Yarn Bomb!

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When I was planning our move out of London to Hitchin, one of the things I looked forward to the most was the better sense of community. So when a friend told me about the local Time Bank scheme, I joined up before we’d even packed!

The Time Bank is a community skills exchange which operates across North Herts and recently launched in Stevenage and Buntingford too. The scheme enables members to give time to help local people, then ‘bank’ the hours they’ve given so you can exchange them for support when you might need help or want to learn a new skill. So for example, I might do an hour’s sewing for another member, then I get to bank that hour to use later, say when I need some DIY done around the house. I love the concept, as it so effectively brings the community together, helping you meet new people and share your skills. There are all kinds of people involved from all walks of life and at all ages….there are people who offer help with form-filling, crafts, gardening, IT skills, shopping and all sorts.

The Time Bank also has two very popular knitting groups, who meet every week to work on projects, share tips and just have a good chat. So, when Time Banker Carmen got in touch with an idea to get everyone involved in a big project to help promote awareness of the group, I was super excited!

Carmen’s idea was to stage a yarn bombing somewhere in Letchworth, to show how the Time Bank brings people together and benefits the local area. ‘Guerrilla knitting’ or ‘yarn bombing’ is a form of street art, whereby colourful displays of knitted or crocheted yarn are used to cover and transform trees, community sculptures and street furniture.

After speaking to the council and Heritage Foundation, we managed to get permission to cover the ‘Paradise Is’ sculpture in knitting and crochet. Carmen then rallied around, as well as lots of other Time Bankers and local knitters, together giving a whopping 300 hours to get the knitted and crocheted panels and details ready for the big day.

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We were so delighted with how many people wanted to take part, with people learning to knit for the first time and also members giving up their time and sharing their other crafty skills to help sew it all together. On the morning of the ‘bombing’ hours were spent carefully attaching the panels and other decorations to the sculpture  to ensure it wasn’t damaged and that it was all secure. I couldn’t believe how intricately designed it all was, with beautiful little details to represent all the elements of Time Banking and volunteering, such as the gardening project, photography and baking.

Here are a few of my favourite bits….

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The Time Bank scheme, run by North Herts CVS, has been growing and growing, and the popular knitting group made up of fellow members takes place every Friday morning at the Community Coffee Bar held at the Brotherhood Hall on Gernon Road. The group is always looking to find new members to help take on new projects, and have recently raised money for Guide Dogs for the Blind by selling knitted clothing and gifts they have made. If you are interested in joining or learning how to knit just come along to the Brotherhood Hall on a Friday morning between 10:00am and 11.30am and join in the fun. It’s free to join in, and members of all ages are welcome.

The yarn bomb will remain in place until the end of the month, opposite the Broadway Cinema (which is currently showing Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s ‘The World’s End’ which was filmed in Letchworth and features the cinema as one of the pubs!)  and once removed the knitted panels will be re-sewn into blankets to be donated to local charities. The art form is unique in this way, as no public property is damaged and nothing is wasted.

The Time Bank is free and easy to join:  visit www.mytimebank.org.uk, call 01462 689405 or email timebank@nhcvs.org.uk to join.

You can also find out more about the Time Bank on the NHCVS Blog, which I also write for!

Ems x

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The Hills Are Alive, With the Sound of Music!

After a little inspiration from the Austrian-themed hen do I went to last weekend, I’ve finally listed my new jam jar sculpture….. Inspired by the opening scene from The Sound of Music, this miniature scene features Maria atop a meadowy mountain, with her arms outstretched in song.

I love making these tiny pieces of art, and must get onto making a few more of the scenes I’ve been planning! If you have any ideas or requests, do let me know!

You can now buy this jam jar scene on my Etsy shop for just £35….. I hope you like it!

Unique, hand made Sound of Music scene in a jam jar "The hills are alive with the sound of music"

Unique, hand made Sound of Music scene in a jam jar "The hills are alive with the sound of music"

Unique, hand made Sound of Music scene in a jam jar "The hills are alive with the sound of music"

Miracles and Charms at The Wellcome Collection

The Wellcome Trust describes itself as “the free destination for the incurably curious” and so it’s no wonder I loved my first visit last weekend. I only wonder why I’ve never made it there before, but then I do take comfort that there are still plenty of treasures in London as yet undiscovered by me.

We walk past the imposing building on Euston Road often, on our way to and from Euston station from the tube. But it was the posters on the underground that really got me there, advertising an exhibition of Miracles and Charms… What could be more intriguing than that and their invitation to ‘explore faith, hope and chance’?

It’s free to get in to what are actually two exhibitions in their own right: ‘Infinitas Gracias: Mexican Miracle Paintings’ and ‘Felicity Powell: A Charmed Life’. Not an instantly obvious pairing, but joined under the umbrella of the Wellcome Trust they actually work together beautifully. Long enough to get me happily engrossed, but not so long as to take up our entire Sunday, these thoughtful and beautifully curated exhibitions are certainly a must for us curious types.

First, we stepped through the exhibitions’ glass double doors to find a white washed room in which two walls had been completely covered in small panels of vivid artwork, rather like individually decorated tiles. A panel on the wall told us (as did the free, and highly informative guide leaflet) that the pictures were actually copies of hundreds of ‘ex-voto’ offerings, ranging from the 16th century to the present day. The story telling pictures depict scenes of families, couples, parents etc. asking their Saint for help in a time of crisis. A tribute to the divinity who had granted their requested ‘miracle’, the offerings are signs of gratitude commissioned by all manner of people.

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At the foot of each are written the details of the dedication, but as they’re all in Spanish, and there were too many in that first room to have the translations next to each, it was up to us to guess the stories…. Some seemed relatively simple with parents praying next to their child’s sick bed, and various images of surgeons operating on people etc. Some of them though were a little harder to decipher, and were rather inappropriately amusing to us…..a man who had fallen out of a tree…..a car in the middle of a river…..we began to wonder if these Saints were being honoured for some rather every-day, mundane things, as well as the more ‘miraculous’.

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In the next room, the walls were rather less crowded, with original ‘Votives’ from the 1800’s painted onto canvas, hung on the walls and protected in glass cabinets. These paintings represent the more elaborate, professionally painted ex-votos commissioned by the wealthy (later, those who couldn’t afford canvas would have them painted onto tin roof tiles which gave a beautifully lustrous sheen). Again, we saw a mixture of thank you’s for very dramatic events, as well as the every-day. The inscriptions below each often detailed how the commissioner ‘invoked the miraculous saint’ or ‘invoked with intimate truth at the core of my heart,’ whilst above this the pictures sometimes appeared in layers or strips to portray the passing of time, or two scenes in one painting. The rather naive images and the odd scale seemed to make light of disasters, whilst sometimes having the effect of dramatising the far less serious (‘freed from catastrophe’ might just mean someone survived a nosebleed!). In some ways, I began to think that these may well be excuses to celebrate the power of these Saints (‘for this was an evident miracle’), although a big part of me thought how wonderful it is to be so grateful just to live each day, and with ‘humble proof of recognition’.

The next room opened with its first long wall collaged with modern documents and artefacts, lent by the people of Mineral de Cata. Here, near to the entrance of one of Mexico’s earliest silver mines, is the church dedicated to Senor de Villaseca who is attributed with miraculous powers. Once the practice of dedicating ex-votos to such divinities diminished in the 20th Century, people instead began to offer other thank you’s to show their gratitude for answered prayers. The wall contains a bizarre assortment of tributes, such as a polystyrene food tray on which a biro-inked drawing thanks a Saint…. several wedding dresses, bouquets and veils express thanks for women who have found love…. and baby clothes thank the Saint for delivering a healthy child to the parents and ask that he or she grows strong and lives well. Again, I was rather bemused by this need to thank someone, or something, for what would largely in our culture pass as every day things, or at least simply the achievement of one’s own hard work.

One inscription that caught my eye, underneath a detailed architectural diagram, thanked a Saint for something surely attributable to the person himself rather than any other power: ‘I thank you with all my heart for this accomplishment: a warehouse with multiple uses.’ I found myself feeling rather sorry for the skilled surgeons and doctors in some of the paintings, who themselves were not attributed with saving lives, but instead the gratitude went to the associated Saint for granting a miracle. I wondered how one could feel satisfied in one’s own work and others’ skills when their successes were credited to some divinity instead.

The exhibition began to move away from these very visual appreciations though, as it presented details of a remote place called Real de Catorce, also in Mexico. Accessible only by a narrow tunnel of 3km, the site was a major source of Mexico’s mineral wealth in the 18th Century, and inhabited thousands of foreign investors, until 1910 when the mine owners fled in the Revolution. A curious sounding place, I soon became interested in this sort of lost city, especially as I learned that right to this day over 40,000 faithfuls gather there every October for the fiesta of St Francis of Assisi. Bright images in photos and video of the procession of the fiesta caught my attention, with crowds swelling through the streets and carrying a just over life size likeness of St Francis, high above their heads. It is the practice there for the faithful to leave small amulets in honour of this Saint, and these were shown sewn onto a robe as tiny metal eyes, ears, houses, hearts, animals, coins and limbs….each asking a particular prayer for health or prosperity. I loved these charms, especially in their clever arrangement on this robe and two walls hangings, and they provided a wonderful link to the next exhibition…….

Felicity Powell’s ‘Charmed Life’ is an exhibition made up of both her own work and some of the 1400 amulets collected by the Edwardian collector Edward Lovett. These charms, once owned by Londoners who believed they would ward off ill-health and bad luck, intrigued Powell who was ‘intrigued by the silent witness they bore to countless personal narratives’. Similarly enchanted by such treasures and the ‘comfort of things’, I delighted in viewing the tiny and beautifully detailed talismans and became engrossed in their possible meanings and their histories. A large horse-shoe shaped glass cabinet encased hundreds of keys, shells, glass shoes, tiny dice, dominoes and plenty of unrecognisable artefacts….all carefully arranged into meaningful groups.

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Powell’s own work plays with scale and detail just like these objects, and one could certainly imagine using one of her beautifully intricate works as a charm of some sort. A video showed us, in reverse, the incredible process of how Powell makes her wax pictures on the back of mirrors. The effect of the video was almost magical and by the time we came to see the pieces themselves I adored their charm and complexity. Born seemingly of pure imagination, hands spawn coral and a head turns into a tree as roots sprout out from its neck. The vivid white and red on black (I’ve always loved this colour combination) serves to burst forth the subject from its backdrop, whilst it still seems as one inside its circular setting.

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Her works were a perfect end to the two thought-provoking exhibitions, from which I gained some wonderful inspiration. In fact, I can’t wait to play with such scale and detail in some crafty arty projects I have got lined up….. so watch this space.

Cameras are not permitted in the exhibition, so I’ve taken these snaps from the little guide leaflet I took home, to at least give you an idea….. really though, I’d very much recommend a visit to anyone ‘Incurably Curious.’ Both exhibitions run until 26th February.