Finding inspiration in different places




Since my elevation to the peerage (I have been promoted at work from Senior Lecturer to Reader, which is meaningless outside the university, but very meaningful indeed within it – and the Medieval Historian is now Professor Medieval Historian), I have very little time left over from the day job so my posts have been a bit few and far between.  I don’t want to let the blog go, though, so here are some more inspirational things for me.

The first, surprisingly is from nature.  Walking the mutt makes me at least conscious of the changing seasons, and late autumn/early winter is a special time because the fallen leaves take on an interesting washed out tone where the yellow and orange sometimes turns to pink and red like in these:


The colour combinations here are great.

Second lot of inspiration comes from a far more secular space: the lampshades in the Rooftop Restaurant at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford:


Very pretty, although no doubt a nightmare to keep clean.



Quick inspiration

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I have blogged before about the sumptuous new collection at Dolce and Gabbana.  Selvedge magazine clearly feel the same.  This is a nice article about using religious imagery without offending people and how the designers had to adapt the source material to make it acceptable.  As ever, the whole magazine is quite stunning and a delight for the senses.  I find it hard to read it from cover to cover as I always want to jump up and start making something, so a train journey this week where I couldn’t start stitching was the ideal time to read it.



My visit to the Oxford Embroiderers


Iffley Church Hall, Oxford

As part of my academic work, I am committed to the idea of sharing my research beyond academic journals and conferences, which is known as ‘Public Engagement’ in the trade.  I ask for a donation to Medicins sans Frontières so that this represents a sort of pro bono element to my work portfolio, and given the recent weather in the Philippines they will need all the support they can get.

There are other benefits of course.  I was talking about Laura Ashley and telling stories from my research.  I am always surprised by how much stories call out other stories, and Wednesday was no exception.  I got at least three very usuable stories with the teller’s permission to use them.  And it was an interesting evening for me because it was the first time that I had done the talk using powerpoint slides rather than objects.  This meant that I saw my tiny embroidered pieces blown up to five feet high.  It really does give a different perspective on the work.


This is a close-up of one piece of my work with very strong lighting effects, but seeing it blown up is like putting another filter on it and making it seem like a piece of 2D art:


It could almost be a landscape painting.  Here’s another example:



They were a really lovely group and we had a lot of fun.  The event also allowed me to meet Ulrike, the programme secretary who showed me some of her lovely work.  That is another benefit of public engagement: you get to meet such delightful people.

In which it is revealed just how shallow I am



Last week I had a fantastic time in Oxford and London.  I was in Oxford to give a talk to the lovely Oxford Embroiderers, and London for a meeting of a research team.  While I was in Oxford I thought I would use some spare time to go to a show.  The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford had Francis Bacon and Henry Moore juxtaposed.  I sat in the exquisite museum restaurant before going in:


I thought to myself that although I love Henry Moore’s sheep and London Underground sketchbooks, I can take or leave the sculpture.  I actively dislike Francis Bacon’s work after a trip to his major retrospective a couple of years ago.  So, why am I going, other than I feel I should.  What a waste of a sunny autumn afternoon for me at least.  So I had a stroll to the Art bookshop in Oxford and a volume on art and the New Materialism almost leapt into my hand.  I am currently using this theory in my work so this was absolutely perfect for me.  A sign from the universe, in fact, that I had done the right thing.

The next day I went with my lovely friends Beatriz and Alison to the Bellville Sassoon exhibition at the Fashion Museum in London:


I absolutely loved it.  I couldn’t carry the catalogue home because I had too much stuff from the talk in Oxford, so I have ordered it, and I will be doing some work with it, I am sure.  Photography was allowed, so I got some pictures.  What I loved was the geometric arrangements of beads.  I loved the whole thing so much that I came out feeling refreshed and delighted as if I had been eating lemon sorbet.  Perfect.  The photos were taken with an iPhone rather than camera and at least one is blurry, but they gave me inspiration for weeks to come:






I’ve never really known what to do with those scallop-shaped sequins that you often get in mixed packs but this is an interesting pattern.

I think that the grid patterns were very reassuring somehow.  All’s well in the world when the beads are so clearly under control, a new take on the aesthetic beauty of effiency:





I also loved the painted coats from the Indian collection:



And this one where the client insisted on including her pet dog:


This more recent dress showed a fantastic sculptural quality through the manipulation of the cloth:




This one is almost entirely made of beads stitched onto a sort of beige net:




I couldn’t help but wonder if it was heavy to wear.

The one I would have had, though, would have been either this seventies hippy dippy gem:



or this one:



Maybe the one with sleeves would be better, but this fabulous yoke cries out to be reinterpreted in some way.  Watch this space.

A small added bonus was that Mr Sassoon was there in person, looking remarkably fit as he is somewhere around 80, in an elegant midnight blue jacket.  He seemed delighted about the whole thing and happy to pose for photos and talk about techniques.  Being British I was far too reserved to approach him.

On the way home, I was bored on the train so I started to draw beaded flapper or shimmy dresses with the Vellum app on my phone:

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Joyful end to a joyful day.


What I did at the weekend


This is a piece for a specific project which I will blog about at the end, but I wanted to show you a small piece that I have made that I really like for once.  I wanted to work with the citrus green and fuschia pink scheme – given to me in this challenge project that I am doing.  So, at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace last month I bought half a metre of a really beautiful figured silk chiffon in those colours (plus several more):


(Not a great photo but you get the idea).  While I was at the show I came across a stall selling discontinued patterns and was looking for dolls, but came across this for two pounds:


Another horrible photo, but again you get the idea.  So I thought I would make a neckpiece using the centre pattern:


The photos are getting worse, but bear with me.  I could have made up my own pattern but for two pounds it seemed worth the investment to get something smooth and symmetrical.

So I bondawebbed some white felt to the fabric:


and tacked the edges down over the felt:


Then I made some fabric beads by rolling strips of fabric, either lovely wool felt scraps with fabric or thread bindings or the base fabric rolled to make sort of straight croissant shapes.  The thick satiny bits gave it body and the chiffon bits gave it shape.   Here’s some of the fabric I used to make the beads:


Then I mixed the fabric rolls with glass and ceramic beads that I had previously collected.  I particularly love the big green beads that look like peas:


I think the secret with this sort of work is to cram as much in as you can – more is more.

Finally, I made a couple of ties by plaiting thin strips of the base fabric and making little tassels on the end.  I backed the piece with more white felt and stitched green glass beads around the edge with blanket stitch to secure the backing:


The finished piece is really heavy, which I like.  I don’t know if I will ever wear it, but it would make a great neckpiece for a kaftan.


This gives a better indication of the colours.  I really enjoyed doing this.  It was quick to do as the fabric beads are so bulky.   I think I might make some more, and might even think about wearing them.

I have been trying to think about why this piece delights me so much, because I really like it and keep picking it up to feel the weight of the beading.  I don’t usually work with green as I don’t much like it as a colour, but I do like the zingy contrast of the chartreuse and the magenta.  The colours are so saturated that they are a delight for the eye.  Colour therapy, bead style.