Brave New World

You may have noticed that there have not been too many posts on my blog recently.  This is because I have taken the big decision to start offering workshops.  When I have given talks in the past, people have asked if I would do a workshop and I have always said no, but this year I took a deep breath and decided that I would like to offer classes in a variety of things that interest me.  To this end, I have been dreaming up workshops that I would like to go on myself and making demonstration samples.  Plus, I have roped in the Medieval Historian to add some historical information relevant to the workshop.  So, Christmas decoration making will have a session with tea and cake where he will talk about the origins of Christmas customs in this country.  My Easter workshop (which may well launch in 2018 – it takes much longer than you think to get these things ready) will include an informal session on the romantically doomed Romanovs who commissioned the Fabergé eggs we will be thinking about.  He will not be caught up in the Romance, though; he’s a proper historian after all.

My vision is to create a series of workshops based on customs and celebrations that we used to have in this country but have lost.  For example: the just-post-Christmas Wren Hunt, the cakes and candles of Candlemas in dreary February, and others to follow.  All will have projects and historical information to drop into any conversation.  Social success is assured.

The biggest step of all has been to have a studio built in my garden where I will offer small courses of no more than six participants.  It’s called Pomegranate Studio as the pomegranate symbolises creativity for me.  At the moment the studio looks like any new build in February – mudastic – but it will be surrounded by an inspirational flower garden when it is finished, I hope.  Here are some far from enticing pictures.  I will add more as I get the decorative bits finished after the hard build:

The studio is insulated so it is warm, has lots of light so that no-one gets a seat out of natural daylight, and is plumbed in so there will always be plenty of tea and coffee.  There will also be my not inconsiderable collection of books to browse through.

I will be posting a lot more about this in the next few days with pictures of the possible products from possible workshops.  In the meantime, let’s hope the rain lets up and I can get round to that flower garden I mentioned.

 

 

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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.

 

 

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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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.

Bloggy the Blog Dog

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I bought this fantastic little dog at the Bristol Embroiderers’ lovely show at the weekend.  I just loved his exuberance.  He’s like a 3D sampler with his beautifully couched back and his french knots and loop stitch. I love the perfect facetted bead nose.  He’s made from an old blanket, I think.

The exhibition was a delight.  I really enjoyed the way that the members had taken and updated a lot of traditional skills which may well soon be lost.  There was also some lovely drawing with the needle.  I don’t like singling people out, and I had my favourites, but Margaret Maple’s exquisite gold work given a really fresh look through her colour palette was a highlight for me.

What I did at the weekend

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On Monday night I gave a talk to the Westbury Park Quilters on Album and Friendship quilts.

I have been doing some research on these on and off for several months, and one of the most intriguing quilts I have come across is this one:

IMG_0842The blurry black and white photo is all I have as it is a plate in Patsy and Myron Orlofsky’s comprehensive book about American quilts, Quilts in America (1975).   The original was made by Elizabeth Roseberry Mitchell in 1839 and is considerably bigger than my copy at 79.5 x 80 inches.

What I love about this quilt is the inclusion of those coffins which are embroidered with the names of the dear departed in the original.  As family members died they were added to the centre of the quilt.  I can’t help imagining the scene: there you are lying in your bed with a bit of a temperature when Elizabeth turns up with her sewing basket and starts stitching your name onto a small, lozenge-shaped piece of fabric…

My version is much smaller than the original because it was just a demonstration piece.  It is made with furnishing fabric and suiting samples and a little bit of silk for the leaves and flowers.  The purpley fabric used for the gate was a real swine.  I had held the whole thing together with super-heavy duty steam-a-seam and then top-stitched it.  Unfortunately the heavy pile and the glue was just too much for the jeans needle I was using,  The eye clogged up so much that I couldn’t rethread the needle when the thread inevitably broke.  I used three needles just stitching the purple:

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I cheated a bit with the leaves and flowers.  I made the leaves from diamonds cut from a strip about half an inch wide as I was taught to do at school to make leaves from pastry to go on the top of pies.  The flowers are squares stitched into oblivion so that they fray into circles, although I did start snipping off the corners and turning them into hexagons as I got into it:

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The photograph below shows my samples and what I did with the leftovers:

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I really enjoyed turning the leftovers into sorts of 1970s Danish style ceramic pots.

So, gummed up needles aside, this piece was a delight to make.

What I learned about identity from Jan Hassard

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The speaker at Bristol Quilters last week was the lovely and very talented Jan Hassard.  She has been a member of Bristol Quilters for years, and so it was nice to see  her body of work as it developed; it was something of a retrospective, as they call it in the fine art world.

Jan’s work couldn’t be more different from mine.  Her work is totally precise, planned, ordered, structured and disciplined.  Mine is slapdash and improvised.  But even so, it is glorious because it has so much beautiful colour and vivacity.

I am not posting many photos, because a. I didn’t take a camera – even my phone, and b. she was talking about the increasing phenomena of work on the net being stolen and copied, or just used without permission.

The riot of colour which was a tonic for the soul aside, I enjoyed Jan’s talk for its insistence on craft, standards, high levels of finish and presentation, many concerns which I would like Craftivists to take into account.  I loved it even more because it seemed to me to be the perfect riposte to the anti-nostalgia rally that I seem to keep running into recently.  It is like there is something deficient in people who want to hold the past with affection.  They should be letting go and moving on.  They should be facing up to the realities of the present and not seeking solace in the imaginary golden past of tea and crumpets and church picnics.  Nostalgia is the new opium of the people, according to this analysis, and women are particularly susceptible.  At the same time we hear lots of stuff about identity (see, for example, Grayson Perry’s wonderful recent series on British television).  Most of the identity theory at the moment is about our fugitive, unstable, protean identities, constructed only in relation to others (I am different as a daughter, wife, friend, university academic, driver, customer, quilter and so on).  Jan’s talk, however, included her experience of being a very small child in the war and being bombed out of her home.  Her parents knew how to count between hearing the bomb and its exploding.  So they managed to get her to safety but the house was destroyed: everything gone in an instant.  Later on, as dispossessed person she got a Canadian Red Cross quilt.  These were utility quilts made by Canadian women to aid British allies who had lost everything.images-5 images-4

Jan talked about sleeping under hers until she was about eleven.  One day her mother just threw the quilts away.  To a collector like Jan in later years, this was devastating, but to her mother it made perfect sense.  She did not want to be reminded of the horrible period in her life when she lost everything.  Jan now acquires these Red Cross quilts.  I don’t think that this is fuzzy nostalgia of the sort that fuels our delight in Downtown Abbey.  I think this is a serious identity project.  Our identities might be shifting and relational and contextual and contingent, but they are built on experience that matters to us.  We cannot just throw off that quilt and become post-modern, or worse yet post-human.  And, once again, cloth plays a major part on our view of ourselves as people in the world.

Public engagement – Thinking Futures Workshop and Glamorgan Quilters

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It has been one of the busiest two weeks of my life, which is why I haven’t posted anything recently.  First my lovely PhD student, Zara, had her viva.  Although this is her oral exam on her thesis, I was quietly nervous as there is no way of predicting what questions will come up.  I had prepared her as well as I could with my colleague, Mary, but there is still unpredictability involved.  In the event she sailed through it and the examiners loved her work.  I am delighted for her.

Then, the following day, I went and gave a talk to the Glamorgan Quilters.  They are a lovely group and a delight to talk to.  One of them gave me some tiny scraps of Laura Ashley fabric which I don’t have in my collection and which I intend to do something with.  Another member brought this lovely bag to show me:

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I love everything about this bag.  The piece is like a time capsule of what we were doing in the 70s and 80s and the handles are just delightful as is the quilter who brought it along.

After the talk I went into Cowbridge with one of my colleagues, Sheena, who had come along to support me.  She took me to a sort of indoor antiques/vintage market with a tea room on the side.  I got a packet of Laura Ashley prints, and somehow managed to spend £17 without blinking.  We had a great time.  Cowbridge is the place to go for swanky dress and shoe shops, by the way.  I got off lightly in retrospect with my £17.

Wednesday was my Thinking Futures Day.  This is part of a ten-day-long programme of events put on by the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law in which we try to reach people who wouldn’t normally come into the University to hear about our research.  I did a workshop on patchwork and quilting and the contribution that quilters make to the fabric of our culture and society.  I held it at the Friends Meeting House where Bristol Quilters meets, and we had two wonderful speakers, Harriet Shortt from UWE, and Jenny Hall from Bournemouth University.  They were both great, speaking very passionately about their work.  I talked a bit about the academic study of patchwork and quilting, and gave an update on my Laura Ashley research.  I notice there are a lot of ‘I’s and ‘me’s’ in that paragraph, but really it was a communal day.

I really wanted it to be a bit of a party for Bristol Quilters, to celebrate their contribution to society, as well as to my research.  So, we, my Grate Frend Ceri, and I tried to add some little touches to make it feel like a series of small treats as well as an educational day.  Ceri made these wonderful biscuits:

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The stamp set comes from Lakeland.  These were a great hit.  I made parkin, which I always associate with Bonfire Night which is when we held the workshop.  Alison, Stephanie and Ceri contributed homemade cakes and biscuits and traybakes for afternoon tea.   Ceri and I had already had an afternoon making posies for the table, and in the process realising that a second career as florists was probably not for us:

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This is the pile of things I had to take in for the day:

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We were aiming for amplitude and generosity:

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As well as cake and sandwiches, there were notebooks for taking notes in the morning, and cards with vintage fabric and needles ready-threaded in the afternoon.  I’ll post some pictures of those separately.  There was also fabric very kindly donated by Flo-Jo in Bristol in the afternoon for our sewing bee:

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People worked on a variety of things, but the most popular were the little coverlets for the premature babies unit in Southmead Hospital in Bristol.  These are 16″x20″ unwadded patchworks which we donate to the unit.  The mothers get to keep the quilts no matter what the outcome, and there is always a demand for a steady stream of replacement quilts.  They are exactly the right size for a group project like this.  Although I think only one top was finished completely, Ruth Case, one of the Bristol Quilters, very generously volunteered for finishing duty.

Here are some more images from the day:

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And here is my friend Beatriz talking to Eva, the organiser:

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I didn’t take as many photos as I would have liked of the speakers because I was too busy listening, but here is the marvellous Jenny  and her quilt:

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And I didn’t have my camera when Harriet was speaking so this is a photograph of a doll that her mother made of her in her wedding dress that she brought to show us:

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Finally, I spend a lot of time trying to find writers who have something sensible and useful to say about leadership.  There isn’t much out there, I think, that isn’t about people desperate to justify wanting to be in charge.  They should hang their heads in shame and come and look at the self-managing teams which effortlessly formed, performed and disbanded throughout the day, without my having to ask, to make sure that everything went smoothly.  Not least of these were the tea and coffee makers and the washers-up, real unsung heroic examples of distributed leadership.  Thanks to all of them:

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