Some proper, traditional quilting, for once…

Mum's green bali batik quilt

Mum's green bali batik quilt

One of the nicest things about going to visit my mother, and I am just back from Nottingham, is that you get to sleep under quilts.  On our previous visit it was an exquisite blue and white Baltimore that she was given last year for a ‘big’ birthday by her friends.  This time it was this lovely quilt which is a brilliant design for fabric lovers and is stuffed full of gorgeous bali batiks.  A major challenge is keeping the wilful white terriers off them…  Here’s another picture:

More bali batiks

More bali batiks

Because it turned a bit cold, I got to use another of her quilts, in fact her latest, this rich green and rose patchwork:

Green and rose quilt

Green and rose quilt

The reverse of this quilt is also worth a look as it shows off some skilful long-arm quilting:

Green and rose quilt - reverse

Green and rose quilt - reverse

I think my mother was a bit disappointed when I couldn’t offer any help with the mitre-ing of the corners of this quilt, but I can only do the continuous binding method, otherwise I am completely rubbish because it requires precision and planning and accuracy, none of which are my strong suit.

One thing I am interested in, though, is the fact that both of these quilts are predominantly green which is my mother’s favourite colour and therefore a colour she works with a lot.  I really dislike green, and have no idea why.  I absolutely love red in all its shades and love to work with it and wear it.  I almost always include a dot at least of red in everything I make.  My mother really dislikes red, never wears it, doesn’t include it in her quilts, but gave me a lovely sample pack of reds with gold prints last time I saw her.  It’s interesting that we share a love of the craft, but have such different ideas about colour.

Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice

Celebrations

Celebration

Two posts today, because the wonderful Bob has been round and fixed my sewing machine.  Embarrassingly, he said he thought it just needed a good in-depth clean, which he gave it, and it leapt back into life.  Rejoice, rejoice.  It is like an old friend coming home.

Crossed structure bindings workshop with Lori Sauer at Heart Space Studios

Crossed structure bindings - spines

Crossed structure bindings - spines

In between the end of teaching and the beginning of marking, I have a bit of slack and so decided to take another bookbinding workshop with Lori Sauer.  This one was on crossed structure bindings, which were developed by Carmencho Arregui in her work conserving old books and bindings.  There is a great website which she has set up (www.outofbinding.com) but it is a bit temperamental.  There are some nice pictures of this binding on a lovely handmade bookbinding blog, My Handbook Books (http://myhandboundbooks.blogspot.com/2007/07/crossed-structure-binding-basic.html)  and a flickr album (http://www.flickr.com/photos/buechertiger/4400498519/).

Quite a lot of the day was torture for me because it required so much accuracy and precision to make this look like anything at all.  But we all persevered, and eventually produced some lovely books which sit beautifully in the hand.  I promised Lori that I would start using the books rather than admiring them and leaving them on a shelf and they are lovely.

My two crossed structure bound books

My two crossed structure bound books

One of the nice things about them is the patterns that the bindings make on the inside of the books:

Inside the crossed structure bindings

Inside the crossed structure bindings

One of the books is made with plain paper covers and the other with painted white paper, which was protected with some clear acrylic varnish.   I liked the quality of the linen thread we used to bind the books and added some paper ‘buttons’ to my cover which I tied on with reef knots.  I was a bit enthusiastic with my spatter painting of the paper and ended up with a rather speckled handbag – which just adds to its character, of course.

Although I find the cutting required for real bookbinding quite demanding and tiring and stress inducing, I really love the stitching.  I like the rhythm and the ‘just rightness’ of elements like the kettle stitch which keep the pages together.  I could do the sewing part all day.  Perhaps I need to find a partner who enjoys the precision work.

I came away with a set of templates for both books which I intend to use with some lovely mock suede and mock leather fabric which my mother gave me ages ago and which I think would work really well with these bindings.  And I never thought that I would hear myself say that I would willing do any more of this kind of detailed work.  So that is a testiment to Lori’s teaching.

The class took place at Heart Space Studios in Bristol, where Lori will be teaching more classes in the future.  Thoroughly recommended.

Stroud International Textile Festival

I went to the Stroud Textile Festival on Saturday.  There was some lovely stuff to see, and I was particularly taken by the work of two artists.  The first was Clyde Olliver (see http://embroidery.embroiderersguild.com/pdfs/clydeolliver_embroidery.pdf, and http://www.clydeolliver.com/)  who combines stitching with slate, so embroidery meeting sculpture, really, who made this fantastic piece:

Large slate, Clyde Olliver

Large slate, Clyde Olliver

I ended up in conversation with a complete stranger about how moving it was, which it was.  It has a very spiritual quality about it.  Quite beautiful.  I had seen his work before but the slates had always been much smaller.  This one was monumental.  A real highlight for me.  It made me think of how much I like Matthew Harris’s work, too,  and to wonder if there is some kind of masculine something coming through that I respond to.  A certain toughness in the choice and deployment of materials.

The second was a bit more problematic, but no less beautiful.  Jessica Turrell’s pieces were stunning, but did make me wonder if they were textiles at all (http://www.jessicaturrell.co.uk/site/).  She describes herself as a jeweller and her work in this show was in enamels.  But they were just plain beautiful:

Jessica Turrell

Jessica Turrell

Part of me wanted to query what they were doing in the show at all, as they aren’t texiles, but the other half was just content to admire them, and wish I were even half capable of producing something so beautiful.

Sometimes I want to go to shows to be inspired, and to get ideas.  But sometimes, as I said to my long-suffering husband, I really want to go and see something I couldn’t make and that stops me in my tracks.  I got that feeling with both of these artists.

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Tangled Up in Blue

Two jugs, blue and gold

Two jugs, blue and gold

Tuesday is Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday, which is a cause for celebration in my hearth and home.  So, in homage to one of his greatest songs here are some photos of three blue and gold quilts that I made in a series after going to a Linda Kemshall workshop (http://www.lindakemshall.com/DesignMattersNews.html).  I really liked several of the techniques we tried such as quilting through foiling:

Stitching through foiling

Stitching through foiling

This is the same technique but with added beads:

Blue and gold vase detail

Blue and gold vase detail

And particularly stitching quilt edges with blanket stitch and slipping a bead on to give a firm beaded edge:

Beaded edge

Beaded edge

It’s a technique that also works over bindings, and I used it a great deal on the edges of my Body Shop quilt.  I think it makes a very serious edge to a piece, although I can’t explain why.

The other two quilts in this mini series are:

Abstract Linda Kemshall-stye piece

Abstract Linda Kemshall-stye piece

Blue and gold vase

Blue and gold vase

I made these pieces several years ago, and exhibited them in Bristol Quilters’ last exhibition, which was two years ago, but they are a bit of a favourite because they represent a step up in my embellished quilts for me.  It was also a lovely workshop which I went to with great friends and had a lovely time.  And Linda Kemshall is a very good teacher.  But, also, I think I still like them, and I rarely like anything I make for more than about six months, because there is something about blue and gold.  I have been trying to find my copy of Derek Jarman’s Chroma to find the part where he talks about the special power of blue and gold, but I can’t find it anywhere.  He’s right, I think, though, there is something mystical about it, possibly because it is often associated with stars and the heavens.  I love the combination.

On a more pedestrian note to finish, I continue with the Laura Ashley hexagons, and last night encountered a really old piece of the fabric which is hard to distinguish from an Indian woodblock (which influenced her in her design).   It’s a very simple repeat design, but the softness of the cloth is quite extraordinary, and made me very nostalgic for a big frock made of it, which I never had!  Perhaps I should make some pieces for the patchwork out of it on Bob’s birthday to celebrate:

Laura Ashley blue cotton print

Laura Ashley blue cotton print

Six minutes and thirty-nine seconds of fun…

Enjoying traditional quilting again

Enjoying traditional quilting again

This is a very quick post: the day job is very busy at the moment, but you may enjoy this lovely animated film of quilts and quilt blocks sent to me by a good stitching friend.

http://blog.nfb.ca/2011/02/17/quilt-fever/

Six minutes and 39 seconds well spent!

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Recharging the batteries?

Laura Ashley hexagon patchwork

Laura Ashley hexagon patchwork

I spent yesterday at an academic conference on narrative and storytelling in organisations.  Just before the lunch break, Carol, one of my colleagues from UWE, asked me what I was working on.  I’m always amazed when people know what I work on or have read anything that I have written, but we had a conversation about the Body Shop quilt and through the photo album app on my phone which still astounds me, I showed her photos of the monster.  I told her that I had now moved on to Laura Ashley.  As we talked I told her about how the Body Shop quilt was somehow the epitome of my quilting.  I have used just about every technique I know, I have made a monster of a seven foot by seven foot quilt, which is really heavy because of using so many beads and embellishments, and which is made of silk because I really wanted to make something special with very choice fabrics.  After finishing this giant, which took me a highly significant nine months, I haven’t really done anything which has surprised or delighted me.  Or anything much at all, really.  I have made very small pieces, but nothing like my big, extended wall pieces such as my Starbucks quilt, or Elvis quilt or Marks and Spencer quilts.  I really felt when I had finished it that it was my life’s work.  I have said everything I want to say in quilting.  There doesn’t seem much point in making another large and sustained piece.  It is like I have used ‘it’ all up and need to recharge my batteries.

But after talking to Carole, I suddenly realised that I have had a kind of pendulum swing.  My current project is everything the Body Shop quilt isn’t.  It’s absolutely back to the beginning for me.  If the Body Shop represents every sophisticated technique I know and every bit of experience and exuberance I have, the Body Shop piece is simple, hand-sewn, basic.  It represents where I started with my mother, not where I am now aa a grown woman.  It is cotton not silk.  It is done over papers.  It has simple, pastel, almost washed out colours, whereas the Body Shop piece is saturated with crimson and pine and ochre.  And preparing the patches over paper is incredibly soothing as opposed to the exhilaration (when it is going really well) of machine stitching.  The Body Shop quilt is about me and Anita (Roddick); it is a solo endeavour; it is a private and personal obsession.  The Laura Ashley quilt will, I hope be collaborative with many hands making it, as many people have already contributed fabric.  It is plain rather than fancy sewing.

I wonder how this has come about.  It wasn’t a conscious decision to detox, but that seems to be what is happening.  The human brain is an extraordinary thing.  Mine seems to have decided to have a rest, take stock, touch base, revist the basics of the craft.  And try as I might, I can’t get one over on it.  When the time is right I will make something else big and glittery, but just at the moment, it is time to enjoy the rhythms of handsewing while watching old films on television, and the repetition of handcutting endless papers and pieces.  It is some sort of balm for the mind, the soul and the hands.

This probably all sounds very pretentious, but there is something about finishing a really large project, like handquilting a whole cloth or handstitching a Baltimore, which is satisfying but also a bit of an anti-climax.  It seems to be part of some sort of normal cycle of creativity.  We all need to recharge our batteries occasionally.

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Thought-provoking gift

Bundle of Laura Ashley fabric

Bundle of Laura Ashley fabric

Because she knows that I am interested in Laura Ashley and am in the middle of working on a piece using the fabric, my good friend, the wise and beautiful Becky (seriously, she is both) gave me this little bundle of cloth, including some genuine LA lace.  It was a really nice gesture, as I am collecting the fabric at the moment, but I also loved it for its presentation.  Dressmakers like my Aunt Pauline, who specialised in exquisite children’s clothes in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as bridal dresses, used to wrap the remnants into bundles like this and I made lots of dolls’ clothes from such packets.  So this is a familiar way of receiving fabric for me.  What I thought was interesting about this, though, was that it had the feel of a sacred relic, like something you might find in an ethnographic museum.  I recently went to the remarkable Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford which is full of weird looking things bound up in cloth and leather (http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/). This led me to thinking that it would be interesting to make some pieces with the bound up cloth to think about the meaning attached to these fabrics, which clearly mean so much to the women who are talking about them or sharing them with me.  If I put a sepia tint on this bundle it wouldn’t be out of place in an ethnographic collection:

A sepia bundle of Laura

A sepia bundle of Laura

So an idea for a new piece of work suggested by a gift from a friend.  The notion of the gift economy is getting stronger in this piece of research and I haven’t really even started it.

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The Laura Ashley project begins to gather pace…

Laura Ashley Quilts

Laura Ashley Quilts

There hasn’t been much activity on my blog for the last week because I have been so busy with my day job.  A big part of it was a bit of a treat as well: three days of being taught on my EdD on narrative and life-writing.  Three days of being a student rather than a teacher is delightful, and I am not one of those teachers who needs to take over in any seminar room or lecture theatre I go into.  I like to listen for once (I then did two days straight seven hour teaching days and got to do all the talking I wanted, so the balance of my universe at least was restored).

The point of this preamble is that as part of the teaching for this degree we do a performance piece on the final day in which we perform something about the experience of the previous two days.  I am an Anglo-Saxon through and through and so I can find this excruciating: not everyone was born to perform, but on this occasion the standard was really high and everyone could relax.  Hurrah.  The unit was on narrative interviewing and this is where I want to start to collect stories about women’s experiences of Laura Ashley, both of using the fabric in patchwork and in their lives.  Even before I have really started doing the work people have started giving me their stories (and fabric), so I have a head start.  I decided to work with this to do a sort of monologue.  It is, in case you are interested, an example of a performative text: a report of research findings written in a way to evoke an emotional as well as intellectual response (roughly…)  So, I thought you might like to see it.  You have to imagine a dramatic reading, though, and I did act it out which will not be reflected in written text.  Imagine Dame Judi, or Juliet Stevenson reading it (if only…)  Malcolm, Jo and Catherine were on the programme with me.  Tami Spry is a genius performative writer from the US who is a great inspiration to me.  When she does her performances she always wears fantastic quite high shoes, so I took my cue from her both in the writing and in wearing a fantastic pair of tangerine shoes!

What I learned from Tami Spry

After our mother’s skin the first thing we feel is cloth.

And cloth is the last thing most of us feel when we leave this world:

The bedclothes.

Constantine and Reuter write in the most expensive book I have ever bought:

Whole cloth is planar and pliable; it can be given volume.

One can animate cloth: drape and crumple, and fold it;

Compress, pleat and tuck it;

Festoon, swag and swaddle it;

Bunt it and cut it;

Tear, sew and furl it;

Appliqué, quilt, and fabricate it.

Cloth is ductile; it expands and contracts.

Cloth can be embellished with stitches, dyes, or print.

cloth can be burned or scored.

It is for each generation to expand the vocabulary of approaches to cloth. (p. 9)

Cloth is so tightly wrapped round the lives of women that we can hardly breathe.  And yet our neighbours throw gossamer threads.  Gossamer threads.  And no matter how high our father might build that garden fence, that gossamer thread has always already been thrown.

Our whole lives and the places where we live and breathe and have our being, are as Ingold reminds us, entanglements and enmeshments, apparently solid surfaces but close up, meshworks, always pull apartable.  Threads always available to spool off and join other enmeshments.  Every piece of lace, real lace, not Nottingham lace, is constituted by a single thread held in stasis in the world by two knots, beginning and end, fragile and vulnerable to the finger that pulls at the loose end.

Jo says, ‘your experience gets woven into the fabric’

She is talking about what happens when you wear your clothes.  The dress that you wore for that rite of passage will always carry that trace every other time you wear it.  Wash it, scrub it, hang it out in the burning bleaching fading strafing sun, iron it, press it, bleach it, dye it, cut it up, cut it down, change the hem, change the buttons, it will make no difference.  That experience remains imprinted on it.  Catherine says, ‘You wear the experience again.’

I am expecting to hear about baby quilts and wedding dresses and bridesmaids dresses, and curtains for starter homes.  I am expecting to hear tales of celebration: daughters making good marriages, fortunes made on the property ladder, babies made under Laura Ashley hexagons from the  very bold.  I have already been told these tales by women with shining eyes revisiting such happy times in their lives, times of great possibility, times of open moments, times of being alive.  I have been given great scoops of joy by women even before I begin to listen carefully, respectfully, diligently to their stories.  They have given me full measure, pressed down and then given me more.  So much love, so much joy, so much fun in their eyes when they remember their urban milkmaid outfits and perhaps, sweet, unforeseeing selves.

And I wonder if I will hear the smaller quieter stories.  The counternarratives to the golden hours.  The other side of being a snowy white middle class, menopausal woman.

I was wearing a Laura Ashley dress the first time he hit me.

I remember standing there in my Laura Ashley dungarees with the baby, watching as he walked away.

I remember holding her in my arms in the Laura Ashley cot quilt my mum had made, and knowing she was dead.

I remember sitting on the sofa in that old frock, cutting up all those stupid, stupid milkmaid outfits and making a patchwork quilt with them as my depression really bit.

Constantine and Reuter again:

Cloth.  What an elegant substance it is, at play with the breeze,

In combat with the wind

Protecting and wrapping and shielding and comforting.

…Cloth, that old silent companion of the human race, has always kept very special company with artists (p. 9)

Malcolm says no matter how careful we are when we handle talk, no matter how pristine the white gloves we wear, we will always leave our finger prints on the glass, our maker’s mark.

Of course, of course,

The glorious Eve Sedgwick urges us to read Renu Bora, who celebrates this very point.  Because Bora alerts us to the instructive distinction between texture and texxture.

You may wish or hear this again.  Between texture with one x and texxture with two.

Texxture, (with two xs) Eve tells us,

‘…is the kind of texture that is dense with offered information about how, substantively, historically, materially, it came into being.  A brick or metalwork pot that still bears the scars and uneven sheen of its making would exemplify texxture in this sense.’. (p. 14)

These women I will interview have been creating texxxxxxxture for years with every stitch they have put into their quilts.  I want to let that texxxxture sing out.  I want to celebrate our  making with them

Pattie Chase says:

A woman made utility quilts as fast as she could so her family wouldn’t freeze,

and she made them as beautiful as she could so her heart wouldn’t break.

To make is to connect.  The work is relational.  The work is throwing gossamer threads, over and over and over again.

I have made quilts with these women I will interview for years.  For Bosnia, for Alzheimers, for the Woodland Trust.   We are standing by to send quilts to Japan when the call comes.  We make a steady supply of  unquilted coverlets for the premature Bristol babies too tiny to cope with a layer of wadding, and to give to their mothers to keep no matter what the outcome.  We would wrap up the entire world if we could.

Constantine and Reuter one last time:

Bits and pieces of cloth sewn together curtain the world….Every civilization has this tradition of squirrelling away precious fragments until they are needed to construct a whole.  Works of art, especially in the twentieth  century, are often nothing more than ordered fragmentation – with each fragment carrying its own cultural load.  (p. 91)

Making is connecting.  With ourselves, with others, with the world.

References

Pattie Chase (1976) ‘Quilting: Reclaiming Our Art’. Country Life, September, p. 9

Mildred Constantine and Laurel Reuter (1997) Whole Cloth, New York: Monacelli Press.

Eve Sedgwick (2003) Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity, Durham and London: Duke University Press.

The image at the top of this post is from: btchwstix.blogspot.com

Quilt for Polly

Polly's Quilt from the TV Good Women Series

Polly's Quilt from the TV Good Women Series

A couple of days ago, my historian husband was poking around a rather wheezy old laptop looking for a missing picture.  He didn’t manage to find it, but he came across a batch of lovely photos taken for me by Dave Lush, husband of Sandie Lush, the world-class, award-winning, sans-pareil Bristol quilter, who is also married to a very nice man (see www.sandielush.co.uk).  In this cache of photos, was a set of pictures of a project I did ages ago and never did anything with, the ‘TV Good Women’ quilts.

This was a series of quilts that I made to investigate something which I find intriguing.  Where do children get their ideas about work from?  Well, clearly from their parents’ experience but also from popular culture such as television programmes.  So there is a whole generation of children who think that work is like the paper company in The Office, and, of course, to some extent it is or the show wouldn’t be funny.  I have long been interested in gender at work and so I wanted to think about what the men (and they are mainly men)  who are now running major corporations would have learned about women and work from the sitcoms they were watching in their formative years, the 1970s.  So I looked at Dad’s Army and Mrs Pike, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and Elizabeth Perrin, Are You Being Served and Mrs Slocombe, On The Buses and Olive and Fawlty Towers and Polly.  I made them all oversized place settings, inspired in part by Judy Chicago’s iconic Dinner Party in which she reclaimed all sort of lost women of achievement in what was a very important installation in the 1970s second wave Feminism (see www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/home.php).  This has long been an inspirational piece for me, and this is my own very small tribute.

The example of this work given here is the place setting I made for Polly.  Sybil is probably the female character that most people remember, but I was interested in Polly because she was the glue that kept the whole thing together and sided with the boys against the ferocious Sybil.  It seemed to me that she fulfilled the same function as the goddess Athene, who protects the men on the battlefield.  So I made her some armour which you can see in this quilt and juxtaposed it with the cut-out Margaret Beale style flower doilies (see www.stitchcotswold.realpages.co.uk/margaretbeale11nov06.htm).  The effect of the layers of organza stitched together and then burned away is lovely but gave me a very nasty headache from inhaling the fumes as I melted the fabric.  I have been a bit reluctant to do it again even though I really love the effect.  The red heart in the centre is an embroidered net fruit bag, which I seem to remember held oranges at one point.  This is to draw attention to the emotional and relational work that Polly does which keeps the whole thing going, but which is only successful if no-one sees it.  A lot of women’s work falls into this category.

I take these pieces with me when I do talks and they always get laughs of recognition.  I like them because they seem to me to combine form with content. Women’s work is often homemaking and these quilts are place mats which could at a pinch be used in serving and presenting food, which is a large part of homemaking.  I like to combine the method and the message!