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The Evil Eye Collar

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This piece is based on a very common amulet.  Amulets to ward off the Evil Eye are found all over the world, and the eyes are often blue, as seen on the cover of Desmond Morris’s book containing glorious photographs of his personal collection:

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Inside there is a montage of this sort of amulet:

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The idea behind these amulets is to meet like with like, so the evil eye will be deflected by another evil eye looking right back at it.

My eye is very stylised.  It is a big square glass bead which I bought in the extraordinary bead shop on Derby Road in Nottingham.  The shop is exciting because it sells a good range of really flashy or big or unusual beads.  I couldn’t resist the blue of this one.  Then I surrounded it with all sorts of blue beads which I bought as a collection in the Covent Garden Bead Shop, which I have already mentioned:

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Once again this is influenced by tribal beadwork:

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I have no idea why I love serried ranks of beads so much, but I love these incrusted beads and particularly when they are in rows.  This image taken from Sheila Paine’s book on amulets gives a brilliant example in the headdress above.

The strap is a cheap necklace from Sainsbury’s half-price sale.

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The ‘Don’t Take Any Wooden Nickels’ Collar

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I made this collar because I wanted to say something about the need women have to look out for themselves, because despite Equal Pay acts they are often paid less than men doing equal work of equal value.  And the things that are offered to women are often of a much lower political currency than those offered to men.  So women get to be head of HRM but not Finance, or Strategy, or IT.  We have to learn to resist those blandishments, or at least be quite clear about which currency we are being paid in.

I wanted to use the discs along the bottom which I think might actually be old French coins with holes drilled in them, and the piece was based around this, and the idea of using trading beads as currency.  The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford has some great examples of trading beads and I have always been a bit drawn to them.

Sample card of trading beads

Sample card of trading beads

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I started with a nice piece of silk which I quilted onto some thin cotton wadding:

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I used the Madeira lana thread to get a good textural contrast.

I started to sew the ‘feature’ beads on:

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And it very soon became apparent that this was going to be one of those projects I call ‘Make it Work’ after Tim Gunn turning his nose up at potential disasters in Project Runway.  This one was going to need considerable work to make it look like anything at all.  I had a bag of what looked almost like Roman glass beads which the magnificent Tanya Bentham had given to me, and I supplemented the feature beads with those.  The piece began to come alive, but it was obvkous that it needed to be encrusted with beads to work.   I had a big bag of black glass beads and I think that adding black often gives a tribal feel to things which is what I wanted so I stitched them on to fill in the gaps:

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Then I added the coins which were my starting point.  The two outside edge medallions are there for personal reasons.  They are the Chinese horoscope signs of me and the Medieval Historian.

I finished the piece with some chain that I found in Hobbycraft.

This piece was a real surprise to me.  I didn’t want to abandon it because I had had the big feature beads forever and had been saving them for something special, so I ploughed on with it, but in the end I really, really like the result.  It’s a bit chunky to wear, but with the right dress….

The ‘Little Me?’ Collar

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This collar in my War Collar Series is examining the popular feminine tactile that comes from believing that if you are sweet and demure enough the warrior men will protect you.  This is nonesense, of course, because you are always marked out as not one of the boys, which I have symbolised here with the very pretty bells (which I bought in the bead shop in Seven Dials in Covent Garden, London):

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This collar was simple to make, but not easy.  The flowers are made from paper.  I bought a tube of them ages ago and was playing with them at the work table and thought how pretty they looked with the large pearl beads.  The problem is that the paper was difficult to sew without ripping, and getting the needle through all that paper and two layers of velvet was hard.  It should have been quick to make, but actually took a lot of care.  I can actually imagine someone wearing this one.

The Buffer Collar

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This collar started life as a plain velvet base like this one:

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The idea behind this one is to provide a collar to protect the vulnerable throat, which I have written about in previous blogs.  I decided to cover the throat in soft, silk pom-poms in jewel-pastel colours.  To stop it becoming too cutesy I made some very uneven ones.

I made the pom-poms on a device I bought at the Festival of Quilts this year.  It is basically a frame which you wrap wool round.  The reason I bought it, apart from the fact that I love pom-poms is the mother and daughter team who were selling them.  The mother had designed it and the daughter was selling the kits.  The mother gave us the usual it’s really easy and you can do hundreds of things with it, but the daughter was a real star.  She was clearly so proud of her mother that it was infectious, and she ran us through the range of options to buy as though she was selling us the elixir of life.  It was performance art as much as a sales pitch and I was very happy to hand over my £12 for what is basically a bent wire coathanger just for the joy of watching the act.

As it turns out, starting with slippery pure silk yarn is not the best way to make pom-poms, and even with acrylic knitting wool it is hard to get the knots tight enough in the middle so that the pom-poms stay together and have a good shape, but the collar as a whole is rather nice with its slightly deranged bobbles, and could be worn with a fairly plain jumper:

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The Athena Collar

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For some reason, the photographs on the blog are getter worse.  I still can’t find my proper close-up camera for the details, and I like to use my camera phone so that the pictures will load quickly when you read the blog, but I seem to be losing my touch with the shots.  Anyway, to Athena.

This collar started life as one of the velvet blanks – beautiful cotton velvet used in soft furnishings and donated by the son of a friend of my mother who has had honourable mentions in these despatches before.  I started to stitch on the flat circular beads which I bought on a trip to Copenhagen with the Medieval Historian and which therefore have sentimental value:

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I was lucky to have some matching cube beads to stitch around the edges.  I covered the velvet with the beads and then lost a bit of momentum.  I was driving to our huge out of town shopping mall, so not thinking about the collars or the project at all, when I suddenly thought that of all of the collars, this one looked the most like plate armour of a sort with its overlapping deflecting discs, which is where the project started.  Then I remembered a necklace I had bought in a closing down sale which was unwearable, but which had masses of owl charms.  I bought it because my mother loves owls and I thought she might be able to use some of them in her work.  I couldn’t have bought the owl charms in that number for the price of the necklace, so it was a bargain lying dormant in the bead drawer.  Surprisingly, I managed to find it (no small feat) and then set to it with my pliers.  I stitched owls around the bottom and used the chain to make the strap for the finished collar.

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Then when I was at the Hobbycraft sale, I found the two black plastic coral amulets:

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I really wanted to include them, even though I know they look odd.

The armour-like feel of the piece, and the owls make me think about Athena, a goddess I have always felt some sort of affinity with.

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In the first of these photographs you can see her owl, the bird she is associated with.  One of my favourite Klimt paintings is of Athena, and you can see a form of the overlapping disc effect that I was going for:

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I feel my affinity to her because she is associated with craft and textiles in particular – the story of Arachne being turned into a spider is part of the Athena myth.  She is also a goddess of war and wisdom.  But my affinity comes from her being a helpmeet of the boys in battle, and her close association with her father – she sprang fully formed and fully armed from her father’s head.  I am very strongly drawn to male mental energy, and the world of the head.  I don’t think we would get on if we ever met because we are too similar.   I am that rare breed: a life-long committed feminist who would rather have been born a man!

The coral, to conclude, is an amulet that I saw a lot when I was in Naples a couple of years ago.  I know that Naples is in Italy and Athena was Greek, but it seemed to fit my classical Graeco-Roman theme.

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The Femme Fatale Collar

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The title of this one is pretty self-explanatory.  I was in two minds whether to include a collar like this.  The whole topic of sexuality at work is a tricky one.  There is no doubt that some women do use their sexuality as a way of advancing their careers, and that the double standard still applies.  There are male womanisers in my profession, of course, and people smile and wink.  Women who do it, on the other hand, are often viewed with some distaste and even a tinge of pity.  There is also a very strong argument that women’s sexuality has always been strictly policed and controlled, and this just continues into the workplace, a method of social control that should be challenged.  So, it is a contentious area, and a difficult one to work with, but one which has to be included in any serious discuss of women’s clothing at work.

This collar is a bit of a cheat as I bought the neckpiece and then stitched some feather trim around the edge.  I had forgotten the hazards of using this kind of elaborate edging, which is that they can often have a prodigious amount of glue keeping them together which quickly transfers to the needle.  I had to throw two away because they were so gunged up by the end.  The idea is a bit of a cheat too, as I saw it in Cloth magazine ages ago and had a yen to make one.

I think that this one would be wearable in the evening.  My inspiration comes from Mata Hari and all the jewellery and accessories of the Roaring Twenties:

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I think I bought the centrepiece in Liberty:

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All this is reminding me that I bought a bargain copy of the recent version of The Great Gatsby and that I should sit down and watch it, if only for the costumes.

 

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War Collar 4: The Blood Collar

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This is the first collar I made.  I started by thinking that the throat was a vulnerable part of the body with so much blood so near the surface and made the collar in blood red tones.  As I have done more work on the whole area of amulets I have learned that there is an element in many of them of confusing evil spirits or deflecting their attention and getting them to pass on.  So, in a world of violence already being smeared with blood might mean that the aggressor will move on and leave you alone.

That’s the serious stuff.  The lighter stuff is that I love working with red.  It is a richly symbolic colour about danger, blood, sex, sin and so on, but also celebration and life.  I find it an energising and life-enhancing colour.  I also learned early on from studying Kaffe Fassett and his work that to work well with red you need to include lots of shades of it.  They seem to hum together and to vibrate.  Fassett often throws in a bit of lime with his red or turquoise blue, which I didn’t do with this piece.

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I calmed it down a bit with some gentle beige:

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These little rolled beads are made from some mock suede (another luxury furnishing fabric provided by my mother’s friend’s son) printed with transfer paint and then wrapped with some beads.

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There is also some crimson furnishing velvet and little rosettes of thread.

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The centrepiece is a big felt flower which I made but never used for a Christmas wreath.  The cord is a simple plait of the fabrics used in the piece.

 

 

 

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War Collar Three: The Don’t Mess With Me Collar

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This piece is another which has been looking for a home.  I made the piece on a workshop at Heartspace Studios with Basil Kardasis in 2012.  I’ve noted before that I love things that are really heavy with beads and this little sample definitely is.  I could have mounted it as a piece in its own right, but I always felt that it wanted to be worn.  So finally I made it up into this very large amulet.  It does have a flavour of tribal beadingimages-11 images-10 images-7

but as I was thinking about it, I thought it was also very much influenced by those enormous macrame beaded neckpieces from the 1970s:

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These are from a wonderful book I picked up for 50p from a second-hand bookshop (thrift store):

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I have always loved big clunky flashy jewellery with lots of things hanging off, and this piece is flashy.

I made the rolled fabric beads and mixed them with commercial beads, which I think works really well:

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and I kept to quite a restricted rich palette:

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and then added a bead necklace in the bargain bin at the supermarket as the neck strap.

The back is atrocious, though:

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A bit of cotton velvet against the skin.

This piece is basically an amulet to ward off anything that needs warding off, basically!  I loved making it, so possibly it protects by giving off positive energy rather than anything more sinister.

Selvedge – recommended publication

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This is a quick post today.  May I very strongly recommend the current issue of Selvedge.  It is an absolute visual delight this month.  It concentrates on knitting and Scotland, quite a combination, but sumptuous.

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Highly recommended.  You can get it at WH Smith and various arty periodical places – the Arnolfini in Bristol, for example.  I have a subscription which is a lovely surprise when it turns up.  They also have a very high quality but pricey shop.  The website is www.selvedge.org and there is a particularly glorious quilt on their homepage at the time of posting.

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War collar number two

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The second collar in my series of wearable armour for corporate women is this blue neckpiece.  The idea here is to make a protective piece.  So, according to the sort of folklore I was brought up with, blue wards off evil spirits, which is  apparently why we dress baby boys in blue, and thus the piece is largely blue.  In other traditions shiny things dazzle the devil and keep him away from you, so it has lots of golden coins.  The piece is also clearly a nod to the lovely tribal embroideries that are inspirational for so many of us.  The best example for me is probably, as I have said before on the blog, The Shining Cloth:

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This is a book that I think everyone should have, as it is packed with glorious photos of amazing decorated cloths.

My piece has been hanging about for some time waiting to be made into something.  I got into a good habit a couple of years ago of using the leftovers at the end of a project to make up a block, and eventually you have enough to make a quilt.  This piece was leftover from a series of small quilts about Walter Benjamin which I made last year:

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I had this very pretty little piece made up of bits of hand-dyed fabric:

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It had some machine stitching on it:

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And I decided to do some hand-stitching with the lovely Madeira lana thread:

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Then I squared it up a bit and sewed on the coin charms which I think I got very cheaply at a Hobbycraft sale:

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Finally I made the cord:

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This one is very light, and I think it could be worn.  Being a major fan of the kaftan, I have several things it might go with.  But it will be interesting to see which ones people do want to wear when I go to the next stage of the project.