Scriptorium, literally “a place for writing”, is commonly used to refer to a room in medieval European monasteries devoted to the copying of manuscripts by monastic scribes. Written accounts, surviving buildings, and archaeological excavations all show, however, that contrary to popular belief,  such rooms rarely existed: most monastic writing was done in cubicle-like recesses in the cloister, or in the monks’ own cells. References in modern scholarly writings to ‘scriptoria’ more usually refer to the collective written output of a monastery, rather than to a physical room.

Well, the Schwakhoferian Priory has a pop-up scriptorium where I’ve been scribing the words to the poem written by Brother Steve onto the valance for ‘Enter the Forest of Dreams‘.

I’m using a font called Stonehenge from  I had briefly considered ordering Thermofax screens and screenprinting the poem.  When Steve and I were in Dublin last month we went to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells.  I quite liked the idea of scribing the poem, even though it would be more laborious.  As Steve said, ‘The monks had bugger all else to do (besides scribe)”, but I figured that I could take some time over it and do it à la main.

I printed the poem, taped it into stanzas and placed them onto the valance to make sure I was happy with the placement.

To transfer the text onto the fabric, I ordered a couple of brown fabric pens.  I did a trial run on a scrap of fabric to test the crispness of the line and the colour.  I decided to go with Sharpie Ultra Fine.

Next I pinned each stanza onto my Cut n’ Press ironing board.

Then I pinned the valance over the words and traced over them with my fabric pen.

The natural light in our kitchen cum scriptorium is pretty bright, but today I used our newly installed kitchen light to direct a beam right onto my work surface.

I’ve been scribing just a few lines at a time to keep my hand steady and my concentration fresh.  Once I’ve  finished I’m going to design a booklet to display with the bed, so that people can get an idea of the story behind it and to see the valance, which will be hidden beneath the river and the forest floor of my River of Dreams bed quilt.

Sister Melinda in the Scriptorium

Enter the Forest of Dreams

Sleep. Let the forest enfold thee.
Watch. Let thy eyes see light in shade.
Hear. Let thy ears be open to silence.
Dream. Let thy soul be still.
Love is imagined.

Walk. Let thy soul be thy compass.
Feel. Let thy heart be bold, and cautious.
Know. Let hope take root, deep anchor.
Touch. Feel the river flow, and its bounty.
Love is found.

Sleep. The world is done.
Sleep. Thy love is found.
Sleep. The dream is made.
Sleep. This earth is thine.
Love lives.

Steve Coxon
April 2012


The Sleeve of Invisibility

Apparently, there truly is a Cloak of Invisibility, as fictionalised in the Harry Potter novels.   Scientists have developed a ‘metamaterial’ – a new flexible film able to manipulate light rays in a manner that renders solid objects invisible.  Sounds like fun fabric to make wearable art from!

I finished my ‘invisible’ hanging sleeve for Suncast Shadows.  I whipstitched an organdy sleeve to the back and hung it this morning for the acid test.  I have a perspex lath which I use for my other transparent quilt –  ‘Le Mariage du Fleuve et du Ciel’.

When we decorated our flat this spring, we put hanging rails in the hallway outside my studio to make a gallery.

Gallery Two at No. 5

Anyhow, the invisible sleeve is just that.

Suncast Shadows

Completely invisible.

Now, where did I put my fat quarter of metamaterial?

A Fairy Tale

Sometimes it’s difficult to find out where things on the web originate.  I came across this photograph this evening on Facebook.

The Dream of Margaret Oenpelli

I think Margaret is a native Australian Aboriginal woman.  Her photograph and dream touched me very deeply.  I never met either of my grandmothers.  I have Muscogee blood on my father’s side of the family, but don’t have any connection with any of my Muscogee kin or culture.  This saddens me.

I wrote the following Fairy Tale about three years ago when I was a member of an online community called Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist.  This post has been sitting in my ‘Drafts’ box for two years.  Maybe waiting for this moment.  So here it is:

Las dos Melindas

Melindy Crabtree and Melinda Schwakhofer

Once upon a time, a baby girl was born. Her parents named her after her great grandmother, Melindy Crabtree, a woman no longer alive. These were some of the stories they told about her:

She and her mother and her mother’s mother came from a fertile land thickly wooded and criss-crossed with free flowing rivers. She could speak the language of the forest and knew where to find medicine plants. At the full moon, she would go to a well and talk to a wolf, there in the silver moonlight. . . . . But now, her language was forgotten and the places of these happenings were long gone. Her eyes which had lovingly witnessed the forest and rivers and all of the inhabitants there – two-legged, four-legged, winged and scaled, and held them in her care, had closed long ago.

But this newborn babe has her great grandmother’s eyes and sees the beauty of the world in the morning sun slanting through the bedroom window. She has her grandmother’s ears and hears the language of the forest in the windy trees. The breeze and leaves whisper to her,

‘We have given you her name.
You are the child who hears the call to home.
The one who can speak the ancient language,
The one who remembers.’

Then, a few years older, up and out at dawn. A backyard explorer. The little one who finds red salamanders beneath the stones, collected from a desert river  .  .  .  .  .

Exploring a sunflower

and lily of the valley growing secretly behind the garage. Rising early and into the sleepy garden to listen to spiders spinning stories and to pick the dew-dropped roses.

The girl who halts the games of tag and hide-and-seek to watch the sunset and climbs onto the roof at dawn to see a comet. She has not forgotten.

When she was twelve, only once ever and never before that day and never after that day, a vee of geese flew honking far above the suburbs, flying south.

‘Don’t forget’, they say, ‘soon you’ll stop hearing and seeing the beauty all around, but deep in your soul you won’t forget. We won’t let you forget.’

In the hard years that followed, she did stop seeing and hearing, in the struggle to survive being a girl in a time and place that was not friendly or safe. But, now and again, a beautiful sunset or pelicans following the shoreline after a day at the beach or, once, an hour spent playing with a dog in a mountain stream – these things would remind her of who she is. A Creek Indian princess with royal blood flowing through her veins and the fluent tongue of the river flowing from her lips.

Still, an iron band grew around her heart and stilled her tongue and silenced her hands.

This band kept her from remembering who she is and from speaking the truth about her people and the destruction of their lands and the winged and four-legged and scaled brothers and sisters who were and are in peril. About the ancestor’s story and how it affects us today. About how the land and the birds and animals and fish have fallen into despair over the loss of the people who could speak the language of the forest.

This girl grew into a woman, still silent, still half remembering, half forgetting. Yet, deep in her soul remained the memory, the flame, the truth, and every now and then, she would recognize a piece of music or artwork or a writing which had this same flame of truth, of what was true for someone who took the risk to say or write or paint or dance it. And this was good.

These encounters kept her flame burning, not so forgotten, but still hidden. The iron band made sure to keep it hidden, for if the wrong people saw the flame, it could be very dangerous for her and her people. It was still dangerous to tell their story, to tell the truth.

After a number of years had passed, the woman found her way to a doorway. It felt different from the many doorways she had encountered and gone through in her life. This one felt right, welcoming and safe, but like an adventure was on the other side. A thick sturdy oak door with beautiful iron hinges and a handle which just fit into her hand, like it was made for her.

A warm glow came through the keyhole. Looking down, she noticed that she was holding a key in her hand. An iron key which matched the hinges on the door. The key to this door!

She put the key in the lock, turned it and pushed the door open. The room was beautiful, rounded and lined with wood. Thick soft rugs carpeted the floor. Windows and skylights looked outside, but it was twilight now. The candles lit in the room reflected on the glass, reflected the room back to her. Here, a table laid with her favourite food, just exactly what she craved right now. There, a soft, inviting bed welcomed her to rest after she had eaten.

By and by, she awoke to sunlight and the murmur of soft voices. She opened another door and stepped into a flower filled courtyard. There were kind, compassionate, loving people standing in a circle, which opened at her doorway.

‘Welcome. We’ve been waiting for you to arrive’.

When she opened her mouth and spoke the language of the forest, everyone understood just what she was saying. The woman looked into her hand and found that she held a delicate golden key. As she took her place in the circle, the iron bands around her heart and hands dissolved and fell away.

Happily ever after?

We don’t know, as the story is still unfolding. Now the woman has remembered the fluent river language. From her days and nights and years of wandering in the desert, she can witness and speak of the endless beauty of the world and of the unbearable pain and agony of exile from it. She has vowed to the ancestors to unflinchingly tell the truth, to tell their story. Using her words, no longer silent, and her hands, no longer still.

The ancestors say,

‘We have given you her name.
You are gifted with the vision to see deeply into the heart of things –
to see the beauty and the pain.
You have the language to tell our story.’

Who will listen and will they be able to hear?

Who will look and be able to see?

The ending of the story depends on everyone.

Hip to Be Square

We went to a party on Saturday night in which the theme was ‘Square’.  Steve went as a famous square in London.  I made his ensemble on Friday night, which consisted of a hat

Detail of hat

and a further clue . . . . .

Ship’s biscuit from the HMS Victory

Most people got it pretty quickly when Steve said he’s a London square.

Steve as Trafalgar Square a la Lord Admiral Nelson

Lord Admiral Nelson as Himself

I focussed on the food, of course.

Chocolate Battenberg Cake

After Eight Cupcakes

At the last minute, I decided on my rather obtuse costume: a square in major European city.

Rembrandtplein, Amsterdam

I wore a grey linen swing top over a long-sleeved black T-shirt and linen trousers with random squares of 4 brooches pinned to it.  The brooches are made from my photographs of Amsterdam printed onto silk.  Rembrantplein is around the corner from where I usually stay when I visit the city.  One of my artist friends said that my grey and black palette reminded her of Rembrandt’s use of chiaroscuro.  So it worked, after a fashion.

Michael Forever, Thirty Two, Houseboat & Vespa

I invited our hostess and birthday girl, performance artist and actress Lucy Patrick to choose a brooch for her birthday present.  She was dazzlingly arrayed in blue and white checks and a T-shirt with her age, squared, on it. 2704.

You can do the math.  Steve and I figured it out doing the ‘guess and check method’.

Some of the other guests –

I couldn’t resist.

Nothing like a deadline

Like many creative people, a deadline can galvanise me into action.  Sometimes (or a lot of the time) I need the frisson which a time limit can give me.  That certain ‘do or die’ feeling can be a good motivator and can engender a great creative output.  I actually do quite a bit of work in my headspace which makes it look like I’m not dong much towards reaching a goal or producing a something.  But once I get started on the work, all of my thinking and figuring out time stands me in good stead to ‘get on with it’.  My writer husband Steve and I often joke that, ‘We’ve thought about it, so it’s as good as done’.

However, sometimes when you don’t know, or forgot, or have mislaid your deadlines, cock-ups can occur.  I don’t know it I mentioned that along with re-painting my studio, I am also in the process of organising my PAPERWORK in a way that makes sense and works for me:  a creative, right-brained person.  I think a lot of us creatives can relate to this.  In fact one artist friend of mine said ‘Organise, paperwork and creative do not belong in the same sentence’.

Well, I’m here to tell you that it is possible.  For a creative person to get organised.  It’s just a case of borrowing techniques from left brained people.  The definition of organising is ‘being able to find it when you need it’.  I’d originally set up my paperwork hidden away in magazine files and it was ‘out of sight, out of mind’.  I’d forget about stuff like applications and deadlines, bacause I couldn’t see them.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve ordered and put up in my studio a notice board and a magnetic chalkboard.

I immediately started pinning visual images to the noticeboard, but have decided to put a dedicated ‘visual board’ above those two, thus reserving the lower one for relevant papers.  I also got a vertical file holder, following a tip from the resources section of Clarity Consulting.  Like most Right-Brainers, I need to see my paperwork or I forget about it.

I recently bought a book called ‘Organising from the Right Side of the Brain’ by Lee Silber.  Before I got started on any hands on paper sorting, I worked through the exercises in the chapter entitled ‘A Method to Your Messiness’.  It was pretty difficult and somewhat emotionally charged, but I stuck with it and treated my self to a cup of tea and a couple of chocolates before going into my studio and faced my main goal.

Which was ‘sort out the pile on my studio desk’.

I had no problem sorting the papers into relevant categories, writing tasks on my blackboard and putting my mind map for organisation on my noticeboard . . . .

but, ‘Ooops!’,  I overlooked writing down a couple of key deadlines.  This morning, I realised that I have to drop my quilt  ‘Suncast Shadows‘ off in Birmingham this Friday.  No problem, because Steve and I will be passing through on our way to Moddershall Oaks for a Spa Weekend to celebrate our birthdays.  But I have to sew a hanging sleeve onto the back.  I have been putting some thought into it though.  It’s a sheer quilt so I’ve adapted the materials accordingly.

I’m using very pale blue organdy and invisible thread.  I’ve pinked the edges so there won’t be a dark, twice turned under seam which could potentially show through the sheer fabric of the quilt.

So this is an example of the power of a deadline, a cautionary tale about being aware of them and an intro to my new and improving organisational system.  I like that it’s flexible, not set in stone and evolving.  I also got some pretty Laura Ashley magazine files for papers that I don’t want to archive, but which aren’t current, such as ‘how to do’s and workshops I teach.  I am also going to start offering my service as a Creativity Coach and will include organising in my repertoire of skills.  So my Coaching materials might go there as well.


I love my daytime life in which I’ve arranged it so that I don’t need to leave the house until 9:45 am on the days when I need to be somewhere.  This means I don’t have to get up until 8:30 am!

The first things I see when I wake in the slowly lightening room are glowing luna moths and the luminous moon on our marriage quilt.

The luna moths we bought at a flea market on our 1st wedding anniversary in Aix-en-Provence, we chose and framed some of our wedding photos and I made the Marc Chagall inspired quilt, Le Mariage du Fleuve et du Ciel, during our first year of marriage.

We bought a DAB clock radio a few weeks ago.  I don’t actually use it for an alarm because I generally awaken around 7 o’clock.  I do switch it on though and listen to classical music on Radio 3.

Then, I get up and make (or lie in bed and have made for me!) a cup of tea in my favourite mug.  I prop myself up and  select from the ever-changing pile of books next to my side of the bed.

This morning it was a delectation from ‘Mud’, a book of voluptuous short stories by Michèle Roberts.

At some point, I raise the shade and watch the tree outside.  It inhales and exhales; birds dart in and out of it’s branches or trace lazy loops in the sky above it.  The maribou stole is from my wedding ensemble.

Angel wings at my window

Whenever I decide to get up, I throw open the window and lean out to see what the cows are up to and what the day is bringing.

Showery sunrise over Mardon Down

And then, I go about my day.