has something magical about it. In those moments when pain comes, when bereavement is unbearable, when loneliness surrounds, being able to wrap ourselves in a piece of cloth made by someone who thought of nothing but us in the making allows us to temporarily dwell in the presence of comfort, hope and fellowship.

I have two small toy bean bag cats in my home, financially worthless and commercially made, but given to me some years ago by a couple at church. Brian and Cathy were there in my darkest times, if I told you what they did for me, well, this blog post would never end.

Cathy died a few years ago from cancer and Brian has retired and moved away. There is nothing magical about the toy cats, but everytime I see them I’m taken back to a world where they are with me. I’m reminded that there is someone out there who loves me unconditionally, someone who values me as I am. I’m reminded of the many times Brian helped me quit drinking, of the times he let me sleep it off in his office. The years Cathy spent counselling me as a messed up young person, of the Joy in their faces at my baptism, the comfort when I lost my job, the worry when I moved to Leeds and the celebration when I went to University.

As I write this the tears flow and my heart hurts, but its a joyful cry and a blessed pain. Few people know unconditional love like that couple gave me and that is a real shame. As an alcoholic I accept the lifelong fight of sobriety, but I have two weapons, two soft toy cats that I look at and remember those who stand with me and I remind myself that this fight is worth it.

Nothing magical in the toys and yet something very magical.


A prayer shawl at its root is simply a strand of yarn looped together to form a piece of cloth. It is something that someone has taken hours to make and think about, but it is more than something to do with your time, more than a way of using up your yarn stash and more than a way to make something when you simply don’t know what to do.

To be called to the prayer shawl ministry is a powerful calling, it is listening to Gods commissioning, his choice of recipient perhaps without knowing why we are making the item. Being able to put our best work into a piece then hand it over without finanancial reward, personal acknowledgement perhaps even without knowing the outcome. Trusting wholly in the gift of giving for loves sake.

As I continue to look at this unique ministry I hope more and more people will begin to take up the call of this powerful ministry. I hope more and more churches begin to see the true value of a creative ministry in their church.

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Banned from the Band

I’ve been asked to contribute a piece for an exhibition called ‘beatitudes’. It’s based on the sermon on the mount and one of those well known parts of the bible.

The version below is from the message translation.

Matthew 5 1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
I listen to Dr Bill Creasys Bible talks on audible and he has a very interesting way of explaining them which makes so much sense. 

At first I was going to create something on his viewpoint (it really is worth listening to). After a while though I started thinking about my own working style as an artist and what I want to say through my work.

I write a lot about poverty and a lot about the church and a lot about poverty and the church.

A lot of what I say is about the lack of understanding in some aspects of church life, the little things that churches do without really thinking about how their actions are perceived.

Recently there was an article in the Salvationist magazine (29/04/2017 edition) that told the story of a woman who felt she wasn’t allowed to wear a Salvation Army uniform because of a disability that meant wearing the skirt was unsuitable. The story loosely skips over the part where she was told she couldn’t wear the uniform with trousers (really, In 2017?), but thankfully she was able to push ahead and get trousers and feel like a valued member rather than a cheaper version, or as someone said to me a few Sundays ago, “not wearing the uniform properly”.

I have a similar problem, years of leg ulcers have left my legs… well, let’s just say I’d rather not have them on display thank you very much! 

Whilst you might have read the article you may have missed the editors comments at the front of the mag, but he spoke about the uniform, how it put him off joining for quite a while. He suggested that whilst the uniform has some uses, it mustn’t be  barrier for people joining.

Note: I know, I’m talking about the uniform again, I feel like I’m flogging a dead horse, but bear with me.

While the article and the editors comments spoke about barriers to the uniform from a disability perspective I have another barrier… cost.

A couple of Sundays ago (infact the same Sunday of the ‘proper’ uniform comment) I was talking to a friend about the cost of the uniform and a plan I was developing for the beatitudes exhibition.

I made my usual gripe of how a church started with the poor is in a position where only the rich can afford to join. I asked how they can justify charging £250 for a Sunday outfit just so you could take part. (My friend reads my blog I think, so let me just say I’m not repeating the conversation as a gripe to or about my friend!). 

My friend agreed and added that she wouldn’t pay so much for an outfit and had bought the uniform originally to play in the band, as a hard working mother and career woman the band was her weekly escape. We agreed, the cost was awful and went on our way.

Several days later I was still thinking about the conversation. 

Y’see, I don’t necessarily disagree with the uniform, sure it has its uses. But as it is, it’s impractical, expensive, badly designed and often badly made.

Imagine going to John Lewis, paying £70 for a skirt, getting to the till and being told they hadn’t finished it and you would need to take the skirt to a tailor to get the hem sewn up! At £70 I expect it finished and hand delivered in a box with a red bow.

Something bothered me about the conversation and it took a few days to recognise what it was.

My friends comment that she wouldn’t pay that much for an outfit… what bothered me?

It wasn’t that I wouldn’t pay that much, but I couldn’t.

In all innocence there is a level of misunderstanding in the church that is difficult to get across. I’ve been to a few songster practices, but realised there was just no point in going since I don’t have the luxury of being able to grumble at the cost, buy the uniform and join the choir anyway. I’d join the band, since I can actually play, but I’m barred from joining in church activities because of poverty. It’s important to get this message across so let me put it clearly…

I am barred from taking an active part in my church not because I won’t wear a uniform, but because I can’t afford to.

I am banned from being a useful member of my church because I am poor.

For those who still don’t grasp the reality of it, here it is in picture form…

 

Somehow, blessed are the poor in spirit seems the perfect starting place for my exhibition piece. Perhaps whilst the spiritually poor are blessed (Dr Creasy suggests that the blessing is in knowing you are spiritually poor and in the perfect starting place to find God), unblessed are the spiritually rich but financially poor.

How do I get this message across in one piece of work?

I thought of getting hold of an old uniform and embroidering over it things I could buy instead of the uniform, like five weeks rent, central heating for the winter. I’m not sure though it’d be enough to get the message across, people need to feel it personally. I thought of making the Salvation Army crest in goldwork embroidery and putting a price of £2,500 on it to try and get across how much the cost feels like to someone working. 

How do I get a middle class Christian to grasp what this feels like. Wanting to be a useful church member, but being asked to hand over almost two months wage for membership. Would you join the church on those conditions?

What it feels like to not be able to attend church events because you think your need for electricity is more vital. Trying to explain that the lunch club is failing because the poor community can’t afford the three course meals. Having a young girl pass the collection plate around and the sense of shame when you can’t put in. Telling my minister that my neighbour is a drug dealer and being told my neighbour is my mission field, yet not quite grasping what it’s really like for an ex-user to have a dealer on their doorstep. Offering to help at a coffee morning and being asked to bake cakes when I can just about manage a weekly shop for myself.

Just how do I get this message out there? 

I spent two years at Bible college, I’ve worked and volunteered for Christian charities for over almost two decades, and yet… I am not allowed to participate in my church, not because I am spiritually poor, but because I am financially poor. WWJS? (What Would Jesus Say?)

This Sunday is Candidates Sunday, a day when we consider Gods calling on our lives… I might stay home. Well, I have an important day on Monday and could use the time to prepare. The thought of listening to a sermon asking us to consider God asking us to act, yet the inner hurt of not being able to stinks a bit too much for me.

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Under the bushel

I found this video on Youtube recently and wanted to share it with you all…

 

The video talks about Gordon, a former cabinet maker who found his career ending because of our changing tastes. Our need for a fast, cheap, disposable lifestyle left Gordon without employment and forced onto the streets.

The Salvation Army recently changed the name of their hostels to lifehouses, and I grumbled at the cost of coming up with such a name (I’m a Yorkshire lass who calls a spade a spade). I still don’t think much to the name, but I’m glad we have some places left where homeless people can find their feet.

Although my dissertation and much of my research is on spirituality and textiles, as a lover of the ‘old’ ways and crafts I found this video truly wonderful.

A perfect example of how craft skills can be used for good and for the church. Gordon now volunteers (it’s a shame his unique skills couldn’t end in paid work) at a Salvation Army charity shop in Glasgow.

Then again, is his amazing painting skills, and the willingness for the charity shop to hold a mini gallery.

The real beauty though, is in people putting Gordon’s skills and opportunities together. That’s where the real magic happens.

There seems to be a lack of connection between people and skills, especially in the church. I expect many people are nodding their heads at this, and perhaps some nodding in annoyance feeling unused. (Grrrr, no one ever asks me to take the collection!)

The bitterness of attending a church and feeling as though you have no part to play is soul destroying and maybe even a large part in people feeling church isn’t for them anymore.

The old saying, ‘use me or lose me’ comes to mind.

I want to ask who’s fault is it? but I suspect the ‘blame’ is more a lack of confidence for most of us. We might sit there seeing a void and knowing we could fill it, yet we don’t have the confidence to put ourselves forward.

Some time ago church had a trend of getting folks to complete forms to find out where our gifts lay. Like a cosmopolitan quiz finding your ideal partner, the church quiz decided whether we were a hostess, preacher, listener or one of the dozen other skills the Bible lists. The church then could use the results to funnel it’s congregation into the relevant vacant position. The end hope was that everyone had a place in church and a role that suited their abilities.

It all sounded great, until you look at your individual church and realise what works in one, won’t work in another, besides, they didn’t need a social media guru back then. I always thought a better idea would be for everyone in the church to hand in their CV’s, probably the only document where we are confident enough to be honest (and perhaps boastful).

I think about people like my nephew who studied sound recording at university, yet was never asked to work the sound desk at church. What better option than someone with a degree in the subject?

I wonder whether giving him a job he was good at and enjoyed might have encouraged him to keep turning up on Sundays.

And yet, did the church know? Did they realise they had a professional in their midst?

The Bible says we shouldn’t hide our light under a bushel (Matthew 5:15) but that’s exactly what we do. Our confidence has been knocked by the world (and sometimes the church) and it’s not easy to raise ourselves up and point out our abilities.

We are in need of those miracle people who have the vision to stand in the gap between our ability and the churches need.

That person in Glasgow who figured out Gordon’s skills were just what was needed in the charity shop, that shop worker who spotted his talent as an artist and realised he needed an exhibition.

These are the miracles that bring a man back on his feet, the opportunities that can only be seen by visionaries.

 

So what next for Gordon?

Perhaps he could design and build a mercy seat that helped disabled people to approach without the option of sitting on it and facing the congregation?

Maybe he could be used to design the facilities at some of the new lifehouses, with his personal experience and craftsmanship.

I’m looking forward to finding out.

 

 

 

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Artwork is Work

This morning I received an email
Hello Joy, 

This morning during Social Services prayers I took the opportunity to ask my colleagues to judge the entries in the logo competition. 

I am delighted to be able to let you know that one of your designs has been chosen and will be the logo for the SAFE Summer School of Arts. 

Unfortunately there is no prize but we will make sure that your name is mentioned. 

Congratulations, 

With best wishes,

NAME REMOVED!, 

Learning Disability Inclusion Development Manager.

The Salvation Army, Social Services


The Salvation Army have a large group of members with disabilities who choose to become SAFE members (Salvation Army Fellowship of Endeavour) and as a member of the Salvation Army with a disability I paid my yearly £5 to be a member of this group.

Recently a call was put out for someone to design their logo for the SAFE summer school of arts, where SAFE members do arty things like play a brass instrument or sing in a choir (maybe other arty things are included, but I’m not sure).

No prize or reward was mentioned, but since I’m always moaning that church doesn’t include non-music arts I felt obliged to enter. Hooray I won and here is the design which had to be based on the theme, “I am found”.


See! All that debt I’m occurring at Uni is paying off.

I’m glad I won, but it brings me back to the age old question, Is it right for an artist to work for free?

Yes, I know in my last post I spoke about an embroiderers gift to the church in the form of altar cloths, but you only need to type a Google search for Bible and fair wage to see what God thinks. A job well done is deserving of a fair wage.

It’s one of those difficult questions, when is it right to work for free and work for money?

Back in May, Sainsubury’s in Camden got into bother for putting an advert in the paper asking for a budding artist to design and paint their staff canteen. The reward? Getting your work recognised, (by Who, the staff at the checkout?), something to start off your career and build your reputation.

Artists responded with a similar advert asking for a well-stocked supermarket to volunteer to stock artists kitchens with food to build their reputations.


Two years earlier a similar story circled the Internet of a big bucks company asking artists to apply for a ‘competition’ and at least the winner got a flight to Vegas.


Now, before any of you get cross with me, I know the competition didn’t offer a prize, I know it wasn’t a paid job and I know that I didn’t have to enter if I didn’t want to.

All valid points, but hear me out.

Do you think a Christian composer of worship music works for free? No, that’s why every church has to pay for a music license. Worship composers get commissions on their work.

Our church regularly plays short videos made by visual artists during their services, some I expect are ‘borrowed’ from the Internet, but the creator of the video won’t be seeing credit or commission for their work. They won’t be receiving a little cheque at the end of the year because yet again we’ve watched the little heart logo video on Sunday.

Even a preacher gets a fair wage, and rightly so.

What really bugs me is that I spent several hours designing a logo for free, to be used by a Christian charity that has a bit of money, for a weeks holiday which I can’t afford. 

Maybe I should talk more on this blog about living in poverty. About having the government take away my disability payments (although I went to court Tuesday and have won my disability payments back without the judge even needing to see me). 

I should talk about what it’s like to not even have enough money to pay for the meal at church (which is made for the poor of the community) or how hard I laughed when watching a documentary three nights ago on how Londoners are paying for expensive bone broth (bovril to you and me) as a snack, when I’m having a mug of chicken bovril as my evening meal. 

Or how I spent most of yesterday afternoon in bed because hunger is easier to manage when your asleep.

But don’t worry, because the folks who can pay for a holiday will be able to be more blessed because I’ve worked for free.

I feel like sending a photo of my empty fridge and cupboards as a thank you response.

But you’re right, no prize was offered… Because visual arts isn’t valued in the church.

Last week, whilst designing a future pattern I was in the Leeds Parish Church, it was a nice visit and I had a free cup of tea, which they had no idea how much that was needed and appreciated. More about that visit in another post I think.

There are some beautiful textiles in the church but as I walked around I caught an image which just sums up how I often feel the church, especially the Salvation Army, considers designers and artists. Opposite the huge organ, which is one of the first things I noticed when I walked in the door, was a large wooden cabinet and behind that was a piece of artwork, well, let me just show you the photo…


I’m sure the people who spent time painting whatever is behind the cabinet are feeling very proud that their offering to the church has been so well received.
1. Artists advert to supermarkets. http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/sainsburys-asked-artists-free-work-so-artists-asked-sainsburys-free-food-171529
2. Artists response to call out for free work because they dig his style. http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/meet-hero-designer-who-publicly-shamed-showtime-asking-him-work-free-159579

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On being Shoddy

shoddy adjective: shoddy; comparative adjective: shoddier; superlative adjective: shoddiest

1. badly made or done.

synonyms: poor-quality, inferior, second-rate, third-rate, low-grade, cheap, cheapjack, tawdry, rubbishy, trashy, gimcrack, jerry-built, crude, tinny, tacky, tatty, junky, ropy, duff, rubbish, grotty, careless, slapdash, sloppy, slipshod, scrappy, untidy, messy, hasty, hurried, negligent, lacking moral principle, sordid

“we’re not paying good money for shoddy goods”

“shoddy workmanship”

“a shoddy misuse of the honours system”

2. an inferior quality yarn or fabric made from the shredded fibre of waste woollen cloth or clippings.

the production of shoddy and mattress
Some time ago I wrote a post on Grayson Perry’s tapestries that were being exhibited in Temple Newsam house in Leeds. What I didn’t say about the tapestries is that even though the exhibition was in my home city, I didn’t go and see them. The building they were displayed in was an old country mansion a bit off the beaten track and inaccessible without your own transport.

There was other people though who boycotted the exhibition for a different access reason, the mansion wasn’t fully wheelchair accessible. 

Leeds has a fantastic network for disabled artists and craftspeople so you would think a venue we could all visit could be found, but the size of the tapestries and perhaps other ideas of having an old style craft in an old mansion won over. In protest several disabled artists decided to boycott the exhibition and hold an alternative exhibition at Leeds Inkwell Arts, a Leeds MIND project that runs art and craft groups for people with mental health needs.

http://www.inkwellarts.org.uk/the-reality-of-small-differences-exhibition-launch/

I was in two minds of the boycott. On one hand I can understand the need for a large space with high security and no one knows what other factors were considered. The alternative exhibition, campaigning about the lack of wheelchair access was held in a building that also didn’t have full wheelchair access and although a chair could access the main exhibit the gardens and lower section of the building isn’t accessible, it sort of defeated the object a little.

A little voice mutters to me that the Henry Moore institute, next to Leeds Art gallery also doesn’t have wheelchair access throughout, as I found to my cost when I broke my ankle last year. I doubt though we can fight every art centre.

Following from that exhibition a second exhibition took place and opened last week in the centre of Leeds.

https://shoddyexhibition.wordpress.com

I know, I seem to have an air of a negative view so far, I don’t mean to have. Perhaps I’m tired. 

Sandy Holden created these stunning pieces using freeform embroidery on recycled plastics.

  

Natalie Sauvignon (who runs a weekly needle felting class in Leeds) created this stunning sea creature from left over wool and found objects.

  

Both artists responded to shoddy as a way of using waste materials and throwaway plastics.

Katy White created a holitic piece that asked you to involve yourself in the whole process of knitting. Wearing headphones you listened to the rhythmic sound of knitting and considered the piece before you as though looking at a music score.

  
Other artists considered the effects their disability has had on their lives.

Aoife O’Rourke created a piece hinting at two personalities, the hard outer frame we show the world and the fragile inner self we often keep hidden.

  
The exhibition exceeded my expectations, I suppose to my shame. Each artist was asked to present a piece inspired by one of a three issues:

The shoddy as a manufacturing process

Recycling 

The Shoddy treatment of disabled people

I left the treatment of disabled people to the end.

   
 
Lesley Illingworth created this stunning Story Telling coat with the intent to tell the truth and confront the lies. I passed the coat a few times and thought it was interesting, then overheard Lesley talking to someone about the coat.

Opening it wide she revealed the lining filled with names, some I recognised as MP’s, other unknown to me.

The MP names were those who voted for further cuts to disabled benefit cuts and each name was paired with a person from Calum’s list (http://calumslist.org) a growing list of people who have lost their lives due to recent government cuts to disabled benefit cuts.

  
I went to the exhibition a little bitter. I too have a disability and have had my weekly income halved over the past few months. With my own hurts of fighting to get what my years as a hardworking taxpayer assured me I would receive if I fell ill. The never ending decisions of whether to heat my home or heat a meal. But I carry on with the hope that one day, I will get through my Uni course, start getting paid, and not be in a position where an uncaring government can stop my money with no reason, whenever they want.

I didn’t want to face anymore stories of despair, and I want to be known as a crafts person without having the word ‘disabled’ in front of it. That, to me, would be pure equality.

But we must fight. Take a moment to visit Calum’s list, read a couple stories and know that there are thousands more to be told. One life not lived to it’s fullest is one too many.

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Creative Bible study – John 4

I’ve been dipping into the book ‘Craftivism’ recently, it’s by Betsy Greer, but has contributions from many other crafters and artists.

One contributor, Inga Hamilton, begins by explaining her love of craft, but continues to tell a story of working with her husband on an exhibition called Elementals Birds. She describes it more as a social experiment, coming from a negative feeling experienced whilst at another exhibition. It wasn’t revulsion at the exhibits, but rather a mix of dark lighting, art in dark charcoal and graphite, and discordant music, that were purposely brought together to create a disharmonious feeling within the soul.

Inga questioned, if an artist focusing on the negative can bring such an experience to the viewer, could it work in the opposite way?

A meditative discipline was developed for creative people to practice before beginning work. then invited 100 creators to follow it. They were asked to create a variety of birds from a choice of templates given to them and asked to focus on positive and loving thoughts. These thoughts, brought from the heart, down the arms, and into the piece they were creating were focused on the viewer, wishing them unconditional peace and goodwill.

Of the 100 asked to participate Inga saw four different responses.

  1. a small group unable to participate due to other commitments
  2. Single, male artists, who couldn’t take part, not because they didn’t want to, but because they couldn’t wish peace and harmony to complete strangers; they didn’t know how.
  3. Mainly graphic artists and painters, who were happy to take on the challenge and asked for the bird templates.
  4. Almost all replies past the deadline, came from craftspeople. Their responses were late because they had been consumed by the project itself.

Few of the craftspeople wanted the templates, creating off-piste, sculpting, carving, building birds that sang, birds that raised money for the homeless. birds that focused on mental health.

The result was the most successful exhibit to date staged at the venue.

This made me wonder.

What if I followed a similar technique as a tool for bible study.

What if I read a portion of the Bible, then sat down and created something. Could God use my art and whole being to create something that otherwise would not have been created?

Here are the rules (or rather suggestions)

  1. Make your space – get out some drawing or craft tools, paper, pens, things you feel like working with and set them up as though you were about to make something.
  2. Decide whether to have music playing, I prefer music.
  3. Read the story or chapter you’ve chosen.
  4. Sit still for a moment. You might have come to the craft space with something in your mind to make, take the moment to clear that idea away.
  5. Write the bible verse and date on a corner of the page
  6. create – just create. Maybe you make nothing at all, maybe you make a mess. The ‘God-Art’ might not come for a moment or two, that’s ok, just continue making.
  7. Focus on God, What might he be saying? What did you read? Keep an eye on your natural tendency to pre-guess what is being made. Imagine God working through you, through your hands and into the paper or item.

At some point in the process you might start to see the message. Don’t worry about your skill level, this is between you and God, and he thinks your talent is just perfect for what he needs.

So, I had a go, and just to show you how it went I videoed the process.

I chose the story of the woman at the well because it was used on Sunday at a church I went to.

It is a long video (15mins) but there is no time limit to this.

It you give it a go, share the creation with me, I’d love to see it.

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The Church – An unusual placement

I was sitting in church doing my knitting this morning (I can knit and worship, can’t I?) and pondering my intern year, which has been the focus of my attention for some time now.

What if the church hired a textile intern?

My Uni friend Sarah, once pondered a similar idea, what if architects had a textile intern and I think the savvy ones do. I mean, when they’re planning the interior of a building don’t they consult a textile designer? How else would they figure out how to put lighting in carpets unless they asked the textile designer who knows the answer?

But church, is this too far out of the box?

What if my church, The Salvation Army, hired me as an intern for a year?

Well, the cynics among us would suggest the uniforms would be better made. The material might change to a washable, yet not shabby style and the blouses would no longer be see through (I’m assuming the uniform was a mans design because a woman would notice the see through blouse with no Breast darts.

There might also be a change in how the uniform is made (yep, my bug bear) perhaps it’d end up cheaper or at least we might be reassured that it was ethically made, which I’m not sure it is.

On a local church sense, since we’re all taught CAD (computer aided design) the power points on Sunday’s would be amazing.

We would have bible based ‘quiet books’ available for all kids. Seriously, if your church hasn’t looked at quiet books as an alternative to the box of toys with dead batteries then shame on you.

The yearly sale of work (craft fair) would be rather stunning and involve the non-churched community.

Church publications could include knitting patterns and crafts that inspire rather than a token colour in page.

Imagine the publication of “Knits for Salvationists” which is quite funny because I’ve been working on a pair of mittens with the Army Shield on.

Craft groups at the church would be well attended by the community, and not just the card makers! (How many angry replies will I get about that comment?)

Imagine a church where we didn’t just appreciate musical gifts and the odd drama group, but events where people could explore their gifts as an artist or crafter. People being given pictures from God would be encouraged to draw what was shown them.

 Prayer shawl ministries would grow and improve the praying fellowship of the church.

Mental health communities have long since known the improvement to health that comes from art and crafts. If your church has several people with depression and you don’t offer crafts then are you doing a disservice to them and their health?

No matter what your membership status in the church, you’d be able to take part in a church activity (unlike joining the band or choir)

Imagine sending me off to a women’s community abroad where I taught women to spin wool and other fibres and make their own items on cardboard looms and old CD drop spindles. Turning communities into businesses with very little start up money.

Pop up craft events helping church people get into the community where it’s easier to start a conversation on knitting than on church, but the church conversations would come more naturally.

Imagine sending your little ones off to Summer camp and music school where options included art and crafts.

But then, writing this, I realise, I’m already in the church, I just don’t get the oppourtunities.

I wasn’t at my own church this morning, I’m working in London this weekend, but I sat in church knitting as usual. I wonder what people think of me knitting during church, but no one ever asks. No one hears my theory on knitting and worship. Or the importance of including all creative abilities in church.

Singers are always welcome, band players in demand, and the church can always squeeze in a dancer or actor, but an artist? A Crafter?

Is there a part for us in the everyday life of church? As we sit there listening to songs and sermons asking us to give our all, are we actually allowed to, are we given opportunity to show what we can do?

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Traditional Crafts and Traditions

I want to start with a story, which I’m sure most of you will know.

A little girl is watching her mother cook a fish and notices that her mother cuts off the head of the fish before putting it into the pan to cook.

“Why do you cut off the head?” the girl asks, to which her mother responds, “it’s how my mother taught me to cook”.

So the little girl goes to her grandmother, “Why do we cut the head off of the fish to cook it?”, to which the grandmother responds, “It’s how my mother taught me to cook”.

And I’m sure you know the story by now.

The little girls goes to her great-grandmother and asks, “Why do we cut the head off the fish to cook it?”.

The Great-grandmother replies, “because my pan wasn’t long enough for the whole fish”.

Tradition.

My Grandmother in her then-fashionable bonnet
My Grandmother in her then-fashionable bonnet

I grew up in the Salvation Army, I know all about tradition. I grew up wearing a horrible bonnet designed for Victorian heads and hairstyles (buns). Many women salvationists kept pieces of sponge in the bonnet to keep it from slipping, but I know many women who kept their spare pair of stockings in there.

Yep, the army bonnet. It’s history is fascinating really, it’s Victorian style comes from the birth of the army when salvationists were often targeted by the skeleton army and publicans angry that their biggest customers were becoming Christians and not spending their money in the pubs any more. The bonnet was head protection from stones and other missiles.

In Victorian times the bonnet was a fashionable and useful item. Now it’s an uncomfortable, unhelpful, off-putting tradition.

Tradition.

When I first started spinning wool I sat in the spinning group listening attentively to every word people said. If I was going to master this craft I needed to hear everything.

Eventually I got my first set of carders (large brushes for, well, brushing the fibres). One spinner was showing how to use the brushes when another spinner spoke up.

“You should only brush the fibre three times.”

Why? No one knew, but a name was mentioned in reverence as though this unknown (to me) spinner was the fount of all spinning knowledge and if that’s what she said then that’s what happened.

I spent some time using the cards, giving them three brushes.

Then I broke free.

I recently invested in several spinning videos and watched one, From Wool to Waulking by Norman Kennedy.

From Wool to Waulking
From Wool to Waulking

Norman has been spinning since a young lad and learnt mostly from spinners in the highlands of Scotland. He was raised firmly in spinning tradition and his video is both informative and fascinating, I totally recommend it.

http://www.interweavestore.com/from-wool-to-waulking-spinning-wool-and-creating-cloth-with-norman-kennedy

But…

Throughout his video he makes reference to other spinners and knitters who don’t do things as he was taught. He speaks as though he is the one authority on spinning knowledge, often seemingly putting other spinners in an inferior position.

Norman Kennedy has a unique insight in spinning, he learnt from traditional spinners from one part of the world. He’s has a knowledge that thankfully he is sharing in order to keep that tradition alive.

But tradition doesn’t leave room for experimentation, new technologies, and other cultures.

Yesterday I had a fantastic trip to the British Wool Marketing Board in Bradford. I’ll tell you about it another time, but Oh My!!!

I have never seen so much fleece in one place, and the smell… To dye for.

Stacks and rows and stacks of huge plastic bags filled to bursting with wool.

Halfway through the tour one of our group turned to me and said, “I see they store their wool in plastic, but I was told only to store it in a cotton pillowcase”.

Before I could respond we were led through a door and my chance lost.

I thought long and hard about this idea of only storing fibre in cotton, where does it come from…

Imagine, this woman goes to the spinner who taught her, “Why do we only store fibre in cotton?”

“Because that’s how I was taught”

And the question goes back through time to a very retired spinner, who taught spinners through the ages, now sitting in an old folks home with her knitting stored in a plastic tupperware box beside her…

“Well, back then, plastic wasn’t available and cotton kept it from going all over the place”

I don’t know if that’s the truth behind this, but if plastic is good enough for the Wool Board… and Spinner Judith MacKenzie… and Armley Mill Museum… and… well, pretty much anyone who ships wool around the world. Then it’s good enough for me.

I love the traditional crafts, and I hope you do too, but if you ever hear the words…

You’re holding your hook, wool, needle… (Insert tool here) wrong

You should only do that …. (insert number here) times.

That’s not how my mother, grandmother, teacher … (insert person here) did it.

And you’re not in a re-enactment group….

Ask the question and consider whether it matters, after all, Traditions are like rules… Made to be broken.

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Huddersfield University Textile Students Final Year Show 2015

Today I was back at Uni for a preview of the fourth year students final work.

I don’t really know what I was expecting since I’ve never been to a student show before. Some work I looked at and thought Eh?, others Oooo!, and some Ahhhhh!
Our task was to write a review on three pieces. They had to be different in some way (i.e style, technique, like/don’t like) Obviously I was more interested in the knit projects, but there were many others that took my eye.
In the end I chose three that I classed as ‘Marmite’ projects. Projects with a love/not love style to them. In one sense they’re not different, but in another, each one brought first an Awww (cute) or Hmmm (Not sure Hmm), followed later with an Oooohhhh, Hmmmmm (deeper thinking Hmm).

1. The one I liked then loved.

Eve Cavell

Willkommen.

The ‘Willkommen’ collection is inspired by a dark illustrative story conceived by the theatrical nightmare of historical entertainment.

The augmented illustrations that exist somewhere between horror and humour allow for a surreal yet recognisable twist of humanity and nightmare that has been evolved into a collection of wearable art.

Willkommen is a collection focused on empowering fashion to exist as a purer expression of self-being, through eccentric aesthetics and the ideals of A-Gender clothing.

www.evecavell.com

Instagram; @evecavell

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Ever since we did the Grayson Perry assignment I’ve tried to look at things longer. Instead of walking through a gallery and nodding to things I like I’ve also stopped to look at those I don’t like. My eyes are opening to the story behind the image.

In this case I have seen Eves’ work before and liked her style. Her pen and watercolour images are funny with just the right touch of wickedness plus they connect to my inner goth.
The project is based on nightmares and horror, with a touch of humour. Like the poltergeist films where the clown, created to be funny, becomes one of the scariest parts of the film. DSC00813

Her images are based around a circus theme, a story of characters in a circus of nightmares.
And suddenly I’m in her world, loving the heavy glaring almost monster like men in their oversized sweaters, although I don’t know the story, I feel as though I can see it.

The presentation did the project justice, golden brown copper piping holding amazing knit samples made on the Brother knitting machines.

The colour scheme was subdued almost pastel, but (if this is possible) the dark side of pastels. Oh yes, everything nice like clowns, ringmasters, jugglers, but with a little amount of horridness.DSC00809

I loved the idea of drawing on white leather and the brass frame looked fantastic.

The knitted techniques used were complex and appealing, there were a few samples that showed the knitted techniques and thought process on them, but these seemed a bit lost amongst the sketches. It could be that an overuse of drawings could hide the importance of the knitted structure. I found myself taking time to look at the drawings and admiring them more than the knit – which is a worry when Eve is trying to show her textile talent.

DSC00807DSC00817

I liked the way she kept her journals, writing in her own hand rather than typing out words, yet she took time to imagine how things would look on the page before writing.

I finally found sense in having designers I like and am inspired by, her journals felt fresh and uncluttered, but helped link her final ideas to her thought process.

Is this the type of show I want to present?

Although knit is my specialism I am not sure I see myself making final pieces like this. I want to know the techniques used and be able to use them in my work, but I see myself doing something different.

I love the presentation of her work and hope when it comes to my turn I’ll be able to show my ideas in as clear and pulled together way as she has. I’ve taken some ideas from her way of presenting knit samples and will put some thought into my research journals (which over the first year has gone from what is research to I need to do more research).

 DSC00810 DSC00811

2. The one I thought was cute, then saw the bigger picture

Megan Dodds  |  Little Homes

BA (Hons) Surface Design for Fashion & Interiors  |  2015

A project inspired by the increasing issue of gender stereotypes and idea of gender neutrality in child’s play combined with the quintessential familiarity of the idea of ‘home’.

‘Little Homes’ investigates, and working alongside Fourdot Ltd and Applelec, proposes a series of functional and inspiring lighting products for children and the home. Full of creativity, they’re designed to encourage storytelling and fuel imaginative play, creating an interactive and sensory experience to intrigue your child’s curiosity. Through the ability to pick and mix panels forming the light’s façade, they can create unique combinations to discover their own little world.

http://www.megandodds.co.uk

At first glance I saw Megans houses and thought, pretty and walked on. Then I looked again.DSC00834

Yes, they are beautiful.

Yes, they make nice lights.

But they are so much more.

They are welcoming, interactive play scenes for imagination (something that computer games seem to be stealing from growing minds).

DSC00835

They are well thought out scenes that allow story telling through play.

The square lamps illuminate and cast pictures and shadows on walls and surfaces to make even bigger play areas.

There are little clear pieces with fish on that can be added to the waves of the sea. Children can make characters to expand the story and have endless adventures.

But it’s more than that…

Doc 10-06-2015 13-0113Doc 10-06-2015 13-0114

Something I’ve been exploring myself through my doll making recently is the idea that dolls are for girls. Who says so?

The idea of pink being for girls and blue for boys has been around far too long. Megan explores the idea of gender stereotyping through toys in some well presented books. Why can’t girls have blue rooms?

WP_20150610_003My latest patterns for the My Little Crochet Doll have been aimed towards boy doll ideas. Cowboys and Spacemen. But hang on, even I label them as cow BOYS and space MEN. As though the careers go to the boys and the ballet outfits go to the girls.

This stereotyping is ingrained into our beings from such a young age that we don’t recognise it as a hindrance.

Does is go even deeper, are we damaging children or rather not allowing children to reach their potential by forcing children into a mould?

WP_20150610_005These are questions raised by Megan through her work with the little houses. How can we create play as a gender neutral place?

Can we create toys that are beautiful, useful, simple and allow children to grow?

The presentation was in a smaller space than the other two I chose, but the space was used to it’s potential and perhaps more room would give a different feel that wouldn’t work so well.WP_20150610_002I really enjoyed the books that came with the presentation. The smaller ones (shown in these images) show photos of children using the light as it should be whilst the other book was an explanation on her research into traditional play (pink and blue separation).

The light was made using lazer cut pieces in wood and perspex, painted or dyed I’m not sure, but a simple and effective way to let light through.

It looked as though the panels could be taken apart and put together, thus adding to the possibilities and allowing a child to chose their own panels for the lighting. However the wood chosen looks fragile. I don’t know how strong this would be if taken apart several times.

I linked closely to the thoughts behind this project, as someone looking into toys and gender (or why can’t dolls belong to boys) I found it very interesting.

I also found myself returning to something that I love… toy and doll making.

This morning I was handed some results from my last assessment, there was the suggestion that my work looked commercial rather than my own designer maker style. That’s quite something for those who remember my posts when I first started Uni. I spent some time wondering where I was heading.

There is a part of me that feels lost. In a way I feel as though I don’t quite know what I am about, while everyone else seems to know. I’m sure that’s not true and we’re all feeling lost, but I wonder whether I’ll ever get back to making dolls. There are so many things at University that I want to try out. I want to master all the knit machines and computer programmes they can throw at me, but in my almost addiction like need to learn, I worry that I will lose the things I love.

3. The Marmite one – I like it, but don’t like it.

Amy Rowson-Jones

2015

Made in Britain

 BA(Hons) Textile Crafts

 Led by a passion to source and produce within the UK, Rowson-Jones has combined local heritage and natural materials to create a garment which holds its own story. Each material has been carefully gathered within Yorkshire, with the use of hand picked berries from Hanging Stone Road, Huddersfield, beautiful alpaca yarn from Summer Wine Alpacas, Holmfirth, preserved cotton from the original Belle Vue Mills, Skipton. Made up of both rainwater and Hedera helix, the natural ingredients and dye process have resulted in the garment to be one of a kind. The jumper has been crafted for a high-end unisex market.

Follow my journey on Instagram @arowsonjones

Most people would assume this would be my favourite project in the show.DSC00863

I liked it and it’s something that’s close to my heart and something I’ve been wanting to explore a lot more.

This idea of locally sourced yarn is something I am passionate about as a spinner and knitter.

I remember the first time I bought a ball of wool I could trace all the way back to the sheep and the sense that I had found something so precious will stay with me for a long time.

I still have one of the balls of wool I bought that day. It’s from a sheep called April who lives in a field just outside of York. Her owner sheers DSC00866the sheep, washes the fleece and even spins it herself. Talk about locally sourced, that ball of wool has yet to leave Yorkshire!

You can’t get better than that.

The wool though is rough, too rough for garments next to the skin. Well, of course it’s rough. It’s British wool. From British sheep.

And that’s where I don’t like this project so much.

I love the idea of locally sourced and one reason is that it often helps local people, people who need local buyers to help keep their livelihoods going.

I often hear people talking about the dreadful situation we’re in by allowing our garments to be produced overseas. Tales of factories being closed down as products are outsourced for lower paid workers, often leading to bad conditions and dreadful disasters where factories are so badly managed that they collapse.WP_20150610_014

This is one of the main reasons I suspect, that people are choosing locally sourced over overseas products. I hear people talking about their favourite yarn companies telling me how it’s a local company, until I point to the small print on the label that says, produced in Turkey.

Our once large spinning mills are now museums struggling to survive with the small funding they receive and my county is littered with once thriving factories.

Sourcing locally keeps what workers we have left in business and is important.

WP_20150610_012Amy’s fibre was locally sourced, the berries for dyeing were hand picked locally, the water used was rain water (even the tap water was seen as unsuitable for this economical jumper). Everything was done to give you the impression of local, economical, resourceful, community, traditional back-to-basics way of making. Made in Britain.

The fibre (because technically it isn’t a wool) was spun in a factory outside of Yorkshire.

While there are many hand spinners in Yorkshire who would have happily hand spun the fibre, keeping with the tradition that Amy seemed to aim at, she chose to machine spin the fibre.

I love the concept (am going to say that a lot!)

I just don’t think it hit the mark.

The natural dyeing process is a good idea, but I think (and might be a bit harsh here) it could have been better. While the jumper is aimed at a high end market it looks muddy, almost dirty in colour. Part of that is the inconsistency with the dye. darker and lighter in parts.

This might be because the yarn was dyed in a skein and not dyed accurately. If the dye had been added prior to spinning the fibres they would have blended more evenly and given a more consistent colouring. There’s a part of me that wishes she had just left the yarn in it’s natural state. A lovely white alpaca was sourced, so why dye it grey?

I love the concept.

Okay, here it comes…

My pet hate.

Alpacas are beautiful animals more related to camels than sheep, so produce lovely soft fibre that is a pleasure to spin and knit.

Alpacas are not British.

I’d like to say I refuse to buy alpaca from British farms, but last year I was offered a real bargain, a whole fleece for £5 and I couldn’t turn it down.

Alpacas are native to Peru, where they have a wonderful system that means every alpaca owner, whether big ranch owner or small farmer in poverty gets the same fair price of his fleece based on quality of the animal. Buying Alpacas from Peru supports the small farmer who relies on us for his livelihood. Without us, without the alpaca trade, he would not be able to support his family. It’s that important.

As much as I hate losing our trade to overseas I hate the idea that we are in return taking trade away from Peru farmers.

And I have another pet annoyance.

Alpacas are not cheap. Really not cheap. While you can often pick up a sheep for £10 Alpacas will cost you between £2,000 and £3,000. This is not a project for the poor! To have alpacas in the UK you need some money behind you. The field, food, vets are just one of the many costs.

As someone who is working with Leeds Poverty Truth and Churches Action on Poverty I cannot buy British alpaca fleece from a rich owner, knowing I am taking trade from a poorer owner in Peru.

I say again, I love the concept, but for me it missed the mark.

However, I enjoyed the concept and it brought me back to my love of wool. The same teacher who suggested I was turning to designer maker also suggested I made yarn for my project. I wanted to, but couldn’t quite see the idea in full. I’ve spent my year listening to designers I like, and looking at trends of the season and I panicked thinking while others are designing garments and fashion, my hand made yarn would look like a poor effort. It just didn’t seem to be what ‘they’ wanted.

I feel lost because I’m not following my passion, I’m trying to fit into what I think is required.

I might not have liked how the concept turned out, but it got me spurred into action. I need to return to my first love, finding locally sourced British wool, from British sheep, spun or dyed in traditional ways.

All images are my own

Type in italics is the individual students statement from the University.

All student work can be seen on the textile blog: http://textiles-hud.tumblr.com/

My Little Crochet Doll pattern can be found at: http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/my-little-crochet-doll