Thursday, 12 December 2019


  Scarring is a problem for skin and fabric, once cut or traumatised it will never be the same. Some heal very well, almost invisibly, some do not. As a prompt to discuss what we know about someone before we operate on them I made this small velvet quilt for the Textile Body. Following its format of nine squares I took my inspiration from 18th century.whole-cloth quilts and used silk velvet to illustrate the problem. It is a material that is both beautiful and easily damaged.

  Scars on the skin take many forms but keloid, hypertrophic and contracture scars are particularly problematic. In appearance they can be highly raised from the original site of damage or incision, dense and overgrown or having the appearance of pulling the skin surface in multiple directions.

 Used in conjunction with another layer that looks at fragility in ageing skin it can be used to explore different aspects of touch and how we understand 'wrongness'. It has already been used to engage young adults interested in going into medicine at a yearly event at the Wellcome collection as part of the Saturday Studio programme.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019


 Quite simply I was asked to do a cancer layer for the Textile Body. The format therefore would follow the grid of nine textile squares which could sit on top or amongst the other layers in the 'Body'.I worked with surgeons who deal specifically with cancers and was given access to theatre and to tumours that had been removed.
  However it was not beyond my imagination to know what was was wrong when it came to a piece of silk so I chose this piece of tabby coloured antique silk. It is very high quality with a very smooth surface and in some places the silk is discoloured. This was my queue for the first signs that something is wrong underneath. Snags, puckers and adhesions are not desirable in silk and  not in humans either. On the reverse of each square is a pocket in silk mousseline, the finest silk available.It is both very sheer and delicate. Inside each pocket I placed an object which was uncomfortable in colour, texture and usually juxtaposition thus being contextually 'wrong' too. They could all be felt through the silk.

   Mostly it was hard to guess what they were before seeing them but when medically examined the diagnoses were largely the same. ''Unnatural mass'' and ''this is the sort of thing where you have to control the expression on your face'' were two early comments.

   One though was designed to be unseen, a gist (gastro-intestinal-stromal-tumour). I had been allowed to examine one after surgery, it was like a malevolent brain with its' own blood vessels and a texture of cauliflower and dense goo all in a membrane. They can remain benign unless ruptured so I imagined the monster lurking within and recreated it.

   Two rubber finger monsters and a plastic flower did the job, all compressed into a silk pouch and secreted between two layers of pleated silk pocket. It can be removed by untying a white ribbon and carefully sliding it out from the pleats.
   Many thanks to surgeons Chris Peters, Tamzin Cuming, Sam Gallivan and Roger Kneebone  for their advice on this piece. It has already been used to engage young adults interested in going into medicine at a yearly event at the Wellcome collection as part of the Saturday Studio programme.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Feely Box

   The language of touch.....what words do we use to describe that sensation? In discussion with several surgeons I have noticed a particular type of verbage, both medical and poetic that is used to describe the sensation of touching living tissue, healthy and diseased. As they spoke I noticed how they looked away from what they were touching, seeing it inside their mind instead.The hand was held flat with all the fingertips being employed at once.
  This was a queue for me to make a piece that explored this facility and could be used by those who were not medically trained or were thinking of going into medicine.

 Colour could not be ignored though so I chose a palette of grey and ivory with a dash of fleshy pink and red. This was to see if the way someone touched the piece would change according to the colours.

   To enact the unseen element I made two 'pockets', the 18th C. kind which would have hung from a belt worn inside the clothes ('Lucy Locket lost her pocket'..etc). One was all in ivory silks the other in brown and blue with a fleshy coloured metal organza lining. Each also had textured detail just inside the pocket opening.

  To go with the pockets are currently twenty nine paired cocoons of silk each with a foam material inside.I chose packaging foams and kitchen materials both for their familiarity and for their approximation to organic materials. It was during an experiment with one surgeon where I realised the potential for parallel understanding with these ordinary pieces of industrial fabric. In their different densities and textures they can feel like inflammation, tumours, cysts and old scar tissue.

The cocoons can be handle individually to discuss how to touch and examine something, doubled up to recreate specific conditions, hidden inside the pockets or pressed against a large foam 'echo' block which gives a different 'reading' altogether.

 Some have a few extra small cocoons inside and there is also a pin cushion to go with them all. The pins can be pushed carefully into the foams to see what it is to have to stitch these materials; thus giving a good approximation to surgical extended touch.

    Lastly a chatelaine of manilla tags with all the comments made by surgeons who have examined the piece (top photo). The Feely Box has already been used to engage young adults interested in going into medicine at a yearly event at the Wellcome collection as part of the Saturday Studio programme.

 Many thanks so far to surgeons Colin Bicknell, Chris Peters, Cara Baker, Celia Riga, Sam Gallivan, Laura Coates, Tamzin Cuming and Roger Kneebone. Also to Rachael Matthews, textile artist and Angela Oakes, masseur and yoga teacher.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Habit vests

 I saw the phrase 'habit vest' on a crossword that the person next to me on the train was doing. Although I couldn't see what the clue was I liked the idea of it being a conceptual thought garment. It made me wonder how many of us wear habit vests in our lives and whether we should take them off sometimes. I certainly have these past three years! 
 This is me in theatre and if you knew me you would know how different this outfit is to my usual ones. It has been a journey into another world, one where I do not have any 'habits' or assumptions only revelations.

Thankyou Colin for the photo!

Monday, 30 September 2019



     How can the undisciplined mind understand the disciplined one ? It is a question I often come up against. I am still looking for a way to bridge the gap in a world of instant convenience encouraged by technology.
   To someone who wants to learn a sense of wonder is important as is the idea of possibility. Add some discernment and maybe the right words that translate one experience to another. I can teach someone to embroider in an hour, I find it harder to get them to discern if their decisions are valuable and relevant to what they would like to make.
   It is important for everyone to discern the good from the bad and for them to think that what they do is valuable. It is also important for them to make mistakes without which they have only a fragmented experience. Self consciousness is the enemy here, the inner demon that suggests that everyone is looking at what you are doing, the internet in your head watching.
  Sometimes the journey will be slow, maybe a lifetime; sometimes it just comes down to empathy and sometimes it is a matter of sowing seeds that will stay in the mind until needed.

UPDATE: apologies to those of you who have visited this post for other reasons!!!!!!! but thankyou for making it the most popular post, I hope it was 'instructive' !

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Strange cousins

  If we were to include surgery in the textile arts they would be considered very strange. Not because they are surgeons but because they, on the whole, don't practise other textile skills or use them in surgery. Generally people that can sew also embroider a bit or knit or quilt or make curtains or some of these or all. Most textile artists will combine techniques as standard. In short, when did we lose touch with our strange cousins?
  I find that when I explain techniques to a surgeon they understand them and can even see a parallel with their own sewing. Alternate names are offered for stitches and thread dilemmas  with some considerable understanding and empathy which they initially find surprising.
   It becomes harder when you offer up a different textile skill, knitting for example. Knitters use intuitive maths to build 3d sculptures from a single yarn. They are human 3d printers with infinitely more flexibility of thought than a machine.
  Then look at tailors, the use of geometry must be acknowledged and again this is often used intuitively. Someone who moulds cloth around the human body has a grasp of 4d maths, of the Mobius band and of the effect of time on their work.
  These are just two areas of understanding which can involve great material skill and which I feel the world of surgery either generally or in specialist fields could benefit from.
 Come back! we need a family reunion!

(image of a crocheted glove cuff repaired and augmented with needlelace.)

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Wart Carpet


 To find an image to go with that title was a bit of a stretch! It's not a phrase I would ever have come up with but I find myself in that situation on a regular basis now. Every time I speak with a surgeon they describe situations  that they have encountered with remarkable eloquence. If I put an interesting textile into their hands the knowledge gets plumbed to a deeper level. I recently has a studio visit from a surgeon who I had invited to discuss scar tissue with me.In preparation I had selected some very odd materials to talk about and what results! In fact it will lead to another form of textile metaphor, more to come. It also shone a light down the path of 'What's Wrong', the discussion I will lead in November.
  On this recent visit though we discussed degenerating fibroids, fat filled spaces and making a map .Scouring pads have a whole new meaning to me now.
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