How it all began.

When did I first feel the urge to create something meaningful in my life?

Looking back it was around the age of 4, my brother and I were in bed for several weeks, only half daylight allowed, with measles and whooping cough during the harsh winter of 1947. A gift arrived and with it a magical book full of paper cut-out dolls and clothes to put together. I was transformed with joy.
Over the next few years there followed hours of experimentation with fish glue and cardboard, sewing, and making all kinds of things up in the attic of the old run-down Victorian house we lived in. Already passionate about animals, I built fields and hedges, painted farm fences and then taught myself how to create leather saddles to fit a model pony made out of rubber.  Offcuts of leather were begged from the cobbler in the village and metal bits from the jeweller’s scrap bin. This helped to assuage the desperation for a pony and a dog.  Those 2 dreams came true in my forties when now married with my own children we all moved back to the country and our tribe of Tibetan Spaniels was established. My seventh is with me today. Ponies too opened up the countryside and its history.

When I was 10 we all were posted to London and family dysfunction hit us.

For me the dirtiness, noise and smell of the city were hard to accept. Fortunately, the lifeline of a model farmyard and making clothes for a 6” cheap doll gave me a focus.   All the more so because my much loved brother who was at boarding school and had carpentry lessons built-in, made me a farmyard with stables and a yard and also a wonderful wardrobe for my doll’s clothes. I still have the wardrobe and some of the tiny clothes, including a pale aquamarine dress made from a scrap of the same material which started as a bridesmaid”s dress aged 3 and was continually enlarged until I was nearly 10.  I just literally loved it to bits.

This dimension of materials with personal memories has pretty much disappeared now and what a loss it is. Vintage is fine but it doesn’t have the intimate relationship of a known friend.   Like  garden plants  which at that time were exchanged or given and became  ”Mrs. Hewlett’s Campanula” or Aunt Anne’s Mint, patchwork quilts held precious memories of John’s Shirt or Maps as curtains, or printed sugar bags from the same gifting godmother who sent paper cut-out dolls from the States and opened a new world with her generosity.
Most children had handwork classes at school and that too was a life-saver and   taught me a whole variety of skills – knotting, netting, weaving, basketry and sewing.
My mother had been an Art Student and then worked in London in the early 30’s so she knew where shops still existed selling special paper, cane or other materials , somehow surviving the blitz. I remember her making costumes for a Shakespeare play at school somewhere along the line.
So on one level it could be said I am a Self-taught Artist and indeed that is largely true . But there is another aspect to this: whose hands taught me to sew and knit or showed me how to do a particular stitch whilst their hands held mine? And how many generations of hands have followed the same patterns adding their own signature to the end result like a storyteller before they reached me.
Even just watching someone use a penknife to chisel a soft pencil  into special shapes for drawing  is life-changing for a beginner.    So much of our apprenticeship in the Arts is literally  ‘handed down’  and refined from trial and error over time and  with practice. Repetition is soothing, confirms skill and opens doors to others in its wake.  In the same way my mother was sparing in her praise if she felt I could do better. She was usually right!   And I draw on that resilience over and again especially with knitting where one mistake can cost the whole garment!
When I had volunteers to help me I the vegetable garden or with the fleece preparation, it wasnt long before they fell under the spell of sitting together and discovering the balm of emptying out their thinking brain and letting their hands do the thinking for them.
Later at boarding school which was small and deep in the countryside I used to help those who had ponies of their own. The sensual pleasure of grooming and caring for an animal is at the heart of the relationship and deeply satisfying as were evenings spent cleaning tack with glycerine soap and flipping its final suppleness through my fingers.
In my experience children and young people can be deprived without these kind of experiences which bring together, sounds, smells and visual rewards – gardening isn’t the same if you try and keep your hands clean!
So much has flowed from my first attempts at creating what I wanted to make,
Now with internet it is incredibly easy to hunt out answers from people who have a wealth of knowledge and the desire to share what they know.
There is also such wonderful colour available to us in many forms and that can be significant to each of us in different ways, like texture and pattern. We are discovering how great a beneficial impact on our brains can come from the simplest of skills  used as a practice and enjoyed for its own sake.  There was an Admiral in the Royal navy, who during WW2 would go to his cabin and sew tapestries in between manoeuvres –  he said it got him through the war. Soldiers returning from the front line are being encouraged to knit to help them overcome PTSD.
I hope these small beginnings might inspire some of you or give you a chance to reflect how your own beginnings have  opened up your creative life.

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