Stage 1: Patterns in my Life

(or … The first inspirational stages en-route to becoming a textile artist)

I’ve begun a ‘creative journey’ and although at this point in time, I don’t know exactly what will be achieved or ‘in what form’ I will ultimately depict it, I’m enthusiastically looking forward to finding out. I wasn’t given the opportunity to study for a degree when I left school so my path ‘to enlightenment’ has generally been one of financial necessity rather than of creative inspiration. However, although providing me with various creative tools and career paths, my original ‘ambition’ has not been achieved and in recent years, its ‘magnetic pull’ has just got stronger. Now I’ve reached an age and period in my life where I hope to complete that ‘personal dream’ from the 1960s and being older and wiser, can make time for self-analysis ... question and interpret ideas ... and hope to become creatively more critical and/or objective of things I learn and discover.

My 'self-induced journey’ began towards the end of 2010 when my partner and I decided to move ‘near the sea, retire gracefully and live our respective dreams’. Our different businesses would come along too but for their individual growth and expansion, we decided to ‘divorce’ them from our home and relocate them to dedicated workspaces. For me, a ‘studio to spread my creative wings’ would be perfect - finally, everything under one roof and in one specific place! Having an adventurous spirit yet a preference for 'planning in advance', I thought that like a physical ‘journey’, a clear and concise itinerary should initially be adopted and that some of my previous student and tutor course notes would be a good place to start. As a prime aim was to enhance creativity and future inspiration, a range of ‘working tools’ should also be considered to record the progressive and ‘experimental’ steps I would soon take. However, for an unexplained ‘gut-feel’, it seemed more important to collect them rather like ‘mementos from a holiday’ ... exactly as they happened or as they became significant. (I usually don’t continually do this - the result being that any creative thoughts or design images in my ‘minds eye’ get lost or clouded when others flood in!) Additionally, as I referred to previous ‘course notes’, I realised this method had in the past help me develop and extend any initial ideas into diverse 2D and 3D shapes and forms.

In a declining housing market, the next 12 months were frustratingly slow but by mid 2011, business premises had finally been found and relocation was now becoming a reality. Organising 'business stock’ and ‘downsizing home possessions' ensured I remained optimistic as I continued to prepare for the 'journey' ahead. However, realising ‘familiar working tools’ were either out of action or to be stored away for an indefinite period, I considered enhancing some skills from a few years ago as they may then provide a creative springboard for any future work. The option for an up-to-date set of ‘digital tools’ seemed to be the perfect solution - easily transportable and simple or quick to use, they would be an ideal ‘temporary’ creative medium as well as being an enthusiastic starting point. Experimenting with a new compact camera (Sony Cybershot), smart phone (Samsung Galaxy Note 2) and initial experimental blog entries, I rapidly discovered these ‘tools’ could be used like ‘luggage’ too. Just as per a working holiday, I found I was able to store ‘mementos’, accurately record creative direction and visibly capture design ‘ideas’ at any time PLUS any further ‘en-route’ itinerary notes could be added or amended.  But best of all, I found I was getting more inspired!


Reversible, metallic free style ‘Or NuĂ©’ Face panel

From autumn 2011 to March 2012, ‘journey steps’ slowly continued along the lines of ‘creative preparation’ and although partially occuring in a different county, ran alongside those of the house move (this finally completing by May). On visits to my new workspace studio (while house-hunting), I slowly redecorated my studio and planned areas for tools and equipment to be used. After removals were complete (in January), my artistic belongings were either installed or segregated ready for future use with all reference materials beginning to be categorised and/or computerised within a series of databases. By mid 2012, I was embarking on the time-consuming task of “unpacking” and soon found myself also becoming inspired by what the various packed boxes contained ... especially those labelled ‘experimental techniques to pursue’ and long-forgotten ‘design ideas to enhance or complete’. In ‘my mind’s eye’ inspirational patterns slowly began to emerge and were being included within the ‘digital luggage’ - alongside creative notes and other imagery (see blog entries for year 2013: However, before starting any further development with these 'patterns', it seemed important to discover what certain ones meant - especially since they had been repeated over the years! First were some ‘personal development patterns’ from my school years ... they may also unearth a possible design or technique direction …

In the early 1960s I passed my 11+, entered the local grammar school and by the 4th form was being encouraged to study for university or college entrance. I was good at most subjects (art, maths and applied maths being my favourites) and by the 5th form had initial thoughts for an architectural or engineering career. However, ‘living away from home' wasn’t my parents idea of a 'university option’ and by the 6th form, (with an increasing and developing interest in art, fashion and textiles), it wasn’t long before a local art college was a personal preferred choice for obtaining a degree. I secretly hoped this would lead to a fashion-based career especially as school ‘career advisors’ had suggested to me that a wide selection of artistic subjects would extend my varied creative and inventive talents. BUT this revised alternative was quickly halted too as parental ‘suggestions’ of ‘earning your living or getting married’ were much easier options for keeping the peace … after all, my parents knew best!

So after taking ‘A’ levels, I left school and went to work in a new ‘computer section’ of a GLC (Greater London Council) highways department where paper tapes, punch cards and ‘projected models’ provided me with 'new and exciting’ career patterns for a few years. But by 1974, marriage and emigration to Australia resulted in my ‘dressmaking hobby‘ becoming a more lucrative skill than that of a female computer programmer’s and on my return to the UK a few years later, a decision to enhance my self-taught textile skills with formal training came to an abrupt halt once again! With a divorce and young son, financial pressure quickly forced a return to dressmaking (‘patterns’ here being sewing ones) but to prevent any past repetition of this becoming permanent, I soon seized an opportunity to work for a pattern company as a ‘consumer sewing advisor’ where I could enhance and utilise other craft skills too. Now in a position to study part-time in the evenings (various City and Guilds textile courses), I could co-ordinate all ‘crafty’ skills (stitching, knitting, crochet, embroidering etc - with and without using patterns) that I had acquired from the age of 4. Before long I found myself teaching in adult education and for many years assorted ‘craft patterns’ (eg. craft instructions, textile-worked shapes and course plans) featured predominantly in my life. This soon inspired a personal ‘quest’ to research specific 20th century textiles so that more detailed information could be included for discussion and/or demonstration within the various craft groups and companies where I worked. I’m now surrounded in my studio by this collection that has become an 'on-going quest’ and where wonderful ‘patterns’ of shelving hold a small library of textile-related books, diverse range of textile equipment and samples, boxes full of assorted craft patterns, fabrics, yarns and haberdashery as well as a selection of colour and art supplies.)

Although non-textile related, another ‘pattern’ I've realised over the years, is a full-circular ‘computer’ based one! Beginning at school as an enjoyment of ‘mathematical equations’, it gathered momentum from my first full-time job, developing into ‘research and computing’ and then further, into word-processing skills. More recently it was transformed and enhanced (within an advertising and marketing business) to using creative software for ‘sales pattern’ ideas as well as working with various digital hardware and software for producing various advertising imagery and products. Although originating from  financial necessity, its full-circular path has produced a series of interesting ‘patterns’ that I now include within my current sets of ‘creative tools’.


The inspirational bridge

By early 2012, both home and studio were ‘over a bridge and far-away’ and ready to move into but (creatively) before this happened, I thought it was necessary to first say goodbye to the ‘youthful haunts of West London’ by visiting a particular inspirational bridge from my youth. By recently realising my ‘career patterns’ and to advance my creative journey to its next stage, I wanted to witness those first ‘visual patterns’ from many years ago that were now starting to reappear in ‘my minds eye’ and then try to determine what was their significance.

So I decided that as my first ‘creative development’ exercise, I would try and recapture some visual and imagined patterns from long ago ... PLUS ... capture on film (if I could), ‘my moment of leaving for my journey'. With my ‘new creative tools’ in hand, I drove to the 'old haunt' but was apprehensive to whether I could really achieve my aim especially as it was now many years since I had visited this original place of inspiration. However, I enthusiastically arrived, parked the car, walked to the spot … but it just wasn’t the same. Somewhat disappointed, I looked around … all the surroundings had altered - entrances routes had moved - paths had disappeared and were in different places - now the sun was shining - colour was everywhere to be seen ... but something was missing: most definitely not as I remembered it! Artistically undaunted, I got out my new camera and automatically ‘clicked’ away but sadly, those pattern memories seemed to have disappeared too and as I continued 'snapping' across the bridge, they seemed impossible to recreate or recapture. So I took a few more ‘memento shots’ and concluded those original images 'in my head' had just faded away over time - just like the recent path I’d tried to walk! Yet from somewhere came an inner voice telling me this wasn’t so! I returned home somewhat downhearted and the next day uploaded my ‘luggage’ imagery into its larger computer store. Displaying on screen, a thought suddenly occurred … I was looking through a 2012 eye and not the one from the 1960s! Thinking of the period and being inspired by a favourite record of the time (2,000 Light Years from Home), I wondered if perhaps I could ‘time-travel’ by adjusting my software's viewpoint. So with the click of a mouse, the images immediately changed to the black and white world I remembered and I was magically transported back in time! I had recaptured the patterns after all and was thrilled … my first ‘creative exercise’ was complete and I could continue with the next phase.

I subsequently found it poignant that the day I took my camera shots, ‘a personal ghost was finally laid to rest’ and its moment of significance had unknowingly been captured on digital film too! As I then sat reviewing my work to date and creating further design ideas, another memory returned … occasionally, I would peer over the top of the bridge and imagine how one day I would be ‘far away’ and although now, much later than originally hoped, I was able to travel on my route further.


1980s Sketch for headdress – inspired by coalman’s work wear ?

By mid 2012, my ‘creative journey’ was underway and the ‘first exercise’ had inspired many thoughts as well as design ideas for future development. To go further, I now needed to understand the significance of ‘black’ - it is my favourite colour, has always appeared as a regular ‘pattern’ over the years and (for some reason) is associated with many personal and fond memories. Watching those recently recreated ‘bridge images’ being displayed on my computer screen like a silent film, re-formed ‘1950s patterns’ began to emerge in ‘my minds eye’. At first memories appeared from school years ... images of shopping trips in the rain wearing black Wellington boots ... family excursions in dark cars with black leather interiors ... school walks in black shoes with specific exercises in black plimsolls ... sketches drawn on white sheets of paper using sharp lead pencils ... homework of written numbers, words or maps on lined paper in books writing with a pen and black ink ... looking through the kitchen window at shiny textured sacks of coal delivered by dauntingly dressed coalmen with unusual hats ... and watching children’s programmes on black and white television screens, many as silhouettes. Over the next few weeks, these mental images began to inspire other design ideas but to ‘fill them in’, I need to go further back in time …

During the early 1950s (when I was around 4 or 5), my parents (younger sister and me), moved from a 1930’s flat in West London into a Victorian/Edwardian semi-detached house a few roads away. Built around 1899 and typical of its middle-class surroundings, it was a 3-bedroom ‘halls adjoining’ property with 3 living rooms, kitchen and ‘scullery’, bathroom, toilet and ‘French doors in the back room’. Apparently, the previous elderly owner had died and when we moved in, I remember my first visions of the house as being ‘dark and gloomy’. At some (early) stage, I choose my bedroom as ‘the one at the back of the house’ - it’s appeal being its colour and location. Inherited from its previous owner, this first floor room was entirely black with slightly textured plain shiny wallpaper that shimmered even though the window’s glass had been "blacked out" and no light entered. Perceiving it to be a ‘secret room’ that only I could enter, its magical atmosphere lured me in. ‘Out of ear-shot’ and ‘with the stairs visible through the keyhole’, my boyish mischievous and imaginative nature began to work - a perfect retreat for all my future activities … and I loved it. Unfortunately my parents didn’t appreciate these thoughts of mine and it was soon redecorated in more idealised and restful colours of pale pink and cream with parents informing me that ‘my sister could play here too’!

Gathering together these images from my ‘early years’, I started to realise that my interests in ‘creative patterns’ began with some fascinating 2” (5cm) tiles in the house we had moved into. From the entrance porchway step, these tiles continued through into the hall on the other side of the front door where they were displayed in their geometrical arrangements along the corridor to the rear 'back room'. In alternating colours of black and white and resembling a peculiar 'Alice-style' chess board, a central ‘squares’ design was surrounded by a different ‘diamond pattern’ border ... but there were on occasion, wonderful other patterns on the floor too! Visible only when the sun shone (and especially when the tiles were wet from cleaning) could they be seen - rays of light dancing through the glass insets of the front door and as they moved in shimmering shapes across the chequered squares that made them glisten and sparkle with other patterns too. Other houses in the vicinity had similar floorings too - all somehow different but equally fascinating and only now did  I suddenly realise that from those first geometric shapes, my interest in ‘pattern’ developed in 2 directions. Along one path: 2 dimensional with a geometric bias towards regular patterns such as mosaics, architecture and kaleidoscopes. Along another path: directly inspired by those pirouetting sunbeam shapes into a love of irregular patterns and subsequent 3D shapes - those interests relating to fashion and furnishings. Is this what I creatively always try to achieve?

By now, my ‘digital tools’ were working overtime - ideas forming and patterns being created (see blog entries for 2013: ... I didn’t know what I was trying to achieve just that I had to have the imagery recorded. Soon, a few experimental design concepts were being digitally ‘sketched’ but this time using more colour than I normally do. However to try and gain more inspiration to complete them, I believed I had to ponder on the family home once again. Our house had an upper attic room (the only house in the street to have one) where sometimes I was found ‘creating’. With an opening skylight window and climbing on a trunk to look out, grid-like rooftops, church spires and other local landmarks were easily visible across the horizon and as I imagined them now, visions of family trips came back in sight too - that railway bridge clearly displaying more distant and dingy views of post-war West London.

Visually crossing the railway bridge and looking through open metal railings (where today they have been corrugated over), these patchy sights were usually linear too. Predominantly in black, white and shades of grey, lines of old 'Victorian terrace-style slums' were squashed together with narrow streets or alleyways gradually becoming more visible through upward ascending ‘puffs’ of shaded greyed smoke from the coal-fuelled trains travelling beneath. In winter as you stumbled across the bridge, strange and peculiar shapes would occasionally make an eerie appearance through foggy and grubby 1950's ‘pea-soupers'. Mentally seeing these images now, I was able to recall many more ‘patterns’ too:  in shiny ‘Wellingtons’ stepping in ‘rivers’ and puddles from the falling rain - edging along intricate ‘bridge structure reflections’ to prevent falling through into the illusionary path of a passing train - in the melting white snow, rapidaly squashing feet into unusual glistening footprints as they slowly disappeared from view. And sometimes, appearing in a single ray of bright sunlight at the end of the bridge, you could fleetingly glimpse a bright blue sky, occasional tufts of green grass or a few weeds waving in the distance. In varied seasons during my teens (in either day or evening light), vivid displays of 3D imagery were often appearing in ‘my minds eye’ as I imagined many events happening here. In bad weather: explorer's adventures along slippery and dangerous slopes - on sunny days: as a magical pathway, leading to a special unknown place - in eerie moonlight: a series of intricate evocative reflections or menacing darkened shapes could rapidly descend in front of you. You never knew what you would see but it was always the patterns around me that triggered these various creative thoughts or ideas. Towards mid-teens, unfortunately the inspirational and creative quality of the bridge disappeared and as I got older, it became just an occasional ‘escape route’ for finding craft items, visits to the library or for buying ‘secret’ treats (for my sister and me) and by late teens, it had reverted to being just ‘a bridge’ for hurrying over on the way to a Saturday job. Was this just something that happened as I grew up or did my imaginative spirit get pushed aside?

The ‘creative journey’ through my early past was proving to be exceptionally inspirational and producing more ideas than originally thought possible so that by the end of 2012, I had recaptured specific imagery and various experimental design ideas by using just my set of ‘digital tools’. Unfortunately a setback in early 2013, (fractured ankle on one leg resulting in a locked knee on the other leg!) has left me being ‘out of action’ to date. However, undaunted, I’ve since been using this new creative medium for further creative development and now (either on my computer or ‘on-line’) have a wide ranging visual reminder and record for future design inspiration and reference. As to my next direction - I’m uncertain at this moment in time although I think the following fact may be an influence!

I've always been interested in crafts (click if you want to know more) and have usually had some sort of stitch-maker in my hand at most opportunities! From a very young age, I've always enjoyed those basic creative textile crafts such as sewing, embroidery, knitting and crochet although the preferred 'hobby' as a teenager was sewing - later being developed to become my main occupation as ‘dressmaker’ (click to see some of my work). Now travelling along a ‘creative path’, I wanted to find out why … was it something inherited, beyond my mother who had first shown me ‘French Knitting’ or was there something else? Knowing little of my family history, initial investigation via on-line genealogy revealed to my amazement, there had been both dressmakers and tailors (in both maternal and paternal ‘tree patterns’) as far back as the 1850s. Among all known family members, I’m the only descendent that is continuing this stitching skill and now am querying how ‘instinctive’  it may possibly be.

Hopefully I shall expect to be off and investigate this route too!

original written August 2013