Finding a way when things gang aft agley

It was my birthday two weeks ago and looking back at it now, I could never have predicted how I’d be living and feeling and thinking now. The world, or at least the world I know, has gone into lock down and although the birds are still singing and the trees are budding and things look largely the same, it’s all suddenly different and feels very, very still.

Still in some ways and accelerated in others. No more pubs and gigs and wandering around shops for the hell of it to kill time. Also, no more financial stability and confidence in my understanding of how I make a living and how reliable that feels. And of course, all this “inconvenience” and uncertainty pales into insignificance as three members of my immediate family go into complete isolation for their own safety and I deliver donuts to their front porches hoping that they can somehow feel the hug I want to reach out and give them but can’t.

And while some parts of life are shutting down, others are speeding up as we need to shift and adapt to somehow make this new reality work. I didn’t think I would run online workshops. It wasn’t that I was completely against the idea, more that I had the luxury of not having to think about how I would teach these types of classes in a way that worked for me. As unpredictable as my income is, until about a week ago I was comfortable in my ability to make and sell my artwork and in the demand for my in-person teaching worldwide.

I am now unsure of just about everything.

If necessity is the Mother of invention, then pandemic, self-isolation, and possible impending poverty is the Mother that kicks you up the arse and forces you to make tough choices about what is right for you.

So I asked myself what I wanted and how I can make this work.

Do I want to do online video lessons?


I don’t have the confidence in my tech skills yet, and right now I’m working from a spare room piled up with boxes. Also, I have two young dogs who like to gate crash video chats.

Do I want to do live, interactive demos with real time Q&A?


First of all, see above, and on top of this, all our lives are so unpredictable at the moment that I can’t offer up any particular time slot that would include everyone, and quite frankly I’d rather talk to you all one at a time by email.

What the hell do I want?


To write the sort of lessons I wrote for my workshops here in Glasgow. I bloody loved preparing the “homework” lessons I sent out to all the students who came up here to learn. The idea behind the emailed lessons was to prepare the students to hit the ground running at the workshop rather than have to creatively “warm up” once they arrived. For a month before each workshop I sent out weekly lessons. Each one offered up the methods I use in my own work, in particular working through creative blocks, and finding out what my creative triggers and impulses are. I alternated these lessons with projects that were more practical and hands on so that the students had a balance of creative exploration and structured techniques.

Some students arrived in Glasgow with a sketchbook full of images, a collection of stitched fabric samples, and a box of “treasures” to work with. Once their doll making began in the classroom, I could see when we laid out all of their homework, a complete project from the seeds of ideas through to their finished dolls. Now that some time has passed, and those students send me images of the dolls they’ve made since completing the workshop, I can see how their ideas have moved forward and how confident their work has become.

Development artwork by @sheilaghdysonmixedmediaartist

This, for me is the most enormous bloody privilege and joy.

With this in mind, I’ve written a ten lesson creative doll making course that will focus on free form, intuitive doll making and understanding your creative process.  This is not a step by step instruction manual, and it requires an openness to working in ways that may seem a little bit odd at first…

I never wanted to write a tutorial that was about following my idea or pattern or design. First of all, my ideas, patterns and designs are mine. They are the result of my life, my experience, and to be honest, a lot of happy accidents and failures that I just could not communicate in a lesson if I tried, and what’s more, I don’t want to.

Secondly, for me, it’s just not satisfying to teach people how to do things the way I do them. When I teach, I want to see a student find their own voice and their own way of doing things, and I’ve learned over the last twelve years of teaching that my skills are best directed that way.

Dolls in progress by artist Eleanor Sloan at a workshop in Glasgow in February ’20

So what am I offering you now?

Let’s start with what this course is not.

This is not a course where you will learn how to follow a step by step doll making process. This is not a course where you will work from my (or anyone else’s) designs and patterns. This is not a course that will teach you one method of doll making. This is not a course where you will produce the same result as all the others who are taking the course. You will not be learning how to make a Pale Rook Doll and you will not be learning complex pattern cutting (seriously, pattern cutting is hard, even for those of us who have been taught it, and an online course really isn’t the way to learn it unless it’s by a really skilled pattern cutter who can describe complicated measurements and calculations in writing. I’m not one of those).

What I can teach you is how to find your way of working and to identify what makes you tick.

Which leads me to what this course is.

This is a course where you will be taught to identify your own creative triggers, ideas and impulses and to identify what works for you.  This is a course where you will learn how to design your own style of doll, and to draft and cut your own simple doll pattern that can be adapted, tweaked and developed.  Through this course you will learn how to make a doll that is entirely unique and personal to you.   In this course I will share the methods I use to work through creative blocks and design problems. This is a course where you will build a collection of creative ideas and projects, and by the end of it you’ll have the skills and confidence to develop your own doll designs.  As well as opening up your creative flow, this course will give you the practical skills and tools to create dolls with their own character, style and story.

You’ll receive ten emailed lessons – two lessons each week for five weeks. Some of them are deceptively simple creative warm-ups, and some are detailed, challenging and in depth. The lessons will build up from identifying the very beginnings of your creative thinking – finding the seeds that are worth nurturing, finding the triggers that make you think and feel as an artist, to learning simple, practical doll making skills that can be adapted to your own needs.

What’s the course fee?

Well, that’s up to you. Since we’re living in completely weird times, and this is all new to all of us, I’ve decided to offer this course on a pay-what-you-can basis. You decide how much you can or want to pay. I’m suggesting a minimum of £30 and a maximum of £120. There is no need to justify or explain how much you’d like to pay. I know that for some of you, this is a time of enormous uncertainty so I hope this makes the course more accessible to those who aren’t sure if their future income is secure. Regardless of what you can afford to pay, you’ll receive the same lessons and support as anyone else.

How many places are there?

I’m going to limit the places on the course to the number of students I can comfortably connect with over the duration of the course.  I want to be able to offer one to one email support for those who would like or need it.  I don’t want this to be one of those courses where students are flying solo and the teacher has no real connection with anyone.

If you’d like to register, you can complete the contact form below (registration is currently closed, but will reopen again at 8pm (UK time) on the 26th of April), only your name and email are required, although messages are nice!.  I will email you full terms and conditions, plus a payment link within 24 hours.  The first lesson will be sent out on Monday the 11th of May, and then on every following Thursday and Monday afternoons.

Finally, THANK YOU SO MUCH for all of your interest and support.   We are living in strange and frightening times and it’s hard to not feel helpless and overwhelmed, especially when we’re all hyper aware of just how amazing our emergency services, our postal workers, cleaners, shop workers, delivery drivers and many more others are right now.  In times like this (what times have ever been like this?!) I try to find ways to be useful, and I hope that this course is useful to some of you in what ever way, whether it’s creativity and solace during a frightening time, or just something to do while you’re stuck in the house.

I am so grateful to have so much support and connection.

Keep safe and take care for now.

The course is now full, thanks to everyone for your interest. 

Ushas Rising

Midden dolls

I have been putting this off for ages, mostly because I’ve been avoiding writing for so long that it’s now become a bigger deal than it would have been if I’d just kept this blog updated and ticking along in the first place. I miss writing. I really do, but it falls away when I get stressed, yet it’s always what makes me feel grounded and relaxed once I’ve got my thoughts down on paper.

So what’s been happening? An emotional cluster-fuck of a year to be quite honest, but the sun has come out now and I’m looking back wondering how the hell it all happened and how the hell I got through it, but here I am.

My work’s changed though.

It’s become darker and bigger and has taken on a bit of a life that I’m not quite making sense of yet.

I can be quite passive in terms of decision making about what I make and why I make it. I follow my intuition and instinct and flow with whatever comes to me as a piece comes to life. I’ve never been very good at deciding exactly what to do and then following through with intention until it’s finished. My process goes more like, “oh, here’s a beautiful piece of fabric, what shape does it want to be?, ok now follow what it wants, ok now it wants to be embroidered, let’s dip it into some dye to see what marks and patterns come out of that and where they want to go, oh now the dye needs some sanding, ok, let’s do that then draw a face, oh this face is taking on a life of it’s own, ok, let’s just let it be what it wants to be…..”

Creatively, I tend to respond and adapt to what comes along. This is not a bad thing, in fact, it can be a very good thing and it’s served me well. I trust that whatever wants to come out of me will do so in it’s own time and most often in a language that isn’t fully clear to me until I have enough time to look back and understand it. It’s as if my creative mind won’t speak directly to me, it only speaks in dream images, symbols and impulses. It whispers, I do as it tells me. It rarely steers me wrong.

Self portrait doll 2018/19

Through most of last year, (and the aforementioned cluster-fuck) I worked on a large doll that had no name, no timescale, no intention, no expectation. I liked having her around the studio. I worked on her now and then, adding hair, layers of fabric, some embroidery, then lots of embroidery. She felt like more of a companion than a piece of work, and the process of making her felt quite different. Rather than my creative process whispering and nudging, while I respond and flow with what comes, while I was making this particular doll it felt more like…dare I say it….a conversation. We’d hang out and I’d decide what colour her stockings would be and she would decide that her face was detailed enough, and a lot of the time she would just sit next to my work table and simply be there while I worked on other things.

In the spring of this year, once things were gradually getting back to normal, I found myself in what I can only describe as an emotional hangover. After a year of emotional highs, lows and upheaval, my mind felt exhausted, and while the emotional chaos had settled, I felt grey, drained and depressed. It felt like I had run down every possible emotional resource I had, and now that my mind had a chance to rest, it shut down. Everything felt heavy. All I wanted to do was sleep. Going into the studio, the last thing I wanted to do or had the emotional resilience to do was to open up my intuition, and delve into myself to draw out new work.

I decided to make something that would bring some joy back, just for the sheer bloody hell of it. I decided to make a wee band of characters who’d bring a bit of fun to the studio – the sort of wee buggers who’d be knocking important things over and causing a bit of a ruckus whenever I tried to feel sorry for myself. I wanted some light and fun and cheekiness back in my life. What I ended up with were a wee band of tearaways who were far fiercer than I’d originally intended. My creative mind had responded to my demand by giving me what I asked for and then some. I called them Middens.

Plum Midden doll

While making my Middens, there was still a sense of following my intuition, responding to the cloth and the dyes and the developing character of the doll, but as small as it sounds, consciously deciding to create something that would address and fulfil a need in me was a bit of a revelation.

I can’t say “I want.”

I was going to say I “struggle” to say “I want” but to be honest, it really does stick in my throat.

If I try to say “I want” I end up saying “I kind of want this, but to be honest, I’ll be grateful for whatever you have going, or even just whatever’s left over after you’ve taken what you want”.

Creatively this has led to me not always going after what I want and instead flowing with what comes to me. What the fuck am I saying, this applies to my whole blooming life, not just my creative one.

In terms of my work, this means that I am grateful for any inspiration that comes my way and that I respond to it as and when it comes and always worry that at some point it will run out and leave me empty. I worry that if I say “I want” the response from my muse will be “you can’t have”. What actually happened when I did make a clear demand was my muse stepped the hell up and said “YES, thank fuck you’ve actually shown up! I can serve you just as much as you can serve me, where have you been all this time?. Here, have what you want and have a whole load more inspiration from me on top for good measure.”

My default setting seems to be to take whatever comes to me, without demanding anything just in case the answer is no. If you can’t say what you want then it’s not a far fall to not being able to say what you need. If you can’t say what you need and want, what does that do to your sense of identity? In my case it has fed a sense of being a fluke and an imposter when it comes to any kind of success in my life.

I’ve always admired people who can own their success and stride into achievement. People who can stand in the centre of their success and say, “this is mine”.

I never seemed to manage it.

I think a lot of this comes down to me not believing in an identity that allowed me to go after what I actually want. Because I’m not used to asking for what I want, I’m not used to getting what I want so when anything resembling what I want shows up unbidden I think it must be some horrible mistake and that it’ll disappear into nothing as soon as I believe in it. When what I want shows up I try to ask as little as possible from it, and be as gentle as I can with it because I think that if I expect too much it will up and leave. Of course, this means that what I want never gets the full force of my energy, trust and intention, which leads to it not quite working out, which reinforces that same sense of it all being a fluke and not really mine in the first place.

My identity took a battering last year. My circumstances forced me to take a look at a lot of aspects of my life and my self that weren’t serving me. When it came to asking for what I wanted and needed, I couldn’t do it. I only managed it when I was at the point of complete emotional exhaustion. That was the point where I thought, “Fuck this shit, I’m making something that’s going to make me smile.”

This does seem like a very small thing to do, but it opened up a conversation between me and my muses that set me up as an equal rather than a servant to my work.

I’m tentatively asking for other things.

Ushas Rising

I wanted to make a piece that was about power. Not the corrupt, dominating kind that has become so normalised in today’s world, but a power that is nurturing and reviving. This is the sort of power I needed to claim for myself.

Ushas Rising

I made Ushas Rising. I didn’t feel like she arrived from some elusive spring of creativity that flowed through me, but from a clear intention and a conversation between my intuition and my drive. I bloody love her. She felt like the dawn after a stormy night, so once I’d finished her I named her after a Hindu Goddess of the dawn. Ushas isn’t the sort of dawn goddess who opens gently like a flower at first light. Out of the darkness, Ushas drives a shining chariot pulled by, get this…..golden cows! She brings truth and joy and light in the darkness. Hell yeah, that’s the kind of power I wanted to find in this piece.

Previously, I would have worked purely on intuition and months after completing Ushas I would have looked back, noticed a power in her and realised that what I needed from my work at that time was a sense of power.

Now I’m beginning to be able to acknowledge what I need and to ask for it.

Does it seem a bit tragic that this is something that I’m only learning to do at forty-one?

I’m going to carry this on in a separate post because I’ve got a bit of an announcement to make that’s connected to this whole personal revelation. I can’t actually make the announcement until the 4th of July so apologies for what started as getting back into the blogging saddle and ended on a cliff hanger, via a fair amount of rambling self reflection.

’Til the 4th.

Ushas Rising

Creation, frustration, destruction, creation.


I’ve been quiet for a while haven’t I? I realised that I haven’t posted on Instagram or Facebook or updated this website or written this blog in a long time.

Let’s cut to the chase.

It’s been a hard year. I was going to say “tough”, but that’s not enough – it’s been hard. Mostly this has been down to the people and situations around me, and me trying to hold things together without the time and space to sit down, rest and work through what’s happening in my own mind and body as a reaction to what’s happening to them.

A couple of months ago I cut off my long hair and now it’s a jaw length choppy bob. This is the third time I’ve cut my hair from my waist to above my shoulders. The first marked the shedding of a toxic relationship, the second was an act of defiance. This time, this time it was like shedding my skin. I wanted, in fact, needed to see a different face in the mirror.

When I moved into my house, I inherited a tall leafy plant that reached up and out towards the living room window. Over the first few months of taking care of it, it became clear that the plant was dying. It’s leaves were becoming dry and greyish and limp. The trunk was shrivelling up and no matter where I put it or how carefully I tended to it, it wanted to die. One morning I took a knife to the trunk and sawed off the top half, cutting away all the leaves at the top that had once been so lush and thriving. I hacked away at it until about a metre of dying plant came off. What was left was a slim, bare trunk, or what looked more like a stick in a pot of mud. I left it in the corner of the living room, next to the window. I stopped watering it and left it to it’s own devices. A few months later, without me even noticing, tiny green stumps had appeared along the length of what looked like a dead stick. A few weeks after that new leaves were reaching out and up towards the light coming in from the living room windows. I started to water the plant again.

There came a point recently where my dolls lost their faces altogether. At first their eyes closed, then one day their eyes didn’t appear at all. I couldn’t articulate whatever was inside, and despite always being able to find some sort of expression, even just a faint eye nose and mouth in the past in dark or confusing times, there came a point not too long ago where the faces just would not come. My dolls grew wings, scarlet hearts, long articulate fingers, but their faces remained blank.

It felt like I couldn’t go any further with them. Instead of feeling like they were clambering to exist and that I didn’t have enough hours in the day or days in the week to bring them to life, they felt like they’d given up. It was at that point when I decided, or rather felt I had no choice but to give up doll making all together. I realised that if my emotional state can shut down my ability to do this type of work then I need to find another job. Where once my small, calm inner voice was telling me to “make dolls”, it was now silent.

This is a big deal for me. I rely on my intuition, what I call my soul voice or heart voice or inner voice, for guidance in most things. It’s never wrong. It has literally never failed me. It took a long time to tell the difference between that voice and fear, or longing, or need or ego. The difference is that when I listen to this particular voice, it’s calm. It doesn’t bark orders, or plead, or insist or shout; it speaks clearly and calmly, even when it makes no rational sense whatsoever.

So I tried to plough on without it.

I had some ideas for pieces I wanted to make and thought that if I could just keep making, then things would resolve themselves.


Well, sort of.

A doll can take anything from a few days to a few months, or in some cases longer to make. I don’t start with a plan, more of an idea of one central detail, or a feeling or a sound that I want to explore. The ones I started to make around about this time put up, what I can only describe as a fight. Nothing worked. I’d diligently make something carefully and beautifully and it wouldn’t look right. I’d dye it, sand it, embroider it, stitch it – nothing made it seem complete. So I’d leave it alone for a bit, then try again. There was a constant pull between hammering away at it, and leaving it to the side. The dolls felt defiant. They felt demanding and belligerent. One in particular would not leave me the hell alone. Every time I thought I’d got through it and come almost to the point of completion it would not work. I nicknamed it The Firebird because it was like some unruly little harpy that kept harassing me, and the name stuck.

Can I just take a moment to state that I know that these are dolls and that writing about them as if they are tiny little demons who need appeased sounds bonkers. I know this. I have also found that resisting it and not paying attention to what they seem to want from me inevitably leads to time wasting, frustration and freaking out. My mind doesn’t seem to be able to explain what I need to me in rational, straight forward ways – it needs to project the whole thing on to wee cloth creatures. Like I said, bonkers. I know.

Rather than taking three or four days to complete, some small pieces were taking weeks and months and never seemed the way they were supposed to be. I have a personal rule that I do not fuck with those who buy my work – I do not sell or offer for sale work that doesn’t feel right or complete or the best that it can be. This, however, means that churning stuff out and making stuff for money isn’t something I can do. I can’t say, “sod it, it’ll do”.

So I kept sewing, kept hammering, kept trying and my body eventually packed in and one morning I woke up with a frozen shoulder, a dead right arm and no way of doing any more.

Which brings me back to thinking I can’t do this any more.

So I’m not going to.

I had one week of enforced stillness. No sewing. No making. Not much of anything because I could barely move. I’d tried to push on regardless and my body had said no more. What happened though while I rested and watched Kath and Kim on Netflix is that I started to remember ideas I’d had years ago when I first committed to doll making. Ideas that I’d never followed through on because I had found a flow and a niche in sewing them from calico.

I looked out pieces I’d made that were more about tearing things apart or salvaging scraps or winding cloth around wire, pieces that weren’t made to be seen or sold. I found half sewn dolls that had been on their way to being completed and I sanded the top layer of fabric off of them, drenched them in dye and mud and tore them up. I reconnected with the part of me that doesn’t know what the hell I’m doing – the very part of me I’d been trying to escape, the very part of me that I was immersed in when I started making dolls in the first place. 

And like the plant in the living room – there is a certain type of creation that comes from an act of sudden destruction, a tearing down and slicing off and ripping apart. It’s a type of creation that can go one of two ways – the shock can make you desperately cling on to what it was before and you can try to recreate it as closely as possible to what it was, all the time knowing that it will never be the same; or that same shock can make you rebuild in a way that makes more sense now, a way that grows out of what you’ve sliced off but is fresh and free of dead leaves.

It’s a scary thing to do though. This year has been so emotionally draining that what seemed to make sense was to reach for something stable, something reliable and I’d hoped that my work would be that safe place. Instead it felt like the dolls were angry with me ( I KNOW! Bonkers, I get it). It was as if they wanted me to let the instability and the chaos in to run amok. It’s only now that I’ve let it happen that they are settling down and coming to life again.
It’s a fine line between knowing and respecting your process and tumbling headlong into self indulgence. Again I have to remind myself that I am incredibly lucky to be able to have this work to do. I have to remind myself of when I worked three minimum wage jobs to scrape by and how that’s the reality for many people. Mind you, I remember years ago, sheepishly explaining to a business mentor that my creative process involved “intuition”, and how she went with it and how we were both right to go with it and how well it’s served me and how important it is to have acknowledged that part of my working process. Maybe all of this is only self indulgence when you try to pick it apart and glorify it or condemn it. Maybe it simply is what it is, it’s part of what I do. Creation, frustration, destruction, creation.




The Pale Rook

When I was at Primary school, I remember being told a story about a fox and a crow. The teacher was reading it aloud while we sat on the floor. In the story the Crow is carrying a piece of food and in order to trick her into dropping it, the Fox tells her that he wants to hear her beautiful singing voice. The Crow caws, she drops the food, the fox steals it. The moral of the tale is don’t be fooled by flattery, yada, yada, yada.

At the point in the story where the fox pleads with the crow to sing her beautiful song, I remember the teacher looking over the top of the book and asking us with a half smile “does the crow have a beautiful voice?” . I didn’t get the joke. Everyone else seemed to know what was going on and they all said “no” and laughed.

I really didn’t get it.

To me the caws of a crow were one of the most beautiful sounds, and I listened to bird song a lot. I spent a lot of my childhood either close to trees or literally in the branches of trees, and I would listen carefully to bird song then try to mimic it back to the bird in the hope of making some sort of meaningful connection or even having a conversation!

To me, the crows caws, clacks, and knocks were sublime! So much variation, so much character – I just knew that they weren’t just singing, but having real conversation with each other and I ached to be able to join in.

Crows have featured a lot in my work in the last year. Not as much as I would have liked because it took a long time to get them right. My first collection of them was called The Story Tellers. I promised myself a series of nine, so far there have been four. I have also promised myself that I’ll keep one for myself. I love all of my dolls, but the making of crows has felt different. With most of the “human” dolls I make, they come from a place within me that needs to be expressed or seen. With the crows it comes from a need in me to feel closer to them. Of all the dolls I make, it’s the crows that seem the most “other” to me. My dolls are mostly self portraits in one way or another, but the crows are where I reach out and try to connect with something beyond myself.

Right now I’m finishing off a pair of hooded crows that I’ve had in mind for a while. Hooded crows have a particular place in my heart, as it was a hooded crow that I finally managed to make some small contact and connection with at a time when I was deeply lonely.

I didn’t even know hooded crows existed until I visited Norway for the first time.

They are the same size as typical crows, but instead of black feathers, their bodies are a soft, dove grey colour.   Their heads and wings are black, hence the name “hooded”.  One giant one seemed to spend a lot of time around the cabin I spent a lot of time in, and would screech and caw any time anyone would walk down the path. I would make soft, reassuring sounds, or gently announce my presence as it would swoop and squawk at me, and eventually after a while, it stopped cawing. It would come a little closer. It would look at me, trying to work out what I was and why I was telling it “it’s only me, calm down, I’m not going to bother you”.

It would still shriek at anyone else who dared walk down the path, but over time it recognised me and would accept me entering it’s “territory” and simply watch me. There’s something about a wild creature showing an interest in you that opens you up to the reality that we, as humans are not in charge. We often confuse the ability to appear dominant with genuine superiority. We build houses, and roads, we use the internet, and wear shoes and take selfies, but how well would we cope for just one day alone, naked and left to our own wits in a forest? The crows are part of a community. I can’t help feeling we as a species would be in a better position if we saw the rest of the world as our community and neighbours instead of our subordinates and inferiors.

The more time I spent among the crows, the more I realised how much they understood, how perfectly adapted they are to their world. Some nights I would sit outside on the moss and I could feel them gathering, anticipation building as more and more crows would arrive in the trees over head until it was difficult to see what was tree and what was crow, until the air felt electric, the way the atmosphere feels at the beginning of a festival, when everyone is gathered but the music still hasn’t begun, and then finally, as one they would all on some mysterious signal take flight and soar across the fjord towards whatever it was they’d been discussing above me.

Another time, I was walking along a different path with my dog, and a huge hooded crow was working on a large piece of food it had found. I spoke to it, as I now tend to do with all crows, and it took a good long look at my dog and I before hiding it’s food under a rock, then hopping on top of the rock to watch us pass by. I looked back to see it still watching us, then plucking it’s dinner out from under the rock again.

I get asked about the name The Pale Rook a lot. I tend to half tell the truth when I answer, that the image of a white corvid in the Gormenghast trilogy inspired me, as the bird was the eyes and ears and spy of my favourite character Gertrude. That’s true, but it’s not the whole truth. Part of it also came from sitting among those crows and wishing that for just one hour I could be one of them. And I’m pale, very pale, especially for a corvid!

Me in 2013 with one of my first crows

When I first decided to make dolls, in fact, when I decided to sort of work my way back to making dolls by making “creatures”, the first thing I decided to make was a white crow. It wasn’t my most successful project, but it got me sewing and thinking again, although the crow I made sat mostly forgotten until I started making corvids again last year, this time ones with “human” bodies, somewhere between crow and human. It all came from that same need to be closer to something that I thought I’d never be able to fully connect to. 

A few weeks ago I visited a wildlife sanctuary in Ayrshire in the south west of Scotland. It was a sort of hen (bachelorette) party for my sister who doesn’t really like hen parties, but loves animals. This isn’t a usual thing for the sanctuary, but my sister has been a fund raiser for their work for a long time and they made a special exception for her. I hadn’t really looked into the sanctuary too much before hand. I knew that they rescued injured wildlife, then released the animals back into the wild once they were healed. I was expecting foxes, hedgehogs, badgers – that sort of thing, and that’s what we saw. We visited the hospital full of young birds who’d fallen out of nests. We met a bald hedgehog who couldn’t be released because of how vulnerable she is without spines to protect her. We met two foxes who had been hand reared by a well meaning human, and could now not be released back into the wild until they were wary of humans again. We met seal pups who’d been abandoned or injured, and who we were reliably informed, were vicious wee buggers given half a chance.

After the tour we had some tea and coffee and fed the chickens that had followed us around the sanctuary for the last hour and a half. We were getting ready to leave when the member of staff who’d been showing us around told us to wait because she wanted to show us one more thing.

We followed her down a path through the woods to a collection of large aviaries with different types of birds who were there for one reason or another. I walked on ahead until I caught a flash of a long pale pink beak and snowy feathers. I knew his eyesight wouldn’t be great so I spoke gently to him to let him know I was coming as I edged towards the front of his huge aviary, hoping I wouldn’t frighten him, and from the back of his roost he flew straight towards me and landed inches from my face – an enormous, pure white crow.

His name is Jeremy.

There are times in life that I become hyper aware, knowing that this is something special that needs my full attention and that I am storing a memory that will be with me for the rest of my life. I don’t take photos, I don’t try to capture or hold the moment – I allow myself to experience it fully for as long as it lasts.

I don’t know what Jeremy and I must have looked like to the rest of the group, but they all held back and stayed well behind us, then they all wandered off to see the rest of the animals along the route. I remember someone behind me asking “is that your spirit animal?”. I’m not sure if I replied. I’m also not sure how long I lingered there with Jeremy, who hadn’t flown back to his perch yet, and was most likely wondering why the hell I wasn’t feeding him (I’m a romantic, but even I know he’d flown at me expecting his lunch!) , but eventually I pulled myself away from him and found the rest of the group.

I’m hoping it won’t be the last I see of him.

In Celtic and Gaelic mythology, a white crow has the same meaning as a “black sheep” – an outsider, one who doesn’t blend in with the group. Someone who can’t help but be seen for their inability to fit in.

That’s largely how I felt among humans in Norway, and on many levels how I felt for most of my childhood too. Maybe that’s why as a little girl I would climb trees and try to talk to birds. Why I would build them nests and hope they would move in and start a family.

While we were visiting the bird hospital at the sanctuary there was a large black crow in a cage in a corner eating a bit of a grisly lunch. He was recovering from an injury and was due to be released soon. It was upsetting to see him in a cage, but it was the closest I’d been to a crow since my time with the noisy hooded one on the path at the cabin. My sister saw me watching him, and I told her that in Norway I had “had a crow”, then quickly realised that I had never “had”, or indeed wanted to “have” a crow. They’re at least our equals and on rare occasions, if we respect them, we can share a special moment with them.



I see, I think, I wonder … when the kids met the crows.

I’ve just arrived back in Glasgow after the opening of my exhibition in the Tig Gallery.  My first solo exhibition.  My first exhibition where I felt like I had something to say and where I met actual people, face to face, who had never seen my work before and who had opinions about it that they wanted to share with me.

Right now I am exhausted.   I worked flat out for about three months on this show and up until about two hours before the doors opened I was still sewing.

Until last night, my work has been shared mostly online.  Some of you buy my work, some of you read about it, some of you send me messages about it, but until last night it felt, somewhat ironically, private.

The opening night was lovely.  Lots of people braved the rain and the cold of the first night of a Scottish west coast autumn to come out and drink champagne and see the show.  Many of them wanted to talk to me about the work and share their thoughts about it and it was helluva daunting.  If someone sends me an email, I can read it, reply, think about what they’ve said, then close my laptop and carry on with my day.   It’s different when someone is right in front of you and you can see their eyes and hear their voice.

They got it though.  Within twenty minutes, one woman had approached me to tell me that she’d been moved to tears by one of the pieces.  The one piece that had moved me to tears when I made it.  The one piece I needed to make because it was demanding to be brought to life, and she got it.  She understood and was kind enough to find me and tell me that she had been moved by it.

This morning Ros, the director of the gallery had arranged for the local primary school kids to visit the gallery and have a chat with me.  At first I was a little concerned that my work often includes boobs, bums and nipples, and that maybe this could be a bit of a bone of contention, but the head mistress thought this would be fine and it was.  Ros regularly invites the local kids to come to the gallery.  We both come from a similar background in art education in Glasgow’s museums, and Ros is committed to connecting kids and young people with art in engaging ways.  Before the kids arrived she told me about a ‘game’ that they play when they visit.

It’s called “I see, I think, I wonder”.  The kids have a look around the gallery, take photos if they like, then choose a piece of work that they are drawn to for whatever reason and then tell the rest of the group what they see – it could be a description of the piece, how it’s made, what it looks, whatever.  Then they talk about what they think about the piece, their reaction to it, whether it’s how it makes them feel or their opinion on how it’s been made, or what they think it might be about.  Finally they share what they wonder about the piece.  Again, this can be something practical like how some part of it has been created or anything at all that they want to question or investigate a little big further.

This was to be the first time that children, other than those in my own family, would engage with my work and, let’s face it, kids are WAY more honest than adults when it comes to things like this, so I was very interested in how they were going to respond.

When they first arrived I didn’t want to tell them anything at all about what I do or why I do it.  I wanted them to come to it with just their own open minds.

The first kid blew my head off.  He chose to talk about one of the large black crow dolls – a half crow, half man, perched on top of an antique suitcase. He told me that he saw a man turning into a crow, but who’d been frozen as if a magic spell had been caught and held still half way through.  He said it was definitely a man turning into a crow, and not a crow turning into a man.  This kid is ten years old.   This kid needs to start writing my artist’s statements for me.


A girl stepped up and chose to talk about the other crow doll, a female with large rounded hips and a ruffled black muslin collar.  She told us that this one had a different story.  The girl said that this one had been a circus performer, then something had happened, something that had frozen her in time,  but she is waiting and not giving up that time, she knows that’s still who she is.  This kid is also ten years old.  I want this kid to be my therapist.

This went on around the room as each of the children took the rest of the group to something they were interested in and talked without any apology or self consciousness about how they responded to it.  I would struggle to get a group of adults to do the same.

“This doll does yoga”

“A cat ate all the fish and left just the bones behind”.

“These look like they’ve come from the sea”.

“The crow man is wearing a diving suit that’s not orange”.

“How come it’s got nipples?”

It was bloody brilliant.

The teacher thanked me for talking to the kids, but I got at least as much out of it as they did.  I recommend it to anyone who creates anything – invite a group of kids to tell you what they see, what they think, and what they wonder, because they go right to the core in ways that I as an adult massively overcomplicate.

Next week I’ll be back in the gallery working in a studio just off of the exhibition space and hopefully meeting more visitors.  I’ll be teaching two kids workshops where we’ll be making animal masks and creating stories around their characters.  I’m looking forward to it even more now that I’ve met some of the kids and have some idea of how creative they are.



It’s now almost two weeks since I wrote the first half of this post.  The ten year old girl I mentioned above is called Catriona,  and she came back to the gallery last week to take part in the mask making workshop with me  After the class she asked me if she could come back the next day to show me some of her drawings.

Catriona has one of the most vivid imaginations I think I’ve ever known.  She doesn’t just draw and create beautiful, interesting things – she creates whole worlds.  She can tell you every single detail about a character – their history, their relatives, what bought them to the point of the story she’s telling.  She also has an incredible knack for actually telling the story, for narrating with tension and atmosphere and suspense.

There was a lot of talk about what she could do when she grew up.  As much as I believe she has an amazing future ahead of her, I couldn’t help but be astounded by just how much she is already achieving.  She has the mind of a movie director. Of the sort of writer who has enormous worlds, mythologies and dynasties in her mind, fully formed just waiting for their turn to be spoken out loud.

I asked her again about the story she’d told about the crow dolls, and if she would let me record her telling the story.   I carried one of the dolls over to the table where we were sitting,  and as the adults in the room closed our eyes, she told their story.  She has very kindly agreed to allow me to share that story here.

The Story Tellers – by Catriona, age 10

The story is about two brothers in a circus act called The Two Crows.

The brothers lived together in a cave because their parents died when they were very young.   One day the circus came to town, and they went to the Ring Master and asked “please sir, may we have an act in your show?”   The Ring Master said “Of course you may, but on one condition;  you must bring your own costumes”.

So the brothers went back to the beach and searched all over for hours, and had almost given up, until they found two dead crows and decided that they could use beaks and feathers to make their costumes.  They gathered up all the bits and pieces, then headed back to the cave to build a fire and get some sleep as they would need to have their act ready soon.

After making their costumes from the feathers, beaks and twigs, the brothers went back to the Ring Master who welcomed them into the show and quickly put them to work rehearsing for their debut.   The brothers practiced their act back stage as the audience began to fill the tent.   Among the audience was a strange man, who carried an unusual magical looking stick or wand.   He sat quietly among the crowd.

The Two Crows drawn by Catriona

By two o’clock, the bell rang and it was time for the brothers to perform their balancing and juggling act.  For ten minutes the brothers performed, then something peculiar happened.  The thing the strange man was carrying in his hand was different, something not right and suddenly he threw it at both of the brothers.  They froze.  The audience moved quickly out of the circus tent, everyone left, but the brothers were still frozen half way between crow and boys.











The Artist’s Statement – Part Three

I will be hanging my exhibition in one month from today.

I freaked out a bit about a week ago.

I’m on track now, mostly after writing about my process, what’s important to me and why I’m actually doing this, in a clear and hopefully articulate way and sending it off to Ros at the Tig Gallery to add to the press release for the show.

This is the bit that’s always a mental and, let’s face it, emotional challenge – bringing it to a point of conclusion. For almost three years now, I’ve been working and making and sharing things online and (you have no idea how grateful I am for this) selling my work. It’s been ongoing and I’ve been loving it, but this…this is something a bit different. It’s exactly what I need and it’s come at exactly the right time but I can feel a real resistance to bringing it all to a head and saying “This is me. This. This is what I spend my time working on and it’s the best I can do, go look at it”. It feels easier to go, “Here’s something I made, I love it and I’m going to do some more of it soon”.
With an exhibition, I need to be able to say that this is it. For now. For this particular point in time, but I still need to stand in that space with everyone who comes along and say, “yep, this is what I’m about”. It feels like a very high stakes point in my work, and personally, it’s making me feel very vulnerable.

Shit, that’s the first time I actually realised there will be a whole load of people there and I’ll need to talk to them and tell them things about what I do and why I do it.

When I wrote my statement about my work and about my aims for the exhibition I had to really look at what I do and why I do it and one of the refreshing things was identifying that a very important aspect of my work is that it’s taken just to the point of completion and no further. It’s about transformation. Fabric into a face, cloth into character, stitches into soul. It’s also about my own desires, the ones that only really express themselves in my work.

It’s taken me nearly forty years to acknowledge that this is what I do. This is my thing. I don’t bring my work to a full, complete, polished conclusion, I leave aspects of it suspended and seemingly still in the process of transformation. I used to feel that this meant that my work wasn’t accomplished or completed and that I was somehow avoiding taking it to a conclusion. When I described my work in the past, I would sidestep this point because it didn’t seem like the right thing to say. I had to make excuses for it, or to promise that I’d get round to “finishing” it at some point down the line.

Even when I started making dolls, the reason I used calico cloth instead of lovely new fabric is because for me they were just tests. Toiles. Like when you make a pattern for a garment and test it out in simple, inexpensive fabric before cutting it in something luxurious. I thought I would make perfectly sculpted faces, and tested it out in pencil first. I thought I would make intricately detailed clothing for them, but the loose, layered collars worked better, and most of them looked complete when they were still naked. I kept intending to be a bit more “polished” with my pieces, but in the end it turned out that what made them mine was the balance between being caught right at the point where they were transformed from fabric into their own character.

The dolls for the Tig show are more raw than a lot of the pieces that you might know me for. The show is called The Book of Secrets, a reference to the grimoires and journals of herbalists and alchemists, the place where they keep their dreams and discoveries and desires and plans. Sometimes my dolls feel like little magical objects to me. Little votives or fetches that I can send out a little part of myself into the world through, or that I can see a part of myself in that’s hidden from me the rest of the time. A theme that runs through the show is desires and dreams, ones that are hidden and to an extent, pushed down into the subconscious.

I thought I would feel quite exposed showing that secret, hidden side of myself in this show, but instead, so far, it feels like a massive relief.

I couldn’t do it before. Not deliberately or consciously anyway.

In the last year there’s been a real shift for me in terms of how open I am with myself and a willingness to say what I really want. To acknowledge what I really need to say.

I didn’t think this blog post was going to go this way, but here it goes…

About the time I started to make this work, and for a few years before, I’d been going through a very difficult time personally. I don’t need to say what or how or where or why, because I am pretty sure that you know what it means to go through something painful. Something that changes you. Or maybe something that silences you.

So I started attending counselling about a year ago.

I started counselling because I had gotten to the point where I couldn’t not speak any longer. I was angry all the time. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t talk but I couldn’t stay quiet. I didn’t want to talk to anyone who cared about me because I didn’t want them to feel it too, or hear it or know it. It felt like all I’d be doing was spreading what I was feeling rather than easing it. And what’s more, I didn’t think anyone would believe me because I’d been seeming to function for so long without saying anything.

So without telling anyone, and for the first time in my life, I found a service that could provide counselling and I booked an appointment.

I spent my first session crying, but numb. I talked a lot about details and events and facts and things that had happened that had brought me to that point. My counsellor asked me about feelings. I said I didn’t have any. I looked for them. I really did try to find something that felt like an emotion but there was nothing I could touch. I knew where they were but not how to reach them.

The feelings came out eventually of course, over the next months. It took time. I resented my counsellor. Then I wasn’t so sure, then I switched to another one and eventually I felt like I could squeeze out something that mattered to me. Words dredged up from my throat and, bloody hell, it hurt. It actually physically hurt to speak, as if things had been buried down a well, and that every time I spoke something barbed and jagged was being dragged through narrow walls and up and out into the light.

It was exhausting.

The thing is though, that once I had found that safe place, and thank God I did, once I felt safe and once I felt heard, it wasn’t painful any more. Saying things and having a counsellor look at me and hear me, without any judgement, but simply acknowledging what I was saying, was the greatest relief I think I’ve ever felt.

I also realised in those sessions just how much I had said in my life that was really what I thought I was supposed to say.

In the past, if I had wanted to say something that wasn’t really expected or acceptable or typical, then I felt I would need some sort of defence or argument to back myself up, which meant bracing myself for a confrontation, or isolating myself to avoid one altogether.

And it went back through my whole life too. Every time a layer was revealed, there would be another one underneath it needing to be peeled away. I saw a pattern of not just self-capping, but self-smothering. All the things I agreed to or avoided or kept quiet about. When you don’t feel heard you either say what you think will be accepted, or you become silent.

I realised in those sessions that what I said and what I did was just the tip of the iceberg of what I felt and thought and most importantly, needed to say.

Over the next few months, it was as if a big blockage had been gradually dissolved and I felt clearer and happier and lighter. I felt that I could not only ask for what I wanted, but that I could also say no to what I didn’t want.

I felt like me without the bullshit. And by bullshit I mean the layers and layers of sticky crap and crud that builds up from years of painting countless glossy veneers over what I really needed to say.

Towards the end of the sessions, I told my counsellor that I was concerned about not being able to speak the same way once the course of sessions had finished. That I wouldn’t be able to be as open as I had been there. The world doesn’t work that way. Maybe it should, maybe it doesn’t need to, but in reality we need to edit ourselves to at least some extent to get along with the rest of humanity most of the time.

Her guidance was to seek out and to know and to acknowledge the people and places where I was heard. Even if they are few and far between. Not to expect it or need it all the time, but to understand that there are places and people who get it.

I want my work to be one of those places.

It’s hard to say that because, part of me still wants to make pretty things that people will like and want and find impressive, but fortunately (and again, you have no idea of the massive gratitude), I have people who support my work, either by buying it or sharing it online or telling me they like it, or whatever. And oddly enough, the pieces I make when I feel most vulnerable, whether that vulnerability comes from pain or joy, are the pieces that people write to me about. The ones that touch them in some way that they can’t quite understand.

Ruby, one of the first cloth dolls I made.

When I started to make the work that you maybe know me for, I had no idea that anyone would see it. I made it because I needed to have a voice and it was the only one I could find. The dolls could express what I couldn’t. I’m still not sure what they were saying, but making them was compulsive. They demanded to be made.

At the time, my first cloth dolls were forced to the surface and were guiding me more than I was directing them. It’s different now. I can look at where they come from and why. But I don’t want my work to be therapy for me. I want it to be relevant beyond my own head, but I think that it needs to come from an authentic place in me to do that. I hope that if my work comes from that place, it will reach the same place in someone else.


Like the other two Artist Statement blog posts, I really had no idea where this post was going when I started writing it let alone that it would be the end of a trilogy! The first one was me wondering what the hell I was doing, the second one was me wondering why the fuck I was apologising for it, and this one…. I’d like to round this off with some sort of clear lesson or message, but I don’t think there is one. Maybe that’s for you to decide.
True to form, a bit of this post was clear and real and focused, and now I’m letting it all unravel towards the end.

If you would like to read the other Artist’s Statement posts you can do so here and here.

For now, I’m off to do more work for the show.






How I Make Hands


I love my hands. I love hands in general, they are one of the first things I notice about people. I’m as fascinated by people’s hands as I am by their faces, because for me they can be just as expressive.

I spend a lot of time making the hands for my dolls. Sometimes a pair of hands can take as long to make as an entire torso or head for the same doll. I thought you might like to know how I make them. The best piece of advice I can give you when making these is to TAKE YOUR TIME. There’s often a tendency to rush through the smaller details, but for me it’s the time taken on the smaller details that counts.

Creating the pattern or template

I tend to draw most of my patterns free hand for each doll. I also usually make the hands of my dolls last, so their shape and size is determined by the rest of the doll.

Work out what size your hand pattern will be by placing the arm on a sheet of paper and drawing the width of the wrist opening. Draw a wrist, long enough to fit into the arm opening.


Now look at the size of your doll’s face. Naturally, hands are about the same length as your face from the chin to the middle of your forehead. From the top of the wrist you’ve drawn, measure straight up to give you the length of your hand based on the length of the face from chin to the middle of the forehead.


OK, so now we have the key measurements in place and you can draw the rest of the hand. The key here is to keep it simple, think of a mitten, rather than a slim elegant hand.

Make sure that there is a curve between the thumb and the rest of the hand. This will make it easier to turn the hand the right way around with the seams smoothly curving on the inside.

It may take a few tries before you get find a shape that works for you. I have a whole envelope full of random hand shapes that did or didn’t work at some point down the line. The point of learning to create your own patterns is that you get to alter and choose exactly the shape that suits your project, instead of being stuck with a pre-determined shape then having to try to adjust it to make it more your own. Drawing patterns yourself takes time to get right, but ultimately it means that you’re in control of making your own ideas come to life.

This is a pretty typical hand pattern for me.


I have not added seam allowance because I’m now going to draw directly onto the fabric using this hand template. The drawn line will give me an exact guideline to sew along.

Choosing the fabric, and sewing the hand shape

I personally like to make my hands in two different fabrics, one firmer fabric for the outside of the hand and a softer, finer fabric for the palm. You’ll see why in a minute.

I always, always draw on the firmer fabric. This is because it’s far less likely to move around and become distorted, and when you’re working on small details like this, precision is really important. While we’re on that point, iron your fabric before you start. Seriously, it makes a difference, even if you’re planning on washing and dying and beating up the hand once it’s made. Make sure that you place your template on the straight grain of the fabric. The easiest way to tell where the grain is is to look at the edge of your fabric and place the template in line.

I use a regular, sharp pencil to lightly draw around my hand template leaving a narrow seam allowance around the drawn line. I then place this onto the softer fabric, making sure that the fabric grain is going in the same direction.

P1100238I start sewing around the hand at this point and work my way back to the wrist opening where I do a couple of stitches in the same place to secure the thread, then sew small, close stitches along the pencil edge. Make sure that the stitches are as small and neat as possible. The closer together the better and if you really want to be on the safe side, double back over the curve on the inside of the thumb. Personally, I find that if the stitches are small and neat, there are rarely any problems with the neatness of the hand once it’s turned the right way out. Once you get to the other side of the wrist opening, work a couple of stitches in the same place then double back and finish opposite the place where you started.


Double backing like this avoids the need for knots and reduces the risk of the stitches coming undone when you turn the hand the right way out. Knots tend to show through and ruin the look of small, detailed pieces of work.

If you like you can paint some Fray Stop, or PVA glue along the outside edge of the seam to make it a bit more stable, then let it dry. I usually miss out this step, but find what works best for you.

Trimming and turning

Now carefully snip away the excess fabric on the outside edge of your seams. Now very, very carefully snip down to the edge of the inner curve of the thumb. If you go too close the fabric will fray when you turn the hand out the right way, so leave a couple of millimetres ( a sixteenth of an inch).

This is the bit that loads of people ask me about – turning your hand shape right side out. My best advice is be very patient, take your time and get yourself some of these very useful, and very inexpensive tools.

I use;
– tweezers (not too sharp or they’ll damage your fabric).

– orange sticks (easy to find in the hand and nail section of a pharmacy or supermarket),   today I’m using a small wooden knitting needle instead.

– and nail art tools. I use the ones designed for “dotting”. They have small rounded tips that are perfect for pushing through thumbs without splitting the fabric. I bought a large set of nail art tools for a few pounds online.

First of all, push your tweezers up through the wrist opening of the hand. With your tweezers open, gently push the tip of the hand with the nail tool (knitting needle or orange stick) until you’re able to grasp it with the tweezers on the inside. Gently, and I can’t stress this enough, GENTLY pull it through.


Find the tip of the thumb on the inside of the hand, and start to push it through with the tweezers. It probably won’t go all the way through, and that’s fine. This is where your nail art tools, knitting needles or orange stick come in.

Again, GENTLY push the thumb through to the right side. This can take a while. Be patient. A lot of people give up half way through and end up with stumpy thumbs. If you find that it gets stuck half way, take out your orange stick or nail art tool, and try pushing from a different angle. It will come through eventually, but if you push too hard you risk breaking the stitches or punching a hole in the fabric or seam. If the last bit is stuck, try using a needle from the outside of the thumb to guid the last bit out.

Once it’s through, again, use your orange stick to smooth out the seam on the inside. You should now have what looks like a little mitten. Take extra care to smooth out the curve between the thumb and the rest of the hand.



Take a small amount of stuffing, less than you think and push it into the tips of the fingers using your tweezers. There should be just enough to give the hand some shape. In my experience less stuffing creates a more natural shape. To stuff the thumb, take a small amount and give it a bit of a twist before using your tweezers to push it into the base of the thumb. Use your orange stick or nail tool to then push the stuffing all the way to the tip of the thumb. Again, take your time. Too much stuffing and too much pushing can split the seams.

Sewing the finger details

I don’t draw the finger positions on the cloth, but if you want to I suggest using a vanishing pen, the ones you use for quilting, to mark the position of the fingers.
For the purposes of this tutorial, I’m using dark, contrasting thread so you can see the stitches, but matching your thread to the colour of your fabric can create a lovely subtle effect.

Push your needle in on the palm of the hand, close to the wrist and bring it up at the point where you want to begin your first line of stitching. Leave a “tail” ( a loose, dangly bit of thread that you can deal with later). Work a tiny stitch a couple of times in the same spot. Push the needle through to the other side, and very carefully work your way up to the top of the hand. Remember, we’re effectively sewing the gaps between the fingers, not the fingers themselves. Once you get to the top, work a stitch a couple of times in the same place, then move your needle along to the top of the next finger gap, and continue in exactly the same way.

At the beginning and end of each finger gap, work a tiny stitch a couple of times in the same place to secure the row before moving on to the next one. All together you’ll sew three lines per hand to create the shape of four fingers. Once you’ve finished the fingers,

Can you see why we didn’t put too much stuffing in now?

Sometimes I add hands to arms by inserting the wrist into the arm and sometimes I sew the wrist over the arm. It just depends on the doll.

To insert the wrist into the arm, add a little more stuffing, but not too much to the wrist – not the palm. Using the tweezers, fold this and push it into the arm opening. Secure it with a pin, the stitch it into place.

To add the wrist over the arm, don’t add any more stuffing, grasp the bottom edge of the arm with your tweezers, then push it into the wrist opening.

If you want to give the hand a bit of a curve, simply shape it with your hands before joining it to the arm. It really is that simple. Just manipulating it a little bit with your fingers can create a more realistic curve, the trick is to avoid to much stuffing or it’ll end up misshapen.


So that’s it! It takes time and practice and a lot of patience, but quite straight forward after a few tries.

I would love to hear how you get on with this, please send me photos or tag them on Instagram with #palerooktutorial .

If you have any questions, or if any of you have your own tricks and tips on making hands, please let us all know about them in the comments section.



Time to Strap on a Pair

I usually work on two or three dolls at one time. They go into the same dye bath, share a place on the wall or shelf and generally share the same point of inspiration. Two or three is a manageable amount to work on at any one time and they still feel like a series rather than separate pieces. There’s a kind of flow through the different stages of the process and they all develop together.  I can focus completely on them, and when they are finished they look like sisters. 

Right now I am grabbing hold of too many ideas all at once and I have….ahem….twelve different pieces on the go at the same time. This is why it’s taking so long to get them ready to release on Etsy. Half of them were supposed to be ready at the start of this month, then before they were finished I started a whole load more. They’re almost all still in progress because I keep getting new ideas. I’ve had to hide some of them so that I can focus on one at a time and actually finish them.

One seeds the idea for another, then another and at the moment my studio is full of cloth and clay body parts and little mole hills of fabric offcuts that are too lovely to throw away. I also didn’t help matters by finding some very old books about traditional doll making, which have given me more ideas. I’ve been playing around with different techniques and each one leads my hands to another and round and round we go.

I really need to rein this shit in because I have a lot to get done this summer.

Those of you who are on my mailing list will know that I spent the first day of March travelling through the most stunning scenery on my way to a village in Argyll called Tighnabruaich. It’s pronounced Tee-nah-bru-ay-ch, with the ‘ch’ sounding a bit like a soft growl from the back of your throat.

I was first approached by Robbie Baird, one of the directors of the gallery at the end of 2015. It was a bit of a shock because shortly before hearing from him I’d been digging around the internet trying to work out how I could make connections in that particular part of the world because eventually I would like to move there. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to live. In fact, I can’t remember ever wanting to settle anywhere else. I wanted to live in other places, but I never saw myself living in any of them for the long term. Argyll was and has always been my long term plan.

The view from the beach at Tighnabruiach

At that time I was making plans, or rather trying to take the reins and work out where I wanted to go and be for the foreseeable future, and part of the plan was to start sending down roots in Argyll in the hope that I could take steps to follow through on my dream of moving there. I also wanted to aim for more gallery shows, but I wanted to be selective about which specific galleries I would approach. I had been following the Tighnabruiach gallery for a while and was hoping to connect with them when Robbie sent me an email out of the blue asking if I’d be interested in showing work at the gallery. His email was very professional, meanwhile I was bouncing around, all freaked out and excited that he had contacted me a few days after I’d decided to contact him.

We spoke on the phone, talked about the fable of the Red Shoes, and dance, and lots of other things we both loved, and he offered me a solo show.

It was that fast. It made sense.

The show was planned, we talked about it all coming together then it didn’t actually happen because (and here’s something I didn’t mention at all last year), I injured my shoulder and couldn’t sew.

So the whole thing was postponed ’til this year and on the 1st of March I went back to have another chat with Robbie and his new business partner Roslyn about it.

I took the train to the coast and then a ferry over to the Cowal peninsula where the village is. Just before the ferry set off I saw a massive, speckled Scottish seal who’d popped his head up right next to the boat. He was about ten feet away, and he sat there looking straight at us. When you see seals up close you appreciate just how much they’re like dogs and just how much character and cheekiness they have. He sat watching us for a while before eventually diving back in and disappearing under the surface of the Clyde. When the ticket collector came along, the woman behind me asked if he’d seen the seal, and then she added that it probably wasn’t that big a deal for him because he probably saw them all the time. “Not that close we don’t” he replied. “That one was a good sign”.

The gallery is really beautiful, and I’ll be exhibiting in the main gallery, as well as having a sort of exhibition/residency/studio bit in a smaller gallery just off of the main space. I’ll be running workshops throughout the month that the show is running, and staying in the area for some of that time.

I’ll be working with the local community of artists and local children, running public workshops, as well as producing new work while I’m there. In fact, I might even be basing a workshop on my last blog post about dealing with creative block. It’s all way bigger and better than I thought it would or could be and this is where I get freaked out.

I tend to plan for things to happen gradually. I imagined approaching the gallery, showing some work as part of a group show, or in their shop, then building a relationship and eventually teaching classes and having a solo show. I’d imagined this all happening over the course of one or maybe two years.  In reality it all went from a chat to a solo show over the course of a phone conversation.

I’m torn right now between what I should be writing as a capable and confident professional who knows what they are doing, and the rest of me which feels like it’s completely out of it’s comfort zone.

I felt really uptight and freaked out on the ferry home. Really shaken up. Not anxious, or sad, or happy or afraid. I couldn’t put my finger on it.

I tend to think of my work as therapy, as something that’s healing for me and maybe other people and that’s perpetually not quite there yet. Always on it’s way to something else. Always working towards being something better at some point down the line. As if anyone who thinks it’s good should get a load of what it will be one day when I actually become who I’m going to be.  I imagine that I am setting things in motion so that when I finally get to a point where I can deal with it,  it will all be in place.  As if future me is just waiting for her time to appear and be all-knowing and capable and fabulous in a way that present me can’t quite fathom.

Is that feeling always going to be there? If I’m looking for reassurance from the outside then what the hell will it take for me to feel like I have actually arrived at the fantasy version of myself that I am forever thinking I’ll be in two to five years time.

I’ve come to the conclusion that this is self indulgent bollocks and that I need to start seeing myself as a fully formed person who is actually capable of doing this.  I’m out of my comfort zone, but I need to get the hell on with this.

I really want this. I have this. It’s happening. Now. I think my brain is so excited and a bit afraid of it that it’s hurling ideas at me at a rate that I can’t quite keep up with.

I don’t want to talk about the title of the show or the work I’m making for it just yet, but it will all be drip feeding out on Facebook and Instagram and in my newsletter over the next six months. For those of you who want to see the show but won’t be able to come all the way out to the wilds of Western Scotland, (which is probably most of you), I’m also hoping to exhibit the same show in Glasgow and I’ll be videoing the whole thing so you can see it online. We may even manage a live stream.

Today though, I will be getting back to finishing what I’ve started and completing at least some of the twelve pieces I have waiting for my attention.  Quite a few of the pieces I’m working on use some of the themes and techniques that will be in the larger exhibition pieces, so you’ll be getting a little bit of an introduction to where it’s all going.

Right, time to strap on a pair!




Untangling creative knots when shit is going down.


This has been a really difficult post to write. Since my last one so much has changed and turned upside down that blog writing and doll making seems like such a small and lightweight contribution to make to the world. I never set out to make a massive contribution to the world but it’s hard to not want to when so much seems to be falling apart and changing and crumbling. That’s a bit heavy isn’t it!? It wasn’t mean to be. What I’m trying to say is that I, and just about everyone I know is struggling with fear, anxiety, sadness and frustration at what we are all witnessing around us.

I paint and sculpt to get a grip on reality… to protect myself

– Alberto Giacometti

This quote sums up what I want to feel about creativity at a time like this. Notice how Giacometti’s not saying that his artwork “insulates” him from reality. It doesn’t block it out or wrap him up in a comfortable bubble where the world is fluffy and cosy – it helps him get a grip on reality while protecting himself, which is exactly what makes us useful people when shit is going down.

There’s a reason why art can be such a powerful tool in dealing with even the deepest trauma. Creating can be a small but important act of self preservation which instead of being about insulating yourself from the outside, is about warming yourself from the inside.

Many times when I’ve been going through difficult times, people have advised me to go make art and “use” what I’m feeling and to “express” my difficult emotions and whatever in my work. The issue with that is that when I feel scared or anxious or just plain bad – I can’t work. I can’t do anything and then I get frustrated and then the work gets worse and then on top of having a shitty time in life, my work looks awful, my sense of myself and my creativity goes downhill and then I feel worse. Which makes it harder to work. Which makes me feel worse again.

I decided to take January “off” and focus on completely new work and ideas that may or may not work out. I thought I could set aside time to indulge in work that was stuck in deeper places that hadn’t yet had a chance to come out and show it’s face. I made sure I had enough money saved to work on new things without worrying about selling them, and materials ready and deadlines cleared. The thought of a free flowing, creative January carried me through a lot of hard work at the end of last year.

That was the plan. A whole month. No worries. Just unbridled creativity. How many people get that sort of time and opportunity? How lucky am I?!

It’s now February.

I’m just, in the last few weeks starting to get going because I’ve had what is commonly referred to as “creative block”.

I tend to visualise things in terms of yarn and fabrics and textile structures. I see creative block as more of a knot. A tangle in a ball of yarn. Pulling tighter will make the knots harder to unravel. I find that creative block is like insomnia. Sleep is natural, normal, essential and healthy for all of us. Insomnia is a bitch. Insomnia gets worse the more you try to fight it, insomnia becomes debilitating the more you try to remedy it because what you really need to be able to sleep is a quiet, calm mind that can accept sleep. Sleep is not something you should naturally have to fight for. It makes no sense to have to fight for a natural response to darkness, to tiredness and the need to rest.

A lot of people see creativity as something that needs to be strived for. I tend to see creativity as something that’s natural for just about everyone in one way or another.  While skill is something that needs damn hard work and patience and drive and dedication and practice, and quality and aesthetic judgement are things that take experience and self awareness to develop;  I see creativity as a naturally occurring flow.

That’s not what it feels like when you’re feeling like shit though.  When you need it most it seems backed up and congested with too much pressure behind it and too many obstacles in front of it.

Picture a creative block. It’s a wall. It’s a barrier. It’s something solid and immovable and in order to deal with it you need to break it, hack your way through it or burrow under it. In one way or another that wall or blockage needs to be attacked or broken. These are pretty aggressive ways of dealing with the situation. They sap energy. They get you on the defensive, preparing yourself for a struggle. Also, the next time you come up against one, (and you will!) you’ll be bracing and tensing yourself for another battle.

If instead, you try thinking of it as a knot in a natural flow, things change. The way to deal with the issue is to loosen up, to tease it out.

Here are some of the things that help me smooth out the tangles and find my natural creative flow.

One hourp1090359

Last year I decided to start my day with work that didn’t matter. A small piece of something that would take no more than one hour of my time and that would only exist for itself. No thoughts of where it would go, or how it would progress or of posting it on Facebook or Instagram. And it could be anything, but it had to take no more than one hour of my time.

When we are trying to create something new it’s all too easy to heap impossible importance onto our task. We think it must be fucking ground breaking!!! It must change the world, make up for any previous screw ups and/or disappointments, and ensure your future creative and possibly material happiness for ever. You need to do this, and you need to do this today, maybe in the next few hours because time is running out, there is stuff to do and you’re getting old. And you’ve wasted loads of time already. So take all this grinding weight, all of this necessity and pressure and strain, heave it up on to your shoulders and go make something that looks, you know, effortless and awesome. If you can’t do it you’re a failure and you’re wasting your talent and dare I say it, life.

No, you’re not that important, you’re tiny, one tiny voice, which makes you precious. Your voice is yours no one else’s. Use it to say whatever’s true at that moment.  When you focus on just one small act of creativity with only a short amount of time to complete it, it takes the pressure right off and you can make whatever comes to you in that moment without any fear or anxiety about how important it will be in the grand scheme of things.  The benefit is that it eases you into a creative frame of mind where you can then take on big important projects without the strain and stress.  img_3247

I collaged. I took scraps of paper and fabric and thread and made little compositions that were about the same size as a notebook page. When they started to get boring to work on, I moved on to layering coloured tissue paper in my sketchbook. Sometimes I stitch into scraps of fabric instead. p1090346


I don’t do this every day, because there isn’t always time, and sometimes I don’t feel the need to, but when I feel blocked or frustrated with what I’m working on I go back to this one hour exercise to loosen myself up.

I often feel creatively knotted when I have pressure to meet a deadline or produce something for someone and it’s at these times in particular where this one hour exercise works really well for me. The hour spent on a piece of work that means nothing makes the “important” work flow so much more easily that it actually saves time in the long run. It’s a big risk to take the first couple of times, but it works for me.


I try to meditate for about ten or fifteen minutes every morning. I say try…. sometimes I end up kind of doing it on the train on the way to the studio or while I walk my dog.

I’ve been meditating for most of my life and studied various ways of approaching it. There’s a lot of mysticism and religious weight sometimes attached to meditation which can put people off and add all sorts of unnecessary attachment to the process.

Here’s how I do it.

  • Find somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed, your back straight and breathe. Pay attention to any tension in your face, neck and shoulders. Keep breathing and try to gently relax anything that feels stressed and tight.
  • I imagine any weight that’s on my mind as a giant, heavy grey coat. Huge, wet, heavy, thick – and every single thing that is weighing on me is in that coat. Feel the heaviness of it, feel the itchiness, the discomfort, the burden of it. Then shrug it off your shoulders. Let it fall to the floor. It will still be there in ten minutes and you can pick it up and deal with it then, but for now it’s on the floor and there is nothing you can do about any of the things that need your attention or worry that can’t wait ten minutes while you enjoy the feeling of being out from under the grey coat.
  • Take your attention back to your face and neck and shoulders and ease out any tension you find there or anywhere else. It is very hard to hold on to difficult thoughts and emotions if your face is relaxed. I don’t know why but it is.
  • Any time a thought or worry or anxiety comes to mind, let it stick to the coat on the floor. You can deal with it later.
    Stay with the feeling of being out from under the weight of the “coat” for as long as you like, and get familiar with that feeling. Once you get used to that feeling you can tap into it when you need it.

For me, meditation shows me what my mind is like when it’s not occupied with external factors. The aim isn’t to get rid of any stress and burden and worry in life, but to connect with a part of you that can think and feel clearly, which in turn helps you to deal with what ever shit comes along much more effectively. The point is that the coat isn’t you. You may have to heave it around with you but there’s a clear thinking, fully functioning mind underneath it that needs air.

Finding something bigger and older than me

I like feeling small. I like feeling insignificant in the grand scheme of life and culture and history. I love museums and I’m lucky enough to work with one of the finest museums in the world. I like seeing something that existed before all the things I hold dear. All the things I think I can’t live without. I especially like to see things that were pretty mundane in their life times – a little glass bead or broken bit of pottery that has somehow survived the last five thousand years and is now here in a glass cabinet in Glasgow where thousands of people look at it and marvel at just how incredible it is. I love that once it was sitting on someone’s shelf being completely unremarkable.

My friend Matt makes incredibly beautiful arrowheads and recently he sent me one made from petrified wood. The fossil is a couple of hundred million years old. It used to be part of a tree that actually lived then died then became fossilised and I can now hold it in my hand. That gives me perspective.

Walk ( or just move)


I am very lucky to have a beautiful dog who needs to be walked every day without exception. Before I adopted him I would never go out in rain and wind unless it was absolutely necessary. Now I need to, even if it’s just for ten or fifteen minutes. There’s something about walking that helps me process tangled thoughts and a lot of it comes from the fact that for the time I am walking my dog, or walking to work, all I need to do is walk. I can’t do anything else but walk, so the pressure’s off and ideas and solutions start flowing. I find this works really well when I can’t find a practical way to do something – a technique or stitch or structure that just isn’t working in the studio tends to make more sense when I’m walking somewhere else.

Get off Facebook

Or Instagram or Pinterest or whatever. I’m ashamed to admit that this is the one I struggle most with. It seems so bloody harmless to just go check on things just in case someone has sent me a message or reacted to something, anything that might have been posted or shared or whatever. Seriously, what the hell are we doing? Checking for some kind of connection every five minutes.

Leave it alone for a while. It will still be there when you check it again later. If anything really important happens you will catch up.

Stop looking at other people’s work

You will never, ever be able to do someone else’s work the way they do it. And that applies to all of us. There’s no point in overwhelming yourself with images of all the wonderful things that other people have made. It also gives you a false idea of other people’s creative output. You’re not seeing all the failed attempts or years or dodgy work that’s led up to the perfect, original and beautiful piece of work on their website. It’s hard to look at your own messed up attempts when other people seem to have easily nailed their own and put it out into the world for all to see.

By all means use the internet to help you learn, to see what is possible in terms of skill, craftsmanship and technique, but keep in mind that you might be just starting out and you’re judging yourself against someone who may have spent decades honing their craft. Be inspired by what’s possible, not intimidated. However, when it comes to aesthetics, to the voice of the individual artist, I cannot see a reason to try to imitate anyone. All it does is compound whatever insecurity you already have about your own work.

Another weird side effect of being constantly looped into other people’s work online is that you start preempting the Facebook and Instagram posting potential of your own work. You see someone else’s beautiful vintage cottage studio space and start decorating yours accordingly so you can look just as whimsical and eccentric on Pinterest. You start making work that will look fabulous while it’s still in progress. That is not the right frame of mind to be in when you’re feeling knotted.

In the end it all comes down to measuring yourself against strangers.

Do something completely differentp1090342

Go sing in the shower. Knit socks. Play the ukulele. Walk in a forest. Chat to a stranger. Take a bus to a strange place.   Do
something you’ve always fancied doing. Do something you usually go to great lengths to avoid doing. Engage your brain and mind in an unfamiliar activity for a while. Enjoy the feeling of not knowing what’s happening next.

Alternatively do something mundane that needs doing – clean the rabbit hutch, empty the rubbish, sort the recycling, do your tax return.  Even a short break doing something else can ease the pressure of having to create something awesome, important and earth shattering.


This is by no means an exhaustive list, more an idea of what works for me and what might work for you.   People are very tense and scared and angry right now, and this is by no means an overly simplistic solution to what’s going on in the world.  It’s not about making the world awesome by embracing creativity.  This isn’t my answer to everything.   It’s what I have to work with though.

In the time it’s taken me to write this post, two projects have come along that will help me contribute in a larger way to the changes I want to see in the world. And both of them rely on me using my voice and skill and experience as an artist. I wouldn’t be able to do either of them if I had chosen a different path in life. Both of them are small, both of them are local. Call it synchronicity, call it cosmic ordering; I call it paying attention and having the focus and clarity and confidence in your own mind to grab hold of a chance when it comes along – I am bloody well doing this and it’s my creative flow that’s going to sustain me.