The best laid plans

Full Cora heavy shadow

I mentioned on the last blog post that I am training to be a human celebrant.  Essentially this means that I am training to do secular christenings or namings, as we call them.  You could also call them welcomings.  Children are named and welcomed into their families and the equivalent of godparents are appointed.  They are good if parents aren’t religious, or if they come from different faith traditions, or they want the child to be able to choose for themselves later on.  I asked my mentor why people would choose to have a ceremony at all if they don’t believe, expecting her to come up with a philosophical answer about the need for ritual and marking life stages and so on, but she said that essentially it is a day for celebration and basically for having a party.  Fair enough.  Anyway, that it is what I am hoping to do next year.  I am 7/8ths of my way through my training which I have loved.

Now, I don’t want to spend much time on this because this is a textile blog, and not a humanist one, but I do have a problem.  Because I am starting out, I don’t have much to put on my website or facebook page or all the other media things you have to do these days to advertise your services.  So, I thought that I could have pictures of toys, particularly as people are rightly reluctant to let you put photos of their children on the web without express and detailed permission.  I thought it would be good to make some of these toys to photograph and so sat down to make some.  The results have been rather startling in several cases which I will post as I get round to it, but this one has been particularly interesting.  Meet Cora:

Cora without shadows

Cora here is so called because the stitches on her chest turned into a heart:

Cora chest

She is meant to be a nice plushie for a small child.  The only problem is that she has this fantastic snout, like a wolf:

Cora heavy shadow

And those beautifully embroidered (if I say so myself) eyes which a baby cannot chew off, but which are beady and rather sinister.  She does like to dance in the sunshine:

Cora dancing in a funny light

But even the Medieval Historian, my staunchest supporter, thought she was a bit sinister.

On the positive side, she is made from a remnant of something I bought in Stof and Stil’s sale, which is a brilliant fabric, pure wool, I think, which does not fray and is tougher and nicer than felt.  I have no idea what it is.  Would it be Melton?

More to come, particularly pigs.

 

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In case you thought I had disappeared

Leaves

I am very sorry that I have not been posting much recently.  Life has rather got the better of me from domestic disasters to family ill health, to starting a whole new life.  I have now retired from the University of Bristol and am starting what I grandly call a portfolio career.  This will consist of running Pomegranate Studio, starting to sell my textiles and being a humanist celebrant taking non-religious naming ceremonies.

That’s quite a lot to take in and also quite a lot to work on.  I have also managed to set-up on-line banking, which I consider to be one of my achievements of this year.

There will be more about this as the portfolio is properly opened, but for now, I wanted to show you an image of one of the things that I am hoping to sell through my Etsy shop.  There isn’t much in the shop at the moment as I just wanted to bag the name PomegranateAnn, but I will be adding more.  I have decided to sell some small pieces.  I have always found it extremely difficult to sell my work as it is a part of me, but needs must at the moment.  The problem is that making to sell, rather than making because I want to make is difficult because it always feels very different.

This is in the Etsy shop:

Full piece

It’s really very pretty and quite a wintery piece.  Unusually for me is that the fabrics used are all my hand-dyes.  This second piece did not behave quite so well.  It came out as a trapezium.  I quite like that because it makes it look particularly handmade, but I can see that it won’t appeal to everyone.  It is made from samples of neutral pale fabric, mainly linen and silk.   I also used some very chi-chi Japanese organic embroidery thread for the leaves and stem:

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This is a really interesting venture for me – to see if I can make a living outside the university, and to see if I can reinvent myself.

Pheasant/Phoenix

Pheasnt phoenix

I am hardly ever proud of what I have done.  I follow a curve of getting very excited about something and then thinking it’s a pile of rubbish.  I am with all those artists who say that there is massive frustration in what is in your imagination or mind’s eye and what you are actually able to achieve.  But, for once, I am absolutely delighted with this piece, an embroidered fabric collage of some sort of bird.

I started this piece on a lovely weekend at the wonderful Shore Cottage Studios on the Wirral.  I have written a lot about this magical place on my blog before.  This time I went with my Grate Frend, Mike, who is a brilliant maker of fabric collage, and who I thought would like the studio and Sue, who was our tutor, and fabric dyeing (all of which he did).  We went for a walk on the beach and gathered some inspirational stuff: stones, feathers, crab shell, seaweed and so on.  Then we did some drawing and in the afternoon some microwave and rust dyeing.  The following day we started to make our pieces.

I found all this so exciting that I couldn’t sleep on the first night, so I did some sketchbook work and got prepared for the following day.  This is my sketch of what I intended to make:

Wreath sketch

It’s a pretty wreath with all those elements we found on the beach.  I went on to work out all the stitches I would use, and was ready to go.

In my hotel room, however, was a copy of House and Garden, which I very seldom read as the houses really are grand, and my house is not.  But it had a picture from an exhibition at Waddeston Manor:

Pheasant original photo

I thought he was rather magnificent, although rather more striking than pheasants I have encountered.  Anyway, I ummed and ahhed, but finally decided to make a pheasant rather than a wreath.  I used the fabric that I had dyed the previous day and supplemented it with a bit from Sue’s stash, and in the bottom right hand corner a pale turquoise piece that Mike had dyed.  I very carefully hand-appliquéd a rosy red piece for the body using the needle-turning technique.  Bit of a daft mistake.  No-one can now see my exquisite (!!!!!) hand appliqué and it meant another layer to stitch through, and it was thick by the end as much of what I used was weighty furnishing fabric.

It is one of my new-found pleasures of retirement that I was able to take it home and work on it the following day.  Here are some details of the feathers:

Wing feather details

I hope you can see from this photo that I over-dyed some printed fabric – you can see the white lines of the botanical design.  I stitched into that with some of the hand-dyed threads we produced.

Feather stitch detail two

This shows the next layer of feathers which were stitched with a variety of threads, some commercial and some from the workshop.  This was the first stitching and really brought the piece to life and convinced me to keep working into it.

Phoenix feather stitch detail

These are the same feathers showing how the embroidery secures them but also allows them a 3D effect.  It also shows some of the fraying I did on the feathers’ edges.  My fingernails did not thank me for it.

Back of head feathers

These are the back of the neck detail feathers.  The stitching here is with a very fine variegated silk thread produced commercially.

Feathers three

This shows the beads I put on his chest.  I bought them for the project and astonished the woman in the bead shop by my speed of choice.  The darker faceted beads really catch the light.  I wanted to use the turquoise ones to try and capture his brilliant flashes of jewel colours in the photograph source material.

The other things that I knew were going to be really important in this piece were the beak and the eye.  I wanted him to look very proud and fierce and defiant.  I left the features until last because I knew that they could easily ruin the whole thing which is a bit silly when you think about it, but I knew if I got it right they would bring him to life.  So, I deliberately exaggerated his beak and make him much more raptor-like:

Pheasant beak detail

I used the Anna Scholz gold fabric I described in my last post, and then I stitched over it with fine cotton perlé to knock the gold back a bit, and also to give it the 3D curve of a beak.  I tried very hard to integrate the gold into the face, as it can jump out, but I think it sits okay here.

Then I went onto the eye and thought about several ways of approaching it, including painting it, but in the end I went with a simple satin stitch in black perlé cotton and a small pearl bead:

Eye detail

I really wanted that evil glint in his eye, and I think it more or less worked.

I am really pleased with him, but as I was stitching it, I thought, it’s not a pheasant at all, it’s a phoenix, and not to come all over poetic and wacky woo woo, I think he is symbolic of my new life after being a university teacher for so long.

A joyful piece from leftovers

Leftovers hanging

If you have read previous posts on this blog, you will know that I hate throwing things away.  I also like to make other projects with the leftovers of previous pieces.  This little wallhanging is a good example of this.  It is made with leftovers from a much bigger piece which I showed at the last Bristol Quilters exhibition:

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I started the piece with this tiny leftover square:

Leftovers centre

Those half triangles in the centre are about 1 cm-1/3″ square and are the trimmings from a block where you sew a small square to a big square and then press it back to give you another shape:

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I also included more leftover strips using Kaffe Fassett and Philip Jackson fabric which I had stitched together to form one long random strip which you can see on the outer rows of the small piece.  I was really pleased to be able to use this gold fabric:

Leftovers gold

I got this in an Anna Scholz sale.  Whenever people compliment on a frock or coat, it is always by Anna Scholz.  Occasionally she sells off really luxurious fabric off the roll at ridiculously cheap prices for fashion students.  Somehow I got an invite and then to meet Anna, who was lovely.  I had to stagger back to the tube with all this stuff, but the bargains were stupendous.  The gold would not have cost more than a fiver a metre, but it takes hand stitching really beautifully.  Pulled the stitches quite tightly to give that rippled effect.  I had intended to do more stitching on the piece, but the fabrics were too ‘shouty’ and didn’t need more detail.  You can just see some fly stitch in the top left hand corner of the above picture.  I more or less left it at that.

I now have to decide what to do with it.  It is cushion-sized, but I think I would prefer it as a small wallhanging.  For that I will need to do the binding.

The thing I thought was interesting, though, is what a happy piece it is.  I can’t help but wonder if this is because it was the first piece of patchwork I did after I got my retirement options sorted out.  The piece came together in an afternoon, and I think expresses my delight at being able to get on with the next phase of my life.

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.

 

 

In which I trim my own bonnet.

This is a blog post from the incredibly talented Tanya which I thought would appeal to those of you who love hats.

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Those of you who’ve met me will know I like hats, because it’s kind of obvious. I’ve always been this way. When my mum was marrying my stepdad she asked what I wanted to wear, and I said I wanted to go as a gangster, so she bought me a suit, tie ( pink, to go with the grooms outfit) and a proper trilby, which I refused to take off for over a month, I even wore it in the bath.

but the greatest tragedy of my teenage years was that I didn’t have a seventeenth century hat, I desperately wanted one but my pocket money just wouldn’t stretch to it. My mum used to spend hours before every ecws event torturing my hair into ringlets instead, prompting my stepbrothers to follow me around barking the theme tune to “dogtanian and the three muskehounds”

about ten years ago I bought…

View original post 518 more words

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.

 

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.

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.