Nature Cure

stormy Cumbrian sky

Getting out of the house to deliver work was good today. It has become too easy to stay in my grey stone nest, looking out of the high windows at the storms and not venturing out until the weekends when I gasp my way up a fell, rewarded with paper wrapped sandwiches and a view to lift the spirits and feed me for another week. The wild weather lately meant that the weekend was postponed until Monday and the walk was an easy one, up Loughrigg Fell to gaze down on silvery flooded valleys and across to various Pikes and Stickles and knobbly hills whose names are becoming woven into my life like a poem muttered repeatedly, like a mantra, under my breath. We played at surviving by getting in the billowing “group shelter“,  a large blue, bottomless tent that made me think of  John and Yoko’s “Bagism” peace protests or getting trapped in the sheets while building dens in the bed as a child.

The poison path, yew berries at Grasmere

The storms had loosened bright scarlet yew berries, a trail of poisoned beads and shaken the last of the leaves into a soggy carpet that smelled delicious. Walking through a wood in Autumn is like walking along a beach… impossible not to fill pockets with collected treasures, a jewel coloured leaf, a sprig of sticky pine, an acorn perhaps (although like beach treasure they never look quite as bright when  brought indoors and dry). It makes me feel like a child, sticking leaves in my hair and swishing a freshly fallen bamboo pole, pretending to be a pony… forgetting the horrible indignity of being, in reality, a nearly 50 year old in a second hand raincoat and borrowed hat who should probably be more dignified or risk frightening other walkers.

detail of polar bear mug design

I’ve really agonised over writing this blog today because its been such a rotten few weeks, my self confidence and faith in personal and professional relationships felt shattered and for various reasons I was feeling that perhaps writing was my undoing. Perhaps the internet is no place for openness and candid musings when we’re always being warned to guard our identities and upgrade our privacy settings. I felt unsettled enough to read back, to double check to see if I had given away too much or spoken out of turn or been mean inadvertently. I thought about who I want to be and the kind of people I respect (I’ve been reading Richard Mabey’s book “Nature Cure” and he absolutely isn’t afraid to speak his mind on subjects close to his heart) and decided that I am not ashamed to bare my soul here so long as it’s balanced with good stuff too and doesn’t involve the entire laundry basket of dirty linen. Because sometimes it’s important to admit that things go wrong, that its not all primrose paths and that you have to walk up some pretty spiky, slippery tracks to get the sandwiches.

top of Loughrigg in a borrowed hat

And …”Let me tell you this: if you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.”—Jodi Picoult

In other news, today’s drive took me to the lovely Eden Valley home of Jenny “Boo and the Noodle” who is having an Open Studio this weekend to raise money for a new village play area. It looks like there’s going to be everything you could ever want for the dreaded Christmas Shopping, and all handmade in Cumbria; including beautiful prints, exotic faux cacti pin cushions, textile artwork and some rather swishy Witchmountain mugs.


boo and the noodle open house

And so getting out of the house proved to be the best thing I could have done. I left the mountain in a storm of pouring rain and despairing tears and drove east into a massive double rainbow over Penrith. Heading home there is a point on the A66 when Blencathra looms beside the road and all the now familiar mountains of this magical corner of Lakeland are suddenly revealed in moody layers and it actually sends a shiver down my spine.

And so to bed. Thank you again for reading whoever and where ever you are, it means the world to this mountain hermit x

Reading:- that Richard Mabey book Listening to:- “Courting the Squall” – Guy Garvey

Lost in the Fog with Monsters

Needle felted polar bear

A bear with a jar full of stars, a valley full of chiffon mist, celestial blue skies; if only life could always be filled with such magic and beauty. I feet like retreating into my inner land of make believe this week and potentially that may be the safest place.

Mist in the Lake District

It’s been the most unbelievably atmospheric Autumn here in the Lake District so far. Clouds and mists rise and fall, flowing down the valleys and draping themselves over the tops like gossamer bridal veils – forgive the flowery language but you can see why all those poets got carried away with it around here. Sunday’s walk was a perfect example … beginning in sun dappled forests smelling of pine and mushrooms and earth (Shinrin-yoku), enduring a slog up a boggy hillside in thick fog (navigation practice, hmmm) to emerge on an eerily lit summit where an almost biblical revelation occurred as the mist slid away in stages to reveal layer upon layer of heartbreakingly gorgeous landscape.

Towards Causey Pike in the mist

I hear it’s been like that above a certain height all week but for one reason or another I have been unable to reach up to the sunlight through the fog.

Skiddaw in the mist

I had been due to start my new job at the Museum yesterday. As I said in my last post it had meant that at last I would be earning enough to justify my existence on the planet but not only that; I was hoping it would mean meeting more people over here, drawing me out of what has become an increasingly hermit like existence. I also really liked the Museum. I got an email on Saturday asking me to “pop in on Monday for a chat”.

mug designs by Kim Tillyer

I had been offered the job on the merit of my interview and the carefully prepared presentation on ” The Benefits of Working with Volunteers”, the gallery in Keswick provided a good reference and I had all the dates on the calendar and my shoes polished for day one. Only I did a stupid thing. I trusted in honesty and good intentions.

mug designs by Kim Tillyer

I’d given Joe Cornish ( the photographer not the comedian ) as a referee, believing in my naivety that, despite all the difficulties in the cafe towards the end of my time there, I’d loved my work organising the creative workshops and that I had done a good job, been a dedicated and effective member of staff and that Joe himself was a man of integrity and an artistic soul (as his website claims). I was very wrong. Joe was too busy packing for a trip to write anything so his partner suggested they ask the gallery. Joni (who had cried when I left and apologised for her mismanagement of the situation) wrote a reference that made me sound like a lovable village idiot who could just about make a cappuccino but was unlikely to manage anything too taxing involving any “attention to detail”, numeracy, organisation or reliability… and thus I was sent away humiliated and shell shocked, the job offer withdrawn. I am indeed an idiot, I expect people to act fairly and compassionately and they don’t. The past is a hole thinly covered with branches on a sunlit path and inside the hole there are spikes and mud and monsters.

I also found out that Joe is again running his exclusive residential workshops from the lovely North York Moors surroundings of ….wait for it…. Snilesworth Lodge, shooting estate and home of the delightful and kind Toby Horton, UKIP landowner. I felt like I’d been beaten up.

mug designs by Kim Tillyer

I’ve moaned at you and it’s a massive turn off but sometimes things need saying and the cat wasn’t really being very responsive. In other news I’ve been printing mugs and lurking about in my pyjamas in next door’s porch trying to photograph them ( the mugs not the pyjamas) in the morning light, I’ve been listening to Elbow and trying to play my mandolin and getting trapped in corners by spitting alpacas… not all at the same time though. I won’t always be moaning so please come back soon, thank you for listening. x

Reading :-“Nature Cure” – Richard Mabey  Listening To:- Real Life (Angel) –  Elbow



A Twisted Thread

Newlands Valley Autumn

Well Autumn has arrived and I’m getting ready for hibernation by cooking things with dumplings and making steamed puddings, foraging for rose hips and getting obsessive about the log stack. This is the most beautiful time in the Lake District with all the bracken, heather and woodland, dressing the fells in rich russety, foxy colours. The lanes are thickly carpeted with yellow, green and orange Persian rugs of fallen leaves. I’ve dragged my pudding filled self up several new mountains  in the past few weeks and there is nothing like emerging from mist onto a sun drenched summit or watching the fog roll away to reveal the golden patchwork below.

Log Stack, Lake District

As usual I’ve left it too long between posts and have way too much to tell you about… now I will have to skim through it all or risk sending you to sleep. The first thing that has happened is that wool has done its usual thing and snuck back in to my life as a “comfortable thing to do in the winter” after I was offered a place on a weaving workshop at the Greystoke Cycle Cafe a few weeks ago ( I may be running a cyanoype workshop there next summer). Weaving seemed like the ideal occupation for me as it is methodical and almost meditative; not mindless exactly but certainly free of the crushing self doubt and inertia that often hits me when I’m trying to be creative…. and you can get a lot done in a day. Our tutor for the day was Jan Beadle of the Wool Clip Collective which I visited a few days later to squeeze balls of wool and ask longingly about looms. Both Jan and the Wool Clip are highly recommended and I have to thank Annie from the lovely Cycle Cafe for giving me the chance to experience a workshop as a participant for the first time, it was a wonderful day.

weaving by Kim Tillyer

I also finally got myself over to see the Great Print Exhibition at Rheged which will be on until November 22nd. Rheged is basically a very smart service station on the A66 and houses the most amazing gallery space. It was exciting that the first thing I saw as I entered the gallery shop was a display of my cushions and cards – although I suppose it would have been more exciting if they hadn’t been there, having been sold! I found my prints in very good company and left feeling happier than I had for a while. Ok, so they hadn’t sold (yet) but they didn’t look out of place and I didn’t feel like a poor relation even though all the other work was pretty stunning.

The Great Print Exhibition Rheged, Cumbria

There they are, on the right of the picture below. As usual I fell in love with loads of pieces that I wish I could have bought but art is so often out of the reach of artists! I must go back and look again before it finishes.

The Great Print Exhibition Rheged, Cumbria

Strangely the momentary confidence boost of seeing my own work in an actual gallery and in a rather nice gallery shop hasn’t lasted long. I am my own worst enemy and have been doing battle with a sulky muse this week. I think I’ve over worked her by flitting from looms to heat presses ( I bought one cheap from a local man who paints brilliant “old masters” and had a Gustav Klimt on his bedroom wall!), needle felting to lino printing. She has left me barely able to lift a pen so I made a decision to concentrate on knitting squares from silky soft alpaca , channelling my inner Miss Marple or Great Grandma Elizabeth, while slowly re-evaluating what I do and why.

The Great Print Exhibition Rheged, Cumbria. Cushions by Kim Tillyer

So this week I was invited to interview for some weekend cover at Keswick Museum and I’m pleased and excited to say I was offered the post, starting in November. Now with two part time jobs I’m just about able to make ends meet (thanks to family and Rupert) and it struck me … that old question… why do I make things and try to create art? If I was well off would I still do it? Would it be different? Does it only feel worth while if it sells? All these questions that are ultimately about self esteem and the fragile/overinflated ego of a creative person! I’ve been sitting here pondering the subject for ages and its time to put the kettle on for comforting tea before smoke comes out of my ears. I will leave you with this question… do you value textiles and fibre art as highly as other craft forms? It’s something that I’ve had cause to think about lately and its always been a question that bothers me…why is an object made from wool perceived as less valuable than one made of clay, its a historical conundrum.

needle felt squirrel

There were a lot of question marks in this post sorry! Please give me a kick up the bum if I don’t write another post soon… its too easy to become a hermit here and live in a world populated by characters of my own invention… Bye for now x ( and bye from me says the squirrel.)

Reading :- ” A Room With a View” EM Forster and Bernat Klein- Textile Designer, Artist, Colourist by Bernat Klein and Lesley Jackson

Listening To :-“If Big Chief Dies” Sycamore Sykes  ( he’s proper famous you know and I said I’d tell everyone to buy a copy!)

These Mountains May Contain Bears…

The Brenta Dolomites and Lake Molveno

Somewhere in those mountains, in the scenty , cyclamen carpeted pine forests of Trentino, there are bears; real bears. The European Brown Bears, Arctos Ursus, whose numbers are growing thanks to a reintroduction programme in the area, were (having probably been warned by the Red Squirrels of Newlands Valley)) hiding when we visited the Dolomites last week. Knowing there may be a bear watching from behind a tree certainly puts a different complexion on a post pizza stroll along the side of a turquoise river, surrounded by blinding white, spikey limestone mountains. I wish I’d seen one, but knowing my luck I’d have been eaten, all my bear pictures would become priceless due to the notoriety and irony but it would be too late to help pay the rent or buy logs!

A garden in Arco

So I won’t bore you with too many holiday snaps, just to say it was beautiful and all the things Italy is meant to be. Not a bad reintroduction to holiday making after 23 years. We travelled by train, all the way from Penrith in Cumbria to Desenzano in Italy and then got a free bus ride to Arco (it was late, and in my new baggy pink dress I must have looked like a small tired, rather elderly, pregnant lady so the bus driver took pity… must work on my posture…must eat less pizza.)

Arco is a magical town with a castle on a rock and every lycra clad cyclist, runner, climber and windsurfer in the world rushing about in the heat, doing something extreme. I soon discovered the best thing to do was send Rupert off to do things on rocks while I sat in the Arboretum with my new friends the turtles; while the huge green dragonflies flew figures of eight around me catching mosquitos ( I am a magnet for mosquitos and for the entire two weeks I looked and felt as though I had chicken pox).

drawing in the park

So here are some highlights… swimming in Lake Garda, discovering you can get cappuccino half way up mountains, managing to climb a small limestone thing and not cry, the paintings on houses, the scent of Osmanthus, a thunder storm in Turin… oh and a French woman with two small and wonderful children, on the train, who drew pictures and played sweetly with no tears or iPads for 6 whole hours. Low points… being eaten alive by insects, being rubbish at speaking Italian,  being too scared, hot and itchy to climb/walk more… and a dark haired girl on the train to Verona with slow, fat tears falling silently.

Sketchbook page from a day in the park at Arco

And so we left the lakes and mountains of Italy behind and returned to our own.

Lake Garda from Torbole

While I was away my work had been in two exhibitions and although I was disappointed not to have sold any originals at C-Art at Dalemain, I did sell quite a few cards (enough to cover the cost of printing at least) and all my leaflets had gone which was encouraging. I was told that there had been a lot of interest but that maybe my prices were too high compared to other’s work. I can understand this as my prints are not editions but unique monoprints with time consuming hand stitching; so the price (between £130-£170 for a framed piece) reflects that, and I now know I need to keep the prices consistent with what a gallery would charge including their commission ( between 30-50%), tempting as it is to lower prices in order to sell at exhibitions (something I only realised after working in commercial galleries). So, it looks like I’ll just have to keep fingers crossed for sales at The Great Print Exhibition at Rheged, which runs until November.

Tent in the mountains by Kim Tillyer

embroidery and print by Kim Tillyer

The shop at Rheged also has cards and new cushions (with hand embroidery) that Emma from Temporary Measure printed for me as payment for Alpaca sitting. Emma is now almost royalty in the craft/design/illustration world as,  during the Top Drawer Trade Show, she got an order from a little place called Harrods. I’m going to have to wear a hat next time I visit and polish my shoes.,, but it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person. Well done Emma and all at Temporary Measure.from the top of Catbells

And so, upon my return, I packed up a thick cheese sandwich and headed up to the top of Catbells to lie on my back in the September sunshine to watch the combed out clouds, almost dizzy with the love of the place and the soft colours of the late summer fells and the smell of approaching Autumn.

Reading: “Sky Burial” by Xinran ( I finished “Haweswater” on the train home and  Rupert insisted I read this. I’ve finished it in two days and yes, ok, it is amazing Rupert) The book is about Tibet and it was a weird and amazing coincidence to be told by my  landlord that the Dalai Lama once visited this place and blessed the garden.

Listening To: “The 8.55 to Bhagdad” by Andrew Eames, on the radio in the bath and “Figure 8″ by Ellie Goulding at work

The Other Side of the Lake

Crummock water

Today is suddenly September; the year has clicked smoothly into another gear, my lovely family have all returned to their distant homes, the Bank Holiday crowds have left until next season, somewhere in North Yorkshire the swallows will be gathering on the wires above my old home and I’m here, alone again, drinking green tea in the last house on the mountain.

My daughter took these pictures on an idyllic evening walk around Crummock Water on Sunday evening. I’d never been to that side of the Lake and it felt so magical to be looking at a familiar view from a different angle and most of all to be sharing it with people I love. We made tea with the Kelly Kettle and ate a hastily prepared picnic of homemade cheese focaccia and peach cake while Terrible Grasmoor lit up pink in the sunset. There is something about the living in the Lake District that makes you want to be out exploring in a way I never really felt before. The North York Moors were “Home” and the landscape was beautiful but I was always quite happy mostly admiring it from the garden. Now what is it about wanting to get to the top, for no other reason than to look back down? Each Fell now labeled with the memory of the day it was climbed, the summit picnics and the names listed like a poem… Silver How, Helm Crag, Fleetwith Pike, Maiden Moor….

 Crummock Water

So, I have TWO exhibitions coming up and the table is covered with half finished things, labels, prints to be stitched, cellophane to battle with, price lists to write and as well as this I’m being whisked away on a train to Italy in a few days! The surprise trip was perfectly timed to celebrate (or distract me) since it will soon be  a year since my evil neighbour stopped me in the supermarket to tell me I was losing my home. Its odd to think that this time last year I was planting autumn onions and garlic, picking the last strawberries and watching the swallows gather for the final time, with no idea what was about to happen… I suppose this is what life is and why you have to make the most of every moment, good and bad.

House design by Kim Tillyer

Anyway, this is one of the images I’m using to make some new cushions with the help of lovely Emma from Temporary Measure while the one below is a framed piece that will be at The Great Print Exhibition at the Rheged Centre near Penrith   until November. Meanwhile Cumbria Printmakers C-Art Exhibition opens at Dalemain House, near Ullswater on September 12th. My work will be there but sadly I’ll be away so please go if you can and let me know how it looks. There are loads of amazing printmakers taking part, all with links to Cumbria and I just hope my work stands up along side theirs and I don’t feel too much like an imposter !

Heart's Home Kim Tillyer

Well, it’s almost time to go to bed. Tomorrow I’m doing my morning at the Calvert Trust Riding Centre, getting my weekly pony fix and feeling inspired by the wonderful work they do there. Its going to be a busy few days but hopefully there’ll be time to look at the sky a bit and daydream.

August sunset over Grassmoor

Reading:-  not enough!    Listening To :–  Underworld and REM and the fan  on my computer going in to overload when I try to do anything on Photoshop

Blood and Bilberries

Bilberry picking

The rain has just returned, hammering at the moss covered roof and leaking noisily from the broken gutter. Earlier, it was the picture perfect summers day and  I wandered up the valley, in the steamy August heat that has been so rare lately, playing at being a bear foraging for berries, growling at annoying sheep and dying my hands and knees purple with juice. Bilberry, Bleaberry… what do you call them where you are? There is something very primitive and comforting about gathering wild food and filling the store cupboards like a squirrel or a Moomin…  I’d already made 8 jars of red gooseberry jelly in the morning after discovering that I’d gone to work by mistake.

The  day started like this… morning sunshine making the inside of the black painted front door hot to the touch as I dashed out to work with my carefully packed lunch, rarely brushed hair and a day of selling wonderful art to lovely people ahead of me. Only I hadn’t read the calendar and had forgotten that I’m working on Sunday instead, silly me, I could have stayed in bed. I put all the lights on anyway and collected my newly framed work for C-Art which had been left in the gallery and headed back to the hills – at least I was up and about early and it was a ridiculously perfect day … as I drove back I thought, as I often do, how it is SO pretty here it feels unreal, like a fairy tale.

felted nests

After the gooseberry jelly was safely in its jars I took myself to the garden of the  house next door (which I pretend is mine when they are away) with a straw hat and a pile of things to make into nests. Some tiny bronze birds had come in to the gallery last week and I just thought they needed nests. I also just wanted to make something methodical because it stops me thinking too much. So there I sat, with a buzzard crying overhead and the mountains all around me and people rushing past looking hot, with heavy rucksacks saying “ooh isn’t it lovely, you are lucky” and feeling guilty for being lucky and also edgy because I’ve felt like this before about a place and look how that turned out.

a felted nest

Nest building is a lot harder than it looks and the birds were probably laughing at me but tomorrow I’m going to put the bronze wren in one and that will make it worth while. nest in the mountains

So, all the time I was picking bilberries and breathing in the smell of heather and bracken and warm mud and mountain air I was thinking about how to write it down so that you could get a sense of how lovely it all was. I came back and began to cook supper, feeling content in the way that you only can in summer when its warm enough to pad around in bare feet and a scruffy sundress, with the windows open… and then…the horrible sound of banging and squawking and panic and feathers and in the chicken house the mean old stoat. My favourite little chick was killed and Mr Stoat is so fearless that I know he will be back. I’m quite tough- I had to complete the job to make sure she was dead, you do these things in the countryside, I try not to be sentimental but I’m sad and I find the smallest thing hits me hard these days. I won’t trap the stoat, it was here first and probably has young to feed. Maybe I can fence him out, but anyway, thats how the day ended.  Sometimes I feel a bit like this …


Now I’m off to bed to read a little bit and try not to dwell on the possibility that I may be suffering from the Jam Makers Curse ( I remember life taking a sharp turn for the worse after a certain batch of Plum Jam back in the Joe Cornish Gallery days AND there was the Apple and Bramble Jelly that failed to save me from eviction !) I don’t even eat that much jam, I prefer Marmite :)

Reading :- “Haweswater” by Sarah Hall    Listening to :- “Stolen Car” Beth Orton and RAIN

Enchanter’s Nightshade and Sycamore Shadows.

a view from Wandope, Lake District

More time has flown by; faster than I have been able to write it all down, blurring one day in to another. Six months have passed since I came to live in the mountains; months marked by the changing colours of the fells- monochrome snow scenes melting to become Bracken slopes of  Caput Mortuum and now dark lush Hooker’s Green with bright Magenta spikes of Foxglove… oh and the more or less constant rain. August feels a bit too jungly for me, the Bracken could hide anything and the patch outside the big window has become heavily shaded by Sycamore and carpeted with Enchanter’s Nightshade (which is apparently used in binding spells to keep precious things close).

Nothing stays still for very long here, except the sleeping dragons in Newlands Valley- the fells themselves. The hills are full of people rushing about doing energetic things in lycra but always, even in the busiest season, there is the magic of being able to flop down on the mossy grass at the top and look at the view as if you’re the first to have ever seen it.


In the past two weeks we’ve been on two lovely adventures… up Eagle Crag and then the strangely named Wandope .I don’t seem to be getting any better at the uphill bits… after about an hour my legs finally warm up and stop aching just in time for my feet to start complaining. I really admire people who can run about doing things like the Bob Graham Round  (they often come pounding past here in the dark with minutes to spare as this is the last mountain on the round) but I’m still fundamentally a tortoise and prefer to dawdle along admiring the flowers, sniffing the sappy pine cones, filling my pockets with Bog Myrtle, making wands out of rushes and only making it to the top because of the promise of sandwiches.  The Garden Tower,cyanotype  Kim Tillyer

And before you think this has turned into a blog about hiking, here is what I’ve been up to for most of the week, when Rupert isn’t here to leave a trail of crumbs up steep mountain paths. I’m trying to get work together for the Dalemain House exhibition so I was pleased when a woman admired my work in the gallery the other week. Not realising it was mine, she asked about the technique and came in again a few days later, with a framer, who offered to frame a piece for free to see what I thought. He made a lovely job of it and chose a frame I would never have picked for myself; now I just have to save up to get some more done and hope that the gamble pays off because obviously I need to sell them to justify the whole endeavour. Working in galleries certainly gives you an insight into what sells, if not the ability or desire to produce it. On several occasions it’s been obvious that the customer is really looking for an investment rather than buying for love and its not just the artist’s name that matters but the medium they use. Why is it that oils are seen as superior to watercolours or a ceramic sculpture more highly valued than say, a needle felted one? IMG_3122

I’ve been stitching into the recent cyanotype prints I’ve made since moving here. The work represents ideas of home and security, impermanence and the need for shelter- from nests to ivory towers; stitching into the paper represents domesticity and also safety and healing… holding things together with stitches. There … do I sound all arty and conceptual?! Meanwhile some new greetings cards arrived and a piece of fabric from Spoonflower,to make purses … (this one was a birthday gift for Ruth who has been very kind to me since I admired her trousers for not being beige walking trousers when she came in to the gallery one day. She runs this guest house which you might want to stay in if you visit Keswick)  mountain girl caed and purse

Now it’s time to have a last cup of tea before bed and make sure the place looks tidy and loved because the landlord is coming round in the morning to discuss the howling gales that blow up your trouser legs in the kitchen… I need to be in the right frame of mind and not the angry defensive bundle of resentment I have become due to my last landlord’s jackboot tactics. I will leave you with this view of Borrowdale, lying on my tummy on a flat rock in the sun…well away from the edge, higher than a helicopter and amazed by the ridiculous beauty of it all.

Borrowdale from Eagle Crag

READING: The Slow Mountain Company Blog which is pretty wonderful and “Flora Britanica” by Richard Mabey

LISTENING TO: “No Light , No Light” Florence and the Machine