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Snowdrop collar

This is my new dog model, Chomsky, name chosen by the Medieval Historian, so we should be grateful that it’s not Egburt or Wizzo, who really did exist.  I took Chomsky out on a frankly less than tremendous photo shoot this week.  I thought we might get a nice shot in the cafe in the sunshine but in the event the sunshine was too bright, which is at the very least surprising, and shots of him looking moodily out through the cafe window came to nought.

All that aside, he really is a dog model, not a stuffed toy, because he has a rigid steel frame making him good at holding a pose.  The point of all this is that I am trying to widen my already slightly floppy and turned up at the corners portfolio career.  I am trying to make inroads in the whole celebration business so that I can integrate my creative work with my celebrant work, which is also creative, but in a different way.  I have made collars for a long time as I like striking jewellery, and, not being a small woman, I look better in statement pieces.  I like delicate jewellery but, on me, it can look a bit like a pimple on a mountainside as my mother used to say.  I was making a marigold collar – of which more in a subsequent post – when I suddenly thought that they would look good on dogs on special occasions.  For example this is my mutt in hers:

It struck me that people spend thousands on their wedding dresses and suits and general outfitting but then put a nasty polyester bandana or worse, tuxedo front on their dog who is supposed to be a cherished member of the family or s/he wouldn’t be at the wedding in the first place.  Dogsat weddings are a big thing, by the way, as ring bearers or just as attendants.  I saw two of these ‘Chomskies’ working it with the Dogs Trust people on a stall in a shopping mall in Bristol in exactly these rather down market artificial fibre items.

My collars were originally designed for humans rather than dogs , and people can wear them as statement pieces, or the collars can be box-framed.  It did strike me, however, that people might not want to wear something that had been round my dog’s neck, glamorous and alluring as Affie indeed is.  Thus the arrival of Chomsky.  Should I ever get my Etsy shop back into working order they will be on sale there.  I am calling them Occasion Wear for Dogs.

Readers of this blog, however, I am sure will be less interested in the commercial side of this and more in the collar itself.

I began it as part of a series of flowers of the month pieces for my celebrant blog.  I also have collars for October and November.  December got missed out because of Christmas, I suspect, and my push to make lovely but completely unwanted handmade gifts.  The flower of the month from the almanack that I am using is the snowdrop:

I am sure you know what a snowdrop looks like, but there is always room for a photo of a pretty flower.  I was a bit stuck on how to ‘do’ a snowdrop, but I suddenly remembered a Liberty print cotton I bought from a remnant bin.  I made the pattern, which is less impressive than it might sound as it is basically a crescent moon shape, and I cut the base layer from a cotton and linen table runner from IKEA.  Then I stitched on the printed panel with a bright green thread to echo the lovely colour of the snow drop stem and foliage:

After stitching on the panel I made a sandwich of the top, a layer of white felt for strength and support and then a backing of the same linen.  Then I started to fill in round panel with big porcelain beads and colonial knots in perle cotton.  I stitched some much smaller beads on the print, following the dots in the printed design, to look like snow.  The idea is that the beads and embroidery look like snow angels:

I had two goes at stitching on a strap because the first one didn’t hang right and the last thing you want to be doing on any sort of big day is fiddling with straps on accessories:

I allowed plenty of length so that it would fit most dogs.

The panel falls perfectly under Chomsky’s chin.  The condiments are to give you an idea of scale, but I am not sure that they are quite what we want for high class sales.

This is a close-up of the embellishment:

 

These are a couple of pages from my notebook/sketchbook although this collar was largely improvised rather than planned:

I will post about the remaining two collars shortly, and meanwhile will start thinking about February and violets.  I think I might have something in a drawer somewhere…

 

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Ring pillows for the wrinklies

This post is about more work for my other role in life, that of humanist celebrant doing weddings and namings.

I was thinking about older brides in particular after leafing through another wedding magazine.  There really are only fresh-faced, porcelain-skinned young women in them.  You would be excused for thinking that no older women ever get married – or remarried.   I think it’s the equivalent of thinking women over 55 only ever want to dress in navy blue or beige artificial fibre tents.

I was wondering what sort of thing would suit older women.  I wanted to make some hearts that could be easily converted into ring pillows for weddings, and could be keepsakes thereafter.  Thinking about myself and my own tastes, these are hand-embroidered hearts worked on recycled fabrics.  Some are on the reverse of a very nice linen furnishing fabric:

You can see the front on the back, ironically, of this small heart:

The print is of these gorgeous, overblown tulips, but it would have fought against any lettering.  The fabric is leftover from some upmarket curtains.

The other is a printed commercial king-sized quilt which I bought in a charity shop and have been cutting up and using for a couple of years now:

The embroidery is largely stem stitch.  I learned how to do it a couple of years ago when a wonderful teacher explained to me that it is basically back stitch done on the back rather than the front of the fabric.  The scales fell from my eyes and I have been using it ever since after years of frustration not having any success and having to unpick it every time.  You can teach old dogs new tricks.

The little heart with LOVE on it is worked in two rows of chain stitch.  They are all done in variegated embroidery floss which is my current favourite thread.  They are all partly stuffed with the leftover fabric from when I cut them out.  All part of my drive for more sustainability.

You may have noticed that these all have quotations from Beatles songs on them.  These take me right back to being a little girl and being given Beatles singles for Christmas.  I would love to do a Beatles-themed wedding.  A couple coming into the ceremony to ‘Here comes the sun’ would be lovely.  I’m not sure what they would go out to.  The chorus of ‘All you need is love’ maybe.  Might be nice for a sing-song half-way through as well.

Just in case you are thinking of getting married and would like to use one of these as a ring pillow, they will be going in my Etsy shop which you can find by putting PomegranateByAnn in the search box on Etsy.com.  I can convert them to proper ring pillows by embroidering a little loop to thread ribbons through.  I am also happy to stitch any other song lyrics that have special meanings.

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Persie the Klimtian Cat

I am sure that some of you know that I am a humanist celebrant.  I do non-religious namings and weddings.  I like to give the baby a present when I do a naming, and this particular baby was adorable and had an unusual name.  For this reason I decided to make her something with her name on it, and because she loves cats so much, it had to be a cat.  The decoration is inspired by the patterns that Klimt used in so many of his paintings:

The famous Adele Bloch paintings are a treasure trove of decorative ideas.  I used some gold fabric and stitched them on:

I left the back fairly plain:

The face is a combination of the gold and some felt:

 

I embroidered the name in backstitch with perle cotton.

It’s quite easy to make, and I give a sort of cartoon set of instructions below.  It isn’t my idea, but I can’t remember where I got it from.  If I do find the original, I will post it separately.  Essentially, it’s the sleeve of a felted sweater, so you could make two from a jumper.  The head comes from spare fabric.

You need to chop the sleeve off at the length you want the height of the cat to be – so a child’s sweater will probably be the whole sleeve but a man’s is probably 50-75%.  The head could come out of the spare sleeve fabric, I expect.

The woman at the top of the page is my PhD supervisor, by the way.  This is a sort of memorial to her, because her birthday was in November.

 

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Revisiting an old friend – The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals

I was in the Wallace Collection a couple of weeks ago having a look at the delightful Manolo Blahnik exhibition.  The shoes are dotted throughout the exhibition which means there is a kind of treasure hunt to find them.  One of them was placed in front of this famous portrait.  Now, The Laughing Cavalier was ubiquitous when I was growing up.  It turned up on biscuit tins and calendars all the time.  Because it was so familiar, I was a bit sniffy when I saw it up on the wall, but I thought I might as well have a look as it was there in front of me.  I am glad I did, because it really does reward close attention.  Frans Hals could really paint fabric.

A bit of information about the painting first.  Of course, the sitter isn’t laughing and he isn’t a cavalier.  Apparently, the motifs on his sleeve suggest that this might have been a betrothal portrait, and he was probably a merchant of some description.  The Wallace Collection website states:

In this exuberant half-length portrait, a young man poses, arm rakishly akimbo, against a plain grey background. The painting is inscribed with the date (1624) and the sitter’s age (26). The work is unique in Hals’s male portraiture for the rich colour that is largely imparted by the sitter’s flamboyant costume: a doublet embroidered with fanciful motifs in white, gold and red thread, with a gilded rapier pommel visible at the crook of his elbow…

By the early nineteenth century, Hals’s reputation had fallen into relative obscurity. Despite this, the portrait became the object of a furious bidding battle between the 4th Marquess of Hertford and Baron James de Rothschild at a Paris auction in 1865. It was acquired by Lord Hertford for the princely sum of 51.000 francs (about £2,040), an event which proved to be a turning point in the artist’s critical reputation. At the Royal Academy exhibition of 1888, the painting was exhibited with the title ‘The Laughing Cavalier.’

What caught my eye was the fantastic painting of the sleeve, particularly the embroidery, and also the lace.

 

I love those buttons and the lace on his cuffs.  Also, look at the way the ruff is painted:

Look at the gorgeous way he has painted the black silk:

And finally, the lovely frill of lace in the lower left-hand corner of the frame:

I think this is just too gorgeous to walk past.  Here’s the Manolo Blahnik that went with it:

Now, I can see why they paired the picture with Blahnik’s interpretation of the riding boot, but I think it misses the point.  Although materials and craft employed here are exquisite, this portrait is not about restraint.  It is flamboyant and rejoicing in excess.  I think it’s been matched with the title.

Just glorious.  Next time I go to the Wallace, I will go and have another look.

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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.