Everything feels like a ‘work in progress’ at the minute, I seem to keep starting things I can’t finish and it’s been very frustrating. This is why I was particularly excited to see a piece that I had been working on for a while on display as part of the fabulous Thortify exhibit in the Mind Charity Shop for Sherwood Art Week this Friday! Thanks to the organisation and care of Lauren and Gloria, my handstitched book containing the poem The Last Bee by Brian Bilston sits proudly on a handcrafted stand custom made by Mr Bee. You will remember from my last blog post that I was thinking about using a special old book about bees for a statement piece about their plight in the twenty-first century.

I have to admit, I really did hesitate over stitching the pages of the 100 year old copy of The Life of the Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck but having thoughtfully turned it over in my hands numerous times I could already see that it’s life as a readable book was over. Pages were becoming detatched and the cover was coming away; in fact handling it began to question whether I would in fact be able to stitch into it at all. So I turned back to eBay and do you know what!? I found another, even cheaper ‘damaged’ copy and realised that I could take out the pages I wanted from that one to stitch into, and then stitch them over the corresponding pages of the original book I bought, after securing the pages with tiny paper hinges I made from recycled paper.

Now encouraged by the idea of recycling the book into an original piece of art, I got to work. As with most of my creative inspirations, I planned as I went along. One idea often informs the next, and I like the way it grows organically. Having been practising my stitching onto paper I felt ready to embroider my chosen words onto the more delicate pages – bolstered by a smaller rectangle of stiffer paper glued to the back. The first stitch was nerve wracking stuff, I couldn’t thread the needle initially but didn’t want to swap it for one with a larger eye which might tear the page. Keeping the letters as straight as possible was a good move and allowed me to build confidence, which is why I stitched the title in capitals – curves were tricky.

The sewing therapy paid off in the end, as I realised that I had given myself an excuse to sit stitching in the evening, allowing me time to meditate on the rhythm of the needle moving in and out of the smooth surface of the paper. The whisper of the thread became the soothing soundtrack to my leisure time for a few weeks. In contrast, Brian Bilston’s words are hard hitting – if something isn’t done about the declining bee population, and all of our pollinators, we have problems! It’s been uplifting to see the committment to this that the local council’s have had to providing more ‘bee corridors’ and ‘wildflower verges.’ Nottingham City Council have certainly improved prospects along my cycle route to work along the ring road to Raleigh Island.

As I was stitching, the idea to introduce some origami bees arrived – and so did they! I started sharpening my folding skills on an elegant bee model that Kayrakise Evans taught me over a lovely cuppa at Lee Rosy’s Teas, after butterfly bombing a shop window for Sherwood Art Week some years back. It’s a fiddly set of folds, especially at the size I wanted them, but I was determined to include them so I persevered and I am so pleased I did. I made the bees for the exhibition in an old music score that was passed to me by a musical friend who knows how much I like to try a repurpose things, and the pages make great origami paper. The musical notes are a nod to the lively buzzing of the fuzzy bees.

The little bees are busying themselves around the book pages until they get to the end of the poem, where they swarm and then are no more. Just as each page of stitching gets paler, the bees eventually fade away and become represented by ‘ghost bees’ folded in plain paper. I also put to use a beautiful wax seal I was sent by the equally beautiful Donna Bright who had lived up to her name on so many occassions by spreading her special brand of sunshine. There is one hexagon bearing the seal which has been broken in two, symbolising break down in the hives and also perhaps a broken heart. There were going to be more but they were a bugger to do on a humid afternoon when you are already feverish from Covid – yes it got me this week.

There are a few other additions, and I may even add to the book when its back in my possession, but I love how some many people have unconciously collaborated with me on this with their creative gifts. The interest in Maeterlinck originally came from Lauren, when she kindly gave me the beautifully illustrated little book Be More Bee by Alison Davies with a poignant quote by Maurice Maeterlinck on one of the pages. This prompted a whole chain of connections that led to the creation of my homage to the industrious bee. I really feel that great things can come from collaborations, there is always inspiration to be had in sharing ideas, and I certainly know some truly inspiring people.

It feels great to be involved in Sherwood Art Week again with my small contribution, it seems such a long time since the Remarkable Recycling Gala at St Martin’s Church, but then a LOT has happened since then! It is a wonderfully inclusive event which shows support for the established and fledgling artist alike. I can definitely sense more projects being completed over the summer. Though I do feel a bit like a ‘work in progress’ myself!

DU