Cossacks for Christmas


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):


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:



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:


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.


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


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


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:


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


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


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.




A good read


I haven’t done much in the way of recommending quilting books, but this is one worth looking at, not because I particularly want to make three fabric quilts, but because it has a really good introduction on how to make a quilt.  There is a lot of good advice in this one.   At least a third of it is about sewing.   Also if you want to make a small quilt in a weekend, I think that this would be an excellent place to start.

I bought it in one of those bargain bookshops at the weekend.  I saw it full price and passed it by some time ago, but for £6 it was a real bargain.

Brunel Broderers’ Exhibition at Newark Park


On my recent visit to Newark Park I was lucky enough to see the Brunel Broderer’s exhibition, which was of work made in response to the house and gardens.  I really hate singling people out in exhibitions, because often it is just a matter of taste as to whose work you prefer, but there was some glorious embroidery on display.  I particularly liked seeing the sketchbooks accompanying the work, and I liked the way that it was spread throughout the house and not just in the gallery.  For example, my good friend Liz Hewitt had this rather lovely piece in a little ground-floor reception room:


This is a little taster of the rest of the show:

The combination of this very high quality contemporary needlework, and the older pieces I mentioned in an early blogpost make this a really good day out for sewers of all sorts.




Mr Finch


Finally, finally, finally my copy of Mr Finch’s book has arrived.  I made a cup of good coffee and sat down to read it.  That isn’t my hand, by the way, the picture is from his Facebook gallery.

Mr Finch is a textile artist/man who sews/sculptor.  He makes wonderful creatures from old and recycled textiles.  I was made aware of him by the wonderful Jemima Lumley and started following him on Facebook.  I love the way that his work is unnerving – Unheimlich, as sociologists and psychologists might say, and very beautiful at the same time.  He seems very happy to make images available so here are some pictures:

yellow-bird-small-logo Masked-foxes-small-150x150 spider-ring-small-150x150 Moths-on-Books-small-150x150

I would love one of his foxes in masks or butterflies made from old embroidered tray cloths.  His work with its detail and delicacy makes everything I do look clunky and gauche, but it is still really inspirational.  It’s worth looking at his website:, and his facebook page.

He currently has an exhibition in Anthropologie on the King’s Road, which I hope to get to see before Christmas.

The book is a great treat, beautifully produced, glorious photos and clearly made with love.  Mr Finch: Living in a Fairy Tale World, 2014, published by Glitterati.  Exquisite.





Latest additions to my Laura Ashley project


First of all, I am very sorry about the long gap between this post and the last one.  I know a high proportion of people like to read the blog on Sunday afternoons, and I haven’t been providing you with your reading lately.  This has been due to the pressures of the day job – the start of term is always a lot of hard work, and various everyday life things which have required a lot of time and energy.  But I am back.

One of the things that I have been working on is the Laura Ashley project, particularly the gift element, which I will post on later.  I have also been working on ideas about taking the idea of art as research seriously.  What would it mean if we did produce pieces of art rather than written academic papers?  What would happen to the field of study, and to our careers?  John Dewey, one of the great authorities on education, said that communities which do not produce art are deficient.  But what happens if we try to address this?  And, on the other hand, what happens if we reduce the art to mere decoration or illustration?

Well, a small element of my Laura Ashley project has been to produce some illustrations for some of the stories I have collected while doing my research – often when speaking to quilting groups.  These are pictures taken with my swanky new camera, which are great, but could have done with better light.  I am still experimenting with it, so please bear with me.



This was my trial piece.  I often make a dry run sample to get my self sorted out if there is machine stitching to be done.  That’s why this one has no legs – she was just made with an offcut which suggested the shape of the dress.  It is a really bright piece of probably 80s fabric so I reversed it to give a more vintage look.  Her hair is another of my beloved furnishing fabric samples.  The are probably about 2×3 inches:


The faces are all made of curtain lining, and once again, just about everything here is made from fabric which would have gone into landfill.

So here are the illustrations.


I wore a dark Laura Ashley dress for a family New Year’s Eve party and it was the only time my brother-in-law ever told me I looked beautiful.


Every time we have a big family party for a birthday or an event I add another flag to the bunting and it’s almost always Laura Ashley fabric.


I went on a really romantic walk on the Downs with a new boyfriend.  I was wearing a really full Laura Ashley skirt and a bee flew up it.




I made a Laura Ashley dress to go to college dance, and I made a matching tie for my then boyfriend who is now my husband.


I made tablecloths and napkins for all the big family events and celebrations.


My daughter wanted a very simple wedding.  The bridesmaids wore purple Laura Ashley dresses.  Years later we discovered the marriage had not been legal.


I got married in a Laura Ashley sailor dress.

One of the things I really like about this technique is that as Janet Clare, whose workshop gave me the idea, says, you just don’t know who will turn up.  When you start to stitch the faces all sorts of people appear:


This one has a slight look of Lady Diana.


This one looks like someone in my office who is on maternity leave.


The woman in this one looks like a local historian of note.  And I am pleased that I got just a hint of smugness.


This one doesn’t look like anyone, but does look like she is in danger of growing a moustache.


This one has a look of those 70s folk singers like Grace Slick.


I really liked the tie story.  It reminded me of an old American practice I read about somewhere in which the women going to a dance would make a tie in the fabric of their ballgowns and the men would pull out a tie blindfolded.  They then had to partner the woman who matched their tie, as it were:


So, I had lots of fun making these, and I think the illustrations suit the subject very well.  I am thinking of putting together a self-published picture book with longer versions of the stories.  I will be interested to see if they are accepted as legitimate research.  I think I know the answer.


War collar number two


The second collar in my series of wearable armour for corporate women is this blue neckpiece.  The idea here is to make a protective piece.  So, according to the sort of folklore I was brought up with, blue wards off evil spirits, which is  apparently why we dress baby boys in blue, and thus the piece is largely blue.  In other traditions shiny things dazzle the devil and keep him away from you, so it has lots of golden coins.  The piece is also clearly a nod to the lovely tribal embroideries that are inspirational for so many of us.  The best example for me is probably, as I have said before on the blog, The Shining Cloth:


This is a book that I think everyone should have, as it is packed with glorious photos of amazing decorated cloths.

My piece has been hanging about for some time waiting to be made into something.  I got into a good habit a couple of years ago of using the leftovers at the end of a project to make up a block, and eventually you have enough to make a quilt.  This piece was leftover from a series of small quilts about Walter Benjamin which I made last year:




I had this very pretty little piece made up of bits of hand-dyed fabric:


It had some machine stitching on it:


And I decided to do some hand-stitching with the lovely Madeira lana thread:


Then I squared it up a bit and sewed on the coin charms which I think I got very cheaply at a Hobbycraft sale:


Finally I made the cord:


This one is very light, and I think it could be worn.  Being a major fan of the kaftan, I have several things it might go with.  But it will be interesting to see which ones people do want to wear when I go to the next stage of the project.

Revisiting a classic


I have been working on a new project, which I will blog about shortly, and I thought that I would get out my copy of The Shining Cloth by Victoria Z. Rivers.  It is a great book, a bit of a classic now, published in 1999.  Every page has something gorgeous on it, and the photographs are stunning.   It’s a study of ornamented clothes from a wide variety of countries, but mainly Asia and Africa.  Most of it is tribal costumes.  I pick the book up from time to time when I want some ideas about beading.  I have used it so often that the cover came away from mine as I was using it, which gives it a battered field guide quality which I really like.  I was looking for neckpieces to study, and I find drawing is the very best way of studying something and seeing how it fits together.  Here are the drawings I made from various pages:


I am making a series of neckpieces which I will share in my next blog posts.


A post as much for me as you



Today is a momentous day.  I have finally started work towards my book.  I have sat down and written out plans before for a book which all came to nothing, because I think books have to be ‘ready’ to come, but I actually believe that I am going to write this one.  I suppose that this is a bit of a public declaration that I am going to write it, a bit like getting married in the face of the congregation, and if I tell enough people I am going to do it I will have to see it through – that is my theory at least.

People do like to be dramatic about writing books.  All these quotations are taken from the internet so I don’t have references, but some are worth sharing, particularly the dramatic ones.  So Annie Dillard tells us:

The sensation of writing a book is the sensation of spinning, blinded by love and daring. It is the sensation of a stunt pilot’s turning barrel rolls, or an inchworm’s blind rearing from a stem in search of a route. At its worst, it feels like alligator wrestling, at the level of the sentence.

And Mary Higgins Clark writes in the same vein:

The first four months of writing the book, my mental image is scratching with my hands through granite. My other image is pushing a train up the mountain, and it’s icy, and I’m in bare feet.

I always want to reply to the hell of writing brigade that it could be a lot worse: they could be sunning themselves in Helmand.   Onwards.

E.A. Bucchianeri pursues a slightly different route and one which textile artists may well recognise:

The Book is more important than your plans for it. You have to go with what works for The Book ~ if your ideas appear hollow or forced when they are put on paper, chop them, erase them, pulverise them and start again. Don’t whine when things are not going your way, because they are going the right way for The Book, which is more important. The show must go on, and so must The Book.

 I always think that my best work happens when I let the piece take over and stop trying to impose my will on it.  I suspect however I plan the book it will turn out to have a shape all of its own.

I need to write a book for professional reasons.  If I am going to get promoted, I need to have written the book on something.  This, of course, is a terrible reason to write a book.  Making work for money is always soul-destroying and I think that work that I make, just to make, is always dead and flat and hollow.  So, I have always put off starting a book.  Plus, I don’t really know what I want to write about.  As Jo Lindsell says, “Every writer or wanna-be writer has ideas for books. The problem isn’t finding an idea, it’s choosing one”.  I have been in this position for a long time.  It was only after a discussion with Marybeth Stalp and Theresa Winge at a conference last month that I realised that I should probably just write a book about being an academic quilter: what it means, what it teaches me, what it is worthwhile.  I want to write the book, really to try to sort out what I think about art as a research method.  Flaubert wrote, ‘The art of writing is discovering what you believe.’  The trouble is I am still not sure where to start.  Nadine Gordimer wrote, ‘Writing is making sense of life.  You work your whole life and perhaps you’ve made sense of one small area.’  My problem is, of course, that I am not sure I can ever make sense of this small area as there is so much to read and so many perspectives to take into account, and I dread the reviewers’ comments that you get as part of the publication process.  I shall have to take comfort from the great writing teaching, Natalie Goldberg, ‘Whether you’re keeping a journal or writing as meditation, it’s the same thing.  What’s important is you’re having a relationship with your mind.’  I have had a battering over the summer with people either telling me or demonstrating to me that my mind is not of first-rate quality.  Maybe the slower pace of writing a book, rather than turning out learned articles at speed, will do me good, and help me to develop things more fully before dashing into print.

Before I move on to what my book is going to be about, I can’t help including Kanye West’s modest comment: ‘I feel like I’m too busy writing history to read it.’  Inspiration for us all.

So.  My book is going to be about my work using art as a research method.  I am going to use mainly my Body Shop and Laura Ashley projects as case study examples.  It might look a bit like this:

Part One – Rationale, theory, applications etc

  1. Introduction – What art as research is.   The relevance of art research to Business and Management Studies – or social sciences in general.
  2. A review of qualitative methods – what do people who don’t do big survey data and randomised control trials do and why alternative approaches are valid.  How do we judge this kind of work?
  3. The theoretical background.  This is a method which is entirely consonant with the Material turn in social sciences (that is, the reaction against the idea that the world is entirely shaped by language, to considering the importance of things in the world).
  4. The sociology of cloth – why is cloth so important and so significant?
  5. My method – based on the work of Barrett and Bolt.  Also the importance of sketchbooks and drawing in research – drawing heavily on the work of Michael Taussig.
  6. The so-what question.  People who do this kind of research always make big claims that it produces different knowledge or a different way of knowing.  They seldom produce hard evidence.  I would like to trace exactly what contribution this sort of work does produce.
  7. A note on teaching, including using this sort of work in the classroom.

Part Two – examples

  1. Quilts and quilt making – Nike and Gender, M&S and Leadership, The Body Shop pieces, and Laura Ashley quilt.
  2. Dolls – Nike Doll, Laura Ashley Ghost Dolls, Red Thread dolls.
  3. Artists’ books – 13 Notebooks for Walter Benjamin
  4. Artefacts – Iconic Body Shop product shrines, War Collars for women in organisations
  5. Narratives and storytelling – tracing dominant narratives through textiles, or using narrative from interviews as jumping off points.
  6. Writing as performance – the performativity of words, feminine writing, writing from the heart.
  7. Failures?  What can we learn from the work going wrong?



This is a photo of my mind map for the book on my fairly clear desk.  Plenty of paper on the left to continue my thoughts!






Abigail Mill at Bristol Quilters



We were very lucky last night to have had Abigail Mill to talk to us about her work.  She brought with her an enormous amount of work and talked a lot about how she built up her business.  In some senses she is/was a commercial artist who did a lot of work for publishing companies, particularly in the gift market: greetings cards, calendars, gift wrap, some ceramics and so on.  You will almost certainly have seen her work if you have been into a gift shop or greetings card shop recently.  I am reluctant to reproduce photos of it, even if they are on the web, after she told a horrifying story of having her work stolen by a huge company that she wasn’t in a position to sue.  The following is a little taste:


I liked her new work using much stronger tweed and more earthy colours more than the popular stuff, but I don’t have a photo of that.  She was very generous in passing round her work.

She explained just how hard it is to make a living and keep a grip on your artistic integrity, and there seem to have been a couple of turning points where she decided that the business was dictating her making a bit too much.  Making a profit means making in volume and making what the market wants rather than what you want to make.  She talked about making 400 embroidered cards a day at the height of her business.  She estimated that even after deciding to scale back down, she still spends 80% of her time running the business and only 20% making.  She said that when she decided to go back to a small scale business her retailers were delighted because they wanted to deal with her and not the big impersonal companies they usually buy from.  This seems to be the way of lots of small business people – people want to buy you and not a stand-in for you.  Business is more relational than we sometimes think.

So, that was all very interesting, but I was really fascinated to realise that she had created some of the work that inspired me when I was much younger.  I never made anything, but I loved Juliet Bawden’s series of books on particular themes.  I loved the one on hearts, and the one on hats and Abigail had work in both of them.  The hearts book shows her technique of using multiple layers of organza:



The hat one shows her love of ornate decoration again:

IMG_3620 IMG_3618

I was interested to see that the books were side by side on my bookcase after all these years!   This part of the evening was a really interesting bit of nostalgia.  It took me back to a time when I was interested but didn’t have the skills to make things.  It was before my 10,000 of practice.  I know the 10,000 hours has been criticised, but practice does make us better, and the talk last night brought that home to me.

It was a lovely evening with a lovely speaker.



Interesting book for makers

images-2I seem to have started doing book reviews on this blog.  This wasn’t a conscious choice; I just want to share some books that I have either enjoyed or found interesting.

Andrew Marr’s book about drawing is largely a picture book with lots of illustrations using either conventional pencils and paint or his iPad.  It is a nice book to leaf through just to look at the pictures, and he is a talented artist.  There are some delightful drawings of his daughters, for example and interesting sketches of his travels.  But he also has very interesting things to say about creativity, and in particular, making.  The book is an exhortation to people to take up making, as much as it is about drawing.  So he says on page 90:

Drawing will make you a better person – not morally necessarily, but it makes you think.  It will help you see hidden patterns all around you, and make you a discriminating lover of landscape, faces, and mundane objects.  It becomes an education, which changes your brain as much as learning to play the piano or to dance.  It is about striving to become more fully human.

He acknowledges that drawing involves a certain vulnerability:

To draw is to display yourself – your own mind, the quality of your memory and attentiveness.  (p. 62)

But, he argues, we have a propensity for drawing:

To try to take down the world in in the shorthand notation of line seems a very simple thing to do.  We seem to have an instinct for it.  Mankind has drawn for as long as the record goes back.  But once you begin you realise it is also a personal gamble.  (p. 63)

One of the strong arguments in the book is that to make is to be fully human, and people who don’t make are denying part of themselves.  I have a folk belief that making things makes us healthier, and that stultifying our creativity causes all sorts of illnesses.  I don’t think that makng will make you live forever – my father made radio-controlled model airplanes all his life and died very young, but I do believe that not finding an outlet for our creativity adds to our stress levels and degree of satisfaction with the world.  As Marr says, there is a very simple joy to be had in making something which has never existed in the world.

I have been interested to observe my own progress making daily zentangles.  It really does make you see the world differently.  I look for patterns which I could adapt to make a zentangle pattern in the world around me.  I like sitting back having created something that wasn’t there before.  And, I think, the daily discipline is making me a better drawer.  No-one seems to want to hear that drawing is about practice, but I think it is: practice and confidence which are intertwined.

There is a review of Marr’s book which contains his thoughts about how having his stroke made him a better drawer at the following link:

The book is published by Quadrille, 2013.