Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Arts in London

A couple of weeks ago we had our annual residential trip to London with some of the children I teach. It's one of those trips where we try to cram in as much as possible and we get home feeling completely shattered, but happy. This year was no exception.

Monday morning and bright and early (6.45am) we met the students at school and set off by coach. It's a long way from the northeast, but we made good time and arrived at our accommodation at about 3pm.

St Paul's at night

We were staying at the Youth Hostel at St Paul's. Its a great location for exploring central London. It's cheap, clean and comfortable. We use it as it's perfectly set up for large groups and is a safe place rather than a large hotel with the general public being able to access all floors. At the YHA you can only access the corridor where your room is. The YHA also provide a great breakfast and packed lunch at a good price. We even had one of our evening meals there.

One of our favourite places to take the group is the Rainforest Cafe. It's a fantastic place to eat. the food is good and the kids love the environment. We walked from there to the Gillian Lynne Theatre to see School of Rock. The Gilliam Lynne Theatre is a modern Theatre, which meant that the view was good, no matter where you were sitting. We had good seats right in the centre. The show is the stage version of the film that stars Jack Black. I wasn't sure if I would like it. It's a good show and I did enjoy it, even if it would not have been my personal choice. Our students really loved it.

Once we had taken our coach back to the hostel and got everyone settles it was time to relax for half an hour before bed. This trip has been the very first I have ever taken where the children have settled quickly on the first night. Consequently, they were up bright and early the next day, ready for our activities.

Inside the globe

We had booked a tour and workshop at Shakespeares Globe. Our group was split into two and each group taken by an actor, who showed us the theatre and talked about why it was built and the way it was set up. then we went off to do a drama workshop focusing on Macbeth, as that's the play they had been studying. They had such a great time.

Making Art at the Tate Modern

Art at the Tate Modern

After eating lunch outside the Tate Modern we explored the gallery for a while. My group found the space where they could make art and together they made pieces to add to the existing installation in the room. we then had a look at some of the artwork on display. the children made their own little videos about the work.

The dome of St Paul's from the inside

We headed back over the river and into St Paul's Cathedral, where they looked for tombs of famous people and some artwork.

As people started to arrive for evensong, our group headed back to the YHA to chill and relax for a bit before tea, which we ate at the hostel. Then we headed back to Shakespeare's globe for the evening performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream. This is part of the summer season and is on over the coming weeks at various times. The children enjoyed the slapstick comedy of the piece, but some found the plot a bit confusing - but then it is isn't it! The performance was excellent. There was lots of audience participation, adlibs, singing and fun. If you get the chance to see it, then you should go. It's well worth it. If you're a bit strapped for cash you can join the groundlings (standing tickets) for just £5.

Some of the sights at the WB studio tour

On Wednesday morning we headed out for a short walk and then collected our bags and back on the coach out of the city to the Warner Brother's Studio Tour. This is where they made the Harry Potter films. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but the tour is excellent. Lots to see and a great advocate for the creative industries - exactly where art might lead you! It was then a very long journey home and a late night.

Hogwarts model

Over the next couple of days, I asked the children which parts of the trip they enjoyed the most. I'm glad to say every different activity was mentioned. They had a great time and I'm planning the next trip already. This never ends!!!

Just a few more days until the summer break and a long rest!

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Plastic (not so) fantastic and other thoughts

It's Plastic Free July! We've all been made increasingly aware of how much plastic we consume and how it's littering our oceans, skies and land. Even when we think we've been responsible and recycled our plastic, to find it's being dumped in huge piles on the other side of the world is, to be honest, shocking! And then to discover the wipes that we've all be using - thinking they were biodegradable- are made from a high percentage of plastic - eugh.


It amazed me when right after the big push for less single-use plastic and plastic bags happened, the local supermarket (That's you ASDA) started packaging root ginger in bags. They hadn't done this up to that point and I was wondering why? it's not a product that goes off quickly. Garlic now comes in plastic net bags - Really ASDA there is no need, and that's before we get started on all the other single-use plastic - Yes I have been watching Hugh and Anita's War on Plastic on iplayer.

I know this is not the only ecological concern with three biggies being Plastics, Transport and Meat-based food products. It sometimes seems like we are powerless to effect a change. and that is the biggest barrier to change - while we do nothing, nothing changes.

Unesco gives some facts about marine pollution here.

This issue will have a long-lasting impact on our planet. I strongly believe that we are to be good stewards of our world and care for it in the best way that we can. To enjoy it wisely and make it better for those who come after us. I think we failed! So can we make it better? I don't honestly know but I think we have to try. I've listed some ideas - these are things I can work on - and a few challenges for myself too. This is nowhere near an exhaustive list and I'd love to hear how you are doing this.
Lindsay Miles of Treading My Own Path has way more ideas that you can explore - she's been doing this much longer than I have.

What can we actually do?

Lobby your local MP and vote for the candidates that will address these concerns.

1. Limit flights we make. This is a biggie for reducing our carbon footprint. I don't actually fly often these days, but I know those who do. If it's short haul is there another option? train, ferry etc

2. Use public transport. If you can, take the bus, train, subway, tube, metro. Here in the UK, the cost of this can fluctuate dramatically, depending on where you live - maybe it's time to campaign for lower fares so more people will choose to use this option.
For me- I have to drive to work. It's too far to cycle safely and the buses are infrequent and I have to get three different ones! So from September, I'm planning to car share with a colleague. My daughter will also be journeying with me on her way to college.
I do have a really small C1 car!

3. If you are able, invest in an electric car or if you need to travel further a hybrid. These are still out of our price range right now but once we can afford it, we will.

4. If travelling locally - walk or cycle. Try to shop locally too!

5. Are you able to work more locally? Could you move nearer your job or look for work closer to where you live?

This one comes under both transport and plastics!
It's really easy to get produce out of season these days - but what is this doing to our environment? Consider the food miles of your goods - are they produced locally or have they come from the other side of the world?
It's often more expensive to buy loose food than the pre-packed identical items. This didn't use to be the case. Loose good were on sale at a much cheaper cost than pre-packed. and it's not too long ago we had "Bin" shops, where produce was stored in big tubs and you helped yourself to whatever you needed. I'd love to see more of these stores returning.

1. So firstly - try to shop locally. Buy from the farm shop, the butcher and baker down the road, not only help keep food miles down, you'll be keeping the local community going.

2. Eat less red meat. If you're not ready for a plant-based diet, try to reduce the amount of red meat eaten and try to increase veg based food a few days a week.

3. Buy loose food when you can and use zero waste shops if there's one close by. Reuse bags, Tupperware, etc. for packaging your purchases. Invest in some strong tote bags to pack your shopping.

4. Look for products that are packaged in glass or cardboard (eg. bars of soap rather than bottles of liquid soap).

5. Lobby your local supermarket to invest in biodegradable cellulose packaging for products that really need a protective covering and lobby them to ditch the single-use and provide opportunities for refills.

6. Invest in a refillable water bottle and use it rather than buying plastic ones.

7. Compost! over the years we have tried to grow a few things, but we've not always been very successful. However, we're trying to set up some raised beds and start to grow the food we eat. I know we won't be able to cover it all, but we're making a start and that means we can start to compost our food waste to use on the beds.

Over a year ago I became more aware of the plastics I was using in my sewing and I have been trying to reduce this as much as possible over the year. I try not to buy synthetics unless absolutely necessary - I don't really like wearing them anyway! but I'm looking much wider now and trying to think about how I can reduce single-use plastic at home and work.

1. Back to the water again - stopping buying sparkling water in plastic bottles. we're going to try using CO2 from John's brewing kit to carbonate water instead - I'll let you know how we get on - otherwise, it might be a soda stream. On my recent school trip to London, we asked all the children to bring a reusable water bottle. We were staying at a YHA and they have stopped giving out bottled water and instead provide a refill station in the canteen for topping up bottles.

2. Avoiding using cling film and choosing cloth, beeswax wraps, waxed paper food covering instead.

3. Order milk to be delivered in glass bottles.

4. Reuse tubs for storage - I take mine to work to store pastels and bits and bobs in the classroom.

5. Store foods in glass jars or rigid plastic tubs that have a long long life and can be recycled.

6. Use a refill store if you have one.

7. Buy toiletries in card or glass, Use bars of soap and shampoo - places like LUSH sell these amongst others. switch to bamboo toothbrushes.

8. Refuse plastic straws. when I had Bells Palsy a few years ago we bought some metal straws, they are great! Many places now will offer biodegradable straws including the Rainforest Cafe in London - I was there this week. I still think for the most part straws are generally unnecessary.

As an artist, I have used acrylic paints. but I'm making a commitment to not replace these and switch to a more environmentally friendly alternative. I will use up what I have, but I'm not buying any more. The same goes at work. I haven't ordered any acrylic this year and instead have opted for the tempera block paints, which come in boxes.

So after all that - I'm still faced with the plastic wrappers that come in packaging, through the post, around my salad, chocolate bars, tea bags, crisps...

What do we do with it?
Of course, we can try to reduce how much we use, and we should. but until the government and shops catch up there is still going to be some of that stuff around. It can't be recycled yet!!!

At home, we're going to start to grow some of our own veg. It's a bit late this year to really get going, but we're hoping to get some quick growing salad and greens in and then we're setting up some raised beds ready for planting. My hubby has bought this book.

I was wondering how I could reuse these plastic products so that they don't end up straight in the bin.
I'm planning some experiments with fused plastics to create durable wraps, bags, purses, pencil cases so that these materials are re-used. I know it doesn't solve the issue. but keeping them out of the landfill as long as possible and hopefully, there will be some developments and they may one day be able to be recycled.

Woooah that was a long post. How do you feel about all this and what are you trying to do?
I think I'll leave you with this. This is my favourite band and they have a lot to say about a lot of this stuff - and more. Have a listen!

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Perfect Prom Dress

Well over a year ago I offered to make my daughter her prom dress. I know her ideas had changed frequently from short beaded pastel coloured dresses to edgier dark designs. She has looked at everything from mint green to black; short to long; full skirt to slim fitting; strapless to full bodice.

By the new year, she had settled on a dress similar to this but in Emerald Green. She didn't really want emerald green, but something much darker and we bought 4m of this Bottle Green satin backed dupion from Minerva Crafts (it was the same colour as my bridesmaid dresses). She had already bought shoes and jewellery and had a clear idea of how it was all going to be styled.

Partially constructed bodice
After looking at her design choice and discussing what she wanted I chose to use the strapless bodice from Gertie's Ultimate dress book and adapted the bias band to create the eyelash bodice, but with off the shoulder bands like the inspiration photo. Narrow spaghetti straps were also added.

The skirt is based on the BHL Anna dress skirt, with the seam lines adjusted to match with the bodice seams.

I made the bodice inner structure from canvas, which was fitted to Bethan before adding boning. I also used the alternations I made to adjust the pattern pieces for the shell and lining.

I made a bit of an error here. I had to make very little adaptations to the bodice pieces, but one thing I did do was take about 1/2cm from each side seam. I should have left this as it was as that extra space was taken up by the boning and by the time I'd sewn it all together it was a bit too tight and I ended up letting out the side seams. DO NOT OVERFIT when using many layers and boning. I used plastic boning as this dress will be going in the washing machine and used it on all the seams in the bodice.

Catch Stitching the seams
I added the bias band once the outer bodice was constructed. The bands were stitched closed for the sections that go off the shoulder and then turned before the raw edges were neatened and sewn to the bodice front and back.

It was a really bright evening!!

The skirt was then sewn and attached to the bodice before adding the zip and lining. I used an invisible zip. I know this is risky with a dress this fitted, but as this won't get loads of wear I think it's ok.

Photo bombed by dad!

I allowed the dress to hang for a few days before heming. I think you'll agree that she looks stunning in it! All set for a great evening of partying!

Friends together

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Cerise lace dress - Review

A couple of months ago I made this stunning lace dress with fabric sent to me by Minerva crafts,
I had a job finding the perfect colour to line it with but eventually chose this stunning turquoise cotton.

As the weather has warmed up a bit I've had far more opportunity to wear this dress and I always get positive comments when I do.

You can read the full post over on Minerva Crafts blog here.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Red Letter Christians UK Launch

I wanted to share a little about the event I attended on Thursday this week.

*Faith-based post*

I have followed the Red Letter Christians blog for some time and many of the posts resonated with me. So when I heard that there was an intention to Launch a similar movement in the UK I was very interested.


On Thursday, my husband and I went to Heaton Baptist Church in Newcastle to hear how this movement started in America and how it might look here. I didn't really know what to expect but came away inspired and challenged by what I heard.

There was a time of singing - as there often is in a regular church service, and then a couple of local groups shared how they were seeking justice for people in the area. One of which was Action Foundation, which works with refugees in Newcastle and the North East and the other was Common Change, who work in small groups to pool financial resources to help those in need in the local community.

The Founders of Red Letter Christians in the USA, Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo shared what the vision of this movement was. They are both inspiring speakers - but very different.

The movement focuses on the words of Jesus. These would have been printed in red in some Bibles to draw attention to them. It's a call to live by those words and follow the example of Jesus, rather than the policies and rules that have grown around the church today.


I don't know what your stance is on matters of faith. but I do know that in our society Christian can be a dirty word among many. Often the term Christian has been associated with hatred for those who are LGBTQ+, hypocritical, legalistic and particularly in America this has sometimes been linked to which political party you follow too. Many Christians hate that this is what the term Christian has come to symbolise.

The Red Letter Christians movement is a move against that. It's a desire to follow Jesus' example of love and his words that bring justice and life. It's a call to love and stand with those who are persecuted, homeless, poor, bereaved...  
...the list goes on.

I know I'm not perfect. I know I won't get it right all the time - that's not the point. I can honestly say I want to be a Red Letter Christian. A follower of Jesus. I want to learn from him to live my life as fully as possible in his way and to make a difference to the world. I can't do this on my own. I need God's spirit to help me and my friends and church to support and challenge me. but I'm up for the challenge - are you?

You can find out more about Red Letter Christians UK on their website, Facebook and Instagram.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Recent Art Adventures

It kind of makes sense that as an Art teacher I enjoy Artmaking. This is true, although I don't often spend as much time creating as I would like. It takes a while to get all my materials out and set up, so I have to plan to spend a whole day making if I'm doing this at home and I take up A. Lot. Of. Space. when I'm working. My sewing, on the other hand, is usually confined to a much smaller area, unless I'm cutting out and therefore is easier to pick up and do a bit at a time. so I always take opportunities to attend workshops when I can.

Last week I have been fortunate to attend some CPD at The Northern School of Art at Hartlepool (formerly known as Cleveland College of Art & Design). It was a bit of a trek from school, but well worth it and it was inspiring to see the degree shows at the same time.

The CPD was focussed on printmaking with found objects. The instructor was Helen from Northern Print and she went over a range of different printing processes and how we could achieve effective results in the classroom, with or without a press.

As often happens I found myself drawn to the monotype processes. I don't know if it more to do with the painterly aspects of this type of printing or the immediacy and unpredictability of the technique that I like. I played with the layering of textures and shapes, using both hand printing and the press to achieve different results.

What was new to me was using a printing medium for using with acrylic paint. I was pleasantly surprised how long the paint stayed open with the medium added. I think I will buy some to use with my Gelli plate at home as I have found the fast acrylic drying time limiting when working with the Gelli plate. When I make monoprints at home I usually use oil-based ink, which I have grown to love but it can take a long time for the inks to dry and then there is the cleaning up!

I am constantly drawn to printmaking and would love to pursue this further, especially textile printing methods.

On Saturday we also had our monthly crafternoon and I decided to start a painting. So I took along some paints and some design ideas I've been working on and began to create the underpainting. I go from excited to bored very quickly and I'm starting to realise that I like my paintings to have textural qualities and at the moment this work is far too flat and the colours and layout are not quite right. Over the coming weeks, I will be adding to this to start to bring it to life. I really do like to work with mixed media and would love to bring some stitch into this work at some point. Watch this space!

It's always amazing to see how my preferences and ways of working change and develop over time. I wonder where this will go next?

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Last Minute Alice

The exam season is drawing to a close and it's almost the end of the university year. My eldest son will be back home on Monday after completing his first year at Leeds University. My daughter takes her last GCSE on Friday the 14th of June and my younger son will also finish his last A level exam on the same day. My husband has had all his grades back for his university course at Durham and he is happy with them. For all we thought that early June would be fairly quiet it's actually turned out to be quite a busy month, with lots of traveling around the country and some key events.

The 7th of June was John's college party. It's the end of term and his final year, so the last opportunity to see many of those he's been studying with. The end of year parties are quite legendary and always have a theme. Last year it was Children's TV and we went a Florence and Zebedee from the magic roundabout.

Florence and Zebedee
The year before was 80's themed and we went as music icons, Souxsie Sioux and Morrissey.

Channelling the 80's

So when we heard the theme for this year we were truly excited - Alice in Wonderland. I had borrowed my Queen of hearts costume from panto from a couple of years ago and we had the materials to make John a Mock Turtle costume. However we found out that it was to be more a tea party and less fancy dress, so my costume would have been way over the top!

A bit too much?

Last minute my husband decided that a dress with Alice on rather than going as a character might be more in keeping with the evening, so off to The Sewing Machine Guy I went and picked up just over 1m of this Kokka printed fabric.

I knew I had just enough to make the pencil skirt version of Butterick B6453 as long as I used another fabric for the facings. I already had a long invisible zip in my stash.

It took just over 1 1/2 hrs to cut and assemble the dress. I did end up taking in the side seams on the skirt and the princess seams on the bodice, just under the bust. As I'd made all other necessary alterations on prior makes this was super easy to complete. My Irregular choice shoes were the perfect match, I also made a pocket square for my husband to wear with his suit - there wasn't enough for a tie.

I'm glad I went for the simpler option as we got a bust tyre on the way home and it was pouring with rain. The wheel wrench was not very strong and wouldn't shift the wheel nuts. We were rescued by a friend who came out with a better quality piece of kit and we were back on our way within 10 minutes of him arriving.

I finally got to wear my Queen of Hearts costume while fundraising for Morpeth Pantomime Society on Sunday at Morpeth Fair day. Can you spot me?


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