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Work in progress – Little Lauras 1

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My new project involves making a series of small panels of little Saint Lauras.  I started by making a biggish piece of machine-made crazy patchwork, using my faithful Bernina and the Singer my mother gave me which does a wide range of fancy embroidery stitches:

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I made a large piece and then cut the small shapes out using steam-a-seam which I really like and much prefer to bondaweb.  I was using tiny scraps – which is the point of this work about preserving shreds of the past.  Some of the scraps are quite nasty late fabric and again I found myself transforming them a bit, either with an organza over the top or gold markal paintstick over the quilting:

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I put in some bits of silk to give it more richness and depth.  Then I waited, cured the markal, set it with a heat gun, and started to cut out the shapes:

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Entirely by chance I had been to a sale at Heartspace, a great gallery/shop/sewing class venue in Bristol, and had bought some old Laura Ashley fabric, the heavy cotton in the background here, so I could get on with the application of the pieces and their decoration, which will be the subject of a subsequent post.

I loved working on this piece, and just felt better in myself after I had stared to make something that I had been planning for some time.  Stitching is definitely good for my soul.

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What I did at the weekend

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I had a great day on Sunday after a not very thrilling week.  I have been working on a new series of small pieces as part of my big Laura Ashley project.  I am making some little Saint Lauras as part of my work in completing my large St Laura quilt, which I thought I had finished until I put it on the wall and it really does look undercooked.

I’ll post more about the work as I go along.  One of my really favourite bloggers writes about work in progress and shows the stages of her pieces, and I think I might do that with this group.  Her blog is fabulous – although it’s not for the faint-hearted.  She is an embroiderer, dressmaker, jeweller, silver smith and on and on.  Anyway, here are some pages from my workbook to be going on with:

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Also featured, my very unlovely worktable!

On teaching workshops

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When I was doing my talk to the Quilters’ Guild Area Day on Saturday, I was asked again if I do workshops.  I get asked this fairly often after a talk.  I don’t.  One reason is that I spend a substantial part of most weeks teaching someone something (or trying to) and I don’t really want to be doing more at the weekend.  I also don’t want the hours of preparing samples and materials packs.

But there is another reason.  I have no idea what I would teach in them.  I don’t do anything at all difficult or requiring explanation or coaching.  I layer things up and then stitch them down:

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I can see that this could sound like false modesty, but it brings me to an article about teaching I read years ago and then unfortunately lost, which suggested that the hardest thing to teach is something you find really easy.  Because something comes easily to you you cannot understand why the student can’t grasp it.  You can’t find lots of ways to explain it, because it is so obvious to you.  Someone is struggling with something you find second nature and neither of you can understand the processes in the other’s head.  I think anyone can stick a bead on a sequin on a square of velvet.  I don’t know how I could make that last all day.

But things that you find difficult are easier to teach because you have had to work them out for yourself and can put yourself in the position of the learner.  You probably have to work it out using your own experience, and you have probably thought through several examples, so you have already got the start of a bank of teaching materials.  This makes perfect sense to me.

Such a shame I lost the article.  The only other bit of wisdom I could pass on came from the first embroidery workshop I ever did which was by Louise Watson, and she said that the difference between a professional and an amateur embroiderer was that the amateur stops too soon and the professional adds more and more.  I have lived by that piece of advice for years.

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What I did at the weekend

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On Saturday I went to Builth Wells in Mid Wales to do a talk for the area day of the Quilters’ Guild Region 12.  Their small but magnificent banner is shown in the picture above.  Quilters, kindly notice the exquisite piecing on those sawtooth patches, plus the very lovely applique of the dragon.

It was a really good day.  I drove up through the Brecon Beacons along roads that looked like they regularly had adverts shot on them: windy and almost totally empty, through the lovely autumn trees.  The sun was out, the music was on and it was great.

The morning session was ‘Travels Along the Silk Route’ by Jane Davies.  She brought along a number of Suzanes (pronounced Suzannas) which she had bought in Samarkand and Bokhara.  She even had a lovely green coat made in the technique:

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All the green you see is Bokhara couching.  I thought the motifs were great and did a fair bit of sketching while she was talking:

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Some really good strong shapes to use for printing.

She was a fantastic speaker and I would recommend her to any group looking for someone to talk (www.janedavies.btck.ac.uk).  She also does work with hand-dyed fabric and thread and felt.  I really enjoyed her talk.

I was on after lunch and so got to talk to a lot of the Cowbridge or officially Glamorgan quilters I was sitting with.  They were a delight.  One knew that I was speaking about Laura Ashley and so brought along a quilt that she had salvaged from a junk shop for a couple of pounds.  The photo with the owner in it is a bit blurry but I wanted to include it:

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I offered to buy it, but she wasn’t parting with it.

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Not all Laura Ashley fabric, but quite a bit:

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I think this makes the point that I made in the talk and which my interviewees have confirmed, that Laura Ashley fabric was just better than anything else that was available.

My talk went down really well.  They were a bit predisposed to like it, because I was talking about a Welsh institution in Wales and one woman in the audience had worked at the Carno factory as a lace collar inspector.  So, not what you would call a tough crowd, although several came up to me at the end and said they thought it would be boring but actually they had really enjoyed it.  But the best bit for me, other than the fantastic coffee and walnut cake and tea loaf which would have won the Great British Bakeoff easily, was the fact that they started telling me their Laura Ashley stories, some of which I remembered enough of to write down.  I really do need to take tape recorders on these occasions.

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This is what a typical area day looks like with traders which you can just about see at the back, tables full of people comparing notes, showing what they have bought and doing stitching.  Increasingly it is full of iPads and mobile phone cameras.  At the other end is the speaker talking to people, often too shy to shout up in front of a roomful of strangers:

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I had that strange experience of the spirit of Ethel Merman coming upon me as I stood up to speak and somehow I managed to make the whole thing funny.  I have no idea how that works.  I don’t plan jokes ahead of time.  But I think that this talk is unique in the sort of work I do in that it is like leading group nostalgia to a time when things were open and possible, and the sad things in life hadn’t happened with quite such frequency.  One of the things I went away wanting to think more about was whether I am encouraging rosy nostalgia as escapism, or whether it is good to provide a forum for people to re-experience some of the joys in their lives.  Probably a bit of both.

And an added bonus, they loved my clothes and hair.

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My latest Laura Ashley project

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It’s been quite a while since my last post.  This is mainly due to the day job which is becoming increasingly demanding.  I have also been working on a couple of things which are for a Bristol Quilters project which will have a big reveal at Christmas and so I haven’t posted my contribution in case it jeopardises the secrecy of the whole thing.

This is a bit different, though.  This is back to the Laura Ashley project.  It’s a little shrine, maybe twelve inches high.  It’s made over foam core wrapped in all sorts of fabric scraps, but mainly a Zoffany offcut of a very nice light cotton furnishing fabric.  I have no idea why I wanted to wrap it, but I did want a weathered, shabby, been around for years feel to the piece.  I put some torn up IKEA voile curtain over the top.

The front is embroidered with rolled fabric beads.  These refer to the weird little bundles of things you get in some shrines, but, as my friend Hermione said, they could be people’s sleeping bags at the shrine.  I rather liked that.  There is also a fair bit of broken jewellery on the piece.

It opens to show a plastic envelope of tiny scraps of Laura Ashley fabric that I was given in the course of this project and which I wanted to conserve in the bag.  They really are slivers in some cases:

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I admit that I just like making shrines – and I made a lot for the iconic Body Shop product project:

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But there is a good reason for this approach.  I am quite interested in the gendered difference in shrines.  So, I love bell shrines and have blogged about these before, made by the established church to commemorate the bells and staffs of founding saints, and I also loved the exhibition of reliquaries at the British Museum last year.  These tend to be masculine artefacts.  What studies of the way that women use shrines seem to show is that women set up home altars and have what is known as a syncretic approach.  They include photos of family and friends as well as sacred religious elements.  This notion of preserving emotional connections and networks, plus the association with the domestic, and the attention to the conservation and maintenance of the domestic seems to fit with creating shrines.  I am sure that this will get worked up into a paper, so, if you are interested, watch this space.

 

 

Chanel A/W 2013

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I very seldom go back to posts once I have finished them, but I have been so caught up in the start of term that I don’t think I said everything I wanted to say about the latest set of Chanel adverts.

These adverts (and the picture quality is not great because photography glossy magazines isn’t that easy) are fascinating from the point of view of what they say about femininity.  There are five elements of interest to me here:

  1. The space age/Barbarella-type setting.  The future.  The sixties space race optimism.  The ultra-minimalist stripped-back space ship.  Very exaggeratedly ‘modern’ for a classic brand like Chanel.
  2. The thigh boots which I am assured will be all the rage this year – not with me they won’t, no matter how many how to make the latest trend work for you articles I read,  Shiny black thigh highs are inextricably linked with a certain sort of pre-packaged female sexualiy, often that of women in the sex trade.  This is contrasted with
  3. The very demure little buttoned up Chanel suit with its slight evocation of school uniform with its pleated skirt, and the lady-liked restrained fascinators.
  4. The use of Asian models, which I think also alludes to a certain sort of sexuality, the submissive oriental beauty, geisha-ing away or working the bars in Bangkok.
  5. The use of very traditional women’s craft – knitting and embroidery to conote femininity and also to contrast with the space age setting.  Even when we are all living in space, women will still do embroidery.

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This is underlined by the use of baby sugar pink thread and yarn.

It reminds me of the phrase in Roszika Parker’s wonderful foundational text, The Subversive Stitch: ‘to know the history of embroidery is to know the history of women’.  Women and needlecraft as a virtually indistinguishable pairing is the basis for this advert.  Times may change, technology may advance, our lives may change out of all recognition, but women will still do embroidery and knitting with the yarns coded for femininity in their pinkness.

I think these are fascinating images, and having spent a week trying to get students to read corporate identity through pictures as well as text, I think they tell us a huge amount about Chanel and about gender identity.