Karen Kay: Resolve to indulge yourself this New Year

PUBLISHED: 15:12 12 January 2016 | UPDATED: 15:12 12 January 2016

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto


And no, that’s not an invitation to pop another chocolate into your mouth – instead Karen invites you to find your own ‘learning journey’

For many people, there will be a vow to learn a new skill in 2016, and I can confidently say that there has never been a better time to boost brainpower or perfect a practical skill.

In the past signing up to evening classes was the only option for those wishing to discover new interests or nurture a fledgling talent. Today there’s a multitude of opportunities for anyone wishing to embark on a learning journey.

In the past couple of years, I’ve re-ignited the passions of my youth, signing up for day courses at workshops with textile artists. For some, a spa visit delivers a rejuvenating boost, for others, pottering in the garden offers therapeutic time away from the hustle and bustle. For me, making something with my hands provides comfort in a chaotic world. Setting aside a few precious hours to stitch is an all too rare pleasure.

Under the watchful eye of textile artist Caroline Zoob, I’ve sat in a light-filled conservatory piecing together scraps of vintage linen, and embroidering them with words and shapes to create a patchwork sampler – hoping it will be an heirloom for my young daughter.

Caroline was thrown out of needlework classes in her Bucks grammar school, went on to become a lawyer, but eventually succumbed to the allure of simple stitching and is now a self-taught, yet highly acclaimed, embroiderer and textile worker. Attending her class stimulates the creative juices and leaves you hungry to work on your own patchwork treasures.

Christine Kelly is another craftswoman whose work I’ve long admired, so I headed to Nottinghamshire to attend a workshop at the amazing Hope & Elvis studio, run by passionate crafter Louise Presley. Nestled in the impressive Welbeck Estate, it hosts an array of inspiring tutors from around the country.

I’ve met a couple of fellow Bucks residents on workshops at Hope and Elvis, where we’ve sat alongside participants from Germany, the USA, France and all over Britain. I’ve learned to solder tiny trinkets with Diane Tinker Foster, a flamboyant accountant who makes sparkling, glitter-filled magpie treasures in her spare time.

Liz Cooksey is the kind of art teacher we all wish we’d had at school, with the enthusiasm that makes everyone believe they can create something worthwhile. Her wirework pictures, embellished with intricate tatting, tiny trinkets and printed paper are contemporary curiosities that I’ve long coveted, so the opportunity to learn how she makes them was irresistible.

I’ve part-stitched a garden bird on antique linen, taking my cue from Christine Kelly’s pale palette of self-christened ‘Gentlework’ - which is a project to be continued on those odd evenings when I have an hour free to indulge. It’s reminded me that painstakingly working on a project over a long period requires patience rarely found in this era of instant gratification. My daughter watches as pieces take shape, and is working on her first cross stitch, a few rows at a time – creating a true labour of love.

As my network of fellow curious crafters grows, we share discoveries. I want to go to Loop in Islington, Sew Not Strawberry Jam in Kent, Westdean College in Sussex and Cowslip workshops in Cornwall. Top of my wishlist is a week at Les Soeur Anglaises in rural France.

Closer to home, there are loads of places to learn. I’ve just discovered Plain Stitch in Wendover, where weekend, evening and daytime classes teach children and adults needlework skills. At Missenden Abbey, weekend courses, summer schools and weekday courses offer tuition in creative skills from calligraphy and woodcarving to millinery and silversmithing.

If you’re still reticent to let your inner artist out, why not expand your repertoire with a course in a different discipline? I’ve recently undertaken a couple of brilliant online courses via Future Learn, a brilliant initiative owned by the Open University, working in partnership with 75 global 
partners. Hundreds of courses start every week, allowing you to work at your own pace: you can join half way through, or complete stages in one chunk if that suits.

From ‘the science of nutrition’ to ‘how to build a sustainable fashion business’ and ‘how to write your first song’, there’s a host of fascinating opportunities. Most run for three to six weeks and take two to four hours per week of your time, depending on your own diligence. And the best thing about Future Learn? It’s FREE. Seriously.

So, you have no excuse, all you need is an internet connection and curiosity – and you’ve got the perfect way to occupy yourself on your daily commute.


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