Spring Wreath

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This is my latest piece of work.  It is quite a traditional piece of hand appliqué.  I started with a piece of printed furnishing fabric from a sample book, measuring roughly 18 inches (46 cm) square and drew a circle on it in pencil.  Then I went over that in chain stitch.  Had I made a bias tube and stitched that down, the result would have been better but I would still be doing it now.  Also the light line of the chain stitch, I think matches the delicacy of the finished piece.

The leaves were cut freehand from scraps of fabric.  The main fabric is a cheap Liberty knockoff, but the other two are very contemporary fabrics which I used with the reverse showing to knock back the brightness of the prints.  They were appliquéd using very traditional needle-turning.

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I finished it off with some big beads from a charity shop necklace I took to pieces over some tiny crocheted circles I had made one night when I was bored and only had a bit of yarn and a crochet hook to hand.

I am quite pleased with it, as it was fairly quick to make and it was a good day on the radio yesterday, and it cost pretty much nothing.  Plus it is quite spring-like.

I think I will mount it over a plain canvas box frame, otherwise it might be the start of a Baltimore album quilt and that way madness lies.

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More good works at Pomegranate Studio

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We had two days of glorious sunshine at the weekend which I took advantage of to repaint the summerhouse at the bottom of the (very short) garden at Pomegranate Studio.  I was using Annie Sloan chalk paint which I am assured sticks to everything without need of sanding and priming.  It shows the sort of place this is that when I ran out of painter’s tape to mask the glass I used what I had: several rolls of washi tape mainly from Tiger and Paperchase.  The problem is that now I rather like the gingerbread cottage look it gives.  Certainly the fresh green and the airforce blue (‘Aubusson’) seem to work well together.

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The paint is fantastic, though.  It dried quickly and I think I might get away with one coat, at least for now.

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The summerhouse is in a bad way needing a new roof covering, plus a good scrub out, but the structure is pretty sound.  The lovely Adirondack chairs I bought myself as a present were in good shape too.  I will post pictures as the makeover continues.

This is my Westie, Hedy, who was on hand to help throughout.  But the end of the afternoon she was covered in blue paint although I thought I kept a close eye on her.  Miraculously it washed off when she had a bath.  Another plus for the chalk paint.

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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.

Thinking about the stash

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I had a very interesting conversation last week with a group of women women talking about ‘The Stash’.  This is a subject which quilters will always talk about with great enthusiasm, and I thought I would take a little bit of time to write about what the scholars are thinking.  To keep it a bit lighter I am going to sprinkle internet memes about the stash throughout – this is why the pictures are a bit small today.

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Nearly everyone I know who pursues any sort of craft has a stash.  I am in awe of those people who just buy enough for a project and thus have a pristine workroom.  I am not quite sure what they do with the scraps at the end; I presume they make them into things to give to the deserving poor.  I cannot believe they throw them away.  I have to have a stash for my work because very often I just need a one inch piece of something so I keep vast amounts of scraps, but also big pieces which will probably just have a corner cut out sometime in the future.   I think about this as my compost: eventually it will break down into something lovely and sustaining.

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The fantasy way to keep all this stuff is shown in the photograph at the top of this post, but the reality is much more like this:

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or this:

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Or this:

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Or this:

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Which brings me onto my first point discussed by the academics: our feelings about our stash.  There are a number of these:

  • A number of well-adjusted women take the view that they work hard to be financially independent and so how they spend their money is no-one’s business.
  • Some women see what their husbands/partners spend their money on and see their stash as being an equivalent.  It might equal a set of golf clubs or an expensive camera plus accessories.
  • Some women feel extremely guilty about their stash.  This possibly because it is spending money on themselves and not their families, or because they buy it and then can’t bear to use it.  There are probably lots of explanations, but they mainly come down, I think, to women thinking that they are not worth it.  If ever I want to buy something extravagant I phone one of my male gay friends.  They always say one of two things: ‘You work hard, you deserve it’, or: ‘Do you mean to tell me that you don’t think that you are worth a (insert item of choice plus price)?’  Or I recall my mother’s wise words: ‘You will remember (insert name of item you wish to buy) far longer than you will remember the overdraft’.

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  • The older women get the more likely they seem to find the stash a burden.  I have noticed with friends that our mothers become really keen to declutter and to throw stuff away that has been in the attic for years as they get older.  In my case, the stuff transfers from my mother’s attic to mine.  This desire to get rid of stuff seems to be even worse if there is a stash involved, and I think there is sometimes guilt about leaving the burden of sorting it out to whomever has to clear out the house.  I have come across quilters who have had to sell off another quilter’s stash who vow never to pass that job onto someone else.

 

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Some of the women in the group were what are called ‘early career academics’ which means that they are doing their first or second jobs, just having finished their PhDs.  They talked about moving and having to ‘drag it from house to house’ as they tried to find a permanent position.

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A really extreme position was that having a stash was morally corrupt because it represented having an excess while others have nothing.  The Western world always has too much and never enough in the context of a global world

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One of the ways that having the stash is often justified is to collect vintage fabric for reuse, a form of recycling, and this is certainly something that I like to emphasise.  A lot of my stash is old samples or remnants which would have gone into landfill if I hadn’t rescued it.  But, as a colleague of mine who works on the engineering of waste and recycling says, this just delays or defers the problem.  Recycled presents are great, but you are just passing the stuff onto the next person.  ‘It’ still exists and will have to be dealt with at some point in the future.  Overproduction is the problem and recycling is not the answer.

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A slightly lighter note was struck by one of the women who said that she thought the ideal was the ‘sweet spot’ between having enough but not so much that it crossed over into being clutter.

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Even more positive was the position that the stash represents potential.  It is there to be transformed and it is there to liberate creativity.  Certainly in my work with grown-ups involving making of any sort I have found that it works best when there is an enormous, generous amount of stuff.  Having stuff to waste or experiment with seems to liberate the childlike desire to create in people.  It always gets mentioned in feedback.  ‘There was just so much stuff, so much to choose from’.  I wonder if people somehow read this as care in material form, and if you are being cared for then you are safe and free to play.

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There was also some conversation about how stashes circulate, a bit like those friendship cakes where you get a small piece of batter to make your own cake and then to pass on to friends.  I get parts of my mother’s stash which I pass on to friends needing new cushions or bags or backing fabric.  The academic women described these as ‘small circulating economies’ which just means that there is a form of exchange involved.

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An interesting suggestion was that Ebay represents a global electronic stash.  There is all that stuff just sitting there all over the world just waiting to be transported and rehomed and re-used.  I think this is an interesting idea, although this is a very brazen commercial form of stash, and yet it is one that I have participated in, of course.

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As all this material circulates between us, one interesting question is whether or not knowledge is being transferred as well.  Do the skills follow the fabric?  I think it’s an interesting idea, and it is possible that when someone gives you, or swaps you, or even sells you a piece of fabric or equipment they will tell you how to use it or what they used it for or intended to use it for, but my suspicion is that it is mainly about the material exchange.

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There was some talk of the stash being a community resource where people could come and take what they needed for their project.  I thought this was a bit idealistic.  I think that there are politics around the stash, and unwritten and unspoken rules.  We have a sort of stash at Bristol Quilters where there is a Saint Peter’s Hospice stall with fabric for anyone.  But we all know that we are expected to pay for it.  If I just took a chunk of something I would expect at the very least to get some dirty looks.  Even when the lovely women who run the stall and know that I collect Laura Ashley fabric give me something free I feel obligated to make a donation anyway as it is for charity.

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I think there is even a question of who gets to use your stash.  I have two stashes: one is available to anyone.  Take and waste as much as you like.  Cut the centre out of the piece rather than snipping a bit off along the edge.  Spill stuff all over it.  Make something incredibly ugly with it.  I genuinely don’t mind.  The second is my stash for me.  Now if you are a really good friend and want, say, some red fabric, you can have anything, but only because you are a really good friend.  This is a relational activity.  It builds and binds friendships.  It makes me a mealy-mouthed person community-wise and makes me a terrible fabric capitalist, but it is how I feel.  Hands off the precious last bit of my favourite fabric.  I know at least one woman who really resents being seen as a community resource.  She hates takers who never seen to flip over into givers, and I sort of know what she means.

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There is also a class element to all this.  I can afford to spend money on fabric; I have enough disposable income to allow me to do it.  But not everyone has.  My very good friend, Marybeth Stalp talks much more about the guilt over the stash in her interviewees in the US, probably because it is a more working class pursuit than in the UK where the guilt is less.  I think there might also be an age component.  Many quilters were born during or just after the war when there was austerity and utility and shortage.  Having a store of things was fine as that would feed and clothe the family in hard times, but buying things for yourself for the pleasure of stroking and folding and having them was an indulgence and therefore morally wrong.  So I got used to smuggling things in past my father when my mother and I had been shopping.  So I think this brings me back to my starting point about the mixed emotion of the stash.  I would be interested to hear other people’s thoughts if anyone would like to leave a comment.

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Laura the fox takes a moonlight stroll in her new lacy black stockings

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Last week I went to Bristol Quilters’ workshop with Mandy Pattullo.  I had a great day.  Mandy Pattullo is an artist whose work I have admired since I saw it at the Festival of Quilts a couple of years ago.  Her work is with old and often recycled textiles and embroidery.  She was very generous in allowing us to photograph her work and so here are a few photos to show the sort of work she does:

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She gave us each a piece of a plain old quilt and some templates for flowers and hearts and things, as well as a couple of pieces of very worn old quilts which we used to start the background.  I decided early on that I wanted to make a fox as we are having fun and games with our dogs getting us up at 4.00 am most mornings to root out whatever is in the garden and which I think might be a little vulpine friend.

I was sitting between two great quilters, Alison and Nathalie, and they gave me the fabric for the fox’s body and legs.  I was really pleased to be able to use Nathalie’s Laura Ashley fabric for the fox’s body as this fits in with the project that I have been doing for ages.  Alison gave me the fabric for the legs – which I would make much finer if I did it again.  Foxes have black legs, surprisingly, and this was the best we could do, but they do look like lacy tights, which I rather like.

The method is to block in some thing like the fox body or a vase and then to take a water soluble pen and draw a line and then improvise round it.  I drew my line which I turned into a tree.  It’s done with chain stitch in stranded embroidery cotton.  The whole piece came together at the end when I put those black flowers clipped out of a quilting cotton and then stitched down with detached chain stitch and colonial knots, the latter done in orange to try and tie everything together.

The fox was done in needle-turned applique which I enjoyed doing far more than I expected.  Then I put a mix of slivers of leopard print cotton and straight stitches in a variety of threads, some of which were given to me by my good friend Mary from her mum’s stash:

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I embroidered the eye and nose.  I finished the piece with a backing of terracotta Laura Ashley fabric to echo the fox.

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This is the page from my notebook/sketchbook about the piece:

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I really enjoyed the workshop and meeting Mandy, who was great.  I want to do a bit more in this sort of style but without the old quilt as I don’t have one to cut up.

Fabric pictures of houses

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Quick post today.

Yesterday was the first event on the schedule that I have drawn up with my visiting US quilt scholar academic, Marybeth Stalp.  As part of the workshop, I made up some packs for people to do some sewing who weren’t ‘self-identified’ stitchers.  I made some samples to show them what they could make with the packs and the extra materials I had provided.  The theme was around the domestic and what happens when your hobby turns slightly serious.  We had a great afternoon, and here are the samples, pictures of houses or homes, to go with the theme of the day:

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House and home

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This is a quick post today, to some extent to show I am still alive.

I am planning a series of events with a visiting quilter from the US, Marybeth Stalp, and one of them involves a workshop in which we will invite participants to make something as we are talking.  I thought that it would be nice to have a domestic theme, and that we could make houses.  Houses have nice simple shapes and are something we can all have a go at making recognisable.  So I have been making some samples.  This is my first attempt.  The house itself has got to be achievable over the course of the workshop, but I know from experience that people are going to ask what they can do with them.  So I put this one on a backing fabric and all of a sudden it became a tree house, so I added some leaves and a bird.  It’s become a bird tree house.  I am really interested in that conversation with the materials, when the picture tells you what it wants.  This one wanted to be a bit whimsical, and possibly, and this might be fanciful, it wanted to remind me of the importance of living creatures and their needs for home as well us humans.

As usual, this is made entirely from scrap fabric which would otherwise go into landfill, including the thread which came from surplus floss for embroidery kits.  The bead for the eye and the button for the doorknob came from a tin my mother found at the back of a shelf.

 

Making cushions for people with dementia

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On 23 June I was lucky enough to be involved in the end of project conference or, more accurately, celebration for the Tangible Memories project at the University of Bristol.  Most big projects which are funded by the big, official research councils, which are Government funding bodies, insist on a big day at the end when you tell the world about what you have been doing and how it will change the world.  This project was run by Helen Manchester, who works in the Graduate School of Education at Bristol, and her lovely team, Pete and Seana.
The aim of the project is to design technology, or uses for existing technology to make life easier for older people.  The idea is create opportunities for conversations between the residents in care homes, their carers, their relatives and each other, and to work with people with advanced dementia on memory projects.  The memory work also helps older people to overcome feelings of unworthiness and being invisible.
I got involved via Bristol Quilters, when Helen asked me if I could round up a posse to make some cushions to hold small speakers so that people could listen to music and have the sensation of a soft cushion.  This is the cushion in use:
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The quilters, of course, rose to the occasion magnificently, making prototypes, and on the day, showing people a variety of techniques to personalise their cushions.
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I found myself needing to rustle up three cushions before the day with very little time as I had had a fantastic weekend with my Danish family and hadn’t had an opportunity to make anything.  I had a flash of inspiration and came up with a no-sew cushion, which I think I must have seen in a magazine somewhere.  So, I glued on the pocket for the technology with a hot-glue gun, and then wrapped the pad in a vintage silk scarf which I knotted on the front.  They look surprisingly good.  I had been saving the scarves to make a shower curtain, and they had brilliant seventies designs and were mostly pure silk and so they looked rather sumptuous.  I thought you could probably use a favourite scarf of the person you were making it for, and you could change it according to the season.  I might hunt out some more and make some for myself.  They are surprisingly cheap and easy to come by.
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One of the exercises we did on the day was to think about the sort of care home we would like to have ourselves.  It’s quite hard to think about this, but it did make me think what I would want.  One of the themes of the day was loss – which objects do you choose to take with you and which do you choose to leave behind?  Out of all this, I realised the importance of stash, space and studio.  I would hate to have to leave my collections of things behind: fabric, beads, books, sketchbooks, sewing machines, art materials, dolls, pens…  I like having the contacts and the networks I have – my personal space in which I can make things with a certain ease.  I also love having a dedicated space to do my work in – especially since the big clear-up.  I couldn’t bear the thought of giving up all this to sit round watching endless game shows on the tv.
So, I enjoyed watching everyone pile in for the making session, and I really loved playing with the technology, including the virtual reality headsets, but a main and unexpected outcome for me was realising what I have and what I would miss.

Alison Moger at Bristol Quilters

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This post is about lovely Alison Moger’s visit to Bristol Quilters last night, but it is also about synchronicity and that feeling that the whole world is coming together to help you in your work, which is a bit delusional, but most definitely seems to happen to people when they are in ‘flow’ with a project.

Alison Moger is textile artist who is interested in community narratives, specifically the narratives of families and place.  She makes pieces about women’s lives and concerns, working on recycled domestic textiles such as tablecloths, tea towels, tray cloths and shawls.  She then prints and embroiders and burns and bleaches and patches them into textiles which capture the story she wants to tell.  The stories are about women’s lives and how they have changed over the past couple of decades.  She has done commissioned work on hospital wards for people with Alzheimers making wallpaper from blown up stitched pieces which allowed the patients to navigate the space through pictures but also to remember how they used to do embroidery themselves.  She did what sounds like fascinating work in South Wales with families from the area affected by the recent wave of young people’s suicides to celebrate what was good about the community and to commemorate the dead.

She is Welsh herself, and makes pieces to preserve Welsh culture.  So there were pieces about the ‘Fair People’ who had, like herself, blond hair and were mistrusted in a community of the dark-haired, and stories from the Mabinogion with its attendant seasonal customs such as the skeleton horse who seems to have been some sort of trick or treat character.  She also talked about going on holiday to Porthcawl on the coal lorry when the holiday-makers took their own furniture on the truck to camp with.  The posh person with the caravan became the leader of the field kitchen.  Then they all waited for the lorry to return home.  I liked her idea of working into and onto tea towels because women often work out their problems while doing the washing up, and her invaluable advice, ‘Don’t go out with a man from Bridgend Road, especially if he keeps greyhounds.’

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So, it was a fascinating talk, and the work was really lovely.  But over and above that, I was intrigued to see just how closely our interests overlapped.  I am interested in textiles and their connections to women’s lives and identities.  I am increasingly interested in memory and aging.  And I am getting involved in working on community pieces which will have some connection to changing the world around me.  I had had a great conversation with a colleague about this at the university earlier in the day.  It felt like the universe telling me I was on the right path and to keep going as there are allies and helpers out there.  That is a bit Californian wacky-woo-woo New Age for me, but it was a good feeling.

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?

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This is quite a small panel, one of the last ones I made, but the one which will be in the top-left-hand corner.  Some of the panels have fents or offcuts instead of costume prints, including this one, which has three pieces of the finer lawn prints from the 1980s and 1990s.  On top of this is some beaded lace, and some burnt away fabric offcuts from another project.

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Because this came quite late in the process, I bought little items rather than using things in my stash, and as ever, I have only dim memories of where they came from.  But these two bits came from Copenhagen:

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I am quite proud of the little seed beads holding on the golden spray of leaves, and I really like the little black crown underneath the key.

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Although this doesn’t look much, I am very pleased with the stem-stitched box round the leaf charms.  Stem stitch has always defeated me until the wonderful Tanya Bentham showed me how to do it properly in one of her workshops.  So a small personal triumph.

I really enjoyed the hand embroidery on all of the pieces.  This is a ribbon rose:

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IMG_0845I wish it were as glorious as this contemporary take on a crazy quilt from the Bristol Embroiderers’ Guild Exhibition.  Unfortunately, I didn’t make a note of the artist’s name, so only one unauthorised picture.  If you know who made it please let me know.