Caught Up - Summer 1983

Submitted by root on Sat, 04/04/2015 - 17:22

The Idea

The summer of 1983 saw a variation - but in some ways also a continuation - on that year's Easter Play Scheme theme of wool and weaving. The summer's Play Scheme took the theme of spiders and their own weaving techniques. The theme proved to be very fruitful with a total of over 4,000 attendances over 54 sessions and some truly innovative takes on the spider theme.

How it worked

The sessions ran afternoons and evenings on Wednesdays to Sundays from 25th July - 4th September 1983. Set across the ground floor and basement of the Blackie, activities as diverse as playing games, dancing, playing pool, arts and crafts and of course intricate weaving and needle work, all took place. Some of the kids developed an interest in activities entirely new to them, such as photography. The bounds of the Play Scheme extended beyond the Blackie in the form of 'field-work' with children exploring out in the nearby open spaces and parks. They made webs in trees, pin and thread pictures in the grass using tent pegs and strings, elasticated webs on the ground, and danced outside too.

The interest continued beyond the bounds of the Play Scheme in some of the dances devised by the groups. Three groups took their dances to local dance competitions and won first, second and third places. The discos - which were an additional element of the Play Scheme - were well attended, with one of the four attracting 156 people on its own.

People took the reins, developing their skills throughout the Play Scheme and eventually beginning to develop their own ideas, as well as variations on the original theme.

Excursions included a trip to Risley Moss Field Study Centre, a tour of the country museum's spider collection, spider population studies of different areas of Merseyside and visits to local parks to collect and study spiders and their webs.


Model Spiders

This Play Scheme was started off by this workshop which asked questions of its participants such as:

  • What does a spider look like?
  • How many legs does it have?
  • Do all spiders look the same?

Participants made a spider of their own design, using the range of materials available to them, which ranged from soft, plush materials to balsa wood. All the spiders created were then hung from a giant web suspended from the ceiling in the ground floor gallery. Over 100 were created in the first weeks of the scheme.

Play Structure

A cobweb made of rope was constructed with a swing at its centre. St Helens Play Resource Centre also kindly lent the Blackie an inflatable in the shape of a giant spider.


A classic standby of any Blackie Play Scheme! Over 50 games a day were played on the pool table.

Gods Eyes

Made by ancient civilisations in Mexico and Peru, these colourful "almost weavings" were made by winding threads around crossed twigs or sticks.

The weaving of an "Ojo de Dios" (God's Eye) is an ancient contemplative and spiritual practice, and beliefs surrounding them vary according to location and time. Often they reflect a confidence in an all-seeing providence. In some settings, their construction is one aspect of longstanding communal engagement and connection between people.

We do not have any photographs of the works made but the following site will show you many examples.


The quilt with the separate pieces pinned into placesThe summer sewing project centred on the making of a dye-painted and sewn English Guild patchwork bed quilt in the shape of a giant cobweb. Sections of the web were designed, painted and sewn in embroidery silks - people chose a piece and worked on it individually.

Left a picture of the quilt with the pieces being tacked into place. 

The designs range from a web cast over the British Isles, a portrait of "Spiderman", to raindrops with spiders inside them. Below are close ups of the quilt pieces tacked together.

Close up of the quilt  pinned togetherClose up of quilt tacked togetherClose up of quilt tacked together showing spider websClose up of part of the quilt showing spider manClose up of the highly coloured centre of the quilt

About 60 people helped make the quilt - a quarter of these were adults - planning the initial designs on paper and then moving on to more complex skills of fabric painting and embroidery. It involved people aged 7 and upwards. Experiments were also undertaken using the technique of machine embroidery and "vanishing muslin" (a firm woven fabric which disintegrates when heated to 220°C) to create fine webs for dance props and costumes. The workshop attracted a group of older boys who were interested in design and drawing. The resulting quilt was given to a local handicapped children's home and prior to that was on display in the Blackie.


Spider's webs provided an excellent theme for the cookery aspect of this Play Scheme. The stickiness of the webs was the main inspiration and led to the creation of old English sweets like Grandma's Stickjaw Toffee, Mocha Fudge, Yellowman Candy and Barley Sugars.

The sweets were presented in small black boxes that were decorated with finely piped icing sugar webs. There was an emphasis on quality and professional results. People were taught how to use a sweet thermometer and learnt about the different aspects of sugar cookery - including how to 'stretch it'.

A tradition has been established at the Blackie of sharing what has been made in the Play Schemes with other people in the building as well as saving a little for Play Scheme participants to take home. Towards the end of the summer, kids were running their own workshops and made cakes and biscuits for the end of Play Scheme party.

Pin & thread

Nails, plywood, a range of sparkling threads in bright colours and a bolt of black felt formed the basis of this busy workshop that ran throughout the summer. Starting with simple shapes - lines, curves and circles - people progressed to transferring more complicated designs from books and finally to transforming their own drawings into pin and thread works. All works were mounted on felt or velvet and people were encouraged to take as much care preparing the back boards and felt as with the making of the pin and thread picture.

Over 60 people aged from 2 to 60 took part, creating some eighty works, as well as a giant spider on the wall at the back of the workshop area. Due to the success of this activity, it was continued during the autumn and extended to include 3D works using Perspex.


The films were as popular as ever and followed the same spidery theme. Three films were shown, plus 'Lord of the Rings' as a grand finale.


This workshop was led by the Cardiff Photographic Gallery, and acted as an introduction to photography and photographic methods, through the creation of photograms. A web of light was mapped out onto photographic paper using a pen torch. A camera, with the shutter kept open, took up the light onto its film. The film was then developed and people's pictures printed.

Following on from this, people began to take things a step further, taking pictures of other activities such as studies of spider's webs or techniques such as combining negatives to create pictures of people trapped in spider's webs. Further photography projects were also planned, but were limited by the length of the Play Scheme. 26 people took part. A number of them became very interested in the art of photography as a result of these first experiments. Fortunately we are able to name those who participated in the photography workshop from our records of the "Caught Up" Play Scheme. In the course of other workshops - and indeed of other Play Schemes - we have often found it difficult to put names to the statistics. Where it is possible we shall always do so. If you have a memory of taking part in the "Caught Up" Play Scheme - or taking part in any of the Play Schemes - please contact us at the Blackie and let us know. Meanwhile - the people who took part in the "Caught Up" photography workshop were:- Tony Clayton, Leroy Agatha, Peter Agatha, Lee Humphrey, Ronnie Hamilton, Joanne Mogan, Peter Dutton, Susan Beardmore, Noel Brown, Sonja Joseph, Flo Bodell, Catherine Eliot, Adela Jones, Colin Ali, Philip Leung, Billy Walshe, Austin Cole, John Power, Steven Lundon, Susan Bent, Jackie Rowan, Joanne Benson, Nicola Bent, Lisa Agatha, Yasmin Hall and Nicky Dewison

Batik and Tie-Dye

Both Batik and Tie-Dying are ways of putting patterns and designs onto cloth. In Tie-Dying tying the cloth prevents dye from affecting those areas that have been stopped in this way so that when the string untied, the cloth beneath is still its original colour. In Batik the process is similar, but wax is applied instead of strings. For ease of dying pure cotton cloth was used for both techniques.

The batik workshop ran for three weeks making triangular scarves decorated with webs. Over 50 were made - mainly by girls, although a few boys made them as presents.

Tie-dying was popular with the younger children and some 30 kids got involved in dying t-shirts and dance costumes made from tubinette. Both techniques were combined to make a complex image of spider and web on a banner. Unfortunately we have no photographic record of these works.


These ran for 4 out of the 6 weeks of the summer and attracted large numbers of children who formed groups of 3 or 4 which developed their own focus and interests.

The groups were mainly made up of girls, but a group of 14 boys also got involved by forming a break-dance group of body-poppers. The leaders of that group performed for the younger children at the end of Play Scheme party.

The dance group prepare to start their performanceStarting performing with chairsPerforming on chairsPerforming with ChairsPerforming with chairsPerforming with Chairs

Above Lisa Agatha, Delia Fermin and  ? perform with chairs on the grass.

Meanwhile, younger children developed dances built around nursery rhymes and adjectives that could be used to describe spider's webs, such as stretchy, fragile, elegant, etc. Other dances had themes based on the life of a spider. Some of these dances took place outside on grass and some inside cobwebs made of elastic. As with the difficulty of putting names to statistics (as mentioned in the piece on the photography workshop) the only images we have to date of the "Caught Up" dance workshop are the above. Again, if you have a memory of taking part in this workshop please contact us at the Blackie and let us know.


This was an experimental workshop which ran throughout the Play Scheme, thanks in part to the surprising numbers of young children who managed to work with intricate and delicate materials, such as fine wire, to make web earrings. Approximately 25 people took part.


The Team

The 13 areas of activities were staffed by 3 of the Blackie's full-time staff, a mixture of full- and part-time volunteers, a local lad who undertook to work during his school holidays and a range of visiting artists - a dancer, an embroiderer, three photographers, a craft worker and a DJ.

Thanks to :-

John Parker and the British Arachnological Society for help and information. and  Stephen Knox for technical services

The following companies who supported the Play Scheme by way of donations and reduced prices for threads, dyes, cloths, wax etc.: Kerax Ltd; Dylon International; HG Twilley's of Stamford; WM Briggs and Co Ltd; JW Bollom Ltd; and Priory Yarns