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A3 sketchbook collage, Baddesley Clinton

I really like the speed of these collages as its a painless and easy way to keep a visual diary. This afternoons entry in my sketchbook was Baddesley Clinton.

Putting in the base collage, and adding ink.

 Knocking back with more gesso. Adding more papers and collage.

Finished drawing - water soluble pen, posca pens, pencil.

Bletchley Park - A visit and a sketch

Bletchley Park 

Home of the World's first digital computer.

Sketch inspired by Bletchley Park. A3 sketchbook mixed media. To see the process scroll to the bottom of the page.


"On 18 September 1938, a small group of people moved into the Mansion under the cover story that they were a shooting party. They had an air of friends enjoying a relaxed weekend together at a country house. They even brought with them one of the best chefs from the Savoy Hotel to cook their food. Behind the cover were members of MI6 and the Government Code and Cypher School (GC & CS), a secret team including a number of scholars and academics turned Codebreakers. As tensions in Europe peaked, Admiral Sinclair, Director of GC & CS and SIS, had activated their War Station: Bletchley Park. The group’s job was to set up and run intelligence activity from Bletchley Park. They responded quickly, transmitting their first message at 6 pm on the day they arrived."

Enigma Machine - Thousands of these machines were used by German forces. When a letter was pressed on the keyboard, a system of rotating wheels and wires changed it to a different letter.

"Work began in the Mansion and its outbuildings, with a staff of around 150 people. As more and more people arrived to join the codebreaking operations, the various sections began to move into large pre-fabricated wooden huts set up on the lawns of the Park. For security reasons, the various sections were known only by their hut numbers. The first operational break into Enigma came around the 23 January 1940, when the team working under Dilly Knox, with the mathematicians John Jeffreys, Peter Twinn and Alan Turing, unravelled the German Army administrative key that became known at Bletchley Park as ‘The Green’. Encouraged by this success, the Codebreakers managed to crack the ‘Red’ key used by the Luftwaffe (German air force). In addition to German codes, Italian and later Japanese systems were also broken."

Alan Turing's Office. Hut 8. Turing took the lead on breaking naval Enigma cyphers - a huge task that was thought impossible. His mathematical skills enabled him to break many cyphers including th ecomplex Lorenz cipher where he used a method that became known at Turingery. Together with fellow codebreaker Gordon Weldman he developed the Bombe machine to help speed up the code breaking process.

"The world's first programmable digital computer was built in secret by the British in the Second World War at Bletchley Park. Bletchley is famous as the place where the Enigma cipher machine was broken: a task which they performed efficiently using a machine called a Bombe."

Alan Turing's teddy.

Gelli plate printing - using Vaseline as a resist

I watch the Gelli Plate company's videos on YouTube. They did one recently using Vaseline as a resist. Now, I've used lots of resist techniques before but never Vaseline, so thought it was worth a try.

The plus point for me was the "noise" you get on the print - if you look at the leaf above you'll see that it's got traces of darker paint from the top layer of print, overlying the orangey paint I printed first.  If I had used paper as a resist, I would have got a clean and clear print of a leaf with that underlying colour coming through completely - no noise. I like this!

It might be easier to explain if I post photos of the process.

The equipment: Gelli plate of a size that suits your paper, brayer, paint (I've used Open Acrylics), stencils, Vaseline, sketchbooks, baby wipes, scrap paper to roll your brayer on to get rid of excess paint.

Put a few spots of your chosen colours onto the gelli plate and use the brayer to roller the colour over the surface. Blend the colour as much as you wish. If you want to keep the colours more separate, then roller the brayer on your scrap paper to clean it.

Print the paint onto paper, labels, or your sketchbook.

Leave to dry.

Choose a stencil that you like - it can be anything, and be quite detailed.

Use your finger to gently rub the vaseline into the shapes on the stencil. Take care that the stencil doesn't move and you get a good covering. The vaseline shouldn't be thick.

Use a paper towel to gently wipe the excess Vaseline from the stencil.

Vaseline doesn't dry so you can start the next bit straight away! Roller more colour onto your gelli plate. I've gone darker with my colours so that it makes a good contrast.

Print the plate on top of your stenciled paper, and leave the paint to dry. This is important or the next step won't work properly.

When the paint is dry, use a baby wipe to gently rub the print and remove the excess paint and Vaseline. This bit is great fun as the print comes to life as the colours shine through.

Putting a zip in a cushion.

Over the Christmas festivities, I had a cushion explode on me. Well, the insides anyway and I didn't notice until I went to remove the cover for washing and found myself in a cloud of loose feathers. We really must stop those family pillow fights!

So I went to John Lewis who I normally love, to buy a replacement. I couldn't really find anything suitable and they were all around £50-£60.  I have happily paid that for a cushion in the past, but something just nagged and said Brexit - you'll need your pennies.

So I bought a lovely firm feather cushion pad for £7.50 and a fabric remnant for £7.00 plus a plastic zip for £1. A real saving.  You can of course go without a zip and do an envelope fold, but in the spirit of doing "a proper job" I decided to give a zip a go.

Easy Peasy Zip Putting-In
Again it looks complex but it really isn't. There's loads of videos on youtube showing the process too.

I'll assume that you have your cushion pieces (a front and a back) cut out to the right size to allow for hems and cushion pad plumpness. The zip in this cushion is going at the bottom.

Lay your 2 pieces of cloth right sides together in front of you.

Lay the zip on your fabric near the end and facing up, and use a pencil to pop in a mark where the zip top and bottom are.

It would be the icing-on-the-cake to centre this but isn't essential.

These marks will be where you sew up to and then across to catch in the plastic zip. In the photo, I've gone just inside the metal bit to make sure I don't sew over that.  If you're using a metal toothed zip, then take care when sewing - needles and metal don't go!

So you now have 2 marks on the cloth to show the beginning and end of your zip.  I also find it really useful to get out a ruler and mark a pencil line for my stitching. The line you can just see is 1" from the edge of my material and goes the whole length of the fabric.

The next step is really clever!!

You're going to join the 2 pieces of fabric by sewing along the line you've just marked. Start off by sewing a small stitch and secure at the end. Sew until you reach your first mark (one of the zip ends) and do a little stitch backwards and again forwards to secure. Do not remove the fabric or cut the thread, but leave your needle down in the fabric. Turn the dial on your stitch length to about 6, and continue to sew until you reach the second mark, and again, leave your needle in the down position.

Alter the stitch size back to the smaller one you started with and take a stitch forward, one back, and another forward to secure. Sew to the end of the line, and secure at that end too.

Photo showing the small stitches, going into larger ones at the markers.

Press the seam open.

Pin the zip into place between your 2 pencil marks. Make sure the teeth of the zip stay along the centre stitched line.

You can sew with the pins in, but you get a better finish by basting the zip into place.

Basting the zip into position.

Turn the fabric over and stitch the zip in place from the right side. Use a zipper foot to get close to the teeth, and sew down one side, across the zip end, up the other side, and finish off by sewing across the top end.

Because you've sewn the length of the cushion before this stage, everything stays beautifully smooth.

Remove the basting.

Turn over, and use a seam ripper or unpick those large stitches you made when you joined the 2 pieces of fabrc together.  And you're done.

(Well, ok, you do need to quickly whizz round the other seams on your sewing machine which takes all of 2 minutes!)