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.

 

 

Joy in work: feathers

 

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Very occasionally I get to write one of these posts about when a piece of work just goes amazingly well.  This is one of those occasions.  It feels like I just turn up and provide the hands but the universe does the rest.

This small piece of work is part of a series I am making after my visit to the wonderful Shore Cottage Studio I have already mentioned.  I collected some inspirational pieces on the beach and then did some mark making and then dyed some fabric and thread, including making some pieces in the microwave using very ordinary dylon.  I have already blogged about using straight stitches on one piece, inspired by the striations on the beach pebbles.  This piece was inspired by the feathers I collected with Sue:

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I knew that I wanted to do something on feathers and I had bought a sizzix dye machine dye of the feather shape in preparation, but this morning I went to my work table and had completed the piece in about an hour.  It just fell together.  I found the background fabric which is a lovely piece of pure Scottish wool in my pile of samples bought by weight round the corner from me in a curtain maker’s shop, I found exactly the right sized piece of cotton bump to work as the padding, and I found the black Mettler quilting thread sitting on top of the tub of threads I use most often.  I threaded up the machine, got it ready for free machining and off I went.  I did make a sample, which I do more often now, but that went really well and I was off:

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I was a bit worried that I have made so many leaves over the years that I would do that rather than feathers, but it seemed to work.  The secret there was just to do it, not to think, just run the machine fast and get on with it:

 

The very dark and more navy blue pieces are bought fabric.  Mine is the more grey and less densely coloured pieces like the horizontal feather in the above pictures, but the bought fabric blended really well and allowed me to make a bigger piece.

I think you could argue that using the sizzix machine is cheating, but I think that the creativity bit comes in with how you use it, how you cut the fabric, and how you stitch it.  Plus it speeds up the process that you can experiment and do the what if? stage much more quickly.

I did hand cut some feathers as can be seen in the above sketchbook pages, but as the sizzix will cut bondaweb, I intend to use it and cut out the drudgery.  For information, I have the Bit Shot Sizzix Plus:

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I had it for Christmas last year and have really enjoyed using it.

But the point of the post is to record one of those small projects when everything goes really well and when it is a delight to make, and when I experience what Deming and William Morris describe as joy in work.  I don’t think we take enough time to enjoy what we have made with our hands.  I think we think it’s in some way conceited, but I really think we should.

 

A new project

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I’m sorry that I haven’t been posting much recently.  I usually wait until I have finished to post about my work, but the latest piece might take a while so I thought I would do some work in progress.

This is the start of a quilt using some heavy fabric from IKEA.  It will be broken up by two appliqué panels, and this is the first.  It is the start of a large branch – this is the full 45″ or 115cm of the background fabric.  It’ s very nice shot Indian cotton on some chambray that I had left over from a dress.  It has had a couple of false starts, and I had to undo the flowers I was thinking of before I could start this new design.  The unpicked appliqué looks a bit sad:

I will post some more on my progress.

 

Red Rabbits

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I am starting in the middle a bit with things here.  This is the second quilt in a series, and I have yet to blog about the first, but I am aware that it has been a while since I posted anything and this is easier to photograph than the first piece.

This is one of those quilts that started off as a quick demonstration piece of an improvised quilt made with the leftovers of a previous piece.  Then, of course, I decided to make it a bit more interesting and to put some appliqué on it.  As I have recently rediscovered a love of hand appliqué, that’s what it had to be.  In this instance, because the pieces – the rabbits – were so large, I decided to user the freezer paper method.  With this method you iron the freezer paper shape onto the top of the fabric and push the turning under with your needle.  Then you pull the completed shape off the top.  I prefer this to trying to get the paper out from under the shape when you use it underneath, particularly when you have something as tricky as rabbit’s ears.  This probably sounds like badly translated instructions if you are not a quilter.  If you aren’t and you want to see what I am talking about there are dozens of examples of the technique on You Tube.

I got the rabbit design from a clipping from a magazine that I kept because it appealed to me and I knew that it would come in useful at some point.  Unusually for me, I didn’t keep a note of who the original designer was.  All I know is that it was on a ceramic:

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It was quite easy to stitch.  I thought that I would be clever and just cut the shape of the chin and the legs and arms and then turn the edges back.  But, of course, this requires a turning on both edges so you end up with a very large gap.  I made a test piece and decided that I would have to do the outline with embroidery:

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I am rather glad that I did do the test – the piece on the right, before cutting the whole thing out.  I usually cut first and make samples and major mistakes later.  In this case the little bit of extra time was well spent.

After I had finished the piece looked a bit empty.  I thought briefly about doing some lettuces and carrots for a rabbits’ picnic, but my sketches were really a bit too twee.  I fell back on good old flowers.

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These needed a lot of surface embroidery but they worked reasonably well in the end.  I like the fact that they look a bit vintage, which is one of the aims of the piece.  The flower centres, which are raised, are suffolk puffs sewn on backwards.  The outline embroidery on the rabbits is whipped backstitch which I find a lot easier than stem stitch, particularly with a chunky thread.  The surface embroidery here is all done with three strands of embroidery cotton:

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I love using seeding as a quilting stitch even though it takes forever.  I haven’t done it for a while but I think the red here complements the big stitch on the body of the rabbit.

The quilt as a whole is a bit jumbled.  The outlines are not always clear, particularly the leaves and some of the petals on several of the flowers, but in this case, I rather like the effect.  It gives it a lived in, vaguely faded feel, even though almost all the fabric is brand new.

 

As a bit of a trailer, this piece also illustrates another project that I am working on which is about working with ugly or old-fashioned fabric, the sort of thing that you find in your stash which you bought years ago which is good but essentially out of date.  The rabbits are done in this fabric and the backing, which I will show in a subsequent post, is truly horrible and I genuinely do not know how it got into my stash.  More on this project as I go along.

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.

More applique

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This is the latest of my Mandy Pattullo/Laura Ashley pieces.  The background is pieced paper (English method) hexagon patchwork with an overlay of Laura Ashley fabric applique.  I had thought that I would do a fairly minimalist piece with just the dark flowers at the top like Mandy Pattullo sometimes does:

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but I thought mine looked a bit bare:

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I wanted to use these big plastic rose buttons that came as a free gift with a magazine as the centres of some somerset puff roses, and I think that worked quite well.  I wish I had taken a photo before I put the roses on, because the hexagon looked like a cartoon cactus sticking out of the pot.  Anyway, I decided this needed more, and for some reason, I suddenly thought of the Baltimore originals I had in mind when making the pieces: the rick rack braid rose.

I don’t particularly like rick rack braid apart from the really tiny stuff which looks lovely on borders if you have the patience to stitch it on, so this was something that I didn’t have in my stash.  I went to Flo-Jo in Bristol which is a great shop selling fabric and haberdashery and running workshops and dressmaking classes.  It is run by really lovely enthusiastic people and stocks particularly gorgeous ranges of unusual fabric.  Of course, they had a range of rick rack and I bought some red, pink and orange.  Old Baltimore quilts seem to me to delight in virtuoso effects and experimenting with the latest thing, and they often have 3D elements like these roses.  They are really simple to make.  You take two pieces of rick rack, twist them together like plaiting and then roll them up.  The final stage is to pull back the outer rounds to make unfolding petals.  There are lots and lots of demonstrations of this on You Tube in particular, and they are mostly stuck together (opinion varies on the merits of a hot glue gun), but I stitched mine for authenticity (although I expect the ladies of Baltimore would have used a glue gun if they had had one available).  As an aside, there was a wonderful video of a woman making daisies rather than roses out of rick rack which she then fills with pearls and sticks on lace and which are really not to my taste.  At the end of one of the videos she makes leaves out of synthetic ribbon.  ‘You need to burnish [i.e. singe] the ends together,’ she trills gaily and proceeds to take what looks like one of those things used to light gas rings on cookers and to waft it in front of her ribbon, slightly singeing her fingers.  ‘It doesn’t hurt,’ she says, ‘well not really.’  I am not sure that I really want to scorch my finger ends for ribbon leaves but it doesn’t seem to do her a lot of harm.  Pyrotechnics aside, there are some very clear tutorials available, and, of course, fans of Baltimores will know that Elly Sienkiewicz’s books contain explicit and well-illustrated instructions, particularly her book on dimensional applique.

I am not sure if you can tell from the photograph at the top but I made a big central rose of red and pink twisted together, and four large red roses and four small pink ones.  They are really good fun and quick to make, and the best bit is at the end when you pull back the outer rounds and the rose almost leaps forward.  The You Tube demonstrators tend to stick them on rings or brooches or hair slides.  I would just recommend going easy on the lace.

I finished off with some big mint green leaves with the veins done this time in fly stitch.  In the end, I rather liked the naive charm of the piece, and I think it is an interesting example of something I have written about before: your relationship with your work.  You might think that you have finished, but your work will whisper, or shout very loudly as it did here, that it is not finished.  And you have to finish it because otherwise it will go on shouting until you do.

More embroidery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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