Soft launch at Pomegranate

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Saturday was a big day for me.  I invited four friends to come and try out my studio as a space for workshops.  I was really anxious in case it didn’t work.  It is snug, and people have to cooperate about moving around, but it was doable.

I was trialling a workshop on Maying, or bringing in the May which is a tradition we have rather lost in the British Isles.  There are some good books on the Maying traditions including the truly wonderful Arcadia Britainnica, which has great pictures of people dressing up for the May:

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It has some really inspirational photographs of people dressed up for the various festivals, and I particularly like the shaggy costumes of many of the Jack in the Green characters

It all looks very pagan, but according to the Medieval Historian it isn’t.  It might be Medieval, but is most likely Victorian.  As usual, he loves to drain the romance out of just about anything.

Maying is really about celebrating the return of vegetation and greenery to the earth and so the festivities included bringing greenery into the home as a decoration and celebration.  My original idea was to make paper chandeliers along the lines of Polish Pajaki:

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I wanted to do this to try and connect with diverse Bristol which has a large Polish community.  The only problem is that it is incredibly dull to do and takes forever.  The Polish tradition was to make them in the long dark winter evenings and I can see how this would while them away.  Plus, I had no end of trouble getting the strings to suspend the hoop evenly.  So I think that I might change the workshop to making wreaths.  My lovely, lovely guinea pigs, however, were up to the challenge of making chandeliers:

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We had a great day and everything looks wonderful in the brilliant spring sunshine:

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Plus we had a wonderful shared lunch.

Concentration levels were high:

And they gave me some wonderful feedback.  Of course, not everyone took it totally seriously:

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I am greatly encouraged by this and am encouraged to set up my first real expecting people to pay for it workshop.  Watch this space.

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.

 

 

Joy in work: feathers

 

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Very occasionally I get to write one of these posts about when a piece of work just goes amazingly well.  This is one of those occasions.  It feels like I just turn up and provide the hands but the universe does the rest.

This small piece of work is part of a series I am making after my visit to the wonderful Shore Cottage Studio I have already mentioned.  I collected some inspirational pieces on the beach and then did some mark making and then dyed some fabric and thread, including making some pieces in the microwave using very ordinary dylon.  I have already blogged about using straight stitches on one piece, inspired by the striations on the beach pebbles.  This piece was inspired by the feathers I collected with Sue:

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I knew that I wanted to do something on feathers and I had bought a sizzix dye machine dye of the feather shape in preparation, but this morning I went to my work table and had completed the piece in about an hour.  It just fell together.  I found the background fabric which is a lovely piece of pure Scottish wool in my pile of samples bought by weight round the corner from me in a curtain maker’s shop, I found exactly the right sized piece of cotton bump to work as the padding, and I found the black Mettler quilting thread sitting on top of the tub of threads I use most often.  I threaded up the machine, got it ready for free machining and off I went.  I did make a sample, which I do more often now, but that went really well and I was off:

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I was a bit worried that I have made so many leaves over the years that I would do that rather than feathers, but it seemed to work.  The secret there was just to do it, not to think, just run the machine fast and get on with it:

 

The very dark and more navy blue pieces are bought fabric.  Mine is the more grey and less densely coloured pieces like the horizontal feather in the above pictures, but the bought fabric blended really well and allowed me to make a bigger piece.

I think you could argue that using the sizzix machine is cheating, but I think that the creativity bit comes in with how you use it, how you cut the fabric, and how you stitch it.  Plus it speeds up the process that you can experiment and do the what if? stage much more quickly.

I did hand cut some feathers as can be seen in the above sketchbook pages, but as the sizzix will cut bondaweb, I intend to use it and cut out the drudgery.  For information, I have the Bit Shot Sizzix Plus:

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I had it for Christmas last year and have really enjoyed using it.

But the point of the post is to record one of those small projects when everything goes really well and when it is a delight to make, and when I experience what Deming and William Morris describe as joy in work.  I don’t think we take enough time to enjoy what we have made with our hands.  I think we think it’s in some way conceited, but I really think we should.

 

Concerning dolls and perfection

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For my birthday, my very generous mother bought me a Mimi Kirchner doll.  I have wanted one of Kirchner’s dolls since I came across her work in a book on doll making and used it to create my Laura Ashley husband dolls.

There happened to be some for sale in Kirchner’s Etsy shop and my mother gave me the money to buy one.  They are expensive, and put customs and various handling fees on top and they become very expensive, but they really are worth it.

I chose one of her tattooed lumberjack dolls.  The minute I saw him with his tattoo of Washington on his chest, I knew that he was the man for me:

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It was the time of Obama’s visit to Britain and Nigel Farrage called him the most anglophobic president ever, which made historians all over the land call out in unison: not as anglophobic as Washington.  This made it possible to choose between the lovely dolls on Kirchner’s Etsy page.  He arrived in a big box and was wrapped up in tissue paper.  It was love at first sight.  I decided to call him Richard after Richard Armitage, a splendid-looking actor with a big beard:

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This is a great picture of him by the photographer Sarah Dunn.   I love the ‘here I am just back from the high seas’ feel of this picture.  Armitage has blue eyes and my Richard has brown eyes but otherwise they are peas from a pod.  I think Mimi loves him too as he appears on her blog with some pieces she took to a show:

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I have, and this is a bit weird, fallen in love with him.  He is so perfect.

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You can see in this photo quite clearly that he has beautifully embroidered fingers.

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In this one you can see the embroidery delineating his ears.

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This one shows the accomplished pattern matching on his flannel shirt.  Everything about him is exquisitely made.  As a doll maker myself, I know that this doll is a piece of perfection and I know how hard that is to achieve.  I love him because he is a piece of hyper-masculine protection (‘Step aside while I lift that tree trunk off your car, little lady’) but also because of his invisible construction and attention to detail.  Consider, for example, the way that his braces have the suggestion of loops in the above photograph.

Moving onto my own efforts, I mentioned in a previous post that I was following an on-line arts class with Carla Sonheim.  Part of the process is to make a series of work to develop a theme.  I was very taken with some pieces of children’s art, but at one point I thought my series would be dolls inspired by the work of Joan Eardley:

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Eardley died very young and so never really reached the attention and appreciation she deserved.  She painted magnificent seascapes, but I love her pictures of Glasgow children living in slums.

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They could be exploitative or sentimentalised, but I don’t think they are either.  I think she paints them with great gentleness, honestly but with love.  I wanted to make some dolls in the same spirit.  This is the doll that I came up with:

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I love her.  She is made from my own pattern because I wanted a pronounced nose and proper feet.  Her jumper is hand-knitted to my own pattern.  I am so happy with this because it is the first pattern that I have ever written and it absolutely fits her.  I wanted it to look a bit small so that it looked like she was growing out of it.  Her skirt is made in panels and quilted:

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Her hair is meant to look unkempt although it is made from quite upmarket double knitting wool.

I was talking about her to someone in the week who asked me what was so wonderful about her.  I thought for a bit and then said, ‘She’s perfect’.  And this is the case.  It might sound conceited, but what I meant was, she achieved exactly what I wanted to achieve.  I have enough technical skill to be able to achieve the effect I want to get.  I can make a pattern, make the neck stand up, construct her hair so that she can have a side parting, give her rosy cheeks, give her dotty eyes, knit her a sweater, design a gored skirt that fits.  This is the 10,000 hours of practice which has been so popular as an idea.  It is a delight to know how to do something like this with my hands.  Perfection here is having the repertoire of skills to express an idea.  I am largely persuaded that we come from a gene pool selected to persist because its possessors know how to make things (shelters, textiles, food and so on).  Part of being human is to make, and making well is a great delight.  This delight comes through Kirchner’s dolls.  She clearly delights in the details like the french knot buttons down Richard’s shirt and keeping those checks running far more smoothly than they would in a real lumberjack’s shirt.  I delight in making a doll which captures something of Eardley’s treatment of the tenement children, something which witnesses with warmth and generosity but does not sanitise or sentimentalise.

What I did at the weekend

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This weekend was spent filling up the reservoir, as it were, as I spent a lot of time with my Grate Frend Beatriz at exhibitions and in art shops.  On Friday we went to the blockbuster exhibition about Alexander McQueen at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and on Saturday we went to the Fitwilliam Museum in Cambridge to see the Treasured Possessions exhibition.

I may get round to writing about the McQueen exhibition at some later point, but for now all I can say is that it is every bit as stunning as all the publicity for it says it is.  It is more like art than fashion, visually stunning with brilliantly chosen music.  It is disturbing and horrifying and delightful and enrapturing.  If you like beads, embellishment, fabric, beautiful technique, which you probably do or you wouldn’t be reading this, then this is paradise.  But equally you could see demons around every corner and it wasn’t hard to see why he took his own life.  So sobering as well as seductive.

On Sunday morning Beatriz and I spent some time in her studio working with what we had seen and, in my case, pouring liquid watercolour as a starting point for a design based on the impression McQueen had left on us.  This is mine:

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Treasured Possessions, on the other hand, was small and rather restrained, certainly compared with the ravishing excesses of the McQueen experience.  It was about material culture, and in particular, shopping and consumption, with a big emphasis on the eighteenth century.  Something I would never have predicted was just how lovely a set of Meissen figurines depicting people selling things would be.  The very word Meissen brings back Sunday teatime and ‘Going for a Song’ (I am that old) and ‘Antiques Roadshow’.  But these were delightful.IMG_4423

My very quick sketch of the Meissen figurines.

I got a huge amount of inspiration for my work on Laura Ashley at this show, which I will write about later, but what I really I want to talk about is an accompanying exhibition to the main show called ‘A Young Man’s Progress‘.

This is a collaboration between sisters, artist-photographer Maisie Broadhead and fashion designer Bella Newell (Burberry); and Professor Ulinka Rublack.  In it they take a remarkable book, a collection of images commissioned between 1520 and 1560 by Matthäus Schwarz of his most fashionable outfit of the year and recreate or reimagine them telling the fictional story of Matthew Smith, a young man from North London, who is obsessed with clothes.  The modern photographs are sumptuous, I think lifesize, images of exquisite clothing, but what makes them so arresting is the witty reworkings of the original picture.  Now, while the Fitzwilliam has postcards of the contemporary pieces, it does not have the corresponding images of the sixteenth century source material so I can only demonstrate using this not very lovely snapshot taken with my phone:

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So we can at least see the substitution of the North London scooter for the horse, and possibly appreciate the way the cut of the coat echoes the folds on the original tunic.  I really liked the weapon being replaced with the mobile phone in this image.

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It’s a shame these aren’t clearer but there is a very good video on the Fitzwilliam site.  I loved these photos and the process to create them because they were clever, inventive, aesthetically lovely and they made me laugh outloud.  I really recommend this little show, which is separate from the main one, and free and on until 6 September, if you happen to be in Cambridge.

What I have been doing since it seems like forever

10425415_10153297601865774_8175496299219269779_n-1Last weekend, which was the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, things had got so bad in my sewing room that I couldn’t face going into it, and when I did I found it very hard to navigate across the floor.  It was like reverse stepping stones: I had to leap between the bags of who knows what all over the floor (see above photo).  So, I girded my loins and decided to have a tidy up and clear-out.  I knew that I had a good three days, which meant that I could do a bit at a time as I know from past experience that just clearing out is really boring and actually quite tiring.  So I spend three or four hours a day and finally finished with an hour yesterday.  I had five bin liners of assorted rubbish and one for the charity shop.

I went from this:

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to this:

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A ‘kind friend’ sent me this to taunt me:

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And it is, of course, the ideal, but it’s a scrapbooker’s stash.  Textiles, the way I do them, require a huge stash of bits which are unruly and will never stack away like these beautifully racked pens.  So, I was impressed with myself for getting the room to a stage where I can easily walk round it to find things and to put them away.

While I was doing it, though, I couldn’t help thinking about a publication called Where Women Create which has the most mind-boggling images of women’s studios and work spaces.  I bought the book when it came out with a missclick on Amazon, and my mother and I really enjoyed being cynical about it and its perfections:

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It is now a magazine, and if you put ‘Where Women Create’ into Pinterest you get a whole wadge of images of exquisite workrooms:

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I think this is a kind of pornography for women.  It presents us with an ideal of what is desirable that very few of us have the means to attain.  I don’t have the space for these remarkable rooms, even though I have the entire loft conversion to myself, and I don’t have the resources to kit it out in this beautiful way.  Fortunately, we can dismiss this as fantasy and just enjoy the absurdity of the pictures (unlike pornography itself), and the book really is a delight in its own way.

What did surprise me, though, about my own room, was just how deflated I felt after I had cleared it up, and how I haven’t really wanted to make anything since I did it.  It feels a bit like the muse was disturbed and has gone off to find a new home.   I was expecting to feel elated and proud of myself, but I just feel a bit empty.  Also, I had one of those terrible intimations of mortality: I knew that I would never have time to use all the stuff in that room.  It would outlive me, and that was quite depressing.

I would be really interested in hearing if anyone else has experienced this flat feeling after clearing up what was clearly a very creative mess – in my case.  I’m really not sure how to account for it.

 

 

Six pear notebooks

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Over the Bank Holiday weekend I have been making strenuous efforts to clear up my work room – photographic evidence to follow.  But, in my experience,  there is only so much clearing up you can do before you become bored with the whole thing and give up.  So at various intervals I did some sewing.  These six little notebooks, which are pocket-sized A6, I think, were made during one such break.  I have made them to say thanks to the people who helped me to prepare a bid for funding.  They are made from fabric which would otherwise go into landfill, plus a bit of organza in my stash.  They were very quick to make, and were one of those projects where everything just fell into place.

Over the years I have developed my own set of symbols, some of which are obvious such as oak leaves for strength, some not so straightforward: peacock feathers for authority.  Pears symbolise the imagination for me, with a bit of danger or difficulty thrown in.  In fairy stories sitting under a pear tree was asking for trouble, and in the weird Grimm fairy story ‘The Handless Maiden’ the pears are magical.  Plus, they are my absolute favourite fruit, and easy to draw!  So, they seemed appropriate to say thanks for help towards preparing a bid to do exploratory and innovative work.

They will be going to their new owners next week.  News about the outcome of the bid to follow.

van Gogh in purple and yellow

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This is the second sample from the Vincent van Gogh workshop, this time working with purple and yellow, which co-incidentally were the colours of my school uniform.  The-Sower-Vincent-Van-Gogh

I love this combination, although it took me years ever to wear purple again after the school experience.  I am not quite sure about the finished piece, where the technique was Roumanian couching, where you use the same thread as the thread you are couching and the holding thread.  I did a little bit of that, and we practised sewing curved couching threads to simulate van Gogh’s swirling skies:

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I much preferred the technique we learned for working with thick threads which was to knot them and couch them down.  I really took to this and, although I ended up with a blob which looks a bit like a fried egg, I enjoyed using knotted yarns of different thicknesses to get a domed effect.

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As ever, it was improved by a bit of bling, in this case some bronze beads:

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I loved the way that they sank into the couching, as if they had been inlaid.

 

What I did at the weekend

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This isn’t what I did last weekend, but the weekend before, a very blustery weekend in January spent in Porthleven in Cornwall with my very excellent friends, Alison, Ceri and Becky.  Alison’s family has a house right on the sea wall, the white house first to the left of the stone building with the tower.  It is unusual because it has sea views on both sides because it is built on a feature jutting out into the harbour:

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These weekends are fantastic, because Alison usually phones up and says the house is free on a particular date, come if you can.  It generally works out that we have a wander round the little town, which has yet to become St Ivesified and still looks like it could conceivably be a working harbour – although Rick Stein has just opened a place there.  These are some pictures I took of it because I felt I had to take the standard inspiration ones!

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I really loved those pastel float things on the boat here.  And no-one can resist lobster pots with a splash of turquoise:

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We walked further out and saw this:

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Sadly, no wrestling to report on, but across the bay you can just about see the remains of the tin mines:

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There were also some great flower forms to sketch:

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And this one looks a lot like the verdigogh zentangle which I have never found easy to do:

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which I have used before in my Collars project:

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Plus, owing to infatuation at an impressionable age, I can never pass by a stone wall without thinking of Kaffe Fassett:

 

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The informal deal on these weekends seems to have worked out to be that they do the cooking, which is wonderful, and I provide a workshop on the Saturday afternoon.  As no-one had done monoprinting with a Gelli plate, that’s what we decided to do.  I took two big bags of paint, stamps, rollers, paper, fabric and stencils and gave them a tiny bit of input and they were off:

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I took pretty cheap acrylic paint so that no-one would feel inhibited about splashing it about, and this was a bit of a false economy as the Gelli plates seem to work better with thicker paint with more pigment.  But we got some great results and had a lovely time trying out techniques, particularly with the stencils:

 

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I had never used the Gelli plates on fabric before and was eager to see what happened.  We used yards of waste curtain lining, which was a kind of cotton sateen, from my mother’s friend’s son, Graham.  I like using this fabric, and have used lots of his samples in my recent applique, because otherwise it would go into landfill.  So it is a form of recycling.  It is also something from nothing, which appeals, and I think that having a lot of materials – yards of fabric and plenty of cheap paint somehow gives people permission to experiment and try things out.  The worst that can happen is that it really does end up in landfill.

The printing on fabric went really well, and I will put some pictures of what I made in a later post.  I printed enough to make a reasonably large piece, although the stitching will largely be machine done as the paint has stiffened the fabric even with some textile medium in it.

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I shall end with some lunatic surfers who were kite surfing in crashing waves:

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Public engagement – Thinking Futures Workshop and Glamorgan Quilters

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It has been one of the busiest two weeks of my life, which is why I haven’t posted anything recently.  First my lovely PhD student, Zara, had her viva.  Although this is her oral exam on her thesis, I was quietly nervous as there is no way of predicting what questions will come up.  I had prepared her as well as I could with my colleague, Mary, but there is still unpredictability involved.  In the event she sailed through it and the examiners loved her work.  I am delighted for her.

Then, the following day, I went and gave a talk to the Glamorgan Quilters.  They are a lovely group and a delight to talk to.  One of them gave me some tiny scraps of Laura Ashley fabric which I don’t have in my collection and which I intend to do something with.  Another member brought this lovely bag to show me:

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I love everything about this bag.  The piece is like a time capsule of what we were doing in the 70s and 80s and the handles are just delightful as is the quilter who brought it along.

After the talk I went into Cowbridge with one of my colleagues, Sheena, who had come along to support me.  She took me to a sort of indoor antiques/vintage market with a tea room on the side.  I got a packet of Laura Ashley prints, and somehow managed to spend £17 without blinking.  We had a great time.  Cowbridge is the place to go for swanky dress and shoe shops, by the way.  I got off lightly in retrospect with my £17.

Wednesday was my Thinking Futures Day.  This is part of a ten-day-long programme of events put on by the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law in which we try to reach people who wouldn’t normally come into the University to hear about our research.  I did a workshop on patchwork and quilting and the contribution that quilters make to the fabric of our culture and society.  I held it at the Friends Meeting House where Bristol Quilters meets, and we had two wonderful speakers, Harriet Shortt from UWE, and Jenny Hall from Bournemouth University.  They were both great, speaking very passionately about their work.  I talked a bit about the academic study of patchwork and quilting, and gave an update on my Laura Ashley research.  I notice there are a lot of ‘I’s and ‘me’s’ in that paragraph, but really it was a communal day.

I really wanted it to be a bit of a party for Bristol Quilters, to celebrate their contribution to society, as well as to my research.  So, we, my Grate Frend Ceri, and I tried to add some little touches to make it feel like a series of small treats as well as an educational day.  Ceri made these wonderful biscuits:

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The stamp set comes from Lakeland.  These were a great hit.  I made parkin, which I always associate with Bonfire Night which is when we held the workshop.  Alison, Stephanie and Ceri contributed homemade cakes and biscuits and traybakes for afternoon tea.   Ceri and I had already had an afternoon making posies for the table, and in the process realising that a second career as florists was probably not for us:

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This is the pile of things I had to take in for the day:

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We were aiming for amplitude and generosity:

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As well as cake and sandwiches, there were notebooks for taking notes in the morning, and cards with vintage fabric and needles ready-threaded in the afternoon.  I’ll post some pictures of those separately.  There was also fabric very kindly donated by Flo-Jo in Bristol in the afternoon for our sewing bee:

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People worked on a variety of things, but the most popular were the little coverlets for the premature babies unit in Southmead Hospital in Bristol.  These are 16″x20″ unwadded patchworks which we donate to the unit.  The mothers get to keep the quilts no matter what the outcome, and there is always a demand for a steady stream of replacement quilts.  They are exactly the right size for a group project like this.  Although I think only one top was finished completely, Ruth Case, one of the Bristol Quilters, very generously volunteered for finishing duty.

Here are some more images from the day:

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And here is my friend Beatriz talking to Eva, the organiser:

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I didn’t take as many photos as I would have liked of the speakers because I was too busy listening, but here is the marvellous Jenny  and her quilt:

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And I didn’t have my camera when Harriet was speaking so this is a photograph of a doll that her mother made of her in her wedding dress that she brought to show us:

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Finally, I spend a lot of time trying to find writers who have something sensible and useful to say about leadership.  There isn’t much out there, I think, that isn’t about people desperate to justify wanting to be in charge.  They should hang their heads in shame and come and look at the self-managing teams which effortlessly formed, performed and disbanded throughout the day, without my having to ask, to make sure that everything went smoothly.  Not least of these were the tea and coffee makers and the washers-up, real unsung heroic examples of distributed leadership.  Thanks to all of them:

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