What I did at the weekend


On Saturday the Medieval Historian and I went to the Gwent Quilters.  This was a return visit for me, and I wondered why the MH was quite so keen to come with me.  Then I remembered the lovely lunch they put on as part of their summer party.  Even the dog enjoyed his doggy bag on our return.

I really enjoyed being with them again; they are a really great bunch: full of fun and passionate about their craft.  I also enjoyed wearing my presentation shoes:


The adrenaline of doing the talk means you don’t notice that you are tottering about in these so you can break them in fairly painlessly, and they are really good fun to wear, as I would imagine pattens were in the past, like this detail from the Arnolfini Marriage:


There are two things I want to think about with regard to my visit.  The first is that their website is particularly good (http://gwentquilters.weebly.com/).  It has a lovely gallery of their work which is very accomplished.  They have a star member, Diana Brockway who produces stunning work, but the group a a whole is very skilled.  I really recommend it.

The second thing is that my talks are different every time I give them and I can see how they move on.  I gave a talk in Oxford where I used slides and talked a lot about technique.  That is a good presentation, I think, but most groups prefer things rather than slides, and so I usually take artefacts rather than a projector, which is a shame as I like to share ideas on making.  But taking the things determines what the talk is about.  On Saturday I talked a lot about the dolls I have made for the project as that seemed to be what they responded to most strongly.  This was good for me as it enabled me to talk about a new set of ideas in my work about the direction Laura Ashley plc went in.  It was the first time I have made the presentation about this and talked the idea through from start to finish, and the Gwent Quilters’ reactions were very important as a way of verifying the ‘data’.  That was quite exciting.

So, thanks again to the Gwent Quilters.  I look forward to seeing you all again soon.



Revisiting a classic


I have been working on a new project, which I will blog about shortly, and I thought that I would get out my copy of The Shining Cloth by Victoria Z. Rivers.  It is a great book, a bit of a classic now, published in 1999.  Every page has something gorgeous on it, and the photographs are stunning.   It’s a study of ornamented clothes from a wide variety of countries, but mainly Asia and Africa.  Most of it is tribal costumes.  I pick the book up from time to time when I want some ideas about beading.  I have used it so often that the cover came away from mine as I was using it, which gives it a battered field guide quality which I really like.  I was looking for neckpieces to study, and I find drawing is the very best way of studying something and seeing how it fits together.  Here are the drawings I made from various pages:


I am making a series of neckpieces which I will share in my next blog posts.


, ,

A post as much for me as you



Today is a momentous day.  I have finally started work towards my book.  I have sat down and written out plans before for a book which all came to nothing, because I think books have to be ‘ready’ to come, but I actually believe that I am going to write this one.  I suppose that this is a bit of a public declaration that I am going to write it, a bit like getting married in the face of the congregation, and if I tell enough people I am going to do it I will have to see it through – that is my theory at least.

People do like to be dramatic about writing books.  All these quotations are taken from the internet so I don’t have references, but some are worth sharing, particularly the dramatic ones.  So Annie Dillard tells us:

The sensation of writing a book is the sensation of spinning, blinded by love and daring. It is the sensation of a stunt pilot’s turning barrel rolls, or an inchworm’s blind rearing from a stem in search of a route. At its worst, it feels like alligator wrestling, at the level of the sentence.

And Mary Higgins Clark writes in the same vein:

The first four months of writing the book, my mental image is scratching with my hands through granite. My other image is pushing a train up the mountain, and it’s icy, and I’m in bare feet.

I always want to reply to the hell of writing brigade that it could be a lot worse: they could be sunning themselves in Helmand.   Onwards.

E.A. Bucchianeri pursues a slightly different route and one which textile artists may well recognise:

The Book is more important than your plans for it. You have to go with what works for The Book ~ if your ideas appear hollow or forced when they are put on paper, chop them, erase them, pulverise them and start again. Don’t whine when things are not going your way, because they are going the right way for The Book, which is more important. The show must go on, and so must The Book.

 I always think that my best work happens when I let the piece take over and stop trying to impose my will on it.  I suspect however I plan the book it will turn out to have a shape all of its own.

I need to write a book for professional reasons.  If I am going to get promoted, I need to have written the book on something.  This, of course, is a terrible reason to write a book.  Making work for money is always soul-destroying and I think that work that I make, just to make, is always dead and flat and hollow.  So, I have always put off starting a book.  Plus, I don’t really know what I want to write about.  As Jo Lindsell says, “Every writer or wanna-be writer has ideas for books. The problem isn’t finding an idea, it’s choosing one”.  I have been in this position for a long time.  It was only after a discussion with Marybeth Stalp and Theresa Winge at a conference last month that I realised that I should probably just write a book about being an academic quilter: what it means, what it teaches me, what it is worthwhile.  I want to write the book, really to try to sort out what I think about art as a research method.  Flaubert wrote, ‘The art of writing is discovering what you believe.’  The trouble is I am still not sure where to start.  Nadine Gordimer wrote, ‘Writing is making sense of life.  You work your whole life and perhaps you’ve made sense of one small area.’  My problem is, of course, that I am not sure I can ever make sense of this small area as there is so much to read and so many perspectives to take into account, and I dread the reviewers’ comments that you get as part of the publication process.  I shall have to take comfort from the great writing teaching, Natalie Goldberg, ‘Whether you’re keeping a journal or writing as meditation, it’s the same thing.  What’s important is you’re having a relationship with your mind.’  I have had a battering over the summer with people either telling me or demonstrating to me that my mind is not of first-rate quality.  Maybe the slower pace of writing a book, rather than turning out learned articles at speed, will do me good, and help me to develop things more fully before dashing into print.

Before I move on to what my book is going to be about, I can’t help including Kanye West’s modest comment: ‘I feel like I’m too busy writing history to read it.’  Inspiration for us all.

So.  My book is going to be about my work using art as a research method.  I am going to use mainly my Body Shop and Laura Ashley projects as case study examples.  It might look a bit like this:

Part One – Rationale, theory, applications etc

  1. Introduction – What art as research is.   The relevance of art research to Business and Management Studies – or social sciences in general.
  2. A review of qualitative methods – what do people who don’t do big survey data and randomised control trials do and why alternative approaches are valid.  How do we judge this kind of work?
  3. The theoretical background.  This is a method which is entirely consonant with the Material turn in social sciences (that is, the reaction against the idea that the world is entirely shaped by language, to considering the importance of things in the world).
  4. The sociology of cloth – why is cloth so important and so significant?
  5. My method – based on the work of Barrett and Bolt.  Also the importance of sketchbooks and drawing in research – drawing heavily on the work of Michael Taussig.
  6. The so-what question.  People who do this kind of research always make big claims that it produces different knowledge or a different way of knowing.  They seldom produce hard evidence.  I would like to trace exactly what contribution this sort of work does produce.
  7. A note on teaching, including using this sort of work in the classroom.

Part Two – examples

  1. Quilts and quilt making – Nike and Gender, M&S and Leadership, The Body Shop pieces, and Laura Ashley quilt.
  2. Dolls – Nike Doll, Laura Ashley Ghost Dolls, Red Thread dolls.
  3. Artists’ books – 13 Notebooks for Walter Benjamin
  4. Artefacts – Iconic Body Shop product shrines, War Collars for women in organisations
  5. Narratives and storytelling – tracing dominant narratives through textiles, or using narrative from interviews as jumping off points.
  6. Writing as performance – the performativity of words, feminine writing, writing from the heart.
  7. Failures?  What can we learn from the work going wrong?



This is a photo of my mind map for the book on my fairly clear desk.  Plenty of paper on the left to continue my thoughts!







I know lots of people who read my blog are fascinated by Frida.

The wild wood

Another blog that people who like mine might like – if you see what I mean.


I have had a really busy couple of weeks, but things are much quieter now and I will be getting back to proper postings. But I thought you might enjoy these stunning camouflage photos.

Craft in Utrecht



I was a bit surprised to find myself in the middle of a major craft project at SCOS last week.  SCOS is an academic organisation of which I am currently the Chair.  We were in Utrecht this year, and it was the annual dinner.  We have a very short handover ceremony and this year the Netherland organisers were bereft about Holland’s failure to qualify for the World Cup finals so we decided to give them ‘Best Organiser of SCOS 2014’ awards.  It fell to me to make the rosettes with what I happened to have with me and a couple of fat quarters from the excellent Carol Cox quilt shop on the main canal.  Not much to say except they really did need some spray starch when worn, otherwise I thought they worked quite well.,



Giving it my all in Utrecht


Last night I did a presentation with my Grate Frend Beatriz in the strangest spot ever.  Here is Beatriz:


It was in a constructed loft in a converted church.  All through the presentation a tatty stuffed fox glowered down at m e from a rafter.  Here are the shabby chic pictures













This is the room at ground level where the dinner was held:


















































, ,

Abigail Mill at Bristol Quilters



We were very lucky last night to have had Abigail Mill to talk to us about her work.  She brought with her an enormous amount of work and talked a lot about how she built up her business.  In some senses she is/was a commercial artist who did a lot of work for publishing companies, particularly in the gift market: greetings cards, calendars, gift wrap, some ceramics and so on.  You will almost certainly have seen her work if you have been into a gift shop or greetings card shop recently.  I am reluctant to reproduce photos of it, even if they are on the web, after she told a horrifying story of having her work stolen by a huge company that she wasn’t in a position to sue.  The following is a little taste:


I liked her new work using much stronger tweed and more earthy colours more than the popular stuff, but I don’t have a photo of that.  She was very generous in passing round her work.

She explained just how hard it is to make a living and keep a grip on your artistic integrity, and there seem to have been a couple of turning points where she decided that the business was dictating her making a bit too much.  Making a profit means making in volume and making what the market wants rather than what you want to make.  She talked about making 400 embroidered cards a day at the height of her business.  She estimated that even after deciding to scale back down, she still spends 80% of her time running the business and only 20% making.  She said that when she decided to go back to a small scale business her retailers were delighted because they wanted to deal with her and not the big impersonal companies they usually buy from.  This seems to be the way of lots of small business people – people want to buy you and not a stand-in for you.  Business is more relational than we sometimes think.

So, that was all very interesting, but I was really fascinated to realise that she had created some of the work that inspired me when I was much younger.  I never made anything, but I loved Juliet Bawden’s series of books on particular themes.  I loved the one on hearts, and the one on hats and Abigail had work in both of them.  The hearts book shows her technique of using multiple layers of organza:



The hat one shows her love of ornate decoration again:

IMG_3620 IMG_3618

I was interested to see that the books were side by side on my bookcase after all these years!   This part of the evening was a really interesting bit of nostalgia.  It took me back to a time when I was interested but didn’t have the skills to make things.  It was before my 10,000 of practice.  I know the 10,000 hours has been criticised, but practice does make us better, and the talk last night brought that home to me.

It was a lovely evening with a lovely speaker.



A little Danish inspiration



I am slightly concerned that I am not posting as often as I did.  This is because of the day job.  So, I have not done anything with these photographs, but I think they could be an inspiration for something very good at some point.  They are from an icily cool ceramics/tile shop in Copenhagen.  Just to enjoy.IMG_2929


IMG_2928 IMG_2926 IMG_2925 IMG_2924 IMG_2923