Here's something I found in my attic…

Leaves panel, 2010

Leaves panel, 2010

We have an esteemed guest coming to stay tomorrow evening and so there has been a huge amount of clearing up and throwing away going on here.  It seems like a dull way to spend the time, but it will pay dividends in the longer term, I think, as I will be able to find things and so will be prepared for the academic summer of writing learned articles.  Time invested, then.  It has also thrown up some unexpected and half-remembered things, like this small leaf wall quilt.

I do remember making this as it was an experiment printing from paper bags onto felt.  I acquired a lot of white industrial acrylic felt which was far to good to pass by and used it quite a bit as a thin wadding in a number of  things.  With this piece I decided to print from a particularly nice paper bag I was given in a shop and then embroider into it.  So this piece has two layers of white felt and a thin synthetic sparkly organza over the top which is burned back to show the felt underneath:

Leaves panel, 2010, detail

Leaves panel, 2010, detail

The three layers make it technically a quilt.

I found it rolled up in a piece of polythene (yikes) and it still has some fold marks on it.  I think that I will have it framed and put it in the next Bath Textile Artists exhibition.  The quotation up the side reads, ‘Our relics hidden here under fallen orange leaves’ will fit the theme of hidden stories and secrets perfectly.  And it is a really pretty quilt, so it might sell.  In which case I will give the proceeds to Medicins sans Frontieres, which is my favourite charity.  I don’t normally sell work so it will be interesting to see what happens.  Here’s a better picture of the machine quilting:

Leaves panel, 2010, detail

Leaves panel, 2010, detail

The title of this post, by the way, comes from a time when I was a trainer and the ultimate scorn reserved for anything new was, ‘oh, I’ve had that in my attic for years.’  Said with enough confidence, it gave a bit of wriggle room time to think through what was being suggested.

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Living with Laura

Kaffe Fassett Pennants Quilt

Kaffe Fassett Pennants Quilt

For reasons which we don’t have to go into here, I have been spending quite a lot of time recently staring at a wall in my living room on which this quilt is hanging.  The first thing I noticed is that it really, really needs a good wash; the second thing is just how much Laura Ashley fabric there is in it, and how well it has aged.  In this block, for example, you can see a dark blue print with tiny pink rosebuds on the right, and, on the left, a pink block with a vaguely mauve piece of Indian block print that was originally a deep indigo:

Pennants quilt, detail

Pennants quilt, detail

 

I don’t mind the fading; I think it gives the quilt a more interesting look than when it was new, but I am surprised at just how fade resistant the Laura Ashley fabric is, and it is now  quite old.  Some of the commercial prints have also held up really well.

 

Pennants quilt, detail

Pennants quilt, detail

 

These yellows are particularly vibrant.  I will wash it, although when it comes to the colourfastness, to adapt one of my Mother’s phrases, I am a bit worried that it’s only the muck holding it together.  None of this is helped by the fact that the dog likes to like against it when she gets the chance.

Incidentally, the quilt is paper-pieced.  When this method first came out I thought it was the answer to all my problems with accuracy.  It does improve precision piecing, but at a price.  All that tedious pulling out of the papers.  It took hours with this piece, particularly as a fellow Bristol quilter showed me how to line up the pieces by sewing just outside the stitching line.  This means that you get pieces of paper about 1/8th of an inch wide in the seam lines.  Tweezer job.  I also learned that if you stitch the blocks together just outside the sewing line you keep the sharp points.  So I am proud of this one, but would never do it again.   I was asked if I would make one for someone else on commission.  Absolutely not.  This one took years.  Trying to do it to a time limit.  Nooooo.

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Laura Ashley mini quilt 3

Laura Ashley mini quilt 3

Laura Ashley mini quilt 3

 

Quite a short post today.  This is the third of the mini quilts.  These are very good fun to make because they are so small and quick, a bit like knitting baby clothes.  I let rip with this one and stitched on some spectacular braid.  I also used some embroidery stitches in combination: herringbone with lazy daisy stitch and colonial knots.

 

Laura Ashley mini quilt 3 detail

Laura Ashley mini quilt 3 detail

 

The three mini quilts look good together and I might stitch them into one big piece.  I am surprised how well the traditional embroidery stitches are working and how much I have enjoyed working with them.

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Laura Ashley mini quilt 2 – the start of something big?

Laura Ashley sample mini quilt 2

Laura Ashley sample mini quilt 2

This is the second of my Laura Ashley sample quilts.  They are very small, probably 2.5 x 4.5 inches, which is why they are so quick to produce.  One of the things that I love about making is the way that the work can surprise you.  What surprised me about this piece, and the first, which is the subject of my previous post, is the amount of traditional embroidery they seemed to want.  These seem to be pieces about stitching.  So this one has herringbone stitch, colonial knots, feather stitch and raised chain band.  It also has a sprinkling of Dorset buttons, which is a traditional form of button making over little rings (see www.britishbuttonsociety.org/20070401DorsetButtons.htm). These are bird’s eye buttons.  I didn’t make them; my mother gave me a packet last time I was at home.  They seemed exactly right for this piece, and replaced the rather gaudy piece of braid I had been intending to use.  But, again, although I suspect these might be machine made, they represent a needlecraft tradition which is alive and well on the internet if not in that much practice.  I am absolutely fascinated by the way that this Laura Ashley fabric refuses to be used in anything other than an integrated way.  If I try anything fancy it looks awful.  This fabric is what it is: plain, simple, traditional.

I was also musing about wanting to make a big Laura Ashley piece to go with the big Body Shop quilt.  I have had a couple of false starts.  I thought I might make a series of A3 size journal quilts and sew them together to form a whole.  The problem with this is making them look like a single, integrated (there’s that word again) piece rather than a series of twelve individual panels bolted together.  So I would have to have a single something: colour, technique, fabric, design element.  I thought I might make a Sandra Meech-type journal piece with photo transfer of the lovely Welsh countryside around the Laura Ashley factory in Carno, but I have tried to do similar things before without much success.  I probably do need to use a sketchbook properly to try out ideas rather improvising as I usually do.  Or think about things that have worked before like my Starbucks quilt which was all panels but had a single colour scheme (coffee!) and quite small blocks (A4 size).  Or my Elvis quilt which had four large central panels but a really ‘worked’ frame which made it look like an altar piece.  So far Laura is proving trickier.  The most successful thing has been the hexagon patchwork over papers; back to basics again.  I did wonder whether the mini quilts are part of this larger project and not separate pieces in their own right.  Maybe I have made a start on the quilt without realising it.

This is an interesting part of the creative process, I think, that bit where you feel totally lost and overwhelmed by possibilities and materials.  I get it when I am writing up research projects, when there is just so much data that it seems impossible that it will ever fit into 8000 words.  I know PhD students feel it, and masters students certainly do.  They (and I) tend to fall in love with their data and not want to let it go or edit it.  It is hard to leave out bits that you really love, but you have to be disciplined.  I don’t really have that problem here, although I am already experiencing it writing up the Laura Ashley interview data and I haven’t even started on that process really.  My problem is too many ideas that don’t come to fruition with this fabric.  There are lots of theories about how tension is a driver of creativity, how the human mind wants resolution and answers to problems and will go on working away until it reaches some sort of solution.  I rather hope so.  According to that theory something really creative ought to appear.  At the moment, I have some abandoned first attempts at a large piece.  It will be interesting to see if the resolution lies in starting very small – just like Laura Ashley plc did on a kitchen table in a small London flat.

To end, here is a detail of some of the hand stitching and the Dorset buttons:

Laura Ashley mini quilt 2 - detail

Laura Ashley mini quilt 2 - detail

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What I did on Sunday afternoon

Laura Ashley sample mini quilt 1

Laura Ashley sample mini quilt 1

 

Hurrah, the marking is over; just the moderation to do, and then I can get back to my research.  This is probably the best time of year for academics.  So, if you know one, now is the time to ask for a favour.

I spent this morning working on some fieldnotes, but this afternoon I felt like making something, so I started to work on an idea that I had by accident on Wednesday evening, which was to make some little quilts with the little tiny scraps of Laura Ashley fabric that I have.  On Wednesday I got together with my Grate Friends Ceri, Alison, Becky and Ruth and we had a show and tell of the Ineke Berlyn pieces, plus other things we had finished and had a look at our new project together of making sketchbooks. I took some books I have which talk about using sketchbooks in textile work and one of them was Gwen Hedley’s lovely book Drawn to Stitch: Line, drawing and mark-making in textile art, published by Batsford, 2010.  I was flicking through this book, which I read from cover to cover when I bought it, but have since neglected, and came upon the pages right at the back by Shelley Rhodes in which she describes making a series of very small pieces based on windows in Cuba.  It struck me that the tiny pieces of fabric would be a good idea for the precious Laura Ashley scraps and so I made some sketches of my own:

 

Sketchbook pages based on Shelley Rhodes' work

Sketchbook pages based on Shelley Rhodes' work

 

You can see from this that Shelley Rhodes’ work is linear and consistent.  The finished work is delicate and bleached out; the palette is restrained.  She works in mixed media with paper and rust and what looks like waxed thread.  Her work looks from the photographs in the book like gossamer.  I thought I could replicate this by bleaching some of the Laura Ashley fabric but somehow this got lost.  So I was aiming for this:

 

Sketchbook page

Sketchbook page

 

Something controlled, faded, weather beaten and so on, but no.  My old Muse, thankfully, seemed to have returned and the embellishment fairy paid me another visit.  I end up with this:

 

Laura Ashley mini quilt 1 detail

Laura Ashley mini quilt 1 detail

 

I was delighted, as I thought that my days of full-on embellishment were over and here I was sewing three enormous gold ‘things’ from broken jewellery onto a very tiny piece.  Liberation.  The hexagons over papers are nice and relaxing and cleansing, but you can’t beat stitching a showgirl.

Some details.  The quilts are made almost entirely from samples and remnants.  They start with a piece of Welsh woollen blanket remnant bought at the factory shop at Melin Tregwynt in Pembrokeshire (http://www.melintregwynt.co.uk/).  Then in this case there is a piece of tiny floral Laura Ashley and a piece of silk from a sample book my mother gave me.  The gold lace and the little ribbon trim were probably bought full price, but the embellishments were bought at a quilt show in a 50p a bag box – I seriously couldn’t believe my luck.  There is a tiny bit of machine stitching to hold it all together and then it is quilted with variegated perle cotton.  I like the idea of all these samples as I am fascinated and delighted by sample books, and have never known why.

Another link to follow.  Shelley Rhodes and Gwen Hedley are both part of the Textile Study Group.  Their website is http://www.textilestudygroup.co.uk/members/srhodes/srhodes.html.  It’s well worth a look.  I went on one of their workshops last year.  It was fantastic.  What a great bunch of women.  Really talented, really welcoming and really good fun.  It’s the only workshop I have ever been to where the stitchers drank red wine while they were working.  Gorgeous.

My Ineke Berlyn quilt

My Ineke Berlyn quilt

So, I have finished my quilt from the Ineke Berlyn workshop that I did last week.  I am really pleased with the way it has turned out.  I enjoyed the hand quilting on it and the dense machine quilting worked really well.    I couldn’t resist stitching a few beads on, and found some turquoise tear-drop-shaped ones which were exactly the right size to fit in the pieces:

Turquoise beads

Turquoise beads

And I added a few small almost seed beads to an orange strip which needed bringing into order:

Turquoise seed beads

Turquoise seed beads

It was refreshing to stitch some seams for a change and to use a wide range of prints.  I usually use plain silks or hand-dyed fabric, so the prints in this make it sparkle a bit.  I think the borders worked surprisingly well – I was intending to use very dark or black cloth, but in the end the dark petrol blue made it look much moodier.  I like to think there’s a storm brewing.

Border fabric

Border fabric

The orange piece here has colonial knots which are supposed to look a bit like cabbages or some other crop.  This is supposed to be a summer landscape so cabbages might not be in season.  I should spend more time gardening and less time french knotting.

Anyway, I do like this, which I didn’t when I first finished the central panel.  It looked really garish, even for me and I like bright colours.  I was intending to put a tulle over the top, but in the end only had to knock back the turquoise strip of sky in the centre. But, once I put the house and trees in and then the borders on the whole thing seemed to tone itself down.  And everything looks better when you get the binding on.  I think this would like nice with a plain wide frame, boxed and floated, as they say in the framing trade.  I think this will bring out its picturely quality.  All I need now is a good framer.

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Ineke Berlyn Workshop

Workshop with chocolate
Workshop with chocolate
 
I start exam marking in earnest, next Tuesday so this might be the last post for about a week.   In order to boost my defences I went with my Grate Friends, Ceri, Becky and Alison, to a Bristol Quilters workshop with Ineke Berlyn.  We had a fantastic time.  She is a very organised, experienced teacher, very nice person, producer of lovely quilts and really inspiring about what she does in a way that makes you want to persevere.  I say this because I hate foundation piecing with a passion – it looks simple but is fiendish to get right in my experience.  And I had to follow a pattern – me, the Queen of the Botchers.  But, despite stitching one small piece of blue grey fabric on four times (and unpicking it three), I did finish the pieced bit of my effort.  I took it home and put on the borders and made up the quilt sandwich and started to do some machine quilting.  So, a lovely day.  This is the show and tell at the end of the workshop:
  
 
Show and tell

Show and tell

 
Mine is the one in the middle with a house, trees and a big orange sun in the top right hand corner. 
 
One of the things I really appreciated about Ineke was how generous she was, with her ideas and with her materials.  She was very keen to establish a sharing spirit on a day which required lots of little bits.  I made the house in the middle of my quilt entirely with bits from Becky.  And we all shared from a pile of fabric and the chocolates you can see in the picture at the top of the post.  Those are my arms and my trusty, now running smoothly Bernina.
 
Here are some photos of Ineke’s work which she brought along on the day:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
She also has a good website (www.inekeberlyn.com) with lots of pictures and a genuinely welcoming tone which can be hard to achieve in cyberspace.  She has published two really lovely books which I would highly recommend.  The one on journal quilts is a real favourite chair and preferred drink read.  Very inspirational.
 
I will post a picture of my finished piece when it is ready.  She did casually remark that you could put some beads on them…  I can’t wait. 
 
 
All photos courtesy of Ceri, who also finished the piecing on her quilt, despite choosing the pattern which had the additional hour’s stitching.
 
 

'The Tudors'

The Tudors - now that's what I call history...

The Tudors - now that's what I call history...

I have been interested to see that the hit rate on this blog has recently gone up considerably.  Some of that is down to the Quilters Exhibition and the odd talk I have done, but looking at the stats, I have received about ten hits a day from people looking for the Tudors.  I can only assume that this is either fellow Tudors costume addicts like me seeking to fill a void in their life since the series ended, or it’s schoolchildren doing their exam revision.  I can only hope they find better sources than the, shall we say, romp, that the series represented.

The Body Shop quilt at Bristol Quilters Exhibition

My grate friend, Aiison's photo of my quilt

My grate friend, Aiison's photo of my quilt

I cannot imagine that you have been holding your breath until a photo of my quilt in the Bristol Quilters Exhibition could be found, but just in case, here it is, supplied by my grate friend, Alison.  You can’t see the Stanley Spencer sketches, but you can see the rather busy background that I alluded to.  Anyway, here it is complete with random head peering over the top.  It gives an idea of just how big this piece is, but not how heavy.  I am not convinced, either, that it is not less than the sum of its parts, a bit like the current series of Dr Who, and just as confusing.  Anyway…

Alison herself exhibited a gorgeous red quilt that we have all envied in the St Andrew’s Quilters, which is the small sewing group that we belong to.  She has a really exquisite sense of colour, and such a light hand.  You want to have everything she makes.  She also showed a gorgeous breezy Mariner’s Compass small quilt in reproduction fabrics from the recent Victoria and Albert show, but the big red beast really was my kind of thing.  For non-quilters, Mariner’s Compass is based on, well, mariners’ compasses on old sea charts, and is one of the most difficult things to make.  Every quilter should have a go, I suppose, but I feel tired just thinking about it.  Anyway, here is a terrible photo of Alison’s lovely work:

Alison's red quilt

Alison's red quilt

Seriously, this gives you no idea how lovely this quilt is.  Truly the thing to grab, after the kids and the dogs, when the house is on fire.

What I did this Saturday – Bristol Quilters Exhibition

My Grate Friend (TM Molesworth) Ceri's Quilt

My Grate Friend (TM Molesworth) Ceri's Quilt

I spent Saturday afternoon stewarding at the Bristol Quilters’ 2011 Exhibition.  What a fantastic show.  There were over a hundred beautiful quilts made by over 60% of the membership, all of which were gorgeous and stunningly well made.  As my other Grate Friend, Becky, who is the current chair of Bristol Quilters, said, as she was chucking out the stragglers from the tea rooms, we were proud to show people what we had done.  Every time we put on a show we think it’s the best we have ever done, but I think this one really was a big step forward at a collective level.

It is really bad to single out people, and I have used Ceri’s quilt because she is a good friend and will not object, I hope, so I have not included lots of photos of people’s work as I don’t have their permissions and don’t want to suggest that any were lovelier than any others – a selection would just be according to my taste after all, but I loved the things that I have seen my friends making over a number of weeks, months and years come to fruition.  I think the way that Ceri, for example, puts that hit of purple and yellow at the corners of the quilt is genius.

The other thing which I will write about at a later date is the wonderful way that the rooms were filled with stories.  I always thought that quilting was about cloth, but it struck me on Saturday just what a narrative practice it is.  The quilts told stories and the people in the room told more stories.  Doreen Massey, who writes about place being made up of story, would have been on overload before she got out of room one.

With regard to my own Body Shop quilt, I did not take a photo of it because it was against a rather cluttered background and would have made for a slightly confusing picture.  It was in a lovely position on its own, though, and I am very sensible of that honour.  I didn’t have the nerve to hang round and take an action shot of people looking at it just in case I overheard negative comments (the gist of which was that people liked it but didn’t understand quite what it was getting at, which is fair enough).  On reflection, however, I rather wish that I had taken a photo of it in context, because it was hung next to some Stanley Spencer sketches which the school we hired has from his time as a visiting teacher. First, what company to be in!  Second, Stanley Spencer at such a chi-chi girls‘ school.  Imagine.  Still, I can now say on my CV that I have been hung with Stanley Spencer.

I had a phone call on the day of the hanging to say that one of the little goddess plaques had dropped off as they hoisted it aloft.  My first thought was that this was typical botching on my part and not attaching it properly, but on reflection it seemed to me that this was typical, actually, of Anita Roddick, who is so prominently all over the quilt, and a life-long contrarian.  She was never going to be up for public display without acting up a bit.  The piece does seem to have captured something of her spirit.  Here are the portraits of her from the quilt:

 

 

Tribal Anita

Tribal Anita

 

Bristol Blue Bubbles Anita

Bristol Blue Bubbles Anita

 

Pearly Anita (and first panel quilt panel made)

Pearly Anita (and first panel quilt panel made)

 

 

Maternal Anita

Maternal Anita

 

 

So, ever so many congratulations to Rosy and Trish who organised it, and all the other people who worked so hard to make it a success.  We had over 700 visitors in three days, 100 more than last time.  I only heard good things from people coming back at the end to vote for their viewer’s choice.  So, lovely to be associated, even at the fringe, with such a very successful show.