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Baby shoes

Now that I have retired from the university, like lots of the retired, I find myself in straitened circumstances.  One of the things that I do to support myself is to work as a Humanist celebrant.  I create Wedding and Naming ceremonies.

Humanists do not believe in supernatural forces, including God, fate, destiny, and so on.  This means that we all have to think about living a good life for its own sake and not because we can expect some ultimate judgement in an afterlife.  We are highly discouraged from describing Humanism in these negative terms, according to what we don’t believe in, but I think it is by far and away the most interesting thing about it.  When I write what we are for you can see that it is not that different from the Christianity that I was brought up with: kindness, tolerance, openness, inclusivity and a desire for human flourishing.  If you want to know more about this, you can have a look at www.humanism.org.uk where luminaries such as Stephen Fry, Alice Roberts and Sandi Toksvig explain the principles extremely well.

All that out of the way, I can turn to the  point of this post, which is that in order to do anything at all these days, it seems that you have to have a web presence.  So, I put up quite a bit on instragram (@AnnRippin if you want to have a look).  Finding things to photograph and put up about Naming ceremonies is quite difficult, especially if you don’t want to put the child’s photo on the web.  So, I have been thinking about what I can include instead.

I have decided to make a series of baby shoes and put a poem that people planning a naming might like to consider.  The shoes are designed as decorative items, although theoretically they could be worn.  Maybe only for photographs, though, as they are very likely to fall off.

This pair is my prototype.  I made up a piece of patched together cotton fabric and quilted it roughly onto some purple felt.  Then I cut out the shapes from the ‘yardage’.  I stitched them together very roughly with variegated thread.

I really enjoy making them.  The pattern is by Simplicity and I got it in a pattern sale for a fiver.  I will blog more about that later.  Suffice to say they went together really easily and with only the tiniest bit of easing around the heel.

This pair also has pieced soles which I like.

The fabric for this pair comes from Aldi and/or Lidl.  They sell packs of fat quarters really cheaply and it looks a bit poor quality until you wash it, when, once the fierce dressing is out of it, it becomes delightfully soft.  Their cotton is from Pakistan, which is a change from the gorgeous US cottons we often use.   A lot of the designs, as you will see in later posts look a bit like vintage Laura Ashley which I also like.

Lots more to post on this project later.

 

 

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Improvised doll à la Ann Wood

Some of you may know the work of the mighty Ann Wood who makes lovely fabric dolls and other creatures as well as a range of galleons and little boats and so on.  She has a variety of free patterns on her website and an Etsy shop which is worth a look.   She has a whole range of tiny dolls with clothes and accessories.

One of her blog posts which caught my eye was about improvised dolls.  She describes her process of just starting off making a doll and not knowing where you will end up.  So you use what you have around you and just make a doll, trusting that the process will come up with something worthwhile.  I thought that this would be a really good holiday project while we were in a cottage in Pembrokeshire, particularly as it has been known to rain in this part of the world and you do need something to do when it pours.

I started to make my doll and I only had fabric and no stuffing with me, so I knew that it was going to have to be a rolled rather than sewn and stuffed doll.  So I made some fabric rolls from a beautiful soft cotton from the Cloth House in Soho.

These dolls are rough and ready and folky so they are not supposed to look highly polished, hence the wonky seams.  I stitched the legs onto the back of the torso so that the doll could sit on a shelf.  It was all going well until it came to the head:

Trying to fix a little roll to a large roll was tricky.  I could have stitched and then rolled more cloth round for a neck, but in the end, I decided to wrap it in a circle of linen and stitch the circle down:

This took a surprising number of attempts and was really ugly, but linen is linen even if it was a cheap end of roll bargain and I wasn’t going to throw it away.  The only thing then was disguising the very unlovely graft, which I don’t seem to have a photo of.  I was intending to make a nice girl doll, but the neck fiasco meant that a beard was called for:

I suppose I could have made a circus bearded lady, but I rather liked his shaggy look.  I had stitched a long nose, and had used black beads for his eyes from a variety pack from Tiger, and I used the coloured pencils in the photo above for his eyebrows and mouth and cheeks.

I found him really appealing, like a gentle hippy character.  I made him some Dad jeans and then really enjoyed knitting him a little sweater with gorgeous hand-dyed Welsh wool yarn I had bought in a woollen mill in Solva in Pembrokeshire.   The roll neck also helped to camouflage the weird neck situation:

I left the hands and feet free to fray.  I could have tidied them up, but I liked the messiness of them in an improvised piece:

So here he is complete:

The happy end to his story is that he has gone off to a new home in the USA.  He caught someone’s eye and we did a barter, although I would have been happy just for him to go off to someone who wanted him.  He would just have gathered dust here because the important part of the project was the process, which absolutely worked.

 

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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;

I

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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Brave Bear Belle

My bear making exploits continue.  This Belle.  She has a guilty secret which is that her body is not made of old patchwork too tatty to do anything with other to be cut up.  It is actually a printed, commercially produced quilt which I bought for a fiver in a charity shop.  Now, I, in common with most quilters, disapprove of women in sweatshops making cheap quilts for sale in big department stores and the like, so I have qualms here.  But the quilt is fantastic.  It looks old and faded and pre-loved and all that.  Plus it is soft to stitch through.  And there is a lot of it.

Otherwise the bit tummy and muzzle and ears are made with considerably more expensive and ‘luxe’ fabric, a boiled wool from a very classy knitting wool shop.

Belle was one of those projects which just fell together.  I was musing on where the variegated ribbon was in my stash (= oddments shoved in a plastic bag inside another plastic bag) and dreading the excavation to find it when a card of fancy stuff I had bought on a whim in Liberty literally fell on my foot as I moved the first plastic bag.  The button also floated to the top of my button box, along with two black buttons which I used for the eyes having risen to the top of my mother’s.  She is a very sweet bear, and this is her story:

Brave Bear Belle

The other day Belle was sitting quietly in her well-appointed cave when she heard a hiker in the woods crying out,’Help, stop thief’.  She dropped what she was doing (sudoko), and rushed out to help.  She couldn’t see what was happening at first, but it soon became clear that someone had stolen the hiker’s rucksack and made their escape through the forest.  Quick as a flash, Belle climbed the nearest, tallest tree and spotted the robber.  She leapt to the ground, and following secret ursine paths through the trees, she caught up with the robber and came to a halt right in front of him.  ‘Put that down,’ she roared, ‘and put it down now’.  The terrified robber dropped the bag and the park ranger soon arrived to congratulate Belle and apprehend the villain.  Belle received the Ursine Valour Medal, first class, which she proudly wears here.  She keeps it in a box on a very high shelf well above the reach of burglars in her bijoux dwelling.

She’s about to go into my Etsy shop which you can find under PomegranateByAnn.

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Inspired by boro

This is not the best picture in the world, but it gives an idea of my latest boro-inspired experiment. I used a convenient pomeranian dog to prop it up against for the photograph and I don’t think it really worked.

This piece, which is about the size of an A4 piece of paper, is made from strips of silk, mainly slubbed dupion, which I tore ages ago to make a scarf.  I had made about a foot of the scarf before I realised it looks fantastic in the book but would look ridiculous on me.  So, I was left with a bag of bits, and, as regular readers will know, I can’t bear to throw anything away.  I found them recently when looking for something else of course.   I rather like them as a variation on the boro idea of making up a cloth using tiny scraps, and I particularly like the rich colours of the shot dupion:

The strips were hand sewn with perlé cotton onto a piece of linen from a charity shop skirt, and the whole thing was a delight to sew.

I am doing quit a bit of hand sewing at the moment as it is too hot for machining in my studio and the fan blows all my stuff about.  Plus, I am still learning how to use my behemoth of a new machine.  Watch this space, though, for when it cools down and I start to become more machine confident.

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Little blue baskets quilt

I am giving a talk next week about frugal quilts and am making samples to demonstrate my points.  This little quilt, which is about 20×20 inches is made from really small offcuts of a traditional hexagon patchwork, which is in turn made from the leftovers of a bed-sized quilt which will eventually feature on this blog.  These are the scraps from the scraps.

I decided to use them because I saw a photo in my mother’s copy of Quiltmania.

I don’t usually do straight copies of things, but these little pieces by a Japanese quilter, whose name, shamefully, I forgot to write down, really appealed to me.  I had a happy half hour doing sketches and making rough templates:

I am not sure if the photos are of a high enough resolution, but you might be able to see the messiness and roughness of these pages.  I love neat, photo-ready sketchbooks, but mine are very much design notes.  They are not meant to be a work of art.  I am often working things out on paper.  And I often make mistakes, particularly with proportion.

The next stage was to quilt the square(ish) backgrounds.  I pieced the main bits of the baskets and applied them using needle-turned appliqué.  I find hand appliqué really relaxing and very good to do in front of the television.

The background is a bit of a very old, very laundered, very well-loved linen shirt kindly donated by the medieval historian.  I quilted it with Madeira lana thread because it makes a good, slightly distressed mark and some of the variegated colours are lovely and subtle.  I stitched it together with a perle cotton:

One of the design techniques featured in this piece is stitching in different scales.  There is big stitch quilting on the background with the wooly thread, and small over-stitching with the perle, and as invisible as possible stitching with ordinary dark grey sewing thread on the appliqué.  There is also a bit of decorative stitching with the perle:

I like the wonkiness of this quilt, and the unusual shape of the baskets.  They look a bit like the sort of bag you can construct by folding cloth to make a shopper.  I can never work out how to use them so that the contents don’t spill out on the floor, so I don’t make them, but I do admire the look.

I made this quilt for fun and for the soothing quality of the hand appliqué and it was quick and delightful to make.  All the fabric, except one ancient Jinny Beyer print comes from old shirts, and the wadding and backing come from the trimmings of a much larger piece, so it cost nothing to make.  File under craft as therapy.

 

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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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Sources of Inspiration

I have been teaching various creativity techniques for years, and am interested in where we get our ideas from.  It seems to be a difficult process to map.  For me it really does feel like a spark in the brain: I could do that.  Then it’s followed by: well, what if we did it this way?

One thing that lots of us do to find that initial inspiration is to look through magazines.  In my case, I like some of the quilting magazines, I love Uppercase and Selvedge.  I am getting to the point, though, where, lovely as they are, magazines about stitching fabric together in geometrical designs are just getting flicked through rather than poured over.  I have started to like the very glossy house magazines such as World of Interiors and House and Garden.  In my last post about my pheasant/phoenix piece I described working from this photo in House and Garden:

Pheasant2

An advertisement for the coming month’s issue led me to buy it as it promised a feature around a man holding a massive stuffed fish.  Imagine my delight when it had a whole run of beautiful photographs of the new season’s fabrics made up into outfits for sailors and several fabric sea creatures including this chap with some lovely lobsters:

Fabric lobsters

All the photos are glorious, and here are a couple of fish:

Two fabric fish

I really liked the feature because the other pieces are so brilliantly done using the fabric, but also the tongue-in-cheek of the photographs.  The Penzance Sailing Club, it seems, were persuaded to wear ludicrous outfits and to play it absolutely straight for the camera.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a credit for whomever made the glorious fabric artefacts.

In World of Interiors, there was a feature using the new fabric ranges photographed in Portugal.  This one also had some wonderful sea creatures including this moody and misty shot of a giant fish:

Big fabric fish

Again, sadly, no credit is given to the maker.

The upshot of this is that I think I will be changing my reading habits a bit, and sinking more often into the fantasy world of the glossies.

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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.