The best laid plans

Full Cora heavy shadow

I mentioned on the last blog post that I am training to be a human celebrant.  Essentially this means that I am training to do secular christenings or namings, as we call them.  You could also call them welcomings.  Children are named and welcomed into their families and the equivalent of godparents are appointed.  They are good if parents aren’t religious, or if they come from different faith traditions, or they want the child to be able to choose for themselves later on.  I asked my mentor why people would choose to have a ceremony at all if they don’t believe, expecting her to come up with a philosophical answer about the need for ritual and marking life stages and so on, but she said that essentially it is a day for celebration and basically for having a party.  Fair enough.  Anyway, that it is what I am hoping to do next year.  I am 7/8ths of my way through my training which I have loved.

Now, I don’t want to spend much time on this because this is a textile blog, and not a humanist one, but I do have a problem.  Because I am starting out, I don’t have much to put on my website or facebook page or all the other media things you have to do these days to advertise your services.  So, I thought that I could have pictures of toys, particularly as people are rightly reluctant to let you put photos of their children on the web without express and detailed permission.  I thought it would be good to make some of these toys to photograph and so sat down to make some.  The results have been rather startling in several cases which I will post as I get round to it, but this one has been particularly interesting.  Meet Cora:

Cora without shadows

Cora here is so called because the stitches on her chest turned into a heart:

Cora chest

She is meant to be a nice plushie for a small child.  The only problem is that she has this fantastic snout, like a wolf:

Cora heavy shadow

And those beautifully embroidered (if I say so myself) eyes which a baby cannot chew off, but which are beady and rather sinister.  She does like to dance in the sunshine:

Cora dancing in a funny light

But even the Medieval Historian, my staunchest supporter, thought she was a bit sinister.

On the positive side, she is made from a remnant of something I bought in Stof and Stil’s sale, which is a brilliant fabric, pure wool, I think, which does not fray and is tougher and nicer than felt.  I have no idea what it is.  Would it be Melton?

More to come, particularly pigs.

 

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In case you thought I had disappeared

Leaves

I am very sorry that I have not been posting much recently.  Life has rather got the better of me from domestic disasters to family ill health, to starting a whole new life.  I have now retired from the University of Bristol and am starting what I grandly call a portfolio career.  This will consist of running Pomegranate Studio, starting to sell my textiles and being a humanist celebrant taking non-religious naming ceremonies.

That’s quite a lot to take in and also quite a lot to work on.  I have also managed to set-up on-line banking, which I consider to be one of my achievements of this year.

There will be more about this as the portfolio is properly opened, but for now, I wanted to show you an image of one of the things that I am hoping to sell through my Etsy shop.  There isn’t much in the shop at the moment as I just wanted to bag the name PomegranateAnn, but I will be adding more.  I have decided to sell some small pieces.  I have always found it extremely difficult to sell my work as it is a part of me, but needs must at the moment.  The problem is that making to sell, rather than making because I want to make is difficult because it always feels very different.

This is in the Etsy shop:

Full piece

It’s really very pretty and quite a wintery piece.  Unusually for me is that the fabrics used are all my hand-dyes.  This second piece did not behave quite so well.  It came out as a trapezium.  I quite like that because it makes it look particularly handmade, but I can see that it won’t appeal to everyone.  It is made from samples of neutral pale fabric, mainly linen and silk.   I also used some very chi-chi Japanese organic embroidery thread for the leaves and stem:

leaves detail

This is a really interesting venture for me – to see if I can make a living outside the university, and to see if I can reinvent myself.

Sources of Inspiration

I have been teaching various creativity techniques for years, and am interested in where we get our ideas from.  It seems to be a difficult process to map.  For me it really does feel like a spark in the brain: I could do that.  Then it’s followed by: well, what if we did it this way?

One thing that lots of us do to find that initial inspiration is to look through magazines.  In my case, I like some of the quilting magazines, I love Uppercase and Selvedge.  I am getting to the point, though, where, lovely as they are, magazines about stitching fabric together in geometrical designs are just getting flicked through rather than poured over.  I have started to like the very glossy house magazines such as World of Interiors and House and Garden.  In my last post about my pheasant/phoenix piece I described working from this photo in House and Garden:

Pheasant2

An advertisement for the coming month’s issue led me to buy it as it promised a feature around a man holding a massive stuffed fish.  Imagine my delight when it had a whole run of beautiful photographs of the new season’s fabrics made up into outfits for sailors and several fabric sea creatures including this chap with some lovely lobsters:

Fabric lobsters

All the photos are glorious, and here are a couple of fish:

Two fabric fish

I really liked the feature because the other pieces are so brilliantly done using the fabric, but also the tongue-in-cheek of the photographs.  The Penzance Sailing Club, it seems, were persuaded to wear ludicrous outfits and to play it absolutely straight for the camera.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a credit for whomever made the glorious fabric artefacts.

In World of Interiors, there was a feature using the new fabric ranges photographed in Portugal.  This one also had some wonderful sea creatures including this moody and misty shot of a giant fish:

Big fabric fish

Again, sadly, no credit is given to the maker.

The upshot of this is that I think I will be changing my reading habits a bit, and sinking more often into the fantasy world of the glossies.

Pheasant/Phoenix

Pheasnt phoenix

I am hardly ever proud of what I have done.  I follow a curve of getting very excited about something and then thinking it’s a pile of rubbish.  I am with all those artists who say that there is massive frustration in what is in your imagination or mind’s eye and what you are actually able to achieve.  But, for once, I am absolutely delighted with this piece, an embroidered fabric collage of some sort of bird.

I started this piece on a lovely weekend at the wonderful Shore Cottage Studios on the Wirral.  I have written a lot about this magical place on my blog before.  This time I went with my Grate Frend, Mike, who is a brilliant maker of fabric collage, and who I thought would like the studio and Sue, who was our tutor, and fabric dyeing (all of which he did).  We went for a walk on the beach and gathered some inspirational stuff: stones, feathers, crab shell, seaweed and so on.  Then we did some drawing and in the afternoon some microwave and rust dyeing.  The following day we started to make our pieces.

I found all this so exciting that I couldn’t sleep on the first night, so I did some sketchbook work and got prepared for the following day.  This is my sketch of what I intended to make:

Wreath sketch

It’s a pretty wreath with all those elements we found on the beach.  I went on to work out all the stitches I would use, and was ready to go.

In my hotel room, however, was a copy of House and Garden, which I very seldom read as the houses really are grand, and my house is not.  But it had a picture from an exhibition at Waddeston Manor:

Pheasant original photo

I thought he was rather magnificent, although rather more striking than pheasants I have encountered.  Anyway, I ummed and ahhed, but finally decided to make a pheasant rather than a wreath.  I used the fabric that I had dyed the previous day and supplemented it with a bit from Sue’s stash, and in the bottom right hand corner a pale turquoise piece that Mike had dyed.  I very carefully hand-appliquéd a rosy red piece for the body using the needle-turning technique.  Bit of a daft mistake.  No-one can now see my exquisite (!!!!!) hand appliqué and it meant another layer to stitch through, and it was thick by the end as much of what I used was weighty furnishing fabric.

It is one of my new-found pleasures of retirement that I was able to take it home and work on it the following day.  Here are some details of the feathers:

Wing feather details

I hope you can see from this photo that I over-dyed some printed fabric – you can see the white lines of the botanical design.  I stitched into that with some of the hand-dyed threads we produced.

Feather stitch detail two

This shows the next layer of feathers which were stitched with a variety of threads, some commercial and some from the workshop.  This was the first stitching and really brought the piece to life and convinced me to keep working into it.

Phoenix feather stitch detail

These are the same feathers showing how the embroidery secures them but also allows them a 3D effect.  It also shows some of the fraying I did on the feathers’ edges.  My fingernails did not thank me for it.

Back of head feathers

These are the back of the neck detail feathers.  The stitching here is with a very fine variegated silk thread produced commercially.

Feathers three

This shows the beads I put on his chest.  I bought them for the project and astonished the woman in the bead shop by my speed of choice.  The darker faceted beads really catch the light.  I wanted to use the turquoise ones to try and capture his brilliant flashes of jewel colours in the photograph source material.

The other things that I knew were going to be really important in this piece were the beak and the eye.  I wanted him to look very proud and fierce and defiant.  I left the features until last because I knew that they could easily ruin the whole thing which is a bit silly when you think about it, but I knew if I got it right they would bring him to life.  So, I deliberately exaggerated his beak and make him much more raptor-like:

Pheasant beak detail

I used the Anna Scholz gold fabric I described in my last post, and then I stitched over it with fine cotton perlé to knock the gold back a bit, and also to give it the 3D curve of a beak.  I tried very hard to integrate the gold into the face, as it can jump out, but I think it sits okay here.

Then I went onto the eye and thought about several ways of approaching it, including painting it, but in the end I went with a simple satin stitch in black perlé cotton and a small pearl bead:

Eye detail

I really wanted that evil glint in his eye, and I think it more or less worked.

I am really pleased with him, but as I was stitching it, I thought, it’s not a pheasant at all, it’s a phoenix, and not to come all over poetic and wacky woo woo, I think he is symbolic of my new life after being a university teacher for so long.

A joyful piece from leftovers

Leftovers hanging

If you have read previous posts on this blog, you will know that I hate throwing things away.  I also like to make other projects with the leftovers of previous pieces.  This little wallhanging is a good example of this.  It is made with leftovers from a much bigger piece which I showed at the last Bristol Quilters exhibition:

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I started the piece with this tiny leftover square:

Leftovers centre

Those half triangles in the centre are about 1 cm-1/3″ square and are the trimmings from a block where you sew a small square to a big square and then press it back to give you another shape:

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I also included more leftover strips using Kaffe Fassett and Philip Jackson fabric which I had stitched together to form one long random strip which you can see on the outer rows of the small piece.  I was really pleased to be able to use this gold fabric:

Leftovers gold

I got this in an Anna Scholz sale.  Whenever people compliment on a frock or coat, it is always by Anna Scholz.  Occasionally she sells off really luxurious fabric off the roll at ridiculously cheap prices for fashion students.  Somehow I got an invite and then to meet Anna, who was lovely.  I had to stagger back to the tube with all this stuff, but the bargains were stupendous.  The gold would not have cost more than a fiver a metre, but it takes hand stitching really beautifully.  Pulled the stitches quite tightly to give that rippled effect.  I had intended to do more stitching on the piece, but the fabrics were too ‘shouty’ and didn’t need more detail.  You can just see some fly stitch in the top left hand corner of the above picture.  I more or less left it at that.

I now have to decide what to do with it.  It is cushion-sized, but I think I would prefer it as a small wallhanging.  For that I will need to do the binding.

The thing I thought was interesting, though, is what a happy piece it is.  I can’t help but wonder if this is because it was the first piece of patchwork I did after I got my retirement options sorted out.  The piece came together in an afternoon, and I think expresses my delight at being able to get on with the next phase of my life.

Orange rose egg

This egg panel is very simple.  I wanted to use the orange rose print just because I think it is so pretty.  I tacked the fabric over a stiff card egg template, stitched almost all the way round it and then pulled the card through the gap.  I find this is a good way to handle curves.  Then, to give it some interest, I used variegated thread to go round it in beaded fly stitch:

Orange rose detail

I used very cheap glass beads from Tiger.  Sometimes having cheap elements is good because it is easier to be generous with them.  The fabric came from a cheap bargain bin at a quilt show.  I suppose that lilac and tangerine isn’t everyone’s choice, but I really liked the exuberant full-blown roses which lent themselves to fancy-cutting here.

I don’t have much else to say about this one.  It was quick and easy and has a bit of a sparkle but not enough to look flashy.

 

Turquoise egg

Turquoise egg

I have been busy making more pieces to illustrate my soon to launch Fabergé-inspired egg workshop, and I am going to put them on the blog in fairly quick succession.

This one is one of the flat panels that I have been making.  It is made of silk and wool tweed that I bought on Etsy.  It is the most lovely stuff imaginable to work with because it feels fabulous in your hand with lots of drape, but it doesn’t particularly fray.  I also think that the muted colours are quite reminiscent of Fabergés pastel palette in many of his pieces.  Again the weave echoes his machine-worked enamelling called guilloché which I described in a previous post.  The use of the beads and the way they are applied is a reference to his dedication to skill and expertise.  He was adamant in public statements that the price of the stones didn’t matter; the level of craft in working them did.  In this piece I used some turquoise type beads that I bought in Leicester:

Turquoise egg detail

The big trefoil beads have holes in the sides for stringing which I used to stitch them on, but I have learned if you want beads to be very precisely spaced like this in a repeating pattern, then it is as well to put a bit of pva behind them, let it dry and then stitch them on.  Otherwise no matter how careful I am they move and spoil the effect.  The beads around the edge which are there to anchor down the egg appliqué as well as to add decoration are applied with blanket stitch.  Once they were all on I went over the vertical element of the blanket stitch with raised chain band which gives the knotted effect, which I think just adds a bit.

 

images
  Raised chain band – not as complicated as it looks.
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Blanket stitch

 

The finished piece feels really lovely.  It is drapey because of the silk in the mix, but it is also heavy with beads, and the trefoils form quite a dense tactile surface.  Fabergé wanted his work to delight people, and, although I am blowing my own trumpet, this piece is delightful.

Turtle Egg

turtle egg overview

There has been one of my all too frequent gaps in posting.  Again it is because I have been doing a lot of making, mainly on my inspired by Fabergé eggs.  I have also moved on to working with wook appliqué and embroidery and have gone back to my old highly decorative and surface worked style.  This is one of the new series of eggs (and I will post about all of them eventually).  It is worked on a thick but light Welsh woollen background, with the egg itself made from an Irish tweed from a sample pack.  I chose the tweed to try and echo Fabergé’s trademark guilloché enamel.  This involved many coats of thin enamel over a tooled metal base.  I believe it is called Guilloché after its inventor M. Guilloché.  This is an egg showing the technique.

images

Strangely whereas enamel is cold and hard and durable, the soft, thick highly susceptible to moths tweed seems like a brilliant way to render the guilloché in textiles.

This piece, which I have called the Turtle Egg, also shows what I mean by being inspired by Fabergé rather than copying him.  I don’t particularly like the neo-classical style of the eggs, but I find them endlessly inspiring for my own ideas.  I heard an interview with the singer PJ Harvey yesterday in which she said she does a lot of research and reading for her albums but when it comes time to write the songs she puts it all aways and just writes what comes out, in effect her own response to the material.  I think this sums up what I do much of the time.  I do my research, look at the picture books I have amassed and then wait to do what the cloth tells me to do.  I find this a highly satisfying process.

After choosing the delicate tweed I found a leftover circle of cloth from another project, already pressed over a paper form.  I appliquéd that and then started to add the beads around the edge of the egg.  Tweed and wool in general don’t fray particularly badly, unlike silk, but they still need gentle treatment until the edges are secured.  After that I stitched on the turtle, which is a charm that I bought for three pounds in a bead shop.  It was a happy accident that the cloth circle and the turtle fitted together so well.  As I was sewing I became aware that I was working in bronzy tones, but that the tweed was a very soft blue, green and pink blend, and so I put a ring of turquoise beads around the inner circle.  I finished by stitching colonial knots in a beautifully variegated perlé cotton around the turtle.

Turtle detail

I made this one in an evening and it was really relaxing to make.  One of those pieces where everything comes gently together rather than having to be wrestled into place, which is a story for another day.

Some news

 

Rose
Example of reduced pixel size rose

As lots of you who either know me in person, know me via Facebook or read this blog regularly will know, I am starting a small studio at home.  As part of this I am working with a wonderful woman called Hannah to build a really smart website.  Hannah is great because she gives me lots of excellent training and tips about social media.  One thing we have been talking about is doing things to improve my blog and the ease with which people can find it.  I am experimenting with three things which I would like to have feedback on:

  1. I am condensing the size of my photos so it will make this much quicker to load, particularly on a smart phone.
  2. I am putting in more headings which increases the likelihood of google searches finding the blog, apparently.
  3. I am including more links to other websites where I can as this also helps google find me.

I would be really interested to know what you think.  In the meantime, thanks for your support and I will give you the website address as soon as it goes live.

Squaring up quilts

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Badly hanging quilt

This is another quick post.  You may remember that I was horrified by just how badly this quilt hung at the Bristol Quilters’s recent exhibition.  Well, in the comments I received there was a practical suggestion from lovely and knowledgeable Judith Barker:

The best aid to having straight edges and square corners on a quilt is a tiled floor! I pinched this idea from Carol Bryer Fallert, who has a HUGE studio with 12 inch square black and white tiles. My small workroom has vinyl flooring like fake wood blocks, all straight lines. My kitchen has square slates. You tape the quilt to the floor, and slide a cutting mat under the edge to trim. Really helpful.
Judith B.

The quilt that goes on giving

I’ve never been tremendously fond of the saying that you can eat all the pig except the squeak, but I do like to use as much of a quilt’s basic materials as I can before I begin throwing away, so here’s a mouse made out of the trimmings of this badly-squared quilt:

mouse