What I did on Saturday

Olympic Cauldron: beautiful and functional
Olympic Cauldron: beautiful and functional


I spent Saturday afternoon in the company of the delightful Gwent Quilters giving the talk at their annual Summer lunch.  They gave me and the medieval historian a lovely lunch and Medecins sans Frontieres a very generous donation.

One of my very favourite writers on gender and organisation is Joyce Fletcher who also wrote some interesting stuff on learning and development.  Most academic writers on this assume that development means learning to be a separate, autonomous, individuated in the trade, person.  Fletcher invites us to think about this again and to consider the possibility that what we want is more rather than less connection in life and that learning is a communal activity.  She builds on the work of Jean Baker Miller and Irene Stiver who advocate ‘growth in connection’.  I was reminded of this after the talk at Gwent Quilters.  Fletcher advocates approaching life expecting to learn from our encounters with other people.  I think she’d wholeheartedly approve of the Gwent Quilters.

Over lunch we talked quite a bit about the opening ceremony of the Olympics.  The consensus was that it started off a bit wobbly, but that by the end we were all drawn in and really enjoyed it.  We thought it was an interesting response to the opening ceremony in Beijing.   Breathing life into something exhausted like the grandiose, inflated, macho Olympic Opening Ceremony demands some creativity.  I wonder if this was an example of a single mind creating something rather than a committee coming up with imitative blandness.  So, it was an interesting discussion about creativity and innovation based on a case study.  Not really what I was expecting when I sat down.

But being with the women and approaching the presentation like a conversation also made me think as I was going along.  I was talking about my Laura Ashley project and about how the majority of quilters in the UK got started using her offcut bags.  I suddenly began to think about the ramifications of the company and the industry it went on to spawn: the quilting industry: shops, exhibitions, manufacturers, magazines and books, longarm quilters – would any of this have happened if Laura Ashley hadn’t made the pure cotton with the right scale of print available to us just as second wave quilting took off?  It’s a very good example of what [the medieval historian considers the wrong sort of] historians call a counterfactual.  What if?  What if Napoleon had won at Waterloo?  What if Katherine of Aragon had had six strapping sons?  Or the old favourite, what if Cleopatra’s nose had been half and inch longer?  It’s hard to say, because patchwork took off in the US where they don’t seem to have been so attached to Laura Ashley remnants, but it certainly made it easier for women to take up the craft in the British Isles for 50p a go.

Then I was thinking about this being a pastime, or social phenomenon in which you can very clearly see a point of origin.  Just about every woman in the room nodded when I asked if they had started out with Laura Ashley packs.  The company, her vision after seeing that Women’s Institute Quilt Show, was the fons et origo of the passion and delight of every stitcher in that room more or less.  I wonder how many other pastimes, hobbies, obsessions can trace their roots back to a single source and to a single company.  I was struck forcibly about the strength of those weak ties.  We never knew her but she brought us all together in that room

So, two insights into my current research and into an on-going interest in creativity, plus an apricot mousse to die for.


PS for any Gwent Quilters reading this, sorry the medieval historian and I won two raffle prizes.  I felt very guilty, but I love winning stuff and the braids are going to a very good home.

4 thoughts on “What I did on Saturday

  1. I completely missed those 50p bags. I only had one Laura Ashely print in my house – dark blue with apricot butterflies. Finding a shop was a major exercise, so it just didn’t happen. Maybe that’s why I’m not a ‘quilter’ but I that I just work with textiles? Who knows. Maybe it’s another ‘what if…..’

    1. It could be – but I also find that some textile people do a bit of patchwork occasionally when it suits what they want to do, whereas quilters tend to be quilters first and foremost. Maybe you’re just not a quilter. I liked your personal counterfactual though. And so sorry you won’t be at Malvern this year.

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