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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Wreath Wraith

 

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I have been very busy recently and have let my blog slip.  I can only apologise.  There are plenty of posts coming up which I hope will go some way to make up for this.

I am starting with the pieces that I entered into the Bristol Quilters Exhibition earlier this month.  The first of these is Wreath Wraith.  I have no idea why I chose the word ‘wraith’, here; it should have been Wreath Wright, as in someone who makes wreaths.  But I think that I might have done so much of this that it made me feel like a wraith or a ghost.  My idea was to show how you could make Baltimore style wreaths part of a contemporary quilt.

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The appliqué here is all by hand, but the construction of the pieced elements is done on my IKEA sewing machine to show that you don’t need a fancy one to piece.  I had to fall back on the Bernina for the machine quilting, though.

I have blogged about making this piece before: (https://annjrippin.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/further-adventures-in-wreath-making/, )and so I thought I would say something about seeing the quilt in the show.

The first thing was my horror in seeing it hanging.  About as straight as a dog’s hind leg, as my mother would say.  The right-hand-side of this ripples gently and is probably about three inches shorter than the left.  Now, I put this down to rushing to finish it, and not hanging it up myself.  What a nightmare.  Note to self, try the measuring and using a set square the way they tell you to in quilting manuals.

The second thing was my ‘delight’ about being hung next to the totally glorious and perfect appliqué piece by the international championship winning quilter, Sandie Lush.

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Just stop for a minute and consider just how perfect this is.  Here is a detail:

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Not only is the appliqué of a standard to make you weep, but the hand quilting is perfection too.  Then look at mine:

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Just above entry level.  But Sandie is a lovely, gracious and kind woman.  She came up to me at the show and said, ‘I love your appliqué.  It’s really vibrant and lovely.  Mine looks dull and lifeless.’  It didn’t, of course, but very kind of her to say so.

Sandie has a great web page detailing her quilts and her activities.  When you see that, you will realise why I was so crimson of mien being placed next to her, and why she is such an inspiration to so many.  Her website is here http://www.sandielush.co.uk/

Thinking about the stash

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I had a very interesting conversation last week with a group of women women talking about ‘The Stash’.  This is a subject which quilters will always talk about with great enthusiasm, and I thought I would take a little bit of time to write about what the scholars are thinking.  To keep it a bit lighter I am going to sprinkle internet memes about the stash throughout – this is why the pictures are a bit small today.

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Nearly everyone I know who pursues any sort of craft has a stash.  I am in awe of those people who just buy enough for a project and thus have a pristine workroom.  I am not quite sure what they do with the scraps at the end; I presume they make them into things to give to the deserving poor.  I cannot believe they throw them away.  I have to have a stash for my work because very often I just need a one inch piece of something so I keep vast amounts of scraps, but also big pieces which will probably just have a corner cut out sometime in the future.   I think about this as my compost: eventually it will break down into something lovely and sustaining.

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The fantasy way to keep all this stuff is shown in the photograph at the top of this post, but the reality is much more like this:

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or this:

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Or this:

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Or this:

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Which brings me onto my first point discussed by the academics: our feelings about our stash.  There are a number of these:

  • A number of well-adjusted women take the view that they work hard to be financially independent and so how they spend their money is no-one’s business.
  • Some women see what their husbands/partners spend their money on and see their stash as being an equivalent.  It might equal a set of golf clubs or an expensive camera plus accessories.
  • Some women feel extremely guilty about their stash.  This possibly because it is spending money on themselves and not their families, or because they buy it and then can’t bear to use it.  There are probably lots of explanations, but they mainly come down, I think, to women thinking that they are not worth it.  If ever I want to buy something extravagant I phone one of my male gay friends.  They always say one of two things: ‘You work hard, you deserve it’, or: ‘Do you mean to tell me that you don’t think that you are worth a (insert item of choice plus price)?’  Or I recall my mother’s wise words: ‘You will remember (insert name of item you wish to buy) far longer than you will remember the overdraft’.

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  • The older women get the more likely they seem to find the stash a burden.  I have noticed with friends that our mothers become really keen to declutter and to throw stuff away that has been in the attic for years as they get older.  In my case, the stuff transfers from my mother’s attic to mine.  This desire to get rid of stuff seems to be even worse if there is a stash involved, and I think there is sometimes guilt about leaving the burden of sorting it out to whomever has to clear out the house.  I have come across quilters who have had to sell off another quilter’s stash who vow never to pass that job onto someone else.

 

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Some of the women in the group were what are called ‘early career academics’ which means that they are doing their first or second jobs, just having finished their PhDs.  They talked about moving and having to ‘drag it from house to house’ as they tried to find a permanent position.

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A really extreme position was that having a stash was morally corrupt because it represented having an excess while others have nothing.  The Western world always has too much and never enough in the context of a global world

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One of the ways that having the stash is often justified is to collect vintage fabric for reuse, a form of recycling, and this is certainly something that I like to emphasise.  A lot of my stash is old samples or remnants which would have gone into landfill if I hadn’t rescued it.  But, as a colleague of mine who works on the engineering of waste and recycling says, this just delays or defers the problem.  Recycled presents are great, but you are just passing the stuff onto the next person.  ‘It’ still exists and will have to be dealt with at some point in the future.  Overproduction is the problem and recycling is not the answer.

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A slightly lighter note was struck by one of the women who said that she thought the ideal was the ‘sweet spot’ between having enough but not so much that it crossed over into being clutter.

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Even more positive was the position that the stash represents potential.  It is there to be transformed and it is there to liberate creativity.  Certainly in my work with grown-ups involving making of any sort I have found that it works best when there is an enormous, generous amount of stuff.  Having stuff to waste or experiment with seems to liberate the childlike desire to create in people.  It always gets mentioned in feedback.  ‘There was just so much stuff, so much to choose from’.  I wonder if people somehow read this as care in material form, and if you are being cared for then you are safe and free to play.

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There was also some conversation about how stashes circulate, a bit like those friendship cakes where you get a small piece of batter to make your own cake and then to pass on to friends.  I get parts of my mother’s stash which I pass on to friends needing new cushions or bags or backing fabric.  The academic women described these as ‘small circulating economies’ which just means that there is a form of exchange involved.

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An interesting suggestion was that Ebay represents a global electronic stash.  There is all that stuff just sitting there all over the world just waiting to be transported and rehomed and re-used.  I think this is an interesting idea, although this is a very brazen commercial form of stash, and yet it is one that I have participated in, of course.

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As all this material circulates between us, one interesting question is whether or not knowledge is being transferred as well.  Do the skills follow the fabric?  I think it’s an interesting idea, and it is possible that when someone gives you, or swaps you, or even sells you a piece of fabric or equipment they will tell you how to use it or what they used it for or intended to use it for, but my suspicion is that it is mainly about the material exchange.

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There was some talk of the stash being a community resource where people could come and take what they needed for their project.  I thought this was a bit idealistic.  I think that there are politics around the stash, and unwritten and unspoken rules.  We have a sort of stash at Bristol Quilters where there is a Saint Peter’s Hospice stall with fabric for anyone.  But we all know that we are expected to pay for it.  If I just took a chunk of something I would expect at the very least to get some dirty looks.  Even when the lovely women who run the stall and know that I collect Laura Ashley fabric give me something free I feel obligated to make a donation anyway as it is for charity.

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I think there is even a question of who gets to use your stash.  I have two stashes: one is available to anyone.  Take and waste as much as you like.  Cut the centre out of the piece rather than snipping a bit off along the edge.  Spill stuff all over it.  Make something incredibly ugly with it.  I genuinely don’t mind.  The second is my stash for me.  Now if you are a really good friend and want, say, some red fabric, you can have anything, but only because you are a really good friend.  This is a relational activity.  It builds and binds friendships.  It makes me a mealy-mouthed person community-wise and makes me a terrible fabric capitalist, but it is how I feel.  Hands off the precious last bit of my favourite fabric.  I know at least one woman who really resents being seen as a community resource.  She hates takers who never seen to flip over into givers, and I sort of know what she means.

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There is also a class element to all this.  I can afford to spend money on fabric; I have enough disposable income to allow me to do it.  But not everyone has.  My very good friend, Marybeth Stalp talks much more about the guilt over the stash in her interviewees in the US, probably because it is a more working class pursuit than in the UK where the guilt is less.  I think there might also be an age component.  Many quilters were born during or just after the war when there was austerity and utility and shortage.  Having a store of things was fine as that would feed and clothe the family in hard times, but buying things for yourself for the pleasure of stroking and folding and having them was an indulgence and therefore morally wrong.  So I got used to smuggling things in past my father when my mother and I had been shopping.  So I think this brings me back to my starting point about the mixed emotion of the stash.  I would be interested to hear other people’s thoughts if anyone would like to leave a comment.

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Imagine my surprise when…

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I bought a copy of Mollie Makes last week to pass the time when I was on a train and was interested to see the following article:

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That looks interesting, I thought, just my sort of thing.  As I read on, I found I agreed wholeheartedly with it, not least because I was quoted extensively in it, and not in a way that made me look terminally stupid.  I had forgotten about giving the interview, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it.  Jessica Bateman, the author is a lovely person and the piece is a lovely read.

Also you can learn how to make a pom-pomed muff, and that I feel would make the ideal Christmas present for anyone.

A good read

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I haven’t done much in the way of recommending quilting books, but this is one worth looking at, not because I particularly want to make three fabric quilts, but because it has a really good introduction on how to make a quilt.  There is a lot of good advice in this one.   At least a third of it is about sewing.   Also if you want to make a small quilt in a weekend, I think that this would be an excellent place to start.

I bought it in one of those bargain bookshops at the weekend.  I saw it full price and passed it by some time ago, but for £6 it was a real bargain.

A small thing

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This is short post about this very small piece which measures about six inches by four inches.  It is made on a piece of old quilt with needle-turned appliqué.  The appliqué is mainly done with plain fabric which I monoprinted, but I used such small pieces that it just looks like striped fabric:

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The fruit is meant to look like an apple, although I think it looks more like an orange.  I made the piece because someone was telling me about the old, and now defunct, I think, Austrian custom whereby young women would put a piece of apple in their armpits and then do a ritual dance.  At the end of the dance they would give the apple slice to their lover who would eat it.  I presume if he refused the relationship came to an end.  The way I was told the story was that the lovers put the apple slices in their armpits and then danced together all night and then swapped slices at the end and went home with their lover’s scent impregnating the fruit so they could continue to think of them.  I think this is a nicer version.

This was a quick piece to make and I think the old, battered, frayed quality of the piece goes with the old, romantic tale.  The piece of old quilt came from the Welsh Quilt Museum in Lampeter.

A new project

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

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

I will post some more on my progress.

 

Red Rabbits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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.

Brunel Broderers’ Exhibition at Newark Park

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On my recent visit to Newark Park I was lucky enough to see the Brunel Broderer’s exhibition, which was of work made in response to the house and gardens.  I really hate singling people out in exhibitions, because often it is just a matter of taste as to whose work you prefer, but there was some glorious embroidery on display.  I particularly liked seeing the sketchbooks accompanying the work, and I liked the way that it was spread throughout the house and not just in the gallery.  For example, my good friend Liz Hewitt had this rather lovely piece in a little ground-floor reception room:

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This is a little taster of the rest of the show:

The combination of this very high quality contemporary needlework, and the older pieces I mentioned in an early blogpost make this a really good day out for sewers of all sorts.