Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Where did that year go to?

It has come as a great surprise to us to learn that it is almost exactly a year since we posted our last blog! What happened there?

We took TOTU down in Cirencester after a successful show, at the end of April and almost immediately got involved in a completely different project. We ended up creating an installation for an exhibition called ‘What’s in my Shed?’ held at Snibston Discovery Centre in Leicestershire. And then it was the summer holidays and then it was Christmas…...not to mention gathering data and responses for our final report to the Arts Council and, suddenly, we are preparing to show TOTU again. This time it will be in the libraries of West Berkshire as part of LibraryFest 2015 – an ideal moment, we feel, to bring the blog up to date.

Exhibiting at New Brewery Arts, Cirencester

As mentioned before the gallery space at New Brewery Arts is comparatively narrow so we had to drastically reconfigure the original pavilion shape as a pair of stepped walls which enclosed pale interior with the story banners rather effectively. It gave the interior a nice maze like atmosphere enhanced by swathes of white translucent fabric we were able to swag from the gallery ceiling. The exuberant colours of the outside looked well against the white of the gallery walls.

                            NBA Exterior 

                            NBA Interior 

It was a strange experience for us to leave TOTU unattended for most of the run and not to get the immediate feedback and interaction we had had at other venues. Curators were primed and did a fine job but we had the suspicion that the public on the whole responded more enthusiastically when the actual artists were there to explain and share opinions and anecdotes.

We arranged a couple of Meet the Artists events where we met some contributors and it was lovely to share the experience of showing in a classic gallery space with them.

             Jennifer List with her Unfinishable Jacket 

Sally Ann Douglass

Sal Cooper 

The gallery put out a call to all artists for Unfinishable contributions and displayed all responses alongside TOTU on a long white plinth. Amongst the exhibits we received were an oil painting of a horse, a wood carving, a porcelain pot and a knitted bear, all of which had come to a halt for a variety of reasons.

As a related outreach activity a class of schoolchildren worked with a group of old people taking up some of the themes inherent in the Unfinishable concept eg: sharing and not being afraid to experiment and play. There was a very merry get together at the end when we all admired each other’s work.

Felicity Clarke, TOTU artist, Pat, Heather, Cissy Paternoster and Jess CDPS with their work. 

As one sparky lady put it: ‘I think it was a good thing that children let the elderly people show them how to do things’.

The gallery itself was pleased by the visitor’s reactions to TOTU as it was quite different from a lot of the exhibitions that had been held there being more participative and narrative based with the audio element being particularly innovative. Hannah Brady, one of the NBA team summed up:
‘An opportunity to bring in new ideas, audiences, ages and interest. This work is incredibly accessible and encourages you to look, to look again, to touch and listen. I have enjoyed seeing people’s responses, talking about the work and being immersed in the space.’

LibraryFest 2015

So after nearly a year in retirement, carefully wrapped and stored in our barn, Tales of the Unfinishable is out and about again!

Jackie Gray of West Berks Council had seen TOTU when it was exhibited at the Corn Exchange Theatre in Newbury in 2013. She thought the narrative element had an obvious link with  Libraryfest, a new annual book based festival in West Berks, and invited us to exhibit this year. The brief was to show elements of TOTU in all the nine libraries of West Berkshire including the two mobile ones. This was quite a challenge and we are very pleased with the scheme we have come up with because, although geographically fragmented, all elements of the original structure are being shown in one destination or another – although not including the roof! Of the 14 original panels Newbury library, being the largest will show 4 with the banquette and column rising up to the second storey of the building.

                                             Newbury Library Weathervane 

Thatcham, Lambourn, Hungerford, Theale and Burghfield Common have 2 panels each which make neat little display pods.

                           Thatcham Library 

Thatcham Interior 

The really small libraries – Wash Common, Pangbourne and Mortimer have more flexible displays of Unfinishables and their stories while even the two mobile libraries are decked with exhibits and celebratory pompoms.

The festival runs from 5 March-23 April and more information about it can found at: On 23 April – World Book Night – Newbury library is hosting an evening of events and entertainment which include, among other delights, playing the spoons. All are welcome to come, 5-8pm, and it’s free. There will be more details about this event on the website in April.

We do hope some of you will be able to catch TOTU in West Berks and see it in its radically different new form.

Monday, 10 March 2014

TOTU is coming to Cirencester! And you can participate too if you wish!

We will be exhibiting Tales of the Unfinishable  in the main gallery at New Brewery Arts, Cirencester, from 15th March to 26th of April. This is the sixth and final venue of the highly successful Arts Council England assisted tour which began almost 18 months ago at the Knitting and Stitching Show, Alexandra Palace, London.

After being shown in a shopping mall, a city atrium and a theatre where the Beatles performed amongst other places, this is the first time TOTU can be seen in a classic gallery environment. We have had the challenge of re-configuring the Extravaganza for this show in order to suit the gallery space which is long and comparatively narrow.  Its new form will be excitingly different but will still retain (we hope) all the essential features and atmosphere of the original. It will be a new experience for all!

New Brewery Arts is a lively and interesting place to visit, with craft workshops to explore, a lovely shop and popular café.

Our book, Tales of the Unfinishable: Investigating the Incomplete, will also be on sale there.

We, ourselves, are going to be at the New Brewery Arts Gallery on two Meet the Artists days – Saturday 15th March and Thursday 3rd April and would be very pleased to see you all there.

As part of the NBA exhibition, we will also be displaying an expanding collection of Unfinishable creative works which visitors wish to bring along to NBA, and the stories behind them will be shown too.  The items will be returned after the exhibition.  So if you’d like to participate in this developing display, bring your Unfinishable along anytime during the show.   

And more exciting news - the lovely short documentary about TOTU which was filmed at Alexandra Palace is now online. You can see it at

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Milton Keynes

6 o'clock Wednesday evening on the 17th July saw us all in Midsummer Place shopping centre in Milton Keynes on the next stop of the TOTU tour. We were welcomed by a cheery band of MK Fringe Festival helpers wearing brilliant green official t-shirts led by Festival Director, Jessica Rost. As the shoppers left we started building.
Jessica had negotiated our spot ( right next to Pret, very handy) with the Shopping Centre management as part of the Fringe Festival entertainments. We were keen to show TOTU in such a public environment to test visitor's reactions.
We had to stop work at 10 as it got too dark to see but managed to officially open the next morning at a wee bit past 11. Practically our first visitor turned out to be someone we had met before when we had our initial stand at Ally Pally Knitting and Stitching Show two years before. Fiona Bureau had taken away a questionnaire determined to donate her particular Unfinishable . However, she confessed, the more she looked at the piece and thought about it the more she realized how precious it was to her. She allowed us to photograph it and we were happy to hear her story and  were able to reassure she was not alone in her experience.
The sight of the pavilion in the corporate surroundings of the shopping concourse caused a lot of surprise and intrigue and we collected some lovely comments. Although some passers by, fully committed to their retail therapy, thought we were selling curtains! Others were drawn in and spent quite a time getting involved with all the stories.
As we were part of the Fringe Festival we had lots of helpers to take over at lunch breaks etc. Megan, in particular, was with us each day and by the end of the Festival was fully competent to run the show on her own.
Half way through the setting up we were interviewed by MK Citizen for their online news. We looked a bit dishevelled and were relieved when our next media encounter was a radio interview! 
The Drawing Machine joined us for Friday and Saturday inviting members of the public to join in the draw an Unfinishable picture. The picture was built up on an acetate screen over the two days and was a good companion to the Extravaganza. The two linked activities made the many passers by stop in their tracks and get involved.

Tales of the Unfinishable appeals to all age groups!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

TOTU in Newbury

April 21st we took TOTU to The Corn Exchange Theatre in Newbury. Ably assisted by two lovely theatre technicians as well as the ever-supportive Hugh and Steve we succeeded in building the Extravaganza in record time – a mere 6 hours.

It looked fantastic in the theatrical space. Set in the auditorium itself – the seats having all been cleverly folded away – it was stage lit for the first time on the outside as well as the inside. The result was really dramatic – the Extravaganza looked like a bright paper lantern floating in the darkness.

Another new variation from previous exhibitions was the Sewing Sounds Symphony, playing on large auditorium speakers, greeted visitors coming into the auditorium creating a lovely and evocative ambience. One male visitor said the sounds took him immediately back to his youth and his mother’s sewing activities. The Symphony really set the scene beautifully.

Some of the visitors were returning for a second, more considered look having seen us amid the bustle of Ally Pally last year. They appreciated the leisure and calm of this venue which gave them time to really examine and explore the work.

One of the most amazing incidents of the show was when one American Unfinishable contributor, Paulette Hayes, walked in with her husband. They were en route from the USA to Australia and had made a special detour in England to come and see us! Paulette had sent us the very moving embroidered foetuses which feature in our book as well as taking their place on the Extravaganza. Many visitors had admired the courage with which Paulette had told her Unfinishable story and quite a few felt an emotional resonance with it. It was a great thrill to meet and talk to her in person. What is more she had brought with her a most beautiful quilted piece which was the final resolution of what she had been trying to express with the initial Unfinishable foetuses. It was stunning and a privilege to see. It also strongly illustrated the point that Unfinishables can be necessary stepping stones and shouldn’t automatically be connected with feelings of failure.

The Newbury Touch to See group, a very lively, visually impaired crowd, to whom we had previously given a talk on the Unfinishable Project, happened to be visiting the exhibition at the same time and were delighted to engage with an actual contributing artist, her work and her story. Paulette was very generous with her time with them. It was a very emotional and quite electric event.

Alongside the TOTU exhibit, in the theatre foyer,  was  an accompanying exhibition showing the amazing outcomes of an outreach project on related themes. This had been organised by the Corn Exchange under the capable aegis of Sarah Gregson along with ourselves, and supported by Jackie Gray of West Berks Council who was interested in using TOTU as the stimulus to promote  ‘inter-generational conversation’ through craft activities.

The outreach project starting point was an ‘Inspire’ event, held earlier in the year at which we had given a presentation about various themes arising from TOTU which could be developed further to a gathering of interested groups. The groups were given inspirational packs to take away and were put in pairings to work together:
       Mary Hare School – with  Corn Exchange Theatre Stewards
       Newbury Embroiderers Guild with Trinity Trinkets School Art Club
       The West Berks Home Schooling Group – parents working alongside their children instead of
       teaching them
       The Clere School –  New Greenham Arts artists

Each pairing then worked with a newly-taught craft of their own choice and a craftsperson to realize their ideas around one of the Unfinishable themes. These ranged from sharing the making process to the personal significance of insignificant objects. The outcomes exhibition made a lively addition to the TOTU experience and was intriguing for us to see how our initial concepts had taken on new lives of their own.

Justyna Agacka, a local contributor, with her mother's embroidered tablecloth

Monday, 15 April 2013

Newbury Show

We are very excited about the next show in Newbury at the Corn Exchange Theatre, and would like to invite all participants and project friends and supporters to the Private View on Sunday 21st April 5.30-7.30pm. R.S.V.P to Dress code- Wear your Unfinishable badges!
The Extravaganza will be the centrepiece of an intergenerational outreach programme which has been developed with the Theatre and the support of West Berkshire Council. The various groups have taken different aspects of the Unfinishable idea that have appealed to them and developed them as they liked. An invited artist has helped each one realise their vision. The results of their work will be on dispaly in the theatre foyer at the same time as Tales of the Unfinishable is showing in the main auditorium.
The public exhibition hours will be 11am-6pm 21st April and 10am-5pm 22nd April.
We look forward to seeing you all there!

Monday, 11 February 2013

The Extravaganza goes to Norwich

January saw TOTU arrive in the Forum in Norwich. The Forum is a very modern glass-covered atrium/publicspace in front of the equally modern city library. Its an incredible space in the centre of town run by The Forum Trust- an independent charity that supports education, heritage, new technology and creativity. We at The Unfinishables HQ were very happy to be a part of it.
James and Ray helped us set up and we were up and running just after lunch on the Sunday. It was a new experience to build and take down the Extravaganza with people milling about all round it. The process of building the exhibition pavilion in an open public space proved fascinating to many people, and we were asked lots of questions about what it was going to be and how the pavilion construction worked, which we answered as best we could whilst teetering on top of tall ladders screwing the roof rafters!
Then the snow arrived. Norwich came to a standstill but luckily we were staying at Hazel's brother-in-laws, which was very snug and close to The Forum so we could slip and slither backwards and forwards quite easily in the snow.
People who did brave the weather were thrilled to see a bit of colour and excitement and we had lots of lovely comments in our visitors book.

'One of the best shows I have ever seen here. Fantastic.' Simon Marsham

'What an amazing, inspirational piece! I'm going to pull out some of my unfinished pieces and look at them with a new eye.'  Caroline Smith

'Every creation tells a story. It is very touching and a privilege to look into the creations of the people who have given you their unfinished work. Great work. Thank you.' C.Wang

'Wonderful  exhibition. Beautiful feeling inside the textile pavilion. Therapeutic and timeless. Love all the stories'  Melanie Hines

'So evocative, so personal, such a wonderful affirmation of life.' Nicky Turner

'Wonderfully joyous' David Edwards

'Just like home'  Bea Bennett

Lots of brave and gallant people turned up to the event on Thursday which we had organised for East Anglian project participants and their friends. We thought it would be interesting for them all to meet each other and share their Unfinishable stories face to face. The participants who came were Maggie Jackson, Judy Purves, Sue Calverley, Kate Bass and Sue Wright. We all sat and talked inside the Extravaganza which was closed for the occassion. We were so busy talking we forgot to take a picture of the gathering! But it was extremely nice to meet them all again and get to know them better.
 We had had an interview broadcast on Radio Norfolk about the Project so were feeling quite like stars ourselves!
Alongside our exhibition in the main atrium was an Unfinishable digital display compiled by The Forum's Richard Fair. This was shown in Fusion (The Forums digital gallery), on an impressive curved screen that stretched round the walls. Individual pieces zoomed towards the onlooker from a background collage and a voice over told the story behind it. 
Norwich also saw the debut of the Unfinishable film made by Bea Holden! It explains the project and captures some visitors reactions. Played on a wide screen that was unfortunately placed opposite our table we got heartily sick of the sound of our own voices by the end of the week. But the sound track, based on Massive Attack's Unfinished Sympathy by Maxence Cyrin, naturally - stood the test of repetition very well.
We talked to lots of people and heard many more Unfinishable stories whilst in Norwich. It is a lovely part of touring the TOTU project that we come across new pieces and makers that we wouldn't otherwise see.

Thankyou Donna Younger for all her assistance

Alison and Lynsey Calver brought along Alison's Grandfather's World War I unfinishable embroidery to show us. He went to war very young having falsified his age but survived. They know nothing of the inspiration or reason behind this piece, nor why he stopped, but it's now a family treasure. 

The film by Bea Holden.

Monday, 10 December 2012


 The Tales of the Unfinishable book would make a lovely Christmas present not only for any creative or textiley friends but also for anyone who enjoys reading real human-interest stories.  The RRP is £15 but we are offering Blog readers and project supporters our 'Show Offer' price of just £10. Postage and packing is just £2.  To purchase contact Hazel at or call her on 07973 224698 or Felicity on tel 07775 987209.