Reflecting on 2018 (10 min read)

Each year, the calendar feels as though we are flicking through faster, and we’re out buying diaries for years that used to seem far off not so long ago. That’s what happens when you’re busy. You blink and there’s another year past, and in 2018, I think it’s safe to say a lot of us have been busy, perhaps a little too much?? During this time between Christmas and New Year, when you don’t know what day it is and your meals consist mainly of cake, cheese and Baileys, I hope those of you who’ve felt trapped in a busy cycle this year have been able to take a moment and recharge. If you haven’t, go book yourself a holiday in the January sales! Or alternatively (note additionally), check out my first mindful embroidery workshop at the end of February, especially designed to calm over-active minds and allow you to pause without distraction.

For me? I’m guilty of being a member of the always busy camp, which means that often I don’t get to fully appreciate things after they’ve happened, as I’m always looking towards what’s next. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t take my life for granted and I’m always massively grateful for the experiences that come with running a small business (even the lows, if I feel like they’ve helped me grow), but I think for our experiences, big or small, we owe it to them to reflect and take a moment to fully appreciate them. 2018 for me has been a complete whirlwind, full of challenges and the unexpected. On reflection, there’s a lot has happened and it’s only when you look back at everything together, you realise how much can happen in just one year! There’s a lot I would like to go into but we would literally be here all day, but I must give an appreciative shout out to La Di Da magazine for inviting me to an amazing day styling with Dimesso Designs for their Next event (it never feels like work with La Di Da, we always have far too much fun!), Pixie Tenenbaum for inviting me to Northumbria University’s fashion show which I’ve always wanted to go to (awesome evening and well worth the wait), and the incredible Summer Shines who commissioned me for some embroidered sweaters, and never fails to inspire me with her strength and vulnerability. Big moments for me this year include:

  1. Curating my first international art show in Vane for International Women’s Day

  2. Creating a collection of embroidered portraits of influential creative women, my first foray into garments

  3. Moving my studio into The Fashion Lab, and giving it a makeover

  4. Created a unique ‘Northern Star’ badge for local MP Chi Onwurah

  5. My first intern Megan working through Creative FUSE and Newcastle University, and also having the wonderful support of Jess from Northumbria University who was interning for Orbis, Vasia and Eva as part of their Erasmus exchange, and Melody who I met during her work experience at Vane.

  6. Finally getting the knack of French couture technique tambour beading for a special feminist bridal commission

  7. Exhibiting at Manchester Contemporary for the 3rd year in a row with Vane gallery

  8. Been invited to Hand & Lock Prize ceremony as a guest, and from there visiting Harrogate Knit & Stitch Show as a guest of RSN

  9. My best friend Lyndsey moving back to Newcastle, and getting to collaborate with her on a Swarovski embellished collection inspired by the RSA

  10. Started working as a copywriter/digital marketer for local ethical clothing brand Uncaptive Ethical Clothing

I could probably write a blog post for each of these (don’t worry, I’ll only write them for the last few as they’re all so recent!) so I’ll try my best go into enough detail without rambling…

At the start of the year, an opportunity arose with Vane Gallery to curate another exhibition for International Women’s Day. Cait and I, having put on our first exhibition the previous year for Vane with no experience and just ten days to organise (with a lot of much appreciated support from the directors Paul, Chris and Jonpaul), we ambitiously proposed a much bigger exhibition this year, with just over a couple of months to organise. As the previous year had gone so well, and this year we had more time to plan, we thought why not try an open call? Amazingly, we received over three-hundred submissions, with a great mix of local, national and international artists, many with diverse and brilliant work that communicated something worthwhile. It was a real struggle to narrow down the best suited artists whose work complimented the others chosen, and would also logistically work with our timescale and small budget, but we eventually managed to choose twenty artists, including a number of national and international artists as well as local.

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day was #pressforprogress, which looked at movements towards gender parity. We chose to acknowledge the subject in a way that explored the underlying themes of gender-related economic imbalance, including societal expectations of women, our personal experiences and also the identity we project to others. The artwork chosen reflected these themes, and we wanted the show to be as inclusive as possible so that is encapsulated a wide range of viewpoints and creative mediums, as well as providing a platform that explored womanhood and feminine identity in its many forms. It was a wild couple of months planning and organising, with really long days, copious amounts of caffeine and the occasional moment of panic, but there was also an incredible energy and momentum that truly fuelled the run up to the show. It wouldn’t have been what it was without everyone coming together, including the artists who travelled to help install and perform on preview night, to Emma helping me to manage data in a way that made my life a million times easier, to Bad Witches and Mermaid Morgue providing gorgeous illustrations and creating the official zine and poster, to the Orbis directors Paul, Chris and Jonpaul being brilliantly supportive as always. All in all, I think it’s safe to say the exhibition was a success, and I’m not ashamed to say I’m pretty damn proud of what we accomplished, of the exhibition, the conversations it’s provoked and the people it brought together as a result of the show! The exhibitions success is testament to what can be achieved through creative vision, hard work and a brilliant strong and supportive community!

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I decided not to have my own artwork in the show, however that didn’t stop me from wanting to make something special for it. I’ve always loved the idea of embroidering onto garments, and I wanted to make something that felt inline with the exhibition. Frida Kahlo, with her strong personal identity, her openness of her experiences as a woman and the challenges she has worked through, is someone I hugely respect and admire. I came up with the idea of embroidering her portrait onto a classic white t-shirt - super-wearable craftsmanship that looks great dressed up or down - and after posting an image of the t-shirt to Facebook, the rest, as they say, is history! These were super popular with clients wanting to choose their own colours (one of the many benefits of made to order), which led me to redesigning the t-shirt with a few other key women in the creative industries who I greatly admire, including Iris Apfel, Yayoi Kusama and Josephine Baker. I’ve always been conscious about the ethics of the fashion industry, and after a couple of months of research I finally managed to come across a brand that produces carbon neutral, ethically made organic cotton t-shirts, so these are now my go-to staple garments to embroider and embellish onto.

Inline with celebrating womanhood, I also wanted to acknowledge a prominent local figure who always puts herself in the firing line and tirelessly fights for others rights. That person is Newcastle’s MP Chi Onwurah, and as someone who works in an environment that unfortunately still has a chauvinistic and often racist culture, her position in parliament as a woman of colour is all the more admirable. With regard to International Women’s Day, I wanted to send her a little something to thank her for her continuing efforts, and to remind her of her strengths. That’s how I ended up making a Swarovski embellished ‘Labour’ brooch, totally unique to Chi with her initials on the back. The Swarovski held particular significance, as innovation, and their notable quality and history, is also a key area of Chi’s. She loved her gift so much, that it ended up inspiring my recent collaboration with Lyndsey later this year…

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During this time (it was super busy), Helen and I had come to a point where we had outgrown our shared studio space. We’d shared together for an amazing couple of years, but with our working styles being totally different from one another, we knew for our businesses to progress, it made more sense for us to become studio neighbours rather than studio partners. I moved my desk into The Fashion Lab as I’d been running classes from there, and Helen wanted to focus more on her brand Osseus, but we still see each other often and have motivational pep-talks over cups of tea, and the occasional mood-boosting hula hoop session to girl power anthems!

From moving my studio into The Fashion Lab at a point where I felt my brand identity was becoming more defined, I was inspired to redecorate the space into something more fresh and vibrant, something that would inspire and refresh anyone who was to set foot in the room, and also something that would feed into my own creative practice. I carefully selected a pallet, painted colourful graphics onto the entrance and back wall, and the wonderful directors at Ampersand Inventions created a stunning six foot resin sewing bench for my workshops, which months later, I’m still mesmerised when its gold flecks are illuminated by the sun.

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Speaking of creating a space with other people in mind, during the summer I had my first ever intern! Megan, who was studying her business masters at Newcastle University, had her short-term placement working with me on my brand. I have a lot to thank her for in helping me clarify and define the different elements of my business, as well as helping with the structure and content of my website, which is now (eventually) live! I’m also incredibly grateful for Jess from Northumbria Uni, who has helped me a lot behind the scenes, and Vasia, Eva and Melody, who have offered their creative input and feedback over past couple of months. It’s super hard work to build a successful brand and business when you’re one person juggling multiple job roles, so to have had the opportunity to work with these brilliant women and to have their support and enthusiasm has been a real god-send.

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During the tail-end of Summer, I was having my first meetings with Women of Tyneside (keep your eyes open for their ‘Festival of Women’ next year!) wedding plans were also in the mix and I was asked if I could create an embellished feminist bridal veil for Clara, one of the organisers of the project. As a special commission, it was everything I love about creating bespoke - personal, original and creative. Clara wanted a Boudicca-style cape that featured the female symbol, communicating a message of female empowerment and equal partnership on her wedding day. Her mother chose the tulle and helped decide on the final design, her sister created the embellished patches that attached the cape to her wedding dress, and I designed and constructed the cape and symbol embellishment, so it was a collaborative effort and wonderful to have her immediate family’s input into something so sentimental. After settling on a design which was created to integrate with the embellishment on her dress, and after a couple of years of on/off practice, I finally got the knack of tambour beading which was needed to embellish the tulle, a fiddly French couture technique that involves embellishing from the back of the fabric with a metal hook and beaded thread. It might not sound like a lot, and it may not look much different to hand-beading to the untrained eye, but it’s something that will allow me to embellish much quicker and enable me to create bigger pieces in future, which I’m really excited about!

At the start of October, I exhibited with Vane gallery at Manchester Contemporary for the third year in a row, a fantastic opportunity to exhibit with Vane and to have my work shown amongst many emerging and established artists. With the aim of closing the gap more with my artwork and wearable pieces, I decided to recreate some of my original feminist portraits onto felt, so they worked as both mounted artwork or as wearable embroidered patches. I love the concept of these and how they’ve turned out, and I’m currently creating new pieces in a similar style for an exhibition with Gateshead Libraries from mid-January to celebrate 21 years of the Angel of the North!

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The main thing that sparked my passion for embroidery was following a Hand & Lock brief as part of my undergraduate degree. It completely changed the way that I viewed the craft, and from then on, I knew it was my perfect creative outlet, something that I would always find inspiring and fulfilling. Imagine my delight when I received an email from the Prize co-ordinator inviting me to apply in 2019, and also inviting me as a guest to this years ceremony! Something I really couldn’t miss, I squeezed in visits to the V&A and Serpentine Gallery before attending the H&L exhibition and ceremony, which was an incredible experience and I found myself genuinely speechless seeing all of the amazing work and craftsmanship of the finalists displayed in all of their glory. Whilst there, I met many talented and humble people including Bryna from the Royal School of Needlework. Having spoken and realising I was from the north, she very kindly offered me a ticket to visit the Knit & Stitch Show in Harrogate. I travelled down a couple of weeks later, and again was inspired and humbled by the talent of exhibitors there, as well as getting to connect with more likeminded people from the embroidery community.

Also during November, my best friend Lyndsey moved back to Newcastle! Not only that, but she’s also got a writing studio in Space 6, just a couple of floors up from me in Commercial Union House! It would have been a shame for us to not collaborate, and with an upcoming RSA event happening at Ampersand Inventions, we were inspired to create a collection of gorgeous unique keepsakes, each one inspired by a value of the RSA and accompanied by an original piece of writing (so beautiful it prompted a retired bishop to seek Lyndsey out to tell her he found her writing ‘bloody marvellous’). I’ll be writing another blogpost on this collaboration, but for now, here is an image of the twelve final stars…

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If your attention has managed to reach the end of this, thank you for being so patient and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my recap of 2018! Special thanks go to Jonpaul, Paul and Chris, for always being incredibly supportive and believing in me. Keep an eye out for exciting things happening after the new year, let me know if there’s anything you’d like to see more of, whether it be blogposts, art, fashion or events, and wishing you all a fabulous, successful and love-filled 2019!!

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Melanie xx

Hello (2 min read)

Hello and thank you for visiting my new blog!

This is something I’ve wanted to get back into for a while now, I used to blog a lot in the past but running a business single-handedly meant the blog ended up a bit neglected. So despite this being an incredibly busy time of year (especially for us small businesses!) I’ve decided there’s no time like the present and decided to launch anyway!

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I’ll keep this short and sweet as there’s loads of stuff I’d love to share with you properly rather than listing it all off, but if you’re interested in art, fashion, inspiring creative figures, sustainability and craftsmanship, this will be right up your street.

You can expect to see lots of stories, exhibitions, events and behind the scenes on here, as well as a good chance of my musings as a creative business owner…because sometimes it’s good to get stuff off your chest.

That’s all for now, as I’m currently getting prepped for my Middlesborough Christmas hut next week, but looking forward to sharing more on here and hopefully sparking some interesting and creative discussions with you along the way!

Melanie xx