Accentuate the positive

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I’m sorry that I haven’t posted much recently.  Surprisingly, July is my busiest month in terms of having time available to do things.  You would think with the students having more or less finished for the year it would be an easier time of year, but in my case there are conferences and holidays to contend with and thus August is a time of getting back into work and routine.

That said, I have been working  on lots of things which I will write about, but first I want to do a slightly unusual post about journalling and noticing ‘stuff’.

I have kept a journal for years and years, although not every single day of all of those years.  I generally start the day with it because early morning is my best thinking time.  I have lots of my best ideas at those times and can write them down before I forget.  Yesterday I was moaning to my diary that the previous day had been very unsatisfactory and that I hadn’t found much satisfaction in any of the creative work I had been trying to do.  This is unusual because Sunday is a day that I retreat to my workroom after walking the Mighty Mutt, and I am usually really energised by my sewing.  Because I was feeling so flat, I sarcastically left a box in my journal to write down the wonderful thing which was going to occur that day.  This is an old technique from motivation courses that I used to teach on about thirty years ago.  You are supposed to look yourself in the mirror (and a journal is a kind of mirror) and say outloud to yourself, ‘Something wonderful is going to happen today.’  I didn’t really expect to be spilling much ink filling in the box later.

So I was surprised to find that I had some things to note down this morning.  I was rather hoping for a massive cheque or a book deal or an interview with Grayson Perry, which is ridiculous.  The universe is not going to deliver on major things like that on demand.  Instead, I found myself looking out for good things, and this is where I found the technique interesting.  It forced my attention onto the positive.  The day was still the day, but I was looking for things to enjoy rather than endure.  I waded through a lot of dreary admin, and marking of student drafts and so on, but I also experienced some good things.  Here is the list:

  • My monthly stationery lucky dip package turned up from moustache.com.  Pricey for what it is, but always contains a treat or something cool (sorry) or interesting.
  • I managed for the first time ever to return work to a student saying I wasn’t prepared to read it unless it was re-written for readability.  I am so scared of upsetting students with my comments that I would normally soldier on, but this one was so dense I had no idea what s/he was saying.
  • I found the perfect backing fabric for my Laura Ashley Regency quilt on spoonflower.com.  I have been thinking about this for months and when I saw the print on the website although it wasn’t what I was looking for, I knew it was absolutely the right thing.  I just need to work out how much to order.
  • I sat down at my work table and although it took me ages to get going, I made a special gift for a friend.  I had no inspiration and did not feel like making, but the desire to make something exquisite for her kicked in at some point and I am very pleased with what I made.  It is a wallet to hold paper money.  It has corny hearts on it for friendship and it is made with my favourite burning back technique with a very cheap remnant of a rainbow organza over some lovely leftover silk.  Then a lot of hand stitching and an awful lot of pearl beads.  All made between tea and bed time.

I will finish with some photos of the wallet.

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van Gogh in purple and yellow

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This is the second sample from the Vincent van Gogh workshop, this time working with purple and yellow, which co-incidentally were the colours of my school uniform.  The-Sower-Vincent-Van-Gogh

I love this combination, although it took me years ever to wear purple again after the school experience.  I am not quite sure about the finished piece, where the technique was Roumanian couching, where you use the same thread as the thread you are couching and the holding thread.  I did a little bit of that, and we practised sewing curved couching threads to simulate van Gogh’s swirling skies:

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I much preferred the technique we learned for working with thick threads which was to knot them and couch them down.  I really took to this and, although I ended up with a blob which looks a bit like a fried egg, I enjoyed using knotted yarns of different thicknesses to get a domed effect.

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As ever, it was improved by a bit of bling, in this case some bronze beads:

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I loved the way that they sank into the couching, as if they had been inlaid.

 

Latest Laura Ashley panel

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I have started doing some work with Laura Ashley fabric again.  This time there is no rush.  It’s not for an exhibition or a conference paper, so I can take as long as I like.

It started with one of the fents – or waste trimmings from the manufacturing process, and then I added some extra elements which I bought from one of the traders at the exhibition in Malvern that I went to a couple of weeks ago.  Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the trader.  Much as I would love to say that I dyed the lace myself, I bought it, and it went instantly and magically with the Laura Ashley floral – which is the dark green fabric.

I laid out all the elements, but in the course of sewing everything shifted a bit and I ended up with a different arrangement in the end.  Here are the initial layouts with the Madeira Lana thread that I intended to use to do the stitching:

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This is what it looked like at the end:

 

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I bought the buttons in the summer in a great shop in Utrecht (which is every bit as nice as Amsterdam but without the museums – and the crowds and the frantic-ness).  They are big, but I thought they worked.

The piece really came together, though, when I realised that it was basically a variation on a Victorian crazy quilt.  So I did a lot of embroidery on it, including herringbone stitch, which I consider to be one of the most relaxing things in the world to do:

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While I was poking around the internet looking at pictures of crazy quilts and fancy embroidery stitches, I found some sage advice about not bothering whether the embroidery is absolutely perfect because it reflects your energy at the point at which you were doing it.  I rather like this.  My slightly wonky herringbone is a bit like my signature and the opposite of mass made.  There isn’t any machine stitching on this one, it is all done by hand.  And, as with a lot of my work, it seemed to come to life when I started to stitch on some beads:

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The big pearl beads are stuck on as they must have come from a necklace which was taken to pieces at some point.  This makes the piece a bit fragile, but I think the sparkle justifies it.

The netting, by the way, always suggests textile conservation to me, as professional restorers often use it patch up very fragile pieces of cloth, so this fits into my theme of conservation and preserving the past.

I really enjoyed making this piece and it has spurred me on to make some more panels and to produce a large piece about the importance of nostalgia in the brand.

The Evil Eye Collar

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This piece is based on a very common amulet.  Amulets to ward off the Evil Eye are found all over the world, and the eyes are often blue, as seen on the cover of Desmond Morris’s book containing glorious photographs of his personal collection:

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Inside there is a montage of this sort of amulet:

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The idea behind these amulets is to meet like with like, so the evil eye will be deflected by another evil eye looking right back at it.

My eye is very stylised.  It is a big square glass bead which I bought in the extraordinary bead shop on Derby Road in Nottingham.  The shop is exciting because it sells a good range of really flashy or big or unusual beads.  I couldn’t resist the blue of this one.  Then I surrounded it with all sorts of blue beads which I bought as a collection in the Covent Garden Bead Shop, which I have already mentioned:

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Once again this is influenced by tribal beadwork:

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I have no idea why I love serried ranks of beads so much, but I love these incrusted beads and particularly when they are in rows.  This image taken from Sheila Paine’s book on amulets gives a brilliant example in the headdress above.

The strap is a cheap necklace from Sainsbury’s half-price sale.

The ‘Don’t Take Any Wooden Nickels’ Collar

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I made this collar because I wanted to say something about the need women have to look out for themselves, because despite Equal Pay acts they are often paid less than men doing equal work of equal value.  And the things that are offered to women are often of a much lower political currency than those offered to men.  So women get to be head of HRM but not Finance, or Strategy, or IT.  We have to learn to resist those blandishments, or at least be quite clear about which currency we are being paid in.

I wanted to use the discs along the bottom which I think might actually be old French coins with holes drilled in them, and the piece was based around this, and the idea of using trading beads as currency.  The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford has some great examples of trading beads and I have always been a bit drawn to them.

Sample card of trading beads
Sample card of trading beads

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I started with a nice piece of silk which I quilted onto some thin cotton wadding:

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I used the Madeira lana thread to get a good textural contrast.

I started to sew the ‘feature’ beads on:

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And it very soon became apparent that this was going to be one of those projects I call ‘Make it Work’ after Tim Gunn turning his nose up at potential disasters in Project Runway.  This one was going to need considerable work to make it look like anything at all.  I had a bag of what looked almost like Roman glass beads which the magnificent Tanya Bentham had given to me, and I supplemented the feature beads with those.  The piece began to come alive, but it was obvkous that it needed to be encrusted with beads to work.   I had a big bag of black glass beads and I think that adding black often gives a tribal feel to things which is what I wanted so I stitched them on to fill in the gaps:

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Then I added the coins which were my starting point.  The two outside edge medallions are there for personal reasons.  They are the Chinese horoscope signs of me and the Medieval Historian.

I finished the piece with some chain that I found in Hobbycraft.

This piece was a real surprise to me.  I didn’t want to abandon it because I had had the big feature beads forever and had been saving them for something special, so I ploughed on with it, but in the end I really, really like the result.  It’s a bit chunky to wear, but with the right dress….

The ‘Little Me?’ Collar

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This collar in my War Collar Series is examining the popular feminine tactile that comes from believing that if you are sweet and demure enough the warrior men will protect you.  This is nonesense, of course, because you are always marked out as not one of the boys, which I have symbolised here with the very pretty bells (which I bought in the bead shop in Seven Dials in Covent Garden, London):

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This collar was simple to make, but not easy.  The flowers are made from paper.  I bought a tube of them ages ago and was playing with them at the work table and thought how pretty they looked with the large pearl beads.  The problem is that the paper was difficult to sew without ripping, and getting the needle through all that paper and two layers of velvet was hard.  It should have been quick to make, but actually took a lot of care.  I can actually imagine someone wearing this one.

The Athena Collar

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For some reason, the photographs on the blog are getter worse.  I still can’t find my proper close-up camera for the details, and I like to use my camera phone so that the pictures will load quickly when you read the blog, but I seem to be losing my touch with the shots.  Anyway, to Athena.

This collar started life as one of the velvet blanks – beautiful cotton velvet used in soft furnishings and donated by the son of a friend of my mother who has had honourable mentions in these despatches before.  I started to stitch on the flat circular beads which I bought on a trip to Copenhagen with the Medieval Historian and which therefore have sentimental value:

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I was lucky to have some matching cube beads to stitch around the edges.  I covered the velvet with the beads and then lost a bit of momentum.  I was driving to our huge out of town shopping mall, so not thinking about the collars or the project at all, when I suddenly thought that of all of the collars, this one looked the most like plate armour of a sort with its overlapping deflecting discs, which is where the project started.  Then I remembered a necklace I had bought in a closing down sale which was unwearable, but which had masses of owl charms.  I bought it because my mother loves owls and I thought she might be able to use some of them in her work.  I couldn’t have bought the owl charms in that number for the price of the necklace, so it was a bargain lying dormant in the bead drawer.  Surprisingly, I managed to find it (no small feat) and then set to it with my pliers.  I stitched owls around the bottom and used the chain to make the strap for the finished collar.

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Then when I was at the Hobbycraft sale, I found the two black plastic coral amulets:

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I really wanted to include them, even though I know they look odd.

The armour-like feel of the piece, and the owls make me think about Athena, a goddess I have always felt some sort of affinity with.

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In the first of these photographs you can see her owl, the bird she is associated with.  One of my favourite Klimt paintings is of Athena, and you can see a form of the overlapping disc effect that I was going for:

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I feel my affinity to her because she is associated with craft and textiles in particular – the story of Arachne being turned into a spider is part of the Athena myth.  She is also a goddess of war and wisdom.  But my affinity comes from her being a helpmeet of the boys in battle, and her close association with her father – she sprang fully formed and fully armed from her father’s head.  I am very strongly drawn to male mental energy, and the world of the head.  I don’t think we would get on if we ever met because we are too similar.   I am that rare breed: a life-long committed feminist who would rather have been born a man!

The coral, to conclude, is an amulet that I saw a lot when I was in Naples a couple of years ago.  I know that Naples is in Italy and Athena was Greek, but it seemed to fit my classical Graeco-Roman theme.

War Collar Three: The Don’t Mess With Me Collar

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This piece is another which has been looking for a home.  I made the piece on a workshop at Heartspace Studios with Basil Kardasis in 2012.  I’ve noted before that I love things that are really heavy with beads and this little sample definitely is.  I could have mounted it as a piece in its own right, but I always felt that it wanted to be worn.  So finally I made it up into this very large amulet.  It does have a flavour of tribal beadingimages-11 images-10 images-7

but as I was thinking about it, I thought it was also very much influenced by those enormous macrame beaded neckpieces from the 1970s:

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These are from a wonderful book I picked up for 50p from a second-hand bookshop (thrift store):

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I have always loved big clunky flashy jewellery with lots of things hanging off, and this piece is flashy.

I made the rolled fabric beads and mixed them with commercial beads, which I think works really well:

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and I kept to quite a restricted rich palette:

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and then added a bead necklace in the bargain bin at the supermarket as the neck strap.

The back is atrocious, though:

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A bit of cotton velvet against the skin.

This piece is basically an amulet to ward off anything that needs warding off, basically!  I loved making it, so possibly it protects by giving off positive energy rather than anything more sinister.