Friday, 19 May 2017


  I have watched several operations where stent has been used to repair or stents have been repaired. They are fascinating things both in the flesh and under x-ray. They are goretex and plated steel wire with tiny gold markers and seem otherworldly. They are also hand stitched and often made to order so I decided that I would try making one. Mine of course would not be surgical but an embroiderers version so I set about making a pattern for a tiny bifurcated construction.

    I used silk organza and hand stitched the french seams to make the two asymmetric tubes. Then the enamelled brass wire was bent into shape ready for stitching onto the trousers! I had to make a rig to put this onto as it had to be stitched in the round and the tubes were narrower than my fingers.I ended up using some of my jewellery making equipment (clamp, ring gauge and doming punch) to get a two legged form to put it onto.
    Using red silk it was simply a matter of whip stitching the wire into place.I say simply but in fact it was fraught with problems as the tubes shifted, the wires bent and the rig kept moving. Then there was the matter of the embroiderers training getting in the way ! I am so used to hiding all the threads and trying to make stitches invisible, especially whip stitch, that I kept trying to run the threads inside the tubes i.e. the hard way, when in fact the stitches must run on the outside of the work with a stent. And of course I use straight needles not curved.
   It was a mass of technical challenges but in the end it felt right in my hand, like a little bird, robust and yet fragile.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017


The one thing that still strikes me during surgery is the colour palette. I found myself pondering over how to represent this and so have begun with this piece of embroidery. It has a linear design to show the flow of activity, moving from sky blues and aquamarine into the reds and pinks that I have mentioned before.

For the central 'section' I have used more raised stitches both as reference to the inside of the body and to the difficulties of sewing in small spaces.Minimal access embroidery.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Femoral Bypass


This was a seven hour operation and nobody gets a break.Sometimes the surgeons get to sit. I stood and watched and these are my thoughts.
 A vein harvesting is like unpicking very fine fabric, you can't damage any of the surrounding material but it is securely and stubbornly attached to it.
 Over a hundred sutures needles are used; the endless counting and opening of sterile packets .All packaging is opened by a theatre nurse in a peel apart movement and then offered to the scrub nurse without handling the contents.
 Bead sutures have big beads on the end.
7-0 needles are very tiny, like thorns.
This procedure requires six surgeons working all at once.
The vein is passed through a metal tube which has been inserted under the flesh, it has been measured to make sure it is long enough and has been checked for twists. It has had a catheter passed along it to check that there are no obstructions.The surgeon noted any resistance he felt as threaded the catheter through. It is like threading elastic through a waistband or threading a rouleaux loop into trapunto quilting, it is all about the resistance, the pull and the timing.
Surgeons use glue.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Finger Tips

The image above perfectly illustrates how I use my fingers when making needlelace but it does not tell you what I can feel with them. Often I know where the thread is rather than feel where it is. The pressure I use to guide both needle and thread is so habitual that it can not be described.It has been written into me.
   This is a riddle that you have to unravel when you teach someone how to do anything.You show them, you guide them and then sympathise when things go wrong.Some learning can only be found during touch.Some teaching can only be done once someone has learnt.Some teaching conversations are just comparisons of experience. '' well you know when you do that thing and it felt like that, well this is a bit like it''.
  The use of tools is something uncommon amongst the creatures of this world and we humans specialise in it.We don't always know just how good we are at it until we teach or talk to others in different fields.
I spoke recently with Mr.Donald Sammut a consultant hand surgeon about what it is to be an expert. Mr.Sammut was drawing long before he was a surgeon and his work as an artist crosses over into that work with his informative illustrations of hand anatomy. We spoke about the importance of empathy in our work and how it is a mistake not to prepare properly beforehand.For Donald this means getting to know the patient and then making sure all decisions are informed ones. I must know about my work before I make it even if it is something I have never made before.Then comes technical preparation which comes from long experience.After that it is possible that you will not know what there is to find until you begin, both as an artist and a surgeon .You rely then on your expertise.
  Interestingly I was told that it is your fingernail that gives your brain the information about pressure. It gives the pulp in your fingertips a sounding board and without it there would be only wobble !

Thursday, 16 February 2017


Two articles have been published this year already about this project.
 The first is in The Lancet and focuses entirely on this project.
The second is in Nature and looks at the wider project base of Roger Kneebone's work with Imperial College London and the Royal College of Music, both articles are written by him.

Monday, 30 January 2017


  Imagine that you have a beautifully embroidered dress with beading amongst the embroidery.The fabric is fine and the dress is lined (the lining always being a little shorter). Then you rip the hem and the fabric is too damaged to repair.For the most part the dress is still sound so you can just shorten it.There is, of course, no 'just' about it.
    Here is a checklist of things to remember:
1. What length do you want the hem to finally be?
2.How much hem allowance do you need?
3.Where are you going to cut the embroidery to minimise damage to the design?
4.Where will you cut the embroidery to minimise damage to the stitches?
5.How will you manage the beading when you cut through the continuous thread?
6.Remember the lining must be shortened.
7.You must allow for the hem allowance before you cut.
and will there be a sense of loss at the change? will it be the same dress?
   I watched a lower leg being removed and the list of concerns when shortening a person are also complex.The initial cut has to be carefully considered and then made with precision.After this there are parts to be secured, saved and fastened.The damage and excess are removed and the hem turned up.Some gentle manipulation to make sure that the delicate material hangs correctly and the work is done.

Monday, 14 November 2016

In a jar, part two

    After my visit to the Gordon Museum I went to the Hunterian museum on Lincolns Inn Fields. This is a public museum but still not to be taken lightly. As I mentioned in the previous post I knew that I would find this difficult .
    I had come to see the Evelyn anatomical tables.These are seventeenth century wooden boards with the veins,nerves and arteries of a body laid out on each like a strange piece of lace.So delicate and so unnerving, you are looking at the wiring of a human who walked and talked set against a dark wooden board with knot holes looking out at you from between the vessels.The rest of the body had been dissected away from them rather like cutting away the fabric from the seams of clothes instead of unpicking them.
   Much of the museum consists of displays of wax topped glass specimen jars with beautiful hand written labels and it was these that moved me most. I found that I was mourning the puss moth in a jar and thinking of the hyacinth flower that never was, floating like a strange jelly fish with its' long white roots.I kept asking myself if it was necessary to truncate so much life in order to study it but answered straight away that it must have been.
    Knowledge is made up of tiny stitches, like Charlotte Waite's cross-stitch celebrating her survival of chloroform. And like the film I watched three times upstairs of  a coronary bypass. And the latex skin pads for students to practise suturing which resemble trapunto quilting. Fragments of knowledge made from lives and sewn together.
 The next day I sat in my studio and sobbed.