In case you thought I had disappeared

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I am very sorry that I have not been posting much recently.  Life has rather got the better of me from domestic disasters to family ill health, to starting a whole new life.  I have now retired from the University of Bristol and am starting what I grandly call a portfolio career.  This will consist of running Pomegranate Studio, starting to sell my textiles and being a humanist celebrant taking non-religious naming ceremonies.

That’s quite a lot to take in and also quite a lot to work on.  I have also managed to set-up on-line banking, which I consider to be one of my achievements of this year.

There will be more about this as the portfolio is properly opened, but for now, I wanted to show you an image of one of the things that I am hoping to sell through my Etsy shop.  There isn’t much in the shop at the moment as I just wanted to bag the name PomegranateAnn, but I will be adding more.  I have decided to sell some small pieces.  I have always found it extremely difficult to sell my work as it is a part of me, but needs must at the moment.  The problem is that making to sell, rather than making because I want to make is difficult because it always feels very different.

This is in the Etsy shop:

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It’s really very pretty and quite a wintery piece.  Unusually for me is that the fabrics used are all my hand-dyes.  This second piece did not behave quite so well.  It came out as a trapezium.  I quite like that because it makes it look particularly handmade, but I can see that it won’t appeal to everyone.  It is made from samples of neutral pale fabric, mainly linen and silk.   I also used some very chi-chi Japanese organic embroidery thread for the leaves and stem:

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This is a really interesting venture for me – to see if I can make a living outside the university, and to see if I can reinvent myself.

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I recently went on a really great workshop organised by Selvedge magazine.  It was called a ‘Craft Spa Day’ and was held in Bloomsbury.  Selvedge, by the way is a fantastic magazine.  It has the most glorious photos which I virtually want to eat, plus it has introductions to wonderful craftspersons and the story of all sorts of textiles and techniques.  It is a real treat.  The only problem is that it makes me want to get up and start doing something every time I read it, so I seldom finish reading it.   You can get it in WH Smith and arty bookshops, or you can subscribe.  If you don’t want to do that you can just look at the website which has glorious graphics.

Okay, so, the day was divided into two parts.  The first had two talks on sewing/craft and therapy.  Ruth Battersby Tooke gave a brilliant talk on Lorina Bulwer’s extraordinary textile letters:

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Bulwer was put in the Great Yarmouth workhouse by her family because she was, as we would now say, suffering from some sort of mental illness.  As Ruth pointed out, this sounds awful but it may have been an act of kindness.  She led an independent life and was not put in an asylum and it seems that her brother visited her regularly.  As part of her condition she wrote the most astounding letters to local dignitaries complaining about her lot and about her sister-in-law, whom she despised.  All the text is couched, and occasionally another panel comes to light.  It is now  in two massive pieces: one twelve feet long and the other fourteen.  Ruth used the pieces to talk about reading history through textiles, and also about the embroideries themselves.

The next speaker, Marie O’Mahoney, was talking about whizzy hightech textiles which was fine, but I sort of thought I’d heard it all before a bit.  Textiles to monitor our health, textiles to interact with our environment, that sort of thing.  The third speaker was due to be Betsan Corkhill, who had a family emergency and so could not attend.  She is the woman who has written about knitting as therapy.  I bought a copy of her book:

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I found it a bit terribly jolly, but it makes some very pertinent points about the therapeutic benefits of knitting and craft in general.  I presume there are also scholarly articles that she has written, but this would give you a good overview of the main arguments for knitting.  We should all knit for ten minutes a day, by the way.

In the afternoon we got to choose from a series of workshops on spinning, weaving, basketry and quilting.  I chose the quilting  I had a lovely calm afternoon stitching as the tutor, Abigail Booth, had already marked the cloth, all of which was dyed with tree-based dyes.  I finished my piece on the day which I think is important in a workshop, and because Abigail, who was really lovely, showed me a new way of finishing the edges which I adapted a tiny bit to give a frame.  My only problem was that I chose a pale turquoise thread to contrast with the nicely browned pastry colour of the cloth:

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Fine close up, but when I stood back it looked like I’d used one of the water soluble marking pens and hadn’t washed it out.  Hubris, of course, always gets its comeuppance.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

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.

Fabric pictures of houses

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Quick post today.

Yesterday was the first event on the schedule that I have drawn up with my visiting US quilt scholar academic, Marybeth Stalp.  As part of the workshop, I made up some packs for people to do some sewing who weren’t ‘self-identified’ stitchers.  I made some samples to show them what they could make with the packs and the extra materials I had provided.  The theme was around the domestic and what happens when your hobby turns slightly serious.  We had a great afternoon, and here are the samples, pictures of houses or homes, to go with the theme of the day:

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House and home

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This is a quick post today, to some extent to show I am still alive.

I am planning a series of events with a visiting quilter from the US, Marybeth Stalp, and one of them involves a workshop in which we will invite participants to make something as we are talking.  I thought that it would be nice to have a domestic theme, and that we could make houses.  Houses have nice simple shapes and are something we can all have a go at making recognisable.  So I have been making some samples.  This is my first attempt.  The house itself has got to be achievable over the course of the workshop, but I know from experience that people are going to ask what they can do with them.  So I put this one on a backing fabric and all of a sudden it became a tree house, so I added some leaves and a bird.  It’s become a bird tree house.  I am really interested in that conversation with the materials, when the picture tells you what it wants.  This one wanted to be a bit whimsical, and possibly, and this might be fanciful, it wanted to remind me of the importance of living creatures and their needs for home as well us humans.

As usual, this is made entirely from scrap fabric which would otherwise go into landfill, including the thread which came from surplus floss for embroidery kits.  The bead for the eye and the button for the doorknob came from a tin my mother found at the back of a shelf.

 

Making cushions for people with dementia

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On 23 June I was lucky enough to be involved in the end of project conference or, more accurately, celebration for the Tangible Memories project at the University of Bristol.  Most big projects which are funded by the big, official research councils, which are Government funding bodies, insist on a big day at the end when you tell the world about what you have been doing and how it will change the world.  This project was run by Helen Manchester, who works in the Graduate School of Education at Bristol, and her lovely team, Pete and Seana.
The aim of the project is to design technology, or uses for existing technology to make life easier for older people.  The idea is create opportunities for conversations between the residents in care homes, their carers, their relatives and each other, and to work with people with advanced dementia on memory projects.  The memory work also helps older people to overcome feelings of unworthiness and being invisible.
I got involved via Bristol Quilters, when Helen asked me if I could round up a posse to make some cushions to hold small speakers so that people could listen to music and have the sensation of a soft cushion.  This is the cushion in use:
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The quilters, of course, rose to the occasion magnificently, making prototypes, and on the day, showing people a variety of techniques to personalise their cushions.
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I found myself needing to rustle up three cushions before the day with very little time as I had had a fantastic weekend with my Danish family and hadn’t had an opportunity to make anything.  I had a flash of inspiration and came up with a no-sew cushion, which I think I must have seen in a magazine somewhere.  So, I glued on the pocket for the technology with a hot-glue gun, and then wrapped the pad in a vintage silk scarf which I knotted on the front.  They look surprisingly good.  I had been saving the scarves to make a shower curtain, and they had brilliant seventies designs and were mostly pure silk and so they looked rather sumptuous.  I thought you could probably use a favourite scarf of the person you were making it for, and you could change it according to the season.  I might hunt out some more and make some for myself.  They are surprisingly cheap and easy to come by.
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One of the exercises we did on the day was to think about the sort of care home we would like to have ourselves.  It’s quite hard to think about this, but it did make me think what I would want.  One of the themes of the day was loss – which objects do you choose to take with you and which do you choose to leave behind?  Out of all this, I realised the importance of stash, space and studio.  I would hate to have to leave my collections of things behind: fabric, beads, books, sketchbooks, sewing machines, art materials, dolls, pens…  I like having the contacts and the networks I have – my personal space in which I can make things with a certain ease.  I also love having a dedicated space to do my work in – especially since the big clear-up.  I couldn’t bear the thought of giving up all this to sit round watching endless game shows on the tv.
So, I enjoyed watching everyone pile in for the making session, and I really loved playing with the technology, including the virtual reality headsets, but a main and unexpected outcome for me was realising what I have and what I would miss.

Alison Moger at Bristol Quilters

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This post is about lovely Alison Moger’s visit to Bristol Quilters last night, but it is also about synchronicity and that feeling that the whole world is coming together to help you in your work, which is a bit delusional, but most definitely seems to happen to people when they are in ‘flow’ with a project.

Alison Moger is textile artist who is interested in community narratives, specifically the narratives of families and place.  She makes pieces about women’s lives and concerns, working on recycled domestic textiles such as tablecloths, tea towels, tray cloths and shawls.  She then prints and embroiders and burns and bleaches and patches them into textiles which capture the story she wants to tell.  The stories are about women’s lives and how they have changed over the past couple of decades.  She has done commissioned work on hospital wards for people with Alzheimers making wallpaper from blown up stitched pieces which allowed the patients to navigate the space through pictures but also to remember how they used to do embroidery themselves.  She did what sounds like fascinating work in South Wales with families from the area affected by the recent wave of young people’s suicides to celebrate what was good about the community and to commemorate the dead.

She is Welsh herself, and makes pieces to preserve Welsh culture.  So there were pieces about the ‘Fair People’ who had, like herself, blond hair and were mistrusted in a community of the dark-haired, and stories from the Mabinogion with its attendant seasonal customs such as the skeleton horse who seems to have been some sort of trick or treat character.  She also talked about going on holiday to Porthcawl on the coal lorry when the holiday-makers took their own furniture on the truck to camp with.  The posh person with the caravan became the leader of the field kitchen.  Then they all waited for the lorry to return home.  I liked her idea of working into and onto tea towels because women often work out their problems while doing the washing up, and her invaluable advice, ‘Don’t go out with a man from Bridgend Road, especially if he keeps greyhounds.’

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So, it was a fascinating talk, and the work was really lovely.  But over and above that, I was intrigued to see just how closely our interests overlapped.  I am interested in textiles and their connections to women’s lives and identities.  I am increasingly interested in memory and aging.  And I am getting involved in working on community pieces which will have some connection to changing the world around me.  I had had a great conversation with a colleague about this at the university earlier in the day.  It felt like the universe telling me I was on the right path and to keep going as there are allies and helpers out there.  That is a bit Californian wacky-woo-woo New Age for me, but it was a good feeling.

What I did at the weekend

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This isn’t what I did last weekend, but the weekend before, a very blustery weekend in January spent in Porthleven in Cornwall with my very excellent friends, Alison, Ceri and Becky.  Alison’s family has a house right on the sea wall, the white house first to the left of the stone building with the tower.  It is unusual because it has sea views on both sides because it is built on a feature jutting out into the harbour:

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These weekends are fantastic, because Alison usually phones up and says the house is free on a particular date, come if you can.  It generally works out that we have a wander round the little town, which has yet to become St Ivesified and still looks like it could conceivably be a working harbour – although Rick Stein has just opened a place there.  These are some pictures I took of it because I felt I had to take the standard inspiration ones!

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I really loved those pastel float things on the boat here.  And no-one can resist lobster pots with a splash of turquoise:

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We walked further out and saw this:

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Sadly, no wrestling to report on, but across the bay you can just about see the remains of the tin mines:

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There were also some great flower forms to sketch:

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And this one looks a lot like the verdigogh zentangle which I have never found easy to do:

IMG_0782imgres-1There was also this lovely colour scheme:

 

 

 

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which I have used before in my Collars project:

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Plus, owing to infatuation at an impressionable age, I can never pass by a stone wall without thinking of Kaffe Fassett:

 

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The informal deal on these weekends seems to have worked out to be that they do the cooking, which is wonderful, and I provide a workshop on the Saturday afternoon.  As no-one had done monoprinting with a Gelli plate, that’s what we decided to do.  I took two big bags of paint, stamps, rollers, paper, fabric and stencils and gave them a tiny bit of input and they were off:

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I took pretty cheap acrylic paint so that no-one would feel inhibited about splashing it about, and this was a bit of a false economy as the Gelli plates seem to work better with thicker paint with more pigment.  But we got some great results and had a lovely time trying out techniques, particularly with the stencils:

 

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I had never used the Gelli plates on fabric before and was eager to see what happened.  We used yards of waste curtain lining, which was a kind of cotton sateen, from my mother’s friend’s son, Graham.  I like using this fabric, and have used lots of his samples in my recent applique, because otherwise it would go into landfill.  So it is a form of recycling.  It is also something from nothing, which appeals, and I think that having a lot of materials – yards of fabric and plenty of cheap paint somehow gives people permission to experiment and try things out.  The worst that can happen is that it really does end up in landfill.

The printing on fabric went really well, and I will put some pictures of what I made in a later post.  I printed enough to make a reasonably large piece, although the stitching will largely be machine done as the paint has stiffened the fabric even with some textile medium in it.

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I shall end with some lunatic surfers who were kite surfing in crashing waves:

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