Thinking about the stash

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I had a very interesting conversation last week with a group of women women talking about ‘The Stash’.  This is a subject which quilters will always talk about with great enthusiasm, and I thought I would take a little bit of time to write about what the scholars are thinking.  To keep it a bit lighter I am going to sprinkle internet memes about the stash throughout – this is why the pictures are a bit small today.

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Nearly everyone I know who pursues any sort of craft has a stash.  I am in awe of those people who just buy enough for a project and thus have a pristine workroom.  I am not quite sure what they do with the scraps at the end; I presume they make them into things to give to the deserving poor.  I cannot believe they throw them away.  I have to have a stash for my work because very often I just need a one inch piece of something so I keep vast amounts of scraps, but also big pieces which will probably just have a corner cut out sometime in the future.   I think about this as my compost: eventually it will break down into something lovely and sustaining.

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The fantasy way to keep all this stuff is shown in the photograph at the top of this post, but the reality is much more like this:

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or this:

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Or this:

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Or this:

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Which brings me onto my first point discussed by the academics: our feelings about our stash.  There are a number of these:

  • A number of well-adjusted women take the view that they work hard to be financially independent and so how they spend their money is no-one’s business.
  • Some women see what their husbands/partners spend their money on and see their stash as being an equivalent.  It might equal a set of golf clubs or an expensive camera plus accessories.
  • Some women feel extremely guilty about their stash.  This possibly because it is spending money on themselves and not their families, or because they buy it and then can’t bear to use it.  There are probably lots of explanations, but they mainly come down, I think, to women thinking that they are not worth it.  If ever I want to buy something extravagant I phone one of my male gay friends.  They always say one of two things: ‘You work hard, you deserve it’, or: ‘Do you mean to tell me that you don’t think that you are worth a (insert item of choice plus price)?’  Or I recall my mother’s wise words: ‘You will remember (insert name of item you wish to buy) far longer than you will remember the overdraft’.

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  • The older women get the more likely they seem to find the stash a burden.  I have noticed with friends that our mothers become really keen to declutter and to throw stuff away that has been in the attic for years as they get older.  In my case, the stuff transfers from my mother’s attic to mine.  This desire to get rid of stuff seems to be even worse if there is a stash involved, and I think there is sometimes guilt about leaving the burden of sorting it out to whomever has to clear out the house.  I have come across quilters who have had to sell off another quilter’s stash who vow never to pass that job onto someone else.

 

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Some of the women in the group were what are called ‘early career academics’ which means that they are doing their first or second jobs, just having finished their PhDs.  They talked about moving and having to ‘drag it from house to house’ as they tried to find a permanent position.

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A really extreme position was that having a stash was morally corrupt because it represented having an excess while others have nothing.  The Western world always has too much and never enough in the context of a global world

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One of the ways that having the stash is often justified is to collect vintage fabric for reuse, a form of recycling, and this is certainly something that I like to emphasise.  A lot of my stash is old samples or remnants which would have gone into landfill if I hadn’t rescued it.  But, as a colleague of mine who works on the engineering of waste and recycling says, this just delays or defers the problem.  Recycled presents are great, but you are just passing the stuff onto the next person.  ‘It’ still exists and will have to be dealt with at some point in the future.  Overproduction is the problem and recycling is not the answer.

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A slightly lighter note was struck by one of the women who said that she thought the ideal was the ‘sweet spot’ between having enough but not so much that it crossed over into being clutter.

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Even more positive was the position that the stash represents potential.  It is there to be transformed and it is there to liberate creativity.  Certainly in my work with grown-ups involving making of any sort I have found that it works best when there is an enormous, generous amount of stuff.  Having stuff to waste or experiment with seems to liberate the childlike desire to create in people.  It always gets mentioned in feedback.  ‘There was just so much stuff, so much to choose from’.  I wonder if people somehow read this as care in material form, and if you are being cared for then you are safe and free to play.

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There was also some conversation about how stashes circulate, a bit like those friendship cakes where you get a small piece of batter to make your own cake and then to pass on to friends.  I get parts of my mother’s stash which I pass on to friends needing new cushions or bags or backing fabric.  The academic women described these as ‘small circulating economies’ which just means that there is a form of exchange involved.

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An interesting suggestion was that Ebay represents a global electronic stash.  There is all that stuff just sitting there all over the world just waiting to be transported and rehomed and re-used.  I think this is an interesting idea, although this is a very brazen commercial form of stash, and yet it is one that I have participated in, of course.

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As all this material circulates between us, one interesting question is whether or not knowledge is being transferred as well.  Do the skills follow the fabric?  I think it’s an interesting idea, and it is possible that when someone gives you, or swaps you, or even sells you a piece of fabric or equipment they will tell you how to use it or what they used it for or intended to use it for, but my suspicion is that it is mainly about the material exchange.

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There was some talk of the stash being a community resource where people could come and take what they needed for their project.  I thought this was a bit idealistic.  I think that there are politics around the stash, and unwritten and unspoken rules.  We have a sort of stash at Bristol Quilters where there is a Saint Peter’s Hospice stall with fabric for anyone.  But we all know that we are expected to pay for it.  If I just took a chunk of something I would expect at the very least to get some dirty looks.  Even when the lovely women who run the stall and know that I collect Laura Ashley fabric give me something free I feel obligated to make a donation anyway as it is for charity.

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I think there is even a question of who gets to use your stash.  I have two stashes: one is available to anyone.  Take and waste as much as you like.  Cut the centre out of the piece rather than snipping a bit off along the edge.  Spill stuff all over it.  Make something incredibly ugly with it.  I genuinely don’t mind.  The second is my stash for me.  Now if you are a really good friend and want, say, some red fabric, you can have anything, but only because you are a really good friend.  This is a relational activity.  It builds and binds friendships.  It makes me a mealy-mouthed person community-wise and makes me a terrible fabric capitalist, but it is how I feel.  Hands off the precious last bit of my favourite fabric.  I know at least one woman who really resents being seen as a community resource.  She hates takers who never seen to flip over into givers, and I sort of know what she means.

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There is also a class element to all this.  I can afford to spend money on fabric; I have enough disposable income to allow me to do it.  But not everyone has.  My very good friend, Marybeth Stalp talks much more about the guilt over the stash in her interviewees in the US, probably because it is a more working class pursuit than in the UK where the guilt is less.  I think there might also be an age component.  Many quilters were born during or just after the war when there was austerity and utility and shortage.  Having a store of things was fine as that would feed and clothe the family in hard times, but buying things for yourself for the pleasure of stroking and folding and having them was an indulgence and therefore morally wrong.  So I got used to smuggling things in past my father when my mother and I had been shopping.  So I think this brings me back to my starting point about the mixed emotion of the stash.  I would be interested to hear other people’s thoughts if anyone would like to leave a comment.

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What I did at the weekend

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Solomon Quilt

This is a small quilt (about 2 feet/ 60 cm square) which I am proud to say I made on Saturday afternoon.

I am proud of this because it demonstrates expertise.  I wanted to make a quilt as a demonstration piece for a talk I am doing and I didn’t want to spend hours on it, so I used what I have learned over the years about quick techniques.  I suppose I pressed my 10,00 hours of practice into service.  The 10,000 hours required to make an expert is coming under fire as an idea, but this quilt came out of a lifetime of practising a skill, not just an afternoon’s work, and I think there is something in the idea.  I know, from some much practice and prototyping and going to workshops over the years, how to get the effect I want.  So, this is largely fused and it has very free-form stitching over the top:

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I really like this strong graphic line, which is done with Mettler quilting thread in black   The fabric is fused with heat and bond which is great, but the combination of that and the thick thread did for the needle which eventually gave up and snapped.  The new needle worked much better, but that snapped on a subsequent project so I switched from an 11 to a 14 and have had better results.  My sewing machine is wonderfully patient with me, but even it has its limits.

So, I sat down to make this piece on Saturday afternoon, intending to trace a pattern in a quilting magazine which had caught my eye.  I had even bought the fabric for that design in Copenhagen on my last visit.  Of course, the pattern and the magazine had disappeared.  I went to exactly where I had left them but they were gone.  So, having looked at thousands of applique quilts over the years, I decided to make my own pattern.  When I drew the pattern it looked a lot like a daffodil, which would have been nice, but I had bought nice traditional looking red fabric for the piece, so I decided that it would be an amaryllis, greatly simplified as three or more flower heads were more like a botanical drawing exercise than a quick quilt.  I remembered the blade-like leaves, though.

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The background is some scrap linen with a sepia print:

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A toile really, but not an antique one.  I was going to use the back at first, but I thought the print added to the vintage look of the block.  The quilt is deliberately a bit wonky with some stems longer than others and the leaves cut freehand and differently for each block.

The quilt is a piece for my new talk on Friendship quilts.  This one is an example of a Solomon Quilt.  I had never heard of these, but my October guest, the wonderful Marybeth Stalp, has one.  When a quilter dies, sometimes the remaining members of the family get part of her quilt – probably a quarter – as a separate piece.  It is form of keepsake.  I thought that an applique design like this would be a good example of a mock-up Solomon Quilt.  Although you end up with a small wall-hanging, this is a good way to try out some ‘quarter’ quilts if like me you will never have time to make all the full-size pieces you would like.

 

 

New quilting design

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I have been working on a project with the wonderful Paula Hyde at Manchester Business School which has involved making pieces together.  This is the second stage of the one Paula started:

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Hers is the lovely latticed ribbon square in the centre.  I put some very luscious silk around two sides and included two quotations: ‘To know the history of embroidery is to know the history of women’, from Roszika Parker’s foundational text, The Subversive Stitch, and ‘Stitching assuages touch hunger’ which is my own idea based very heavily on Eve Sedgwick’s thoughts on craft and work with the hand in A Dialogue on Love (not for the faint-hearted, this one, brilliant passages on suicide).

Anyway, I wanted to sew my quotations over some heavy quilting.  I started out with a design that I have used a lot in the past but not so much recently:

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I love this design and this time I did it using a full complement of rubbery thimbles which helped me push the fabric about.  I had never used them before but they really worked, although when I tried to get them off after using them for a while there was a rather peculiar sucking noise and I thought I had dislocated a finger.  More about them, probably, in another post.

When I came to the second panel, I started with the frondy, swirly design, but suddenly thought about a design I had used in zentangles.  Most of the patterns have cringe-y names with a ‘z’ on the end, and I think this one is called ‘krownz’:

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It’s usually used as an edging, like this:

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See the bottom right-hand corner.

It turned out to be very simple to quilt as it is a continuous line and the variations in size and shape give it its energy:

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I will use it again in a context where I am not stitching over it, but I wanted a really heavily stitched effect here and I am pretty pleased that it worked out well.

BTW, the writing, of course, was a less happy experience, with a broken needle and a large amount of tutting.

Dragon Hide 3

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This is the third dragon hide in my series with my Grate Frend, Beatriz Acevedo.  I am aiming for 25, but we’ll see how far I get.

This one is made from a bag of beads I got for three pounds in a sale in Hobbycraft.  I have used about half of the acrylic jelly beads which I just thought looked like dragon scales.

I started by quilting the green silk, which is a sort of pale yellowy sage green not the silvery looking green in the photos.  It absolutely refused to photograph in its true colours.

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I did some bubble quilting, then stitched on the beads with two strands of black embroidery cotton, and then because something was missing, I filled in the gaps with big seed stitches.  I started to put tiny seed beads in the gaps between the big scale beads, but they really didn’t add anything for once.  Equally putting on more of the scaly beads didn’t seem to improve the piece.  Here are the close-ups:

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I love this piece because I really like work which is heavy with beads.  This is dense and drapes beautifully.

Dragon Hide No 2

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As suggested by the title, this is the second blog post on my series on dragons with my grate frend, Beatriz Acevedo.  This is another piece which has a lot of stitching on it because I had time over the Christmas break to spend stitching, which I generally do while watching television.  Christmas is good for this, otherwise I can spend hours watching the specials and become slightly goggle-eyed.

This piece started with a piece of strange stretchy dress fabric which I bought in a lucky dip bag at the Knitting and Stitching Show in October:

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It is choc-ful of lycra which makes it quite difficult to sew, but if you distort the fabric it just springs back, so it is hard to make a mess of.  I thought it looked like a reptile hide, and so I backed it over some very heavy yellow silk and a thin curtain interlining and then stitched into it.  I tacked it down using fly stitch, which I use a lot, but which went a bit odd when I decided that I liked it portrait rather than landscape.  I fixed this by stitching over the top with more fly stitch:

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and then I added a lot of beads which I had got very cheaply in the Hobbycraft sale in Nottingham with my mother.  The whole thing jumped into life, though, when I added some tiny red seed beads:

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just enough to move the eye around.  I remember from some distant history of art class that medieval stained glass artists often put dots of red around the edge of windows as the eye reads these as a frame.

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I enjoyed working with this unusual fabric and making a magical pelt whether or not it has been splashed with dragon blood…

Well fancy that

 

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If you saw yesterday’s post, you will remember that I am working on a blog improvement course set up by WordPress.  Today’s exercise was to look at the title of the blog and the tag line.  The title of my blog isn’t very exciting, but it does mean that it is easy to find.  The tag line is also quite dull.  The advice is to make it funny, or punning, or playing with a proverb or common saying, and I can see that would make it a lot more memorable, but my tag line ‘Academic Quilter at the University of Bristol’ more or less sums it up and I don’t want to change it.  But imagine my surprise when I looked at it and it said ‘Academic Quilter at University of Bristol.’  I have been blogging for, what, five years, and never noticed that missing ‘the’.  So, that’s one New Year’s job that I didn’t even know I had sorted.

Dragon hide no 1

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The theme of my favourite conference, SCOS, this year is The Animal, and my grate frend, Beatriz and I have decided to do some work together.  We are going to make a piece each week for twenty-five weeks, (deep breath) based on the dragon.  Beatriz mainly works on paper and in mixed media, and so she will paint; I am going to use a lot of cloth.  We are working on the dragon because it is the SCOS emblem, and that of many of the cities we have visited with the conference over the years.  We thought a mythological beast might bring something extra to the proceedings next year in Uppsala.

So this is my first offering.  I made it over Christmas when I had plenty of time to do colonial knots in front of the tv.  I decided to do a dragon pelt.  It is a variation on clamshell patchwork.  When patchwork had its big revival in the 1970s, the how-to books were full of how to do this form of piecing.  If you look closely at them, however, the finished items are really pretty small.  This is because it is really fiddly and time-consuming and requires the ability to get a smooth curve on every single piece.  There is often a reproduction of this piece of antique clamshell, which I think is in the Victoria and Albert’s collection:

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That sort of green piping suggests to me that this was made by someone with a great deal of leisure who wanted to show her fine needlework skills to the marriage market.  Be that as it may, the examples in the books are usually cushions, spectacle cases, bag flaps and, surprisingly often, owl chests.

I decided to avoid the tricky piecing and gathering that long curved edge by making mine out of felt:

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This is very cheap felt from Hobbycraft.  I would have liked to have used some of the gorgeous handmade woollen felt that I see at the quilt shows, but just after Christmas a trip to the retail park was pretty much all that was on offer, so I decided to use this pretty nasty acrylic stuff.  It has a nasty, almost squeaky texture, and it only comes in pretty garish colours, but it is really forgiving.  I stitched the clamshells onto some old curtain interlining:

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and stitched it down with what looks like black, but which is actually a very dark brown, embroidery floss, two strands.  Both fabrics are springy which meant I could pull the clamshells about to fit as much as I liked.  Then I decorated with deliberately free-hand cut contrasting circles and put them on with straight stitch and colonial knots.  I always use colonial knots since I had an impromptu tutorial at the Festival of Quilts with Sandie Lush.  The are much easier to do than french knots and they hardly ever go wrong.

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I wanted a really folkartsy feel to this piece.

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I wanted to invoke the embroidery that I had grown up with, but also to make the piece feel like something you might find tucked away in an ethnographic museum somewhere.

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I was thinking about the sort of embroidery on the right-hand side of this instruction booklet which I found on the web, the sort of thing my mother did in the seventies in her modern free-embroidery classes.  My attempt was the opposite of fine needlework.  Overall, I think it worked quite well to give me a dragon pelt:

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I can’t help thinking that a dragon pelt is a good thing to have.  I am sure that one like this would be protective, which is not a bad thing to have at the beginning of the new year.  Dragons as protectors is something that Beatriz and I want to look at because it is the other side of dragons as hoarders and fierce, attacking defenders.  So in some ways, this is a (very small) safety blanket.