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I posted last week about the frustrations of not being able to get down to any stitching, so last night as the medieval historian was working, I got down to some serious sewing in my workroom.  Except when I got up there ready to do something flamboyant and fantastic, I found a small quilt made for a talk I am planning on my work on Laura Ashley sitting there waiting for a binding.  So, I thought I should do that.  Then I did a bit of quilting on a sample of transfer dyeing which has been lying about for years and then I got down to work on this which is sewing the very last scraps of fabric from a group quilt I am making with St Andrew’s Quilters, the small sewing group that I have belonged to for years.  This is going to be ‘my’ quilt and it is a very simple design taken from one of Kaffe Fassett’s books, intended to use up a lot of blue fabric which I have had for years in a drawer.  I would, as my mother would say, rather have its room than its company.

Anyway, I stitched the strips down onto a very old piece of Laura Ashley needlecord and a small piece of cotton wadding and I liked the effect.  But it clearly needed something more, so I did some seeding in bright yellow perle cotton which is very thick and a nightmare to sew.



I may or may not put some beads on it.  I may put a facing on it and mount it on a canvas.  Really not sure.  This one was made for the sheer joy of stitching and the delight in using up every last scrap, particularly as one of the fabrics is one of the very last that the British firm Rose and Hubble made before they closed.  And again, it makes me think of Derek Jarman’s lovely book on colour, Chroma, in which he talks about the power of blue and gold together.  I was idly planning a talk on the colour blue as I was doing the seeding.  It could be very nice, and I am really taken with the idea of blue as the colour of utopia.  Then again, I could get on with the day job!

So, farewell then, Vidal Sassoon.



Well, a strange set of posts this week, and no mistake, but I wanted to mention the death of Vidal Sassoon because he was such a very good example of something we find hard to get clear examples of when we teach creativity, and that is an individual who changed what is known in the trade as a domain.  This means someone who changed a whole field of endeavour – my favourite being John Curry the ice skater, but none of my students have ever heard of him!  The dearth of people who have singlehandedly changed the domain, of course, can be seen as an argument against the rather essentialist argument that some very few special people are born creative geniuses, but if we do want an example of a lone innovator changing everything before and since, Sassoon is a good person to think about.  He did it not once, but twice.

The first time was the launch of his famous geometric bob,  or five-point bob, which also ushered in a new age of blow-dried hair:



These precision bobs seem to me to embody all that swinging London stuff from my childhood.  They evoke the geometric mini dresses that Mary Quant, another innovator, introduced, and, indeed, Sassoon bobbed her hair:


I grew up aspiring to be one of these sleek and stylish women:



That he changed the world with a pair of scissors is an observation frequently made of Sassoon, and his influence in freer, more natural hair lives on.  I grew up with a slight dread of having to sit for hours under a hood hairdryer every week for the rest of my life.  Sassoon swept all that away.

HIs second innovation is really more interesting for a business and management academic and that is the way that he turned himself into a brand and started merchandising shampoo and other hair products long before any other celebrity crimpers, as I seem to remember they were called, had thought of doing so.  These distinctive bottles were very trendy in the seventies and eighties:


After him, again, the world of merchandising was not the same.

There was a wonderful programme on the BBC about him recently, and if they repeat it now that he has died it is well worth seeing for the evocation of the sixties and portrait of a serially successful entrepreneur.  Meanwhile some more evocative pictures.





Snooker and stitching. Unlikely but it makes perfect sense



It is a bit odd to have a posting on a blog about academic quilting about snooker, but watching Ronnie O’Sullivan winning the world championship over the weekend made me think a lot about creativity.

I watch snooker mainly, I think, because I used to watch it with my dad, but a lot of the reason why I continue to watch it avidly is because of the creative genius of Ronnie O’Sullivan.  You have to watch it for hours, and then suddenly he takes off and plays this wonderful delicate, deft, light-touched snooker which defies belief.  It is beautiful and flowing and elegant.  He makes a very tricky game look like anyone could do it.  It is effortless.  The very definition of glamour as I posted about previously.  But Ronnie is particularly interesting because he is in the stereotype of the tortured genius.  Most of the time he is playing himself, and I think that has a lot in common with us lone stitchers.  We get bored if there are no challenges and so we provide them for ourselves.  What if I did it this way?  What happens if you heat it, or cover it with paint, or put a gauze over it?  Other people might coo over what we make but we are dissatisfied and so we go on to make another piece which we hope will be better.  There are quilters who just want to produce a nice bed quilt and that’s fine, but the most interesting work comes from the people who ask questions like, what would happen if I put a splash of turquoise or cerise or lime or all three in this?  People who want to be expressive and push themselves to do better.  Ronnie comes off the table having made a wonderful score and played dazzling snooker and he says he doesn’t feel he has played well at all.  He isn’t being falsely modest, he genuinely sees where he could have done better.

The other reason I love him is because he is unafraid to talk about his experience of therapy, his depression, and how much he loves his son and daughter.  A highly successful sportsman prepared to cradle and kiss his son while being interviewed after two weeks of competition seems to me to be a much better role model than our footballing fraternity with its drinking, fighting and casual misogyny.  And I love the dashing side of him – always  prepared to take a risk to win, and the world-weary and bored-to-death side of him.  Sometimes the thing you love can turn boring for no apparent reason.  And then it becomes viscerally exciting again.  Ronnie knows that feeling very well.



Ronnie O’Sullivan is talking about retiring at the top.  Even if he went tomorrow, he would have given more that his fair share of delight.  If you want to see the equivalent of the best silk pile velvet in action there is plenty of film of him available on You Tube.

On not being able to scratch the creative itch…

Well, sitting here on a very rainy and dull Bank Holiday/Public holiday and about to go and do some visiting and meeting friends for high tea, all of which is very important to me and will be lovely, but I suddenly realised that I will not get to do anything at all creative (by which I mean involving stitching) for over a week.  I have just come back from a work trip to Poland, and I am teaching solidly next weekend, so the opportunities to vent some of that creative energy are going to be very few and far between.

While that makes me sad, it also makes me very edgy.  I get quite stroppy if I can’t channel some of that creative energy into needle and thread, and hence the spiky nature of the picture at the top of the post.  I would go as far as to say that I am quite panicky.  Much as I love my friends, I increasingly find that I have to have this sort of time to myself as well.  If I don’t find some way to let it out, I know that I will become bad tempered and snappy with people.  Perhaps I will have to take the sketchbook with me on my travels this week and see if that provides some release.  Here’s a quick sketch I did of a beautiful young man with very delicate features and a beautiful ‘updo’ on the plane home yesterday:

Johan Zoffany, Society Observed: at the Royal Academy, London.


Quite a quick post today.  I am still working on my hand-stitched pieces and don’t have much very exciting to photograph.  So, I thought I would recommend an exhibition I went to this week at the Royal Academy in London.   I was in London for a meeting and found myself at a loose end with the Royal Academy close by and so I went in.  I knew nothing about Zoffany to the point where I would have said he was Italian (he was German) and the RA is my least favourite of the big London galleries/museums because it is always feels like a club for connoisseurs that deigns to let a few people in occasionally.  There is a fairly ruthless stance on not labelling stuff, and often the cases are so dimly lit to preserve the precious objects which means that with the crowds you can’t really see much,  but on this occasion, I thought it was great.  It was like watching a really good documentary about something with the actual pictures in front of you – I had the audio guide which was a good idea.  Anyway, Zoffany turned out to be fascinating.  I love the picture at the top as an example of a collection.  Even the dog in the corner, which is cut out of this image,  seems to have a well-informed opinion on Classical sculpture.  I find collecting an interesting area and this would make a fantastic illustration if I ever did anything on it for publication.

I am not sure whether I would have liked Zoffany.  He was very badly behaved towards women including a short period of bigamy and a ‘wife’ in India he left behind when he want home.  He was sent to Italy by the queen to tell her about the pictures in the Uffizi, at that point still a private residence.




He couldn’t resist showing a group of men staring at a nude’s bottom (on the right) and a gentleman in the middle turning away from a reclining Venus and pointing towards a marble statue of two nude men wrestling.  The Queen apparently never commissioned him again.

But the piece that I found was the most bizarre and interesting was quite a small panel of the Flight to Egypt on one side and a self-portrait on the other.



He is putting a monk’s habit on, which isn’t an act of piety, it’s an act of dressing up for a night on the town as a licentious cleric.  There are three condoms in the picture – two on a hook on the wall behind him and one draped over the pudenda of the reclining Venus in a picture to the extreme right of the painting, cut off in this reproduction.  I just thought it was extraordinary – sacred and profane in the same piece, and very profane.  The contraceptives juxtaposed with the carrying of the infant Jesus to safety.  And presumably you could turn it over on the wall when the vicar dropped round.

Anyway, the exhibition which has some wonderful painting and is stuffed with interest about a lesser-known artist is on until the middle of June.  Highly recommended.