,

Have You Got The Scrolls? When Laura met Eric

Have You Got The Scrolls - When Laura Met Eric

Have You Got The Scrolls - When Laura Met Eric

 

This is the long thin piece that I made which now resides in the book box which was the subject of my most recent post.  I suppose I should give it a more sonorous title, but I feel like I have been at the mercy of this project for a very long time and maybe this is a way of trying to take the wind out of my muse’s sails.  I will blog about the work in the piece later, but a quick post for the weekend about title seems fitting.

‘Have you got the scrolls?’, ‘No, I always walk like this.’ is a joke from Morecambe and Wise, from the Christmas sketch about Napoleon.  An old and corny joke but a joke nevertheless.  I was brought up with Eric and Ernie and it is comforting to include them in this project.

For years when I was a stand-up trainer people used to approach me and say, ‘You know, you really remind me of Victoria Wood’ which was great as she is a highly talented Northern comedy writer and performer and it’s a flattering comparison.  In the spoof spy sketch she did on the London Eye she looked fabulous, so that’s good too.  But…

 

Victoria Wood

Victoria Wood

 

I expect that’s more the kind of thing people had in mind, though, rather than a glamorous spy in a white fur hat.  Sometimes people would say that I reminded them of Dawn French, which is okay, but I think I prefer the Victoria Wood comparison.  That said, Dawn French has great hair, scrubs up beautifully and did get the toothsome tall, dark, handsome stranger in the last episode of The Vicar of Dibley:

Dawn French

Dawn French

 

But it came as a big surprise to me a couple of years ago to realise that I get most of my schtick from Eric Morecambe:

 

Eric Morecambe

Eric Morecambe

 

And we have family jokes like: ‘I’m playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order’ which come directly from the tv show.

I think my taste in comedy was fixed early and has never really got over the loss of this man.  I also adored Les Dawson:

 

Les Dawson

Les Dawson

 

His piano playing still reduces me to tears of laughter.  Also northern.  Also a great wordsmith.

So, it seems fitting that a project which will be about the role of the 1970s in shaping identity for women should have a reference to some of the great figures of popular culture.

Eric and Ernie

Eric and Ernie

 

They are a huge part of the identity that this project will explore for me and for a lot of women of my generation.

Bookbinding and masterpieces

Book box and 'Have You Got The Scrolls?'

Book box and 'Have You Got The Scrolls?'

 

At the beginning of this month I went on a week-long bookbinding course with the very excellent Guy Begbie (www.guybegbie.com/ ).  At the end of the week we had to make what was the equivalent of our masterpiece – to show that we had mastered the craft – the book box.  My heart sank at this.  This is one of those things were precision really matters and every botch screams out.  I found it very difficult and have blogged before about feeling like an amateur and an incompetent.  Guy was great and gave me lots of help, but I was very slow and didn’t finish my piece.  This weekend, however, I finally had the time to stick all the bits together and here is the result: a book box made to house yet another project based on Laura Ashley, made to house a long, thin quilt:

 

 

 

This solved a major problem for me: how to present this quilt which is long – four feet? but narrow 10 inches?  It would be a framer’s nightmare.  But rolling it up in its own custom-made box was the perfect solution.

I will blog about the quilt separately, but for now just want it noted for the record that having done it once (like making my own pasta from scratch) I do not feel the need ever to do it again.  And, let the record show that Guy Begbie has the patience of a saint.

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Another batch of Laura Ashley mini quilts

Laura Ashley mini quilts - group photo

Laura Ashley mini quilts - group photo

This project is coming to an end.  I made the last batch of ‘blanks’ for it on Saturday afternoon, and they took a surprising new direction which was good.  So there will be a few more like these and then two very different groups.  I am accompanying my husband to a conference this week and so there will be time to do some sewing while he is hobnobbing and I am in the hotel room, and these are very portable and easy to stitch.

This batch are in the ‘classic’ bracket.  If you have read my previous post on these quilts you will have seen my umming and ahhing about whether to do anything else with number 7, the plain red one.  Well, I cracked and did this with it:

Laura Ashley mini quilt 7

Laura Ashley mini quilt 7

I stitched a ‘collectible’ teaspoon onto it.  The spoon has ‘Mayflower’ on it, which must surely be a reference to the Pilgrim Fathers. I rather like this as a narrative element in the piece.  There has to be a story behind it.  I got the spoon from The Beetroot Tree in Derbyshire – already mentioned on this blog (www.thebeetroottree.com/), which is a treasure trove of things to put onto textiles.  I think it works really well and is in scale despite the fact that it is a very large element on a small quilt.  The miniature scales play off each other a bit.

This mini quilt is a direct reference back to the exhibition at the Foundling Museum which was the catalyst for the larger threads of identity pieces:

Laura Ashley mini quilt 8

Laura Ashley mini quilt 8

The Laura Ashley scrap here is a very precious piece of early green print given to me by my friend Becky.  It is down the right hand side.  The ribbon cockade is exactly like the sort found on the forms in the Foundling Museum archive (www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk/).  We went to the Threads of Feeling exhibition earlier in the year and saw the pages from the records of the babies admitted to the hospital in the eighteenth century.  The records sometimes have pieces of cloth attached to them in case the mothers were ever in a position to come and reclaim the babies.

Foundling Museum Record

Foundling Museum Record

Interestingly, the Museum does not make a big thing of this collection on its website.  The above is taken from the Independent website.  This is remarkable because the collection has clearly been so influential on lots of textile artists.  I went to Art in Action last week (with my indefatigable friend Mike) and one textile artist announced her inspiration with a banner as you entered the marquee.  It begins to look as if whereas in the past every self-respecting textile artist had to go through their Klimt phase, now we have to go through our Foundling Museum phase.  I wonder if the Museum has considered having an exhibition of art inspired by their collection.

Anyway, the cockade of ribbon was a feature on several of the pieces in the exhibition.  This one is made with wired ribbon by VV Rouleaux (www.vvrouleaux.com/).  The colours with the slight fade or ombre effect are just right, but the wiring made it quite fiddly to construct as the best effect seems to me to come from gathering ribbon for cockades and rosettes.  Note to self: take wire out next time.  The ribbon itself came from Liberty and was pretty expensive, but I used such a tiny amount to make the cockade that they work out quite cheaply ‘per unit’.

Laura Ashley mini quilt 9

Laura Ashley mini quilt 9

In this one I decided to do a bit more machine quilting and ended up with some angular shapes.  The Laura Ashley sample is at the bottom of the piece under some voile.  In the top right hand corner there is a tiny piece of linen upholstery fabric which has a chinoiserie pattern which always looks antique, although it is very contemporary.  I quite like the bleached out feel of this one.

Laura Ashley mini quilt 10

Laura Ashley mini quilt 10

I very much like this little quilt.  I did the stitching on it while watching the BBC Proms which was all very stirring and elemental – earnest young men on the cello and then Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.  I used this scrap of silk with an abandoned test stamping with fabric paint which seemed to give an image which looked a bit like the moon.  Again, elemental.  I also liked the way that the edging lace worked out.  I was trying to incorporate it into the main piece but it looked a bit lost, but putting it on the edge really worked well and you can appreciate its delicacy which was lost against the main pieces of fabric which are quite pale.  I also used some beaded cretan stitch on this, which I used to use a lot but haven’t worked with recently, so this was like rediscovering an old friend.

My thinking about these pieces now is that I might mount them in fours in large frames rather than try to mount each one.  But I might still make an album and give them all a substantial amount of white space, which would echo the bound volumes in the Foundling Museum.

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More Laura Ashley mini quilts

Laura Ashley mini quilt no. 5

Laura Ashley mini quilt no. 5

This is a fairly quick post today: just a few more of the very quick to make Laura Ashley mini quilts.  No. 5 above is one of the ones cut from a much larger piece of yellow fabric dyed with natural dyestuffs which I was working on when my sewing machine packed up midway through a line of stitching.  Even when the sewing machine, the beloved, battered but beautiful Bernina, was repaired, I couldn’t bring myself to finish this much larger piece and so cut it up to use the pieces in the mini quilts.  I like this piece because it has the typical Laura Ashley script down the selvedge, here announcing that it is 100% cotton.  The quilt also has a large flat glass ‘feature’ bead over a small piece of lace.  I like the combination of the blue and white and the yellow.  I also like the very typical Laura Ashley print.

Laura Ashley mini quilt no. 6

Laura Ashley mini quilt no. 6

This one brings out the haberdasher in me.  I think I could have been very happy running a Victorian haberdashery, and I love those trimmings shops you still get in Italy and Spain.  There are some wonderful braid shops in London, and there are increasingly good ones in chains like Fabricland, and the odd excellent speciality shop like Bedecked in Hay on Wye (which is as much a draw for me as the second-hand bookshops) (www.bedecked.co.uk/), but I am always surprised that all Southern European towns seem to have glorious shops selling all sorts of trims and mysterious ‘findings’ for very specific dressmaking tasks.  Anyway, this one has a piece of stretchy cotton lace trim and the last remaining piece of a coffee-coloured lace edging from a piece that I have used a lot.  This last fragment was hanging round in my little portable sewing kit, and finally made it onto a piece.  The very glamorous paisley motif came from a wonderful stall at the Festival of Quilts at the National Exhibition Centre at Birmingham last year.  If I can find it again this year I will write about it.  The woman running it had two big bins of ends of rolls at bargain prices.  My friends just left me to it and came back to drag me away later.

Laura Ashley mini quilt no 7

Laura Ashley mini quilt no 7

This last one is a bit different, rather understated for me, and I have been trying to decide whether or not it is finished.  I keep looking at it and wondering if it wouldn’t be better with some beads on it, but it has quite a pleasing Little House on the Prairie simplicity to it.  It shows quite a lot of the base fabric which is a contrast with some of the previous pieces, so perhaps I will apply a reversal of my usual more is more rule to it.

These are very quick to make and usually take less than an evening.  And they are a good way of preserving even very tiny pieces of fabric.  The big question remains, what to do with them: incorporate them into something bigger?  Put them into disproportionately large frames?  Mount them into some sort of artists’ sample book?  I wait for inspiration to descend.

Further adventures in collage

Collage day, 9 July 2011

Collage day, 9 July 2011

 

Well, my intrepid friend Mike has taken to collage and no mistake, and so we recently went on a second collage workshop with Anne Carpenter.  The photo at the beginning of this post shows our efforts.  The glorious red cabbage on the lime green background was done by Mike’s lovely sister, Sarah.  Mike made a fantastic piece showing a view of the Mont St Michel:

 

Mike' s Petit Mont St Michel collage

Mike' s Petit Mont St Michel collage

 

And I made another food picture, to accompany my green peppers from our previous day:

 

Sponge fingers collage

Sponge fingers collage

 

These rather flamboyant cakes are my rendering of small French sponge fingers with sultanas.  I decided to jazz them up a bit with pink and gold.  I quite liked the effect – it looked quite illustrative, like you might find on a birthday card.  Our efforts this time were helped by a sample book of furnishing fabrics that my mother’s contact in the soft furnishings trade donated.  The plain linen backgrounds really helped us.  We had another great day and came away with things that we thought were worth framing, and so it was a success all round.

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Using sketchbooks

Naples Travel Journal 1

Naples Travel Journal 1

 

One of the problems I have with my adventures in bookbinding is that the finished article is always too perfect to use.  It’s the equivalent of being given a beautiful notebook by a well-intentioned friend or relative.  To write in them is to desecrate them and so they remain on a shelf, pristine but essentially gathering dust.  So I have decided to use mine.  This is a couple of pages from the simplest notebook I made on my recent course.  Because it was quick to make and very light it seemed perfect for use as a travel journal which is what it became.  The paper also turned out to be splendid and to take watercolour and a fountain pen well.  The page is about the conference I was at.

I thought it might be interesting to use a visual metaphor for ‘a day full of…’ and to use a jar or vase to show impressions of the day.  On the first day we were there we did a bit of sightseeing before the conference started and this is shown in this spread:

 

Naples Travel Journal 2

Naples Travel Journal 2

 

I would definitely make one of these little journals again.  It was light and flexible and has good flaps which hold stray bits of paper to stick in later.  And it isn’t the end of the world if it gets lost.  The vase form was also quite interesting, and I liked making myself think of visual ways to record rather than just writing.

The conference, by the way, was pretty standard.  It was CMS – Critical Management Studies, which is my academic affiliation, I suppose.  In terms of this blog, the most interesting thing to me was giving my presentation and watching myself at some level giving a performance.  So I had a very standard presentation on powerpoint, but it came alive in the room when I had an audience.  I am a terrible ham, and the more they responded, the more stand-up comic-like I became.  In terms of inspiration, it is now interesting to me to trust that what I call the spirit of Ethel Merman will descend and I will give a performance.  It takes a lot of nerve, a bit like a stand-up comic or improvisational actor, but I have done it long enough to know that ‘Ethel’ will arrive as I walk to the front to start talking.  I think this is germane to ideas about creativity and inspiration, and the Muse, which is something I want to think about in terms of Anita Roddick and Laura Ashley – the two demanding muses to whom I have been responding now for nearly two years.  Their constant presence has been exhausting, but has summoned a lot of work from me.  This may be one area in which arts-based approaches can say something about research methodology and scholarship.  The visit of the Muse might be an interesting metaphor to pursue.  On which note, let’s end with a couple of shamelessly holiday snap pictures, as my Grate Friend Alf and his gorgeous new wife Sara Louise invited Pete and me to join them at their frankly gorgeous hotel and to have drinks on the Terrace of the Muses.  Surely a sign…

View from the Terrace of the Muses

View from the Terrace of the Muses

 

and, a real, what’s a working class kid from the Midlands doing here moment, from later in the evening, camera shake and champagne drinking in no way related:

 

Terrace of the Muses at dusk

Terrace of the Muses at dusk

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What I learned on my holidays

A week's worth of bookbinding

A week's worth of bookbinding

 

Well, my week’s bookbinding has come to an end.  I am amazed how tiring it was.  Lots of concentration required and it is also surprisingly physical.  My arm, hand and wrist is stiff from all that tensioning the stitches and slicing away on the stanley knife (although my confidence grew on the guillotine by the end of the week).  The end results. though are impressive.

I learned quite a lot about making this week, not just the technical skills of bookbinding, but about making in general.  It reminded me, of course, that having the right tools makes things considerably easier – so the industrial guillotine and the massive old pinch press meant that it was much easier to get things flat and square, and the pricker worked so much better than the kitchen skewer I tend to use to punch holes.  But the real revelation was the book cloth.  I remember having work done on the house and it looking like a bomb site until the plasterer came round and suddenly it looked like a room again.  It was the same for me with the book cloth.  Rubbish-looking boards suddenly looked like real books after this miraculous cloth went on.  And one of the things that I enjoyed most was the day we made our first books with it and everyone’s face lit up and we shared one of those ‘look what I made’ moments as we all twirled them round in our hands.  Guy, our tutor, showed us the trick for mitreing the corners so they looked beautiful, and flipping up the edges with a bone folder before glueing them to the inside covers gave a sharp, crisp, professional edge.  The books are lovely, but what I would like to hang onto is the feeling of making something well.

So, six people who had never done this suddenly felt better about themselves because they had made something ‘not rubbish’, something of which they could be proud and which filled them with satisfaction and a certain joy.  But we also wanted to show each other what we had done, and in the making we entered into a little temporary community.  Making is connecting, as David Gauntlett would say (www.makingisconnecting.org/).  We connect to the materials and the end product, but also to each other as a contingent organisation of women learning to handle tools,  and to the wider world in a funny way – to a tradition of people who have done this over the centuries.  The room also filled with positive energy, which I have noticed on several occasions when people are absorbed in making things.  The energy in the room is amplified.  Making in this sense, for me, is medicine.  It increases happiness.  And this is the essence of creativity for me: the human joy in making something.  The joy is most intense when it is for the sheer joy itself – making for pleasure and not to increase an organisation’s bottom line, or to get UK PLC out of the mire.

The other fascinating thing was watching people starting to improvise and customise.  First came some hand-painted end papers, then some collaged covers with little birds appearing on an accordion notebook, then some real fine bookbinding with two colour covers, then some paper engineering which was exquisite and seemed to seize one of our number in some kind of frenzy.  People started to make the craft their own which was lovely to watch.

The week ended with a masterpiece kind of project – making a book box.  I made a terrible botched job because I was rushing, but Guy stepped in and sorted out quite a bit of it so that it at least looks okay.  I know what I want to do with it, and it solves the problem of what to do with a very long, thin piece that I have made about Laura Ashley.  More photos to follow, as both are still under construction.

The final thing that I wanted to think about is what it feels like not to be able to do it, whatever it is.  Usually in a class I know what I’m doing and I am reasonably good at it.  But here almost everyone got it and I didn’t and they all seemed to have better ideas about how to customise.  I experienced moments of real panic, sickness in my stomach and a desire to quit.  I felt real incompetence.  And interestingly, I felt it.  It was visceral.  It was good for me to sink into that embodied experience and really feel useless.  That sounds odd, but not being able to do something seems to complement and complete being able to do something.  I know that we must overcome the binaries in our thinking, but those two things do appear to combine into a whole.

This may have dissolved into pretentiousness, so I will end here.  There will be a gap in the blog as I go to a conference.  I might post something, but it is likely to be the weekend before I post again.

What I did on my summer holidays

japanese stab-bound album

Japanese stab-bound album

This week I have been taking a bookbinding course with Guy Begbie at the University of the West of England.  It is an odd way to spend your annual leave, but we are having a great time.  I have achieved a number of life-time ambitions in recent years: indigo dyeing, visiting Christiania in Copenhagen, having a mini exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery; and making this Japanese stab binding is another one.  I realise it isn’t up there with bungee jumping in New Zealand or pleating the perfect chignon, but it is something I have always wanted to do.  So, I was thrilled to do this yesterday.  Our tutor is very relaxed and encouraging and told us we were binding to a very high standard today when we finished a complicated book.  I’m not sure if he was just being nice, but it was good to hear.

He is very keen on detail, so likes end papers in our bindings like this one:

Japanese stab binding - interior

Japanese stab binding - interior

He also suggested adding a contrast strip on the edge to give the binding a bit more style:

Corner detail and trim

Corner detail and trim

He was magnificently patient and diplomatic with me when I was making this as I had made the stitching holes too small and couldn’t get the thread through them.  He tactfully suggested enlarging them as he grappled with yanking through the needle,  with a slightly fading smile.  His website is www.guybegbie.com/ and has some of his fantastic books including some paper engineering-type concertina books and  other books reflecting his interest in typography.  The images are slide shows, so it’s worth lingering over them with the cursor.

By the end of day one we had made three books, which was not bad for virtual novices.  On day two we made French stitched bindings.  This was really exciting as we got to use specialist materials and equipment.  This book is in a press overnight, but I will post pictures of it when it emerges as it is probably the smartest thing I will ever make!

What I liked about the class is that he brought a stack of examples of different bindings and gave quite a comprehensive introduction to them.  I had lots of ideas for using the books in my academic work, as I am increasingly interested in using artists’ books as a way of both representing research and ‘queering’ the process of academic production.  So, I had what I think is a great idea about how to bring together me, Anita Roddick and Laura Ashley in one binding, and I went home and made a prototype.  I have also had a couple of ideas about presenting the Laura Ashley mini quilts, playing on the idea of sample books.  Very exciting, and, when I talked to him a bit about it, he was interested and supportive and I didn’t see his eyes glaze over once.  So, this is an odd way to use annual leave, but I think it is more refreshing quite a few holidays in the damp British summer that I have previously enjoyed.

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Laura Ashley mini quilt 4

Laura Ashley mini quilt 4

Laura Ashley mini quilt 4

 

Very quick post today.  This is the latest in my series of tiny quilts using a scrap of Laura Ashley fabric.  It’s in the top right hand corner and was used extensively for soft furnishings in trendy houses in my youth.  I have used a gauze over it, and a fine (purchased) cotton hand-dyed, I think, with onion skins.  Over the top of that is quite a bit of embroidery with wonderful variegated perle cotton from Winifred Cottage.  I will be stocking up on more of these lovely threads when I go to the Festival of Quilts in August.  They last forever and are excellent for hand stitching because they slip through the layers effortlessly.  The rather splendid beaded and embroidered flowers on a chiffon ribbon are from a shop just off Oxford Street which is full of students buying tiny amounts of the vastly expensive but irresistible braid and other trimmings.  The staff are gloriously off-hand and impatient with people who are paying through the nose for this stuff.

Again, the combination of these pieces make for a very antique-looking final product.  Incidentally, I did most of the stitching on this while watching the coverage of the Glastonbury festival on the BBC.

Here’s a detail of the gorgeous braid:

 

Laura Ashley mini quilt 4 - detail

Laura Ashley mini quilt 4 - detail

 

You can also see the fly stitch, the herringbone stitch and the colonial knots, as well as the machine quilting with the newly serviced Bernina.

I am still working on these pieces, and am really enjoying the small scale which can be finished in an evening, and the antiqued colour scheme which is very unusual for me.