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I recently went on a really great workshop organised by Selvedge magazine.  It was called a ‘Craft Spa Day’ and was held in Bloomsbury.  Selvedge, by the way is a fantastic magazine.  It has the most glorious photos which I virtually want to eat, plus it has introductions to wonderful craftspersons and the story of all sorts of textiles and techniques.  It is a real treat.  The only problem is that it makes me want to get up and start doing something every time I read it, so I seldom finish reading it.   You can get it in WH Smith and arty bookshops, or you can subscribe.  If you don’t want to do that you can just look at the website which has glorious graphics.

Okay, so, the day was divided into two parts.  The first had two talks on sewing/craft and therapy.  Ruth Battersby Tooke gave a brilliant talk on Lorina Bulwer’s extraordinary textile letters:

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Bulwer was put in the Great Yarmouth workhouse by her family because she was, as we would now say, suffering from some sort of mental illness.  As Ruth pointed out, this sounds awful but it may have been an act of kindness.  She led an independent life and was not put in an asylum and it seems that her brother visited her regularly.  As part of her condition she wrote the most astounding letters to local dignitaries complaining about her lot and about her sister-in-law, whom she despised.  All the text is couched, and occasionally another panel comes to light.  It is now  in two massive pieces: one twelve feet long and the other fourteen.  Ruth used the pieces to talk about reading history through textiles, and also about the embroideries themselves.

The next speaker, Marie O’Mahoney, was talking about whizzy hightech textiles which was fine, but I sort of thought I’d heard it all before a bit.  Textiles to monitor our health, textiles to interact with our environment, that sort of thing.  The third speaker was due to be Betsan Corkhill, who had a family emergency and so could not attend.  She is the woman who has written about knitting as therapy.  I bought a copy of her book:

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I found it a bit terribly jolly, but it makes some very pertinent points about the therapeutic benefits of knitting and craft in general.  I presume there are also scholarly articles that she has written, but this would give you a good overview of the main arguments for knitting.  We should all knit for ten minutes a day, by the way.

In the afternoon we got to choose from a series of workshops on spinning, weaving, basketry and quilting.  I chose the quilting  I had a lovely calm afternoon stitching as the tutor, Abigail Booth, had already marked the cloth, all of which was dyed with tree-based dyes.  I finished my piece on the day which I think is important in a workshop, and because Abigail, who was really lovely, showed me a new way of finishing the edges which I adapted a tiny bit to give a frame.  My only problem was that I chose a pale turquoise thread to contrast with the nicely browned pastry colour of the cloth:

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Fine close up, but when I stood back it looked like I’d used one of the water soluble marking pens and hadn’t washed it out.  Hubris, of course, always gets its comeuppance.

 

 

 

 

 

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Soft launch at Pomegranate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Plus we had a wonderful shared lunch.

Concentration levels were high:

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

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

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.

Field notes from Utopia

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A couple of months ago, I went on a fantastic weekend at Shore Cottage Studio.  I have blogged about this before, but, to recap, it is a gorgeous studio on the Dee Estuary which runs short courses on a variety of activities (textiles, glass making, photography, laser cutting, for example).  It is run by the family team of Sue, Laura and Kris.  This is the word cloud of their trip advisor feedback:

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Word clouds make patterns in which the largest words are the ones most frequently used.  I am very interested to see ‘love’ so prominent here.  I suspect it comes from comments such as ‘I love the Studio’, but I thought it was a place which just about ran on love.  That’s why this post is called ‘Field notes from Utopia’.  I felt loved the minute I walked through the door and that is a utopian feeling.  So this post is about my embroidery, but also a little bit about Utopia.  If you aren’t interested in Utopia, just skip to the pictures of the embroidery, which I hope you enjoy.

I am really interested in utopias because they are so contradictory.  One person’s Utopia is another person’s dystopia.  For example, in HG Wells’ The Time Machine we have the Eloi who seem to have the perfect peaceful, aesthetically beautiful life but who are actually so calm and refined that they are unable to achieve anything new or creative, plus their life depends on an underclass called the Morlocks, a dystopian troglodyte society who only come out at night, but who have the energy to do stuff and in the end to rise up against their oppressors.  One reading of the novel is that the Eloi represent a communist group, and, as we know from our own recent history, communism is seen as paradise by  some and oppression by others.  Utopia and dystopia again.  This was the plot of endless episodes of the first series of Star Trek.  Captain Kirk was always finding new civilisations which looked wonderful at first sight, but which were always inferior to Earth.  And tribes of cultural studies scholars have provided readings of this as code for the Cold War struggles in the US when Kirk and Spock and Uhuru were created.  I am also interested in utopian communities’ carrying within themselves the seeds of their own destruction (we are going in for political economy a bit today).  So, religious groups often go off into the wilderness to find a pure place where they can practise their beliefs without persecution or pollution.  The problem is that sooner or later differences of opinion arise, and no-one is quite pure enough to satisfy the demands of the leader so you get a split and another attempt at a utopian community elsewhere.  These sorts of communities can topple over into cults which often end disastrously, such as David Koresh and the Branch Davidian.  Finally, I am interested in the role of place in all this.  Very often utopians leave a place they consider toxic to go and set up a new purer place elsewhere.  Utopias always seem to be places of tension, reactions against, flights from, black and white situations where you are either right or wrong.  There is not much space for grey in Utopia.

Anyway, for me, Shore Cottage is a form of Utopia.  It is a place where I felt completely at home, loved and cared for, and able to develop my creativity.  I was there as part of a project looking at the anthropology of the Dee Estuary and to do a short ethnography (although really there is no such thing: ethnography done properly is an extended business).  Ethnographers make field notes and so my embroidery represents field notes in cloth.

I designed it to look like an artefact an ethnographer might take with them, so it rolls up:

The linen has a toile print of a river, which is the nearest that I could get to an estuary.  The tree rather appealed to me.

It unrolls to show several ‘leaves’ or panels:

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The piece uses the fabric and thread that I dyed on the weekend with Sue.  Some of them were left whole just to show the effects such as this microwaved tie dye:

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This is a really brilliant simple technique for hand dying cloth which I will use again. There is also a piece of overnight rust dyeing:

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Brilliant results overnight onto this piece of linen.  The marks were so beautiful that I didn’t want to mask them with stitching or embellishment.

I kept the stitching pretty simple on the rest of the panels:

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This is fern stitch with variegated thread onto a thick blanket-y wool that I dyed.

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This shows simple straight stitches arranged as seeding, vertical cross stitch and some running stitch.  I used the big black and white bead as a sort of sample, like you might get in a ethnographer’s collection of material.

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This is a variation on a theme.  I love these big disc beads.  They remind me of pumice or some other sort of lava.

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This is  a found piece of curtain fabric and the pom pom is part of it.  It is stitched down with layered fern stitch.

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This is also a tiny found sample of furnishing fabric.  I loved the indigo and white.  The white thread is quite thick and reminded me of sashiko.  I wish I could get my stitches that even.  I am not sure I quite like the uneven spacing of the mauve beads, but had I been making this in my tent by hurricane lamp in the nineteenth century, I might not have been able to get them straight, so I left them.

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Another bead and seeding combo.

I wanted to use these little wooden hands because of the importance of the hand made on this weekend:

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I got them from Artchix Studio, which is run by a lovely Canadian woman.  I have lots of things from her shop, but I have stopped using it because the postage is ruinously expensive and then there are charges on top when the parcel gets here.  Gorgeous, unusual, inspiring stuff but now very pricey.  That aside, these hands are lovely.  They are about two centimetres long.  I like the combination of the handmade and the manufactured.  They are all alike and symmetrical, and yet they have a real charm for me.

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The above is some knitting tape which I dyed and couched down and then stuffed with brown glass beads which I got from a Hobbycraft cheapo clearance bag.  I also recycled some embroidery I did a couple of years ago.  They maybe jump a bit, but I think they look slightly like sketches of landscapes that you get in ethnographer and explorer notebooks:

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This is another picture of part of the piece showing how the panels fit together:

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You can just about see in the top left-hand corner that there is a heart shape.  I found a stone on the Dee Estuary beach which had the suggestion of a heart on one side and I thought that this was emblematic of the Studio.  I was really pleased when Sue noticed that a heart had emerged from the hand dyeing on this swatch.  To the left of that, which you can see in the picture at the top, there is a piece of embroidery taken from a vintage tablecloth I bought from a textile fair last year.  This refers to the hand-embroidered vintage tablecloths that they used at the Studio and which I really enjoyed.

This has been a long post, so thanks to reading to the end if you did.

 

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.

 

Teeny tiny sewing machine

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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:

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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:

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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.

 

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.

More embroidery

My last post was about the fox piece that I started at the Mandy Pattullo workshop I attended.  I really like Mandy’s work and I wanted to do a bit more with some of the ideas that we discussed at the workshop, so here are a couple more pieces.  They are worked on top of a variation of a hexagon rosette all done in Laura Ashley fabric and then applied to a base.  These were then washed at 90 degrees and tumble-dried.  This gives a nice antique-y feel to them, but it also makes what is already pretty dense fabric almost impossible to stitch into.  I live and learn.  I thought just embroidering through the top layer would be okay but the furnishing (decorator) weight, if anything, got denser rather than softer.  Still, the end results were pretty and confirm me in my view that more is more with regard to decorative pieces.  A few tasteful marks would have been useless.

First is this piece which has a vague look of seventeenth-century crewel work to me:

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Compare it to one of Mandy Pattullo’s pieces and you can see the influence:

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The second is rather more folk-arty, I think:

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It reminds me a bit of Pennsylvania Dutch art which I have always loved since my mother’s penfriend sent me a tiny PD pendant when I was a very little girl:

This one is applied to an IKEA linen tea towel cut in half.  This would be lovely to stitch into were it not for the upholstery weight rosette behind it.  I am particularly proud of this piece for an odd reason: I managed to find my set of yo-yo or suffolk puff makers which I bought years ago before I realised what a fruitless task making suffolk puffs is.  But on this they really work and the gadget makes them quick and easy to make.  I had three go-s at the plant pot before this finally worked.

I am really enjoying making them, and the medical profession is very keen on my doing embroidery at the moment, and so everyone, temporarily at least, is happy.

Little piece of improvisation

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Just a quick post.  This is a little panel – 12″x12″ which was an improvisation as part of my on-line art class.  The starting point was to have a person, an animal and a plant.  You had to change something towards the end which is why I put the little door on the tree trunk.  I think it was a mistake and makes it too twee.  Also find the figure rather derivative of the popular sketchy girl style.  But it was fun and quick to do and I enjoyed making it.  The dogs, I suppose, are examples of broderie perse where you apply something that you have cut out of one fabric onto another – usually to make the patterned feature fabric go further.

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.