And so we say goodbye

And so we say goodbye to this throw against which I took lots of photographs for the blog.  It was made with rags.  I crocheted a filet and then wove strips through and then put a crocheted border round it. But five years of constant use has completely worn it out and it is now very old and holey.  Plus it was too big and heavy to go in the washing machine and there isn’t much prospect of good airing days now.  So, it will be replaced.  I am very sad because a lot of my favourite clothes got chopped up and put into it.  But it has to go.

The arch dog in the photograph is Flossie, Queen of All She Surveys.

Something of a thought for the day.




Quick post today, as a pile of marking has just shown up.

I was idly leafing through a rather nice book with an awful title: Living the Creative Life  by Rice Freeman-Zachery, and I came across this quotation from Wendy Hale Davis:


Every piece I’ve just finished is absolutely the finest thing I’ve ever done… for a couple of hours.  Or days.  Or the worst thing I’ve ever done.  (p. 116)

Wendy Hale Davis is a bookbinder and art journal maker.  I really liked this as it struck a chord with me.  My favourite piece is almost always the last piece I have done or the first in a series like the Body Shop shrine prototype:




Finishing things is fascinating.  I like the sense of achievement but the next day I’m usually ready to start again.  It extends to written academic work as well.  I finish a piece and think it’s great.  Five or even two years later I can’t bear to read it because it seems so naive or pretentious or wrong.  Finishing is problematic.


Here’s a bit more of Hale Davis’ work:


What I did on Saturday

I know that this is a blog about academic quilting, but it is also for people who love embellishment and textiles.  So, yesterday while the Medieval historian was doing work of international importance in Blagdon, Somerset, I went off to have a look at the Mulberry Factory Shop in Shepton Mallet.  As usual there was nothing that I could afford even at 50% so I went back to the car and saw a sign for an upmarket designer outlet next door.  This turned out to be a much happier hunting ground.  Anyway, I put aside my customary guilt about the conditions in which these slippers were produced because they are just so ridiculous and exuberant, and my old pair are literally falling apart.  Plus these came in this lovely embroidered calico bag.

Speaking of wrapping, I went back to the vintage dress shop in Stroud while I was on my writing retreat last week and bought a brooch wrapped with the usual care:

I fear I may have been well and truly rooked over the vintage Laura Ashley dresses I bought, but look, a satin rose and pink tulle…

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Ghost dolls at Hawkwood

I have spent most of the week at Hawkwood College just outside Stroud, Gloucestershire, on a writing retreat.  I’ve been to Hawkwood before and I knew that it had a real shabby chic style in the main house, and a very beautiful garden, so I thought that I would bring the Laura Ashley dolls along to photograph them, possibly for a self-published blurb book as these are my latest guilty self-indulgence after the Quilts book I blogged about recently.

So, I took the girls into the garden and also posed them on the sofa in one of the rooms and by the bay window.

I had come to Hawkwood to do some work on Laura Ashley.  I have to do the grunt work of going through the biography and getting a timeline sorted out for the business.  I thought if I were captive that I would be obliged to do this, and I have got as far as the opening of the first factory in Carno in the 1970s.  But most of the people who were with me were doing much more creative writing, and somehow it slipped through the ether and I decided to work more with the dolls and find out their Laura Ashley stories.  I will set up a page with these stories at some point.  So far I have only done two, but what I found fascinating was the way that the stories just coalesced on the page.  Fully formed stories of love and betrayal, ambition and despair.  We did some reading aloud on our last evening, and after I had read my stories, my imaginary interviews with the girls, the completeness and detail of the stories was what surprised everyone.  I was making up the Laura Ashley stories that cannot be told, that are too painful or personal to tell, but which I know from my twenty plus lived ethnography with these women do exist.  I respect the fact that not everyone wants to tell them, and in a way I am grateful that I am not then obliged to bear witness in some way, but I cannot present an entirely rosy picture of women’s identities either.  So the dolls can have the painful stories.  I think this might make them cultic objects able to absorb unvoiced pain.  It’s strange territory.

But the reservoir of material I have astounded me.  Some of it is recycled from my contemporaries, and a lot of it is from my mother.  The story about marrying for security rang true in the room from our mother’s generation, although none of us had done that.  The feeling of writing was extraordinary.  It just rushed through me.  I had to stop to think about dates and chronologies, but basically it was like opening floodgates, and, importantly, it felt like further evidence that this is a project which has found me; a project whose time has come.  Interesting thoughts about creativity as well to take away.  I have read a lot of practical stuff about innovation and creative practice at work, which is fine, but the more art or even fine art end of it is fascinating to observe as well.  I needed time and space.  I needed to be relaxed.  I needed no interruptions.  I needed enough time to invite the muse – whatever that means – to come.  I needed space to be able to listen.  I doubt that I will get more dolls’ stories when I am home.

And, I am left thinking that dolls are extremely powerful objects.  My lifelong fascination with them is finally working itself out.  Because these dolls are such carriers of pain, here is a nice image to finish with of them taking in the sunshine on a lovely day in the Cotswolds:



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My latest quilt


This is my new quilt.  It is a cautionary tale really.  I wanted to have a second large ‘statement’ piece in the York exhibition and so I went flat out to finish it, with predictable results.  I love all three elements just not together.

The idea of the piece is that it is about patchwork and quilting.  In the middle is St Laura.  I have made her up.  She is the patron saint of patchwork and quilting because Laura Ashley got so many British quilters started.  So this is a thank you.  But, as someone pointed out at the exhibition, she doesn’t have any hands.  So I am not sure just how good she would be as a patron.  The reason for this is that I used the very simple forms that I have been seeing in great museums over the past couple of years.



These are based on examples in the stunning museum of Catalan art in Barcelona.  I have become worrying interested in using very simple shapes like smock-type sleeveless dresses or t-shirts or bottles and seeing how many different designs I can use them with.  It’s a bit obsessive when I get going.  The little keyhole shaped figures are perfect for this.  And that’s why I used the shape on the quilt.  The interesting part is filling that shape:





There is more than a hint of Klimt here, of course. but I also think that there an allusion I wasn’t particularly expecting to illustrations in children’s picture books possibly from vintage sources.  For example, I love Eric Carle’s work:


The other thing I love about this is that it was the opportunity to work with things that I have been given by great textile enthusiast friends.  So there is some wonderful silk fabric (the whole thing is done in silk) donated by one of my blogging friends who makes historical reproduction textiles – I am sure that isn’t the correct term but her blog is well worth reading www.opusanglicanum.wordpress.  She sent me a packet of the most exquisite woven silk scraps.  My mother donated a lot of the plain silk from some sumptuous sample books.  I got the silk for the wimple at Maculloch and Wallis in a ten pound bit bag of bridal fabrics which was a huge bargain in a shop which does not exactly give it away.  A lot of the beads and sequins came from my lovely friend Janice, who does frankly gorgeous bead weaving and makes scarves and neckpieces I defy anyone to resist.  And much of the lace came from a wonderful woman and ex-student of mine, Julie, who passed them on from her grandmother:



The background, which is a wool and cotton Laura Ashley fabric I bought in a sale years ago, needs a lot more quilting, but I thought that it gave a suitably medieval manuscript feel:



I think these are characteristic of the early Middle Ages which fitted the central figure.  The rose floral Laura Ashley chintz at the bottom is a reference to the banks of flowers you get at the feet of madonnas in Roman Catholic churches in the Netherlands.  I bought that remnant from the Llanidloes Quilters on the visit to Wales which started this whole project.

So, apart from needing to do more quilting and the fact that the halo, which is a bit too extravagant, overbalances the whole thing, I quite like the central panel.

The piece as a whole is meant to show my own transition and that of the craft as a whole from stitching those fifty pence big bags into patchwork to the contemporary freer, wonkier and more design-led style of piecing:



My very elementary nine patches on the left were made from packs, but by this time they were die-cut rather than the fents or offcuts originally sold.  The same for the much more sophisticated fabric on the right, pieced in Gwen Marston’s liberated piecing style.  The left hand side is hand-quilted and washed in very hot water to get it to puff up a bit like an antique quilt.  The right hand panel is machine-quilted with a bit of hand embellishment.  The separate bits are great but together they don’t quite work.  I think this is because of something that quilters have known for years: you have to be very careful how you use white.  Here it completely unbalances the whole thing.  So, I might have to resort to the collager’s friend, black tulle, and my own friend: the bead.  I certainly need to think and salvage.

That said, I loved making all the bits, and I think the piece even in its unsatisfactory state really does say something about my love of the craft.

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The York Exhibiiton


I was talking to the Medieval Historian this morning and saying that I seem to have had a medium-sized skip of affirmation parked outside the house for a month which has been shovelled in through the door at regular intervals.  I mention this because I still finding it difficult to process all the thoughts and ideas that I have had.  Consequently, I thought I would just make a start and post some pictures of the exhibition at York.  I have been trying to make a video to put on YouTube, but have had limited success.  I also realise that I didn’t take a shot standing at the door to give an overview, but the following will give an idea:


These pieces were on the first wall as you went in.  They are a series of placemats about images of women from 1970s sitcoms which were popular during the formative years of CEOs and MDs of large organisations now.  I had never exhibited these before, although I use them in my talks, and Mrs Slocombe’s pussy (top left) always gets a great reaction.   Next to that was the Anita and Me quilt:



This one is a showstopper.  We had to hang it where there was a series of hooks to support its weight so it could be better placed, and it was hard to get the lighting quite right.  Even hauled up on the wall like this it brushed the floor because it is such a woppa.  It looked good under spotlights, though.



These are the pieces based on contemporary samplers inculcating business lessons into today’s inquiring minds.  The experiment was to make pieces for an exhibition/conference in Manchester and I decided to ask what our business schools could teach an entrepreneur like Mr Thornton, in Mrs Gaskell’s North and South.  I took the quotations from the Financial Times.  In the end the quilts had a little exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery which was one of the highlights of my life so far.   Funnily enough, I am now more or less ready to let go of these pieces which were made five or so years ago.  It’s about that long, then, before I can think about giving them away or selling them.

After these was the run of early quilts which is shown at the top of the post.  These went beautifully together because of their colour schemes.  And I think they still stand up well.

Next came the Laura Ashley wall:



It started with the Ghost Dolls, which I thought looked wonderful grouped and suspended on the wall.  I’m not sure they appreciated being hoiked up with wire loops but they didn’t complain.  Then came my new large piece, St Laura, the patron saint of patchworkers:



‘ll blog about this later.  I’m not very happy with it.  I made it too quickly and it needs severe attention and a lot more quilting.  But I wanted something to counterbalance the Body Shop quilt and at least it got finished.  I need to think about doing more on it to make it work.

Then some smaller pieces, including the mini-Laura Ashley quilts which were in a book, but which I decided to stitch together to make a small wall piece:



This led onto the Threads of Identity pieces, which looked good grouped together:



On the final wall was the big Elvis quilt about masculine and feminine leadership styles and the smaller pieces I made about corporate excess.  They formed the basis of an article which was discussed in a book by Zigmunt Bauman (which is really quite something if you are a sociologist).  Finally there was the Woodworm cricket bats quilt which I will write about separately.



I also had a couple of handling pieces and sketchbooks.

It’s hard to write about how I felt about the exhibition.  It was really hard work putting it up, and the Medieval Historian and the wonderful Jenna Wade who was grace under fire exemplified made it possible for the show to go on.  The camaraderie among artists getting things ready was new to me and really great to experience.  Breaking off to eat pizza was fun, and being tired and happy was wonderful.  Jenna deserves a medal for her work in making all our shows/events happen and for dealing with the constant stream of last minute health and safety issues.  It was also fantastic to clear away all the packing and tools and see the calm space with all the pieces sparkling on the wall.  I should also thank Liz Hewitt for all her work in the past with me on exhibitions which gave me the confidence and ability to put up the show and to add touches that made it look really professional.

The hard part to write about is how it made me feel to do it and to have done it.  I haven’t dared look at the comments book yet.  People who know me pretty well might be surprised by that, but this is me up there on the wall.  It is very public and very personal.  On the way up to York we were listening to Tacita Dean on the radio talking about how drained she was after doing her show at Tate Modern.  We rolled our eyes, but actually, I found even my small-scale retrospective emotionally draining, along with being polite to people while noticing threads that needed clipping and repairs that needed doing, and the fact that the St Laura Quilt really didn’t work.  But it was lovely that the admin people next door found time to come and seek me out to say how much they had enjoyed it.  Being happy and fulfilled and a bit proud of yourself can be surprisingly exhausting.  I am rambling a bit, so will end, and possibly come back when I have had time to assimilate all this further, but I hope that this gives an indication of what it was like and what it meant to me.  And I can email copies of the catalogue to anyone who would like one.

In which ladybirds invade my blog

I sat down this morning to try to make sense of everything that has happened over the past two weeks – and the mind map at the top of the post gives an idea of how far I got in fifteen minutes. I can see that it is going to take a while to digest.   Plus next week I will be on a writing retreat which does not have internet access as a matter of principle, so it might take me a while to get all the stuff onto the blog that I want to share.  But, let’s make a start with something lovely.

At the Art of Management conference last week we had the customary conference bag, this time a nice strong jute shopper which will come in handy, but the wonderful Jenna, who was working like a demon to make sure the whole thing was a success, got her grandmother to make us all a knitted ladybird.  At first it seems there was some opposition to this.  Was it a bit infantile?  Did it fit with the drive to make the conference more academically rigorous?  In the end Jenna won and the ladybirds were a big hit:

Coincidentally, the ladybird is the theme of a large project I have just become involved with to think about teaching sustainability using arts-based methods, with my very good friend, Beatriz Acevedo.  We are going to start a project blog in which the ladybird speaks, in fact it’s the ladybird’s blog.  So I couldn’t resist swiping some of the remaining ladybirds which formed the table decorations at the conference dinner for my co-researchers Helen, Charlotte and Ramos:

So, that was a nice bit of synchronicity to start our Go Green project.  And also respect to Jenna’s grandmother and her flying needles for turning out over a hundred of the little creatures which were absolutely beautifully made.

Back home and ready to blog

Well, finally back from my conference-going travels.  Last week it was the Art of Management in York, and this week it was Text and Textiles in Cambridge.  So, once I have got things fairly straight in my head which is completely stuffed with ideas and insights and reading recommendations, I will start to put up some pictures and share some ideas, including a really big new quilt.

In the meantime, what a lovely surprise to walk into the Upper Hall at Jesus College Cambridge and to be met with this glorious Richard Long mud painting.

And then to see Tim Ingold from Aberdeen University giving the keynote speech in front of it:

Special thanks to Alison Truelove for putting me in touch with this fantastic group.

Shopping in York

So, I am back from York and The Art of Management Conference.  I had a fantastic time and the exhibition was just great.  I’ll be blogging about it in the coming week when I have had time to sort out the photos and gather my thoughts, but I had to start with some stuff about shopping.  York has a small craft shop trail.  The shops aren’t completely spectacular like Atlantis in London, or Blade Rubber if you like rubber stamps, but that is a good thing because they aren’t overwhelming either.  The Viking Loom, for example, just has a nice selection of all sorts of lovely things.  I did go on a pilgrimage to Make Your Mark which is a rubber stamp shop I always go into when I am in York because they have their own designs which are really fresh not the sort of Belle Epoque vintage or the cutesy that you get so often.  Their medieval range, for example, is lovely.

Plus they mount the stamps for you on wooden blocks and they cost a fraction of the price of most ranges.

The other shop I love is Duttons for Buttons which is a remarkable building as well as button seller, with a fifteenth-century room at the top completely un-messed-about with as it was only discovered about thirty years ago.  Downstairs they have a stunning range of – funnily enough – buttons, including some great vintage pieces.  It is quite pricey, I think, and they could teach classes on marketing and selling, but I don’t mind paying extra because I think it’s so great that haberdashers like this still exist.  I spent a fortune, despite the fact that I am feeling as if I never want to thread a needle ever again.