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Making miniatures with Megan

Last weekend I went to a wonderful workshop with Megan Ivy Griffiths.  Megan is an illustrator who discovered embroidery and decided it was the medium she wanted to work in.  Perhaps this is the reason that her work is so small.  She is used to working in a scale which fits books.  The result of this is that her work is really charming.

The photos in this post are not great, because of the conditions in which they were taken, but I hope they are good enough for you to see just how delightful Megan’s little doll creatures are:

Her work is exquisite and uses a limited colour palette and fairly small range of stitches on a very basic calico.  She uses ordinary embroidery floss.  I loved the folkloric feel of it.

We had a choice of what to work on, and had to produce stitch samples as practice before we started:

We all voted to work on the design that Megan had prepared for us:

The above is Megan’s original.  I really enjoyed working on mine and was foolishly thrilled at being able to do the leaf stitch in the middle.

I had forgotten how much I like embroidering in a hoop and how much it adds to the finished result.

I was also interested to see that she is moving onto painting blocks of the figures:

I think this adds another element to her work without making it heavier which is important for small pieces like this.  You could do it with fabric bonded onto the calico, but that would make it more difficult to sew through.

I was also interested that everyone really wanted a small work to take home.  I fell in love with a giraffe and lots of people were asking for a lion workshop:

This led me to wonder, not for the first time, about the appeal of miniature things, and in particular, things that can fit into the palm of your hand.  I wonder if it makes us feel more powerful like Gulliver in Gulliver’s Travels.  Or if it evokes something magical like Alice in Alice in Wonderland.  Or if it stimulates some instinct in us to look after tiny, vulnerable things like babies.  I am not sure, but there was definitely something enchanting about these pieces, and I was delighted to have my own.

I think I might have overstuffed mine, which is worth remembering for next time.  I intend to mount it as Megan does her’s in a box frame and put it on the wall.

Megan’s work is wonderful and she sells it on Etsy.  I think it sells out almost instantly, so you would have to be very quick.  She is also really lovely and a very good, well-prepared and generous teacher.  Well worth going to her workshop if you see one advertised.  She also looks a bit like a young Jane Birkin/Charlotte Gainsbourg which added an extra charm to the whole thing.  Highly recommended.

 

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New Year’s Doll 2019

 

Bethan Bear at the only service station she will deign to visit: Gloucester Gateway

Every year I make a doll on New Year’s Day.  I have a few rules.  It must be made from scratch and it must be completed in a single day.  It also has to say something about the year that I have had or the year I want.  This year I broke the rules a bit, because they are my rules for me and I can’t see much point in giving myself a hard time in our current climate.  The doll was finished in one day, but the clothes took me a lot longer.

This year I have been making bears for sale in my Etsy shop so I decided to make one for myself.  I also wanted to make a doll based on a photograph I saw in House and Garden of Bethan Laura Wood who is a textile designer.  She is a walking work of art and I particularly love the way she does her make-up with two spots of rouge and then two extra dots on top:

This was my starting point.  I made the bear out of wool felt with boiled wool features.  Once I put the eyeliner on like Ms Wood, though, the bear suddenly looked like a lioness or a puma, which was a bit of a surprise.

I really enjoyed doing the stem stitch round her eyes, which was done with three strands of embroidery thread.  I made her with long legs in order to make it possible to dress her.  The little squat bears are lovely but their bandy legs are hard to get into trousers.

I took the decision to stitch the clothes by hand which was a debatable choice, but does give them an artisan feel.  I started with trousers and a tunic:

The fabrics are by Amy Butler because I love her joyful use of colour.  The little cotton scarf, however, is a piece of IKEA furnishing fabric which I had dyed for another project.  Then I made the duster coat to go over the top, and started on the accessories.  I made her a shawl from mustard yellow yarn which is pure acrylic but produced a lovely drapey texture.  The colour is also apparently one of the hot looks for 2019.  I appliquéd a felt artichoke on it.  I don’t think it particularly looks like an artichoke but I do like it as an appliqué piece:

For her hat, I used the rather ropey knitting I did on four needles.  It was my first ever piece of tubular knitting.  I crocheted an edging to try and make it a bit more appealing as a wrist warmer or something.  It remained stunningly unattractive, but came into its own as a hat from Bethan.  I added two tassels and appliquéd a rose in a finer wool and acrylic mix felt:

I made her some jewellery and finally, I made sure to add some pompoms on her shoes to echo the fantastic ones on Bethan Laura Wood’s pumps.

I absolutely love her and she is definitely not for sale.

 

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What can we learn from Tyger?

I have been blogging for a while now and so I don’t quite remember if I have blogged before about taking joy in our work.  Joy in work has been a big thing for me for years.  I have long been interested in William Morris.  I am fascinated by his contradictions.  He was a life-long socialist dedicated to the production of exquisite craft which he believed would lead to the improvement of the masses.  Beauty will save the world by making people more civilised and so on.  But the craft he produced was so exquisite and so labour-intensive that the working classes could not possibly afford it.  I do admire him, though, for his insight at the height of industrialisation that the world of work is a much better place if people experience joy in what they are doing.  We need to find meaning in what we do, and if we enjoy the physicality of doing it, so much the better.  This is a real challenge today when so much work is virtual and an endless stream, so there is little prospect of a tangible end product.

This is a long preamble to the point I want to make about end products.  In my culture with my upbringing celebrating the work of my own hands is really frowned up.  It is labelled showing off, showing pride, being big-headed and full of oneself, and yet, to have finished something that pleases you is a brilliant sensation.  We do not allow ourselves that phase in the work process where we sit back and admire what we have done.  I have taught creativity for years and I don’t recall coming across a single creativity process in which the final phase wasn’t along the lines of going back and seeing what you could have done better.  Constantly finding fault in your work, in effect.

I think we need to allow ourselves time and opportunity to say, and please pardon the coarseness of this: I MADE THIS AND I BLOODY LOVE IT.  It’s brilliant.  Look at the skill that went into it.  Look how it adds to the joy of nations.  Look how it makes us see the world slightly differently.  Look how it fills me up with delight to think I knew how to do this and now I have done it.  Look at this thing I made which came as a surprise to me as it resolved itself, but now I am overjoyed to have it in my hand.

I mention all this because I recently experienced it myself when I made Tyger here.  I have been making bears recently as you will see from other posts, and they have been from fabric I used to make some party decorations and wanted to recycle.  When I came to a batch of orange fabric I knew I wanted to make a tiger – so this is Tyger, the bear who wanted to be a tiger.

I start the pieces by making a piece of cloth, boro style, from which I then cut the shapes for the bear.

I have been collecting fabric to make a tiger rug quilt for a while now.  So off I went and it soon became clear that this one was not destined for my etsy shop.  There is just too much work in it.  All the stripes are appliquéd on and then strengthened with hand stitching.

 

You can see from the photo below how much work there is in this by how much the worked side has shrunk:

Charging for time is impossible.  And so I realised that I was going to be keeping Tyger.  This is a bit liberating because it meant that I could do what I wanted.  I experimented with the stitching on his tummy:

This is a lovely white wool felt, because why spoil something you love with the tacky nylon stuff?  It was sheer delight to work with, and the experiment was in stitching it with a pale yellow-y cream thread rather than white.  I think it worked really well.  It gave texture which was tactile and visual.

The final element was the face.  I had some reference material, but one big inspiration is the fabulous markings around my dog’s eyes.  We joke at home about how early she must get up to get her eye makeup on:

We are looking at the foxy one at the front.  I was probably also channelling Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra a bit.

This is Tyger:

These Trimmit cat’s eyes are perfect.  Now I know that tigers are big cats and bears are more or less big dogs and so Tyger wouldn’t have eyes like this, but if we can believe a bear would dress up as a tiger we can believe he would buy some special effect contact lenses.

Once the eyes were in he was irresistible to me;

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His eyes are really widely spaced and big rather than small and placed low down so that he is cute like Belle:

And this makes him slightly more menacing.  I also think he has an illustrative quality, and I can see him starring in a children’s book.

I think he is gorgeous.  He is solidly stuffed so he feels good as well as looks good.  I am in love with him, and am going to find him a great spot in the studio so he can be inspirational in the coming year.

Endnote; the photos in this post are not brilliant.  Hold tight.  I am hoping that Santa will bring a technology update.

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Yet more recycled fabric

This is one of those pieces that I am making but have no idea why.  I am just really enjoying stitching together these tiny scraps leftover from the leftovers of leftovers.  I think after this I might finally have to throw the scraps away.  I think it has the spirit of boro: never wasting anything, and if there is a gap finding a piece of fabric to cover it and then stitching it down.

It is put together on curtain lining scraps with embroidery floss which is turning out to be my current favourite thread:

 

I don’t really know what to do with it.  I might cut it up and make it into another dog or a bird:

It will be quite big when it’s finished.

I think it’s a form of crazy patchwork although the wadding is already on the fabric which has been machine quilted.  It’s quite hard on the wrists, though.

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Boro blocks

Making stuff is great, and making samples just try out a technique is also satisfying, but there is often the question of what to do with them afterwards.  I was walking past a house in my neighbourhood which had a pile of oddments of bits of pine from some home improvement job.  They were left outside the house, and it is a custom in the area where I live that we leave stuff out that we are happy to give away.  Fortunately, I had a backpack and so I took them away because it struck me that they were just about the right size for my boro samples.

It was really strange quite how well they fitted together.  The boro is just the tiniest bit bigger in most cases.  The one with turquoise beads was cut to length but otherwise they just paired up.

I sanded the wood a bit and then was going to paint them with trendy Farrow and Ball colours, but I had a can of off-white chalk spray paint which I had bought to do up another street find, and I used that.  This really speeded up the process, and, because I gave them a light spray the blocks looked a bit like they have been limed.  Once they were dry I stuck the textile to the wood with a generous dollop of PVA glue.

This one is made with an off-cut from a  red and white quilt I trimmed with some hand-embroidered laisy daisy vine wandering between the two boro patches.

This is made from scraps of sari fabric, worked with perle cotton.

This is a combination I really like of blue and orange.  The orange beads are from a broken necklace from a charity shop.  The orange thread is perle crochet cotton which I dyed for my boro workshop.

I am not quite sure about this one as it is a little pouch.  I suppose it could be a money box

This is probably my favourite.  Lots of Tula Pink fabric and some turquoise beads.  I like the colour combination.

Grouped together I think they look particularly nice.  After the workshop, I will be putting them into my Etsy shop.

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Patchwork and quilting for the fashion forward, Part I

This post is going to be a bit tough to illustrate because it’s about future trends rather than stuff I have done in the past.  It’s a copyright nightmare, and I might be fighting court cases next time you hear from me.  So with that caveat…

This is one of those things that I do so that you don’t have to.  I have had a look at Elle Decoration’s Spring/Summer Trends for 2018 and made a note of how these might translate into textiles with a little bit of a contemporary edge.  So here goes.

The new neutrals

According to Elle D, the new neutrals are very gentle chalky shades of pale rose pink, minty green, amethyst, grey and blue.  They are pretty much ice-cream colours, really.  This is not my palette at all, but it is right in there with a lot of patchwork fabric designers.  These sorts of shades would fit the bill:

  

There isn’t that much trouble using these in patchwork and quilting as they adapt easily to traditional piecing and appliqué.

Printed velvet

This is one I can get behind.  It seems to be in direct contradiction to the previous trend and to be a continuation of last year’s luxe trend.  I love velvet and I really love the new printed velvets with their wonderful baroque patterns or gorgeous florals.  They are a bit eye-wateringly expense, though, and I think the best hope is to find them at a remaindered, end of roll-type fabric shop.  They are tricky to work with in patchwork and appliqué, but they could work well in a panel in a medallion or modern strippy quilt.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the example in Elle D is £135 per metre, so it would have to be a feature fabric and not a sumptuous backing for the majority of us.

Hanging rugs on the wall

This one is far more doable as lots of us already live with our textiles on the wall, but it might be worth thinking about the sorts of rugs under consideration here.  They tend to be fairly muted colours and geometrical shapes.  Or, they almost relish being textiles and attempt to have that weathered and antique-d look which is so popular in a lot of contemporary textile work.  If that is what you like making, maybe you could think about doing it on a much bigger scale

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This is a piece of my work, which is probably 12″x10″ which could scale up.

3D wallpaper

This is a bit of an oddity because it looks like an updated anaglypta wallpaper to me, but I suspect it looks a lot more impressive on the wall than in a photo.  I rather hope so, as it retails for £372 per square metre.  It relies on texture for its effect, though, and the fall of light and shade over the surface.  I think it could provide some inspiration for contemporary whole cloth quilters:

I can also see that it could be an inspiration for quilting stitches, or using candlewicking, or sewing white beads on white cloth and so on.

Kintsuge

This is the latest Japanese influence after wabi sabi and boro.  This is the technique where a piece of smashed porcelain is put back together with gold, thus emphasising and not hiding the damage.

There are lots of kits available on the web if you want to try it on porcelain rather than fabric.  I can see that it could make some nice couched work, although trying to get it to fit gaps in fabric which moves constantly in my experience would be rather difficult.  I can also see how you could use it in crazy quilting with a gold braid round some or all of the pieces.  It might be possible to use it in stained glass appliqué, although I am not sure that that would have enough irregular organic shapes to make it work well.  Apparently it became so popular in Japan that people started smashing pottery just so they could repair it, so I suppose you could slash up a block and put it back together with gold fabric.

Verre églomisé

This is a thin layer of gold on the back of a piece of glass so it sparkles through whatever colour or design in on the front.

The above examples are from Cuppeboard and look really lovely.  This is a an old technique rediscovered.  I am sure that I have seen a lot of it in the Stately Homes of England and passed by without remarking that it was verre égolmisé that I was looking at.  There is mileage here to think about putting a sheer fabric over a gold backing and then doing some embroidery or burning or cutting away, or just leaving the piece intact with a hint of the gilt sparkling through.  It is also an excuse, of course, to get the gold paint out, as not all of it is subtle.  So, it gives an opportunity for foiling, which always looks great with machine stitching on top, or printing or stamping and using the ultra thick stamping powder with a heat gun.  And it’s another opportunity to channel the quilter’s standby, Gustav Klimt.  Again, it might be nice in the occasional block rather than all over, but it makes all those metallic prints in the stash bang up to date again.

This is a piece of my appliqué work with the beak picked out in gold.

 

Plenty more to come in part two, but as the research shows people don’t read long posts, I will take a break here.

 

 

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Yellow Ribbons I

This is the first of  pair of small quilts I have made for a talk I am preparing about frugal quilts.  It uses a bag of very narrow scraps that I bought for about a pound at The Festival of Quilts from – I think – the Cotton Patch stall.  They are clearly the trimmings for kits they put together or from fat quarters as they are very narrow and cover a full range of Kaffe Fassett prints.  This is why I couldn’t resist them, even though they are a bonkers buy.  The widest strip is probably about 3/4 inch or 1 cm but a tiny strip of loveliness.  The bag is stuffed with strips.  I saw it while I was paying for something else and it just winked at me.  And this was a chance to have a whole range of Kaffe Fassett prints at one time.  I particularly love the Philip Jacobs prints, and use them a lot, and here was a chance to mix them up with the Kaffe Fassett collective designers.

I have made two quilts: one is entirely hand-stitched (above) and the other is machine-stitched.  I started off hand-stitching the tiny strips together on a piece of cotton domette interlining, which is what I had to hand.  I stitched them with Madeira lana thread, firstly because I like it and had a wide variety as a Christmas present, and secondly because it makes a good definite stitch.

I did a lot of straightforward quilting stitching but also added in some embroidery stitches for variety:

This approach was based a bit on Japanese boro textiles which I will describe in a future post.  Briefly it is a textile technique in which pieces of indigo cloth are used to patch worn clothing.  They are attached with lots of close running stitch.  You can see my version of this in the above illustration.  This is great stitching to do while watching the television or listening to the radio.  The problem is what to do with it then.  I remembered that ages ago I bought some Kaffe Fassett panels which I never used, and, amazingly, I managed to find them:

I finished the top with some Kaffe Fassett ribbon I had bought at the NEC with the scrap strips.

These ribbons are really gorgeous, but very expensive and so I only have half a metre at the most of any of them, which isn’t enough to do much with.  It was enough to stretch across this little quilt.  This one with geranium/pelargonium leaves picks up the Philip Jackson print below it.  I have used these strips a lot because they feel like such a small investment.  I think that can be important.  The ribbons are an investment and need to handled with care and great respect.  The cheap slicings off a bolt are much more expendable and so it is liberating to work with them.

As the grand finale to part one, of a two-part series, this is my beloved dog, Hedy, who is no respecter of textiles:

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Pheasant/Phoenix

Pheasnt phoenix

I am hardly ever proud of what I have done.  I follow a curve of getting very excited about something and then thinking it’s a pile of rubbish.  I am with all those artists who say that there is massive frustration in what is in your imagination or mind’s eye and what you are actually able to achieve.  But, for once, I am absolutely delighted with this piece, an embroidered fabric collage of some sort of bird.

I started this piece on a lovely weekend at the wonderful Shore Cottage Studios on the Wirral.  I have written a lot about this magical place on my blog before.  This time I went with my Grate Frend, Mike, who is a brilliant maker of fabric collage, and who I thought would like the studio and Sue, who was our tutor, and fabric dyeing (all of which he did).  We went for a walk on the beach and gathered some inspirational stuff: stones, feathers, crab shell, seaweed and so on.  Then we did some drawing and in the afternoon some microwave and rust dyeing.  The following day we started to make our pieces.

I found all this so exciting that I couldn’t sleep on the first night, so I did some sketchbook work and got prepared for the following day.  This is my sketch of what I intended to make:

Wreath sketch

It’s a pretty wreath with all those elements we found on the beach.  I went on to work out all the stitches I would use, and was ready to go.

In my hotel room, however, was a copy of House and Garden, which I very seldom read as the houses really are grand, and my house is not.  But it had a picture from an exhibition at Waddeston Manor:

Pheasant original photo

I thought he was rather magnificent, although rather more striking than pheasants I have encountered.  Anyway, I ummed and ahhed, but finally decided to make a pheasant rather than a wreath.  I used the fabric that I had dyed the previous day and supplemented it with a bit from Sue’s stash, and in the bottom right hand corner a pale turquoise piece that Mike had dyed.  I very carefully hand-appliquéd a rosy red piece for the body using the needle-turning technique.  Bit of a daft mistake.  No-one can now see my exquisite (!!!!!) hand appliqué and it meant another layer to stitch through, and it was thick by the end as much of what I used was weighty furnishing fabric.

It is one of my new-found pleasures of retirement that I was able to take it home and work on it the following day.  Here are some details of the feathers:

Wing feather details

I hope you can see from this photo that I over-dyed some printed fabric – you can see the white lines of the botanical design.  I stitched into that with some of the hand-dyed threads we produced.

Feather stitch detail two

This shows the next layer of feathers which were stitched with a variety of threads, some commercial and some from the workshop.  This was the first stitching and really brought the piece to life and convinced me to keep working into it.

Phoenix feather stitch detail

These are the same feathers showing how the embroidery secures them but also allows them a 3D effect.  It also shows some of the fraying I did on the feathers’ edges.  My fingernails did not thank me for it.

Back of head feathers

These are the back of the neck detail feathers.  The stitching here is with a very fine variegated silk thread produced commercially.

Feathers three

This shows the beads I put on his chest.  I bought them for the project and astonished the woman in the bead shop by my speed of choice.  The darker faceted beads really catch the light.  I wanted to use the turquoise ones to try and capture his brilliant flashes of jewel colours in the photograph source material.

The other things that I knew were going to be really important in this piece were the beak and the eye.  I wanted him to look very proud and fierce and defiant.  I left the features until last because I knew that they could easily ruin the whole thing which is a bit silly when you think about it, but I knew if I got it right they would bring him to life.  So, I deliberately exaggerated his beak and make him much more raptor-like:

Pheasant beak detail

I used the Anna Scholz gold fabric I described in my last post, and then I stitched over it with fine cotton perlé to knock the gold back a bit, and also to give it the 3D curve of a beak.  I tried very hard to integrate the gold into the face, as it can jump out, but I think it sits okay here.

Then I went onto the eye and thought about several ways of approaching it, including painting it, but in the end I went with a simple satin stitch in black perlé cotton and a small pearl bead:

Eye detail

I really wanted that evil glint in his eye, and I think it more or less worked.

I am really pleased with him, but as I was stitching it, I thought, it’s not a pheasant at all, it’s a phoenix, and not to come all over poetic and wacky woo woo, I think he is symbolic of my new life after being a university teacher for so long.

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Orange rose egg

This egg panel is very simple.  I wanted to use the orange rose print just because I think it is so pretty.  I tacked the fabric over a stiff card egg template, stitched almost all the way round it and then pulled the card through the gap.  I find this is a good way to handle curves.  Then, to give it some interest, I used variegated thread to go round it in beaded fly stitch:

Orange rose detail

I used very cheap glass beads from Tiger.  Sometimes having cheap elements is good because it is easier to be generous with them.  The fabric came from a cheap bargain bin at a quilt show.  I suppose that lilac and tangerine isn’t everyone’s choice, but I really liked the exuberant full-blown roses which lent themselves to fancy-cutting here.

I don’t have much else to say about this one.  It was quick and easy and has a bit of a sparkle but not enough to look flashy.