Don’t look at me in that tone of voice.

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Knowing that I am a big fan of the writer, a very dear friend of mine gave me a bottle of Dorothy Parker gin.  The gin is the sort of alcohol-rich distillation that would make the average sailor wince, but the bottle was wonderful with a picture of Mrs Parker printed on the inside and a little biography on the back:

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It was too good to throw away, and so I decided to make it into a lamp.  I bought the stick-in bulb fitting and more or less forgot about it, as it took us so long to get through the ‘navy strength’ gin.  When the bottle was finally empty, I started to think about a shade.  For some reason I decided that a lampshade with some of Mrs Parker’s quotes would be just the thing, so I bought a kit which promised to be very easy to make up, and found some cream fabric which had an almost imperceptible pile and took sharpie markers reasonably well.  I made some preliminary sketches and a list of some of her best-known wisecracks:

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and then I transferred it all to the fabric.  I took a deep breath and opened up the various kits:

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Personally, I am terrified when I see anything described as ‘easy’,  but this kit did come with accompanying You Tube video which was very useful.  Most of the job was really easy, and, as the woman in the video kept on assuring me would happen, the results were professional.  The only tricky bit was pushing the excess fabric down behind the wire rings to give a smooth, and, yes, professional finish:

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They are terribly keen in the packaging and on the video to encourage you to start a lampshade making business, which is a bit premature, I think.  Apparently these make great gifts, so look out.

In the end, I think the shade is out of proportion with the bottle base, but as it was just for fun and did allow me to keep the bottle and express my appreciation of Mrs Parker, probably that does not matter.  I also got to use a very old iron I found in a recent clear-out, and a very new, very small table top ironing board from IKEA:

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Very useful in a craft room.

Modernista Easter

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It seems to me that not everyone wants pretty pastel things at Easter and so I did a bit of What if? thinking.  What if we made some decorations which were based on a bit more sophisticated palette such as coffee and taupe.  I also wanted to make samples which are not full-size quilts but are finished and not just obviously samples.  It struck me that table runners would be a good way to do a fair bit of a pattern but would not be a marathon task to finish.  This linen table runner is from IKEA and costs about a fiver.  As my mother would say, you couldn’t buy the fabric for that.

So, I appliquéd some eggs while watching El Cid with the Medieval Historian who was trying to get his class to watch it to talk about how history is used to suit the purposes of the day.  It was fascinating that in February 2017 the film seemed to be about good Muslims and bad Muslims and Islamophobia, but when it was made it at the height of the Cold War it was about good Russians and bad (Communist) Russians.  That aside, you can get a lot of appliqué done as Chuck Heston races around nobly saving the day.

I had bought the egg fabric on holiday.  One of those, I don’t know what I will ever do with it, but it’s a really nice fat quarter and will come in useful at some point.  It is made by Organic Cotton.  I liked the Downton Abbey type dancing couples.  When I looked closely, however, I thought it had more than a touch of the Weimar Republic about it.   The young men look very like young ladies in drag:

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I used a straightforward hand appliqué technique.  I put the fabric over a piece of thick paper which I had cut into an egg shape with my sizzix machine and then gathered round the edge and pressed.  I stitched down three quarters of the appliqué with the paper still in, removed it and finished the hand stitching.  This is a good technique with anything with circular or particularly curved edges.

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I like hand appliqué and found it very relaxing to do, but, looking at the runner laid out in the studio, I think that the eggs need to be nearer the edge.  Still quite a successful trial, though, I think.

 

 

Gucci chicken

 

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Were there an award for the nicest person in the world, I think my friend Alison would be a very strong contender.  She noticed the above Gucci chicken in Florence and kindly sent me a photo to go with my own Fabergé attempt.  Of course, this could just mean a lot more work: a series of chickens in the style of – Laura Ashley, Cath Kidston, Gudrun Sjødën and so on.

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You may have noticed that there have not been too many posts on my blog recently.  This is because I have taken the big decision to start offering workshops.  When I have given talks in the past, people have asked if I would do a workshop and I have always said no, but this year I took a deep breath and decided that I would like to offer classes in a variety of things that interest me.  To this end, I have been dreaming up workshops that I would like to go on myself and making demonstration samples.  Plus, I have roped in the Medieval Historian to add some historical information relevant to the workshop.  So, Christmas decoration making will have a session with tea and cake where he will talk about the origins of Christmas customs in this country.  My Easter workshop (which may well launch in 2018 – it takes much longer than you think to get these things ready) will include an informal session on the romantically doomed Romanovs who commissioned the Fabergé eggs we will be thinking about.  He will not be caught up in the Romance, though; he’s a proper historian after all.

My vision is to create a series of workshops based on customs and celebrations that we used to have in this country but have lost.  For example: the just-post-Christmas Wren Hunt, the cakes and candles of Candlemas in dreary February, and others to follow.  All will have projects and historical information to drop into any conversation.  Social success is assured.

The biggest step of all has been to have a studio built in my garden where I will offer small courses of no more than six participants.  It’s called Pomegranate Studio as the pomegranate symbolises creativity for me.  At the moment the studio looks like any new build in February – mudastic – but it will be surrounded by an inspirational flower garden when it is finished, I hope.  Here are some far from enticing pictures.  I will add more as I get the decorative bits finished after the hard build:

The studio is insulated so it is warm, has lots of light so that no-one gets a seat out of natural daylight, and is plumbed in so there will always be plenty of tea and coffee.  There will also be my not inconsiderable collection of books to browse through.

I will be posting a lot more about this in the next few days with pictures of the possible products from possible workshops.  In the meantime, let’s hope the rain lets up and I can get round to that flower garden I mentioned.

 

 

Maria, Hen Empress of all the Russias

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If you have been following my blog for a bit, you will know that every New Year’s Day I make a doll which either says something about the past year, or about the one coming up.  My rule is that it has to be completed from scratch in one day.  This year I knew that I wanted to do some work on Easter eggs, and Fabergé Easter eggs in particular, and so I decided to start work on that by making a Fabergé hen.  After all, you do need chickens to make eggs, the old – which came first, the chicken or the egg conundrum notwithstanding.

I started off by adapting a pattern from one of the Tilda craft books:

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I was rather pleased about this as these books are a regular impulse buy and I never actually use them.  The pattern had to be adapted as the chicken had bloomers on:

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I don’t really think that a Fabergé chicken would show her underwear, so I had to cut those out immediately.  I decided to make mine in felt for some reason which now escapes me, so I made the wings and stitched them on:

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I used a ready made motif from Aarti J and sequins from a bumper pack bought at Paperchase.  Paperchase and Tiger are a really good source of cheap sequins, but they do come in variety packs so you can’t be choosy.  Then I started to encrust the body with beads.  This is where the plan went awry.  It takes a while to encrust a felt chicken with jewels:

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So I broke my one day rule.  This seemed a reasonable sacrifice given what I wanted to achieve.  You can see that I used another Aarti J motif for the eyes.

The second snag came when I got round to the crown.  Because I have spent over thirty years in the educational company of a medieval historian I know that because she is an empress she needs an imperial crown, which is a closed crown.  A crown would be easy to make:

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A nice strip of gold fabric with some points joined into a ring.  But an imperial crown needs a bit more thought:

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Much fancier.  In the end, despite a lot of internet searching which resulted in instructions for making tiaras for Barbie on YouTube, I resorted to that old favourite: the pipe cleaner.  I pushed it through some gold tube knitting yarn that I bought at a knockdown price in Homescene, and cobbled it together with some very plastic-y bead braid and a button which had lost its shank which was lurking in my collection.  I have no idea where this bead came from, no recollection of buying it nor of my mother’s giving it to me:

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The beak is two separate quarters of giant sequins from a garland I bought in Habitat’s closing down sale stuck onto the felt underneath and the wattle is from the same garland but sewn on.  I am adding these provenance details because people often ask where I get my beads.  The large pearl beads come from a five pound bargain bag from Hobbycraft.

The whole crown affair is rather wobbly and what my native dialect would describe as makkled together, but it represents the outer reaches of my chicken jewellery-making skills.

I am quite happy with the finished article:

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Of course, Fabergé would have hated it.  It is cobbled together and it is too irregular for him.  He loved very fine craft skills and a neo-classical style, so this would have appalled him in its cheap materials and cobbled together making.  On the other hand, he loved novelties and small animal knick-knacks, so he might have given a half-smile.

Finally, she is called Maria because this was the name of the first Romanov empress for whom Fabergé made an Easter egg.

More on the Fabergé egg project later.

Cossacks for Christmas

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I can’t imagine that many of you  are interested in my Christmas decorations, but just in case you are, here we go.  This year they are minimalist to say the least.  I have had a lot going on and putting up trimmings seemed way down the list of priorities.  But I did get round to making and putting up these gentlemen.  They are dancing cossacks.  I would like to tell you that they are my design, but they came from a book called Homemade Christmas, (which is very cheap on Amazon):

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It doesn’t seem to have an author, but it does have a number of surprisingly nice looking things to make.  The author, whoever it is, as no author is credited, made their cossacks out of old book covers, but I thought it would be a good way of using up gelli-printed papers that I had done myself:

 

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I rather like the way that the printed paper for his face makes him look like he is rather keen on the vodka, or doesn’t use a good enough moisturiser in all that cold weather.

I also used some painted paper:

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This one has jewelled brads or paper fasteners on his joints.  Finding paper fasteners, which are those split pin things with the round heads that you push through papers and then open out, turned out to be one of the hardest parts of the project.  I had to go to the internet to find them.  Clearly the paperless office is becoming a reality.

After I had made a couple of cossacks, it occurred to me that this might be a really good use for some notecards the Medieval Historian gave me a couple of years ago.

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So I had quite good fun fussy cutting bodies to get a good cover image on the chest:

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I also liked picking the most un-Christmas-y titles such as this:

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Nothing like a nice Ballardian dystopia to set you up the festive season.  We also have Lady Chatterley’s Lover as a nod to my home town.

Then I remembered that I had bought some Marimekko notecards as I love the graphic designs and clear colours:

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Both of these worked brilliantly which makes me thing that you could do it with any postcard:

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This one is decorated with washi tape.  This one is fussy cut:

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In the book they are strung to work as jumping jacks, but I like them just as posable figures.

In the end I made twenty-five of them and they dance around the room suspended from the picture rail.  So quite a lot of cutting, punching, sticking and stringing, but I think that they make quite a smart decoration, even for people, mentioning no names, Medieval Historian, who claim not to like Christmas.

 

 

Field notes from Utopia

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A couple of months ago, I went on a fantastic weekend at Shore Cottage Studio.  I have blogged about this before, but, to recap, it is a gorgeous studio on the Dee Estuary which runs short courses on a variety of activities (textiles, glass making, photography, laser cutting, for example).  It is run by the family team of Sue, Laura and Kris.  This is the word cloud of their trip advisor feedback:

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Word clouds make patterns in which the largest words are the ones most frequently used.  I am very interested to see ‘love’ so prominent here.  I suspect it comes from comments such as ‘I love the Studio’, but I thought it was a place which just about ran on love.  That’s why this post is called ‘Field notes from Utopia’.  I felt loved the minute I walked through the door and that is a utopian feeling.  So this post is about my embroidery, but also a little bit about Utopia.  If you aren’t interested in Utopia, just skip to the pictures of the embroidery, which I hope you enjoy.

I am really interested in utopias because they are so contradictory.  One person’s Utopia is another person’s dystopia.  For example, in HG Wells’ The Time Machine we have the Eloi who seem to have the perfect peaceful, aesthetically beautiful life but who are actually so calm and refined that they are unable to achieve anything new or creative, plus their life depends on an underclass called the Morlocks, a dystopian troglodyte society who only come out at night, but who have the energy to do stuff and in the end to rise up against their oppressors.  One reading of the novel is that the Eloi represent a communist group, and, as we know from our own recent history, communism is seen as paradise by  some and oppression by others.  Utopia and dystopia again.  This was the plot of endless episodes of the first series of Star Trek.  Captain Kirk was always finding new civilisations which looked wonderful at first sight, but which were always inferior to Earth.  And tribes of cultural studies scholars have provided readings of this as code for the Cold War struggles in the US when Kirk and Spock and Uhuru were created.  I am also interested in utopian communities’ carrying within themselves the seeds of their own destruction (we are going in for political economy a bit today).  So, religious groups often go off into the wilderness to find a pure place where they can practise their beliefs without persecution or pollution.  The problem is that sooner or later differences of opinion arise, and no-one is quite pure enough to satisfy the demands of the leader so you get a split and another attempt at a utopian community elsewhere.  These sorts of communities can topple over into cults which often end disastrously, such as David Koresh and the Branch Davidian.  Finally, I am interested in the role of place in all this.  Very often utopians leave a place they consider toxic to go and set up a new purer place elsewhere.  Utopias always seem to be places of tension, reactions against, flights from, black and white situations where you are either right or wrong.  There is not much space for grey in Utopia.

Anyway, for me, Shore Cottage is a form of Utopia.  It is a place where I felt completely at home, loved and cared for, and able to develop my creativity.  I was there as part of a project looking at the anthropology of the Dee Estuary and to do a short ethnography (although really there is no such thing: ethnography done properly is an extended business).  Ethnographers make field notes and so my embroidery represents field notes in cloth.

I designed it to look like an artefact an ethnographer might take with them, so it rolls up:

The linen has a toile print of a river, which is the nearest that I could get to an estuary.  The tree rather appealed to me.

It unrolls to show several ‘leaves’ or panels:

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The piece uses the fabric and thread that I dyed on the weekend with Sue.  Some of them were left whole just to show the effects such as this microwaved tie dye:

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This is a really brilliant simple technique for hand dying cloth which I will use again. There is also a piece of overnight rust dyeing:

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Brilliant results overnight onto this piece of linen.  The marks were so beautiful that I didn’t want to mask them with stitching or embellishment.

I kept the stitching pretty simple on the rest of the panels:

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This is fern stitch with variegated thread onto a thick blanket-y wool that I dyed.

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This shows simple straight stitches arranged as seeding, vertical cross stitch and some running stitch.  I used the big black and white bead as a sort of sample, like you might get in a ethnographer’s collection of material.

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This is a variation on a theme.  I love these big disc beads.  They remind me of pumice or some other sort of lava.

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This is  a found piece of curtain fabric and the pom pom is part of it.  It is stitched down with layered fern stitch.

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This is also a tiny found sample of furnishing fabric.  I loved the indigo and white.  The white thread is quite thick and reminded me of sashiko.  I wish I could get my stitches that even.  I am not sure I quite like the uneven spacing of the mauve beads, but had I been making this in my tent by hurricane lamp in the nineteenth century, I might not have been able to get them straight, so I left them.

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Another bead and seeding combo.

I wanted to use these little wooden hands because of the importance of the hand made on this weekend:

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I got them from Artchix Studio, which is run by a lovely Canadian woman.  I have lots of things from her shop, but I have stopped using it because the postage is ruinously expensive and then there are charges on top when the parcel gets here.  Gorgeous, unusual, inspiring stuff but now very pricey.  That aside, these hands are lovely.  They are about two centimetres long.  I like the combination of the handmade and the manufactured.  They are all alike and symmetrical, and yet they have a real charm for me.

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The above is some knitting tape which I dyed and couched down and then stuffed with brown glass beads which I got from a Hobbycraft cheapo clearance bag.  I also recycled some embroidery I did a couple of years ago.  They maybe jump a bit, but I think they look slightly like sketches of landscapes that you get in ethnographer and explorer notebooks:

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This is another picture of part of the piece showing how the panels fit together:

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You can just about see in the top left-hand corner that there is a heart shape.  I found a stone on the Dee Estuary beach which had the suggestion of a heart on one side and I thought that this was emblematic of the Studio.  I was really pleased when Sue noticed that a heart had emerged from the hand dyeing on this swatch.  To the left of that, which you can see in the picture at the top, there is a piece of embroidery taken from a vintage tablecloth I bought from a textile fair last year.  This refers to the hand-embroidered vintage tablecloths that they used at the Studio and which I really enjoyed.

This has been a long post, so thanks to reading to the end if you did.