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House and home


This is a quick post today, to some extent to show I am still alive.

I am planning a series of events with a visiting quilter from the US, Marybeth Stalp, and one of them involves a workshop in which we will invite participants to make something as we are talking.  I thought that it would be nice to have a domestic theme, and that we could make houses.  Houses have nice simple shapes and are something we can all have a go at making recognisable.  So I have been making some samples.  This is my first attempt.  The house itself has got to be achievable over the course of the workshop, but I know from experience that people are going to ask what they can do with them.  So I put this one on a backing fabric and all of a sudden it became a tree house, so I added some leaves and a bird.  It’s become a bird tree house.  I am really interested in that conversation with the materials, when the picture tells you what it wants.  This one wanted to be a bit whimsical, and possibly, and this might be fanciful, it wanted to remind me of the importance of living creatures and their needs for home as well us humans.

As usual, this is made entirely from scrap fabric which would otherwise go into landfill, including the thread which came from surplus floss for embroidery kits.  The bead for the eye and the button for the doorknob came from a tin my mother found at the back of a shelf.



You win some, you lose some


I came across Carla Sonnheim’s blog as part of a weekly challenge that I periodically dash to catch up with.  Sonnheim has lots of ideas for doing art with children as well as stuff for adults and is well worth checking out.  There are some lovely free short tutorials on the blog which caught my imagination.  One of them was an exercise using washi tape, which is basically exquisite, addictive, collectable printed Japanese masking tape.  My favourite is the MT brand, which I think just stands for masking tape.  I am embarrassed about the amount of it I have got.  It is about £3-£5 a roll so you think it’s a cheap treat, but it rather adds up.  You can get it everywhere now.  IKEA do a nice but limited range, Paperchase has lots, including authentic-looking Japanese designs, as well as lovely vintage-looking stuff.  I even found a reasonable range in Wilkos.  You could also use ordinary masking tape and colour it with felt pens or similar.  So, if you want to have a go at this it is easy to find the materials.

The exercise involved cutting or tearing five pieces of washi which you arrange on a piece of paper in any way you like.  Then you take a different roll of tape and add five more random pieces this time making sure to overlap them with the first five.  Then you turn the paper round and look for an animal in it.  This is fairly easy as we are programmed in some way to recognise faces in abstract shapes and finding animals is only one step up.  Then, when you have found the beast, you add more tape to fill in outlines and build it up and finally finish off with a pen to draw in details and firm up silhouettes.

I had a lot of success with this.  First off was a found poodle with a jaunty hat:


Then a stretching dog:


Then a bird partially hidden in foliage:


I really liked these and they reminded me of the wonderful work of Peter Clark who makes exquisite paper collages of dogs like this one:



So, I thought the next step would be to try to do this in fabric and thread.  I do a lot of drawing with the needle embroidery, and so I was confident I could do a nice sketchy drawing.

I decided to recycle and use the baby wipes I use for putting paint onto my sketchbook pages, dried out and pressed.  I ironed them onto bondaweb and cut them into shapes.  I learned my first lesson right there.  A lot of the energy of the washi pieces comes from the fact that they are torn not cut.  My cut up wipes looked more like tangram pieces.  Tangram is a square cut into seven pieces which you arrange to make pictures.  I think you are supposed to use all seven, and I hated doing it as a child, so that put me in a slightly bad mood – reinventing something I hate:


I persevered and then discovered that the sewing machine, which is my very grate frend, really did not want to stitch through baby wipes and fusible adhesive onto furnishing fabric with cheap polyester thread.  I gave up in the end as you can see in the elephant.  Anyway, here are the results:


This is my found whale, and here is a detail:


I include this to show the very subtle marbling on this wipe used to apply deep blue acrylic paint (I dispose of the cloths responsibly, by the way).  Here is the elephant:


As you can probably see, I finished them off with a very heavy felt marker pen.

So, I loved the washi versions, and the second learning point was that they worked, particularly the poodle, because the washi was so good.  But the technique did not transfer that well to cloth because the edges were too defined and mechanical.  I couldn’t tear the wipes and so a lot of the spontaneity was lost.

Accentuate the positive


I’m sorry that I haven’t posted much recently.  Surprisingly, July is my busiest month in terms of having time available to do things.  You would think with the students having more or less finished for the year it would be an easier time of year, but in my case there are conferences and holidays to contend with and thus August is a time of getting back into work and routine.

That said, I have been working  on lots of things which I will write about, but first I want to do a slightly unusual post about journalling and noticing ‘stuff’.

I have kept a journal for years and years, although not every single day of all of those years.  I generally start the day with it because early morning is my best thinking time.  I have lots of my best ideas at those times and can write them down before I forget.  Yesterday I was moaning to my diary that the previous day had been very unsatisfactory and that I hadn’t found much satisfaction in any of the creative work I had been trying to do.  This is unusual because Sunday is a day that I retreat to my workroom after walking the Mighty Mutt, and I am usually really energised by my sewing.  Because I was feeling so flat, I sarcastically left a box in my journal to write down the wonderful thing which was going to occur that day.  This is an old technique from motivation courses that I used to teach on about thirty years ago.  You are supposed to look yourself in the mirror (and a journal is a kind of mirror) and say outloud to yourself, ‘Something wonderful is going to happen today.’  I didn’t really expect to be spilling much ink filling in the box later.

So I was surprised to find that I had some things to note down this morning.  I was rather hoping for a massive cheque or a book deal or an interview with Grayson Perry, which is ridiculous.  The universe is not going to deliver on major things like that on demand.  Instead, I found myself looking out for good things, and this is where I found the technique interesting.  It forced my attention onto the positive.  The day was still the day, but I was looking for things to enjoy rather than endure.  I waded through a lot of dreary admin, and marking of student drafts and so on, but I also experienced some good things.  Here is the list:

  • My monthly stationery lucky dip package turned up from moustache.com.  Pricey for what it is, but always contains a treat or something cool (sorry) or interesting.
  • I managed for the first time ever to return work to a student saying I wasn’t prepared to read it unless it was re-written for readability.  I am so scared of upsetting students with my comments that I would normally soldier on, but this one was so dense I had no idea what s/he was saying.
  • I found the perfect backing fabric for my Laura Ashley Regency quilt on spoonflower.com.  I have been thinking about this for months and when I saw the print on the website although it wasn’t what I was looking for, I knew it was absolutely the right thing.  I just need to work out how much to order.
  • I sat down at my work table and although it took me ages to get going, I made a special gift for a friend.  I had no inspiration and did not feel like making, but the desire to make something exquisite for her kicked in at some point and I am very pleased with what I made.  It is a wallet to hold paper money.  It has corny hearts on it for friendship and it is made with my favourite burning back technique with a very cheap remnant of a rainbow organza over some lovely leftover silk.  Then a lot of hand stitching and an awful lot of pearl beads.  All made between tea and bed time.

I will finish with some photos of the wallet.


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