I’m not one to shy away from a challenge. Once I left teaching, my husband and I came to the decision that we would become foster carers. We approached a fostering agency, having been recommended by friends of ours. When fostering for an agency, the children we tend to look after are those who are more difficult to place – and they come with their own challenges, that we need to help them navigate.

In order to be effective carers we need to have our own time, our own space, our own interests – and this is something that should be encouraged for everyone. Having challenges in different areas of our lives can lead to us growing in different ways, extending our abilities and understanding of our hobby. I find that it also puts me in the position of a learner again, someone who may be a little unsure, with a fear of failing – which is ideal when caring for children.

Sylvia set the Bloggers (a.k.a the Bloggerati) a challenge on the back of the song titles challenge. The challenge this time was Landmarks – and once we commented we were assigned a Landmark. I was assigned Stonehenge. How does this tie in with what I’ve already told you? Well, when I started writing, I didn’t consider this question at all. However, now I’ve got this far, I realise that it does tie in! Our most recent young person was very excited about seeing Stonehenge when we made our way towards Thorpe Park back in 2017. It is somewhere that I like looking out for when on the road, and I remember going there in 1990 with our German Exchange partners. Stonehenge as a landmark was something I could definitely get my teeth into.

Just after Christmas I started to do my research. I looked for images on the internet of Stonehenge, and saved them to my iPad. I discovered a couple of useful websites – one of which provided a lot of photos of the different stones from lots of different angles. I wanted to get different views of Stonehenge to help me decide what my challenge piece would look like. In looking at these photos I was intrigued by the lichen growing on them, the holes in them, and also the areas that had been eaten / chipped away entirely – requiring concrete to stabilse the stones.

Once I had collected the photos, I sketched (gosh, that sounds rather posh – and quite ‘professional’ as well – like I know what I’m doing) a few ideas; this helped me to focus on a couple of areas, and narrow down what my finished piece would look like. In these sketches I could also add some details – such as what colours and shades to use.

Ideas drawn in my quilting ideas sketch book – a place to collate and trial ideas. A place to include some of the details, and decide what should be included in the finished piece. And this is a page that starts to help me to believe that I am becoming a real / proper artist!

When I was looking for fabric to use in another quilt, I found some that would be ideal for Stonehenge. The sky is fabric that I used for my last challenge (the song title challenge) , and I chose to select the area of fabric to use for this quilt, so that there would be only one sun. For this quilt I chose to work in an organic way – and by this, I mean that although I had some sketches and photos to work from, I didn’t plan much further than that; I didn’t draw out templates, I didn’t use bondaweb or glue on my pieces. I cut some wavy shapes for the grass and background, sewed them on with a straight stitch, and then went over the edges with a satin stitch. The fabric for the stones came from some pieces that a quilting friend gave me – scraps that were left over from some of her quilts – and they proved ideal; the fabric I used for the larger stones is just like stone covered with lichen, and pitted from years of trophy hunters and the ravages of the weather. I cut the stones from the fabric, again without a template, and without using any bonding agent. This year I am trying very hard not to buy more fabric, and to use what I have. Some may consider this to be rather limiting, but I’m finding it to be quite liberating: I’m not thinking that the fabric is too good to use for a particular project, that I should be saving a particular thread for something special – all the equipment and supplies I have are to be used, and there is something quite satisfying about using things and finishing them off (e.g. a project, a fat quarter, a reel of thread). I think this approach has helped me feel a bit more like a real artist.

Adding the mid-ground ; I used a piece of heavy / coarse calico as a base. You can see the shape I cut to show the shape / form of the horizon.

Once I had applied all the pieces, I thought about the details I wanted to add. One of the stones shows the letters DI. This is due to information I read about one of the stones; the lichen growing on it is an orange / yellow colour, that seems attracted to an area that had been cleared of graffiti. More about this lichen and graffiti can be found here.

Adding more lichen to the stones.

I decided to use free machine embroidery to create lichen on the stones; I looked back at notes I made during a free machine embroidery workshop, and also at the piece I made at the workshop (if you have read some of previous blogs, you will remember that I love stationery, and make lots of notes). I used a narrow zigzag in a circular motion to create the areas of lichen. Once I had used one thread, I changed it, and used another shade, going over the areas to highlight and enhance them. I used a straight stitch to add grass to the bottom of the stones. I showed my husband my progress, and he thought that some trees or bushes were needed – so I added these to the background.

Details of the free machine embroidery, and the quilting.

I wanted the quilting to enhance the features of the landscape, so I used a simple curving line to emulate clouds, and added in the rays of the sun, which were already present in the fabric. I went around the stones, which has the effect of adding more texture, and also added some detail on the front flat stone.

To finish the picture, I decided to use facings; if you have never tried doing this before I suggest you try it. It is ideal for pictures, wall hangings and art quilts – you don’t have a border, and you don’t have to join the ends of the binding. Some instructions for facings also incorporate corner triangles for ease of hanging – I didn’t use them in this piece – I will attach a hanging sleeve (to hold a batten or dowel to keep the piece rigid), and will also attach a D ring to hang the piece on a standard picture hook.This is the website that I used to help me with the facings – although I did adapt the instructions somewhat; I used 2 1/2 inch strips, fold in half (like I make my binding), and then I followed the rest of the instructions. I did cut away the wadding and the backing almost to the stitching line – which is recommended in other instructions. I was a little concerned that I would be left with a raw edge somewhere, but I needn’t have worried – no raw edges in evidence having followed the instructions for applying facings!

The beauty of this challenge has been that I’ve been able to use techniques that I learned in workshops I did some years ago. It has also prompted a little excitement in me – at times I could be heard squealing in delight, and uttering words like “Now I feel like a proper artist”, “I’m artisting”.

A close up of the ‘basic finished piece’ – all the elements have been applied, and the details have started to be added. On the bottom edge you can see that I’ve not trimmed the edge of the grass fabric; looking at it, I can tell that this grass fabric has been washed and pressed…which is an indication to me as to how long I have had it!

I have enjoyed this challenge, as it has pushed me incorporate different techniques that I have only tried once or twice some years ago. There is always the worry that the finished article will not turn out how you want it to – but for all challenges I think it is the process that is as important as the finished product. Once again I have impressed and amazed myself; up until now, I have not really considered myself an artist – I’m someone who likes playing with fabric, cutting pieces and sewing them back together again in a different order. This time, right now as I am writing this, I am starting to think that I may be an artist after all…

Am I a real artist yet? Well, I like to think that I am approaching that accolade!