Another wreath

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I was a bit taken aback by how popular the last wreath was, so here’s another.  This is made in the same way.  The background is a sample of furnishing linen which I have had for ages but not wanted to cut up.  The circle is done in chain stitch with three strands of embroidery cotton.  This one has appliquéd berries and thorn stitch between the leaves.

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This one is quite so easy to read.  The previous one had a lighter background:

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I like the second one because it looks a bit vintage, as if the person who made it in the 19C didn’t quite know how it was going to fade and become less distinct.

These are so easy to do, though.  Brilliant for beginners because the appliqué leaves are a really simple shape.

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Alf Rehn’s shirt

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This is a shocking picture of the finished shirt:

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

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.

 

Frome Vintage Textiles Market

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I spent most of Saturday morning at a vintage textile market in Frome.  This was a mistake, as it is always a wallet-hoovering occasion when I meet old fabric in a commercial setting.  I spent rather more than I intended to, but there were some lovely pieces on sale.  I didn’t even look at the price tags on the quilts, but there were plenty for sale and quite a few in pretty good condition.  There was also quite a lot of new fabric which I hope the traders weren’t trying to pass off as old.  Vintage seems to mean anything over twenty years old, although most of what was on display in Frome was rather older than that.

I bought the red and white/pink and cream pieces above, as I have fallen in love with red and white quilts, and intend to make something with the old and some new fabric.  The pieces above came from a ‘lucky bag’, which was reasonably priced.  I also bought some specific red pieces:

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This one just looks old, and therefore right to me.  It looks like a lot of reproduction fabric I have seen over the years with those little pin-pricks of black.

This one is all red and very red.  I absolutely loved it, although the trader said it was hard to shift because it was just too red:

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It’s a gorgeously rich colour in the flesh.  The next one was such a glorious print that I  couldn’t resist it, even though it is just a scrap:

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I wonder if it’s from a popular song.  It doesn’t look like Ophelia floating off to her watery end.

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Plus the banana tree in the background would be oddly placed.

This one also has a lovely print:

 

Nearly faded away but just about visible.

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This looks like the edge of a quilt or a valance, but has a wonderful colonialist feel to it.

I also bought prints just because they were pretty like this one:

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and this lovely hyacinth one:

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I have also started to enjoy bark cloth, which I only discovered this year.  It’s a thick cotton fabric, popular in the 1950s with a heavy texture.  It was used a lot for kitchen curtains and such which lingered on into my 1960s childhood.  I used to think they were very ugly, but I think the nostalgia bug has bitten:

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This was a cheap bit bag, but it gives a good idea of the gloriously overblown prints of the time.  I have some other pieces which are much more modernist and ‘cool’, but the sheer liveliness of these bits sang out to me.

I got a large piece of Laura Ashley fabric which I also collect, for a good price:

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Some fabulous falling to pieces embroidery:

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which will come in handy for something somewhere, and some tiny buttons:

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It’s always hard to judge sizes, so here is a terrier to help give scale:

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The terrier also features with this lovely piece of pretend crewel work:

I am ending with a lovely piece of tattered woven silk:

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So, it was a really good day, and there was lots I would have liked to have bought with an endless budget, but I came home pleased with the haul.  I know very little about dating old fabric or where they came from and so on, and I think this is potentially a good thing for me, if not the fabric, as it doesn’t inhibit me from using it, as it would if I knew it were really precious.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

A period Laura Ashley bedroom open for visits

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The Medieval Historian and I brushed the gathering dust off our National Trust cards and went to Newark Park to see a bedroom specially decorated to feature in the Laura Ashley home catalogue:

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I was told about this at a quilting group I recently visited.  The room was featured in the catalogue, and the entry had been photographed and laminated, but sadly no date was included:

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The whole room felt like a trip down the memory lane of Laura Ashley at her height:

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I am not sure if this is original but it looks like some of her high victoriana fabrics:

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This was a rather nice little terrarium-type decoration:

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And this was the landing with a rather nice mirror just outside the room:

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I don’t have anything very profound to say about the visit to the period bedroom, except that it felt very familiar and it was interesting to see the whole soup to nuts decor.  I knew that the family used their own homes as room sets for the catalogues but not that they used other people’s.

Still more applique

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This piece is backed onto some curtain interlining and then washed in hot water to give it a vintage feel.  This particular interlining seems to turn into tungsten steel when you give it this treatment so I thought I would stick to something fairly simple for this piece, a spray of leaves.  Once more it is based on a lovely piece by Mandy Pattullo:

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Her’s has a lot of dynamism because of the swirl of the quilt piece behind it.  Mine is much more stable and sedate:

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I wanted to use these lovely purple-y Laura Ashley pieces which were given to me by Gill Bonham, one of the Bristol Quilters.  They were mainly quite fine lawn pieces and very easy to applique.  I decided to embroider them in pink because of the lovely foliage on some flowers I was recently sent:

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I love that pink edge on the shiny strappy leaves.  I was wondering what to do lift the piece and I decided to add some buttons:

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I am not normally a big fan of buttons, and I do actually know someone who genuinely has a phobia of them, but on this occasion I thought they matched the naive quality of the piece.  Furthermore, these all came from my mother-in-law’s button box which I inherited when she died.  Most of them are fairly vintage, which fits in with the general theme of the series.

This little piece has some really old Laura Ashley prints.  The background has some of what looks like Indian woodblock print and this is some of the first designs the company produced for clothing.  The navy and white prints in the above piece are also quite old ones.

It was a delight to do, and I think my hand applique has really improved over the course of this project.

Trio of dolls

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These dolls are made from Jess Brown‘s book, The Making of a Rag Doll.  Her dolls are really ‘arty’.  They look like the sort of thing Miss Haversham might have sitting next to the crumbling wedding cake.  I have always really wanted one since I saw them featured in Selvedge, the arty textiles lover’s bible.  They aren’t ruinously expensive, but they would be an investment rather than a little self-present.  I was delighted, therefore, on a trip to my mother’s to find Brown’s book in the big branch of Waterstone’s in the middle of Nottingham.

Once I started making the dolls from the full-sized patterns in the book, I realised that these are designed to be heirloom presents for little girls and not playthings.  The dolls are pretty robust, but the clothes are very distressed (Derelicte, for Zoolander fans).  Because they are not finished, by which I mean no neatened seams or turned up hems, and the closures are almost all by embroidery drawstring rather than buttons, I think the average child would destroy them within weeks if they wanted to play dress up.  This is not a problem for me, my dolls are for display only, but I wouldn’t make one without modification for a child.

Having said all that, I loved making the dolls.  The artiness of the enterprise is reflected in things like the assumption that you know what you are doing and what you want to achieve.  I really wanted to achieve the arch expression that Brown gets with the straight-stitched eyes and pursed lips, but there are only the most basic instructions for how to do this.  Brown states that the face and hair for the doll is where you express your own ideas and personality and that is pretty much it.  She explains that she uses strips of wool for the hair but there are no close up photos to show you how to do it – there are, however, loving semi-sepia shots of her studio and piles of vintage textiles.  I used a really thick boiled wool jacket which shrank to Barbie size in the wash, and which I really loved and wore to bits.  It made great hair, and I liked the suggestion of hair for once rather than using wool to create strands.

I used a brilliant tool that I was sold at the Knitting and Stitching Show to turn the arms and legs which are really spindly.  You may well know what I mean by being sold something at a trade show.  I have a failsafe pompom maker which is totally useless but looked fantastic and I think most sewists (a term I am trying out) have got a draw full of useless gadgets.  This one, sold to me by a charming Frenchman, turns rouleau very easily and comes in three sizes for the various gauges of rouleau.  I understand that you can get the same effect with a crochet hook and drinking straw.

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This is a Prym brand set, but there are lots of others.  Using this really made it easy and even fun to turn the limbs through as opposed to the usual frustration with a pencil or the chopstick that Brown suggests.  Seven pounds well spent for once.

As usual I made a sample doll before cutting up any fabric I was particularly fond of, and I began with a remnant of furnishing weight linen with a vague chinoiserie pattern:

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You can also just about see the fun I had with her braids/plaits.  The other two dolls were tea-dyed white cotton.  I used three Yorkshire tea bags for three hours.  I really liked the mottled look it gave to the fabric, making it look vintage.  All the creases came out easily when I stuffed them:

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I dressed her in cast off furnishing linen, and she ended up very faded, but quite smart because hemmed and finished for the most part.  The second doll was dressed entirely in Liberty Tana lawn and became a riot of colour with orange eyelash yarn which came from a lucky dip pound shop bag from out by the M32 motorway.  Her flower hat is from a bag of trimmings which was part of my Christmas present from my resourceful mother.  I loved her exuberant style.  The final doll is dressed entirely in silk.  I started with a printed silk dress which was so elegant I decided to make it a dupion silk coat and to give her a cocktail hat which is a large piece of costume jewellery.  The only problem is that it is so heavy she can’t really sit up.  But I loved the look with the bob hair do.

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I don’t know why I love making dolls so much, although a psychiatrist would probably have a theory, but one of the reasons is that I never know who will emerge.  I didn’t intend to do linen, cotton and silk, and I wasn’t expecting tasteful Liberty prints to come out quite so eccentric old lady-ish.  She also has a Klimtian hair do which you can’t quite see in these pictures.  Making them is quietly addictive, though, and I realised during the making that this is because I am making a kind of fashion doll rather than a toy or character doll.  That makes it feel much more grown up.

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.

 

 

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.