Womankind 17: Unicorn

A stitch in time

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by Womankind mag on August 8, 2018

Ploughed Field, by Jane Jackson

I live in a rural village in north Northumberland, a few miles from Scotland, with my husband and two cats. Northumberland is the most northerly and least-populated county in England. It is close to long, empty sandy beaches to the east and wild moorland to the west. As a very small child I loved painting and drawing, and I always intended to be an artist. But for one reason or another I had to wait until I was 52 years old. The journey I have taken to get here has not been straightforward, or even planned at times, but it does perhaps show that you shouldn’t ever give up on your dreams.

Things started off well. I was always top of my class in art at school and at age 16 I went to art college to do a two-year foundation course. But to my horror, during the second year I found that my creativity seemed to be drying up. I tried hard to get over my creative block, after all this was all I’d ever wanted to do, but unfortunately, nothing changed and with regret I decided to leave and get a ‘proper’ job. Ironically I drifted into IT in my early 20s and became a computer programmer of all things!

I didn’t really like the work, but I could do it well enough and it was very well paid. I stuck it out until I was 42, when I took voluntary redundancy and retrained as an occupational therapist. I qualified in 2005 and moved back to my native Northumberland with my husband to begin my new career. I dislike crowded places and have always wanted to live in the countryside. It’s not just the joy of being surrounded by a beautiful landscape – I find that I need the space and quiet to be my truest self somehow.

Shortly after moving I signed up to an adult education class to learn how to rag rug. This is a traditional craft where old fabric or clothes are cut up and the pieces are poked or hooked through a hessian backing to make rugs. Rag rugging is a very forgiving artistic medium, so somehow there was no artistic pressure and as a result my creativity was reawakened with a vengeance. I quickly started using Harris Tweed to make rag rugged wall hangings.

East Neuk Rooftops, by Jane Jackson

Harris Tweed has a slightly rough texture as it is hand woven from yarn made from a special blend of wool from several different breeds of sheep. It is the only fabric in the world to be governed by its own act of parliament (by law, Harris Tweed must be hand woven from pure new British wool by crofters at home in the Outer Hebrides). I developed my technique of making needle-felted ‘paintings’ with Harris Tweed almost by accident. I bought some felting needles on a whim while I was on holiday. The lady who sold them to me had explained roughly how the needles worked in principle, but said she didn’t know much about them.

So not really knowing what I was doing, I started experimenting with some scraps of Harris Tweed and wool yarns when I got home. The resulting first picture was of a seascape. I showed this seascape to a local gallery owner and she suggested that I hold a solo exhibition of my needle-felted pictures at her gallery the following year. I’ve never looked back.

From the Unicorn edition of Womankind, which can be purchased here.

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