Why I love nettles


Stinging nettles

This is essentially a guide to using wild nettles as a fabric dye but before I start I really need to confess that I LOVE nettles.  I may even go so far to say that I have a passion for nettles and I can guarantee that this post will more than likely veer off in various nettle loving directions along with the fabric dying instructions so you have been warned.

First of all, I started gathering wild nettles when I moved to Norway.  Before I moved I’d always thought of nettles as little more than an annoying weed.  My friend Clara took me foraging in the woods one day in Spring 2013 and explained to me that nettles are traditionally used to make soup in Scandinavia in the spring.  After a long, hard winter of eating dried and preserved food, nettle soup made from the fresh tips of the plant would give a much needed vitamin boost for hungry Vikings.  Nettles have huge amounts of iron, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin K, but more of that later.

If you’re going to gather wild stinging nettles,  you’ll need rubber gloves.  I learned the hard way that normal garden gloves don’t protect you from the sting.  I’d also recommend wearing long sleeves and trousers, as well as shoes that don’t have open toes.  In short, protect your skin because the stings hurt.

The best time for collecting is in the spring or early autumn.  Nettles tend to grow twice a year at these times and can generally be found on the side of foot paths and in rocky, well drained ground.

Only take as much as you need.  Before you start gathering, decide where you’re going to dry and store the plants and how much you can realistically deal with at one time.  It’s easy to get all fired up and pick lots at one time, then have nowhere to hang or store them, which just leads to waste.   Sorting and drying nettles can be a bit of a hassle when you first start, so start with a small amount, say around one carrier bag full.

Once you get them back home, and while still wearing your rubber gloves, arrange them into small bunches and tie them loosely with string.  Hang them upside down and give them a good shake to get rid of any bits and pieces and bugs that may have got trapped in the leaves.  It’s better to brush off any detritus rather than washing it off as you want the leaves to be dry when you hang them up.

Nettles drying on absorbent paper
Nettles drying on absorbent paper

Alternatively you can pick off the leaves and lay them out on absorbent paper on trays or a table top.  The leaves usually dry more quickly this way, but it takes up more space.

Find a warmish, dryish, darkish place to dry them.  Make sure there is enough space between the bunches or trays to allow air to circulate and then draw the curtains, close the door and leave them alone for a few days.

After a few days they will have lost their sting and will be safe to handle.  Sometimes you can still feel the little needles, but they won’t actually sting you, just jab you a bit.

Once they’re completely dried gather them up and store them in a paper bag or large jar, then keep them in a cupboard.  Keeping nettles in direct sunlight will fade their colour.

Some people use fresh leaves to make their dye, and it works, but for some reason I find that drying the nettles first makes a stronger dye and it just makes the nettles easier to deal with.

To dye fabric take a handful of dried leaves and soak them in boiling water.

Place a handful of dried nettle leaves in a jar.
Place a handful of dried nettle leaves in a jar.
Fill the jar with just boiled water and seal.
Fill the jar with just boiled water and seal.

I usually leave them to soak in a jar over night, strain out the liquid in the morning with a sieve and throw the squished up leaves into the compost heap.  I either dip or soak my fabric in the dye bath, then leave it for a few hours.  Remember to use only natural fibres – cotton, silk, wool, as the dye will not colour synthetics.

Nettle dyed Nymph
Nettle dyed Nymph

Once the fabric has been soaked for a few hours you can either leave it to dry naturally or bake it on a low heat in the oven.  The heat will deepen the colour, but be careful not to leave it too long or your lovely deep green will turn into a mucky brown.

Once dyed, the fabric was heated to deepen the green colour.
Once dyed, the fabric was heated to deepen the green colour.

So back to the health benefits.  These are all my own personal observations, I am not a doctor, so please don’t treat this as scientific, clinically proven fact.  There is a lot of information about the health benefits of nettles online so go google.

About three years ago my hair started to get thin and I was told by my hairdresser and doctor that this was just what happens when you get past your twenties, however, I started drinking nettle tea and my hair has honestly not been this thick and silky since I was a teenager.  In fact, about two or three months after I started regularly drinking nettle tea, I ended up with a weirdly shaped Joan Jett type mullet because the top two inches of my hair were so much thicker than the ends.  My hairline which hadn’t exactly been receding but had been, let’s say, widening somewhat, started to become all fluffy with new hair growth.

I also noticed that in the winter my knees and hips, which usually ache in cold and damp weather felt absolutely fine.  I won’t go into details as those details are somewhat … icky… but I also noticed a massively positive change in my digestive and menstrual health.

On top of that, nettle tea just makes me feel healthier in general.  It gives you an energy boost without the buzz of caffeine and it feels nourishing without filling you up.

I drink a jar of nettle tea two or three times a week.  I make it exactly the same way I make nettle dye, except that I chill it before I drink it because warm or hot nettle tea tastes gross.  It can be stored in the fridge for two or three days and if you happen to forget about it and find it’s gone off a bit you can use it as plant food or a hair tonic that you can massage directly on to your scalp, or you can, of course, dip fabric into it.

Then there’s nettle soup, which can be made with the dried leaves, but is best with the fresh young spring time tips of the plant, picked before the plant produces seeds.

And one final tip,  if you have a dog, I recommend taking it foraging with you.  If your dog scents and pees on the nettles then the chances are other dogs have done the same thing in the same place so keep walking until you find a spot that’s not so interesting to your pup.

If you’ve tried nettles as a dye, food or tea please let me know your experiences in the comments section.  I’d love to hear your tips and tricks as I’ve more or less worked all of this stuff out on my own.










Artist’s Statement……..part 1

The Pale Rook

My current textile work began as an experiment in ….

I am trying to write my artist’s statement and I’m not doing very well. I tried to ask my friends for words to describe my work, in fact I DID ask my friends for words to describe my work, I went beyond trying, there was definite asking and all of them said that I was clearly able to express myself because they’d all read my blog and thought I should just write my artist statement exactly like that.

But I don’t plan my blog posts ! They just sort of fall out of my head on to the page! My blog posts were a progression from my journals and lists. They just happen when I have something to say, it’s a whole other thing when I actually need to make a point and make it clearly and succinctly so that someone else will read it and choose to give me the thing I’m applying for.

None of my friends gave me words! I need words! They told me to use my own words but my words are rambling and stroppy! I’m trying to present myself as a capable, articulate artist with a clear idea of who she is and why her work is relevant, nay essential to her very existence, deserving of funding and support to help it develop to it’s fullest creative and entrepreneurial potential, and I am all of those things and my work is all of those things but I just can’t find the words to convince someone else that I am and it is.

Like I said, I’m not doing very well. It’s ironic that I’m avoiding writing by writing. I don’t see this as writing though. I see this as using words to get stuff out of my head. Writing an artist’s statement is about using words to help someone to appreciate what I do and help me do it some more. It’s not though is it. It shouldn’t be.

For one crazy moment I thought that maybe I could just copy and paste this and use it and that maybe the person I’m sending it to, the person with the purse strings and the amazing facilities would maybe see me as I really am and give me what I’m applying for just because I’m so refreshingly honest. I so wish I was that sort of person. I wouldn’t even need to copy and paste it because what you’re reading now really did start off as an attempt to write the real artist’s statement. That title and that first abandoned sentence aren’t just there for comedic purposes. This was supposed to be the real thing!

I remember once reading somewhere that someone at American Apparel had applied for their job by printing out their CV on a t-shirt and submitting that instead of a nicely printed traditional one. I’ve never been that person. I’d really like to be but I’m not. I wish I could embroider my statement on the wing of a silk raven and send it to them but I just don’t have the time.

I should just tell them what I do and why I do it shouldn’t I, but, you know, without the foul language and stroppiness.

It’s easier talking to you though.

My current work was initially and experiment in ( GETTING SHIT OUT OF MY HEAD) working purely with my creative instincts, allowing the creatures and characters from my dreams, childhood memories and imagination to exist in the outside world. I make figures and anthropomorphic creatures from antique textiles and threads, dyed with plants foraged on my forest walks ( the stuff I’ve hoarded over the years and the stuff I find in my pockets three weeks after I put it there).
Each figure or creature is an intuitive creative response to dreams, memories, fairy tales, and my childhood. Conceptually, I am interested (read, FIXATED AND OBSESSED) in the precious and the abandoned, in the natural tides of the forest and the seasons, and in the language of the subconscious. My process explores the dynamic between textile creation and deconstruction using hand drawn and embroidered detailing and unpredictable dye, heat and distressing techniques, (read, when things go wrong I tend to go with it and make it decorative). Every aspect (element?) of my work is created by hand. (Write something here about the importance of the craft process here).

That’s actually the best I’ve managed to come up with so far. I might actually go with “fixated” rather than “interested” because it’s closer to the truth.

My whole creative life seems to be about treading a fine line between authentic expression and not freaking people out too much.

Thanks for listening.

The Eye Thing and Clumsy Symbolism


So, the one eyed thing. That thing I do where my dolls would be a lot prettier if I didn’t deliberately give them mis-matched eyes.

I get asked about that a lot. I think people imagine that it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to, that the one eye, or mismatched eye thing is meant to “mean” something.  I don’t mean this post to be in any way disrespectful to anyone who has ever asked about the eye thing, please ask me what ever you want about my work and I will try my best to answer but please don’t be disappointed if I haven’t given it too much thought yet.

We’re taught that in art things mean other things, and we’re taught that if you want to talk about art then you have to learn to talk about what things are supposed to mean instead of what they actually look like or, heaven forbid, make you feel.

When I was at school we were taught that “real” artists used symbolism in their work and that we should totally, definitely do that too. We were taught to go look at what meant what and then once we knew, we’d select suitable colours, objects and motifs that meant stuff and we would cram them into whatever we were doing to symbolise what we meant. Which brings me to one of my pet peeves….., second hand symbolism as a means of self expression.

Of course, rather than being a judgement on anyone else, this is about me reflecting on things I used to do and don’t like to be reminded of when I see other people doing it because it’s … uncomfortable.

Let’s take the example of a rook, since that’s the pseudonym I have chosen.  A quick Google search will tell you that a rook, a crow or a raven symbolises death and the underworld.  Want to make something spooky?  Just add a raven.

Yes a rook represents death but you don’t need Google to tell you that.  If you live anywhere near rooks you’ll know the sound of their caws on a cold winter morning as the trees stand bare and the sky is cold and grey over your head, telling you that, guess what….death is here! The plants are dying back and the other birds are flying south because it’s going to be cold and dark for months before the whole world comes back to life again. It’s hard to imagine rooks without seeing the cold sky and bare branches that they perch on, and death is part of that whole picture.  And if rooks don’t mean something to you, then don’t put them into your work just because they mean the thing you want to say.  Find your own symbol!  Go bloomin’ live your symbolism, don’t bother looking it up online as a first port of call, by all means check it but don’t just hurl some clumsy symbol into your work because Google told you it might be relevant. Find your symbols, find your points of reference in your world and then let them speak for you and you know what, other people WILL get it, even if it’s just subconsciously.  Don’t patronise your audience, or yourself for that matter.

If you want to connect with your darker side through your work don’t research dark symbols, go spend time in dark, dead places.  Go to the woods in winter and see life dying back so that it can come back again refreshed and relieved. You’ll understand a hell of a lot more if you actually live it. Go listen to how quiet the woods become ( I know, I’m ALL about the woods) , feel how frozen the ground is, how bare the trees are, then wait …. Want to know what colours symbolise hope? Go hang out in your garden in the spring and watch the bright green shoots push their way up through the cold ground, or pay attention to that tiny little happy warm feeling you get when you see the first daffodils bright and yellow and turning their heads to the sun.

And when you look at other peoples’ work, by all means find out what they were on about, but first of all, as yourself how you feel about what they’ve made.  Does the work make you happy, angry, uncomfortable?  Ask yourself why that is, don’t go straight to the little description next to the piece in the gallery, or to the vastness of the internet to tell you what it’s all about.  Go there once you’ve had a think about it and maybe formed some opinions of your own.  Your reaction to art is just as relevant and important as anyone else’s.

But back to the eye thing.

Those who ask about the eye thing aren’t wrong, yes it does mean something.  They are just wrong about the order of events ; I do it then work out what it means rather than working out what I want to say then working out what would say it best on my behalf.

The Pale Rook

When I was a little girl I had a deep, seemingly irrational terror of losing my right eye.  I had recurring nightmares of it being taken or shot or knocked out of my head.   I have very large eyes and it’s something that people have always commented on to the point where I actually believed that I could see more than other people because my eyes were so much larger ( I tended to take some things very literally when I was a child) , so the idea of losing one of my precious big blue eyes horrified me and would send me into a blind panic.  Just writing this makes me cover my right eye with my hand and take a deep breath.

I’d been making the one eyed dolls for months before it had occurred to me that it might be connected to my childhood fears, in fact, I used to make sock monkeys ( I was the proud owner of Ebay’s first ever dedicated sock monkey shop in 2004! ) and they all had one tiny little eye and one giant beautiful one.   With the dolls and drawings, it just sort of happened.  The anthropomorphic dolls, the rabbits and the bears don’t have human eyes,  but for the “human” dolls it just sort of made sense.

My childhood fear of losing an eye was one of the deepest fears I can remember,  because it was too irrational to explain, and because it gripped me when I was a child with no way of understanding where it came from.  It crept into my nightmares.  It’s my part of underworld, my dark scary place, the hidden part of me, and it comes out in my art.  My dolls, my beautiful dolls that would be so lovely if they weren’t just right on the edge of ugly and dark and creepy and weird.  But to me that IS beautiful!  The dance between light and dark, the one embracing the other, the shift between ugly and lovely and back again.  I create a self portrait that combines my idealised self and the worst fear my little girl self could imagine.   My hopes on one side and my fears on the other.  Because that’s kind of where I live my life from, and it comes out in my work.

All of your work will be a self portrait so let it be a portrait of YOU, your life, your fears, your reactions, your loves, your hates,  not your browsing history, not other peoples conclusions or observations, not Wikipedia and not Google.

Instead of cramming symbols into your work, how about just doing what comes naturally, letting it develop, then maybe at some point doing a bit of detective work into icons, mythology, psychology and symbolism, or maybe just your own life to see what you were maybe on about in the first place.   Trust your creative instinct. Let it have free reign for a bit and see where it wants to go.

But back to the eye thing.

If someone had asked me at the beginning of this post what the eye thing meant I would have told them it didn’t really mean a whole lot, that I just did it without thinking (in fact that is exactly what I told someone on Facebook about an hour ago) .   It turns out they are right though, there is a whole lot to it.  I shudder to think what I’d come up with if I’d Googled how to symbolise all the the things I needed to say instead of just getting on with it. The Pale Rook

Fly away little fishes, fly away….

It has been way to long since I wrote a post, it really has, and it’s going to be a little bit longer still.  This is just a quick message to let you know I haven’t forgotten about you, and that I have made some flying fish skeletons.  I’ll be back soon.

Flying fish skeletons
Flying fish skeletons
Flying fish skeletons
Flying fish skeletons
Flying fish
Flying fish
Flying fish
Flying fish

In progress…

The Pale Rook

So the long planned Etsy shop is finally going to open on this coming Sunday the 21st of September and I cannot get my muse to shut the hell up and let me get on with finishing things!  It’s funny how this time last year I had ideas clambering to get out of my mind but struggling to actually get past all of my anxieties then finally squeezing their way out into just a few pieces that sort of worked, and now I have an almost constant stream of  “Ooooo why don’t you make one of them, try doing that that way, dip that in there, put antlers on that, make some wings out of twigs, make mice out of silk scraps, maybe it’s time to make that octopus, oo0OOO0oooo what about a mermaid, now do a lobster make it blue, no white, no blue…houses on legs make houses on legs…acorn eyeballs! ”

The Pale Rook

You get the idea.  I have a stack of unfinished ideas that only get half made before they seed another one!  I can’t seem to switch it all off right now so I am back to making lists and trying to stick to them, although I keep managing to divert myself with tea and dog walking, and (ahem) writing this post.

When it all gets too much I go make another fish skeleton.

I’ve also had the privilege of meeting (online but it still counts!) so many other artists and of course that feeds more ideas of what’s possible and what I’d like to do.  I used to staunchly avoid making anything that I’d ever seen done before, ever, and if I made something that I thought was original, then found to be similar to someone else’s I’d immediately feel like a failure.  I guess I wrongly assumed that something was only truly creative if it was entirely original.  Yes, I was that daft.

I don’t believe that any of us ever work in isolation.  Whether we consciously know it or not, we’re all pulled by the same tides that affect everyone else and our muses will be excited by the same things as others on the other side of the world without ever having met, and we think we’re working on something all by ourselves until we put it online and realise that we’re not alone.

I don’t beat myself up so much now if I see work that’s coming from the same place as mine, or ended up in the same place.  I used to worry that others would think I was copying them. When I was at art school there was nothing lower than someone who’d blatantly ripped off someone else, we were there to innovate damn it!  Only at art school could I have been so naive to presume that I could create something entirely unique that had never been done before.

Of course, the one thing that DOES make our work unique, whether we want it to or not, the one thing that we can only avoid with massive effort,  is the very thing that we take completely for granted; our own hands, eyes, skills and minds.  If we try to consciously imitate someone else, we can only end up being a poorer version, but if we look at someone else’s work as a starting point and think “I’m going to go try making one of those”, then allow ourselves to take the lead from there, it will inevitably end up being as much our own as an idea that we thought we’d come up with by ourselves.

This of course, only goes for things we add creative input into ourselves.  I have an intense dislike for companies and businesses who intentionally rip off other’s designs and ideas, but that’s a whole other blog post!

So into the mix of ideas and possibilities is a whole other world of ideas that I would have avoided just a few years ago because I wouldn’t have been able to prove to myself that I was the only person in the whole world who was doing it.  I’ve been wanting to make a mermaid for a while and I had actually thought I should avoid it because other people make mermaids.  Seriously.  So now that I’ve got over that, expect a mermaid in the not too distant future.

My hands can’t work quickly enough to stitch all of the creatures and worlds that are cascading into and out of my mind and I’m clutching my list, focusing hard on staying the course, at least until the shop is open on Sunday night and I can relax a little bit and work on some new ideas.

I had no idea where this post was going to go when I started it, and I’m still not sure it’s ended up going in any particular direction so for now I will end with a rather fabulous quote that says all of the above and more, far more succinctly than I have.

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. – C.S Lewis

Now, let’s go get those green velvet shoes finished…

The Pale Rook




Ethel is an homage to my college years of pink hair and pencil thin eyebrows.  I have no idea where this pink fleece came from, it made it’s way into my scrap bag a few years ago and it’s been calling to me for the last few weeks.  The flat black doll shoes and wrinkled stockings are reminiscent of those days too 😉

Ethel will be for sale in my Etsy shop in the next two weeks.  I’ve been really busy making new work as I’d love the shop to be full of dolls, creatures and bits and bobs before it’s officially opened.

I had a little trial run of a few pieces last week and was bowled over when they all sold out within the first hour and a bit!  There were lots of disappointed customers getting in touch who hadn’t managed to get the doll they’d wanted, so I’d like to have lots listed the next time.

It felt very odd packing the dolls up and sending them off all over the world to their new homes but it’s been great to see the photos and messages from the people who’ve bought them.

I’m going to try to keep the dolls (and other creatures and beasts) under wraps until then so Ethel may be the last doll I post on here for the next wee while, at least until the shop is opened.


Rosehip, Brennesle and Evie, ….. or How I became a Doll Artist

Evie, Rosehip and Brennesle
Evie, Rosehip and Brennesle

I have posted about these three before but I suspect I may have written something quite boring and short as the blog was still a bit of a blank canvas at that stage and as anyone who has ever tried to create anything on a black canvas will tell you, blank canvases can either be inspiring or they can freeze your brain until it can only squeeze out banal mutterings.   At that particular time it I am pretty sure I was only able to manage banal mutterings, and short banal mutterings at that.

Also, at that stage, I had no idea whatsoever of what anyone would think of my dolls and creatures because almost no one had seen them.  I’d been keeping them a secret from everyone except my closest friends and some people who’d wandered into a group show in a gallery in Oslo.

You see, making dolls and creatures and puppets and figures has always been a part of my life, always, since as early as I can remember, but until last year, I had never taken them seriously.

I made figures and creatures all the time, out of whatever was lying around.  I always had done.  In every design or teaching project I worked on there would be a little figure or animal somewhere in a sketchbook or corner of my desk that I’d made from left over fabric or blu-tac or paper or whatever and I would almost never show them to anyone.  Ever.  Because as far as I was concerned making wee characters was just something I did, not something that I could actually do as a real job.

I’d trained as a fashion and textile designer.  I’d worked all over the place being a serious, grown up designer, who made serious, grown up work and these wee dudes on my desk made out of paper clips, bits of lace and copper wire were not serious or grown up.  But the serious, grown up work just wasn’t cutting it anymore.  I was tired, I was bored and I was at a dead end.   I also had a lot of time on my hands and a dark Norwegian winter ahead of me.  I’d asked myself over and over for almost a year “What do I want to do with my life?” .

By the time I’d got to my thirties I’d lost focus on the career I’d strived for in my twenties and realised that I’d invested my time and creativity into something I no longer had faith or much interest in.  But what else?


I continued to teach and more often than not, my students’ passion for their subject was more confirmation that what I was doing was not what I should be doing because as much as I loved the subject, I just didn’t have their same love of actually doing it.  But damn it, I was in my thirties now, I should know what the hell I want to do with my life, what should I do?

Make dolls.

I made lists, wrote in my diary, made mind maps, tried to work through all the clues and possibilities, all the while aware that I was being incredibly self indulgent in a way that I really should have got over in my teens.  I had a little studio room and all I did in it was make lists about what I should or could do.   The lists were piling up and still my work was confused and half finished because I couldn’t find anything that was worth my full attention, something serious and important and valuable.


So I stopped trying.  I spent more time in the forest, learned how to make soap from nettles, play the ukulele, identify edible wild mushrooms and a whole lot of other things I’d wanted to do that I’d never got round to because I was filling every spare minute with panic and lists. Then one morning I woke up and I knew what I wanted to do but it wasn’t a new idea, it was an idea that had been there all along waiting for me to be still and quiet enough to hear it.

I would take all the characters and creatures in my head and let them out.  I’d make dolls, puppets, miniature worlds and mythical beasts and I would give them my full attention.  Instead of sketching them in blu-tac and masking tape and leaving them on a desk, I would give them my time and my skill and my patience.  I would not think about a market for them or a specific outcome.  I would let my creative instincts take the lead.

This seems easier than it actually was because I am a self confessed control freak when it comes to my work, or at least I had been.  Years of penny counting and hard work meant that I couldn’t just let go and do something for the sheer hell of it.  So I sat down and started drawing, then I started making.  Then I decided that it was all crap and that it was all going in the trash.

Then I tried again.

Something in the back of my mind was getting stronger and kept telling me to keep going.  I kept showing up and I kept on messing up, until one night I took a metre of calico and a pencil and started cutting and drawing, and along came Evie.


Then Rosehip.


Then Brennesle. The Pale Rook - Brennesle All three took shape at the same time.  All three were dipped in dyes made from plants I’d found on my forest walks.  All three taunted me with their complete uselessness and lack of commercial marketability and I still kept on making them.

Evie in progress
Evie in progress

I was and always have been aware of just how much pressure I put on myself, but I had only been marginally aware of how much pressure I let myself feel from what I thought the “world” wanted from me.  I didn’t see value in work that was so personal.  I’d let my ego lead me into a career that I had a lot of excitement about in the early years, a lot of interest in certainly, but it never had my heart and soul.  I did it because I thought it was what was expected of me.  It would make my parents proud of me, bring me a prestige that was easy for other people to understand and give me a respectability that I could rely on. (Just in case you were wondering, it didn’t.)

What I’d never put time into or faith in were the ideas that didn’t yet make sense in the context of the rest of the world.  I couldn’t see the value in my imagination from the view point of those around me, so I ignored all the ideas that were only mine.  Then I wondered why my work didn’t give me the same joy and satisfaction I saw in others.

The last person to see my new work was my Mum, ironically the first person to see the things I made when I was a little girl.  I was so worried she’d think I’d gone nuts, that I was having an early mid-life crisis and finally given in to my hippy fantasist leanings.

Just writing that last sentence, I realised that that is not too far from what I have done but that is no bad thing.

There comes a point where you need to at least ask yourself what you would do with your time and your talent and your skill if you only had to take your own needs into account.  I know that life is not that easy or straight forward.  It’s easy to keep that little voice small when it seems to be talking shit and you’ve got  a million other important things to do.  Maybe try listening to it though, because none of what you see on this site existed outside of my head this time last year.

When I finally started listening to that tiny little voice and giving it my time, all of the skills I’d learned in my career, at college, from random Youtube videos, from Pinterest, all the seemingly unrelated crafts and techniques that I’d used for whatever, finally came together, en masse to help me out. Instead of being a time wasting, self indulgent departure from everything I had worked for and built up, this “new”work had become a culmination of it.

And if no one paid any attention to my work, would I keep on making it?


Without a doubt, because as wonderful as it is to have support and appreciation and clients who want to own and commission my work, my work has only become that way because I created it with just my own needs in mind.  And I’ve realised that one of my, and probably your fundamental needs is to create something beautiful or wonderful or terrifying or ugly, and quite possibly useless for no other reason than because it is in your mind and deserves your attention.

So whatever is in your imagination, go make it.  If you can’t sew, knit or draw then learn.  If you can’t sing, dance, write, do it anyway and keep doing it until it feels good.  What ever it is you need to learn or do to get what is in your mind out into the open, do it.  Do it over and over again. No matter how silly and pointless it seems, no matter how frustrated you get, keep going.  You have no idea what it may turn into.

Dolls in progress
Dolls in progress

And now for something completely different…

Fish Skeletons
Fish Skeletons

So just over a week ago I was steadily working my way through some ideas for my new Etsy shop, I had a few different things in mind, but was quite happily toddling along taking things at a steady pace.  I went for a walk in the woods, gathered some branches to carve into bits and pieces, went home, watched some Breaking Bad, checked my Facebook and BOOM!

The mighty Mister Finch, the hugely talented, influential and generous textile artist had posted some photos of my work to his 160,000 followers, with a link to my Facebook page and 1,200 people had shown their appreciation by hitting the “like” button in just a few hours.  This had led to lots of other lovely bloggers, writers and artists sharing my work and an snowball of attention and commissions.

Now I am not and have never been the sort to covet Facebook “likes”.  When I set up my page I shared it with my friends and asked them to share it if they felt so inclined.  I always wanted appreciation for my work to be genuine and voluntary rather than out of obligation or harassment.  Don’t get me wrong, I know that for some businesses, a high “like” rating on Facebook is very important, but I just can’t understand people who cajole others to “like” their pages and who see “like milestones” as an end result in themselves.  “Likes” are ultimately abstract and should be seen as a gesture of appreciation and interest, rather than a measure of success.

That said,

I was over the stonking moon!

The beautiful messages of support, interest, fascination and sheer loveliness were staggering.  Some made me cry, especially the people who told me that seeing my work had inspired them to make their own.  That was particularly nice.

I spent most of the weekend feeling all fluffy, then went back to the studio on Monday petrified that the next thing I made would be awful and that I’d let down all the lovely people who’d taken the time to write to me.

I was reminded of almost every other creative success in my adult life and how every single one had been followed by crippling self doubt and the crushing weight of my own expectations.

So, I decided to go back to what I know best and spend a day in the studio making random things for no other reason than to see what happens.   My good friend Louise McVey, a beautiful and very talented ceramic artist makes time for this sort of creative work regularly ( this is the woman who came up with ceramic monobrows on sticks and noses that sneeze giant flowers, for no other reason than just because)  and I always find that it’s a good way to get a grip of your (my) own spiralling freak outs.

So I made these fish skeletons.

Silk and cotton fish skeletons
Silk and cotton fish skeletons

I had no idea if they’d work out, if they’d look good, if they’d be anything I’d want to share with anyone, but to hell with it!  I wanted so see what a fish skeleton would look like if it was made from silk and cotton.

I think for any of us who work in creative fields, it’s easy to latch on to the work and processes that are commercially successful as most of us live with unstable, if not chaotic  incomes, and it can be difficult to find the time to invest in something as simple and seemingly ephemeral as creative play for it’s own sake with no specific outcome.

To suddenly have overwhelming support for work that had been largely unnoticed for the last while had thrown me into a panic.  I suddenly felt the pressure to do meaningful work that would also keep everyone’s attention, when what I really needed to do was go back to basics and work as if no one was watching.   As much as I value my work, I think it’s important to keep just a little bit of perspective on just how important it is in the grand scheme of things, and I firmly believe that taking time to simply play around with creative ideas can keep you from taking your work and yourself too seriously.

I want to thank every single person who has taken the time to write to me, to share my work and your thoughts about it.  I am so completely grateful for your time, your lovely words and your generosity.

Thank you.

Silk and cotton fish skeletons
Silk and cotton fish skeletons







When I posted Dinah on my Facebook page, quite a few people commented that they thought she looked sad. I have to agree that she definitely has a slight melancholy that I hadn’t planned. I’d always imagined her as having quite a sultry, cat like expression and she ended up with a much more fragile look.


All of my dolls and creatures have hand drawn faces, so I never know what sort of expression they are going to have until it is drawn on.  Sometime, no matter how I try to plan it or draw it, a face will just take on an expression of it’s own and no matter how much I try to tweak it or change it, it will be the way it wants to be.

One commenter described Dinah as having a “Monalisa” smile, which I thought suited her very well.   She actually reminds me a lot of a beautiful Welsh friend who I haven’t seen in too long.  Maybe it’s time head south to go visit her.


Dinah is made made mainly from calico, but her stockings are made from scraps of a baby blue Chinese silk blouse. Her hair was originally part of an Edwardian christening gown that I found in a charity shop in Glasgow and bought for a whopping £3! The fabric was decaying and falling apart but small parts of the delicate cotton lawn were still holding together. I dyed them with onion skins to make the beautiful soft peachy colour. Her hair is decorated with chocolate alpaca fleece needle felted into little balls and embroidered with blue silk thread.

Dinah has a slightly more voluptuous shape than a lot of my dolls, I drew her pattern free hand and loved seeing her curves come to life as she was shaped, tucked and sewn.  Her curves did make her slightly more difficult to pose though, so I think I may have to make her a chaise longue, probably from red silk velvet.

Dinah's blue silk stockings
Dinah’s blue silk stockings