Friday, 27 November 2015

A stitch in time

Recently I took part in a community textile art project organised between Making Space in Havant and the D-Day Museum in Southsea.  Called "A Stitch in Time", it was about engaging local people in creating textile art inspired by the exhibits in D-day museum and the Overlord Embroidery.  An initial taster session introduced us to various techniques (including my love, freehand machine embroidery!), then a day trip to the museum was followed by a series of workshops run by local artist Ami Lowman (Mia Mai), allowing participants to learn and experiment with a variety of techniques.

The photos above were some of many taken by Ami - you can see a whole load more and a great little film about the project over on her Facebook page.  The little lass accompanied me on the trip and workshops and I was pretty excited to find that sewing with a baby in a sling is totally do-able - hurrah!

It was my first visit to the D-day museum in Southsea, despite having lived in the area for many years.  The Overlord Embroidery was really amazing - more than 80 metres long it is an incredibly intricate and beautiful and thought-provoking depiction of the events surrounding D-day.  I'd really recommend a visit for anyone interested in textiles or D-Day.  Oh and the cake in the cafe is pretty damn good too!

Unsurprisingly, the two aspects of D-day that inspired my projects were birds and the naval participation.  First up, a little Naval Gunfire Support:

HMS Warspite was the first of very many RN ships involved in bombarding the enemy positions on the Normandy coast on 6 June 1944.  I used an idea I had quite a while ago of depicting NGS in a pop art Lichtenstein-esque way.

Next the bird...

No tenuous connection required, this is Gustav, a carrier pigeon that took the first news of the landings back to the UK during the radio silence of D-Day.  He flew 150 miles in headwinds of up to 30 knots before reaching his handler on Thorney Island and delivering his message:

"We are just 20 miles or so off the beaches. First assault troops landed 0750. Signal says no interference from enemy gunfire on beach... Steaming steadily in formation. LightningsTyphoonsFortresses crossing since 0545. No enemy aircraft seen."

I was amazed to hear Gustav's story but it seems that carrier pigeons were frequently used as a method of communication during WW2 (and WW1); they even culled raptors along the south coast to reduce the risks that a pigeon would fall prey to a passing peregrine and fail to deliver the all-important message.

My contributions were just a couple among many beautiful and inspiring pieces, that went on display at a wonderful tea party in the D-Day museum last Saturday.  Unfortunately I didn't manage to get any photos of the other work due to my cake-hyper child!

Just look at all that cake!  Cake aside, it was a great project to be involved with and I met some lovely people too!  I'm very grateful that Making Space runs such community projects as an opportunity to engage with local history and explore creativity, and Ami was a fantastic project leader.  I think there will be an opportunity to view all the artwork again at next year's open studios event at Making Space.

Kate x


OK, this is OLD news, but several months ago my lovely bro got engaged to his equally lovely GF - yippee yay!  I've blogged before on my tendency towards tardiness when it comes to making presents for people.  It would seem that I'm not much better at making (or even buying) cards...  

And not too long after the event I took out my sketchbook and drew up a design for a stitchy engagement card.  But I'm rather ashamed to say I never got around to actually stitching it - the sewing machine remained firmly in the bag and no free-motion in the right direction was to be seen.  Until just before my little girl was born - some six months after the engagement!

Here's the result...

I hope they like it enough to forgive it's extreme lateness, and I will endeavour to do better when it comes to their wedding next year, honest!

Kate xx

Sunday, 22 November 2015


So it's been quite a while since I posted here, three months or so.  And a crazy, hormonal, love-filled three months they have been.  I'm very happy to introduce our daughter, who arrived a leisurely 10 days past her "due date" and made the boy a very happy and proud big brother.  Here's a few thoughts of mine from the last three months, on birth, motherhood and life blah blah blah!!
The female body is truly amazing, capable, powerful and strong.  We women are not generally encouraged to believe this; from a fairly young age there is a commercial interest in us believing the opposite is true, from cosmetic companies to those pushing us to try different diets.  So much of the hype around pregnancy, birth and early motherhood focuses on the negative and almost all the images any of us see of birth lead us to believe it is an intensely painful and difficult experience.  I had a pretty good experience birthing the boy, and I feel lucky that I was able to approach it this time with the assurance that my body could do what needed.  I am once again eternally grateful to my yoga teacher, Lucy at Portsmouth Yoga for teaching me to use my breath and giving me the confidence to have an entirely unmedicated birth.  Oxytocin really is the most incredible hormone, and with fantastic support from PLH and my midwife the birth was a really peaceful and powerful experience.  Bringing a whole new human into the world made me feel like the strongest person on the planet!  

A big baby does not warrant any sucking of teeth, "ouches", "ooh, I bet that was sore" comments (accompanied by a grimace) from well-meaning friends, family and anyone else who may ask.  The inference that anyone is thinking about your vagina when you've just given birth is entirely unwelcome (particularly on a Skype call with the in-laws!).  Fact.  Incidentally, all those cute baby grows and vests...  All too small after about 5 days!  

The babymoon...  A phrase has been used to describe a pre-baby holiday taken by many pregnant couples, but I mean those first days with a new baby.  I've spoken with friends about this a lot, and the general consensus is that those precious days you will never get back.  I fully intended to sit around in my PJs with my boobs out, bonding with my baby and establishing breastfeeding.  This was mostly how the first 10 days or so went and it definitely helped me recover from the birth and get to know the baby.  PLH took care of everything around the house and we mostly kept visitors away.  For the boy I think it really helped him acclimatise to our new family of four and I loved sitting around cuddling them both and reading a lot of stories!  The only unwelcome interruptions to this blissful babymoon were the routine visits we had to make back into hospital for the midwife checks.  I'm pretty sure that last time round they came to us, and it seems to be a sad result of cutbacks that midwives can no longer make these home visits, instead requiring women in the early postpartum period to drag themselves into public when I for one would far rather have been at home.
Breastfeeding is a subject I feel so passionate about, and for most of us good support is essential in establishing and sustaining breastfeeding.  Although I nursed the boy for nearly 2 years, the early weeks were agony and it was 8 weeks before I realised that he had a tongue tie (which was later divided).  I never thought that our journey would last so long and we only weaned when we did so that I could go through IVF again.  I was lucky enough to be supported by a wonderfully nurturing La Leche League group which opened my eyes to so many aspects of the nursing relationship and totally normalised "extended breastfeeding" for me.  Not long after birth my little girl found her way to the breast and latched on, and I could tell almost immediately that she had a tongue tie; it felt so similar to the way it had with the boy.  We stayed in hospital for a few hours after the birth, during which time a fair few midwives and maternity support workers had a look and declared nothing was wrong.  Luckily the midwife that discharged us agreed there was a problem but informed me that the Infant Feeding Advisor was on leave and I wouldn't be able to see her for at least 2 weeks!  2 weeks - I wonder how many women would be forced into alternative feeding in that time.  I decided to seek help from Julie, a lovely local IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) who came to our house and assessed and divided the tie.  I feel very lucky that we knew about this and were able to seek help from a IBCLC but so many women are not in this position.  It is a sad truth that despite generally excellent midwifery care in and around Portsmouth, there is insufficient expertise to consistently help women and babies establish and maintain a nursing relationship in difficult situations, particularly where tongue tie is involved. Finally, I think I was surprised that it took a little hard work for the first few weeks in terms of getting a good latch and getting the hang of it again.  But when I look down at my milk drunk baby snoozing by my breast, or she cracks a smile as she gazes into my eyes when latched on, oh it's so worth it!

Love is really boundless...  Before the baby was born I really did wonder whether I would be able to love her as much as the boy; well I can and do - it really is amazing and just as all my friends had reassured me.  Two is hard work, crazy busy and totally wonderful.  I have been blown away by the boy's ability to deal with no longer being an only child; in general he has shared our time and attention with willing and love.  But the sling is a total lifesaver.

The birth of my first child instigated an overwhelming emotional change in me.  I was overcome by love for the boy and I enjoyed our time together but I think also I was often on edge about making the "right" decisions, unsure of myself as a mother and not entirely sure who I was anymore.  My choice to give up work was something I struggled to admit to - for me the "stay at home mum" label wasn't something I was entirely comfortable with.  Although being a full-time carer for my children was something I really wanted to do, I didn't like feeling as though people might see me as less intelligent or less interesting than a mother that returns to work.  I love politics, current affairs and stimulating and varied conversation and hated that people might think my chat may be limited solely to baby pooh.  From an egotistical point of view, there is no one telling you that you're doing a good job every day, you don't get appraisals that sing your praises or seniors expressing gratitude for the work you're doing.  That took quite a bit of getting used to (despite PLH's frequent assurances that I was doing great!).  I'd say it took well over a year after the boy was born before I really knew who I was again, and felt truly comfortable with myself.  This time around it's been different - I'd already become used to myself as a mother and I am so much more confident in my ability to know what is best and trust my instincts - it really is so liberating!

Well, that was quite a post - somewhat longer and slightly more ranty than I planned but hey ho!  I'm off to cuddle that baby of mine!

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Extinct - the Grounding of the SS Makambo

The final story in my series looking at the extinct birds that I stitched during last year's Ghosts of Gone Birds live art studio is perhaps the saddest of them all.  

The SS Makambo Casualty List
On 15 June 1918, the SS Makambo ran aground on Lord Howe Island, Australia.  Although just one passenger was killed, FIVE separate species of bird were casualties of the incident.  Their demise was not instantaneous; it took several days to re-float the vessel during which time black rats made it ashore and began their predation of these five endemic birds:
Lord Howe Gerygone (Rain Bird)
Lord Howe Thrush (Doctorbird)
Robust Whiteye (Big Grinnell)
Lord Howe Starling
Lord Howe Fantail
All of them entirely wiped out by the rat invaders let ashore by the navigational errors of the ship’s crew.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Extinct - the Norfolk Island Kaka

Another beautiful bird vanished from our planet forever, the fifth in the series of blog posts about the extinct birds I resurrected during the Ghosts of Gone Birds live studio is the Norfolk Island Kaka.

Endemic to Norfolk Island, this Kaka was hunted by the settlers that arrived in 1788 when a penal colony was established on the island.  As well as stocking the cook-pots of the newcomers, the beautiful Norfolk Island Kaka was trapped as a pet; the last known bird of the species died in captivity in London in 1851.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Extinct - the Javan Blue-banded Kingfisher

Regular readers of this blog, and those with an eye for the name, will know that I am rather fond of our own Kingfishers.  So it may come as no surprise that one of the birds I chose to resurrect for the Ghosts of Gone Birds live art studio was an extinct kingfisher from another part of the world - the Javan Blue-banded Kingfisher.

Once inhabiting the rainforests of Java, Indonesia, this Kingfisher seems to have disappeared with the trees.  The deforestation of Java has taken place at a frightening rate, and although not officially extinct, the Javan Blue-banded Kingfisher has not been seen since the 1950s.

Such a beautiful bird; this was one of my favourites to stitch.  

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Extinct - the Liverpool Pigeon

Another blog post, another extinct bird from the Ghosts of Gone Birds exhibition from last autumn.

Today it's the turn of the Liverpool Pigeon...

Also known as the Spotted Green Pigeon, this bird is rather a mystery.  It is known only from the one surviving specimen in Liverpool, but no record remains of where the bird came from and it bears no strong resemblance to any living bird today.  It seems so very sad that not only has this bird vanished from the face of the planet, but that we really have no clear idea of where it came from in the first place.

(Apologies again for the poor photo quality - my work looked much better in real life I promise!!)