Chelsea Fringe, the alternative garden festival

Each year amidst the hubbub created by the Chelsea Flower Show in London, a whole host of alternative garden-related events are taking place, some in little known places, others in more well known spots.  The event is known as Chelsea Fringe and this year I will be taking part with Kim Winter of @flextiles in our other guise as Women of the Cloth.

On 30th May, for just £10, from 10.00 a.m. until 2.00 p.m. you can come along and make either a needlefelted bird with me, or a wet-felted bird pod with Kim.  Minimum age is 8 years and you will need to book directly with the venue South London Botanical Institute – places are limited, so don’t delay!  Founded in 1910 in Tulse Hill, the Institute has a beautiful botanical garden and runs a wide range of courses, workshops and events for all ages. It’s a bit of a hidden gem.  There will also be a Chelsea Fringe fair on 17th May at the Institute when a smaller taster session, needlefelting a ladybird, will be on offer in the afternoon.

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Community Feltmaking

I’ve had a wonderful time lately making felt with various community groups around south London.  Feltmaking is  such an ideal communal activity because it enables just about anyone to take part in a productive, creative session and go home with something colourful and beautiful made with their own hands.  No particular artistic ability is required for success, and it’s great fun watching everyone around you produce such different creations, starting off with the same tactile materials at their disposal.  Conversation and laughter flow freely as people experiment with skills they didn’t know they had!  In some cases SONG too …

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I made my way to Plumstead in south London last week to make felt balls and cords for necklaces and bracelets with a group of women from Nepal and Brazil as part of the Cultivating Communities project run by Groundwork London.  This project forms part of Groundwork’s Women in Migration Oral Histories initiative aimed at improving social cohesion, with the workshops providing participation in a communal activity of making whilst singing traditional songs as we worked.  Pretty much all cultures have a bank of historical songs associated with textile activity, from the Ikat weavers of India to the wool spinners of Yorkshire and Lancashire.  Before reading and writing became widespread abilities, knitting and weaving patterns were conveyed through rythmic songs which helped the counting process so that traditional patterns could be reproduced accurately, and people just generally sang songs as they worked.  Keeping these traditions alive is important to our cultural heritage, and we had a great afternoon of spontaneous singing and feltmaking together in Plumstead.  Next workshop will incorporate knitting & crochet too.

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At the London Wildlife Trust’s Centre for Wildlife Gardening in Peckham I have had the pleasure of offering feltmaking workshops to visitors at their spring Open Day, as well as working with Alzheimers sufferers as part of the centre’s Potted History project which makes use of reminiscence and horticultural therapy to improve the self-confidence and wellbeing of socially isolated older people in the London boroughs of Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark.  My morning of feltmaking with the group, who attend weekly sessions, was a great success as everyone was enticed by the tactile materials and all were able to focus on a pleasurable, creative activity using colours inspired by the wildlife garden.  Everyone produced a beautiful, complete piece of felt – one man incorporated some deceased beetles in his piece to remind him of where he had made the felt.  He had to be discouraged from felting around his glasses and his bus pass, he got so carried away!

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At Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses in Lambeth I spent a day in the school holidays sloshing about with soap and water making sheeps’ fleece into felt with a range of families as part of their education programme which provides seasonally-themed sessions designed to broaden understanding of the natural world through play. What fun we had playing with colour in the beautiful setting of the greenhouse and its gardens, with food and flowers growing all around us.  It was a hot, sunny day and being in the greenhouse might be better for the plants than we humans after a few hours …

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Lambeth’s Lady Margaret Settlement charity hosts the All Sewn Up Project which provides local women with marketable skills in textile techniques through City & Guilds accredited courses, which rely on the ongoing fundraising initiatives of the wonderful Project Manager Pascaline Lambert for support.  I have run two feltmaking workshops at the project now and what a range of enthusiastic motivated women I’ve had the pleasure of working with!  We started by making flat pieces of felt to use as table mats, or to be sewn into useful items such as spectacle or phone cases, then in the afternoons we made decorative bowls or felt beads & cords.  Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the sessions and were keen to learn more techniques.

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Next stop will be Southmead Primary School in the London borough of Wandsworth, where I’ll be joining art teacher Lucy Ruxton for a day of textile activity – felting, weaving, dyeing, stitching, glueing – with kids working around a medieval theme,  then back to Brockwell Park Greenhouses for some needlefelting of snails, ladybirds, beetles and other bugs, outside in the garden if the weather allows us.  If not, in the hothouse conditions of the greenhouse!! Fans at the ready …

Hannah Hoch Exhibition plus a lot of cutting & sticking at home

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Last week I enjoyed a ‘mothers & daughters’ visit to see Hannah Hoch’s work at the Whitechapel Gallery in East London.  We two mothers are part of a group who meet up to get creative at each others’ homes, roughly monthly, and our two daughters are both in the midst of art courses of one sort or another, so we thought we would all go to an exhibition together.  Within our group this month we embarked on a paper collage day where we attempted to make a dent in the piles of magazines we all collect throughout the year, so it was fortuitous to have an exhibition ofcollage to go and see.

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Hannah Höch (1889-1978) was a German Dada artist. She is best known for her work of the Weimar period, when she was one of the originators of photomontage. This collection of 100 of her montages and watercolours is the first to be shown in Britan.  Her work often appears both whimsical and disconcerting with its dismembered heads & bodies repasted in unexpected formations onto unlikely backgrounds, such as in ‘Heads of State’ where she displays ‘portly German politicians in the swimsuits floundering against a backdrop of fine embroidery’.

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Her work contained strong political messages seen to be against Naziism which necessitated her retreat to a secluded cottage where she lived out the war quietly cutting & pasting, producing images inspired by musings on such things as androgyny, bisexuality & melancholy.  Her sense of colour & composition were the most striking thing for me, filling my head with new thoughts on representing feelings and issues close to my heart through paper, cloth and colour.  Here’s a glimpse of what I produced myself at our group cutting & pasting day!  Not too bad I thought, and must have been influenced by the proximity to Valentine’s Day …

carol's collage