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.

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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.

Under lock and key

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(Please note: this is one of my slightly more academic posts – continue reading at your own risk of terminal boredom!)

One of the reasons that I like using textiles as part of my academic work is that it slows things down.  We are under tremendous pressure to produce published articles and this cuts down the time we have to consider what we are doing.  Reflection is a bit of a thing of the past.  This is fine for research which deals in quantitative data where analysis is largely mechanical and carried out by computers crunching numbers, but work which deals with ideas and the complexity of lived experience often needs a bit more time to ‘cook’.  The textile pieces provide this space and allow all sorts of things to emerge.

I had a case in point last week.  I am becoming very interested in what historians call the ‘long eighteenth century’, that is a period roughly from The Glorious Revolution (1688) to the Battle of Waterloo (1815).  I became interested in this through my work on Laura Ashley and the second phase of her design aesthetic which draws on this period, but, as I have done my research, I have become fascinated by  the period as a consumer revolution, when shopping became a real element of social life.  All of this is a preamble to talking about keys.

I have long used keys on my textiles, such as this really early piece which has a band of tiny keys on the right hand side:

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This is from a suite of five small quilts, several of which featured keys:

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The piece was about confession and secrets.  For me the most obvious symbol for secrets is a key.  I also like the duality of them – they lock and unlock.  They can be symbols of dead ends – the locked door, or opportunities as the door unlocks.  Keys are a significant metaphor in our language.  In my first job, in the dark ages, we talked about keyman insurance.  In my current occupation we have keynote speakers, and talk about the key work on the subject.  In the case studies we use to teach strategy there is often a key fact which unlocks the case.  In education in general, our children go through key stages.  I have some problem with this.  When I was a very little girl I thought you learned languages instantly by being given the translation key which transformed English into French and so on, and we see what a mess that can lead to with the translation programmes available to us now which lead to garbled approximations of a text.  I dislike this notion that education is an event – passing a keystone – rather than a unpredictable process.  Information, I suspect can be acquired to order – how to strip down an engine, for example, but wisdom and knowledge take a bit longer to acquire.  But this notion that there is a key which will unlock the world for us if we just look long and hard enough for it, is deeply engrained in our thinking about education.  George Elliot satirised it in Middlemarch with Casaubon’s fruitless, lifelong search for the Key to all Mythologies, a search for arcane knowledge.  He died suffering from this delusion.  Douglas Adams subsequently satirised this in his ‘Casaubon Delusion’ in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  The delusion is that we can overcome uncertainty by finding the key to all knowledge.  Keys and knowledge, then, are closely linked – locked into each other, perhaps.

So, I was a bit surprised when I was reading Amanda Vickery’s excellent book on Georgian life: Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England to read her comments on keys and their importance in Georgian homes.  She argues that keys became almost synonymous with women.

The association of keys with women is archaeological.  Anglo-saxon women were buried with keys.  A collection of keys hanging from the waist was a female ornament from at least the Renaissance.  Eighteenth-century pickpocketing trials reveal that keys were commonly found along with money, teaspoons, thimbles and scissors, pieces of jewellery and handkerchiefs in women’s tie on pockets.  Small padlocks can be found amongst the tokens vouchsafed by desperate mothers (probably servants) when they surrendered their infants to the London Foundling Hospital in the mid-eighteenth century.  In paintings, the bundle of keys was the attribute of Martha, the patroness of housewives.  Trial responsibility for the keys was part of female training.  (Vickery, 2009: 45)

And giving up the keys was a ceremonial passing over of power either from a sacked and disgraced housekeeper or a mother handing over her son’s inheritance.  Vickery is led to this consideration of keys through her examination of privacy in the eighteenth-century home.  Essentially there was none.  The only private space anyone, other than the very pinnacle of the elite classes, had was their locked box, to which they alone held the key.

I was struck when I was making the early pink quilt at the top of this post by all the keys on it, which I don’t really remember consciously putting there.  This led me to thinking about the most important key bearer of them all in my upbringing: St Peter.  Peter holds the keys to the kingdom, and this is a very interesting dynamic.  He decides who gets into heaven and who is refused admission.  Here he is on the Vatican, overlooking (I think) his cathedral in Rome, clutching his key:

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For me, then, St Peter is a symbol of patriarchy, the keeper of the rulebook which keeps social order in place, and that social order has man at the head of the faith and the family.  His word is absolute; there is no getting round him.

But, I think that Vickery also gives us a timely reminder of the connection between keys and women.  People frequently ask me where I get all the stuff for my quilts:

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I am given a lot of stuff (for which I am very grateful), but I also scour bead shops wherever I go.  I like using pieces which remind me of good trips, and some of the keys in these photos were bought in Denmark and Brighton.  What is fascinating about this is that the key is a very popular charm, as they are known, in bead shops which largely cater for young women who make jewellery.  The prevalence of key charms, which are also on sale in the big out of town box stores such as HobbyCraft, suggests that there is a ready market for them.  Young women – and longer in the tooth ones like me, must connect at some level with keys.  They appear to have a universal appeal, along with hearts and flowers and birds.  Clearly they are a supplied choice: we can only buy what we are offered for sale, but, their prevalence suggests that they are popular and have meaning of some description for the women who buy them.  It is as if, and that is a phrase that a proper academic would never use, they belong to a shared unconscious repertoire of images, and one with a complex set of gendered associations: inclusion and exclusion, public and private, hope and denial.

I am not sure what, if anything, to do with this.  One thing might be to look at old quilts and see if they have this imagery in amongst the freemasonry and the flora and fauna, to see if this is a recent resurgence in use of key imagery.  Another might be to do some empirical research – perish the thought – and ask women why they are attracted to keys as design motifs.  Perhaps they will talk about the five year diaries with tiny locks and keys that most women of my age were presented with at some point.  I don’t really know, and I don’t know if it’s worth pursuing.  Any ideas would be welcome.

Finally, I couldn’t find a way to fit this in, but one of the images I remember from reading books at school was this one from E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It, published in 1902, in which It speaks ‘in a harsh, grating voice like large rusty keys being turned in locks’.   Which is a great image to end on.

 

Reference

Amanda Vickery (2009) Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England.  New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

What I finished off at the weekend

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I am still working on this large Laura Ashley wall piece, although there are other things I should be getting on with.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I lost all interest in this piece and so I am rather surprised to find myself enjoying finishing it off so much.  I have two more of the Regency panels to go and then a very small Marie Antoinette and then I will have to get it all together which is going to be fun as it will be very heavy.

I am really pleased with these two panels, the one above and this one:

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The colours, which have not come out well in these photographs, go together really nicely.  Almost everything, as usual, is scrap and was destined for landfill.  The beautiful machine embroidered silk, for example is a tiny scrap from a sample book:

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I couldn’t bear to throw that away even though it is just a scrap.

These panels are supposed to evoke these ‘simple’ muslin gowns of the Regency period – seen here with the fashionable paisley shawl accessory, necessary because the dresses were pretty flimsy in the un-central-heated mansions seen in the background here:

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All these panels have some Laura Ashley fabric, although the further I get into the project the more I am using silk scraps.  The Laura Ashley piece here is some very tightly woven, fine grade furnishing fabric printed with olives.  I decided that the ladies in these panels would at the very least have heard about olives from their dissolute brothers on the Grand Tour, even if they didn’t eat them.  I couldn’t be bothered to do the food historian bit to find out if olives were commonly eaten in the eighteenth century.  I apologise!

IMG_1047The scraps for these two panels were attached to the thin cotton wadding with decorative machine stitching which I did with the tank-like Singer machine that my mother gave me because she could no longer lift it.  Some of the stitches are perfect for doing a sort of pseudo-crazy quilt.

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I’m afraid I use spray glue to keep everything in place and then do as much construction stitching as I can on the machine before doing the embellishments by hand.  I have no idea what the long-term effects of the spray glue will be, but I expect to be past caring in the nursing home when I find out.

I used some beads I bought on a weekend away in Brighton to finish off the quilts like the three little flower charms in the above panel which were exactly what I needed, and the key here:

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Again, you can see a little bit of the luscious embroidered silk, also from a discarded sample book.

These beads are from a broken necklace, and I love the way they look like little walnuts or even brains:

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Finally, I don’t really like the craze for buttons as jewellery.  Buttons are utilitarian things, unless they are the really special ones, and no amount of stringing them seems to me to create art from plain plastic in primary colours.  But, I do like mother of pearl and I like it, like all my embellishments, massed, so here are some ordinary round buttons, sewn on with pearl beads:

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I really like the difference in tone of the mother of pearl.

 

The Brighton Bead shop the beads came from was KerrieBerrie

What I did at the weekend

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This weekend was spent filling up the reservoir, as it were, as I spent a lot of time with my Grate Frend Beatriz at exhibitions and in art shops.  On Friday we went to the blockbuster exhibition about Alexander McQueen at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and on Saturday we went to the Fitwilliam Museum in Cambridge to see the Treasured Possessions exhibition.

I may get round to writing about the McQueen exhibition at some later point, but for now all I can say is that it is every bit as stunning as all the publicity for it says it is.  It is more like art than fashion, visually stunning with brilliantly chosen music.  It is disturbing and horrifying and delightful and enrapturing.  If you like beads, embellishment, fabric, beautiful technique, which you probably do or you wouldn’t be reading this, then this is paradise.  But equally you could see demons around every corner and it wasn’t hard to see why he took his own life.  So sobering as well as seductive.

On Sunday morning Beatriz and I spent some time in her studio working with what we had seen and, in my case, pouring liquid watercolour as a starting point for a design based on the impression McQueen had left on us.  This is mine:

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Treasured Possessions, on the other hand, was small and rather restrained, certainly compared with the ravishing excesses of the McQueen experience.  It was about material culture, and in particular, shopping and consumption, with a big emphasis on the eighteenth century.  Something I would never have predicted was just how lovely a set of Meissen figurines depicting people selling things would be.  The very word Meissen brings back Sunday teatime and ‘Going for a Song’ (I am that old) and ‘Antiques Roadshow’.  But these were delightful.IMG_4423

My very quick sketch of the Meissen figurines.

I got a huge amount of inspiration for my work on Laura Ashley at this show, which I will write about later, but what I really I want to talk about is an accompanying exhibition to the main show called ‘A Young Man’s Progress‘.

This is a collaboration between sisters, artist-photographer Maisie Broadhead and fashion designer Bella Newell (Burberry); and Professor Ulinka Rublack.  In it they take a remarkable book, a collection of images commissioned between 1520 and 1560 by Matthäus Schwarz of his most fashionable outfit of the year and recreate or reimagine them telling the fictional story of Matthew Smith, a young man from North London, who is obsessed with clothes.  The modern photographs are sumptuous, I think lifesize, images of exquisite clothing, but what makes them so arresting is the witty reworkings of the original picture.  Now, while the Fitzwilliam has postcards of the contemporary pieces, it does not have the corresponding images of the sixteenth century source material so I can only demonstrate using this not very lovely snapshot taken with my phone:

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So we can at least see the substitution of the North London scooter for the horse, and possibly appreciate the way the cut of the coat echoes the folds on the original tunic.  I really liked the weapon being replaced with the mobile phone in this image.

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It’s a shame these aren’t clearer but there is a very good video on the Fitzwilliam site.  I loved these photos and the process to create them because they were clever, inventive, aesthetically lovely and they made me laugh outloud.  I really recommend this little show, which is separate from the main one, and free and on until 6 September, if you happen to be in Cambridge.

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?

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This is quite a small panel, one of the last ones I made, but the one which will be in the top-left-hand corner.  Some of the panels have fents or offcuts instead of costume prints, including this one, which has three pieces of the finer lawn prints from the 1980s and 1990s.  On top of this is some beaded lace, and some burnt away fabric offcuts from another project.

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Because this came quite late in the process, I bought little items rather than using things in my stash, and as ever, I have only dim memories of where they came from.  But these two bits came from Copenhagen:

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I am quite proud of the little seed beads holding on the golden spray of leaves, and I really like the little black crown underneath the key.

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Although this doesn’t look much, I am very pleased with the stem-stitched box round the leaf charms.  Stem stitch has always defeated me until the wonderful Tanya Bentham showed me how to do it properly in one of her workshops.  So a small personal triumph.

I really enjoyed the hand embroidery on all of the pieces.  This is a ribbon rose:

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IMG_0845I wish it were as glorious as this contemporary take on a crazy quilt from the Bristol Embroiderers’ Guild Exhibition.  Unfortunately, I didn’t make a note of the artist’s name, so only one unauthorised picture.  If you know who made it please let me know.

Falling in love again

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There haven’t been many posts recently as I have been finishing things off and there hasn’t been much to report, but suddenly I have quite a lot to post about.

This is a big project from my work on Laura Ashley.  I made a start on it ages ago and just didn’t like what I’d done.  The colours were too pastel for me.  But a couple of months ago I got it out of the box and started again, and for some reason, I totally fell in love with it.  So, I have done a lot more work and the piece is almost ready.

As usual with my work it is made in panels.  These were inspired by the printed panels from Quilters’ Trading Post.  They are fashion plates of Regency costumes, which I have combined with Laura Ashley fabric and lots of fabric samples including silk and embroidered wool, and lace.  Again, a lot of the fabric would otherwise have gone into landfill, so there is recycling and upcycling involved.

My interest in Laura Ashley was originally in the seventies with the milk maid and country cottage ranges, but I have become increasingly interested in her later product ranges and the way in which everything became much grander and country house-y.   There is some nice scholarly work about the brand coming out of it, which I will outline at some point, but this project is about the airy muslin loveliness of the Jane Austen type view of the eighteenth century, which will be contrasted with the gruesome Hogarth vision.

For the moment, though, this is the pretty top.

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This is fly stitch done in a wine-red Madeira luna thread which has a lot of wool in it.  The second part of the stitch is done through a clear bugle bead.  The little dots are done with colonial knots which are much easier and reliable than french knots and give a nice dimple in the middle.

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These are pieces of old-ish lace over silk samples.  I love stitching through this thick upholstery silk because it is so crisp.

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This is a lovely bit of tiered lace, with some composite embroidery from Judith Montano Baker’s Elegant Stitches, which is a fantastic source book for embroidering crazy quilts.  These panels are essentially well-ordered crazy pieces.

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I used this panel to work in a piece of my favourite Laura Ashley fabric, the swan print:

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More of the panels to come.

What I did at the weekend

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These are really not very good photographs of the work I did on the new Laura Ashley piece.  I have had a big burst of interest in this quilt, and I am wondering if it is because the other large piece has gone.  There is a lot about at the moment on the subject of decluttering.  One idea is that you have to clear out old stuff to let the new in.  I wonder if I had to let go of that piece, which had every technique I knew at the time in it, and completely wiped out my bead collection, in order to produce something new.

Anyway, I spent a couple of hours yesterday working with scraps of cloth to put together the foundation for two panels.  Again this is mainly fabric which would be in landfill if it hadn’t ended up on one of these pieces, although the Regency prints are commercially produced.

I wanted a record of how they looked before I started really working on them.  The pinkier one has some embroidery already, but the bluer one is at the very beginning.  The minute the embellishment starts to go on they really change.  All of my embellished quilts are like Vegas showgirls – nothing much until they put on the bling and step out into the lights.

I will post again when I have made some progress on them, and it’s good to have some hand-stitching to do again in these long, dark winter nights.

 

 

Relaunching the Laura Ashley quilt

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I have had a new lease of life with my Laura Ashley project.  My huge Body Shop/Anita Roddick quilt has finally gone to its new home and this seems like a good time to make a start on the large Laura Ashley piece.  As ever it will be made in panels because this is only way I can manage something as big and heavy.  I will post pictures of the other panels I have soon, but wanted to show you a finished one based on the outlines of clothes.

So many of the scraps that I stared my patchwork career were fents – the bits that are leftover from cutting out pattern pieces – that they keep on creeping into this project.  This is a page from a sketchbook project where they re-emerged:

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This panel is all hand-stitched and I had a good time manipulating the fabric using a kantha type stitch which relies on running stitch in parallel rows to ripple the fabric:

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I also really enjoyed using stem stitch.  I have never been able to do this until I got a lesson from the fantastic Tanya Bentham.  I love in this picture – where I am playing with the idea of the red thread which binds us all together – the way that the stem stitch sits on top of the kantha-y stuff:

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Really, though in this post, I just wanted to post some pictures taken in very strong sunlight.  One reason is that this is so rare.  It is dark, cold, grey and wet here, so a crisp sunny day is a real luxury.  I have posted before, however, about how much I love to photograph my work when there are strong shadows and contrast.  I love it because in close-up (with the wonderful new camera) the textiles take on a sculptural look:

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I will post a bit more about this panel, but I know that some people read my blog on Sunday afternoons, and I wanted to have some nice pictures for them.