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Hello… it’s me (points if you sang that with dramatic facial expressions). I’ve been a bad blogger – this little space has been utterly neglected and I have no excuse other than, well, life. Since returning to studies in the autumn, I’ve been struggling with the dilemma of living life online. I accept that to succeed in certain careers, it’s pretty much part of the deal. But I also know how damaging it all is and have found myself itching to delete everything and retreat on many occasions.

The thing is though, I still want to to write. I want to share and discuss. And sometimes, you see something that reminds you exactly what you love – who you are underneath all the noise – and you pull yourself out of your tech-hating bunker and get writing.

Dance is the hidden language of the soul.  Martha Graham

I’m going to endeavour to keep it short, otherwise this will descend into a barrage of ecstatic ramblings, such is the power of the firework that went off in me.

I read something once about the power of dance – that once you had felt the rush, experienced the dizzying high of it, that it would keep burning inside you forever. All you need is a glimpse of a dance studio or a few bars of a song you danced to and it erupts into glorious flame again.

I’ve been a religious follower of Strictly Come Dancing from the beginning, but in recent years it’s played such a huge role for me. Life has plonked itself resolutely between me and the world of dance. At times, it’s been me getting in my own way. Either way though, I haven’t set foot in a dance studio for nearly ten years. (Writing that makes me feel crushingly sad.) So in those ten years, Strictly has been my indulgence. My way in. I can immerse myself in the world I miss so much, and imagine a ‘some day’ when it will be my everyday.

Baby, you’re a firework

So as I sat in the theatre waiting for Remembering the Movies to begin, I felt that familiar electric rush of adrenaline. All the memories of performing, the years of missing it, and the oft-repeated promise that I’ll be doing it again soon, hit me like a truck. The opening number burst onstage and, bang. Fireworks.

The show is the latest tour starring Aljaž Škorjanec and Janette Manrara and celebrates all the stars of the silver screen, and the iconic moments that have inspired and shaped the careers of so many artists.

To be honest, I was already sold on this show – Strictly dancers, sparkly costumes, showstopping music – sign me up! But it really could have stopped there. It could have been a pretty dull affair, and a self-indulgent one at that. I’ve seen (and danced in) shows where rather than a collaborative effort, it’s a one-man show with occasional support acts.

If you’re a regular Strictly viewer, you’ll be familiar with the happy-go-lucky characters of Aljaž and Janette. Full of love for each other and their craft, and totally passionate about spreading the joy of dance to anyone who will listen.
Happily, this is exactly the way they came across live on stage, and it was clear that was the ethos of the entire show.

Who’s crying? Not me…

Remembering the Movies was a glorious showcase for each and every member of the cast. The young and ridiculously talented cast of dancers were given the floor at regular intervals, something which is unnecessary for a couple so beloved by their fans they could easily carry an arena tour with no other cast at all. (Let’s face it, many people would pay just to be in the same room as that level of good-looking.

The show knocked the wind out of me on numerous occasions. The contemporary interpretation of Dirty Dancing; the technicolour, foot-stomping riot of Saturday Night Fever; the tango to Roxanne (always a surefire way to have me weeping into my maltesers); and the visceral power of the Greatest Showman that is truly something to behold in live theatre.

It goes without saying that the Ballroom and Latin was stunningly beautiful – for me, Aljaž’s Ballroom has a delicate tenderness that sees me lose myself in a blurry haze, in manner of an old Hollywood movie. And really, I have never before seen legs like Janette’s. Speed, strength, flexibility, expression, just… woah.

The Man That Got Away

The show got right to the heart of me, dragging out every part that wants to dance and made sure they couldn’t go back. The dances that really got me (yes, I cried. Several times) were the contemporary pieces. Something about contemporary has always been able to tap into my emotions like no other style but, blimey, this cast had power. The lyrical duet to Romeo and Juliet, the exquisite nods to West Side Story and Breakfast at Tiffany’s – I couldn’t do justice, here, to the beautiful details and quality of movement they achieved in every piece.

Without a doubt, the one that has stuck with me was A Star is Born. The music, and the story are notoriously gut-wrenching but the piece they had put together was utterly magnificent. In a tribute to each of the three film version, the singers – who incidentally, drove the show with extraordinary precision, flair and personality – accompanied three varied contemporary routines based on a song from each film.

Aljaž was the ‘man that got away’ for three female dancers, each with a unique style and energy, and every one expressing their story with heart-breaking clarity. This four-way spectacle also brought my favourite dancer of the cast, Sasha Woodward, into the spotlight. Even in the full cast numbers, I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. Her fierce, raw duet to Shallow was something that made me want to throw on my dance shoes and never take them off again.

Now, where did I put my dance shoes?

What made this show so brilliant for me was the eclectic range of styles, skill and feeling from the whole cast. A fascinating insight into the passions of these two creative and versatile performers, where they’d started and why they carry on.

There was a clear and constant message through Remembering the Movies which cemented my own feelings about dance. In essence, there’s enough grizzly and relentless misery around us; enough uncertainty and anxiety to last several generations. What we all need is escape. Somewhere reliable to run to that can take us somewhere different. Even if only for an hour in the dance studio, or an evening in a theatre in Buxton.

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The Dancing Dressmaker by Katerelton - 8M ago

Something about the descent into Autumn seems to provoke nostalgia. You get that familiar ‘back-to-school- feeling and find yourself longing for the days of shopping for school shoes and buying new stationery. As the nights draw in and we hurtle at frightening speed towards Christmas, the urge to nestle down and hibernate is hard to ignore.

That ‘hygge’ feeling

By now we’ve all seen the many articles about how to introduce the art of ‘hygge‘ into your life. You know the ones: light candles, eat cake, drink cocoa while wistfully gazing at your scandi-inspired interiors… For me though, the hygge is not complete until I have the right soundtrack.
I’ve never been any good at silence. I need music as a background to everything, from work to play and everything in between. 

She’s the one

When it’s dark and gloomy outside, I always go back to Joni. The mighty Joni Mitchell can soothe the angriest of souls and knock all the edges off your day. 

Her album Blue will always have a special place for me. One of those albums that has memories woven into it. Mitchell’s fourth album, it shows off the acrobatic beauty of her voice and the diversity in her songwriting. I once heard a critic say of her voice that it was as if she had never heard another person sing. What an extraordinary and rare achievement to create art in such a watertight bubble that you are immune to external influence. The epitome of authenticity.

And, oh, the words. Playful and cheeky at times, but still capable of pulling the floor from underneath you with the unadulterated emotion.

                                      ”I’m frightened by the devil
                                                   And I’m drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid”

My personal favourite will always be A Case of You. I reckon everyone who has been in any sort of relationship can get inside this song. The pain in the lyric is made all the more stark by the simplicity of the orchestration. Mitchell’s voice glides lightly above it all as if she’s singing to herself. I think that’s why I love her; it sounds as if the music was already formed in her and she just lets it out. Easy, free, honest, raw.

Emotional education

Her sound isn’t always pretty, it’s not clean in the way that we are used to in the age of auto-tune. Check out the gnarly edges on her voice as she sings about ‘pretty lies’ in The Last Time I Saw Richard. But that’s what makes it all so relatable. Sometimes you want something that sounds like anger, turmoil or rage. As the name would suggest, the whole album is exploring the difficult, messy side of life and love. Some critics read it as a social and political comment post-Woodstock and free love, ”as though she was contemplating a moment that had passed, gone forever.” To me though, it’s a remarkable account of all the many colours and moods of relationships, be it partners, siblings, friends or children.
To quote another of my heroes, the incomparable Emma Thompson, ”Joni Mitchell is the woman who taught your cold English wife how to feel.” 

So if you’re looking for some emotional education, or you just want to immerse yourself in some hygge on a rainy November night – listen to California and you can feel the warmth of summer on your skin – Joni is the one.

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It’s my 3rd birthday as a blogger!

Like so many others in this little blogging bubble, this all started as a space for me to throw all my thoughts and interests; somewhere just for me, to remind me that I am more than just a mum. I have ideas, passions, curiosities and skills to share and explore. So on this day three years ago I decided to create a little place for me to write about those things. In a strange way, it gave me permission to think about something other than parenting.
It’s such a shockingly isolating experience. You’re never alone but have moments of utter, crushing loneliness. One of the simplest and most beautiful side effects of technology is that it creates community out of thin air. You may be miles from anywhere, in the blackest of black holes but through this crazy medium there is always somewhere to turn to.
In the past three years, my interests have changed, my life looks pretty different and I hope I’m not the same person who tentatively stepped out into the online world. I have struggled for a while with the question of what to do with my blog. Should I rebrand? Should I pick my niche and throw everything I have at that? Or should I start afresh and start a new space to reflect where I am now?

Well, for now, I’m opting for the latter. So watch this space for a new and improved site. Very much like its creator, the content of this new blog is a little undecided. I am a mum. I am a journalist. I am creative. I love to explore new things. My blog will be a little bit of all of these. For now, I’ll be here.

Community – Inspire – Collaborate

One of the best things I’ve done as a blogger is joining We Blog North. It’s a community of content creators in the North set up by the fabulous Holly Wood to encourage networking and collaboration through events, workshops and interaction. I’ve already met so many fantastic people through this group and come across a world of diverse and beautiful content.

As a WeBlog member, I had the opportunity to take part in the press launch of Calendar Girls the musical at The Lowry. This year marks 30 years since the original Calendar Girls bared all for charity. Rylstone WI member Angela Baker, along with 10 other brave ladies, created the calendar after the sad loss of her husband, John. They set out to raise £5000 to provide a new sofa for the hospital that looked after him in his fight with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. To date, the Calendar Girls have raised close to £5 million.

‘The Girls’ L-R: Rebecca Storm, Fern Britton, Anna-Jane Casey, Sara Crowe, Ruth Madoc, Karen Dunbar, Denise Welch

The story is such an inspiration. True evidence of the power of community in the face of hardship. The strength and beauty of women.

I’m ready for my close-up

So of course I said yes immediately. Only when sat in a dressing gown backstage did it begin to dawn on me what I’d actually signed up for. I was to be a Calendar Girl. On stage, on set and with the show’s props, we had the chance to have our photo taken as the original women did.

A total honour, but oh my, the terror. In all honesty, my self-image is in pretty appalling shape. Never one to do things by halves I seem to have decided that the best way to tackle this problem is to strip down to my smalls on a stage full of strangers and have my photo taken. One which will be shared on the internet.
In the words of Lorelai Gilmore, ‘my brain is a wild jungle full of scary gibberish’.

Definitely in need of something stronger than tea…

The day marked so many firsts for me it isn’t surprising that I feel hungover today from the anxiety and adrenaline of it all! It pushed me to accept that not everyone sees me the way I do. I don’t need to hide. So although I’ll be here in my little corner of the internet, I’m also going to be out in the big wide world, meeting people, experiencing things and trying to be a little more proud of myself.

The finished result

At this point I must say a huge thank you to the team at the Lowry, the Girls musical and the photographer. They made me feel at ease, as if this really did happen every Wednesday morning! Also to Jess aka Not Just A Tit , a fellow WeBlogger and all round glorious human. She was a huge support through the terror and doubt, and someone to laugh with at the sheer innuendo-laden madness of it all.

So here it is. In a bizarre coincidence, they gave me the piano shot so I’m somewhat in my natural habitat!
They shot some footage of me before, during and after so you can get a peek at some behind the scenes action too. I’ll be sharing that on my Instagram account so pop on over there to see more.

The finished product. Photographed by Nathan Chandler.

If you’d like to see the show, Calendar Girls the Musical is on at the Lowry until November 10th. Please head over to Bloodwise to see how you can help and donate.

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I am unreasonably excited to share this fabulous collaboration between two artists, Jazz Moodie (Mude Threads) and Pearl Olivia (MyArtistsDiary).

I spotted Mude Threads in In The Moment magazine and was struck by the powerful simplicity of her work and message. The interview shocked me, not only because seeing the female form represented in such a beautiful and honest way is so rare, but because the words radiated the sort of confidence and self-knowledge that I’ve always envied and found so attractive in others. In an increasingly challenging political climate, women can never have too many reminders to live fully. Take up space, raise your voice. Be unapologetic in all things.

Jazz’s work

The brainchild of Jazz Moodie, Mude Threads has a simple message – take back control of your own image and celebrate your body, exactly how you are. It is endlessly depressing that the female body is still considered public property, with the media using our physical form to label us as a certain type of woman. What we wear is used as an excuse for bad behaviour; our personal style or beauty choices are discussed and judged; any outward defiance to these unwritten, societal rules invites assumptions about sexuality and relationships. Faced with all this, it’s no wonder that the default emotion we attach to our bodies is shame. It starts young too – according to a survey, ‘at puberty, 50% of girls feel paralyzed by the fear of failure, with 80% of girls feeling that societal pressure to be perfect drives this fear of failure’*.
How can we expect girls to know what to think about themselves and their place in the world if our expectation for women is perfection. An ethereal, robotic sort of perfection, not even allowing for humanity – girls must be hair-free, young-looking, slim, soft-skinned, successful, maternal, good girlfriends/wives… the list just never ends. People who step out of the crowd to challenge these accepted versions of women are shouted down, even censored. Jazz’s Instagram account has been removed repeatedly for showing explicit content, whilst we’ve all seen those photos regularly shared by the likes of Kim Kardashian. The message seems to be that female nudity is acceptable if it is presented in relation to men. In an article for Entity, journalist An Nguyen said, ‘the hypersexualisation of a woman’s body has always been present’ in art. Dating back to ancient times, depictions of women emphasised sexual body parts, serving to ‘represent the male’s desire and hope’. The problem we see here, persists today: women are largely represented, labelled and validated by men. This is absolutely not to say that men are responsible for all ills and should be eradicated in favour of a vast female commune. The male-gaze has become something of a millenial buzzword, but here it is illustrative of a centuries-old problem. Women are perceived, moulded and judged by their relationship to men. In other words, reduced to their raw, primal form, existing to fulfil a sexual, maternal function. After millennia dragging ourselves up to standing and evolving to create, adapt, love, play and relate in such an extraordinary way, shouldn’t we have shed these ‘me – Tarzan, you – Jane’ roles by now?

Pearl’s work is focused on feminism, creating pieces with meaning and celebrating the female form. In the 1980s, a group of female artists calling themselves the ‘Guerilla Girls’ campaigned in the face of obvious discrimination against women in art. At the time in the Met Museum of Art, ‘85% of the nudes were female, but only 5% of the artists were women.**
Artists like Pearl are using their creativity and skill to take control of their own image and, in Pearl’s own words, ‘taking back the female figure one painting at a time’.

Pearl’s work

Jazz and Pearl collaborated to create this fabulous tote bag design, featuring hand-embroidered nudes, replacing the culturally ‘offensive’ parts of the female body with fruit. The aim is to celebrate the wondrous variety of the female form whilst poking fun at the ridiculous notion that a nude image of a woman is offensive, but cover the nipples, even with a boob shaped object, and it’s totally fine.
Jazz very kindly sent me a cheeky discount for you lovely readers if you fancy grabbing yourself a piece of wearable, booby art. Why not throw off all the demands and labels and book a nude commission – reclaim your self-image and wear it loud.  Just pop code MUDE10 in her shop. 

The ‘Fruity Booty’ Tote

I sent a heap of questions to the ladies (did I mention I get pretty passionate about this topic??) and planned to edit them down for this piece. The answers were so beautifully expressed, and surprisingly different that I thought it only right to print them in full. So buckle up, grab a snack and hear from the great women themselves.

Why did you start your business? Was there a moment/person/experience that inspired you to start?
PEARL: I started my art Instagram back in 2013, when my love of art was blossoming and wanted to share my ideas and creations on an accessible platform. From then on I’ve just been uploading occasionally, when I feel I’ve made something worth sharing! I started focusing on the female form back in 2015 when I first saw the film “Made in Dagenham”. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s about a group of female sewing machinists in the 1960s fighting for equal pay. One character, Sandra, appears in a scene completely naked with the words “EQUAL PAY” painted across her stomach. You could say that’s when I had my firework moment, so I went on to create my piece “EQUAL PAY”, which my mum has hanging in her hallway! From then on, I was drawn to the female form; how beautiful and powerful it is and have been attempting to (and will continue to) capture it.
JAZZ: I never had a plan to embroider naked women! My two passions in life are feminism and art, so I should’ve seen it coming. I’ve always been fascinated by the paradoxical image of the female body – at times it is powerful, and at times it is fragile. It turns out that I’m only good at drawing nakedness (you should see me attempting to draw nature or portraits…). So when I found my University Art Society hosting life drawing classes I popped along. It was only when I was studying abroad in France, when I had a load of free time, that I decided to take up hand-embroidery. After seeing a mesmerising video of a ‘Kantan needle’ on Instagram, I ordered one straight away. When the needle arrived, I had no inspiration for what I wanted to stitch, so I dug out some old life drawing sketches and sewed the curves and lines of a woman’s body onto my favourite sweater.

Which women are you watching/admiring/discovering?
PEARL: – @livanddom (Liv and Dom) twins who create ceramics of cute little plump ladies sporting various accessories such as oranges, eggs, plant pubes and knee high boots.
– @isabellefeliu (Isabelle Feliu) a Norwegian girl who paints and prints curvy ladies in a simple and unique style.
– @pascalcampionart (Pascal Campion) Pascal’s digital illustrations are soft and so heart warming. Depicting scenes of day to day life, he manages to romanticise the most mundane situations. Plus the way he captures warm and cool light is stunning. He is a personal inspiration for sure.
-@ellysmallwood (Elly Smallwood) Beautiful, striking strokes of soft skin tones is what draws me to Elly’s work. Plus the fact all her portraits are very close up on massive canvases is what adds to the impressiveness.
JAZZ: – Gina Martin (@beaniegigi) is absolutely killing it as my number 1 role model at the moment. After being the victim of upskirting she has made it her mission to change UK laws to recognise this violation of dignity as a criminal offence. Upskirting is the act of photographing up someone’s skirt or dress without their permission. Gina has fought tirelessly to get the act recognised as sexual assault and is so close to reaching her goal!
– Isabella Fernandes (@fauxnandes) is a talented freelance model, with an incredible passion for baring the beauty of her scars. Isabella is infectiously positive and thrives on openly and candidly showing her scars. She’s an obvious role model for me as she’s normalising the diversity of the female form!
– Emma (@potyertitsawayluv) creates cheeky tit pots out of clay. Emma is a passionate champion for diversity and inclusivity – she makes commission pots for women of every beautiful size, shape and colour! She is adamant that the more diverse her pot range the better – its so refreshing to see glittery stretch marks painted onto a saggy-boobed pot, or a perky black pot featuring a unique tattoo. She’s amazing.
– Nikki and Leah are the co-founders of OHNE (@im_ohne), making 100% organic cotton tampons and biodegradable applicators…these babes are on a mission to educate women on what they’re putting in their bodies! Plus, the organic tampons are delivered to your door in time, every time…IN GORGEOUS BIODEGRADABLE LETTER-BOX-FRIENDLY PACKAGING! Win/Win.

What’s the dream – if you had no restraints on budget/time/resources, what would you create?
PEARL: if I was a fully fledged professional artist, I wouldn’t constraint myself into creating one form of art. I’d be making huge acrylic paintings, etchings, ink paintings on fabric, collages, etc. But nothing would draw me away from my gals; I’ll always focus on the female form. There are so many different types of women out there I could never get bored!
JAZ: Ooooh I love this question! I’ve always dreamt (literally have had dreams) about hand-embroidering an intricate tessellating pattern of hundreds of real women’s bodies onto a huge piece of fabric. Granted, this would take me approximately a hundred years at the rate I’m stitching at, but I think it would be a stunning representation of our interconnected-ness as women and our beautiful diversity!

Why did you want to collaborate with Jaz/Pearl?
PEARL: I found out through a mutual friend what Jaz did and what she was all about. I jokingly said, “What if I collaborated with her?” to which our friend responded, “She’d love that. I’ve shown her your stuff and she thinks it’s great!” An opportunity not to be wasted!
JAZ: The feminist fate stars were aligned when a mutual friend mentioned Pearl’s work to me – we have both found inspiration and creativity in representing the female form, and when I saw Pearl’s colourful work I knew I had to get a pop of fruitiness into my nude designs! That’s when we decided to join forces – we both found it absolutely essential to know we were both on the same page with what these totes were doing…celebrating the female form in the face of society’s sexualisation and
censorship of women’s bodies.

Why is collaborating with other women/artists important to you?
PEARL: Finding someone who follows the same wavelength as you when it comes your interests really is incredible. Relishing in each other’s passion for creating art and feminism in general fuels us both and in turn is making for a great collaboration.
JAZ: I remember just over a year ago when I first started Mude Threads, all I craved was for someone to reach out and give me ‘one shot’ at realising my potential. As a small-scale independent maker I totally understand how hard it is to balance exposure, creativity and fulfilling orders. I just love spotting potential, especially when its a woman behind it!

Where did the collab design come from? Why fruit?
PEARL: We agreed we were going to collaborate at some point back in the summer of last year, but it wasn’t until the beginning of this year that I had the idea of incorporating fruit with our nude ladies. Fruits are as natural and beautiful as the female body so by putting both together, we enhance the beauty of both; fruits are colourful and aesthetically pleasing which compliments feminine curves quite well I think. I pitched the idea to Jaz and she loved it.
JAZ: The new tote design is a seamless merging of our talents – I have designed a line drawing of three nude women, in various positions (think: naked sassy girl gang). My design features subtle nods to the beautiful differences of every woman’s unique body – there’s little stretch marks, body rolls, big boobs and small boobs, short hair and curly hair. Pearl has then hand-painted fruit onto various parts of the women: think peaches for butt-cheeks, and kiwis for boobs! We decided to play around with the hypocritical concept of censoring women’s bodies, by replacing the notoriously offensive female nipple with fruit, and covering the women’s crotches with unruly grape vines. We want to challenge society’s view of the female body by highlighting how fundamentally ridiculous it is to be offended by a breast and nipple, yet to be perfectly fine when that breast and nipple is ‘covered’ with a fruit design with a remarkably similar shape, structure and anatomy. The female body and anatomy has historically been likened to metaphors of fruits, so it felt natural to represent our sassy girl gang with playful bouquets of juicy, sweet and fleshy fruits covering their ‘offensive’ bits.

What message are you hoping to promote?
PEARL: Body positivity. It will never not be an important issue. Our fruity babes are saying that your..

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‘We rise by lifting others’
Robert Ingersoll

If you’ve been here a while you’ll know that this blog started as a sideline to my love for (and obsession with) sewing and dressmaking. Despite that being the driving force and subject matter of my writing, I think the point of it has been different all along.
I needed a purpose, I needed somewhere to legitimately spend time on the thing I always hankered after – writing. As time has gone on, my blog posts have strayed further away from crafts and sewing to talk about the things that interest and affect me now, from motherhood and single-parenting, to women’s issues and mental health. In short, talking about fabric, seams and pattern hacking has finally given me the confidence to write. To stop using the term ‘aspiring writer’ and just admit it.
My name is Kate and I’m a writer.

So without further ado I give you the next on my horrifyingly long list of writing projects. Together We Rise will be a series of interviews and features about people who are doing great things for others. Using their creativity to inspire, lift and empower. I am constantly blown away by the projects that are going on all around us. The glory of social media is that no matter where you live or work, you can see every aspect of these extraordinary businesses and connect with the fabulous people behind the ideas.

Having reached out to some of my favourite small businesses, I’m lucky enough that they all had the time and inclination to talk to me about what drives them, what ideas they hope to promote and where they are going next.
Over the coming months I’ll share the interviews and hopefully introduce you to some shiny new people, products and enterprises. To start with I have some delicious folk who are all about female empowerment. Smashing gender roles, building a positive image for future generations and using their products to shine a blinding light into some of the darkest issues we still face as women in society.
I’d love to hear your suggestions for future interviews – who do you want to shout about? Do you run a business or a side hustle that encourages us all to just be a little nicer to everyone? Who has made you feel part of a community when you might have been lost? Get in touch and tell me all your recommendations!

In my opinion, we can never share enough good news. It’s become the norm to see the violence, corruption and horror happening minute to minute on every platform and media outlet. It’s become almost unfashionable to be optimistic about anything. I think it’s time for change. This series will be my attempt to show that there is life, warmth and community in every corner.

Credit: Libby van der Ploeg

First up is an interview with artists Jazz Moodie and Pearl Vernon-Howe about their collaboration on a limited edition piece that plays with the idea of censorship and challenges the traditional female body image. Keep yours eyes peeled for their feature, there might even be a cheeky discount code in it for you…

(Feature image: Sarah Tate Illustration)

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