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On 'torturing' fabric

Detail of Pre-Raphaelite panel from Body Shop Quilt

Detail of Pre-Raphaelite panel from Body Shop Quilt

In an idle moment last night when I found myself wandering around the web instead of going to bed, I came across a website with prompts for bloggers with writer’s blog.  One of them suggested writing about a book that you would recommend to other people, and this in turn prompted me to think about a conversation I had with my grate friend Ceri (as Molesworth would say) at St Andrew’s Quilters, our quilting group, on Wednesday evening.  We were talking about Gwen Marston’s book on liberated quilting which is currently going for £127 on Amazon.  I got mine years ago and paid nothing like that for it.  I did spend an amount I am not prepared to disclose for The Whole Cloth by Constantine and Reuter which makes proper textile artists go weak at the knees, and which I subsequently found had come from a library sale so probably cost the crafty vendor under a fiver.  However.  The point of this post is not to have an informal quilters’ book group.  I want to talk a bit about torturing fabric.

So, when I went to Gwen Marston’s weekend workshop I went to the show and tell and sat next to a fantastic, committed quilter who does traditional work wonderfully well.  As we were chatting she said to me, ‘I do hope we’re not going to see a lot of tortured fabric.’  My heart sank, because both pieces I had taken along, and which I shall endeavour to find photos of, were prime example of such practices.  The piece at the top of this post, which is also my header photo is another example of exquisite cruelty to cloth.  In the case of the photo above, the fabric was attacked with a soldering iron.  Not even Quentin Tarantino would stoop to that.

The Pre-Raphaelite Panel, Body Shop Quilt

The Pre-Raphaelite Panel, Body Shop Quilt

When quilting magazines occasionally poll well-known quilters on which piece of equipment they could not bear to lose, I sometimes think it would be my hot air gun.  This beauty actually came in very useful recently when our pipes froze.  My charming husband was up a ladder thawing them out most effectively.  I can probably also use the leftover lagging to print with at some point as well, so the morning was not entirely wasted.

But, there are some of us who work in textiles who just cannot resist the quick zap with the heat gun over chiffon or IKEA curtain voile which melts back beautifully or this lovely sample of Italian furnishing voile:

Body Shop Quilt, filler panel detail

Body Shop Quilt, filler panel detail

I love those big baroque flourishes in quilts where there is the space.  I also love the nerve it takes to put the heat gun over the quilting you have so lovingly worked on for an afternoon.

The quilts will have their revenge, though.  I spent ages stitching voile over some exquisite squares of very choice fabric set out like mosaic, got the hot air gun out, turned it on and waited for the magic to appear.  And waited.  And waited.  And noticed a smell of burning.  The voile my mother had supplied me with from her curtain making contact was pure silk and had no intention of burning.  And that is why you should always make samples.  And thinking through what had happened and how this made me realise that you must respect the integrity of your materials suggests to me that perhaps after all you shouldn’t make samples after all.

For info: the stunning beads on this panel come from Anita’s Beads (www.anitasbeads.com) which is worth searching out at the Festival of Quilts just to meet the wonderful Clive.

My last word on shoes

Corporate Excess: Sight, Ann Rippin, 2005

Corporate Excess: Sight, Ann Rippin, 2005

Shoes seem to have been a bit of a theme in this blog this week.  I was thinking about this when I suddenly remembered that I had made a small quilt about shoes for an academic paper.  It is part of a series based on the famous set of tapestries, The Lady and the Unicorn.

The Lady and the Unicorn - Sight

The Lady and the Unicorn - Sight

This is one of six monumental tapestries in the Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris.  They were made for Jean le Viste, a magnate on the rise in the court of Charles VII, and are identifiable by his coat of arms.  They are probably late fifteenth century, probably made in Brussels and very definitely a hugely expensive luxury item.  Tracey Chevalier wrote a really good read novel about her imagined story of the making of them.  Each tapestry shows a different sense along with the lady and the unicorn and a precious object associated with the sense.  So taste has sugar, hearing has a small portable organ (with attendant small portable servant to power it) and sight has a mirror.  The sixth, rather mysterious, piece, A mon seul desir, shows the lady either putting on a beautiful necklace or putting it away and abjuring worldly goods.  I was so stunned by the size and quality of these French national treasures that I decided to think about what a young man on the rise through the world of high finance in the City might commission to impress visitors to his prestigious home.  What luxury objects might be chosen in the early years of the twentieth century.  I looked to The Financial Times How to Spend It supplement that comes out on the first weekend of the month for inspiration.  For sight I chose the work of a shoe maker who makes shoes not in pairs but in threes and artfully distresses at least one of them.  According to the article, Olga Berluti…

has something of the medieval alchemist about her, cooking up new patinas in her atelier, boiling up mixtures of cashmere and leather, trying out new techniques to create finishes unlike anybody else’s… For her things that have been worn have a romance, a glamour, a precious quality that nothing new can begin to replicate.  As she points out, “In the past, men – both aristocrats and peasants – wore their clothes until they were threadbare.  They would patch and darn these beloved pieces.”  She sees these patchings as being “like so many acts of bravery”.  “Il y a tout une histoire dans un soulier” (“there is a whole history in a sole”[sic]) is how she puts it. (HTSI, 133: 51)

It struck me that Olga had never been there at the end of a jumble sale when the really horrible smelly stuff is left.  I thought the notion of buying beautifully finished distressed shoes in threes was a deliberate subversion of wealth into a pastiche of want and need.

But, as so often happens, the quilt took on a life of its own, and what I like about it is that it is completely different under different lighting conditions.  Under artificial light the sequins in the background spring into life, while in daylight the texture of my approximation of Olga’s patching comes to the fore.  So the quilt really does play with sight.

Corporate Excess - Sight - detail
Corporate Excess – Sight – detail

For those who are interested, the distressed elements are largely made with melted ‘friendly plastic’  with the odd bit of gold tulle pressed into it, and some handquilting following the lines of the printed bronze leatherette.  The plastic and the leatherette were provided by my mother, the world’s best supplier of stuff for textiles.

For those who want to read my searing critique of the bonus culture five years avant la lettre, have a look at:

Rippin, A. (2007) ‘Economy of Magnificence: Organisation, Excess and Legitimacy’ Culture and Organisation, 13, 2, 115-129.

Academic quilters stick together

Fabric postcard by Harriet Shortt

Fabric postcard by Harriet Shortt

This is a fabric postcard that I received from Harriet Shortt who works at Bristol Business School at UWE.  Harriet is the only other academic quilter I know.  We had a very happy time just before Christmas looking together at the magnificent quilt that she made about the process of doing her PhD research.  I think that she intends to talk about the quilt at SCOS, the Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism (www.scos.org), later this year, so I won’t write about it here, except to say that it was great to know that a paper I gave at SCOS last year (at the conference brilliantly organised by Beatriz Acevedo and Sam Warren) had inspired Harriet ‘to thread a needle’, and to see such a huge and brilliant piece of work which had so much to say about the process of doing a huge and fascinating piece of work like Harriet’s ethnography of a hairdressing salon.

But, it was such a delight on a dark, wet January morning to get Harriet’s beautiful piece through the post.  I thought it was a brilliant idea.  Small, fairly quick to produce but packed with meaning, and very personal.  A lovely counterpoint to getting a dashed off email.  The time to make the piece.  Stitch it to the postcard (which you have had to get up and buy).  Write the message by hand.  Find the address.  Find a stamp.  Get up and post the piece.  All the time thinking about the recipient.  What an interesting way into thinking about feminist theories of gift-giving.  Time to blow the dust off Kristeva and Cixous.  Time to think about a feminist ethics of debt, obligation, reciprocity, and possibly love.  Time to think about the meaning of small pieces, things made by hand and holdable in the hand.  Just a delight.  And, of course, it had a lovely message.  It makes me want to start a collaborative project, ideally to be showcased at SCOS.  It makes me want to get more people involved.  It make me want to run a workshop.  It makes me want to start a reading group on gift theory…  This, I think, is what collaborative generative research ought to be about.

More sketches from Janet Haigh's drawing workshop

First sketch at Janet Haigh's workshop

First sketch at Janet Haigh's workshop

This is the first two-minute sketch we did at the workshop on Sunday, with the sketch which was focussing on what would make us want to buy the shoe.  I was aiming for an Andy Warhol ‘brio’, although Janet Haigh was very firm that we shouldn’t be aiming for stylisation at this point.  Oh!

Andy Warhol shoe

Andy Warhol shoe

I also thought it would be nice to show the back of my shoes embroidery, which I think I like as much as the front!

Reverse of purple pumps

Reverse of purple pumps

What Ann Rippin did this Sunday

Drawing of purple pumps

Drawing of purple pumps 16 January 2011

Much to my amazement, I found myself in a drawing class yesterday.  Despite the fact that I work with images a lot, I really don’t like drawing, don’t think I can draw, feel embarrassed to pick up a pencil in public and so on.  But Janet Haigh, a very fine quilter and embroiderer, is opening a design and textile studio/workshop in Bristol and was having a dry run for one of the classes she intends to offer, and so, armed only with some drawing equipment and the moral support of my very brave friend Mike, I went along.

Fantastic.  Janet actually taught us drawing techniques.  It wasn’t about expressing ourselves in paint, or celebrating our inner artist in junk, but actual drawing techniques.  We did about five exercises and were all (I think) astounded with the progress we made.  The subject was shoes, because they are Janet’s passion and it was her workshop, and the aim was to have a drawing which we would stitch in the afternoon.  The above is my drawing of a pair of Janet’s shoes which I loved for the colour and the little metal flourishes on the end of the laces.  I also, and here I am about to have a Kaffe Fassett moment, loved putting these happy looking pinky-mauve pumps against some yellow tissue with tiny red hearts on it.  I started the piece in the workshop and finished it when I got home.  Here’s the end result:

 

Purple pumps, embroidered by Ann Rippin, 16 January 2011

Purple pumps, embroidered by Ann Rippin, 16 January 2011

I was really pleased that I could use my favourite NeoArt crayons to apply the colour, and then draw on it in pencil and then do the very simple stitching in ordinary stranded cotton.

Purple pumps - detail

Purple pumps - detail

I thought Janet was a tremendous teacher.  She got me from mildly terrified, to thinking, ‘I can do this’ to thinking well, ‘I want to make an embroidery of these shoes so I should get the drawing down, and then think about the stitching.’  So, by the end of a single day, I was confident I could do the drawing without even thinking about it, so I drew them again rather than tracing the original drawing.  I think Janet is right; traced drawings are a bit lifeless.

Two things struck me during the day, in terms of academic quilting.  The first is that Janet was saying that her preferred style of embroidery can now be done quickly and easily by machine.  So where does that leave her and her work?  What does that mean for how she might work in the future?

The second was to think hard about the idea that drawing is seeing, really looking rather than waving pencils around.  What does that mean for a researcher?  How can we apply drawing to doing organisational research if what we are trying to do is to look deeply at the organisations and organising that we study.  I don’t have an answer now, but it would be interesting to develop this theme.

I will put up some of the other drawings in subsequent posts so that you can see what a great teacher Janet is.  She was very encouraging and made it totally safe, but she also offered a real critique of our drawings.  Oh, and thanks to Mike for being the only man there and not making a big deal out of it, and for being prepared, at least for a bit, to pick up a needle…

Janet’s blog, which is well worth a look, is at www.janethaigh.wordpress.com.

 

The Greek Slave – New Project

The Greek Slave Quilt

The Greek Slave Quilt

This is a slightly blurry photo of a detail of The Greek Slave Quilt which was one of the exhibits in the recent magnificent quilt exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  I went twice and only noticed this quilt on my second visit where I was suddenly entranced by it.

What interests me is the way that the meaning of the quilt changes as the stories about the woman (probably) who made it change.  Originally it was thought that it must have been made by a woman living on a farm as it has a picket fence design round the edge and lots of horses and other domestic animals pictured in its applique.  This was the opinion of Averil Colby  (1900-1983), one of the great figures in the English patchwork and quilting revival.  (There will be a retrospective exhibition about her legacy at the Quilters’ Guild Museum in York in 2011, http://www.quiltmuseum.org.uk/exhibitions/forthcoming/the-averil-colby-legacy.html).  This went unchallenged until a researcher at the V&A looked more closely at the applique figures, one of which is pictured here.  What that researcher saw was a particularly well-known statue by Hiram Powers (1805-1873) called the Greek Slave.

The Greek Slave by Hiram Powers

The Greek Slave by Hiram Powers (1805-1873)

 

It was exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851, and the pose in the applique and crucially the presence of the post to which the woman is chained, suggest very strongly that the woman who made it was not a farmer celebrating the joys of country life through chickens and horses and picket fences but a cultured woman who had either been to the Great Exhibition, or seen pictures or read magazines and was copying what she had seen.  Suddenly this becomes a very different piece as it is a heavily appliqued coverlet, meaning it has no wadding and so was not used for warm bedding.  It is much more likely to be a hobby piece.

I’ll return to the piece in later posts, but I was intrigued by the shifting meanings of the story and decided to make my own version.

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The Greek Slave – my latest project

Greek Slave Quilt

Greek Slave Quilt, detail, Ann Rippin 2011

This is part of a piece I started working on in order to have something to do over Christmas.  I found the patchwork, including some quite nice applique, that I did years and years and years ago with a pack of reproduction vintage fabrics that my mother gave me.  I was amazed when I pulled the bag out, firstly because the work had been in there for so long that the plastic had started to biodegrade and the handles came off in my hand, and second because there was so much piecing already done.

I can also use the contents of the bag to trace how my patchwork has developed.  The main pieces were large and fairly accurate (for me) very traditionally put together, but as my tastes changed I started to like the really wonky piecing you get with very utilitarian quilts.  I suppose this is reverse snobbery: you can admire the charmingly naive when you have double glazing and central heating.  But there is something very energetic about quilting which fits where it touches, as my grandmother used to say.  And I did a brilliant workshop some years ago with Gwen Marston who talks about liberated quilting.  No templates.  Just get on with it and make a bit to fit.  Apropos of nothing, one of the proudest moments of my life was when I showed  a couple of my pieces at the show and tell at the workshop, and she came up to me quietly later and said, ‘Ann, you are a real artist.’  Could have died and gone to heaven.

So, two thirds of my latest piece will be wonky patchwork.  This sample shows the deliberately wonky quilting which I will bung in the washing machine to shrink to make it look antique.  I am currently working on the applique panel which is the whole point of the piece.

Greek Slave applique

Greek Slave Applique from Victoria and Albert Quilt

This is the applique with its attendant narrative that I am working on.  More on this as work progresses.

Finding the limelight

 

Alphabet sampler

Alphabet sampler, 2008

 

This small piece, about 12 inches square (I am older than the hills), is one of a series that I made in 2008, about making samplers to say something about contemporary ideas about management.  The idea was that in the past, samplers had been used at least in part to inculcate ideas of femininity and what it means to be ladylike, or conversely, in the lower orders, how respectable money could be made through needlework.  These samplers often had verses from the Bible or other worthy texts, and collecting sampler quotes became a bit of a hobby for me in the way that some people collect epitaphs in graveyards.  I wondered what would  happen if we used the sampler to inculcate good management practice in, say, MBA students, and I went for inspiration to an interesting source of knowledge, the weekend edition of the Financial Times which has a tiny business card feature every week in which someone shares their business wisdom.  I used the quotations as they came out, making a small quilt a week for twelve weeks and the final quilt I made for myself using my own business wisdom.  The quilts got more elaborate as I realised that I would achieve my one a week goal.

So, the idea was to interview the people who gave the quotations and present them with the quilts which I had (beautifully) framed as a thank you for their time.  In the event I only arranged one interview.  But, the quilts had a one night show at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, which is, after the Victoria and Albert, probably the most prestigious textile museum in the country.  This was one of the highlights of my life.  These quilts are real showgirls and really sparkle under the lights in a gallery.  There was a dinner and it was a big deal for me.  But, I never finished the project.  But…  This may be an idea whose time has come.

Yesterday, a new colleague joined us at the Department of Management at the University of Bristol, and we were discussing putting together a conference paper on queering management.  He suggested that we could use some of my work.  I was sure we could, but couldn’t quite think which bits.  This morning it struck me, that this would be a really good vehicle for the project.  The quilts queer the way that we think about doing management research, and the content is about models of entrepreneurship and success.  So, the showgirls – and I had never thought of these pieces as camp – might have found the limelight after all.

I will post more images of this series, but start with this one because it is probably the most popular.  It appeals to the slightly cynical with its motto, and most of the management scholars I know do rather tend to the cynical.  Plus the ABC quote is particularly fitting for a sampler in which young girls were taught to embroider initials so that they could find a job in service marking linen.

What Ann Rippin did on Sunday afternoon

What Ann Rippin did on Sunday afternoon
What Ann Rippin did on Sunday afternoon

This is a detail of a little piece that I made on Sunday afternoon.  I rather fancied making a version of a small quilt by the Swedish quilter, Lina Wilk, I saw on the front of The Quilter this month.  So I sat down and had a go working on a piece of bamboo wadding.  I did the majority of it with the embellisher, this is a machine I have a love hate relationship with.  I broke two needles even on a small piece like this.  But I did enjoy machine stitching into it.  I have started to make landscape type quilts with embroidery and beads which are meant to suggest ancient landscapes underneath those visible to us on the ground.  I like the idea that the little pieces are maps to ancient burial sites – all from my imagination, of course.  This took me a couple of hours to make and apart from having to replace needles was just a delight to do.  I was very happy with the buildings which were made from thick furnishing fabric but when quilted they looked like shingled buildings.  I would like to make some more of these landscape pieces and put them in simple box frames.

 

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Final post on Ann Rippin's sketchbooks for a while…

 

Sketches of goddess figures from Marija Gimbutas's book

Sketches of goddess figures from Marija Gimbutas's book

 

It’s a beautiful bright afternoon and it’s staying light longer, so I think that I will try to make some progress on a project which I picked up so that I would have something to stitch while watching television over Christmas, my Greek Slave project.  This is based on a quilt I saw at the wonderful exhibition of quilts at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2010 (www.vam.ac.uk/collections/textiles/quilts-1700-2010/).  I will write more about it as we go along, but thought I would include one more of the pages of the goddess sketchbooks before moving on to a major new piece.

These sketches are taken from Gimbutas’s book, The Language of the Goddess. I cannot remember exactly when I encountered the work of Marija Gimbutas, but I certainly came across ideas about a Mother Goddess and attendant theories about matriarchal societies while I was at university and when I was developing my own feminist identity.  She was and remains a controversial figure.  I encountered her work as the context was selecting her for prominence as it were.  Her work on the goddess fitted exactly with second-wave feminism when we were looking for possibilities of societies based on something other than the Law of the Father, which the French feminists such as Kristeva and Irigaray were exposing for us.  Gimbutas suggested that there had been matriarchies which had existed very successfully without war or weapons for centuries, before they were displaced by masculine nomadic cultures sweeping from the Steppes.

I don’t know whether or not I believe a word of this version of events.  There seems to be little direct evidence for such societies, and we can never know what went through the minds of people in the very distant past.  They left no written records.  Gimbutas argues that they had a well-worked out visual language which is reflected in the artifacts that they did leave behind.  Perhaps.  What fascinates me is my desire to engage with this beautiful vision of a world governed by respect for nature and craft and the place of women.  It seems to connect with a powerful nostalgia of which I was unaware.  This vision is so engaging and so rich and so resonant with Ecofeminism, that it is hard to resist.  But, my rational side still requires evidence.

The other element that fascinates me is the cultural constructions going on here.  Gimbutas published her work at exactly the right point to be taken up by a generation of women and some men who wanted to recover a gentler and more sustainable way of organising.  But with feminism came the backlash and she was definitely on the receiving end of that.  There is a  photograph of Gimbutas in her native Lithuanian peasant dress on a site dedicated to bad archaeology (www.badarchaeology.net).  She has long been subject to ridicule, but I think that I share some of her fascination for these figures.  And, I went out yesterday and bought some more DAS clay to make some more of my own…

The serious scholar vs the eccentric peasant grandmother.  I have long been fascinated by how forces of conservatism effectively disempower threats to the status quo by making fun of them, and thus trivialising them.  Gimbutas in her funny headdress is a quiet example of this.