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You can take the hearts off the quilt, but you can't take the quilts out of the heart

Buttonhole applique on The Greek Slave Quilt

Buttonhole applique on The Greek Slave Quilt

Last night I went out with Becky, Alison and my Grate Friend Ceri, who has featured previously in this blog, for a quiet drink and a chat.  We talked about family and jobs and the realities of getting older, but we also talked a lot about the passion that brings us all together: sewing.  Becky is fantastic at recycling and cannot bear to throw anything away.  When she makes beautiful patchwork out of scraps it looks elegant and designed and covertable.  Alison makes beautiful quilts with the subtlest of colour schemes, and the lightest of touches of embellishments, and Ceri makes fabulous riots of colour which are both sophisticated and full of life.  For some reason, though, they seem to think I know more about patchwork and quilting than them, which is wrong.  The conversation turned to current projects and I started to talk about The Greek Slave Quilt, which has taken me by surprise because it is back to traditional pieced patchwork which I haven’t really done for years.  Suddenly, I have a desire to stitch pieces of fabric together.  It must be the recession.  We had all been to see the big quilt show at the Victoria and Albert Museum last year, and knowing that the Greek Slave had been inspired by that trip, Becky suggested that I enter it, when it’s finished, into the V&A’s competition for work inspired by a visit to the Museum.  I am a bit shy about this sort of thing, and so I demurred.  But, back at home and in bed, my mind started racing.  What would I have to do to turn it into an art quilt which might interest the V&A rather than just a ho-hum reproduction knock-off piece?

The answer seemed to me to combine the story elements from the Greek Slave Quilt, which I have blogged about before with the Changi Quilt which was also in the show.  The Changi Quilts have fascinated me for years.  Here’s a description from the Red Cross website about the quilts they own:

When Singapore surrendered to the invading Japanese army early in 1942, many service personnel and civilians from Allied countries – including women and children – were sent to an internment camp at Changi Prison.

Men were separated from the women and children, and there was little contact between them so families didn’t know if their loved ones had survived.

In the first six months of internment, women embroidered their names and an image that meant something to them on squares of fabric. The squares were sewn together to form quilts, which were given to the military hospital at Changi barracks. For many of the men, it was the first sign they had that their wives and daughters were alive.

(www.redcross.org.uk)

Changi Quilt

Changi Quilt

I have often wondered if I were in that situation, with Pete not knowing if I were dead or alive, what would I embroider on my square of fabric?  What sums up my identity, his identity or our identity in our life together?  What would he feel like as he stood there and examined the quilts as they came through looking for some sign that I had survived?  What single image sums up a life together?

The upshot of all this is that I decided to try to bring the two narrative elements together in the quilt and to make a small collection of things that I associate with Pete.  I will incorporate them into the finished piece in some way.  Quite a challenge putting objects onto such a traditional ‘2D’ quilt.  There is much more to say on this subject which I will leave for other posts, but I am struck by how much of my involvement in quilting is work of the heart.

In which the blogger admits that not everything always goes according to plan

 

Ann Rippin's Painted Madonna Quilt, (2010-2011)

Ann Rippin's Painted Madonna Quilt, (2010-2011)

One of the great pleasures of making is finishing.  Completing.  This doesn’t negate the joys of doing or creating but there is something very satisfying about putting in the last stitch or sewing on the last bead.  This piece was started about this time last year in a big burst of enthusiasm  I decided a wanted to make a madonna as part of the Candlemas celebrations I hold some years.  Again, being married to the medieval historian brings an awareness of these more or less forgotten high days and holidays, and I like tradition and markers throughout the year because I think we have lost a lot by not marking rites of passage or special times.  And Candlemas is traditionally celebrated with candles and cakes, which is a great thing to do during the dark days of February.  It is a commemoration of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, and the Purification of the Virgin Mary (hence the madonna) on 2 February.   It is also sometimes associated with cleaning and throwing away the remaining debris after Christmas, so finishing a piece also seems appropriate.  All of this meant that on Sunday afternoon I thought I would find this piece and attempt to finish it off.

When I started it, I was inspired by an article I saw in Quilting Arts Magazine about painting quilts.  I have, of course, lost the article since starting the quilt, but the author was clearly a very talented woman and she produced lovely smokey renditions of playing cards (I think).  So, I set out.  Now, most people trying out a new technique might start small, with a sample even.  But not me.  I wrestled with a large piece of calico on my very cluttered work table and set to.  This is a quilt.  Three layers with wadding and everything.  Then I drew the madonna onto the calico with a permanent fine line marker pen following a beautiful Renaissance madonna I found on the front of a book catalogue sent to the resident historian.

 

Anonymous Neapolitan artist, c.1510-20.  Madonna della Carita (detail).

Anonymous Neapolitan artist, c.1510-20. Madonna della Carita (detail).

How beautiful.  So, I have my outline and my quilt sandwich.  The author of the article I am quite sure told me to machine quilt it.  I ignored this, because stupidly I had put a lot of detail in, which would end up spiky rather than curved if I did it by machine.  And so I started.  The quilting took a while, but this was restful: following a well-delineated outline is a treat for most handquilters, and it could be done while chatting to other quilters.  The fun came with the painting.  The woman who told me to machine quilt had her reasons.  Hand quilters pull the thread slightly to get those characteristic little puffs to highlight the effect of light and shade, and those little puffs meant that every time I painted up to them I got a wavy line as the paint hit the hills and valleys.  Nightmare.  It took forever.  By this point it was clear that any Candlemas party would have been and gone and so I abandoned it.

 

Sample for painted quilt

Sample for painted quilt

About a year later I summoned my courage to start again.  I was using acrylic paint which was lovely but not suited to the job.  Pushing paint into all those points was just irritating and when I came back to it I got much looser and by the end was slapping on the white of the linen with abandon.

 

Detail of painted Madonna Quilt

Detail of painted Madonna Quilt

Eventually, after I stamped a design on the orange robe with gold paint,  the painting was finished.  Although the end result and the source material bore no resemblance, I thought it would pass for folk art and I had come too far to give up at this point (like waiting for a bus – when do you decide to give up and walk having already invested twenty minutes in the wait?).  The final part was to sand the quilt lightly and then paint over it with watered down acrylic paint.  I set to rather energetically with a sanding block which, as we shall see, had unfortunate consequences.  Then I made up my wash and put in some gloss medium to emulate layers of varnish (again unforeseen consequences).  I slapped it on the quilt.  I scrubbed and wiped and dabbed with a paper towel.  I used the leftover glaze to do so modelling with shadows around the eyes, and cheeks and fingers.  I left it to dry.

Well, most madonnas are known as the madonna of the lilies, roses, rocks, greenfinch, apple, or charity, like this one.  Mine could only be described as the Madonna of the Dirty Face or the Madonna of the Morning After the Night Before.  She looks how I feel.  And the addition of the gloss medium means that I have a rich brown stain all over my fingers which will not shift with scrubbing.

I may come to love her.  My husband will be terribly polite about her.  But I did want to share her because I think it is important that we admit that not everything we make is just gorgeous from the outset, and she is a perfect corrective to vanity.

The Madonna of the Dirty Face before her glazing

The Madonna of the Dirty Face before her glazing

Threads of Feeling at the Foundling Museum, London

Page from Foundling Museum records

Page from Foundling Museum records

 

Pete, my historian husband, always says that it’s the weaker students who tell him that one of the main reasons for studying history is so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.  Well, one of the mistakes that I keep on making is not going to exhibitions that run for more than a couple of weeks because I forget or never ‘get round to it’.  So, on Saturday, we did get round to going to the ‘Threads of Feeling’ exhibition at the Foundling Museum in London.   The hospital was established in the 18th century to take in unwanted children by Captain Coram, William Hogarth, the artist, and George Frideric Handel, the composer.   The museum is on the site of the original building in Bloomsbury, and its website is at  www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

We went to see the very small and beautifully done exhibition of pages from the ledgers of pieces of cloth preserved to identify the children should their mothers (almost always) come to reclaim them.  As the exhibition website explains

In the cases of more than 4,000 babies left between 1741 and 1760, a small object or token, usually a piece of fabric, was kept as an identifying record. The fabric was either provided by the mother or cut from the child’s clothing by the hospital’s nurses.  Attached to registration forms and bound up into ledgers, these pieces of fabric form the largest collection of everyday textiles surviving in Britain from the 18th Century.

We both felt that the emotion could have been laid on with a trowel, but it was a thoughtful and tempered exhibition.  I had to laugh at myself, though, when I caught myself being furious with a very noisy group of schoolchildren crashing through the place so that they could fill in their worksheets while I was brimming over with compassion for these desolate babies and mothers.  A very English attitude to children…

For those of us interested in textiles, however, the pieces of fabric are extraordinary.  Because they have been kept out of the light they are as fresh as the day they were deposited at the hospital.  The pins holding the samples together haven’t even rusted.  And they form a major archive of 18th-century women’s and other domestic textiles.  What is missing is heavy work clothes worn by men, because the fathers so rarely appeared with the children.

I want to work with the themes and ideas of this exhibition when I get to grips with my Laura Ashley project, so I won’t go on much more here.  It is well worth making the effort to see the exhibition which continues to 6 March 2011.  An added incentive might be the rather splendid cafe on the ground floor, with a fine line in cake.  Or possibly the Handel room on the top floor with its leather wing chairs with speakers set in the wings at ear level playing selections from the composer’s catalogue.

As part of the exhibition, Annabelle Lewis of VV Rouleaux has made an installation called The Falling Thread.

Annabelle Lewis, The Falling Thread, 2010

Annabelle Lewis, The Falling Thread, 2010

 

Afterwards, we went round the corner to the British Museum and the Margo Selby shop, of which more in subsequent posts.

 

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On 'torturing' fabric

Detail of Pre-Raphaelite panel from Body Shop Quilt

Detail of Pre-Raphaelite panel from Body Shop Quilt

In an idle moment last night when I found myself wandering around the web instead of going to bed, I came across a website with prompts for bloggers with writer’s blog.  One of them suggested writing about a book that you would recommend to other people, and this in turn prompted me to think about a conversation I had with my grate friend Ceri (as Molesworth would say) at St Andrew’s Quilters, our quilting group, on Wednesday evening.  We were talking about Gwen Marston’s book on liberated quilting which is currently going for £127 on Amazon.  I got mine years ago and paid nothing like that for it.  I did spend an amount I am not prepared to disclose for The Whole Cloth by Constantine and Reuter which makes proper textile artists go weak at the knees, and which I subsequently found had come from a library sale so probably cost the crafty vendor under a fiver.  However.  The point of this post is not to have an informal quilters’ book group.  I want to talk a bit about torturing fabric.

So, when I went to Gwen Marston’s weekend workshop I went to the show and tell and sat next to a fantastic, committed quilter who does traditional work wonderfully well.  As we were chatting she said to me, ‘I do hope we’re not going to see a lot of tortured fabric.’  My heart sank, because both pieces I had taken along, and which I shall endeavour to find photos of, were prime example of such practices.  The piece at the top of this post, which is also my header photo is another example of exquisite cruelty to cloth.  In the case of the photo above, the fabric was attacked with a soldering iron.  Not even Quentin Tarantino would stoop to that.

The Pre-Raphaelite Panel, Body Shop Quilt

The Pre-Raphaelite Panel, Body Shop Quilt

When quilting magazines occasionally poll well-known quilters on which piece of equipment they could not bear to lose, I sometimes think it would be my hot air gun.  This beauty actually came in very useful recently when our pipes froze.  My charming husband was up a ladder thawing them out most effectively.  I can probably also use the leftover lagging to print with at some point as well, so the morning was not entirely wasted.

But, there are some of us who work in textiles who just cannot resist the quick zap with the heat gun over chiffon or IKEA curtain voile which melts back beautifully or this lovely sample of Italian furnishing voile:

Body Shop Quilt, filler panel detail

Body Shop Quilt, filler panel detail

I love those big baroque flourishes in quilts where there is the space.  I also love the nerve it takes to put the heat gun over the quilting you have so lovingly worked on for an afternoon.

The quilts will have their revenge, though.  I spent ages stitching voile over some exquisite squares of very choice fabric set out like mosaic, got the hot air gun out, turned it on and waited for the magic to appear.  And waited.  And waited.  And noticed a smell of burning.  The voile my mother had supplied me with from her curtain making contact was pure silk and had no intention of burning.  And that is why you should always make samples.  And thinking through what had happened and how this made me realise that you must respect the integrity of your materials suggests to me that perhaps after all you shouldn’t make samples after all.

For info: the stunning beads on this panel come from Anita’s Beads (www.anitasbeads.com) which is worth searching out at the Festival of Quilts just to meet the wonderful Clive.

My last word on shoes

Corporate Excess: Sight, Ann Rippin, 2005

Corporate Excess: Sight, Ann Rippin, 2005

Shoes seem to have been a bit of a theme in this blog this week.  I was thinking about this when I suddenly remembered that I had made a small quilt about shoes for an academic paper.  It is part of a series based on the famous set of tapestries, The Lady and the Unicorn.

The Lady and the Unicorn - Sight

The Lady and the Unicorn - Sight

This is one of six monumental tapestries in the Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris.  They were made for Jean le Viste, a magnate on the rise in the court of Charles VII, and are identifiable by his coat of arms.  They are probably late fifteenth century, probably made in Brussels and very definitely a hugely expensive luxury item.  Tracey Chevalier wrote a really good read novel about her imagined story of the making of them.  Each tapestry shows a different sense along with the lady and the unicorn and a precious object associated with the sense.  So taste has sugar, hearing has a small portable organ (with attendant small portable servant to power it) and sight has a mirror.  The sixth, rather mysterious, piece, A mon seul desir, shows the lady either putting on a beautiful necklace or putting it away and abjuring worldly goods.  I was so stunned by the size and quality of these French national treasures that I decided to think about what a young man on the rise through the world of high finance in the City might commission to impress visitors to his prestigious home.  What luxury objects might be chosen in the early years of the twentieth century.  I looked to The Financial Times How to Spend It supplement that comes out on the first weekend of the month for inspiration.  For sight I chose the work of a shoe maker who makes shoes not in pairs but in threes and artfully distresses at least one of them.  According to the article, Olga Berluti…

has something of the medieval alchemist about her, cooking up new patinas in her atelier, boiling up mixtures of cashmere and leather, trying out new techniques to create finishes unlike anybody else’s… For her things that have been worn have a romance, a glamour, a precious quality that nothing new can begin to replicate.  As she points out, “In the past, men – both aristocrats and peasants – wore their clothes until they were threadbare.  They would patch and darn these beloved pieces.”  She sees these patchings as being “like so many acts of bravery”.  “Il y a tout une histoire dans un soulier” (“there is a whole history in a sole”[sic]) is how she puts it. (HTSI, 133: 51)

It struck me that Olga had never been there at the end of a jumble sale when the really horrible smelly stuff is left.  I thought the notion of buying beautifully finished distressed shoes in threes was a deliberate subversion of wealth into a pastiche of want and need.

But, as so often happens, the quilt took on a life of its own, and what I like about it is that it is completely different under different lighting conditions.  Under artificial light the sequins in the background spring into life, while in daylight the texture of my approximation of Olga’s patching comes to the fore.  So the quilt really does play with sight.

Corporate Excess - Sight - detail
Corporate Excess – Sight – detail

For those who are interested, the distressed elements are largely made with melted ‘friendly plastic’  with the odd bit of gold tulle pressed into it, and some handquilting following the lines of the printed bronze leatherette.  The plastic and the leatherette were provided by my mother, the world’s best supplier of stuff for textiles.

For those who want to read my searing critique of the bonus culture five years avant la lettre, have a look at:

Rippin, A. (2007) ‘Economy of Magnificence: Organisation, Excess and Legitimacy’ Culture and Organisation, 13, 2, 115-129.

Academic quilters stick together

Fabric postcard by Harriet Shortt

Fabric postcard by Harriet Shortt

This is a fabric postcard that I received from Harriet Shortt who works at Bristol Business School at UWE.  Harriet is the only other academic quilter I know.  We had a very happy time just before Christmas looking together at the magnificent quilt that she made about the process of doing her PhD research.  I think that she intends to talk about the quilt at SCOS, the Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism (www.scos.org), later this year, so I won’t write about it here, except to say that it was great to know that a paper I gave at SCOS last year (at the conference brilliantly organised by Beatriz Acevedo and Sam Warren) had inspired Harriet ‘to thread a needle’, and to see such a huge and brilliant piece of work which had so much to say about the process of doing a huge and fascinating piece of work like Harriet’s ethnography of a hairdressing salon.

But, it was such a delight on a dark, wet January morning to get Harriet’s beautiful piece through the post.  I thought it was a brilliant idea.  Small, fairly quick to produce but packed with meaning, and very personal.  A lovely counterpoint to getting a dashed off email.  The time to make the piece.  Stitch it to the postcard (which you have had to get up and buy).  Write the message by hand.  Find the address.  Find a stamp.  Get up and post the piece.  All the time thinking about the recipient.  What an interesting way into thinking about feminist theories of gift-giving.  Time to blow the dust off Kristeva and Cixous.  Time to think about a feminist ethics of debt, obligation, reciprocity, and possibly love.  Time to think about the meaning of small pieces, things made by hand and holdable in the hand.  Just a delight.  And, of course, it had a lovely message.  It makes me want to start a collaborative project, ideally to be showcased at SCOS.  It makes me want to get more people involved.  It make me want to run a workshop.  It makes me want to start a reading group on gift theory…  This, I think, is what collaborative generative research ought to be about.

More sketches from Janet Haigh's drawing workshop

First sketch at Janet Haigh's workshop

First sketch at Janet Haigh's workshop

This is the first two-minute sketch we did at the workshop on Sunday, with the sketch which was focussing on what would make us want to buy the shoe.  I was aiming for an Andy Warhol ‘brio’, although Janet Haigh was very firm that we shouldn’t be aiming for stylisation at this point.  Oh!

Andy Warhol shoe

Andy Warhol shoe

I also thought it would be nice to show the back of my shoes embroidery, which I think I like as much as the front!

Reverse of purple pumps

Reverse of purple pumps

What Ann Rippin did this Sunday

Drawing of purple pumps

Drawing of purple pumps 16 January 2011

Much to my amazement, I found myself in a drawing class yesterday.  Despite the fact that I work with images a lot, I really don’t like drawing, don’t think I can draw, feel embarrassed to pick up a pencil in public and so on.  But Janet Haigh, a very fine quilter and embroiderer, is opening a design and textile studio/workshop in Bristol and was having a dry run for one of the classes she intends to offer, and so, armed only with some drawing equipment and the moral support of my very brave friend Mike, I went along.

Fantastic.  Janet actually taught us drawing techniques.  It wasn’t about expressing ourselves in paint, or celebrating our inner artist in junk, but actual drawing techniques.  We did about five exercises and were all (I think) astounded with the progress we made.  The subject was shoes, because they are Janet’s passion and it was her workshop, and the aim was to have a drawing which we would stitch in the afternoon.  The above is my drawing of a pair of Janet’s shoes which I loved for the colour and the little metal flourishes on the end of the laces.  I also, and here I am about to have a Kaffe Fassett moment, loved putting these happy looking pinky-mauve pumps against some yellow tissue with tiny red hearts on it.  I started the piece in the workshop and finished it when I got home.  Here’s the end result:

 

Purple pumps, embroidered by Ann Rippin, 16 January 2011

Purple pumps, embroidered by Ann Rippin, 16 January 2011

I was really pleased that I could use my favourite NeoArt crayons to apply the colour, and then draw on it in pencil and then do the very simple stitching in ordinary stranded cotton.

Purple pumps - detail

Purple pumps - detail

I thought Janet was a tremendous teacher.  She got me from mildly terrified, to thinking, ‘I can do this’ to thinking well, ‘I want to make an embroidery of these shoes so I should get the drawing down, and then think about the stitching.’  So, by the end of a single day, I was confident I could do the drawing without even thinking about it, so I drew them again rather than tracing the original drawing.  I think Janet is right; traced drawings are a bit lifeless.

Two things struck me during the day, in terms of academic quilting.  The first is that Janet was saying that her preferred style of embroidery can now be done quickly and easily by machine.  So where does that leave her and her work?  What does that mean for how she might work in the future?

The second was to think hard about the idea that drawing is seeing, really looking rather than waving pencils around.  What does that mean for a researcher?  How can we apply drawing to doing organisational research if what we are trying to do is to look deeply at the organisations and organising that we study.  I don’t have an answer now, but it would be interesting to develop this theme.

I will put up some of the other drawings in subsequent posts so that you can see what a great teacher Janet is.  She was very encouraging and made it totally safe, but she also offered a real critique of our drawings.  Oh, and thanks to Mike for being the only man there and not making a big deal out of it, and for being prepared, at least for a bit, to pick up a needle…

Janet’s blog, which is well worth a look, is at www.janethaigh.wordpress.com.

 

The Greek Slave – New Project

The Greek Slave Quilt

The Greek Slave Quilt

This is a slightly blurry photo of a detail of The Greek Slave Quilt which was one of the exhibits in the recent magnificent quilt exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  I went twice and only noticed this quilt on my second visit where I was suddenly entranced by it.

What interests me is the way that the meaning of the quilt changes as the stories about the woman (probably) who made it change.  Originally it was thought that it must have been made by a woman living on a farm as it has a picket fence design round the edge and lots of horses and other domestic animals pictured in its applique.  This was the opinion of Averil Colby  (1900-1983), one of the great figures in the English patchwork and quilting revival.  (There will be a retrospective exhibition about her legacy at the Quilters’ Guild Museum in York in 2011, http://www.quiltmuseum.org.uk/exhibitions/forthcoming/the-averil-colby-legacy.html).  This went unchallenged until a researcher at the V&A looked more closely at the applique figures, one of which is pictured here.  What that researcher saw was a particularly well-known statue by Hiram Powers (1805-1873) called the Greek Slave.

The Greek Slave by Hiram Powers

The Greek Slave by Hiram Powers (1805-1873)

 

It was exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851, and the pose in the applique and crucially the presence of the post to which the woman is chained, suggest very strongly that the woman who made it was not a farmer celebrating the joys of country life through chickens and horses and picket fences but a cultured woman who had either been to the Great Exhibition, or seen pictures or read magazines and was copying what she had seen.  Suddenly this becomes a very different piece as it is a heavily appliqued coverlet, meaning it has no wadding and so was not used for warm bedding.  It is much more likely to be a hobby piece.

I’ll return to the piece in later posts, but I was intrigued by the shifting meanings of the story and decided to make my own version.

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The Greek Slave – my latest project

Greek Slave Quilt

Greek Slave Quilt, detail, Ann Rippin 2011

This is part of a piece I started working on in order to have something to do over Christmas.  I found the patchwork, including some quite nice applique, that I did years and years and years ago with a pack of reproduction vintage fabrics that my mother gave me.  I was amazed when I pulled the bag out, firstly because the work had been in there for so long that the plastic had started to biodegrade and the handles came off in my hand, and second because there was so much piecing already done.

I can also use the contents of the bag to trace how my patchwork has developed.  The main pieces were large and fairly accurate (for me) very traditionally put together, but as my tastes changed I started to like the really wonky piecing you get with very utilitarian quilts.  I suppose this is reverse snobbery: you can admire the charmingly naive when you have double glazing and central heating.  But there is something very energetic about quilting which fits where it touches, as my grandmother used to say.  And I did a brilliant workshop some years ago with Gwen Marston who talks about liberated quilting.  No templates.  Just get on with it and make a bit to fit.  Apropos of nothing, one of the proudest moments of my life was when I showed  a couple of my pieces at the show and tell at the workshop, and she came up to me quietly later and said, ‘Ann, you are a real artist.’  Could have died and gone to heaven.

So, two thirds of my latest piece will be wonky patchwork.  This sample shows the deliberately wonky quilting which I will bung in the washing machine to shrink to make it look antique.  I am currently working on the applique panel which is the whole point of the piece.

Greek Slave applique

Greek Slave Applique from Victoria and Albert Quilt

This is the applique with its attendant narrative that I am working on.  More on this as work progresses.