Bloggy the Blog Dog


I bought this fantastic little dog at the Bristol Embroiderers’ lovely show at the weekend.  I just loved his exuberance.  He’s like a 3D sampler with his beautifully couched back and his french knots and loop stitch. I love the perfect facetted bead nose.  He’s made from an old blanket, I think.

The exhibition was a delight.  I really enjoyed the way that the members had taken and updated a lot of traditional skills which may well soon be lost.  There was also some lovely drawing with the needle.  I don’t like singling people out, and I had my favourites, but Margaret Maple’s exquisite gold work given a really fresh look through her colour palette was a highlight for me.


Quilt chic

deluxe-productFor my birthday I asked for a copy of the The Decemberists’ new album.  I am not a big fan, but I really wanted the CD for the cover, which looked to me like one of the wonderful nineteenth-century applique quilts which I have recently been studying.  It turns out not to have been a quilt, but a painting.  According to the website plans are in hand to make the two paintings into quilts and there is a competition to win them.  I would just like the pattern:


I think it gives a good indication of what these quilts would have looked like when they were new.  We are used to seeing the faded and worn versions, but they would probably have sparkled when the fabric was new.

On the subject of the old and romantically faded and worn, this is also taken from ‘popular music’.  I saw this poster last year and have been meaning to post it ever since:


Never mind Mr Mayer, let’s see more of the quilt!


I am fascinated by the way quilts are used to reference Americana, rootsiness and home.  If you want to suggest heritage, even if you are going to subvert it, get a quilt.



What I did at the weekend


On Monday night I gave a talk to the Westbury Park Quilters on Album and Friendship quilts.

I have been doing some research on these on and off for several months, and one of the most intriguing quilts I have come across is this one:

IMG_0842The blurry black and white photo is all I have as it is a plate in Patsy and Myron Orlofsky’s comprehensive book about American quilts, Quilts in America (1975).   The original was made by Elizabeth Roseberry Mitchell in 1839 and is considerably bigger than my copy at 79.5 x 80 inches.

What I love about this quilt is the inclusion of those coffins which are embroidered with the names of the dear departed in the original.  As family members died they were added to the centre of the quilt.  I can’t help imagining the scene: there you are lying in your bed with a bit of a temperature when Elizabeth turns up with her sewing basket and starts stitching your name onto a small, lozenge-shaped piece of fabric…

My version is much smaller than the original because it was just a demonstration piece.  It is made with furnishing fabric and suiting samples and a little bit of silk for the leaves and flowers.  The purpley fabric used for the gate was a real swine.  I had held the whole thing together with super-heavy duty steam-a-seam and then top-stitched it.  Unfortunately the heavy pile and the glue was just too much for the jeans needle I was using,  The eye clogged up so much that I couldn’t rethread the needle when the thread inevitably broke.  I used three needles just stitching the purple:


I cheated a bit with the leaves and flowers.  I made the leaves from diamonds cut from a strip about half an inch wide as I was taught to do at school to make leaves from pastry to go on the top of pies.  The flowers are squares stitched into oblivion so that they fray into circles, although I did start snipping off the corners and turning them into hexagons as I got into it:


The photograph below shows my samples and what I did with the leftovers:


I really enjoyed turning the leftovers into sorts of 1970s Danish style ceramic pots.

So, gummed up needles aside, this piece was a delight to make.

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What I learned about identity from Jan Hassard


The speaker at Bristol Quilters last week was the lovely and very talented Jan Hassard.  She has been a member of Bristol Quilters for years, and so it was nice to see  her body of work as it developed; it was something of a retrospective, as they call it in the fine art world.

Jan’s work couldn’t be more different from mine.  Her work is totally precise, planned, ordered, structured and disciplined.  Mine is slapdash and improvised.  But even so, it is glorious because it has so much beautiful colour and vivacity.

I am not posting many photos, because a. I didn’t take a camera – even my phone, and b. she was talking about the increasing phenomena of work on the net being stolen and copied, or just used without permission.

The riot of colour which was a tonic for the soul aside, I enjoyed Jan’s talk for its insistence on craft, standards, high levels of finish and presentation, many concerns which I would like Craftivists to take into account.  I loved it even more because it seemed to me to be the perfect riposte to the anti-nostalgia rally that I seem to keep running into recently.  It is like there is something deficient in people who want to hold the past with affection.  They should be letting go and moving on.  They should be facing up to the realities of the present and not seeking solace in the imaginary golden past of tea and crumpets and church picnics.  Nostalgia is the new opium of the people, according to this analysis, and women are particularly susceptible.  At the same time we hear lots of stuff about identity (see, for example, Grayson Perry’s wonderful recent series on British television).  Most of the identity theory at the moment is about our fugitive, unstable, protean identities, constructed only in relation to others (I am different as a daughter, wife, friend, university academic, driver, customer, quilter and so on).  Jan’s talk, however, included her experience of being a very small child in the war and being bombed out of her home.  Her parents knew how to count between hearing the bomb and its exploding.  So they managed to get her to safety but the house was destroyed: everything gone in an instant.  Later on, as dispossessed person she got a Canadian Red Cross quilt.  These were utility quilts made by Canadian women to aid British allies who had lost everything.images-5 images-4

Jan talked about sleeping under hers until she was about eleven.  One day her mother just threw the quilts away.  To a collector like Jan in later years, this was devastating, but to her mother it made perfect sense.  She did not want to be reminded of the horrible period in her life when she lost everything.  Jan now acquires these Red Cross quilts.  I don’t think that this is fuzzy nostalgia of the sort that fuels our delight in Downtown Abbey.  I think this is a serious identity project.  Our identities might be shifting and relational and contextual and contingent, but they are built on experience that matters to us.  We cannot just throw off that quilt and become post-modern, or worse yet post-human.  And, once again, cloth plays a major part on our view of ourselves as people in the world.