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

IMG_0367

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:

IMG_0370

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:

IMG_0753

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

IMG_0363

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:

IMG_0371

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:

IMG_0366

Very useful in a craft room.

Teeny tiny sewing machine

IMG_5274

I have just come back from a long weekend break in Spain.  While we were there we had a less than successful stay in Murcia, where the Medieval Historian had been many years previously.  Sadly, everything shuts in Murcia on a Monday which was the only full day we had there, so I did not get to do my very favourite thing of sketching in an archeological or folk museum.  But, looking on the bright side, the shops were open and were having major sales.  I will blog about them separately, but this is a quick post about a tiny hand-held sewing machine that I bought in Tiger.  I think it is originally a Norwegian firm, but Tiger now has lots of branches in the UK, and is worth going into regularly as it turns over its stock very rapidly.  I bought these sequins, for example, in the Bristol, and they are now permanently out of stock:

IMG_1287

The other reason for going in is that they play great music and I had a nice time singing Tamla Motown classics with the assistant in the Brighton branch on another trip.

Having said all this, it is a cheap and cheerful shop with an interesting selection of things for makers such as rubber stamps, beads, sketchpads, washi tape and so on, but once it’s gone it’s gone.

In Murcia I picked up a pair of snipping scissors with a case which looks like a long thin mouse (I am always looking for scissors to take on planes), and the mini sewing machine.  It is a good job that I did.  I assumed that the product range would be the same in Murcia and Bristol, but I was wrong.  I can find no sign of this product on the British Tiger website, even though I bought it less than 48 hours ago.

So, I bought it because it was so tiny.  I knew that I was never going to make a full set of curtains with it, but I thought it might have potential.  It does sew quilting weight cotton reasonably well, but the stitch is a chain stitch, like the one that I used to have on my toy sewing machine as a little girl, and which I wish I had held onto.  The best bit of this is that the chain stitch is so tiny and delicate:

IMG_5275

I wonder if it has potential for use in embroidery.  The stitch is far tinier and regular than I could ever achieve.  I will experiment and report back.

 

Trio of dolls

IMG_1257

These dolls are made from Jess Brown‘s book, The Making of a Rag Doll.  Her dolls are really ‘arty’.  They look like the sort of thing Miss Haversham might have sitting next to the crumbling wedding cake.  I have always really wanted one since I saw them featured in Selvedge, the arty textiles lover’s bible.  They aren’t ruinously expensive, but they would be an investment rather than a little self-present.  I was delighted, therefore, on a trip to my mother’s to find Brown’s book in the big branch of Waterstone’s in the middle of Nottingham.

Once I started making the dolls from the full-sized patterns in the book, I realised that these are designed to be heirloom presents for little girls and not playthings.  The dolls are pretty robust, but the clothes are very distressed (Derelicte, for Zoolander fans).  Because they are not finished, by which I mean no neatened seams or turned up hems, and the closures are almost all by embroidery drawstring rather than buttons, I think the average child would destroy them within weeks if they wanted to play dress up.  This is not a problem for me, my dolls are for display only, but I wouldn’t make one without modification for a child.

Having said all that, I loved making the dolls.  The artiness of the enterprise is reflected in things like the assumption that you know what you are doing and what you want to achieve.  I really wanted to achieve the arch expression that Brown gets with the straight-stitched eyes and pursed lips, but there are only the most basic instructions for how to do this.  Brown states that the face and hair for the doll is where you express your own ideas and personality and that is pretty much it.  She explains that she uses strips of wool for the hair but there are no close up photos to show you how to do it – there are, however, loving semi-sepia shots of her studio and piles of vintage textiles.  I used a really thick boiled wool jacket which shrank to Barbie size in the wash, and which I really loved and wore to bits.  It made great hair, and I liked the suggestion of hair for once rather than using wool to create strands.

I used a brilliant tool that I was sold at the Knitting and Stitching Show to turn the arms and legs which are really spindly.  You may well know what I mean by being sold something at a trade show.  I have a failsafe pompom maker which is totally useless but looked fantastic and I think most sewists (a term I am trying out) have got a draw full of useless gadgets.  This one, sold to me by a charming Frenchman, turns rouleau very easily and comes in three sizes for the various gauges of rouleau.  I understand that you can get the same effect with a crochet hook and drinking straw.

Z

 

This is a Prym brand set, but there are lots of others.  Using this really made it easy and even fun to turn the limbs through as opposed to the usual frustration with a pencil or the chopstick that Brown suggests.  Seven pounds well spent for once.

As usual I made a sample doll before cutting up any fabric I was particularly fond of, and I began with a remnant of furnishing weight linen with a vague chinoiserie pattern:

IMG_1252

You can also just about see the fun I had with her braids/plaits.  The other two dolls were tea-dyed white cotton.  I used three Yorkshire tea bags for three hours.  I really liked the mottled look it gave to the fabric, making it look vintage.  All the creases came out easily when I stuffed them:

IMG_1251

I dressed her in cast off furnishing linen, and she ended up very faded, but quite smart because hemmed and finished for the most part.  The second doll was dressed entirely in Liberty Tana lawn and became a riot of colour with orange eyelash yarn which came from a lucky dip pound shop bag from out by the M32 motorway.  Her flower hat is from a bag of trimmings which was part of my Christmas present from my resourceful mother.  I loved her exuberant style.  The final doll is dressed entirely in silk.  I started with a printed silk dress which was so elegant I decided to make it a dupion silk coat and to give her a cocktail hat which is a large piece of costume jewellery.  The only problem is that it is so heavy she can’t really sit up.  But I loved the look with the bob hair do.

IMG_1259

I don’t know why I love making dolls so much, although a psychiatrist would probably have a theory, but one of the reasons is that I never know who will emerge.  I didn’t intend to do linen, cotton and silk, and I wasn’t expecting tasteful Liberty prints to come out quite so eccentric old lady-ish.  She also has a Klimtian hair do which you can’t quite see in these pictures.  Making them is quietly addictive, though, and I realised during the making that this is because I am making a kind of fashion doll rather than a toy or character doll.  That makes it feel much more grown up.

New Year’s Day Doll 2016

IMG_1239

If you have read this blog fairly often, you might know that every year I make a doll on New Year’s Day.  The idea is to say something about the year that has passed or the one that is to come.  Last year I made a bonkers tall pyramid to celebrate the fact that I had found a lovely piece of theory about iceberg economies which had a lot to say about the invisible work done by quilters.

This year was a bit odd.  One of the rules of this practice is that the doll has to be makeable in 24 hours.  This year I knew that I was going out for one of my favourite gatherings of the year at a friend’s house, so I had to adapt.  The result is that this year’s doll is from a kit – a kit that I bought for £5 in the Hobbycraft sale when I went up to see my Mum over Christmas.

Making the doll was quite pleasant, as everything was cut out and the stitching holes were pre-prepared.  It is largely made of very cheap and nasty acrylic felt, which seems to be a recurring theme in the beginning of 2016, and while this was a bit grim to work with, the effect of the blanket stitch is very nice in places, particularly the hair.  I followed the instructions to stitch up the body in white which is odd as there was plenty of pinky brown thread.  I think, in the end, it improved it a bit.

The kit would teach you how to construct a doll, although why you would want to do it in blanket stitch rather defeats me as it isn’t the most robust stitch.  Backstitch would be stronger.  Anyway, it was pleasant not to have to decide on eye placement and so on.

One thing that did come out of it was about having the right tools for the job.  Last Christmas my mother gave me an inspired present: a set of doll-making needles.  Fantastic.  These really helped me to sew on the arms through the buttons quickly and easily.  I am imagining that it would have been much harder with the plastic tapestry needle which came with the kit.

I didn’t quite finish her in one day.  I had to glue on the sparkle white dots in her eyes and that took almost a fortnight to get round to doing.

I am not quite sure what she says about my life at the moment, but a few ideas are:

  1. Never prioritise a personal tradition over a great friend’s New Year’s lunch. Grate Frends, as Molesworth knew only too well, are far more important than work of any sort.
  2. I am really busy and shortcuts are okay occasionally.
  3. Having the right tools for the job really helps, but so does having a great supplier like my mother on the case.

IMG_1235

Big smiles all round.

What I did at the weekend, or, the joy of having the right tools

IMG_1081

It’s a bit of a stitcher’s post today, although it rings true for anyone practising their craft, I suspect.

Over the weekend I had to make some prototype cushions for a project we are doing at the University, called Tangible Memories.  The idea is that people with dementia benefit from music and singing and so the team led by the estimable Helen Manchester are making small cushions to put mp3 players in.  This involves making buttoned pockets.

I volunteered to make a couple, and so, had to make buttonholes.  I have done this plenty of times before but a. not recently, and b. not on very thick furnishing fabric, as we wanted to have texture as well.  So, I vaguely remembered how to do it, but being me, couldn’t be bothered to find the instructions for the machine.  In the event I remembered there was a special foot.

IMG_1086

IMG_1087

And after much trial and error, I got the hang of it:

IMG_1083

IMG_1082

And, as you can see from the second photo, I decided to make the inner buttoned pockets from a much lighter fabric, and to do loops and buttons on the heavy stuff.  I could probably have made it work on the heavy furnishing fabric, but I fear life is too short and walls don’t deserve to have things flung at them when it is clearly not their fault.

Once I had the hang of it, it was clear that it is pretty straightforward if you have the right foot on the machine.  When it came to stitching all those layers of heavy furnishing fabric together I actually managed to find my walking foot, which was a birthday present years ago and, once you can fit it on, which is a real fiddle, is a brilliant tool:

IMG_1089

IMG_1088

It lives in this pristine little box in a drawer.  I also used my quilter’s foot with its quarter inch guide to make a block for a Bristol Quilters‘ project and even that came out with the points more or less meeting.  I like having these gadgets, and I find it fun, of all things, to use them.

Under lock and key

IMG_0884

(Please note: this is one of my slightly more academic posts – continue reading at your own risk of terminal boredom!)

One of the reasons that I like using textiles as part of my academic work is that it slows things down.  We are under tremendous pressure to produce published articles and this cuts down the time we have to consider what we are doing.  Reflection is a bit of a thing of the past.  This is fine for research which deals in quantitative data where analysis is largely mechanical and carried out by computers crunching numbers, but work which deals with ideas and the complexity of lived experience often needs a bit more time to ‘cook’.  The textile pieces provide this space and allow all sorts of things to emerge.

I had a case in point last week.  I am becoming very interested in what historians call the ‘long eighteenth century’, that is a period roughly from The Glorious Revolution (1688) to the Battle of Waterloo (1815).  I became interested in this through my work on Laura Ashley and the second phase of her design aesthetic which draws on this period, but, as I have done my research, I have become fascinated by  the period as a consumer revolution, when shopping became a real element of social life.  All of this is a preamble to talking about keys.

I have long used keys on my textiles, such as this really early piece which has a band of tiny keys on the right hand side:

eifel tower concealed

This is from a suite of five small quilts, several of which featured keys:

long lady quilt

canvas quilt

 

 

Serious quilt

The piece was about confession and secrets.  For me the most obvious symbol for secrets is a key.  I also like the duality of them – they lock and unlock.  They can be symbols of dead ends – the locked door, or opportunities as the door unlocks.  Keys are a significant metaphor in our language.  In my first job, in the dark ages, we talked about keyman insurance.  In my current occupation we have keynote speakers, and talk about the key work on the subject.  In the case studies we use to teach strategy there is often a key fact which unlocks the case.  In education in general, our children go through key stages.  I have some problem with this.  When I was a very little girl I thought you learned languages instantly by being given the translation key which transformed English into French and so on, and we see what a mess that can lead to with the translation programmes available to us now which lead to garbled approximations of a text.  I dislike this notion that education is an event – passing a keystone – rather than a unpredictable process.  Information, I suspect can be acquired to order – how to strip down an engine, for example, but wisdom and knowledge take a bit longer to acquire.  But this notion that there is a key which will unlock the world for us if we just look long and hard enough for it, is deeply engrained in our thinking about education.  George Elliot satirised it in Middlemarch with Casaubon’s fruitless, lifelong search for the Key to all Mythologies, a search for arcane knowledge.  He died suffering from this delusion.  Douglas Adams subsequently satirised this in his ‘Casaubon Delusion’ in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  The delusion is that we can overcome uncertainty by finding the key to all knowledge.  Keys and knowledge, then, are closely linked – locked into each other, perhaps.

So, I was a bit surprised when I was reading Amanda Vickery’s excellent book on Georgian life: Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England to read her comments on keys and their importance in Georgian homes.  She argues that keys became almost synonymous with women.

The association of keys with women is archaeological.  Anglo-saxon women were buried with keys.  A collection of keys hanging from the waist was a female ornament from at least the Renaissance.  Eighteenth-century pickpocketing trials reveal that keys were commonly found along with money, teaspoons, thimbles and scissors, pieces of jewellery and handkerchiefs in women’s tie on pockets.  Small padlocks can be found amongst the tokens vouchsafed by desperate mothers (probably servants) when they surrendered their infants to the London Foundling Hospital in the mid-eighteenth century.  In paintings, the bundle of keys was the attribute of Martha, the patroness of housewives.  Trial responsibility for the keys was part of female training.  (Vickery, 2009: 45)

And giving up the keys was a ceremonial passing over of power either from a sacked and disgraced housekeeper or a mother handing over her son’s inheritance.  Vickery is led to this consideration of keys through her examination of privacy in the eighteenth-century home.  Essentially there was none.  The only private space anyone, other than the very pinnacle of the elite classes, had was their locked box, to which they alone held the key.

I was struck when I was making the early pink quilt at the top of this post by all the keys on it, which I don’t really remember consciously putting there.  This led me to thinking about the most important key bearer of them all in my upbringing: St Peter.  Peter holds the keys to the kingdom, and this is a very interesting dynamic.  He decides who gets into heaven and who is refused admission.  Here he is on the Vatican, overlooking (I think) his cathedral in Rome, clutching his key:

images

For me, then, St Peter is a symbol of patriarchy, the keeper of the rulebook which keeps social order in place, and that social order has man at the head of the faith and the family.  His word is absolute; there is no getting round him.

But, I think that Vickery also gives us a timely reminder of the connection between keys and women.  People frequently ask me where I get all the stuff for my quilts:

 IMG_0895

I am given a lot of stuff (for which I am very grateful), but I also scour bead shops wherever I go.  I like using pieces which remind me of good trips, and some of the keys in these photos were bought in Denmark and Brighton.  What is fascinating about this is that the key is a very popular charm, as they are known, in bead shops which largely cater for young women who make jewellery.  The prevalence of key charms, which are also on sale in the big out of town box stores such as HobbyCraft, suggests that there is a ready market for them.  Young women – and longer in the tooth ones like me, must connect at some level with keys.  They appear to have a universal appeal, along with hearts and flowers and birds.  Clearly they are a supplied choice: we can only buy what we are offered for sale, but, their prevalence suggests that they are popular and have meaning of some description for the women who buy them.  It is as if, and that is a phrase that a proper academic would never use, they belong to a shared unconscious repertoire of images, and one with a complex set of gendered associations: inclusion and exclusion, public and private, hope and denial.

I am not sure what, if anything, to do with this.  One thing might be to look at old quilts and see if they have this imagery in amongst the freemasonry and the flora and fauna, to see if this is a recent resurgence in use of key imagery.  Another might be to do some empirical research – perish the thought – and ask women why they are attracted to keys as design motifs.  Perhaps they will talk about the five year diaries with tiny locks and keys that most women of my age were presented with at some point.  I don’t really know, and I don’t know if it’s worth pursuing.  Any ideas would be welcome.

Finally, I couldn’t find a way to fit this in, but one of the images I remember from reading books at school was this one from E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It, published in 1902, in which It speaks ‘in a harsh, grating voice like large rusty keys being turned in locks’.   Which is a great image to end on.

 

Reference

Amanda Vickery (2009) Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England.  New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

What I finished off at the weekend

IMG_1043

I am still working on this large Laura Ashley wall piece, although there are other things I should be getting on with.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I lost all interest in this piece and so I am rather surprised to find myself enjoying finishing it off so much.  I have two more of the Regency panels to go and then a very small Marie Antoinette and then I will have to get it all together which is going to be fun as it will be very heavy.

I am really pleased with these two panels, the one above and this one:

IMG_1044

The colours, which have not come out well in these photographs, go together really nicely.  Almost everything, as usual, is scrap and was destined for landfill.  The beautiful machine embroidered silk, for example is a tiny scrap from a sample book:

IMG_1045

I couldn’t bear to throw that away even though it is just a scrap.

These panels are supposed to evoke these ‘simple’ muslin gowns of the Regency period – seen here with the fashionable paisley shawl accessory, necessary because the dresses were pretty flimsy in the un-central-heated mansions seen in the background here:

264px-Merry-Joseph_Blondel_-_Felicite-Louise-Julie-Constance_de_Durfort

All these panels have some Laura Ashley fabric, although the further I get into the project the more I am using silk scraps.  The Laura Ashley piece here is some very tightly woven, fine grade furnishing fabric printed with olives.  I decided that the ladies in these panels would at the very least have heard about olives from their dissolute brothers on the Grand Tour, even if they didn’t eat them.  I couldn’t be bothered to do the food historian bit to find out if olives were commonly eaten in the eighteenth century.  I apologise!

IMG_1047The scraps for these two panels were attached to the thin cotton wadding with decorative machine stitching which I did with the tank-like Singer machine that my mother gave me because she could no longer lift it.  Some of the stitches are perfect for doing a sort of pseudo-crazy quilt.

IMG_1050

I’m afraid I use spray glue to keep everything in place and then do as much construction stitching as I can on the machine before doing the embellishments by hand.  I have no idea what the long-term effects of the spray glue will be, but I expect to be past caring in the nursing home when I find out.

I used some beads I bought on a weekend away in Brighton to finish off the quilts like the three little flower charms in the above panel which were exactly what I needed, and the key here:

IMG_1049

Again, you can see a little bit of the luscious embroidered silk, also from a discarded sample book.

These beads are from a broken necklace, and I love the way they look like little walnuts or even brains:

IMG_1048

Finally, I don’t really like the craze for buttons as jewellery.  Buttons are utilitarian things, unless they are the really special ones, and no amount of stringing them seems to me to create art from plain plastic in primary colours.  But, I do like mother of pearl and I like it, like all my embellishments, massed, so here are some ordinary round buttons, sewn on with pearl beads:

IMG_1052 IMG_1051

I really like the difference in tone of the mother of pearl.

 

The Brighton Bead shop the beads came from was KerrieBerrie