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.

 

Moon quilt

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This is my most recently finished quilt.  It isn’t the greatest photo of it because I thought I could either wait until I could get a great shot or write the post and the latter won.

There are a few things which I think are interesting about this quilt.

  1. Although it is made from new fabric it is a memory quilt.  I bought the charm pack squares when the very lovely Marybeth Stalp was over last year and we were touring quilt shops in the South West for our research project.  So it immediately reminds me of Marybeth and the great time we had together.  Then I stitched a lot of the very simple four patch blocks together in Copenhagen hotel rooms as I was doing my academic work over there.  So it reminds me of that and of what I think of as my Scandi family who live in Copenhagen.
  2. It is what Jane Brocket calls a ‘Collection Quilt’.  This is a modern quilting possibility when you use all the fabrics in one particular manufacturer or designer’s collection.  In this case it is Nocturne by Janet Clare.  I absolutely loved the fabrics in this collection.  I wasn’t that keen on the neutral blenders, but I loved all the ‘feature’ fabrics and the indigo colourway in particular.  All the colourways blended in this collection so that was good.  I think this is an interesting modern development.  Many quilters now have the disposable income to buy a piece of an entire collection, and Moda in particular caters for this with its precut packs.  Jelly rolls seem to encapsulate this small piece of all of them approach to me.  It’s a bit like the tasting menu or the assiette of desserts.  I quite like the bountiful and indulgent feel of it sometimes.
  3. The quilt is hand pieced but has a lot of machine work.  I decided to use a Janet Clare-type technique on a Janet Clare range of fabrics by applying the large pink batik circles.  This is not Janet Clare fabric.  In fact, it was some bargain batik that I picked up at a Quilters Area Day.  The blue-y undertones of the pink seemed to fit with the yellow-y blues of the patchwork fabric.  I used bondaweb and cut the circles with my Sizzix machine (a die cutting machine) and then top stitched them on with Mettler black quilting thread.  Mettler is definitely my favourite thread at the moment because it is really smooth and strong.

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I thought the batik looked like the gas clouds on Jupiter.  You can also see the long-arm quilting pattern done at Midsomer Quilting, which looks like orbits to me particularly on the second grey patch at the bottom left.  This is a good example of the quilting enhancing the design, I think:

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The quilting design is called champagne, which I also like.

I remember once reading the tongue in cheek but nevertheless sage advice somewhere that you should never make art about menstruation.  This quilt does have red moons which is inescapable symbolism.  I like to think of it, however, as a liberatory, Thank God all that’s over quilt, rather than let’s embrace our femininity and squat in a red tent, sort of piece.

Finally, I like the simplicity of this quilt.  It is a medallion quilt, made up entirely of strips and squares, very simple to do on the move by hand.  I have been doing some very traditional quilting recently and have really enjoyed it.  I will be posting some more pictures soon.

More applique

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This is the latest of my Mandy Pattullo/Laura Ashley pieces.  The background is pieced paper (English method) hexagon patchwork with an overlay of Laura Ashley fabric applique.  I had thought that I would do a fairly minimalist piece with just the dark flowers at the top like Mandy Pattullo sometimes does:

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but I thought mine looked a bit bare:

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I wanted to use these big plastic rose buttons that came as a free gift with a magazine as the centres of some somerset puff roses, and I think that worked quite well.  I wish I had taken a photo before I put the roses on, because the hexagon looked like a cartoon cactus sticking out of the pot.  Anyway, I decided this needed more, and for some reason, I suddenly thought of the Baltimore originals I had in mind when making the pieces: the rick rack braid rose.

I don’t particularly like rick rack braid apart from the really tiny stuff which looks lovely on borders if you have the patience to stitch it on, so this was something that I didn’t have in my stash.  I went to Flo-Jo in Bristol which is a great shop selling fabric and haberdashery and running workshops and dressmaking classes.  It is run by really lovely enthusiastic people and stocks particularly gorgeous ranges of unusual fabric.  Of course, they had a range of rick rack and I bought some red, pink and orange.  Old Baltimore quilts seem to me to delight in virtuoso effects and experimenting with the latest thing, and they often have 3D elements like these roses.  They are really simple to make.  You take two pieces of rick rack, twist them together like plaiting and then roll them up.  The final stage is to pull back the outer rounds to make unfolding petals.  There are lots and lots of demonstrations of this on You Tube in particular, and they are mostly stuck together (opinion varies on the merits of a hot glue gun), but I stitched mine for authenticity (although I expect the ladies of Baltimore would have used a glue gun if they had had one available).  As an aside, there was a wonderful video of a woman making daisies rather than roses out of rick rack which she then fills with pearls and sticks on lace and which are really not to my taste.  At the end of one of the videos she makes leaves out of synthetic ribbon.  ‘You need to burnish [i.e. singe] the ends together,’ she trills gaily and proceeds to take what looks like one of those things used to light gas rings on cookers and to waft it in front of her ribbon, slightly singeing her fingers.  ‘It doesn’t hurt,’ she says, ‘well not really.’  I am not sure that I really want to scorch my finger ends for ribbon leaves but it doesn’t seem to do her a lot of harm.  Pyrotechnics aside, there are some very clear tutorials available, and, of course, fans of Baltimores will know that Elly Sienkiewicz’s books contain explicit and well-illustrated instructions, particularly her book on dimensional applique.

I am not sure if you can tell from the photograph at the top but I made a big central rose of red and pink twisted together, and four large red roses and four small pink ones.  They are really good fun and quick to make, and the best bit is at the end when you pull back the outer rounds and the rose almost leaps forward.  The You Tube demonstrators tend to stick them on rings or brooches or hair slides.  I would just recommend going easy on the lace.

I finished off with some big mint green leaves with the veins done this time in fly stitch.  In the end, I rather liked the naive charm of the piece, and I think it is an interesting example of something I have written about before: your relationship with your work.  You might think that you have finished, but your work will whisper, or shout very loudly as it did here, that it is not finished.  And you have to finish it because otherwise it will go on shouting until you do.

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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Solomon Quilt

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

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

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

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

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The background is some scrap linen with a sepia print:

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

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

 

 

van Gogh inspiration purple and yellow part deux

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This yellow and purple piece was based on experimenting with buttonhole stitch and detached chain or laisy daisy stitch.  I really liked the delicacy of stitching into the buttonhole stitch with another row in a different thread.  That got a bit overwhelmed by the layers of couching and buttonhole stitch:

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I rather enjoyed making these donuts with buttonhole over the knotted yarns.

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The main problem with finishing this off, or ‘resolving’ the design as some might put it, was that I had the original spiralling off blanket stitch ‘legs’ and the piece made no sense until I turned it round so that it looked like a buttercup type flower.  Then I decided that the purple legs could be an insect like in a Dutch genre still life:

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Finito.

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.