It has been a crazy 12 months. I have spent last year finishing my MSc in Managing Business Creativity and Innovation, finalising my work as a Creative Agent for Creative Partnerships, teaching Arts Award, completing case study on home education for Learning Futures and undertaking a RSA Catalyst funded project that was supposed to be a little something on the side and ended up taking over my life. We Are Bedford is an empty shops project of which I am immensely proud. It led me to work as a producer for the wonderful Bedford Creative Arts. My second child Edie was also born in January this year and you know what? It has all been brilliant and hectic and far far too much.

Before I left my various roles for my maternity leave I spent some time with the lovely Emily at Mindful Maps. She is a graphic facilitator who offers a 1-1 service that allows you to get your thoughts out of your head and onto the page. My time with Emily focused on how I would cope with the enforced break second-time motherhood would bring. I was frightened that I would lose the opportunities ahead of me. Looking back, I was also exhausted and didn’t know how to carry on at the pace I had been maintaining for a good few years. Emily helped me find the rich metaphors of mulching, composting and baking; all processes that require significant amounts of downtime. I needed to mulch.

But how does a workaholic new mother mulch? It is easy to get bogged down in dirty nappies and the epic task of feeding everyone. Well, you need a project. A small, unimportant, just for fun project. and that is where the Elevated Envelope came in.

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The Elevated Envelope is a project run by letterpress printer and calligrapher Tara Bliven. She invites people to create and exchange mailable envelope artwork, elevating the envelope from the ordinary to something quite special. It also means you get art mailed to you at home. This is good.

I knew I wanted to explore the theme of Bedfordshire Lace as it was the topic of the ‘Lace in Place’ programme I had helped to put together at Bedford Creative Arts. It is a dying art form but one that has a vibrant local history. Lace was threatened, like most cottage industries, by the advance of the Industrial revolution. So what did the Bedfordshire Lacemakers do? They made lace that was impossible for the machines to make. They didn’t halt the inevitable march of the machines but they made a radical, human, stand against them. I appreciate the punkness of that.

I commissioned a small piece of Bedfordshire Lace from local Aragorn Lacemaker Sandra King. It cost £15. I bought a copy of ‘print workshop’ by Christine Schmidt and had a go at a few print making techniques.I tried sun printing (we had some sun back in March), drawing, and also tried lino cutting, but my rustic style meant it went a bit more ‘caveman’ than I had hoped. Local artist Charlotte Tenneson came over to show me a few basic printing techniques including relief printing and ghost printing. I was nervous about using the actual piece of lace to print with as it felt wasteful but once Charlotte had shown me the techniques I felt less likely to make a total mess of things. So I started printing. The relief prints were bold – I wanted to use hot colours to mix up the traditional form of the lace with a modern feel. I took ghost prints too, not with anything in mind really, just because I could and I knew from Charlotte’s printing session that the ghosts were often very interesting. Once the prints had dried I knew I couldn’t use the prints as envelopes. I couldn’t write addresses on them easily and they would get damaged in the rain. I remembered back to some of my trial runs when I was experimenting. The photocopies of the lace were beautiful but didn’t seem ‘handmade’ enough for the project. So I decided to make a protective see-thru layer for the prints by photocopying on tracing paper. It worked well. I also stuck a little lino print stamp on, just as a nod to the evenings I’d spent stabbing myself in the fingers with the cutting tools!

I included a sun print inside – some worked better than others but most gave detail that the relief printing missed. I chucked a business card in too – I hadn’t thought about how to let people know that it was me sending it. Funnily enough my business cards seemed to ‘fit’ too. I’ve posted some pictures of the process and the final envelope but Tara has taken some too and will post them on her blog in the future. It’s worth a visit to see the range of things others have done. Some are truly epic pieces of stationery.

I enjoyed taking care over an object, I enjoyed making something and connecting with others, the lacemakers, artists and the ‘pen pals’ I sent them too. It was just what I needed to creatively spend some mulch time.

If you fancy a go you can sign up here.