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van Gogh inspiration – neutrals

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The prompt for this exercise was to use cretan stitch in neutral shades.  I felt a bit of a cheat as I used some of my lovely variegated thread from Winifred Cottage (sadly no longer available), and it worked really well instantly.  I added a bit of light brown wool over the top to show willing, but the beauty of the soft shades did all the work itself.

As happens so often with massed cretan stitch, it looked a lot like grasses.  I decided to play this up and to use some thick linen knitting yarn to make pebbles by using colonial knots.  I prefer colonial knots to french knots now as they are easier and less likely to go wrong.  I know that misshaped french knots can be useful for creating texture but I am a full convert to the colonial, as taught to me in the middle of the Festival of Quilts by Sandy Lush.  I added in some neutral looking beads and was pretty pleased with the result:

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IMG_0983IMG_0984I hope that this has some of the texture of some of the drawings that van Gogh made:

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That’s the end of the workshop pictures.  The pieces were all made on a piece of linen mix furnishing fabric with a fairly loose weave, and all done in a hoop.

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van Gogh in purple and yellow

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This is the second sample from the Vincent van Gogh workshop, this time working with purple and yellow, which co-incidentally were the colours of my school uniform.  The-Sower-Vincent-Van-Gogh

I love this combination, although it took me years ever to wear purple again after the school experience.  I am not quite sure about the finished piece, where the technique was Roumanian couching, where you use the same thread as the thread you are couching and the holding thread.  I did a little bit of that, and we practised sewing curved couching threads to simulate van Gogh’s swirling skies:

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I much preferred the technique we learned for working with thick threads which was to knot them and couch them down.  I really took to this and, although I ended up with a blob which looks a bit like a fried egg, I enjoyed using knotted yarns of different thicknesses to get a domed effect.

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As ever, it was improved by a bit of bling, in this case some bronze beads:

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I loved the way that they sank into the couching, as if they had been inlaid.

 

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Inspired by Janet Edmonds and Vincent van Gogh

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On Wednesday I went to a great workshop with Janet Edmonds which was based on working with van Gogh as inspiration.  I knew it was going to be a good day when I sat down next to lovely Nathalie who got her stuff out and told me I was welcome to use anything she had brought with her.  In the end we didn’t use that much of each other’s stuff, but the offer made for a lovely atmosphere.

The exercises were designed around one stitching working in colours inspired by van Gogh’s paintings.  So this one is based on his pairing of orange and blue:

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imagesThe stitch was sorbello which is illustrated above and is actually quite straightforward once you get into the rhythm.  I did it with thick and thin threads and strips of torn fabric.  It looked okay on the day, but I took it home and added to it, and stood back from it, and thought it looked like the sort of aesthetic you got in the 1960s and all that creative embroidery that I grew up with, the work that Constance Howard did, for example:

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The colours were okay and looked vaguely Egyptian to me, and I realised that they would look much better lifted with a bit of gold, so I stitched on some beads in the gaps left by the stitches:

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You can also see the layering of the stitches in this photo with the finer thread over the strips of silk.  I love the crunchy texture of this stitch:

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I am not that huge a fan of van Gogh.  I had my van Gogh phase quite early as my extraordinary school had a series of morning assemblies with my art teacher, the wonderful, Mrs Pandora Finlay-Broadbelt, reading from Vincent and Theo’s letters.  I just went because I fancied a day learning something and just enjoying stitching, but it turned into a lovely day and I made some things I really liked, which I will post about as I finish them off.

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Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?

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This is quite a small panel, one of the last ones I made, but the one which will be in the top-left-hand corner.  Some of the panels have fents or offcuts instead of costume prints, including this one, which has three pieces of the finer lawn prints from the 1980s and 1990s.  On top of this is some beaded lace, and some burnt away fabric offcuts from another project.

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Because this came quite late in the process, I bought little items rather than using things in my stash, and as ever, I have only dim memories of where they came from.  But these two bits came from Copenhagen:

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I am quite proud of the little seed beads holding on the golden spray of leaves, and I really like the little black crown underneath the key.

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Although this doesn’t look much, I am very pleased with the stem-stitched box round the leaf charms.  Stem stitch has always defeated me until the wonderful Tanya Bentham showed me how to do it properly in one of her workshops.  So a small personal triumph.

I really enjoyed the hand embroidery on all of the pieces.  This is a ribbon rose:

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IMG_0845I wish it were as glorious as this contemporary take on a crazy quilt from the Bristol Embroiderers’ Guild Exhibition.  Unfortunately, I didn’t make a note of the artist’s name, so only one unauthorised picture.  If you know who made it please let me know.

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Falling in love again

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There haven’t been many posts recently as I have been finishing things off and there hasn’t been much to report, but suddenly I have quite a lot to post about.

This is a big project from my work on Laura Ashley.  I made a start on it ages ago and just didn’t like what I’d done.  The colours were too pastel for me.  But a couple of months ago I got it out of the box and started again, and for some reason, I totally fell in love with it.  So, I have done a lot more work and the piece is almost ready.

As usual with my work it is made in panels.  These were inspired by the printed panels from Quilters’ Trading Post.  They are fashion plates of Regency costumes, which I have combined with Laura Ashley fabric and lots of fabric samples including silk and embroidered wool, and lace.  Again, a lot of the fabric would otherwise have gone into landfill, so there is recycling and upcycling involved.

My interest in Laura Ashley was originally in the seventies with the milk maid and country cottage ranges, but I have become increasingly interested in her later product ranges and the way in which everything became much grander and country house-y.   There is some nice scholarly work about the brand coming out of it, which I will outline at some point, but this project is about the airy muslin loveliness of the Jane Austen type view of the eighteenth century, which will be contrasted with the gruesome Hogarth vision.

For the moment, though, this is the pretty top.

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This is fly stitch done in a wine-red Madeira luna thread which has a lot of wool in it.  The second part of the stitch is done through a clear bugle bead.  The little dots are done with colonial knots which are much easier and reliable than french knots and give a nice dimple in the middle.

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These are pieces of old-ish lace over silk samples.  I love stitching through this thick upholstery silk because it is so crisp.

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This is a lovely bit of tiered lace, with some composite embroidery from Judith Montano Baker’s Elegant Stitches, which is a fantastic source book for embroidering crazy quilts.  These panels are essentially well-ordered crazy pieces.

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I used this panel to work in a piece of my favourite Laura Ashley fabric, the swan print:

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More of the panels to come.

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What I did at the weekend

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These are really not very good photographs of the work I did on the new Laura Ashley piece.  I have had a big burst of interest in this quilt, and I am wondering if it is because the other large piece has gone.  There is a lot about at the moment on the subject of decluttering.  One idea is that you have to clear out old stuff to let the new in.  I wonder if I had to let go of that piece, which had every technique I knew at the time in it, and completely wiped out my bead collection, in order to produce something new.

Anyway, I spent a couple of hours yesterday working with scraps of cloth to put together the foundation for two panels.  Again this is mainly fabric which would be in landfill if it hadn’t ended up on one of these pieces, although the Regency prints are commercially produced.

I wanted a record of how they looked before I started really working on them.  The pinkier one has some embroidery already, but the bluer one is at the very beginning.  The minute the embellishment starts to go on they really change.  All of my embellished quilts are like Vegas showgirls – nothing much until they put on the bling and step out into the lights.

I will post again when I have made some progress on them, and it’s good to have some hand-stitching to do again in these long, dark winter nights.

 

 

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Latest Laura Ashley panel

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I have started doing some work with Laura Ashley fabric again.  This time there is no rush.  It’s not for an exhibition or a conference paper, so I can take as long as I like.

It started with one of the fents – or waste trimmings from the manufacturing process, and then I added some extra elements which I bought from one of the traders at the exhibition in Malvern that I went to a couple of weeks ago.  Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the trader.  Much as I would love to say that I dyed the lace myself, I bought it, and it went instantly and magically with the Laura Ashley floral – which is the dark green fabric.

I laid out all the elements, but in the course of sewing everything shifted a bit and I ended up with a different arrangement in the end.  Here are the initial layouts with the Madeira Lana thread that I intended to use to do the stitching:

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This is what it looked like at the end:

 

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I bought the buttons in the summer in a great shop in Utrecht (which is every bit as nice as Amsterdam but without the museums – and the crowds and the frantic-ness).  They are big, but I thought they worked.

The piece really came together, though, when I realised that it was basically a variation on a Victorian crazy quilt.  So I did a lot of embroidery on it, including herringbone stitch, which I consider to be one of the most relaxing things in the world to do:

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While I was poking around the internet looking at pictures of crazy quilts and fancy embroidery stitches, I found some sage advice about not bothering whether the embroidery is absolutely perfect because it reflects your energy at the point at which you were doing it.  I rather like this.  My slightly wonky herringbone is a bit like my signature and the opposite of mass made.  There isn’t any machine stitching on this one, it is all done by hand.  And, as with a lot of my work, it seemed to come to life when I started to stitch on some beads:

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The big pearl beads are stuck on as they must have come from a necklace which was taken to pieces at some point.  This makes the piece a bit fragile, but I think the sparkle justifies it.

The netting, by the way, always suggests textile conservation to me, as professional restorers often use it patch up very fragile pieces of cloth, so this fits into my theme of conservation and preserving the past.

I really enjoyed making this piece and it has spurred me on to make some more panels and to produce a large piece about the importance of nostalgia in the brand.

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Modern medals

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A couple of years ago my mother gave me a book she had bought because it was so beautifully produced, but which turned out to be totally useless.  It’s called ‘French General Treasured Notions: Inspirations and Craft Projects Using Vintage Beads, Buttons, Ribbons and Trim from Tinsel Trading Company.’  Snappy, non?  Its author is Kaari Meng and it was published in 2010 by Chronicle Books in San Francisco.

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Mum bought it, I think, because the photos are absolutely sumptuous and enticing:

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The above photos are mood boards or inspiration boards for Meng’s projects and I absolutely love them.  The problem is that the projects all require antique haberdashery: the buttons, beads, ribbons and trims of the title.  Plus, they are not particularly desirable objects when you finish.

But for some reason I got the book off the shelf last weekend, and found the little medals.  I thought that they would be the ideal thing to give to people who had helped me on the recent Thinking Futures day.  So on Sunday afternoon I made some of my own but with a much more contemporary twist.

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I was really interested to see just how much better they looked mounted on the cards.  They could be framed, and they have brooch pins on the backs so they can be worn.  This final one was made for a really good friend of mine who recently got his PhD after 22 years.  I thought he deserved a medal:

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So far the recipients have loved them, and they are a good thing to have in the repertoire for gifts for people that you want to give special thanks to.  I have just ordered a bunch of 1950s ombre ribbon from Etsy, because I am hoping to have occasion to give out a whole bunch of medals in the future.

 

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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….