Creativity, experimentation, plenty and generosity

Samples of slashed fabric
Samples of slashed fabric

I blogged last week about the talk we had at Bristol Quilters by Karina Thompson.  Although I didn’t get to the workshop she ran, I did think that I would have a go at slashing layers of fabric using her technique.  Controlled fraying rather appealed to me.  So, I made some samples, and the above was the result.  She takes a very stiff brush to the layers after she has stitched and cut.  I couldn’t find a suitable brush so I used the edge of the rubber door wedge I use to tilt my machine so that I can see what I am doing.  It worked really well, and I enjoyed the process and liked the end result.  Karina said that doing all the dull up and down stitching was boring, but I was only making small samples.  I really liked the way she suggested making ‘stuff’ and then seaming it together later.  I make samples and chuck them in a bag and then fish them out later to combine with other ‘stuff’ to make my pieces.  That’s why it’s sometimes difficult to say how long something took to make.

One of the reasons that I think that my attempt came out so well is that I had some fantastic fabric to play with.  The texture is great because I was able to use so much silk so freely.

Slashed fabric sample 2
Slashed fabric sample 2

The reason for this is that my mother gives me a lot of great free fabric.  She has a friend whose son, Graham, makes wonderful window treatments for very wealthy clients and gives mum the offcuts.  So I have a lot of long thin pieces of beautiful cloth: linen, silk, cotton and the odd interesting synthetic, which are cut off when he hangs the curtains and then trims the hems.  I do sometimes get bigger squarer bits, and I get a lot of old sample books.

Body Shop Quilt panel made with Graham's bits
Body Shop Quilt panel made with Graham's bits

Because this fabric is free and would otherwise be thrown away, I feel really quite relaxed about using it in a way that I wouldn’t if I had paid a fortune for it.  I like the idea of recycling rubbish into something worth having.  And it makes the point that you see in work about creativity that in order to be creative people need resources.  Scarcity, despite necessity being the mother of invention, doesn’t support creativity, it inhibits it.  I can afford to have a go at stacking six layers of exquisite woven silk and then hacking it to bits because it doesn’t really matter if it all goes wrong.  Then again, I like doing something constructive with mistakes as well, but that’s another matter.

Finally, it makes me think about the importance of generosity.  I think that it is a great quality in life in general, but it’s also important in academic life.  Here’s what Professor Alf Rehn, a bit of an enfant terrible in Organisation Studies, has to say about generosity for academics:

Too many people in academia are greedy, and too few realize that this is a bad idea… Generosity, in this context, is a question of paying homage, being able to say who has affected your thinking – and also whom you are thinking with, as the notion of thinking as an individual activity should be abandoned… Academic generosity can come in many forms.  It can be something small, like referencing a doctoral student in an article, even though you could easily ignore it, or it can be bringing people into a workshop or a publication, or it can be a case of simply remembering to mention good work in a random conversation.  It is always, however, a case of having respect for academia as a social sphere.  It is also a question of having respect for yourself.

Alf Rehn (2006)  The Scholar’s Progress: Essays on Academic Life and Survival, Lincoln, NE: iUniverse: 3,4.

Given what is happening in British universities at the moment, it strikes me that this is well worth bearing in mind.


6 thoughts on “Creativity, experimentation, plenty and generosity

  1. Dear Ann

    Just read your blog entry and was reminded that Karina Thompson gave a talk to my local branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild many, many years ago. She wasn’t into slashed fabrics at that time but produced lovely embroideries, probably made on water soluble fabric, reminiscent of ancient Byzantine (?) fragments.

    Your point about the importance of generosity strikes a cord. I have been to many different workshop over the years, mostly at my local EG branch. It has always been frustrating when certain artists had been less than willing to share their secrets. In some ways it is very understandable, everybody needs to make a living! But if you don’t want to reveal a secret then don’t give a public lecture, let alone a workshop!! Most people who go to workshops don’t want to copy, they do have enough respect for the artist, but they do want to be inspired to develop.

    Having said all that, there are two names who come to mind immediately who are completely the opposite, Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn. Both outstanding textile artists in their own right, but also very generous teachers. Another two I have just remembered, Maggie Grey and Frances Pickering. Again, I was lucky enough to learn from them how they solved certain textile problems and ideas, helping me to create something I regard as my own!

    1. Yes, yes, yes. I took workshop ages ago with Jean Littlejohn and she was great. Probably the most professional workshop I have done – she knew exactly how much we would get done in a specific period of time, and the things I made were exquisite. She is such good fun too. I loved it. I really love Frances Pickering’s new book on decorated books. Your comment made me think about great workshops I have been to over the years. I loved Ricky Timms, although his technical perfection was a bit daunting for me. Gwen Marston, of course, so inspirational. Sandra Meech, wonderful (like her work). Linda Kempshall, techniques I am still using to great effect years later. Cas Holmes, who has a sumptuous new book out, and did really clever things with recycled material and look beautiful and not like a pile of old rubbish. Lots of people. I wish I had kept a proper list. I seldom think things were a complete waste of time. Even making felt which is not my thing at all showed me that I can admire the skill of great felt makers, but never want to do it myself.

      I agree – we should share ideas. As long as no-one is passing stuff off as their own which was clearly someone else’s idea, or stealing someone’s livelihood by cloning a workshop, then fine. I will show anyone how to do anything I do, but try always to acknowledge the originator. I agree also that very few people do want to steal ideas, they possibly don’t have the confidence to do DESIGN, and that makes them copy rather than anything more nefarious.

  2. What a wonderful pipeline of fine fabrics you have to inspire your creativity! Loved your comments about generosity. They reminded me of my father, a university professor who was loved by everyone he met. It was because, being secure in his own worth, he generously made them feel they were the special party in any interaction. A rare quality. I was certainly a fortunate daughter.

    1. Yes, I am very lucky with my fabric supply. It breaks my heart to think that such wonderful fabric would go into landfill if we didn’t do something with them. Several of my quilting friends have made bags and cushions from the fabric. I really love the Jacobean-inspired crewel fabrics. I must get round to doing something with one piece with pomegranates on it. I love working with pomegranates.

      Also lovely to hear about your dad. He sounds like a very special person. and his wonderful relational work with his students is exactly what the culture of treating them like customers in a totally transactional way is threatening. I think you were very fortunate and so were they.


  3. I love the reference to generosity, something that it is not terribly common. Yet, I feel that at least in our little community of SCOS we subvert these treats by engaging with people’s work, acknowledging influences and sharing ideas… that’s what I like most of it.
    I have not been terribly active these days… just few drawings one for my husband in St Valentine….
    Waiting for longer brighter days…

    1. I think SCOS is a little oasis in the desert of academic conferences. It is the last place you can take the truly bonkers and be taken seriously, and although it is a bit clique-y I owe what I laughingly call my career to all the lovely people I have met through it. I think it depends on the chair a bit, and I was very lucky that Peter Case was in charge when I rejoined. He made me feel very welcome and part of the whole thing. Which is worth bearing in mind when we think about leadership.

      Can’t wait to see your new work, by the way.


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