Day 5 – Giants’ Causeway and the Dark Hedges

Seascapes series © Breda McNelis, fiber artist 

As a member of one of my favorite organizations, the Contemporary Quilt Art Association, I’m hoping to enter an exhibition next year called “Natural Geometry”.  Boy, do I have inspiration to tackle that theme!  A World Heritage site, the Giant’s Causeway is comprised of polygonal basalt blocks, most frequently 6-sided but some have 4, 5, 7, or 10 sides.

Basalt rock formations at the Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland

Basalt rock formations at the Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

The legend behind the name of this geological wonder goes as follows.  The giant from Ireland, Fionn mac Cumhaill (aka Finn McCool) is being threatened by the Scottish giant Benandonner across the sea.  Finn grabs up huge rock pieces from the coastline and throws them into the sea, to make a pathway for Finn to go across.  However, when he gets across, he realizes that Benandonner is terrifyingly massive!  Finn rushes back home to Ireland where his wife disguises him as a baby.  When the Scottish giant comes to their door and sees McCool as a baby, he thinks the father must be much larger than he is, so he races back across the rock bridge to Scotland, causing most of the bridge to sink!

The Giant’s steps


One of the things that surprised and delighted me was the gift shop and interpretative center.  Rather than just have the typical tourist doodads, they had a wide variety of quality artwork from local artisans, fiber art included!

Giant’s Causeway © Breda McNelis

Breda McNelis is one of the textile artists that are represented by the shop.  Her work is inspired by the colors and textures of the Irish landscape.  She also works with traditional Irish fabrics- Báinín, a traditional Irish fabric which is an un-dyed, woven 100% natural wool and colorful Donegal tweeds.  Her pieces are layered with silk fibers, hand-painted silks, merino wool, and beautiful yarns.

You can find more of her lovely work on her website at





“Sunset, Giant’s Causeway” © Breda McNelis




Christina Fairley Erickson at the Giant's Causeway

Christina Fairley Erickson at the Giant’s Causeway

The mystery and magic of the Causeway Coastal area at the North-western edge of Ireland has drawn tourists for 400 years, but most recently has gained greater fame from the Game of Thrones series.  With the abundance of medieval buildings, beautiful landscapes, and mysterious caves, Northern Ireland became a natural location for filming this fantasy mega-hit.



One of the locations, “The Dark Hedges”, was used as the Kingsroad for the people of Westeros and was shown in Season 2, Episode 1 when Arya Stark escaped King’s Landing in the back of a cart.  Planted in the 18th century, the intertwining beech trees create a spooky, other-worldly setting.

In 2016, storm Gertrude hit Northern Ireland with 130 km/hr winds, causing a number of the trees to fall.  But the creative genius of the people of this area took this tragedy and made something beautiful out of it.  The huge trunks were removed and a group of designers and craftsmen interpreted different scenes from the Game of Thrones Session 6 into a series of 10 incredibly carved doors. Each of the doors were then installed at a pub at a Game of Thrones film location in Northern Ireland.  Click here to see a short film on the making of the Doors of Thrones.

Coming soon: Blog on the “Game of Thrones Tapestry”!

The Dark Hedges aka the Kings Road in the Game of Thrones


The soaring and mysterious Dark Hedges aka the Kings Road in the Game of Thrones

The soaring and mysterious Dark Hedges

Towering columns of the Giant's Causeway

Towering columns of the Giant’s Causeway

The Giant's Causeway steps into the Inner Sea between Northern Ireland and Scotland

The Giant’s Causeway steps into the Inner Sea between Northern Ireland and Scotland

One of many wooded lanes lending to the mystical atmosphere in Northern Ireland

OK, it’s time to get down and finish up my goals for 2013… yeah!  But first, that requires me to do a little soul-searching and figure out what I’m doing wrong and right in my artistic life (uh oh.)

Where am I stuck? 
            One area where I’ve made some incremental progress on is in my studio clean-up and organization, however, I’m still stuck to a certain degree with this.  Most times, I find it difficult to get into my studio to work.  In the past, I frequently have had it so disorganized and messy in my studio and my dyeing room that I can’t work or I just don’t want to go in.  I have so many things I’d like to do that I’m overwhelmed.  I sometimes feel as though I should finish projects I’ve already started. I don’t know whether to consider it a blessing or not, but I have enough space in my home to spread out… so my sewing gets moved out of my studio to our rec-room and the dyeing can also end up there.  Anyone else struggle with being overwhelmed with their stuff and their space?  
            I’m also somewhat stuck with not being certain how much I should be attempting to show, how much time to devote to just increasing technical competence, how much time just creating for my own artistic pleasure versus trying to fit into a show theme, or whether my work as CQA (The Contemporary QuiltArt Association‘s Exhibitions co-chair will actually serve my artistic career.  I’m not sure whether taking a break from showing will serve me, however.  I think having a full artist résumé looks good to those interested in your art work.    
            Another area in which I’m struggling is in my definition as an artist.  While I’m comfortable with the definition of “fiber artist”, I’m unsure whether I should still focus on making quilts or whether I should or am moving beyond them.  This is a big dilemma for me.  Do I stop doing “quilt” art?  If so, does that mean that I’ve moved beyond CQA (which has become a rather big part of my life at this point.)  I know I love doing embroidery, but does it have even less potential for artistic recognition as art quilts?  If I focus on other areas than quilt art, where would I show?
What is working?
I am feeling like I’m in the process of moving on to the next level in my art.  I’ve increased my technical competence over the last year.  Specifically, I’m much more skilled in machine freehand quilting as well as dyeing.  I’ve gained a lot of knowledge through my working on the CQA Exhibitions.  I have a good strong understanding of color.  I have a strong work ethic and desire to be successful.  This helps me fit in time although I have a lot of demands for my attention… husband, two teen boys, work, CQA exhibitions, SDA (Surface Design Association)  steering committee and small group leader in WA state, and numerous hobbies and passions beyond my fiber art.

One of the thousands of photos I’ve taken for design inspiration
I’m very excited to have been able to work with Gail Harker this year and to be starting the Level 2 of her diploma program in May 2013.  I’ve come to recognize that most classes and teachers don’t have much more to offer me, unless I need to learn a particular technique, since the majority of classes just teach you to quilt in that particular teacher’s style.  The difference with Gail is that she teaches techniques and design in such a way that all of her students end up developing their own style and their work looks uniquely their own.    

Processes I have used/done quite a bit and am comfortable and confident with:
  • Sewing, piecing, quilting, free-hand embroidery, machine applique with my Bernina 730
  • Fabric painting (using brushes, syringes, spray bottles, stamps, stencils, silkscreens) with Jacquard textile paints and Lumiere and using resists with fabric painting (freezer paper or objects)
  • Printing on fabric with ink-jet printer
  • Intensive and in depth study of color, including color mixing, making tints/shades/tones, color theory, and color combinations (dyads, equilateral and isosceles triads, tetrads, hexads, monochromatic, analogous, complementary, near-complementary, complementary triads, modified triads, adjacent-complementary tetrads, and analogous complementary color schemes.)
  • Highly proficient with Adobe Photoshop CS5 Professional
  • Immersion dyeing (Procion MX)
  • Multiple dye-baths
  • Using different methods to create pattern in immersion dyeing (pole wrap, clamping, bunching, folding, pleating, shibori)
  • Making printing blocks from found objects
  • Stamping and making my own stamps from found objects
  • Stenciling
  • Making thermofax screens and silk-screening with them
  • Photography (digital SLR) particularly nature scenes and macro photography (See Skagit Skies and Sunshine and Sand)
  • Drawing/sketching
  • Monoprinting

Technical Skills I need to develop:
 I think there are a lot of skills that I should develop, but I’m not particularly worried about them.  I think as I continue to work with Gail, I will have lots of practice and increase competency over time.  I do, however, feel I need to get more intentional about my design process.  My understanding of design elements while strong, is not necessarily intuitive in my working in fiber art.  I think I often am so driven to get going on a project that I don’t put the thought into it that could make an okay design into something with much more impact.  Or I’m pushing to get something made for a deadline, so I don’t end up with as good an effort as if I were to just be making it for my personal artistic pleasure.

I’m currently working on hand embroidery techniques, which I’m enjoying and expect will work its way into my art pieces, rather than just a samples.
And another.
Although I have a long list of potential topics I could make art about, as well as thousands of images for inspiration, I’m not particularly worried about my being too overwhelmed with possibilities  I feel confident that my work with Gail will help me narrow my focus over time.

More to come:
I’m not 100% certain that I’ve covered everything in these categories yet, but will revisit and think about it more over the next few days, in case there is anything to add.  I’ll look more at my specific successes over 2012 have been as well as my 2013 goals tomorrow.   
I’d love to hear about where you’re stuck, what’s working for you, and what you feel you need to develop this year in the comments section below!

You might also be interested in:

Questions to Ponder for Writing Your Goals
Goals for the Upcoming Year
The Art of Organization