Inspiration from this season haute couture



I am not what you would call a fashionista, although, as a fabric lover, I do like clothes, but even I have been struck by the Fall (sorry) 2013 campaigns.  The current Chanel campaign is really fascinating because it is a bit Sixties Space Age/Barbarella, but the models are all doing handwork such as embroidering the double C logo on linen in embroidery hoops, or knitting with pale pink wool:


Alexander McQueen’s dresses are absolutely unwearable, but they are a real inspiration for doll makers.  I couldn’t find great images on the web, but the glossies all have great pictures of whole dresses:


Absolutely exquisite.  But my very favourite this year are the gorgeous, sumptuous Dolce and Gabbana dresses, crowns and bags based on the mosaics in the cathedral in Palermo.

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If I were very much younger, a completely different shape and had money to burn I would love one of these dresses.  As it is, I can’t even manage the £1000+ for the handbag, but next time I am in London I might go and have a look and see if they will let me take photographs.  Their red dresses are rather lovely too, this year.

My new toy




Oh dear.  The Medieval Historian bought me a new camera for my wedding anniversary present.  It is a super low-tech Diana mini, which feels like a toy camera and uses 35mm film which you still have to get developed and wait for the prints.  Ah, the nostalgia.  I wanted one of these cameras because you can do double exposures and half frame prints and they have a slightly vintage-y kind of feel.  But as with any photographs resulting in prints, I can’t help wanting to show you some results.

You can buy a little gizmo for turning the prints into digital form, but the man who develops mine throws in a free CD.  This seems to be defeating the object a bit, but it does mean I can put the photos through a filter package I have on my computer.  So here are some results.  I promise it will not become a regular feature.



This is the split frame – which means you get 70+ photographs from a roll of film.  These two  pictures epitomise the urban landscape around my part of Bristol for me.  This is another unfiltered multiexposure shots:



And this is what happens when you get the filter package out:

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Lots of fun – and now to try printing onto fabric…

Access Art – brilliant resource


I have been trying desperately to finish off various things in progress before the start of the new term, so my blogging has suffered a bit.

One of the things has been the text for my turn as I am Access Art.  Access Art is a great website with lots of resources for art teachers, and it is bursting with missionary zeal for sketchbooks.  I love my project books, which are a form of sketchbooks, and so I subscribe to the site’s services, have been to a brilliant sketchbook conference in Cambridge and done one of their on-line drawing courses.

In a new initiative they are showcasing the work of one of their members for a month each.  I had to write a text about my work and I thought I would show you what I have in mind.  I am particularly proud that they asked for a thousand words and this is exactly 1000.

My name is Ann Rippin and I am a Reader in the Department of Management in the School of Economics, Finance and Management at the University of Bristol.  I make textile art as part of the research work I do, and I sometimes include it in my teaching classes.

I make large, heavily surface-decorated and embroidered quilts.  They are usually about the companies I study such as Marks and Spencer, The Body Shop, Laura Ashley, Starbucks and Nike.  I also make artists’ books as a way of drawing attention to the fact that we always present our research in academic journals as if it happened in one perfectly thought out unfolding ribbon, whereas, of course, it had stops and starts, diversions, reversals and so on.  Finally, I have recently begun making art dolls, mainly as a way of exploring the Laura Ashley brand and its place in the hearts of British quilters.

I like to use techniques of juxtaposition in my work.  This is heavily influenced by the work of Walter Benjamin, a twentieth-century German critical theorist, who, at the end of his life began to think that you shouldn’t tell people anything about your research but present them with fragments which they would put together to form their own conclusions.  You could drop hints by putting certain things together – like pictures of Elizabeth I and Anita Roddick, the former CEO of The Body Shop, but you couldn’t spell things out.  I think that textiles are very good for this, particularly if they include graphic elements.  They can also be very useful for showing two sides of things, with an inside and an outside, or a front and a reverse.  I made a two-ended tippy up doll, like the Red Riding Hood at one end and the Wolf at the other dolls, of Nike with the American dream multinational company at one end and the child laborer actually making the shoes at the other.

I work largely with a sewing machine, a Bernina which I have had for twenty years and have only ever had serviced once.  It deserves some sort of medal.  I work a lot by hand, particularly sewing on beads and doing surface embroidery.  I really love painting on the finished pieces, it’s a bit like colouring in, but I often use gold paint on top of my free-style machine quilting.  I use fluid acrylics which come out of the bottle at the right consistency.

I tend to work in series about whatever company or topic I am working on.  I find this a very useful way of slowing down my thinking, a bit like the Slow Cooking movement, so that I can let my ideas incubate for a while rather than dashing to get them onto paper.  At the moment I am working on Laura Ashley and I have made a large quilt showing the importance of her 50p bit bags for a generation of British quilters, a series of mini quilts showing the preciousness of the fabric scraps, a series of narrative pieces of imagined lives of the women who wore the dresses, some Laura Ashley dolls and their husbands, dressed in Laura Ashley fabric showing the biographies of the women I have interviewed in fictionalised forms, and three dolls in vintage-looking dresses exploring the nostalgia in the brand.

I use sketchbooks in the form of project books all the time and I now have a big collection of them.  I like A4 books with comb-binding so that the book will lie flat easily.  I collect images, make mind maps, record quotations, make working drawings, stick in samples and write commentaries in them.  I am experimenting with making fold-outs and tipped in elements, although I have had no luck with pages with windows cut into them.  I am always amazed when I give talks to students and to quilting and embroidery groups how many people seize on the sketch books.  They really love them and remember them longer than the finished work.  I don’t know why this is, but it is consistent across the groups I talk to.  I occasionally give classes on making books and I find that one of the key things is generosity with the materials.  I am delighted with what people make and the creativity and ingenuity they show in making books tailored to their own needs, and I think this sense of playfulness and experimentation comes from having a lot of stuff to work with, a feeling of abundance.  I remember going to an Access Art sketchbook making session where the tables groaned with materials and I came away with a fantastic sketchbook which I still use as a demonstration piece.

A big feature of my work is that I use  lot of recycled materials.  I am lucky enough to have a contact who makes exquisite curtains – or window treatments – and I often get the sample books and the strips trimmed off the bottom of the drapes after they have been alllowed to hang for hemming purposes.  I have a blogosphere friend who is a historical re-enacter who uses exquisite woven silk and sends me the tiny bits she can’t use.  My mother sometimes gives me sample cards and remnants from the hosiery industry in my home town, Nottingham.  Students, who understand my passion for textiles give me fabric and lace from time to time, and quilters bring me their carefully stashed scraps of Laura Ashley fabric to add to my collection.  This means that a lot of my work is made from fabric which would otherwise go into landfill.  It is also often sumptuous with a lot of silk, linen and cotton of the very highest standard.  I like this element of the work: turning straw into gold.

I find great joy in my work, and am very grateful that my university lets me work in this unorthodox way.  I love being able to bring together drawing, painting, stitching and thinking,

False economy


A cautionary tale.  I am a big advocate of using cheap thread in the bobbin when doing machine embroidery.  I think it makes me, at least, freer in my use of machine stitching because I am not thinking about the precious thread.  I know lots of people insist you need special thread but pretty standard polyester stuff seems to work fine for me.

But one place where I should know better is sewing machine needles.  I was working on the project that I will be blogging about soon, and using cheap sewing machine needles and it was a lesson in false economy.  I broke four.  When I changed to the more expensive brand I usually use the problems seemed to evaporate.  Lesson learned.

Shopping in Marylebone


This blog has been a bit sporadic recently because I have had a very busy summer either in transit or under the weather (the two might not be unconnected), and I have been working on a biggish project, but I have that back to school feeling, and so want to try and catch up.

The Medieval Historian and I had a day trip to London last week and I decided that I would finally go and have a look in VV Rouleaux, which is a fantastic trimmings shop.  You often see it in those how-to-make-your-table-drip-with-Easter-charm type photo shoots in the glossy life style magazines in the side notes: ‘ribbons from a selection at VV Rouleaux’.  I’ve been reading this for years, so off we went to look at Marylebone which is an area of London that neither of us know particularly well.

It is a truly sumptuous shop and stocked to the ceiling with beautiful things:



And it has a very old-fashioned charm which calls out for a filter:


The big problem is, though, that there is so much gorgeous stuff that it is overwhelming.  I went prepared to spend quite a bit of money as this was one of those visits almost to a shrine, but there was just too much to choose from.  Clearly I would have liked the antique braid at £400 per metre, but resisted.  The thing I nearly bought was a little befeathered budgie:

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I realised that I only wanted one because they reminded me of the budgie I had as a pet when I was a little girl, then that I had nowhere really to put a stuffed budgie and finally that some poor soul in China or Indonesia was probably getting emphysema sticking on the feathers – in that order – so I didn’t buy one.

I think it is a fantastic place if you know what you want or have a specific project in mind, and that would be the time to go.  I just really enjoyed walking round gawping at how gorgeous it all was.  As I left I took a quick photo of the mannequin in the window:


Also in the vicinity, the splendid Daunt’s Bookshop, and the hilariously cool but great food Conran Shop, also with wonderful picture books, and both have exquisite wrapping paper if you happen to be doing a paper project.

The Medieval Historian was a patient saint throughout.


V V Rouleaux

102 Marylebone Ln,London W1U 2QD

Daunt’s Books

83 Marylebone High Street, London W1U 4QW.

The Conran Shop

55 Marylebone High Street, W1U 5HS.