Don’t look at me in that tone of voice.

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Knowing that I am a big fan of the writer, a very dear friend of mine gave me a bottle of Dorothy Parker gin.  The gin is the sort of alcohol-rich distillation that would make the average sailor wince, but the bottle was wonderful with a picture of Mrs Parker printed on the inside and a little biography on the back:

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It was too good to throw away, and so I decided to make it into a lamp.  I bought the stick-in bulb fitting and more or less forgot about it, as it took us so long to get through the ‘navy strength’ gin.  When the bottle was finally empty, I started to think about a shade.  For some reason I decided that a lampshade with some of Mrs Parker’s quotes would be just the thing, so I bought a kit which promised to be very easy to make up, and found some cream fabric which had an almost imperceptible pile and took sharpie markers reasonably well.  I made some preliminary sketches and a list of some of her best-known wisecracks:

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and then I transferred it all to the fabric.  I took a deep breath and opened up the various kits:

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Personally, I am terrified when I see anything described as ‘easy’,  but this kit did come with accompanying You Tube video which was very useful.  Most of the job was really easy, and, as the woman in the video kept on assuring me would happen, the results were professional.  The only tricky bit was pushing the excess fabric down behind the wire rings to give a smooth, and, yes, professional finish:

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They are terribly keen in the packaging and on the video to encourage you to start a lampshade making business, which is a bit premature, I think.  Apparently these make great gifts, so look out.

In the end, I think the shade is out of proportion with the bottle base, but as it was just for fun and did allow me to keep the bottle and express my appreciation of Mrs Parker, probably that does not matter.  I also got to use a very old iron I found in a recent clear-out, and a very new, very small table top ironing board from IKEA:

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Very useful in a craft room.

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Apologies

 

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I am sorry that there has been so little activity on the blog recently.  This is because there has been so much of it in life.  I have been incredibly busy for the last two months, and am just about starting to catch up.

All I have had time for is some participation in an on-line drawing course by Carla Sonheim.  So the drawings here are finding animals in photographs of cracks in the pavement.  Really quite relaxing, although the zentangles did rather take over mine!

Back to textiles shortly.

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New for Now: The Origin of Fashion Magazines – my sketches

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The Medieval Historian and I decided to go to Amsterdam for our wedding anniversary this year.  I wanted to see the new entrance to the Rijksmuseum, and the exhibition, New for Now: The Origin of Fashion Magazines, the catalogue for which the MH had given me after his previous visit there.  The exhibition is now over which is a shame because it turned out to be fascinating even for the MH who was not expecting to enjoy it.  It was a show of their collection of early fashion magazines, and the style of drawing was as interesting as the clothes for me.  Although you could take pictures and the illustrations in the catalogue (plentiful on-line) were magnificent, I think there is something about drawing which is useful because it makes you look hard and notice.  So here are my sketches – pretty rough – done in waterproof pen and ink, with a wash applied later in the hotel room, which is why there are colour notes on them.  I am sorry that for some reason I can’t enlarge them without the dreaded pixellation today, but they will give an idea:

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Incidentally, I loved the Rijksmuseum extension.  I love the idea of a main road running through a museum.  That really does bring in hard to reach audiences.

You win some, you lose some

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I came across Carla Sonnheim’s blog as part of a weekly challenge that I periodically dash to catch up with.  Sonnheim has lots of ideas for doing art with children as well as stuff for adults and is well worth checking out.  There are some lovely free short tutorials on the blog which caught my imagination.  One of them was an exercise using washi tape, which is basically exquisite, addictive, collectable printed Japanese masking tape.  My favourite is the MT brand, which I think just stands for masking tape.  I am embarrassed about the amount of it I have got.  It is about £3-£5 a roll so you think it’s a cheap treat, but it rather adds up.  You can get it everywhere now.  IKEA do a nice but limited range, Paperchase has lots, including authentic-looking Japanese designs, as well as lovely vintage-looking stuff.  I even found a reasonable range in Wilkos.  You could also use ordinary masking tape and colour it with felt pens or similar.  So, if you want to have a go at this it is easy to find the materials.

The exercise involved cutting or tearing five pieces of washi which you arrange on a piece of paper in any way you like.  Then you take a different roll of tape and add five more random pieces this time making sure to overlap them with the first five.  Then you turn the paper round and look for an animal in it.  This is fairly easy as we are programmed in some way to recognise faces in abstract shapes and finding animals is only one step up.  Then, when you have found the beast, you add more tape to fill in outlines and build it up and finally finish off with a pen to draw in details and firm up silhouettes.

I had a lot of success with this.  First off was a found poodle with a jaunty hat:

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Then a stretching dog:

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Then a bird partially hidden in foliage:

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I really liked these and they reminded me of the wonderful work of Peter Clark who makes exquisite paper collages of dogs like this one:

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So, I thought the next step would be to try to do this in fabric and thread.  I do a lot of drawing with the needle embroidery, and so I was confident I could do a nice sketchy drawing.

I decided to recycle and use the baby wipes I use for putting paint onto my sketchbook pages, dried out and pressed.  I ironed them onto bondaweb and cut them into shapes.  I learned my first lesson right there.  A lot of the energy of the washi pieces comes from the fact that they are torn not cut.  My cut up wipes looked more like tangram pieces.  Tangram is a square cut into seven pieces which you arrange to make pictures.  I think you are supposed to use all seven, and I hated doing it as a child, so that put me in a slightly bad mood – reinventing something I hate:

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I persevered and then discovered that the sewing machine, which is my very grate frend, really did not want to stitch through baby wipes and fusible adhesive onto furnishing fabric with cheap polyester thread.  I gave up in the end as you can see in the elephant.  Anyway, here are the results:

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This is my found whale, and here is a detail:

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I include this to show the very subtle marbling on this wipe used to apply deep blue acrylic paint (I dispose of the cloths responsibly, by the way).  Here is the elephant:

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As you can probably see, I finished them off with a very heavy felt marker pen.

So, I loved the washi versions, and the second learning point was that they worked, particularly the poodle, because the washi was so good.  But the technique did not transfer that well to cloth because the edges were too defined and mechanical.  I couldn’t tear the wipes and so a lot of the spontaneity was lost.

What I did yesterday

 

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Something slightly different today.  I have been working on presentations of working women in a suite of magazine issues from 1984-1985.  The magazine is Working Woman, which I just about remember.  It gave lots of very sober advice to women about how to succeed in the executive positions they were just beginning to get after the second wave of feminism.  There are some timepieces like why we should have Sunday trading which seem like social history now, and some very dull solid advice pieces on pensions and employment rights, as well as really thorough profiles of blue-chip companies (including the late lamented Habitat group), presumably so that you could prepare yourself thoroughly for interview or investment purposes.

My colleagues, Sam Warren and Harriet Shortt and I have been looking at the advice given to women on how to present themselves to be taken seriously at work in terms of clothes and accessories, hair and make-up.  I don’t want to rewrite the article here, but I thought I would put the drawings I did in the blog, just for interest.  I did them because I have decided that this is a much easier way of handling things than trying to get (expensive) copyright.  So these are sketches to illustrate a text and not beautiful drawings, but they were fun to do and I hope you like them.

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Latest additions to my Laura Ashley project

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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:

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This one has a slight look of Lady Diana.

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

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

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

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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:

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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.

 

The joy of making

 

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I am not entirely sure what this post is going to be about.  I spent quite a lot of the weekend sewing, which was a massive luxury.  I am preparing a new talk which will be given its first airing next week, and I am desperately trying to finish some samples.  The picture at the top of the post is an example of the drawing with the machine technique that I have just begun to experiment with.  It is a made-up plant in bud stitched onto linen and what I always call cotton bump – curtain interlining which has a great texture for pieces like wall quilts which don’t have to be washed.  If you do wash it you get a great antique effect.

I thought it would be worth talking about something called ‘flow’ in the creativity literature, because I really experienced it when making these small panels.  I enjoyed making them very much, but it was more than just liking doing the work, it was more like what William Morris called ‘joy in work’, an extra dimension to having fun with a hobby.

Flow is a term coined by Mihályi Csíkszentmihályi, a Hungarian theorist of creativity and happiness, because in his field work his interviewees told him that they were experiencing something that felt like being carried along by a river.  Csíkszentmihályi was interested in what happens when you become so immersed in something that you lose all track of time, and although you have worked hard you have more energy than when you started.  Sewing can definitely be an example of this, when your mind seems to go into a different mode of thought.  For this to happen, Csíkszentmihályi posits three conditions:

  1. You have to be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress. This adds direction and structure to the task.  So you need to know roughly what you are trying to achieve – quilt or a panel or garment.
  2. The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows them to adjust their performance to maintain the flow state.  So, is it any good?  Is the sewing machine doing what you want it to do?  Does the thread keep on breaking?  Have you estimated amounts well?
  3. You have to have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and your own perceived skills. You have to have confidence in your ability to complete the task at hand.  So, it must be hard but not too hard.  You have to work at it, but not be so challenged that you are tense or anxious.

The flow state is characterised by a number of requirements:

  1. You have to be completely in the moment and to be able to concentrate fully and intensely – which you can do when working, particularly if you have a room set up for it like me.
  2. There has to be some action like sewing and this requires awareness of what is going on, again a sort of focussed concentration.
  3. You have to lose yourself in it.  I think that this is akin to a phenomenon which I often have, and which other makers understand but those who do not make find hard to comprehend, which is the feeling sometimes when I make something that I didn’t make it, that it made itself and I just provided the hands.  Very odd.
  4. You have to be in control, though.  You make the choices and the decisions, which we all do when we sew – or draw.  You decide when to finish a seam or what stitch length or tension to use.  When I am doing the free machining, I decide on the way I move the fabric to produce the appropriate mark.
  5. Time, as I mentioned above, is distorted.  You don’t know if you have been sewing for fifteen minutes or three hours.  Time seems to stand still.  Great sports players talk about time slowing down so that they can make the perfect shot at their leisure.
  6. You feel that what you are doing is intrinsically valuable and worthwhile.  So even while you are making you feel things going well, producing something desirable if only to yourself, that even if no-one ever saw it, it is worth doing.  It is pleasing to the maker.  It is rewarding in and of itself.

And it makes you feel better.  I tried to write down what I felt during the sewing session, which is difficult after the event.  I described it as stimulating, bewitching, addictive, cleansing and energising and flow.

The reason is, I think, that I rather fell in love with what I was making and, all false modesty aside, it was really easy.  I got my background, used some 501 spray to hold it to the cotton bump and then cut out my applique and stitched with a very heavy dark grey thread:

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Really easy, and yet the result was very pleasing.  I began to reflect on whether this was because I was making something very derivative which struck me as being in good taste which I recognised as arty rather than being something authentically mine.  I wondered if this was a different manifestation of the just show up and provide the hands and the universe will do the rest phenomenon.  I am not sure.  I don’t know if this is derivative or does mark a new departure in my style.  It is heavily influenced by Janet Clare, but I see myself in it.  Certainly in scenes like this:

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which has quite a bleak and melancholy feel to it.

But I want to return to the joy and delight in bunging down some fabric, stitching into it and amazing yourself with what emerges.  I was happy to see these pieces turn up:

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These eggs were made with really gorgeous tiny fabric samples of silk, cotton and wool furnishing textiles.  I couldn’t throw them away despite their size, and was so glad when I found a use for them.  Lay me a pretty egg is a reference to a commenter on a recent post telling me that it was her dialect for someone making a mistake – a nicer version of ‘he really laid an egg there’.  I wanted to use the phrase.

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These are made up berries, but the quality of the line for the stem and branches really delighted me.  This sounds immodest, but I had the feeling that I could have closed my eyes and this would have come out right.  It is also completely different to my usual drawing style which is a single continuous line filled in with a watercolour wash:

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This is  sketchbook page showing my usual simplified but quite definite drawing style.  The sketchiness is great in the embroideries.  It allows for all sorts of instant corrections if the drawing goes badly:

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This is another interesting example of this project allowing me to explore some theory that I have worked with for years in a new way.  It is a good example of action research – but that would have to be the subject of another post.

 

Janet Clare Workshop

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I was very lucky last week to go to Janet Clare’s talk at Bristol Quilters and then to her workshop the following day.  The talk was about publishing her books, and came in a series of talks we have had recently on quilting as a business, rather than as technique.  She had some really interesting advice about how to be a professional artist.  I liked the idea that she put on a uniform – which you can see in the picture above: her customised pinny, a pair of clogs and red lipstick.  She also challenges herself to do one risky thing on Fridays which she is convinced bears dividends.  She is a very good speaker and it was a stimulating talk.

The next day I did her workshop on drawing with a sewing machine, which is something that I haven’t done before.  Clearly she is great at it:

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And being a dog lover, I really liked the terriers that occur in her work.

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I didn’t see this lovely pieced landscape with the tiny house until the end of the day or I might have tried to make one.  But you do need an artist’s eye to carry off this sort of playing with scale.

In the end, though, I really took to the drawing with the sewing machine element, and found I had a bit of an aptitude for it.  Our first exercises were structured really well.  We started with some calico and a wadding layer and wrote our names, and then drew a face using our machines..  These two elements were the most difficult and so everything was easier after that.  I thought that was a great way to teach this technique:

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Then people shouted out animals that we had to draw out of our imaginations, which was more of a challenge.

I liked Janet’s approach to this.  If it doesn’t work: throw it away.  It’s too hard to unpick tiny machine stitches.  Just start again.  Which is why she starts with faces.  If you get that right the rest is relatively easy.  I also liked the way she said just start stitching and see who turns up.  She was right, characters did turn up like this one that I made (and see the disapproving bird in the sample above):

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After we had got this far we had to do a repeat element and think about the connections.  Mine were pretty straight forward and based on zentangles, so the links weren’t that interesting:

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Janet’s parade of ducks showed how it should be done:

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After we had stitched a base outline, we moved onto fusing fabric on top, which we then stitched into again.  So I could redeem myself with some acorns and some linked leaves down the side, and some ladybirds which I introduced because they are my friend Beatriz’s favourites:

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Once we had done this we were off to design our own pieces.  Sadly my camera was full so I could only take a few photos of the pieces that other participants produced, but they were lovely:

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I was a bit stuck because I didn’t have much of an idea what I wanted to do, so I used some of the sketches I made at the Gudrun Sjoden exhibition on a recent visit:

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I know she has no feet, but I couldn’t bear to cut off the trousers!  After this I decided to make some fashion plates:

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Finally I made a nice piece which did not fit with the other fashion models.  It was supposed to be a bit Dior new look, but it ended up rather flamenco-y:

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But not too bad, considering it was free-hand out of my head:

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Once more, everything I used with regard to fabric was scraps saved from landfill.  I like this because it makes you not precious about using the fabric or cutting into it.  This is all furnishing fabric scrap, mainly from sample books, but that is all you need for small-scale applique.

I really liked this technique, although I did a lot more stitching than other people, including Janet, so mine has a more scribbly finish, and I will use it again, probably when I get on to working on Gudrun Sjoden.

 

 

Revisiting a classic

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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:

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