Alf Rehn’s shirt

 

Wednesday was the birthday of a Grate Frend (Molesworth) of mine, Alf Rehn.  Alf is the epitome of the modern European: divides his time between London, Copenhagen and Finland, speaks most modern languages, is sophisticated, suave and soigné.  He is on the international speaker circuit, writes books on innovation that get translated into umpteen languages, and is father of my godson.  So, a pertinent question is, what do you get him for his birthday.

Well, some months ago I was telling him about an artist whose work I really love, Elvis Robertson.  Robertson takes old cloths, mainly table linen, and embroiderers the stains on them.  This might sound a bit disgusting to some people, but I think the pieces are exquisite.  For some reason I find the reclamation of these damaged and discarded pieces of fabric really moving.  Here are a couple of pictures of what I mean:

His instagram account is definitely worth consulting too.  Alf said how much he would like a shirt with coffee stains embroidered on it.  I suddenly remembered this and thought it would be a good present for someone who had everything, and if he didn’t like it he could always cut it up for dusters.

I bought a white shirt with a front woven to look like a pintucked dress shirt and went into the studio on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  I started by printing some rings with a ceramic ramekin using Golden Fluid acrylics in raw sienna and bronze.  I then sprinkled some copper metallic powder over the wet paint.  This is the sample piece:

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Having got my confidence up, I stamped the paint on the shirt and left it to dry in the warm studio.

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I put it in an embroidery hoop and did satin stitch in ordinary brown stranded embroidery thread and added some tiny coffee coloured beads.  I decided to embroider just the button flap as a design feature.

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This is a shocking picture of the finished shirt:

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Fortunately, Alf loved it and has promised to send me some photos of him in it when he wears it, which he says he will do when he does one of his big strategy talks.  More news to follow then.

Gucci chicken

 

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Were there an award for the nicest person in the world, I think my friend Alison would be a very strong contender.  She noticed the above Gucci chicken in Florence and kindly sent me a photo to go with my own Fabergé attempt.  Of course, this could just mean a lot more work: a series of chickens in the style of – Laura Ashley, Cath Kidston, Gudrun Sjødën and so on.

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Restorative walk in the woods

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The Medieval Historian and I decided to go to Westonbirt last weekend to walk the dogs and have a bit of an excursion.  This was beyond stupid.  Westonbirt is the national arboretum, with the national collection of Japanese maples.  If you can’t get to New England in the Fall, then the next best thing in the UK is Westonbirt in October.  At least that is what half of Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Somerset seemed to think.  It was heaving with people.

I thought that I might get some nice photos to work with at some point, but only took my phone camera.  This made me a considerable lightweight as people were hauling round cameras with two foot long lenses and the obligatory tripod.  People formed orderly queues to take photos of particular trees, such as this one, without others standing in the picture:

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Glorious, but it only gives you half the picture:

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Everyone and their dog had their cameras out.  Most people queued up and took the shot and moved away, but some families took another approach and set up shop to have picnics under the boughs of all this autumn colour.  It struck me that it was like going to one of the big blockbuster art shows or even the highlights of the great national galleries.  You begin to wonder if anyone is looking at anything or just using it as a photo opportunity.  In the end, I got very fed up with the people and the cameras and the buggies and constantly looking out to see if the dogs were getting trampled and we left the maples and walked round the less visited native British woodland areas.  That was lovely.   It was my stupid fault for suggesting the trip and, of course, people have every right to troop through the trees en masse, I just wish we had gone on a weekday and missed the crowds.  I did get some lovely photos, though, hypocrite that I am!

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Even the seed pods were pretty.

I will end with a couple of very odd but interesting experiments my phone decided to make all on its own:

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A good read

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

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

Brunel Broderers’ Exhibition at Newark Park

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

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

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

 

 

 

My last post was about Newark Park and the Laura Ashley bedroom.  While I was there I also found time to admire some of the wonderful needlework around the house.  There is a good range of embroidery, although nothing very modern.  This is just a picture show, as I do not know enough to make sensible comments:

I begin with a selection of cushions.  The one at the top is an outstanding example of shabby chic.

Chairs and benches also got a look in.  I liked this florentine needlepoint armchair, again on bare boards and doing its bit for shabby chic country house charm.

This is a nice, and I think, quite modern needlpoint rug.  Rather brave to have a cream background here:

 

I felt a pang of recognition about the star quilt hanging in the stairs.  It was mounted on a cotton bedspread.  Doing all that work over papers clearly was enough and the idea of quilting it was just too much.

There were some very old fragments of embroidery but these had to be kept in very dim light.  These photos were taken with a phone camera and so are not brilliant, but I wanted to include some of the older work.

I might well do something with these images.  I love the way the stitches are used to create volume.

Apart from the pieces of needlework themselves, there was a lot of inspiration in the gardens:

Because the day was rainy and overcast the white flowers in particular really glowed.

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.

Bjorn Wiinblad meets Elizabeth Taylor meets Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile

Basically today is a photo gallery of the pieces I made based on Bjorn Wiinblad’s paintings.  This one has hair made of hearts which were cut out with a sizzix cutting machine.  Once I discovered that you could use it with fabric with bondaweb already attached, I was away.  But it really only came to life with the sequins.

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This one also has die cut pieces.  The flowers here remind me of those floral rubber swimming caps which were so fashionable when I was growing up.  Again, the big acrylic gems which are stuck on are what brought it to life.

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This one was in the last post.  The headdress here is made from cheap sequins.

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This one is most like the Cleopatra which inspired the series, with a few details:

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This one is directly based on one of Wiinblad’s paintings, including the patterned nose:

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Finally, the woman in the magnificent hat.  This felt very clunky because Wiinblad never painted a hat like this as far as I could see.  I had no end of trouble making it work. but once I put the golden feather or spray of leaves on it it suddenly burst into life.

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I really enjoyed making them.  They are meant to be joyful and not to have any social commentary in them at all!

 

C is for children’s art

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Some of you might know that I have been on quite a lengthy period of sick leave.  One of the things that I have done during this time is to follow a web-based mixed media art class.  It follows the letters of the alphabet and there is a drawing exercise and a mixed media assignment every two weeks.  We are now at the stage of being asked to produce a series of work based on what we have done so far.

C was for children’s art.  I am not particularly well-versed in children’s art, although I do have a lovely painting by my godson in my office, but I was really taken with an image in Jonathan Fineberg’s The Innocent Eye which is about the influence of children’s art on modernist painters.  There was a child’s stripy head which influenced Jean Dubuffet which I absolutely loved.  So I thought I would work with that, although unfortunately I can’t find a reproduction of the picture.   I was also doing some drawings of faces and experimenting with very simple cartoon-y faces.  I thought I might do something with Joan Eardley’s wonderful paintings of working -class Glasgow children.

I think these are stunning and decided I would make some dolls based on these.

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But I still couldn’t quite let go of the stripy head so I made some little pieces in my scrap book using either paper or washi tape which is lovely Japanese printed masking tape:

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In the end, I thought it would be more of a stretch to do the stripy faces than the dolls which I know how to do.  I made a template and cut out some striped fabric to make the heads.  I bonded them to some remnants of heavy furnishing fabric linen.  Then I drew round the template in my sketchbook.  I was struck by how the simple round heads looked so much like the work of Bjorn Wiinblad, who is one of my favourite artists from my childhood.

When I was in Copenhagen last year I made my lovely Danish second family take me out to the Arken Gallery to see a big Wiinblad exhibition.

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I remember these illustrations from my youth.  I remember seeing his work or a very good copy of it on chocolate boxes although I can’t remember the brand.  These plates with illustrations of the months of the year are so familiar to me that I think the chocolate boxes must have been by Wiinblad or a follower:

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I love his super-decorative style:

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and those decorated noses:

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I thought I would work on these.  I did some sketches and in the bottom right hand corner where I was working out the pyramid shape of the headdress I suddenly saw Elizabeth Taylor popping up:

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She looks really badly sun-burned but still gorgeous, and so I decided to make a series based on the fantastic headdresses she wears in Cleopatra:

and she wore mad stuff in real life:

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I used gouache which is one of my favourite forms of paint because it is so blocky.  The colour is very bright and very flat.  This whole project has a very illustration-like feel and gouache was traditionally used in art layouts for advertising material.

So far I have made up two of the series.  The first is the flower pyramid which I did in stickers in the sketchbook but with huge sequins from Tiger, a treasure trove chain store, in the piece:

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Were I to do this again I would be more careful not to get that purple stripe over the mouth, but I was going for a naive childlike approach.  The second piece uses beads and a very fancy button:

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Both were really good fun to make and I stuck very closely to the sketch, which is unusual for me.  The sketch allowed me to make templates to cut out the hair, but also to check the eye placement and so on.

The point of the class on children’s art was to try to remember our joy in drawing from childhood.  I used to love to draw and to make collage, and I think the simplicity and boldness of this helped me to remember those feelings.

Inspiration

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There has been a considerable gap in my blog as ill health has been stalking the land with me and the Medieval Historian both.  Things are a bit better now, so I thought it was time to get the blog up and running again.

I was reading a short piece recommended to me on Facebook about sewing films, and I thought it would be a good place to restart.  These are films or tv shows which I find really inspirational in terms of stitching, or are just a feast for the eyes.  A lot of my favourite films are costume dramas which aren’t particularly accurate but are great for costumes.   A good example is the Reese Witherspoon version of Vanity Fair:

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This version made a great deal of the influence of India on Regency design.  Sumptuous all round.

But my main list is in sections and is as follows:

Gratuitously great embroidery on costumes which are much better than the show itself

Game of Thrones

I first started watching this for the fabulous costumes, and in particular for Michele Carraghers’s gorgeous embroidery.  She has a wonderful website in which she discusses the Game of Thrones costumes and her design process.  Even if you never watch the show, it is worth looking at the website for lots of close-ups of beautiful beaded and embroidered pieces:

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What I love about this is that someone takes the decision to spend a great deal of money on embroidery on costumes which might never be seen.  Certainly the detail is often lost.  I like the idea of the costumes being much better than they have to be and of the highest quality contemporary embroidery being seen by millions.

The Tudors

You can imagine how well this went down with the Medieval Historian, to the point where I had to watch the box set in secret when he went out.  The series was terrible and got worse as it went on, but the frocks were really lovely:

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They were designed by Joan Bergin.  The one above was for Anne of Cleeves and her costumes were my favourites.

Films where sewing is integral to the plot

Bright Star

This is a 2009 Jane Campion film about the courtship of John Keats and Fanny Brawne.

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The lead actress spends a lot of time in the film stitching and creating rather fabulous garments for herself, despite the family’s apparent genteel poverty:

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She also gets to wear this little cardigan which sometimes seems to be a shawl, made of tiny crochet motifs:

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I covert this Sophie Digard piece and Abbie Cornish’s slender frame to be able to wear it.

Sewing is integral to the plot here, because Keats’ best friend tries to dissuade him from pursuing  Fanny whom he thinks is a flirt and only interested in clothes.  Smart 21C viewers know that this is Fanny’s only creative outline and means of self-expression in the gendered and classed society of the early 19C.  It is a gorgeous film, with a lot of beautifully read poetry.

The Dressmaker

This is a recent Australian film (2015, directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse) and is a bit of an oddity.  It is set in a tiny settlement in Australia in the 1950s.  Much abused waif, Tilly, returns to her home town a fully grown, drop-dead gorgeous sophisticate.  She comes via Paris, Milan, Madrid, London etc in an echo of both Sabrina films.  She turns up at the station with her Singer sewing machine to solve mysteries about her past and take her revenge on the people who sent her away and so on.

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The whole thing veers from high drama to camp comedy to melodrama to slapstick in a big, hot old mess (as Heidi Klum used to say on Project Runway).  It’s like Douglas Sirk meets Priscilla Queen of the Desert (and Hugo Weaving is in it as a cross-dressing policeman).  But, the premise of the film is that women can be transformed – created and destroyed by what they wear, and Kate Winslett creates the most stunning fifties numbers imaginable:

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This is my favourite character, Gertrude, just because she looks so much like the original 1950s Barbie:

 

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Kate Winslett looks fantastic throughout and is the perfect shape for all those boned and corseted numbers:

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Best ever quilting film

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

This musical has a very dodgy premise about abducting women, but that aside it has fantastic costumes made of quilts (which the women have to make up as they are snowed in for the winter with the seven brothers)

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Several things strike me here.  The first is the sacrilege of chopping up quilts to make frocks, so let’s hope they were specially made for the film.  The second is the skill required to make those fitted waists with quilt, wadding and backing.  The third that this is a lesson in self-restraint which again we have to take with a pinch of salt.  I imagine the testosterone that exploded out of that house when the spring thaw came.

The quilting film you wish had been better

How to make an American Quilt (1995)

There is nothing terrible about this film, except I wanted to tell the Winona Ryder character to stop prevaricating and get on with writing up that thesis.  The problem with it is that there isn’t enough quilting for quilters, and there isn’t enough drama for drama lovers.  And the quilt is okay (as it probably would have been for an average wedding quilt), but nothing particularly special.

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I also wonder about the advisedness of Winona trailing a predominantly white quilt through the dew:

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as she contemplates marrying her pretty dull boyfriend.