Moon quilt

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This is my most recently finished quilt.  It isn’t the greatest photo of it because I thought I could either wait until I could get a great shot or write the post and the latter won.

There are a few things which I think are interesting about this quilt.

  1. Although it is made from new fabric it is a memory quilt.  I bought the charm pack squares when the very lovely Marybeth Stalp was over last year and we were touring quilt shops in the South West for our research project.  So it immediately reminds me of Marybeth and the great time we had together.  Then I stitched a lot of the very simple four patch blocks together in Copenhagen hotel rooms as I was doing my academic work over there.  So it reminds me of that and of what I think of as my Scandi family who live in Copenhagen.
  2. It is what Jane Brocket calls a ‘Collection Quilt’.  This is a modern quilting possibility when you use all the fabrics in one particular manufacturer or designer’s collection.  In this case it is Nocturne by Janet Clare.  I absolutely loved the fabrics in this collection.  I wasn’t that keen on the neutral blenders, but I loved all the ‘feature’ fabrics and the indigo colourway in particular.  All the colourways blended in this collection so that was good.  I think this is an interesting modern development.  Many quilters now have the disposable income to buy a piece of an entire collection, and Moda in particular caters for this with its precut packs.  Jelly rolls seem to encapsulate this small piece of all of them approach to me.  It’s a bit like the tasting menu or the assiette of desserts.  I quite like the bountiful and indulgent feel of it sometimes.
  3. The quilt is hand pieced but has a lot of machine work.  I decided to use a Janet Clare-type technique on a Janet Clare range of fabrics by applying the large pink batik circles.  This is not Janet Clare fabric.  In fact, it was some bargain batik that I picked up at a Quilters Area Day.  The blue-y undertones of the pink seemed to fit with the yellow-y blues of the patchwork fabric.  I used bondaweb and cut the circles with my Sizzix machine (a die cutting machine) and then top stitched them on with Mettler black quilting thread.  Mettler is definitely my favourite thread at the moment because it is really smooth and strong.

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I thought the batik looked like the gas clouds on Jupiter.  You can also see the long-arm quilting pattern done at Midsomer Quilting, which looks like orbits to me particularly on the second grey patch at the bottom left.  This is a good example of the quilting enhancing the design, I think:

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The quilting design is called champagne, which I also like.

I remember once reading the tongue in cheek but nevertheless sage advice somewhere that you should never make art about menstruation.  This quilt does have red moons which is inescapable symbolism.  I like to think of it, however, as a liberatory, Thank God all that’s over quilt, rather than let’s embrace our femininity and squat in a red tent, sort of piece.

Finally, I like the simplicity of this quilt.  It is a medallion quilt, made up entirely of strips and squares, very simple to do on the move by hand.  I have been doing some very traditional quilting recently and have really enjoyed it.  I will be posting some more pictures soon.

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Latest additions to my Laura Ashley project

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First of all, I am very sorry about the long gap between this post and the last one.  I know a high proportion of people like to read the blog on Sunday afternoons, and I haven’t been providing you with your reading lately.  This has been due to the pressures of the day job – the start of term is always a lot of hard work, and various everyday life things which have required a lot of time and energy.  But I am back.

One of the things that I have been working on is the Laura Ashley project, particularly the gift element, which I will post on later.  I have also been working on ideas about taking the idea of art as research seriously.  What would it mean if we did produce pieces of art rather than written academic papers?  What would happen to the field of study, and to our careers?  John Dewey, one of the great authorities on education, said that communities which do not produce art are deficient.  But what happens if we try to address this?  And, on the other hand, what happens if we reduce the art to mere decoration or illustration?

Well, a small element of my Laura Ashley project has been to produce some illustrations for some of the stories I have collected while doing my research – often when speaking to quilting groups.  These are pictures taken with my swanky new camera, which are great, but could have done with better light.  I am still experimenting with it, so please bear with me.

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This was my trial piece.  I often make a dry run sample to get my self sorted out if there is machine stitching to be done.  That’s why this one has no legs – she was just made with an offcut which suggested the shape of the dress.  It is a really bright piece of probably 80s fabric so I reversed it to give a more vintage look.  Her hair is another of my beloved furnishing fabric samples.  The are probably about 2×3 inches:

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The faces are all made of curtain lining, and once again, just about everything here is made from fabric which would have gone into landfill.

So here are the illustrations.

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I wore a dark Laura Ashley dress for a family New Year’s Eve party and it was the only time my brother-in-law ever told me I looked beautiful.

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Every time we have a big family party for a birthday or an event I add another flag to the bunting and it’s almost always Laura Ashley fabric.

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I went on a really romantic walk on the Downs with a new boyfriend.  I was wearing a really full Laura Ashley skirt and a bee flew up it.

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I made a Laura Ashley dress to go to college dance, and I made a matching tie for my then boyfriend who is now my husband.

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I made tablecloths and napkins for all the big family events and celebrations.

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My daughter wanted a very simple wedding.  The bridesmaids wore purple Laura Ashley dresses.  Years later we discovered the marriage had not been legal.

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I got married in a Laura Ashley sailor dress.

One of the things I really like about this technique is that as Janet Clare, whose workshop gave me the idea, says, you just don’t know who will turn up.  When you start to stitch the faces all sorts of people appear:

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This one has a slight look of Lady Diana.

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This one looks like someone in my office who is on maternity leave.

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The woman in this one looks like a local historian of note.  And I am pleased that I got just a hint of smugness.

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This one doesn’t look like anyone, but does look like she is in danger of growing a moustache.

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This one has a look of those 70s folk singers like Grace Slick.

 

I really liked the tie story.  It reminded me of an old American practice I read about somewhere in which the women going to a dance would make a tie in the fabric of their ballgowns and the men would pull out a tie blindfolded.  They then had to partner the woman who matched their tie, as it were:

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So, I had lots of fun making these, and I think the illustrations suit the subject very well.  I am thinking of putting together a self-published picture book with longer versions of the stories.  I will be interested to see if they are accepted as legitimate research.  I think I know the answer.

 

The joy of making

 

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I am not entirely sure what this post is going to be about.  I spent quite a lot of the weekend sewing, which was a massive luxury.  I am preparing a new talk which will be given its first airing next week, and I am desperately trying to finish some samples.  The picture at the top of the post is an example of the drawing with the machine technique that I have just begun to experiment with.  It is a made-up plant in bud stitched onto linen and what I always call cotton bump – curtain interlining which has a great texture for pieces like wall quilts which don’t have to be washed.  If you do wash it you get a great antique effect.

I thought it would be worth talking about something called ‘flow’ in the creativity literature, because I really experienced it when making these small panels.  I enjoyed making them very much, but it was more than just liking doing the work, it was more like what William Morris called ‘joy in work’, an extra dimension to having fun with a hobby.

Flow is a term coined by Mihályi Csíkszentmihályi, a Hungarian theorist of creativity and happiness, because in his field work his interviewees told him that they were experiencing something that felt like being carried along by a river.  Csíkszentmihályi was interested in what happens when you become so immersed in something that you lose all track of time, and although you have worked hard you have more energy than when you started.  Sewing can definitely be an example of this, when your mind seems to go into a different mode of thought.  For this to happen, Csíkszentmihályi posits three conditions:

  1. You have to be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress. This adds direction and structure to the task.  So you need to know roughly what you are trying to achieve – quilt or a panel or garment.
  2. The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows them to adjust their performance to maintain the flow state.  So, is it any good?  Is the sewing machine doing what you want it to do?  Does the thread keep on breaking?  Have you estimated amounts well?
  3. You have to have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and your own perceived skills. You have to have confidence in your ability to complete the task at hand.  So, it must be hard but not too hard.  You have to work at it, but not be so challenged that you are tense or anxious.

The flow state is characterised by a number of requirements:

  1. You have to be completely in the moment and to be able to concentrate fully and intensely – which you can do when working, particularly if you have a room set up for it like me.
  2. There has to be some action like sewing and this requires awareness of what is going on, again a sort of focussed concentration.
  3. You have to lose yourself in it.  I think that this is akin to a phenomenon which I often have, and which other makers understand but those who do not make find hard to comprehend, which is the feeling sometimes when I make something that I didn’t make it, that it made itself and I just provided the hands.  Very odd.
  4. You have to be in control, though.  You make the choices and the decisions, which we all do when we sew – or draw.  You decide when to finish a seam or what stitch length or tension to use.  When I am doing the free machining, I decide on the way I move the fabric to produce the appropriate mark.
  5. Time, as I mentioned above, is distorted.  You don’t know if you have been sewing for fifteen minutes or three hours.  Time seems to stand still.  Great sports players talk about time slowing down so that they can make the perfect shot at their leisure.
  6. You feel that what you are doing is intrinsically valuable and worthwhile.  So even while you are making you feel things going well, producing something desirable if only to yourself, that even if no-one ever saw it, it is worth doing.  It is pleasing to the maker.  It is rewarding in and of itself.

And it makes you feel better.  I tried to write down what I felt during the sewing session, which is difficult after the event.  I described it as stimulating, bewitching, addictive, cleansing and energising and flow.

The reason is, I think, that I rather fell in love with what I was making and, all false modesty aside, it was really easy.  I got my background, used some 501 spray to hold it to the cotton bump and then cut out my applique and stitched with a very heavy dark grey thread:

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Really easy, and yet the result was very pleasing.  I began to reflect on whether this was because I was making something very derivative which struck me as being in good taste which I recognised as arty rather than being something authentically mine.  I wondered if this was a different manifestation of the just show up and provide the hands and the universe will do the rest phenomenon.  I am not sure.  I don’t know if this is derivative or does mark a new departure in my style.  It is heavily influenced by Janet Clare, but I see myself in it.  Certainly in scenes like this:

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which has quite a bleak and melancholy feel to it.

But I want to return to the joy and delight in bunging down some fabric, stitching into it and amazing yourself with what emerges.  I was happy to see these pieces turn up:

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These eggs were made with really gorgeous tiny fabric samples of silk, cotton and wool furnishing textiles.  I couldn’t throw them away despite their size, and was so glad when I found a use for them.  Lay me a pretty egg is a reference to a commenter on a recent post telling me that it was her dialect for someone making a mistake – a nicer version of ‘he really laid an egg there’.  I wanted to use the phrase.

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These are made up berries, but the quality of the line for the stem and branches really delighted me.  This sounds immodest, but I had the feeling that I could have closed my eyes and this would have come out right.  It is also completely different to my usual drawing style which is a single continuous line filled in with a watercolour wash:

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This is  sketchbook page showing my usual simplified but quite definite drawing style.  The sketchiness is great in the embroideries.  It allows for all sorts of instant corrections if the drawing goes badly:

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This is another interesting example of this project allowing me to explore some theory that I have worked with for years in a new way.  It is a good example of action research – but that would have to be the subject of another post.

 

What I did at the weekend

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You may be familiar with the phenomenon of saying yes to something which seems in the very distant future only to find it coming up very quickly indeed.  Well, flicking through my diary last week to see what was coming up, I stumbled upon an engagement to address the Bristol Quilters at the AGM.  Which is fine, except they have heard most of my ramblings and I never want to look like a complete wassack in front of them as they are my home crowd.

So, I thought I would develop an idea which has been brewing for some time about friendship quilts and album quilts and giftgiving in particular.  I thought I would turn to the quilts that my sewing group, St Andrews Quilters have been making for each other.  This would form the foundation of the talk, which is great except the first one we made has gone missing.  The theme was hens and chickens so I thought I would put in some other quilted chicken stuff, which would mean making some.  I made a start at the weekend and here is a preview of one piece:

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Which on reflection bears a striking resemblance to this one which I think Mary made at the workshop:

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Mine has some hand embroidery in Madeira Lana thread which is wool and nylon and gives a nice distinctive mark.  The second piece is done with heavy furnishing fabric as the background:

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I thought the sky was a bit louring, but I love using up these samples of very expensive furnishing fabrics rather than throwing them into landfill.

I think I might have been heavily influenced by the quilting history books I have been reading lately, because even though I wanted this to be a sort of Hans Christian Andersen fairytale chicken girl, I seem to have channelled some very hard-working prairie pioneer girl:

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Her skirt is a piece I fished out of the bin at the Janet Clare workshop.  No piece too small for my grasp.  I am interested, though, in her face.  I loved the part of the workshop where Janet advised us to start drawing faces and see who turned up.  She doesn’t have a little sweet face, and cutting her blouse freehand in reverse (because it was on bondaweb and needs to be cut backwards) gave her this folky feel.  The hair in her eyes also contributes to the look of someone too busy on the windy prairie to be fixing up her bangs.  Plus those hands look like they might have red knuckles from the lye soap.

I intend to make a couple more panels and then to mount them on a larger piece of fabric, possibly stretched over a block canvas.  Incidentally, I quilted/embroidered these while watching a tribute to Bruce Springsteen which only contributed to the feeling of Americana.

Janet Clare Workshop

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I was very lucky last week to go to Janet Clare’s talk at Bristol Quilters and then to her workshop the following day.  The talk was about publishing her books, and came in a series of talks we have had recently on quilting as a business, rather than as technique.  She had some really interesting advice about how to be a professional artist.  I liked the idea that she put on a uniform – which you can see in the picture above: her customised pinny, a pair of clogs and red lipstick.  She also challenges herself to do one risky thing on Fridays which she is convinced bears dividends.  She is a very good speaker and it was a stimulating talk.

The next day I did her workshop on drawing with a sewing machine, which is something that I haven’t done before.  Clearly she is great at it:

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And being a dog lover, I really liked the terriers that occur in her work.

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I didn’t see this lovely pieced landscape with the tiny house until the end of the day or I might have tried to make one.  But you do need an artist’s eye to carry off this sort of playing with scale.

In the end, though, I really took to the drawing with the sewing machine element, and found I had a bit of an aptitude for it.  Our first exercises were structured really well.  We started with some calico and a wadding layer and wrote our names, and then drew a face using our machines..  These two elements were the most difficult and so everything was easier after that.  I thought that was a great way to teach this technique:

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Then people shouted out animals that we had to draw out of our imaginations, which was more of a challenge.

I liked Janet’s approach to this.  If it doesn’t work: throw it away.  It’s too hard to unpick tiny machine stitches.  Just start again.  Which is why she starts with faces.  If you get that right the rest is relatively easy.  I also liked the way she said just start stitching and see who turns up.  She was right, characters did turn up like this one that I made (and see the disapproving bird in the sample above):

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After we had got this far we had to do a repeat element and think about the connections.  Mine were pretty straight forward and based on zentangles, so the links weren’t that interesting:

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Janet’s parade of ducks showed how it should be done:

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After we had stitched a base outline, we moved onto fusing fabric on top, which we then stitched into again.  So I could redeem myself with some acorns and some linked leaves down the side, and some ladybirds which I introduced because they are my friend Beatriz’s favourites:

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Once we had done this we were off to design our own pieces.  Sadly my camera was full so I could only take a few photos of the pieces that other participants produced, but they were lovely:

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I was a bit stuck because I didn’t have much of an idea what I wanted to do, so I used some of the sketches I made at the Gudrun Sjoden exhibition on a recent visit:

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I know she has no feet, but I couldn’t bear to cut off the trousers!  After this I decided to make some fashion plates:

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Finally I made a nice piece which did not fit with the other fashion models.  It was supposed to be a bit Dior new look, but it ended up rather flamenco-y:

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But not too bad, considering it was free-hand out of my head:

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Once more, everything I used with regard to fabric was scraps saved from landfill.  I like this because it makes you not precious about using the fabric or cutting into it.  This is all furnishing fabric scrap, mainly from sample books, but that is all you need for small-scale applique.

I really liked this technique, although I did a lot more stitching than other people, including Janet, so mine has a more scribbly finish, and I will use it again, probably when I get on to working on Gudrun Sjoden.