What I will be doing next week

I can’t quite believe it but next week it’s my exhibition at The University of York.  Rather than doing labels I decided to do a short catalogue.  If you would like a look at it you can see it here until 14 September 2012:


If you email me I can send you the pdf but it is big and might clog up your email.

So, I hope to post more about this next week, but for now am totally frazzled with finishing stuff off.

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity

Very quick post to say that yesterday I finally finished my picture book of my quilts, available from www.blurb.co.uk.  It is expensive – but listed at cost price.  It’s part of the preparations for my trip to the Art of Management at York next week.

I cannot imagine anyone actually parting with cash for it, but should you want a photograph of every one of my management quilts, that’s where to look.  I plan to put up an e-version of it too.

My bargain of the century so far – and it’s from IKEA



Regular readers of this blog will know that the Medieval Historian and I have been sorting out a workroom.  This seems to involve innumerable trips to IKEA – which is in walking distance from here, so not that much of an expedition, but still…  Yesterday we were in search of a comfy chair to go with my desk, but you know what it’s like in IKEA , you can’t go straight to what you want; you have to walk all the way round the store. On yesterday’s hike I came across this sewing machine.  I had been going to buy a cheap machine on the web to take to a workshop I am running next week with the wonderful Harriet Shortt from UWE, but hadn’t got round to it, so this seemed like a godsend in terms of time not spent on the web, plus knowing it would arrive in time.

So, having assembled the chair, I went and tried out the sewing machine.  Fantastic.  It is very basic.  It only has three stitch lengths, and I expect making buttonholes would be something of a performance, but the stitch is great.  I’d like to know who makes the insides because it sews better than a lot of £200+ machines I have used.  It looks less than cool, like a kid’s toy in fact, but it goes like a bomb and weighs about as much as a heavy handbag rather than requiring the intensive working out with weights that I need in order to lift my beloved Bernina.  Apart from its pedagogical trip next week, I will definitely be taking it to workshops in the future and people can scorn its Early Learning Centre looks against their Maserati mean machines as much as they like.  It actually has the acceleration of a sports car despite its Noddy looks.



It even comes with spare needles.  All this for the amazing price of £60 (although I choose not to think about the hourly rate of the people putting them together).

Yours, surprised and delighted,


The Academic Quilter




Laura Ashley Ghost Dolls Continued

This is a close-up of my latest doll, Sandie.  This was inspired by the very earliest dresses that Laura Ashley sold in the early sixities.

It’s hard to find photographs of the very early Laura Ashley dresses which were quite different from the milkmaid styles of the seventies and eighties.  This photo from Martin Wood’s book on Laura Ashley shows the very simple dresses that she started with:

Essentially the dresses were very simple, printed in panels and sewn together with a pocket on the front, a bit like Clothkits, which some people will remember.  The very first ones were striped like this one and started out as gardening smocks, but younger women started buying them as dresses.  The patterns became more elaborate:

And I was lucky enough to see one at St Fagan’s Museum of Welsh life on a recent visit.  Here’s my sketch:

By this time the dresses have separate bodices and are definitely meant to be worn alone.  My version is made from IKEA fabric but the scale was about right, and the daisies had a sort of sixties feel.

One thing that really pleased me was that when I showed it to the Medieval Historian he immediately said “Oh, sixties” which was great.  I based the hair, which doesn’t photograph well, on the sixties icon, Jean Shrimpton:

I remember the long hair and thick fringes from my youth.  I love the glamour of Jean Shrimpton who seems to me to be the epitome of that particular look:

I took the pattern for the dress from Venus A Dodge’s great book on dressmaking for dolls which I blogged about before, and just put a pocket on the front.  The pendant isn’t really the right colour but the period feel was great.  I think it was donated by my friend Amanda.  The earrings which I think really do give it a sixties ‘dolly bird’ feel are from my friend Beatriz, who gave me an earring and necklace set.  I wear the necklace a lot, but not the earrings, so I recycled them for the doll.

While I was looking for photographs for this post I came across this paper dress which also reminded me of being quite a little girl and making paper dresses at school:

I was interested to see how clearly I remembered all this stuff and how easily it came to mind.

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St Laura and the Nuits blanches

On Friday night I found myself completely unable to sleep: wide awake, thoughts racing through my head.  I tried all those relaxation exercises, but after a while I gave in and got up.  I went downstairs and make some instant Horlicks.  We must be the last people on earth that either a. do this, or b. even have Horlicks on the premises.  I have no idea if it works, but I like the ritual.  You feel you are doing something about the insomnia.  Anyway, while I had been tossing and turning I had been thinking about a new quilt for the Laura Ashley project which I want to be on a big scale to match the Anita Roddick quilt.  The problem is that the tiny Laura Ashley prints really only lend themselves to traditional pieced patchwork and doing anything on any scale is hard.  Then I started to think about another project which has long been on the back burner with my lovely friend Beatriz on contemporary occupational saints.  Beatriz is interested in South American practices such as taxi drivers having their saints prominently displayed on their dashboards.  I am fascinated by the project but have found it hard to start.  Then I began to think about Laura Ashley as the patron saint of patchwork and patchworkers – well, Saint Laura at least.  I don’t want to be creating creepy things about an actual person.  So, I thought I could do a medieval job on this and have a generic face rather than a portrait, and then no-one would be offended or upset.

I started to make sketches in my workbook based on drawings I had done in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, National Museum of Catalan Art which is in Barcelona and which I have blogged about before.  It is the Medieval Historian’s idea of paradise.  I really love the Romanesque fresco collections such as this, which is probably the most famous image:

So you can see that these were taken from the interiors of Catalan churches and preserved (against theft, apparently) in the museum.  I love the boldness of the painting:

I know of old, though, that they never have the image you want in the bookshop, so I do a lot of sketching.  Here are the pages from my sketchbook which I intend to use for the project:

While I was having the sleepless night I decided to experiment with a technique I haven’t used before – contour drawing with closed eyes.  The idea is to develop spatial awareness in your drawing and to free it up.  It is really tempting to cheat and open your eyes.  So you just draw the outlines of whatever it is but don’t look.  When you have done that you can work on the drawing in any way you like.  I coloured in the outlines and was really surprised to find the fifties feel to the drawings and the Cubist echoes.  I can’t use them for the project but I enjoyed doing them:

The drawings weren’t too bad, but the detail was always off-set which gives it the Cubist feel:

There’s a hint of Picasso in it:

More on the project as it gets going, but it felt like a surprisingly productive way to spend a sleepless night.

Oh, and it turns out that there is a Saint Laura – this from Wikipedia:

Saint Laura of Cordoba’ (SpanishSanta Laura de Córdoba) (died 864) was a Spanish Christian who lived in Muslim Spain during the 9th century. She was born in Córdoba, and became a nun at Cuteclara after her husband died, eventually rising to become an abbess. She was martyred by Muslims who took her captive and scalded her to death by placing her in a vat of boiling lead. Her feast day is on 19 October; she is one of the Martyrs of Córdoba.

But the position of patron saint of patchworkers appears to be vacant.




If anyone from Gwent Quilters is reading my blog, please could you get in touch via the comments section or via the University of Bristol.

When I opened my raffle prize of a bag of fancy ribbons on Saturday I discovered twelve pounds wrapped up in a paper towel.  I thought it was some beads or a broken necklace and part of the prize, but £12 seems an odd sum to give as a prize, so I think whoever donated it probably accidentally dropped the cash in and has been going nuts trying to work out where it went.

If someone gets in touch I will be happy to refund the money, or give it to charity.


The ribbons are lovely, by the way.


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Introducing Angela

I finally managed to get into my workroom this week and decided to dress one of the Laura Ashley ghost dolls.  For some reason the urge came upon me to make the dungarees I needed for one of them.  I remember this sort of cross between a jumpsuit and dungarees from my youth, although I don’t know if I ever had any.  I needed one of the dolls to be wearing this sort of garment so I decided to make it, having done several dresses for the others.

I will write more about the dolls as the project comes to completion, but I wanted to say just how much sheer pleasure I got from making these dolls clothes.  I had been intending to make some of those very trendy distressed art dolls which look like they have just come out of an exotic tomb somewhere, but this one was having none of it, and I made the dungarees from a fine cotton date 1977, I think, using the wrong side to give a bleached out look, but other than that, the whole thing is pretty pristine.  The dungarees fit.  I adapted a pattern from a wonderful book I found at my mother’s last time I was home, The Dolls Dressmaker by a woman who rejoices in the name of Venus A. Dodge:

It’s a brilliant book with patterns for all sorts of shapes and sizes and garments and instructions for people who know what they are doing.  Quite the opposite in fact from someone I spoke to recently who even had to have a photograph of how to thread a needle in her book.   That aside, I made the dungarees and then a close fitting T-shirt from an old one of mine.  The T-shirt fits like a glove to go under the dungarees.  Then I found an old necklace with these beaded hoops on them and they fitted exactly as bangles.

The whole thing came together really easily and looks great.  But what surprised me was just how much pleasure was involved.  I loved both the final result and my own exercise of know-how to get these things to fit and to look right.  I loved making dolls’ clothes.  I will blog more about this at some point, because I think it has things to say about creativity, but this quick post is just to introduce the ghost doll I have decided to call Angela:

I discover from my notes that I just need to get her a small child sorted out and then she is finished.  I must consult Venus A Dodge on small sizes.

Try not to get too excited…


I have just published a new permanent page on this blog.  This is entirely to do with a publisher getting anxious about copyright (always a thorny subject).  The compromise was that I would put the pictures on my blog with a link to them in the published paper.

So, there is now a page called Portraiture Project (http://annjrippin.wordpress.com/portraiture-project/ ) which contains the draft text of an article I wrote on using portraiture as a research method in organisation studies.  I have added the text in case anyone is interested in my academic work (I’d make a cup of tea instead if I were you).

There will soon be another one on my Benjamin project.  This is the joy of doing visual using visual methods when the world is set up for the written world.



Kate Bush – Creativity Hall of Fame Nominee

I am sorry that there has been a hiatus in the blog.  This is not because of the Olympics but because we have been having an almighty clear-out and I haven’t had time or energy for any sewing for about three weeks.    I can see the stairs to my workroom now, so I might be able to get round to making something shortly, and it does mean that I now have a desk to work from rather than balancing my laptop on my knee.

All that aside, I was in Sainsbury’s rootling through the bargain bin, which I find a great source of inspiration, when I came upon a compilation of Kate Bush’s hits for less than a fiver.  I thought it was worth that just to reminisce about Wuthering Heights which was such a massive hit when I was a teenager.  Strangely, I was never that big a fan of Kate Bush, although almost everyone at my all-girls school was.  I just didn’t get it, despite the fact that all that wild romanticism ought to have been my thing.  But, en route to the dogs’ home to drop off several bin bags of unwanted stuff from our overprivileged mutts, we decided to give the record a go.

None of this has much to do with quilting, but it does have something to say about creativity.  One of the definitions of a genius which intrigued me, is someone who is utterly themselves, true to their spirit, their genius, the thing that makes them uniquely them.  No-one else could produce what they produce and they are utterly one with the product of their creativity.  You either like or loathe it, but it is full of integrity, idiosyncratic and generally unreproducible by anyone else.  Well, I think by that measure Kate Bush is a genius.  We sat in the car trying to think if she reminded us of anyone, as we regularly play the ‘Oh, he listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin in his youth’, or ‘She listened to too much something else at an impressionable age’.  You can’t say that about Kate Bush.  She just sounds like Kate Bush.  Some of it is bonkers, but she does it with such conviction that no-one else could replicate it even if they tried.  I love the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain’s version of Wuthering Heights but it isn’t meant to sound like La Bush.

Some reasons why we might love her and celebrate her creativity:

  • She remains true to herself and she didn’t seem to sell out, releasing albums when she wanted to, fitted in around motherhood, and only ever doing one concert tour.
  • She refused to prance around in her knickers (cf Beyonce and Jessie J) and wouldn’t be ‘sexied up’.
  • She was the first person to wear a head mic so that she could dance on stage (this one is dubious, I admit).
  • She had mad hair and made it all right for the rest of us to have it.
  • She did it her way.

So, I  am trying to get past the wild-staring eyes, the leotards, the free-expressive dance, the mime, the synthesisers and the hyperbole.  In her own way, a genius.

I am catapulted right back into the sixth form…

Collections, collecting and unexpected encounters

I had a slightly strange day yesterday.  I went for a meeting about a research project that we are about to start and the team met in the Wellcome Collection’s cafe.  The cafe is great and there is a wonderful bookshop which stocks titles roughly to do with ‘Science’ and there is always something interesting to discover.  As ever, I bought too many books, but imagine my delight when I saw a bin full of cuddly furry microbes from a company called ThinkGeek.

I have been after one of these for some time, and I chose the hilarious e-coli:

I have been looking for one of these as a teaching prop – the old notion of bringing two things together to form something new – soft toys and bacteria, but also about bringing shocking or disgusting things together – what a shame that the Wellcome didn’t stock the ebola virus toy, for example.  This will make a good product of the week for my classes on creativity next term.   In case you are already scratching your heads about Christmas presents, according to the makers these make great ‘gag gifts’: I gave you e-coli for Christmas, that sort of thing.

The exhibition which is currently on at the Wellcome is called ‘Superhuman’ and it is about enhancing the capabilities of the human body.  As ever with the Wellcome, the exhibitions are thought-provoking.  I don’t mind wearing spectacles but can never fully relax with the Olympics because of the possibility that the athletes are doped or drug enhanced.  So, I am happy with some performance enhancement activity but not all of it.  That aside, I was really beside myself with excitement when I saw a genuine Nike Waffle running shoe in one of the cabinets:

This is the revolutionary soled-shoe that more or less started Nike as a business, and which I mention regularly when I talk about organisational storytelling and narrative.  The story, which is often repeated, is that Coach Braverman, who was the co-founder of Nike along with Phil Knight, was having breakfast one Sunday morning and suddenly noticed that the pattern on his waffle would make a fantastic sole for a running shoe.  He skipped church, went out into the garage and found some liquid latex to try out the design in his waffle iron and the rest is history.  I tell this story as an example of the divine intervention or inspiration or miraculous in organisational foundation stories.  So it was fascinating to see one of the shoes:

Having told this story over and over again for a number of years, I was really delighted finally to see the shoe.

After the exhibition I had a bit of time to kill, so I went with my accomplice and project leader, Beatriz, to Liberty’s.  Imagine my delight when I come upon yet another example that I use in my teaching, Cire Trudon candles:

These are pricey candles, they were on sale for £60 each.  One of the things that I try to get my students to understand is that creativity isn’t about the earth-shattering everyday such as coming up with an entirely new way to light our homes.  They are far more likely to be working on variations on a theme.  So, how do we resell/reimagine/rebrand/re-engineer something like the humble candle?  There is a whole lecture on this and Cire Trudon is one of my favourite examples.

The company is apparently the oldest manufacturer of candles in the world and they take great pains over every aspect of the candle – the wick, the container and so on, and, of course, the smell.  So this is an example:

Solis rex

Fragrance of the Mirror Gallery and the vast wooden floor of the Château de Versailles, vapours of wax, candelabras and palace. This kingly and solar perfume blends a green and wooded wake of coniferous trees to the sumptuous dizziness of incense with a light ray of citrus.

According to one account I read there was much sniffing of the wooden floors in Versailles to get the exact smell, and on a cursory whiff yesterday, it really did seem to capture that aroma of slightly dusty stately homes.  They were also presented under glass cloche, so it was a whole performance to smell them, and I felt like some sort of ‘nose’ in a parfumier.  This is a photo of the candles on sale in New York, but it gives an idea:

I would like the students to see the ludicrousness of all this, to see how their buyer behaviour is being manipulated, or at least to understand the branding processes at work.  I don’t know if I succeed, but it is the critical management studies approach,  which is what I hope I practice, in action.

I was thinking on the way home, though, about the magpie delight I had with these three encounters with products.  I don’t collect any of them, but it was the collector’s delight at recognising something valuable in a pile of stuff.  They too are just stuff until we attach meaning to them.  But there is also the joy of completing a collection, even if it is not an actual one.  The delight of recognition.  The joy in being connoisseur with the skills and knowledge to see something from afar.  This is a form of collecting.  Benjamin, one of my very favourite theorists, was fascinated by collecting and collections and wrote about what might be termed ‘high end’ collecting, as well as survival collecting or scavenging.  His work on collecting rare books is lovely, and he completely captures the visceral thrill and adrenaline rush of getting something which finally fills a gap in a collection.  I think I had that on a small scale yesterday, finally getting to see the rare beast of the waffle shoe, where I least expected it, in a glass case among glass eyes, and prosthetics and video art about plastic surgery.  The unexpectedness of the encounter gave it great power.

Superhuman is on at the Wellcome Collection from 19 July-16 October 2012.

The Wellcome Collection describes itself as a free destination for the incurably curious.

Oh, and I think I may have been sitting opposite Jarvis Cocker on the tube.