Stitches in Time

Harriet Riddell, a textile performance artist, travels with her sewing machine to stitch portraits of people. When she first started in Hatfield she went into a greasy spoon and asked if she could set up her machine. The owner agreed but said she?d have to pay for electricity and anyone complained about noise he?d chuck her out. She took a sit in the corner and stitched words she overheard then started on Errol frying chips. By the time she?d finished him and he?d seen his face on the cloth he was pinching her cheeks and welcoming her into the family with free food. That, apparently, happens quite often. A machine is a placid, soft tool, more so, she feels, than a camera, saying, ?You can get under people?s skin with sewing?.

 

Certainly it seems so in this latest project she?s worked on with sewers from Blackpool Embroiders? Guild. They were just tacking the final pieces in place on a bustling tablecloth for Banquet when I met them last week.

 

The tablecloth is a collection of previously embroidered napkins and smaller tablecloths, each containing hours of work in themselves, with hand-sewn flowers and lace decorating the cloths. Many of which were collected by members and from charity shops around Blackpool, releasing them from disuse and abandonment in drawers and cupboards.

 

Each member of the Guild chose a cloth or and, apart from the one rule of writing in black thread, everything else was up to the individual: some hand-stitched and others machined. All the quotes on tablecloth are from people with dementia who they visited, from conversations around memories of food. Some people spoke in riddles, but sentences and coherent memories did emerge:

?Rabbit was good it was off ration? stitched alongside an appliqu?d Rabbit. And four portraits: ?All our gardens were dug for food?, ?War made it hard to buy anything?, ?Ginger biscuits and things like that, pies, sponge cake?, ?We had to supply all the army rations?, ?Fish and chips, any day, any time, any where?, ?I like fun, I?m a Blackpool girl? These are all from exquisite portraits Harriet made live in the nursing homes she visited in the early days of the project. She sat with them and simultaneously stitched the residents? portraits and fragments of their conversation around them.

?I?m full of beans? Roy was the most upbeat optimistic gentleman of his age Harriet has ever met. He still had it, ?cheeky winks, little bit flirty?.

Gail, who had never written in machine embroidery before, met Alan and Ann over lunch. She ended up making the most moist rascal I?d ever seen, glistening with currents and cherries and almonds in buttons and beads. ?Sold by Alan and Ann in their bakery?.

There are so many lives in this tablecloth, so many hours of work ? in the original cloths, in the conversations had with the embroiderers, in the memories that formed those conversations, in the thinking of the stories and then in their recreation of them in appliqu? and stitches.

Janet?s cloth tells the story of Rose and Patrick with an organza cow and ?ooh cow heel it was sticky?. Rose and Patrick were from Oldham originally and came to Blackpool to retire. Sadly Rose got dementia which developed into Alzheimer?s so she?s in a home. Patrick lives in the flat they bought for their retirement and picks her up to take her to the Empowerment Club.

 

Janet took notes as they talked, then she agonised about how to represent the food. She decided on the cow?s face because cow heel looks ?absolutely disgusting?. The model for the cow came from her holiday in Lincoln where she?d taken pictures of the cows in the field next door to where they were staying. More hours. More life.

Cow heel: the lower part of a cow?s leg. Gail loves it. She used to cook it when first married, chopped it with stewing steak into a dish with water and onions into the oven, then thickened with Bisto. This was back when there used to be tripe shops.

Janet ate tripe for Sunday tea every week, as a child, cold with salt and vinegar and tomato and brown bread, like you?d put vinegar on chips. Apparently, it doesn?t taste of much, it?s more about the texture, chewy, jelly-ish, much the same as raw jelly cubes, bouncy. She didn?t think about it being cow?s stomach, just accepted what was put in front of her. Mind you, since she?s thought about what it is she?s not so keen.

This project has followed another one the Guild had undertaken for people with the same issues ? tactile textiles. When people have Alzheimer?s they can get very agitated and need something to keep their hands occupied, so the Guild made some little lap mats with beads, or zips, things to fiddle with that can be put on your lap and messed with. It?s very soothing.

Janet spoke of someone who was having problems feeding her husband. He kept knocking things out of the way because of his confusion. She got one of these mats and that meant she could feed him. ?They were just our scraps and left over bits and this tied in really nicely and followed on, working with people with the same issues, instead of us sewing isolation.?

Time and scraps that might be ignored or overlooked by some have been cut and stitched and pressed and paired into the most vivid and vital tablecloth I?ve seen. Harriet plans to set up her machine in the Winter Garden next Saturday, stitching portraits of people there, with the tablecloth hanging up on display. Well worth a few hours of your time.

Pallet Therapy

 

Each Wednesday volunteers gather at Cherry Tree Allotments in Blackpool to grow vegetables in raised beds, drink tea and share healthier lives for themselves. They meet on an allotment run by Grow Blackpool where as much as possible is upcycled. Including the people who come…

Planters, plant staging and the raised beds are made out of pallets. The untreated wood has approximately a four year life span, longer if treated. Conner is currently building a tropical pond and greenhouse out of pallets (treated with used engine oil provided by garages, so all the chemicals are burnt off, it stains a nice dark brown). They also make play cookers which they donate to nurseries around Blackpool. The plant staging in the greenhouse, Connor says, would normally cost ?20-?40 per unit. Here they could build ten with that money, and they?d probably be stronger.

 

A newcomer is activist Sarah Hall. She can only grow plants in tubs in her own garden because of the cats, so comes here to supplement her learning on growing and sharing food. When she?s not here, she collects food for Streetlife https://www.streetlife.com/, keen to promote healthy eating habits not just in her kids but in as many young people she can*. Her aim is to grow fruit trees across Blackpool, where people can help themselves to food. She makes her own jam, and knows how easy it is. If it doesn?t set, you can eat it with yoghurt.

 

Debbie got an allotment in St Anne?s after a three year wait only to lose it the same day because she moved out of the catchment area. She?s just started coming to Cherry Trees and loves it. ?The muckier I am, the happier,? she says, and hopes to get her own allotment here to share produce and knowledge with this good group of people.

Talk moves to the winter and sightings of Siberian Swallows ? a sign of a hard winter, which will at least kill of the slugs. Sarah marvels at how they manage to squirm themselves inside her home. Debbie can?t believe she gets them in her flat on the third floor. Julie suggests they take the lift?

It?s hard to find community these days, they reckon, but there?s one here.

 

Enter Michael Powell of Treehouse that runs projects focusing on creativity and the outdoors. He?s here to build the planters for the fourteen banquet tables http://www.leftcoast.org.uk/banquet/, and in doing so, hopes to build confidence, self esteem and trust in himself and those helping him.

 

Watching George, Andrew and Tim rotate the crowbar and mallet around themselves to prise off the slates of a pallet (donated by various local businesses) I see that trust. They take it in turns to stand on the pallet, weighing it down, while another levers the crowbar, swings the mallet, wood splintering and flying. And another hammers. They?re making the planters for the Banquet tables, and are quietly confident in the job. George only has a backyard at home and while he can grow cabbages in tubs he comes here to grow more and bring the veg home. His suggestions for the planters are mint and radish, both still growing now, or beetroot leaves. Sarah likes the idea of richly scented herbs, like garlic chives or rosemary on the table. There?s talk of having salad leaves in them too.

Michael is making the tables out of pallets too. He spends much of his life driving around scouting for piles of pallets and then building up the courage to ask for them. People are, generally, only too happy to give them away. The table and planters he?s making for Banquet are influenced by his passion and awe of the natural world. He began working with wood and recycled materials, about two years, as a response to a growing interest in nature and its different connections, movements and relations. It is an attempt of interpreting and explaining the world around himself through the physical act of making something, out of something either discarded or gathered from the natural world. He has become increasingly interested in natural building techniques and permaculture over the past few years. This project has been influenced by his research and experience of these. As an experienced community support worker and workshop facilitator, as well as artist he?s enjoyed how this project has allowed for a collaboration of these two worlds, leading to the co production of the banquet table for this event.

Tim, now welding a saw on a fresh pallet, was part of the People?s Pottery project. His plate detailed a game pie: grouse and other birds. He comes to the allotment because he likes getting outside, and not just for his food. His arm moving smoothly back and forwards, blade cutting through the soft wood. The only weather he doesn?t like is the wind with rain. If it does rain when they?re all down here, they head to the poly tunnel to sow seeds. However, it?s rarely as bad outside as looking at outside from inside?

Today, luckily, the sun shines down on them. They?ve fourteen planters to make and plant up and, with some already finished, their focus is sharper than the saws they?re using. The Banquet Table and its makers is a union up there with home grown tomatoes and onions for chutney.

 

* If you?d like to donate food for Streetlife you can leave it at the Lighthouse http://tristans-lighthouse.co.uk/

Grow Blackpool is a charity and welcomes donations of tools or plants. Just take anything you don?t want to the New Enterprise Centre Lytham Road, Blackpool. They don’t have the skill set to repair broken tools just yet, so only unwanted usable ones please.

Orchard, Found

I caught up with Philip Parr again in the waste ground opposite the model village at the bottom of Stanley Park.

Not only is it a dog walkers paradise, it is the Lost Orchard Found. According to Philip?s expert eye there are about 40 trees here, with maybe 500 apples a piece, making for 20 thousand apples for the taking in central Blackpool. And what?s more, they?re apples unique to Blackpool, ?volunteers? grown from the compost of an old green tip, here at least 40 years ago, apparently. I can vouch for three very different sweetly full flavoured apples.

When I arrived he?d just finished two hours of clearing brambles and undergrowth from a particularly tasty red russet, giving air to the trunk and freeing up a path up to the jewels hanging there. His plan was to pick the higher apples, with his makeshift apple picker, so leaving lower hanging fruit to attract more pickers. And not just dogs. Alfie clearly knew all about the orchard, and, according to his walker, enjoyed a couple of apples every day in the season.

In the six weeks since I?d first met Philip he?s been collecting apples with a variety of people. He spent half a day at Mereside?School?working on a tree just next door to the school then drying the fruit in his dehydrator for everyone to savour the intensification of the sugar. This and works best on larger apples, and was perfect for the tree there. Only two out of the thirty children had ever picked apples before and he?s hoping the school will now make it an annual jolly to strip the tree

Sad that scrumping has gone out of fashion. He recently picked with an older man who used to scrump as kid, although not quite, as he got permission from the tree?s owner. Still, the boy took all the apples he picked and sold them for a penny down at the cinema. Ahh, the good clean enterprise of olden days ?

Philip contributed to the ritual by gaining permission from another tree owner to pick in his garden. The owner, a retired landscape gardener, had bought the land, with apple tree, and built his house there. He then grew another five apple trees in the back garden. These trees he still harvested, but was happy for Philip to take the front garden fruit.

There seems, to Philip, a real sense of growers in Blackpool. It?s what people do here to supplement their income. And the knowledge of growing is passed down, like an heirloom. And certainly, I?ve witnessed at Cherry Trees and Chepstow Gardens with Grow Blackpool a real wealth of knowledge for growing and eating.

I left Philip welding his bag up in the tree ? height being a definite advantage to the job. He had two wheely suitcases to carry the fruit back in. Carrying the apples would force him to discern the best ones, to enforce a selection process so his enthusiasm couldn?t get the better of him.

He?s quite confident he?ll have plenty to share on his stall in the Winter Gardens Food Hall Saturday 24 October. He?s already got ten different varieties stashed in the Left Coast Office. And alongside the apples, there?ll be apple jellies, sweet dried rings (nothing like the sulphated ones you buy in the shops) and a map of where the orchards can be found. This is a map that?ll never be finished ? after all, there?s always another apple tree?

Dishing the Dirt

I?ve been sworn to secrecy over this meal.

Actually environment artist Kerry Morrison and FoodRiot chef Gill Watson?haven?t divulged any details about their banquet. All I know is there?ll be six courses ? related to hunger, soil, pollinators, intensive farming and foraging. Each will have an informed introduction, alongside film and sound to plump out the sensory experience. And there?ll be you.

The plan is for Saturday 24th October, 12-2pm to be a memorable feast. And, like all great banquets, for it to be a communal experience, one where everyone shares their joys and concerns about the food we eat.

Going on what I did learn about the pair, I suspect it?ll be far more than the sum of those parts. Let me introduce you.

Kerry Morrison claims she?s never done anything like this before. Although she has done this and is involved in this, so she?s clearly fascinated by our relationship with nature and how we farm it for our food. She?s an ecologist who believes in the value of everything from slugs (what else, but earthworms, does the job of getting rid of our crap so efficiently?) to dandelions (edible from root to petal). Her interest lies in reconnecting our eating habits with the natural world, and making them responsible, sustainable.

Her own diet includes ?feral? food that is shot locally because of the way we farm; rabbits, deer and pigeons, considered pests and seen as a nuisance to farmers, end up on her plate. From time to time, she has grey squirrels delivered in her local veggie bag. Two years ago it was illegal to release a grey squirrel into the wild if you?d caught it, because they are non-native and considered invasive. Today, to release a grey squirrel you need to apply for a licience. If you are a landowner, the Governmant will fund you to kill grey squirrels. Another example of the paradox what is seen as ?belonging? is the honey bee. This ?national treasure? is actually ? apart from the native black bee – is from Italy. But we love honey, so it must be given a higher status than many other pollinators. Flies on the other hand?

There are no flies on Gill Watson. In the film she talks about the importance of delivering food directly to those who need it rather than relying on food banks. And that falls to her, driving around her area with bags of fruit, veg and bakery goods from Lidl. She?s just acquired a hut, where people can come, without registering or giving personal information, to pick up perfectly good, often prized food that?d otherwise be chucked in order to make space for the next delivery.

While the UK still feels a long way from France where it is illegal to throw away decent food, Gill is convinced every supermarket knows they need to do something to change how they deal with ?waste? food. Through her work with Lidl, since 2014, it?s now company policy that all UK store managers don?t have to get head office to okay the give-away of remainder produce. It?s a big commitment from the supermarkets and from people, like Gill, who are willing to sort through the food to redistribute it: one that asks people to think more deeply about food, what?s out there, what they can eat, and the cost of convenience.

It is this passion, commitment and food knowledge that?ll be served on Saturday 24th October in the Pavilion Theatre in Blackpool Winter Gardens. How can those six courses be anything but delicious, food at its most gourmet: made with love, care and conscience?

For more info and to book a place at the table, phone?01253 477973 or book here

Apple Picking. Gallery

Philip Parr rounded up children from Mereside School to discover the delights held in the apple tree just next door to their playground

Cherry Tree Food Fest in Pictures. Part I.

The World in a Grain of Salt

Across the UK sea salt is only made in Essex, Anglesey and Cornwall ? but that?s before the Wyre Salters?came into existence.

 

Artists Maya Chowdhry and Jessica Mautner wanted to find something local that could contribute to the Left Coast Banquet. Salt, a basic ingredient in most meals, seemed an ideal choice for a community project so close to the sea. Salt-making is part of the area?s industrial heritage, although no longer active, on an industrial scale. Salt resonated, too, for its international presence. This one thing connects places all over the world. And there?s the political weight of salt that interested them, how it was once preferred currency over money, allowing people to preserve food, or travel with it.

 

Neither knew how to make salt and they like what this equality brings to the project. In fact the group they?re working with know far more about the area than they do, and contributing their local knowledge to the ongoing experiments with salt.

So far the group have been to the Lion Salt Works in Cheshire, collected salt from the Wyre and made some pinch pots that might be used to hold salt at the Banquet.

At the Salt Works they made salt from cooking brine in great big salt pans over a fire. As the brine boiled salt crystals formed and were they raked to the side. These were filtered into saline to be dried onto the stove.

Ruth L has been in a few different Left Coast events, and this seemed like something different from her usual singing in the local choir or playing in a ukulele band. Besides she loves the taste of salt. And, for her, the salt made at the Lion Salt Works was beautiful. Previously she?d just taken it for granted, but that salt had a different taste from commercially produced salt: milder, and with the advantage of being unadulterated without caking agents. She appreciates both its abundance and the time it takes to make it.

 

Andrea?s daughter asked her last year if you could get salt out of the sea. Andrea wasn?t sure, but they?ve since learnt you can. You get bits of sand in it, but put an egg in it and the egg draws out the impurities. Dolly Blue would take impurities out of the salt, too. That was used once to lighten the salt?s colour.

The village Andrea and her family moved from was quite self sufficient: with a row of shops including a greengrocer, that does fish and nuts and seeds and lots of chutney and jams? all made by local people, a hairdressers, a co-op, and a chemist. Since moving to Blackpool they?re struggling to get hold of stuff they?d normally eat.

 

 

They had to go to the chippie once they were back from the Works. They sat at St Anne?s in the car because it was raining and used the salt they?d made on the chips. Which was great. ?I don?t usually let them have salt, but they?d made it.?

Instead of salt just sitting on a table, it has become more noticeable and full of meaning for the Wyre Salters.

Knowing salt better has led Maya to realise the power of it, to understand why wars were lost and won over salt. While Jessica appreciates more how much of our bodies are made of salt, and so has a stronger connection to salt. The boundary between the thing and her body has blurred.

For Rachel it wasn?t something she or her family had given much thought to previously, but now they?ve become fascinated with its strength and flavours. How sea salt is far better for the body than table salt (which is manmade anyway). They?ve got so into the project, they?re focusing on it for a week at home. Rachel has checked that she could use clean filtered seawater to cook pasta. And she could filter the seawater with muslin or charcoal. She has a Himalayan salt lamp, she picked up in a shop some time back because she liked the look of it. Now she?s found out it cleanses the atmosphere and helps with chestiness. She and each of her two daughters have a salt making plate going at home: one in the kitchen, one in the pantry and one in the garden. It?s not a competition, but ?

 

 

Andrea always thought it was a bit of a poison, but it can be seen as a treasure ? a pure thing from the earth. The time it takes to make it turns it into something precious. Man made table salt costs close to 12p in the supermarket, which devalues the pure salt. Sea salt has different properties, different levels of magnesium, sodium, potassium. She uses Epsom salts to help with her nerve pain. This project is bringing her kids back to basics. Although, maybe not so basic, as she spotted some tomato, olive and basil salt in a shop in Ramsbottom which she quite fancies having a go at making?

The group went down to Fleetwood beach to collect possible things they could present the salt in as an alternative to the pots. Ruth E was picking marram grass to weave into a cone. At the museum she?d been shown how to drain saltwater through something similar so she?d be left with salt crystals on the grass. She?d never given it thought before, but now she?s involved in the project, she?s on the internet exploring its uses? cosmetics, creams, bath salts? finding out about the Dead Sea and how it?s extracted from there with huge paddles and left to dry.

And while the group agreed the damp air of Fleetwood makes the process a little longer, salt is most definitely not simply salt

 

The Teachings of Clay

Terracotta is the most abundant clay in the earth. It starts off in rock, then, as it?s carried through waterways, it travels. As it travels more and more it picks up impurities before being deposited back into those waterways. It?s the impurities that give terracotta its beautiful rich colour.

Working with clay teaches you about yourself, according to potters Emilie Taylor?and Victoria Dawes. Clay contains and honours impurities. Making pots offers us the chance to shed our obsession with perfection and the belief there is only one way of doing things.

Handmade pots celebrate difference.

Difference is what makes a community: the variety of people living together. Pottery sits with that variety and holds it.

Each pot, plate or bowl, functions as a container. Emilie is interested in exploring the trust that is formed as people prepare the tableware, the stories told and how they might be sealed into the clay. Pottery has always told the history of people: what is found in fragments is how archaeologists understand a society, perhaps more so that what is written?

Victoria?s approach to making comes from her early transient life. When she started making pots she meditated on what home meant to her. She was making functional pieces for people to take home, for them to become a part of people?s life. At her wheel, she thinks of the furniture that have been passed down through the generations of her family that have moved from house to house, crystal glasses and candlesticks and dinner services collected by different members of her family. All these elements of her familial home feed into her pottery.

Both potters believe craft making is where conversations start, where meaning slips out sideways, through our fingers, through that connection with the earth. These conversations are then drawn into the white slip covering.

Over the summer they?ve run weekly workshops at Groundwork?s community gardens: Cherry Trees and Chepstow Gardens. Groundwork have developed these spaces as inclusive, safe and gentle spaces for people to grow plants and meet people. Homeless people, users of nearby artist studios and young families have all enjoyed these places where Emilie and Victoria explored the thoughtfulness and patience of pottery.

One participant found his own rhythm over the months, drawing everything on the allotment, then translating these drawings onto the plates. He made three plates, three bowls, his own service.

In another workshop two sisters began to draw their recipes and favourite meals (Jamaican lamb, rice and peas & chicken korma) on a piece paper, nervous, uncertain how to distinguish a kidney bean from sweet potato. Mistakes were made, but there was no rubber. They were told, clay is forgiving. And at this stage, on paper, anything could be reshaped or relocated in the final design. With some ideas sketched down they took the pencil to the slipware with a tentative confidence, a bolder leading of the line, scoring ridges into the plate. By the end of the workshop they each had recipes of their favourite meals designed into the plates, ready for firing.

Forgiving at the making stage, perhaps, but clay turns merciless at this point. Anything can happen when the pot goes into the kiln. Some embrace the unexpected, others are unsure at developments.

There?ll be a harvest lunch for everyone who has taken part in the project so far, where the fates of the plates will be revealed, alongside some of the stories and faces behind the pottery. Come back in a couple of weeks to read and see these stories.