In July 2022, I bought three of the Tim Holtz die sets from the Chapter 3 Sizzix release. They are what Tim calls ‘foundational dies’ and what I call ‘oh my god, I need those!’

Three sets of Tim Holtz dies.
The three sets of dies.

I’m always especially keen on dies that I can use for book-making or journal inserts because I’m rubbish at accurately measuring and cutting, so as soon as I saw these, I knew I’d be making books with them.

Although I’ve used all the dies, I've developed an obsessive love affair with the slide mount die from the Specimen set and I’ve been making a series of unique artist books using it. I challenged myself to make each book with a different theme and binding. I’ve made 14 so far… things may have gotten a little out of hand! But hey, as long as I still have ideas for them, then I’m going to keep making them.

Book 1: Sabotage

The first book in the series.

A small brown and green textured book.
The front page of Sabotage.

The pages were made from brown card sprayed and splattered with Seth Apter izink ink in Underwater, Tea and Goldmine, Lindy’s spray in Tibetan Poppy Teal, Dina Wakley gloss spray in Night, and Distress spray in Walnut Stain. I added texture with Distress Crypt grit paste, Distress Texture Paste through a Tim Holtz stencil and Distress Foundry Wax in Mined.

One of the inner pages of a small brown and green book.
One of the inner pages of Sabotage.

The centres are vintage digital photos from Pink Monarch Prints on Etsy. They were inkjet printed on copy paper and altered with water and wax, then cut with another die from the Specimen set before being slightly torn.

The text was typed with a vintage typewriter onto sepia toned inkjet printed paper and more water and wax. The text reads, ‘everything seemed so much harder than before’. It’s about how I was feeling about the pandemic at the time.

I made an extra hole along the centre of one edge and then the pages were bound with a ring binding made from copper wire coated with Distress Crypt grit paste and Distress Foundry Wax

The side view of the book.
The side view of Sabotage showing the wire binding.

You can see all the pages here.

Book 2: Cascade

Cascade was a direct response to Sabotage, although they look quite different. When I made that first book, I swithered over which way round to use the images. Because they’re printed on thin copy paper, the paper becomes translucent when you wax it so the images can be seen from both sides. I used the images in Sabotage the right way round, so I wanted to make a second book using similar images that were reversed.

The front cover of a small brown and gold book.
The front cover of Cascade.

The pages were made from brown card coloured with Seth Apter izink inks in Underwater, Tea and Morning Mist plus some Uncharted Mariner Distress ink and Distress Oxide sprays in Faded Jeans and Salty Ocean. I deliberately used the reverse of the card because I wanted to explore the way the ink seeped through the paper. I’d noticed the effect in my previous book and been very taken with it. The frames were lightly stamped with Vintage Photo archival ink and a Tim Holtz stamp before the centres were added.

The first page of Cascade.

The images were from Pink Monarch Prints on Etsy. They were printed on copy paper with my inkjet printer, splattered with water and then waxed. I used the reverse of the images because again, I wanted that more faded, ghostly look. However, I also tore them a lot so that the lovely blue from the Oxide inks was visible.

The text reads “we fell prey to ghosts and old magic. It was typed on a vintage typewriter loaded with brown ink, I used tissue paper for the pages and copy paper for the title. The text was all glued on and then circled with brown Pitt pen to make the words feel more grounded and intentional.

The cover and the binding tabs were made from a thicker Kraft cardstock for strength. I stippled them all with Gilded Distress Foundry Wax and then filled in any gaps with Walnut Stain Distress ink for a mottled, aged look.

One of the pages of Cascade showing the binding tabs.

The cover has two layers, an outer cover and a matching inner layer that the binding tabs were sewn into. After the tabs were bound in using a concealed three hole pamphlet stitch, I glued the slides in between the two sides of the tabs and then the inner and outer covers were glued together to completely hide the sewing. Finally the cover was finished with two eyelets and a brown ribbon to close the book.

There's a short video of the binding process here and more images here and here.

Oh, and it's called Cascade because of the way the pages move.

Book 3: Silent

This one is about my fears around insect decline and climate change - if the pollinators go, so do we. It’s called Silent in a nod to the seminal 1970’s book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and I’ve added the text, ‘Anthropocene No 1’ on the back because I suspect I may need to make more works about climate change. It bloody terrifies me and I tend to deal with my fears by making work about them. My art is not therapy but it is often a way to have a dialogue with my inner self.

A brown fabric cover of a small handmade book.
The cover of Silent.

I knew I needed more strength for this book construction, so the pages were cut from thicker brown card. Instead of cutting the whole die, I only cut the fronts so that once two of them were glued together I would have a fully transparent slide. I added areas of Distress ink, Crackle Accents and Distress crayon to the slide mounts. Each slide has two pieces of sanded, heat-resistant acetate in them. I stamped the insects, words and numbers (all from a Tim Holtz set) with black Stazon ink, which works on non-porous surfaces like acetate. Both pieces of acetate are reversed so that the stamping is on the inside, partly to protect the stamping but mostly because I preferred the slightly more subtle look it gave. After I’d glued the slides together, I carefully burnt the edges, slightly melting the acetate as I did. I had an idea in my head of museums burning and this being the last damaged evidence of these insects remaining. Hey, no one said this was a cheerful book!

A set of slides filled with stamped acetate.
The pages before they were bound.

This one was bound by putting jump rings through the slide holes, glueing them shut and then sewing them to a fabric spine. I coloured the fabric cover and the spine with watered down brown acrylic paint. I glued the spine into the cover, then glued on the title, the text and the wool closure plait. The typed text on the front inner cover reads: “And after that, there was no going back.”

The inner cover of the book.
The inner cover of the book.
Two of the inner pages of the book.
Two of the inner pages of the book.

More images here.

So that's the first three books from this series, I'll add more soon.

During my blogging hiatus, one of the many things I’ve been making is a stitched series using WW2 cream Utility blankets.

A cream blanket with hemmed holes hanging from a white pole
Fettle hanging in my studio, Dec 2022

The first piece is called Fettle. I’ve been cutting multiple holes in a blanket and hemming them with mattresses stitch. The second piece is called Fallow and it comprises of round pebbles sewn onto a blanket with (the unfortunately named) Colonial Knots. I see them both as a continuation of the ideas raised in Tatterdemalion.

A cream blanket with holes and stones.
Fettle before I cut the stones off.

Fettle was started in 2018 and is nearly finished. It would have been done already but I made a major mistake in the concept of the piece and spent an embarrassing amount of time sewing stones into the middle before realising that I was actually trying to squeeze two different pieces into one. Unfortunately I was nearly finished before I realised that I needed to cut the stones off Fettle and start a second companion piece with them.

A cream blanket with lots of cut stitches
Cutting the stones off Fettle

What's worse is that I was recently looking through my old sketchbook and found a drawing where I'd originally conceived of it as two pieces not one. I don't know when or why I foolishly squashed them together, my suspicion is that I just misremembered the original plan. Guess it just goes to show the importance of flipping through your sketchbooks on the regular!

Sketchbook page with two rough pen drawings and notes.
Sketchbook drawing of what are now Fettle and Fallow

So that was an annoying but very necessary realisation. I’m much happier making two separate but connected pieces. Before there was a constant feeling of wrongness (that I should have heeded much earlier), whereas now there's a deep feeling of rightness. I’ve only just started sewing the stones onto Fallow because it took me 7 months to source a second blanket the same size as Fettle. So it’ll be a while before that’s finished and they can be shown together as I envisage them, with Fettle hanging on a wall and Fallow tumbled on the floor under it.

A stone sewn into a cream blanket.
Starting the sewing on Fallow

What’s odd is that during those 7 months while I was trying to find a second blanket, Fettle temporarily lost its name. After I took the stones off, I was unsure whether it was still called Fettle or not but the minute I bought the new blanket and understood that it was called Fallow, Fettle reclaimed its name. Apparently they are so deeply connected that I couldn’t properly name one until I knew what the other one was called.

A cream blanket with cut holes hemmed in blanket stitch. A needle with cream wool is in the foreground.
Sewing holes in Fettle


I chose to work with Utility blankets for several reasons and none of them are anything to do with WW2 nostalgia.

Firstly, I got obsessed with a scratchy old grey wool blanket at my parents house. It gives me Big Art Feels; I am simultaneously drawn to its humble beauty but repelled by its scratchiness. I call this The Push-Pull Feeling and it’s the basis of a surprising amount of my work.

My parents are still using that blanket as a mattress topper so I don’t want to ask them for it. Besides, there’s only one of it, which would make it far too precious for me to ever use for art. I don’t know how many blanket pieces I’ll ultimately make but I know myself and I like to work in series. I knew my chances of finding a set of identical blankets to the one my parents own was ridiculously small, so I needed a reliable source of substitute blankets that gave me that same Push-Pull feeling.

Modern blankets are way too soft, plus I wanted to work with old blankets that had already lived a life. However, I didn’t want to destroy anything truly precious or expensive. I settled on Utility blankets because they were made in their thousands to a set standard, come up fairly regularly on EBay and even now can be bought reasonably cheaply. And naively, I initially thought that choosing Utility blankets would mean they’d all be identical.

Hah, I soon learned otherwise!

I now own four of these blankets in two sizes and each is slightly different. Although like all Utility products they were standardised due to the restrictions of World War 2, it’s obvious there was a certain amount of wiggle room in the rules. Even if they had started out identical, which they didn’t, they have been living in different conditions over the last 70 years. Some have clearly been used and washed far more often than others, some have stains, holes or other damage and they are all subtly different shades of cream.

So Fallow is not an exact colour and texture match to Fettle but by this point in my blanket collecting, I wasn’t expecting it to be. Fallow has a distinct Herringbone pattern that Fettle lacks and it’s slightly darker. They are very similar but not identical; siblings not twins. However, they are the same size and that was the key thing for me.

Two cream blankets
Fettle on the left, Fallow on the right

Don’t expect to see Fallow finished anytime soon, this is the very definition of slow art. Even if I worked on it every day, which I know I won’t, it would still take ages. I'm trying to crack on with it now while I'm still fresh and enthusiastic because I know from bitter experience that it's likely to get harder later. Baring disasters, Fettle should definitely be finished in 2023 and I am working on them both weekly. I find if I don’t strongly commit to working on the big sculptural textile pieces every week, they fall off my list too easily.

Oi Kirsty, where did you go?

Well, I had a spot of cancer!

Anal cancer, to be precise, which is somewhat rare. Thankfully, it really was only a spot of cancer because although my tumour got to about 5 cms, it was still only Stage 2 and hadn’t spread. We caught it just in time - 5 cms is usually the size at which they expect anal cancer to start to metastasise. It was difficult, painful and hideous enough but even a couple of months later, it could have been a much more serious story. I got really lucky.

I was diagnosed last November and went through successful but brutal treatment in January and February of this year - I had 6 weeks of daily chemo and radiotherapy, which I’m still recovering from. Then in May of this year I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes on top of my existing MECFS.

As we say around here, with classic British understatement, ‘it’s been a bit of a year!’

Kirsty, a white woman with dark hair and wearing a black mask, sits under an NHS patient sign with her name on it.
First day of treatment and thankfully the only chemo injection I had (the rest was in pill form).

Thanks to the NHS, I’m currently cancer-free and if I can make it until January 2023 and my next set of scans, I will probably stay that way because if anal cancer is going to come back, it usually does so within the first year. But we shall see; there are always outliers and I’m honestly still kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop. But I suspect that’s probably a fairly common emotion in cancer sufferers. Whatever happens, I will need 4 more years of regular oncology check-ups, which is daunting but necessary.

But hey, right now, I’m doing as well as can be expected. I’m slowly recuperating and I’m still making art daily and living my life to the best of my ability whilst juggling several chronic illnesses in the midst of a pandemic (yes, we are still in middle of a pandemic).

A pile of sewing bits on a NHS blanket.
I made art throughout the cancer. That day I was sewing some random bits in what we lovingly referred to as 'cancer hotel', the free NHS accommodation we stayed in during weekdays because we live an hour away from the hospital.

I can’t promise that I’ll get back to regular blogging. I would like to but my stamina is so erratic and I’ve had very little writing energy over these last few years. I’ve been prioritising making art over writing about art. However, it does feel like my brain has slowly been coming back to life lately, which is encouraging.

I’ll always have to work around the serious limitations of my MECFS but it’s obvious now that the added fatigue from the cancer was really doing a number on me. Given when I first started having subtle bowel symptoms and my general health plummeted, I suspect that I may have had the cancer for as long as five years. I certainly had it by the summer of 2020 when I first noticed a 1cm lump, which was initially misdiagnosed as piles. Pro tip, if you have piles that don’t clear up and especially if they get larger, go back to the doctor! Anal cancer is rare but it mimics piles very closely, so it is often initially misdiagnosed.

As the cancer progressed, gradually every extraneous thing that I cared about, like socialising, gardening, knitting, writing and even reading, fell away because I simply didn’t have the energy for it. At the time, it felt like another MECFS crash or perhaps a bit of pandemic depression but looking back, it’s obvious that my body was desperately trying to deal with the added burden of the cancer.

A close up of a green and brown journal page with a vintage photograph of a woman and the caption, 'I was afraid'.
An art journal page that I completed in March, just after my treatment.

Chemo and radiotherapy are hard and take months to get over but I'm definitely starting to pick up a bit now and I can clearly see the difference in my fatigue levels and my motivation. I am still housebound and disabled by the MECFS but I am starting to feel more like myself than I have in several years. So who knows, perhaps regular, longer form writing will be a thing that I can gradually return to.

In the meantime, I’m fairly reliably over on Instagram, so that’s a good place to keep up with me and my art. I aim to post there at least 3 times a week but unless I’m very unwell, it’s usually more.

I'm delighted to let you know that I will be taking part in Hebden Bridge Open Studios for the first time.

My studio is in my bedroom, up two flights of stairs and our house is rather off the beaten track compared to the other studio spaces, so I've never been able to take part before. I always felt that it would be far too disruptive and difficult for us, being a dual disabled household with a nervous cat.

But this year my friends Helen and Caroline from Ribbon Circus have kindly offered me their lovely conservatory space behind the shop as a little pop-up studio. I will showing a combination of brand new and recently completed older work. There will also be a piece in the shop window.

I will only be there on Saturday 6th July and Sunday 7th July from 12-4pm on both days. I decided not to do the full 3 days or the longer hours because even this level of commitment will be a challenge for me with my precarious health.

If you're local and can come along, I would love to see you; I'm at venue 55 right on Market Street and you enter through Ribbon Circus. Unfortunately the venue is not wheelchair accessible as there is a small flight of stairs and then a narrow corridor but it is manageable with a cane.

This is the second time I'll have exhibited in a haberdashery. They're clearly a great fit for my work, so hey, if anyone else who happens to have a haberdashery wants to show some of my work, just let me know.

The Death Of Roses brings gifts, welcome and unwelcome.

The Death Of Roses is born
Photo by Kirsty Hall, Oct 2016

The Death Of Roses was an accident. In October 2016, I needed a last minute Halloween costume because I'd misplaced the make-up I needed to do a broken doll's face. With only a few hours to come up with a new idea, I looked at the lace and rose gothic dress I'd planned to wear, remembered a skull and rose head-dress I'd recently been given and the phrase 'the death of roses' popped unbidden into my mind.

'But what does The Death Of Roses do?' I immediately asked myself.

I knew that the phrase 'The Death Of Roses' would be meaningless to people: to give her a bit more heft, she needed some kind of shtick so I decided that she would hand out rose mottos. In a flurry of activity, I hit the internet to collect a selection of phrases, poems and lyrics that mentioned roses and then printed, cut and folded them into little 'rose fortunes'.

A printed out rose quote lying on red fabric rose handbag
A rose motto on my red rose handbag
Photo by Kirsty Hall, Oct 2016

In retrospect, it's no accident that my instinct was to give out rose mottos - my recent art has been very focused on the concept of the gift and I've become increasingly fascinated with the interactions, obligations and cultural meanings involved when you give something away, especially in the context of art.

Dramatic red and black make-up with thorns and black roses drawn on in permanent marker (not too permanent on skin, thankfully!), a lace rose choker and a handbag made of red fabric roses finished my transformation into The Death Of Roses.

Death Of Roses make-up in progress
Photo by Kirsty Hall, Oct 2016

I circulated at the event, walking up to people and saying,  'good evening, I am The Death Of Roses, would you like a rose motto today?'

The complete Death Of Roses look
Photo by Kirsty Hall, Oct 2016

As soon as I started handing out the rose mottoes, I realised that I'd created something far more compelling than a simple Halloween outfit and that it was an art performance piece.

The interactions with people were fascinating; some people were suspicious, some assumed that I wanted to be paid but usually people instantly 'got it' and most absolutely loved it. I would hand an entirely random rose motto to a person, only for them to read it and be staggered by how beautiful it was or how resonant it was for their life. It was a powerful experience for both me and the people I interacted with.

It was immediately apparent to me that I could take the idea much further. The Death Of Roses  'wanted to be real', so I started thinking about other events she could attend and whether I could create a mythic figure by 'seeding the culture' with the idea of her. I've been very immersed in David Southwell's Hookland of late and his work on that 'real folklore from a fake county' has inspired a lot of my thinking around The Death Of Roses. There's a good interview with David here or you can follow Hookland on Twitter for a bit of daily weirdness.

So who exactly is The Death Of Roses and what does she mean?

Truthfully, I'm not entirely sure yet because she's still developing. Obviously given her name, she's an avatar of death, but as with the Death card in Tarot, I feel she is more about transformation and change than literal death. I think of her as bringer of truths but sometimes not gentle ones - roses have thorns, after all.

Looking at art websites & wondering, not for the first time, what a residency for disabled artists would look like & how much support it would need?

Of course a lot depends on the disability in question, some may be much easier to accommodate than others.

Personally, I'm almost entirely excluded from residencies because of my ME/CFS. I've never even applied for one because I can't guarantee that I'll be well enough and I hate to let people down. But I also don't apply because arts organisations often demonstrate such poor disability provision.

By: Alan Levine

There's so much more to access than 'but we've got a ramp & a disabled loo'.

Even when an organisation or space is physically accessible, there's rarely any obvious understanding of the support a disabled artist might need to participate in something like a residency.

For example, I often see residencies held so far away that just getting there would exhaust me or with such unrealistic timelines that I'd be unable to make work without instantly having my illness flare badly.

Obviously not all art opportunities can be accessible; that's impossible and I don't expect it. I accept that there are things I can't personally manage. I'm not going to be hiking up a glacier to make art any time soon but I wouldn't want to remove that sort of exciting opportunity from other artists. This isn't sour grapes.

However, I would like to see evidence that art organisations at least understand the issue. Yet I so rarely do. It pisses me off how many arts organisations apparently have no clue just how much they're excluding disabled artists.

Disabled artists are not particularly rare. Disabled people as a whole constitute at least 15% of the population and I know many working artists who have an illness or a disability, sometimes this is apparent but often it's an invisible condition. But if you looked at the way the art world is structured, you'd think we were some kind of mythical sparkly unicorn.

By: Jill Robidoux

If you're from an art organisation and you're bristling because you feel you already do disability access well, you need to show us. It could be that there's 'best practice' happening everywhere around me but if is, I can assure you that it's very hidden. And if I can't see that it's there, my previous experiences are going to lead me to assume that it's basically not.

You need to demonstrate that you've thought through access issues.

When you're coming up with opportunities ask yourself how accessible they really are. Is there somewhere that a disabled artist can rest if they need to? Have you budgeted for an assistant or interpreter if they are required? Are you offering assistance with installation? Does your schedule presume the artist has good health and lots of energy? What could you put in place to make an opportunity more accessible?

Ask yourself what a disabled artist might need - better still, ask us what we need!

Put disability issues front and centre. Don't assume that disabled artists can somehow intuit that they're welcome. Put policies in place to ensure that they are and then reference them on your website and in your publicity. And that means more than sticking 'disabled artists welcome' in tiny writing somewhere down the bottom.

Normalise disability. In particular, please stop putting disabled artists in the uncomfortable position of having to bring up their own needs. It's dispiriting to always be the person who has to bring stuff up; it feels awkward and embarrassing and can really add to the sense of exclusion that disabled people often feel. Instead ask ALL the artists that you work with if they have any specific access needs.

By: Brian Suda

Look, I've been disabled for more than 20 years, with a condition that's slowly getting worse. I used to be able to hide it much better than I can now. At one point, I quietly rejected the term 'disabled artist' as it always seemed to mean 'go and sit in this ghetto that we don't take seriously'. I didn't want to be the ticked box on anyone's Arts Council form.

But as my health has worsened, my ability to both access and be visible in the art world has correspondingly decreased and I now recognise that the art world needs to get much better at dealing with disability.

I've done my part by continuing to make my work despite my restrictions and taking responsibility for my health by being increasingly upfront and clear about my needs. But I need the British art establishment to get off their arses and start visibly meeting that commitment on equal terms. 



I'm not an expert in all this, just a disabled artist who feels very excluded by the art world. If you're interested in learning more about disability within the arts, check out the following UK organisations. Other areas of the world will hopefully have their own organisations.

 Disability Arts International

Disability Arts Online



ETA: I'm not the only artist who feels like way, check out this article by Stacey Guthrie, which makes similar points.

I know it's only February but if Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century by John Higgs doesn't make my top ten books of the year, I'll be very surprised.

It's an excellent speedy romp through the major ideas of the 20th century with the overarching thesis that it was a time when everything we thought we knew radically shifted and the stability of certainty was lost. As we enter another era where even the uncertain certainties of the 20th century seem to be falling away, this feels like a particularly important book.

This is a very accessible read and Higgs explains even quite complex ideas in an understandable and remarkably concise way. The only chapter I struggled with was the physics one but honestly, that wasn't a surprise to me as I've never 'got' it. Overall his writing is snappy, clear and witty and he certainly isn't to blame for my lifelong struggle with physics!

He covers so much that it's obviously impossible to really dig down into single ideas but that's not the point of the book. If you want to really understand say, Einstein, this isn't the book for you but if you're intrigued by joining the dots that connect Freud to Einstein to teenagers and rock n' roll, then I think you'll enjoy it.

Also, the Postmodernism chapter made me absolutely howl with laughter while in the bath, which is an obvious plus.

Very highly recommended.

PS. Full disclosure, my husband Ian Cat Vincent knows John Higgs & I've spoken to him briefly on Twitter about the book but I haven't met him & neither of these things affected my review. Also, I'm not getting a kickback for this, I just think it's a good book and you should all read it.

Hello, I'm not dead!

Not only am I not dead, but I'm making new work and I've finally started showing again. This is by far the longest gap I've had between shows since I graduated in 2002 but deliberately taking a break was very needful.

Anyway, I'm delighted to announce that I'm in the Shoddy exhibition in Leeds in April. Shoddy is a show for disabled artists working with textiles, so of course I had to apply and I was very pleased to be accepted.

From the exhibition brief:

Shoddy is the name for new cloth made from woollen waste and recycled fabric. This original meaning is now largely unknown, and the word has come to mean of inferior quality, shabby or broken-down. This is the starting point for a project by disabled artists working with woollen or other yarns and fabrics, or recycled and reused textile materials.

We are challenging ideas that disabled people are second-rate. Instead, we think that shoddy could be used to describe the government's treatment of disabled people, with cuts to welfare benefits and public services.

I'm making a brand new piece of work for the show.

Tatterdemalion consists of 255 rocks wrapped in torn cloth and sewn along all the seams so the rocks are completely encased like tiny shrouds. It's a rock for every month since January 1995, when I first became ill with ME/CFS. Although I wasn't diagnosed until much later, that's when my health started to deteriorate.

Tatterdemalion 02
Tatterdemalion: Kirsty Hall, Dec 2015

Here's the wall text for the piece:

The work explores the on-going nature of chronic illness and the way that many disabilities are invisible. The work speaks to the inherent contradiction of disability; that we are so often perceived as vulnerable, worn-down or damaged yet we often have a hidden core of inner strength. We need that strength not only to accommodate the limitations of our own bodies but also increasingly to deal with the prejudice that people with disabilities face in these harsh times.

The piece references the British thriftiness of 'make do and mend' and the Japanese tradition of Boro. It uses recycled fabric from my own life, including fabric from my first art installation from before my illness. The sewing is deliberately rough and threadbare, emphasising the oldness of the cloth by leaving small holes, raised seams, frayed edges and darned areas. The smooth stones become uncomfortable to hold.

On a personal level, this piece is about coming out. I spent many years denying and hiding my illness, at one point even concealing it from my family. It is the first time I have made art explicitly about my ME/CFS and the enormity of seeing 21 years of illness made manifest has been sobering.

Tatterdemalion 03
Tatterdemalion: Kirsty Hall, Dec 2015

I've been making the piece since December and I currently need to sew three rocks a day to make my target. Each rock takes a minimum of an hour and often longer, so it's generally around 3-5 hours of daily sewing. With my illness, I'm finding it very physically taxing but I'm stoically plodding along.

It's a stretch but it is doable. I did the maths before I started: I'm not completely masochistic! As my illness has worsened over the years, I've had to adapt my practice to accommodate my limited energy, which means being realistic about what I can achieve and allowing myself more time than I think I need.

Barring disasters, I'm currently on track to finish the piece in time. I reached 190 rocks last night, so I only have 65 to go with three weeks left to complete it.

Tatterdemalion 07
Rocks, scissors, needle, thread: Kirsty Hall, Dec 2015

It's immensely satisfying to be making new work again - even I can only pin so many pins before I get a bit bored - although this is certainly not the first time I have wrapped objects. Whilst in college I wrapped cherries in silk and made a silk pillow filled with rose petals and the jars featured several wrapped objects.

The rocks are intended to be displayed in a large pile and I think they'll have quite an impact en masse. This image is only the first 16 rocks; it's hard to comprehend what 255 will look like - even I won't know exactly how they'll look until I install them.

Tatterdemalion 01
Tatterdemalion: Kirsty Hall, Dec 2015

It's interesting looking at these first photos of the work because my sewing has become much neater as I've perfected the technique. Which means I need to decide whether I'm going to go back and tidy up these first rocks to match the later ones or if I leave them as they are.

Tatterdemalion 06
Tatterdemalion: Kirsty Hall, Dec 2015

The opening of Shoddy is at Live Art Bistro (LAB), Regent Street, Leeds, LS2 7QA from 6-8pm on Wednesday 6th April and the show runs until Saturday 16th April. If you're local, I do hope you'll come along. Please share the information with anyone who might be interested - the Facebook invite is here, if that's a better way for you to share.

Right, got to go, it's gone 10.30pm and I still have three rocks to sew today - I don't often say this but right now, it's a good job the ME/CFS comes with side order of insomnia!

I refer to myself as The Queen Of Procrastination.

I know, I know, it's not a very sensible self-fulfilling prophecy to land myself with. Pretty blooming accurate though!

I've got a crown and everything!
I've got a crown and everything!

Over the years, I've learnt that procrastination can have many causes. I was reminded recently that fear can be a big one.

In December, I swapped webhosts for 365 Jars because the original host was overpriced and since the site is basically now an archive, it seemed crazy to be spending so much on it.

I backed up the site onto my computer, bought new hosting, cancelled the original hosting and then... froze. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Every time I opened the new hosting site to install the site, I completely panicked and shut it down again. One time I actually burst into hysterical sobs. I realised that I was blocked by the sheer terror that something might have gone wrong with the backing up process and what would I do if I'd lost more than a years-worth of work? [Apparently in my terror, I had completely forgotten or discounted the fact that The Wayback Machine exists.]

Knowing what was wrong didn't really help: I still couldn't make myself get over the fear and do it anyway.

I finally got myself unblocked by approaching it sideways. In my other role as President of Hebden Bridge WI, I wanted us to have a better website because Blogger's weird formatting issues was driving me nuts. So I've spent the last couple of days replacing this with this. Much better, yes?

Having transferred one website to a new WordPress blog, I realised it was absolutely ridiculous to be afraid of transferring 365 Jars. So this afternoon, I made myself tackle it. And of course - like so many things that we get ourselves in a tizzy about - it was a complete doddle. It took longer to find a decent theme than it did to install WordPress and get the backup working. I'm left wondering what took me so long whilst simultaneously being a bit wibbly with relief that it's OK.

Anyway, that's a long winded way of saying that 365 Jars is back up again.

What are you stuck on this week? Is there a way you could approach it sideways?

Oh, and a friendly reminder - back up your website(s). And your computer. You'd be gutted if that stuff disappeared into the ether.


Today I've been reading a long interview with Johnna Flannagan from The Pale Rook, who makes beautiful, wistful dolls from antique fabric.

I particularly liked what she had to say about creative blocks:

"I used to get crippling creative block, which, in my experience is usually the result of two things, focusing too much on what other people are doing and achieving, or worrying too much about other peoples expectations of you. I find that creative block has little to do with a lack of ideas and more to do with too much noise and clutter in your head." Johanna Flannagan


I haven't been able to work much since we moved and naturally I've been beating myself up about it and trying to force it. But every time I tried to work, I would quickly find myself physically exhausted, ill at ease and mentally depleted.

But while reading Johanna's quote, I realised: I haven't been blocked, I've been empty. And there's a big difference.

The jar project scoured me out. There were no ideas and no energy left, so there was nothing to unblock. The stream wasn't choked by mental detritus, it had temporarily dried up.

Dry stream bed
Dry Stream Bed by Martin LaBar, used under a Creative Commons license

On one level I already knew this, I wrote a post last year about burnout and how you sometimes need to refill the well. But it was very hard to accept that I was so empty and so I've been playing The Blame Game instead.

The Blame Game says things like:

"Why aren't I working? God, I'm so lazy."
"I'll never get anywhere if I keep stopping."
"What the hell is wrong with me?"
"Every one else is doing great epic things, why do I just want to knit?"
"Oh come on, you can't still be burnt out, that's ridiculous!"

I am not someone who likes to 'do nothing'. There can be immense fear in stopping. The dominant fear for me is 'maybe the art will never come back.' And our society looks askance at those who stop. We reward busyness and bustle and achievement. There is very little tolerance for just being.

It has been challenging. You can see the reasons for something and even know how to fix it, yet still not be able to fully accept it.

Stop sign 01
Stop Sign: Kirsty Hall, Jan 2011

But in truth, it takes a lot of mental, physical and emotional energy to uproot yourself from a relationship and a house where you've been for 15 years. To move to a brand new place and completely start over - especially when you're in your 40's and believed that you were nicely settled - is no small thing. I'm a gardener; I know that some plants romp away when replanted while others sit there for a while before they get going. And I am a real homebody, so I'm definitely the second sort of plant!

Don't get me wrong, I am immensely happy in Hebden Bridge. I feel far more at home here than I ever did in Bristol. There's an inescapable rightness to being here. Yet more than 2 and half years after moving, I am still having unsettling dreams about houses. It's not nearly as raw as it was but I'm still processing everything that happened.

"I said nothing for a time, just ran my fingertips along the edge of the human-shaped emptiness that had been left inside me."
Haruki Murakami, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

Looking at it logically I can see that I've done loads of things since moving. My husband and I have made our new house into a home. I've slowly been making new friends and putting down tentative roots. I've created a brand new garden from our empty concrete parking space. I've lost more than 2 stone at Slimming World in the last year. I've started learning French. Last July I curated an exhibition in twenty Hebden Bridge shop windows and this May I became president of the Hebden Bridge WI, which is great fun but a lot of work. And all while suffering from ME/CFS.

But none of those things are art. And if I'm not making art, it's hard for me to feel real. It's hard to feel that I am doing anything important. It's hard to be grounded and to feel that I matter. Yes, a therapist would have a field day with that little lot!

But thankfully, the water has recently begun trickling back into my art stream again.

I've started noodling around in the studio with matchboxes and I'm planning a big summer project around those. I've been making more art jars, because apparently I'm not quite done with those yet. I bought a new bedside notebook and I'm jotting down ideas on an almost daily basis. Projects have started drifting out of the studio into the rest of the house. And I can read about art without wanting to cry.

I am coming back to my core self and the relief is immense.