Digital Play

Spending all this time painting also meant a lot of time on photoshop playing with my watery motifs.

I started making ‘digital quilts’ inspired by souvenir scarves and the geometries of welsh quilt making. These then became printed scarves and the top sheets for quilts which I later embroidered into.

In this strange suspended space of time, all my projects and exhibitions were postponed – I returned and reworked. I ended up inadvertently, re-making my entire solo show of works inspired by the collections at Glasgow Women’s Library had been delayed.

Log Cabin

In the house, stuck at home, getting cabin fever – I found myself drawn in particular to the iconic log cabin quilting pattern (and to pin wheel patterns).

The log cabin is a traditional quilt pattern that plays with light and shadow surrounding a red center, that is associated with the hearth, home and heart.

This construction gave me a space to play with the repeat patterns I had been creating – literally setting them in motion.

Later when the digital quilts are printed onto fabric, they become a faux/false/fake/LAZY form of patchworking – which is then embroidered onto, quilted, and bound.

This log cabin became the basis for my quilt for the Rebel Dykes Art and Archive Exhibition. A kind of home, that I could construct for such precious archive materials.

The log cabin became a tool for thinking with and developed into the collaborative LOG CABIN project with Jordan Taylor.


Although I had plenty of time for playing with paintings, and files, I could feel my deep desire for stitching and handling of fabric. I wanted to be back in the workshop so badly.

Despite my dedicated support from my incredible supervisors, in my experience and those around me, our university has treated us abysmally. Communication was scarce and tactless, support funding was withdrawn, extension applications were rejected, suspension and change of study requests were ignored, for months no access to facilities could be arranged for arts students (unlike science) and jobs were lost. Instead of meaningful support we received an increase in supervisory meeting requirements, and even the addition of another assessment milestone – adding further to our workloads.

By June the anxiety was creeping up my chest and I started having panic attacks again. Summer is usually the time I make massive amounts of work, as the workshops are empty of undergraduate students and I could spread out and play, chatting with Sue in the long sunny afternoons.

Fortune Teller (detail) by Sarah-Joy

Software in Hard Times

The university failed to provide me access to ethos embroidery software, or a computer. But I was so lucky to have my supervisor Alice Kettle, who has worked tirelessly to support me and create a space for my practice to be challenged and flourish.

Instead, she organised the loan of the software that I needed herself, from the wonderful and supportive GS-UK – industrial embroidery specialists.

And she sent me a laptop in the post so I could use the software.

I am continually taken aback by the deep kindness and generosity that Alice shows me. And so profoundly grateful to GS-UK for supporting my practice when the university did not.

With access to the software, I was able to start transforming my paintings into digital embroidery files again.

A Friend on Loan

More time passed and there was still no access to the workshops. Then a very limited couple of days that I could be in, but only outside of undergraduate teaching times. This was never going to be enough access to create my time-consuming works (although I manage to snatch a couple of days to embroider my Femme’s Guide to the Universe quilt, stitching Shar Rednour’s big eyes and soft curls in pinks and purples on the Juki Irish embroidery machine….)

The machine arrived, and she was beautiful! A brother semi-industrial digital embroidery machine with 6 colour needles, and I was off like a duck to water.

The memory of machines is built into my body, a haptic knowledge – allowing my fingers to work automatically. I felt at home. I could finally stitch all the files I had been working with for months and in my own house! In my pyjamas! Joy.

She was noisy and beautiful and I have never been so grateful to live in an end terrace house.

A Ray of Sunshine

Just before lockdown, my grandfather died. We were lucky in a strange way, that we were all able to be together, to mourn as a family. My little brother taught us how to play dungeons and dragons and we ate leftovers.

We did not have an easy relationship, and I did not expect to be included in his will. But I was. And I knew what I needed to do with what he left me. I have always been worried about what I will do after my PhD – separated from the machines that I love. But this was my chance and I brought my very own 10 needle digital embroidery machine. Her name is Ray, after my grandfather and she has changed absolutely everything.

For Christmas, my partner custom built me my very own thread rack, with her sister in the garage. It was the best surprise and still makes for an excellent conversation starter in the background of my many zoom meetings.

The sense of freedom and possibility is now endless. I feel able to face my uncertain future as an artist with her by my side. I like to think that Ray, my grandad, would have approved.