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Wreath Wraith

 

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I have been very busy recently and have let my blog slip.  I can only apologise.  There are plenty of posts coming up which I hope will go some way to make up for this.

I am starting with the pieces that I entered into the Bristol Quilters Exhibition earlier this month.  The first of these is Wreath Wraith.  I have no idea why I chose the word ‘wraith’, here; it should have been Wreath Wright, as in someone who makes wreaths.  But I think that I might have done so much of this that it made me feel like a wraith or a ghost.  My idea was to show how you could make Baltimore style wreaths part of a contemporary quilt.

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The appliqué here is all by hand, but the construction of the pieced elements is done on my IKEA sewing machine to show that you don’t need a fancy one to piece.  I had to fall back on the Bernina for the machine quilting, though.

I have blogged about making this piece before: (https://annjrippin.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/further-adventures-in-wreath-making/, )and so I thought I would say something about seeing the quilt in the show.

The first thing was my horror in seeing it hanging.  About as straight as a dog’s hind leg, as my mother would say.  The right-hand-side of this ripples gently and is probably about three inches shorter than the left.  Now, I put this down to rushing to finish it, and not hanging it up myself.  What a nightmare.  Note to self, try the measuring and using a set square the way they tell you to in quilting manuals.

The second thing was my ‘delight’ about being hung next to the totally glorious and perfect appliqué piece by the international championship winning quilter, Sandie Lush.

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Just stop for a minute and consider just how perfect this is.  Here is a detail:

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Not only is the appliqué of a standard to make you weep, but the hand quilting is perfection too.  Then look at mine:

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Just above entry level.  But Sandie is a lovely, gracious and kind woman.  She came up to me at the show and said, ‘I love your appliqué.  It’s really vibrant and lovely.  Mine looks dull and lifeless.’  It didn’t, of course, but very kind of her to say so.

Sandie has a great web page detailing her quilts and her activities.  When you see that, you will realise why I was so crimson of mien being placed next to her, and why she is such an inspiration to so many.  Her website is here http://www.sandielush.co.uk/

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Moon quilt

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This is my most recently finished quilt.  It isn’t the greatest photo of it because I thought I could either wait until I could get a great shot or write the post and the latter won.

There are a few things which I think are interesting about this quilt.

  1. Although it is made from new fabric it is a memory quilt.  I bought the charm pack squares when the very lovely Marybeth Stalp was over last year and we were touring quilt shops in the South West for our research project.  So it immediately reminds me of Marybeth and the great time we had together.  Then I stitched a lot of the very simple four patch blocks together in Copenhagen hotel rooms as I was doing my academic work over there.  So it reminds me of that and of what I think of as my Scandi family who live in Copenhagen.
  2. It is what Jane Brocket calls a ‘Collection Quilt’.  This is a modern quilting possibility when you use all the fabrics in one particular manufacturer or designer’s collection.  In this case it is Nocturne by Janet Clare.  I absolutely loved the fabrics in this collection.  I wasn’t that keen on the neutral blenders, but I loved all the ‘feature’ fabrics and the indigo colourway in particular.  All the colourways blended in this collection so that was good.  I think this is an interesting modern development.  Many quilters now have the disposable income to buy a piece of an entire collection, and Moda in particular caters for this with its precut packs.  Jelly rolls seem to encapsulate this small piece of all of them approach to me.  It’s a bit like the tasting menu or the assiette of desserts.  I quite like the bountiful and indulgent feel of it sometimes.
  3. The quilt is hand pieced but has a lot of machine work.  I decided to use a Janet Clare-type technique on a Janet Clare range of fabrics by applying the large pink batik circles.  This is not Janet Clare fabric.  In fact, it was some bargain batik that I picked up at a Quilters Area Day.  The blue-y undertones of the pink seemed to fit with the yellow-y blues of the patchwork fabric.  I used bondaweb and cut the circles with my Sizzix machine (a die cutting machine) and then top stitched them on with Mettler black quilting thread.  Mettler is definitely my favourite thread at the moment because it is really smooth and strong.

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I thought the batik looked like the gas clouds on Jupiter.  You can also see the long-arm quilting pattern done at Midsomer Quilting, which looks like orbits to me particularly on the second grey patch at the bottom left.  This is a good example of the quilting enhancing the design, I think:

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The quilting design is called champagne, which I also like.

I remember once reading the tongue in cheek but nevertheless sage advice somewhere that you should never make art about menstruation.  This quilt does have red moons which is inescapable symbolism.  I like to think of it, however, as a liberatory, Thank God all that’s over quilt, rather than let’s embrace our femininity and squat in a red tent, sort of piece.

Finally, I like the simplicity of this quilt.  It is a medallion quilt, made up entirely of strips and squares, very simple to do on the move by hand.  I have been doing some very traditional quilting recently and have really enjoyed it.  I will be posting some more pictures soon.

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A period Laura Ashley bedroom open for visits

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The Medieval Historian and I brushed the gathering dust off our National Trust cards and went to Newark Park to see a bedroom specially decorated to feature in the Laura Ashley home catalogue:

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I was told about this at a quilting group I recently visited.  The room was featured in the catalogue, and the entry had been photographed and laminated, but sadly no date was included:

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The whole room felt like a trip down the memory lane of Laura Ashley at her height:

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I am not sure if this is original but it looks like some of her high victoriana fabrics:

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This was a rather nice little terrarium-type decoration:

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And this was the landing with a rather nice mirror just outside the room:

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I don’t have anything very profound to say about the visit to the period bedroom, except that it felt very familiar and it was interesting to see the whole soup to nuts decor.  I knew that the family used their own homes as room sets for the catalogues but not that they used other people’s.

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Laura the fox takes a moonlight stroll in her new lacy black stockings

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Last week I went to Bristol Quilters’ workshop with Mandy Pattullo.  I had a great day.  Mandy Pattullo is an artist whose work I have admired since I saw it at the Festival of Quilts a couple of years ago.  Her work is with old and often recycled textiles and embroidery.  She was very generous in allowing us to photograph her work and so here are a few photos to show the sort of work she does:

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She gave us each a piece of a plain old quilt and some templates for flowers and hearts and things, as well as a couple of pieces of very worn old quilts which we used to start the background.  I decided early on that I wanted to make a fox as we are having fun and games with our dogs getting us up at 4.00 am most mornings to root out whatever is in the garden and which I think might be a little vulpine friend.

I was sitting between two great quilters, Alison and Nathalie, and they gave me the fabric for the fox’s body and legs.  I was really pleased to be able to use Nathalie’s Laura Ashley fabric for the fox’s body as this fits in with the project that I have been doing for ages.  Alison gave me the fabric for the legs – which I would make much finer if I did it again.  Foxes have black legs, surprisingly, and this was the best we could do, but they do look like lacy tights, which I rather like.

The method is to block in some thing like the fox body or a vase and then to take a water soluble pen and draw a line and then improvise round it.  I drew my line which I turned into a tree.  It’s done with chain stitch in stranded embroidery cotton.  The whole piece came together at the end when I put those black flowers clipped out of a quilting cotton and then stitched down with detached chain stitch and colonial knots, the latter done in orange to try and tie everything together.

The fox was done in needle-turned applique which I enjoyed doing far more than I expected.  Then I put a mix of slivers of leopard print cotton and straight stitches in a variety of threads, some of which were given to me by my good friend Mary from her mum’s stash:

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I embroidered the eye and nose.  I finished the piece with a backing of terracotta Laura Ashley fabric to echo the fox.

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This is the page from my notebook/sketchbook about the piece:

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I really enjoyed the workshop and meeting Mandy, who was great.  I want to do a bit more in this sort of style but without the old quilt as I don’t have one to cut up.

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Concerning dolls and perfection

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For my birthday, my very generous mother bought me a Mimi Kirchner doll.  I have wanted one of Kirchner’s dolls since I came across her work in a book on doll making and used it to create my Laura Ashley husband dolls.

There happened to be some for sale in Kirchner’s Etsy shop and my mother gave me the money to buy one.  They are expensive, and put customs and various handling fees on top and they become very expensive, but they really are worth it.

I chose one of her tattooed lumberjack dolls.  The minute I saw him with his tattoo of Washington on his chest, I knew that he was the man for me:

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It was the time of Obama’s visit to Britain and Nigel Farrage called him the most anglophobic president ever, which made historians all over the land call out in unison: not as anglophobic as Washington.  This made it possible to choose between the lovely dolls on Kirchner’s Etsy page.  He arrived in a big box and was wrapped up in tissue paper.  It was love at first sight.  I decided to call him Richard after Richard Armitage, a splendid-looking actor with a big beard:

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This is a great picture of him by the photographer Sarah Dunn.   I love the ‘here I am just back from the high seas’ feel of this picture.  Armitage has blue eyes and my Richard has brown eyes but otherwise they are peas from a pod.  I think Mimi loves him too as he appears on her blog with some pieces she took to a show:

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I have, and this is a bit weird, fallen in love with him.  He is so perfect.

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You can see in this photo quite clearly that he has beautifully embroidered fingers.

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In this one you can see the embroidery delineating his ears.

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This one shows the accomplished pattern matching on his flannel shirt.  Everything about him is exquisitely made.  As a doll maker myself, I know that this doll is a piece of perfection and I know how hard that is to achieve.  I love him because he is a piece of hyper-masculine protection (‘Step aside while I lift that tree trunk off your car, little lady’) but also because of his invisible construction and attention to detail.  Consider, for example, the way that his braces have the suggestion of loops in the above photograph.

Moving onto my own efforts, I mentioned in a previous post that I was following an on-line arts class with Carla Sonheim.  Part of the process is to make a series of work to develop a theme.  I was very taken with some pieces of children’s art, but at one point I thought my series would be dolls inspired by the work of Joan Eardley:

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Eardley died very young and so never really reached the attention and appreciation she deserved.  She painted magnificent seascapes, but I love her pictures of Glasgow children living in slums.

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They could be exploitative or sentimentalised, but I don’t think they are either.  I think she paints them with great gentleness, honestly but with love.  I wanted to make some dolls in the same spirit.  This is the doll that I came up with:

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I love her.  She is made from my own pattern because I wanted a pronounced nose and proper feet.  Her jumper is hand-knitted to my own pattern.  I am so happy with this because it is the first pattern that I have ever written and it absolutely fits her.  I wanted it to look a bit small so that it looked like she was growing out of it.  Her skirt is made in panels and quilted:

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Her hair is meant to look unkempt although it is made from quite upmarket double knitting wool.

I was talking about her to someone in the week who asked me what was so wonderful about her.  I thought for a bit and then said, ‘She’s perfect’.  And this is the case.  It might sound conceited, but what I meant was, she achieved exactly what I wanted to achieve.  I have enough technical skill to be able to achieve the effect I want to get.  I can make a pattern, make the neck stand up, construct her hair so that she can have a side parting, give her rosy cheeks, give her dotty eyes, knit her a sweater, design a gored skirt that fits.  This is the 10,000 hours of practice which has been so popular as an idea.  It is a delight to know how to do something like this with my hands.  Perfection here is having the repertoire of skills to express an idea.  I am largely persuaded that we come from a gene pool selected to persist because its possessors know how to make things (shelters, textiles, food and so on).  Part of being human is to make, and making well is a great delight.  This delight comes through Kirchner’s dolls.  She clearly delights in the details like the french knot buttons down Richard’s shirt and keeping those checks running far more smoothly than they would in a real lumberjack’s shirt.  I delight in making a doll which captures something of Eardley’s treatment of the tenement children, something which witnesses with warmth and generosity but does not sanitise or sentimentalise.

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What I learned about identity from Jan Hassard

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The speaker at Bristol Quilters last week was the lovely and very talented Jan Hassard.  She has been a member of Bristol Quilters for years, and so it was nice to see  her body of work as it developed; it was something of a retrospective, as they call it in the fine art world.

Jan’s work couldn’t be more different from mine.  Her work is totally precise, planned, ordered, structured and disciplined.  Mine is slapdash and improvised.  But even so, it is glorious because it has so much beautiful colour and vivacity.

I am not posting many photos, because a. I didn’t take a camera – even my phone, and b. she was talking about the increasing phenomena of work on the net being stolen and copied, or just used without permission.

The riot of colour which was a tonic for the soul aside, I enjoyed Jan’s talk for its insistence on craft, standards, high levels of finish and presentation, many concerns which I would like Craftivists to take into account.  I loved it even more because it seemed to me to be the perfect riposte to the anti-nostalgia rally that I seem to keep running into recently.  It is like there is something deficient in people who want to hold the past with affection.  They should be letting go and moving on.  They should be facing up to the realities of the present and not seeking solace in the imaginary golden past of tea and crumpets and church picnics.  Nostalgia is the new opium of the people, according to this analysis, and women are particularly susceptible.  At the same time we hear lots of stuff about identity (see, for example, Grayson Perry’s wonderful recent series on British television).  Most of the identity theory at the moment is about our fugitive, unstable, protean identities, constructed only in relation to others (I am different as a daughter, wife, friend, university academic, driver, customer, quilter and so on).  Jan’s talk, however, included her experience of being a very small child in the war and being bombed out of her home.  Her parents knew how to count between hearing the bomb and its exploding.  So they managed to get her to safety but the house was destroyed: everything gone in an instant.  Later on, as dispossessed person she got a Canadian Red Cross quilt.  These were utility quilts made by Canadian women to aid British allies who had lost everything.images-5 images-4

Jan talked about sleeping under hers until she was about eleven.  One day her mother just threw the quilts away.  To a collector like Jan in later years, this was devastating, but to her mother it made perfect sense.  She did not want to be reminded of the horrible period in her life when she lost everything.  Jan now acquires these Red Cross quilts.  I don’t think that this is fuzzy nostalgia of the sort that fuels our delight in Downtown Abbey.  I think this is a serious identity project.  Our identities might be shifting and relational and contextual and contingent, but they are built on experience that matters to us.  We cannot just throw off that quilt and become post-modern, or worse yet post-human.  And, once again, cloth plays a major part on our view of ourselves as people in the world.

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Mandy Pattullo at the Festival of Quilts

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I posted earlier in the week about the Festival of Quilts at the NEC.  I had walked all the way round several times, I thought, but almost at the end of my visit I came to a white cube gallery that I had missed, Mandy Patullo.  Before getting onto her work, I thought it would be worth explaining what a white cube gallery is, as one of my blogging friends asked me after the NEC post.  The white cubes are my descriptions of temporary structures, painted white and with decent lighting, which are dedicated to invited artists.  Sometimes it’s a group or it can be a well-known or particularly interesting lesser-known textile artist.  They vary in size, but the standard in them is particularly high, and they are generally invited people.  They look like trendy white cube art galleries which is where I got the term from.  It is very prestigious to be invited to exhibit in them.  I once helped out my friend, Liz Hewitt with hers and it was totally exhausting, but very interesting meeting people and seeing how they behaved.

The white cube that particularly struck me was Mandy Pattullo.  She was not there but I talked to her partner who said that she was overwhelmed by the reaction at FOQ, as her work was not particularly well-received in the North-East of England where she lives and works.  I thought it was absolutely stunning.  She uses old textiles and then embroiders on top of them and the results are stunning.  It is very hard to explain why something appeals to you, why you find it beautiful.  There were lots of gorgeous things in the main competition and in the other white cubes, but what would I have taken home if it hadn’t been almost entirely sold out?  One of Mandy Pattullo’s small pieces.  They are full of life and exuberance and joy.  They seemed to rejoice in their textile-liness to me.  These were textile pieces not trying to be anything else, not trying to ape anything else, just being cloth.  I think there is also something of the love and respect for cloth, no matter how battered and bruised, that comes through the maker’s approach.  I got the sense that she loved the materials and so I loved them too.  Perhaps I shouldn’t try to explain it, but these seemed to me to cloth lovers’ cloths.  So here is a selection of the work.  Again, I am sorry about the reproduction, but phone photographs are so much quicker to load that pictures taken with a camera.

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These are small pieces which show the way that she includes needlepoint and patchwork in her work.  She also makes pieces based on clothing:

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These seem to quote from old Welsh quilts particularly for me; I think it’s the use of washed out red fabric.

There were some larger pieces as well:

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This one shows the broderie perse which is also a feature of Pattullo’s work.  The final piece which I really loved contained a section of what must have been a quilt, so frayed that it looked like a red and white print rather than the wadding showing through:

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I don’t normally much like all this patriotic union jack and keep calm and carry on stuff, but this had a lightness of touch which I liked, and it did remind me of tattered battle colours, which is a subtle reminder of our imperialist past in this country and how it was achieved.

So, a real highlight for me, as was meeting Pattullo’s lovely partner who was very happy for me to take photos.  Her website is www.mandypattullo.co.uk.  So now I just need Bristol Quilters to arrange a workshop with her!

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Kaffe Fassett at the London Fashion and Textiles Museum

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Yesterday I went to the London Fashion and Textile Museum with my Grate Frend, Beatriz.  We went to see the Kaffe Fassett exhibition.  She had never heard of him, which I found a bit strange as all knitters and  patchworkers and needlepointers in the UK will know his innovative and colour-soaked work.  Anyway, it was a lovely show – unfortunately it finishes tomorrow, so you will have to be quick to see it.

I took some pictures, but flash wasn’t permitted (understandably) so my photos are a bit murky.  There was plenty of his work on display including his paintings which I think I have only seen reproduced in his books up to now.

What was interesting to me, however, as a raging egotist, was Beatriz’s comment that his work is like mine.  I think it is probably the other way round.  He has been a huge influence on me, and still is, I think.  Since I came across his first book Glorious Knitting at an impressionable age, I haven’t been able to resist a yellow background:

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His work has always been highly decorative, with detail being one of the main design elements:

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I love these little crocheted and beaded caps he seems to be doing now.

But I think that what I mainly got from him was something about pattern.  I remember going to a lecture by him in Bath years ago and taking away one thing he said which was that if you repeat something, even a mistake, it will look deliberate and like part of a pattern.  This has saved me on a number of occasions:

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Pattern making, particularly with beads, is a huge part of my work.

Finally, he gave me what he gave lots of women in the eighties and nineties, a freedom with colour.  Again, I remember reading in one of his books that one red is difficult to work with, but ten reds are easy and give a vaguely faded feel to a piece.  I have used this a lot in my work.  Firstly lots of red which I love, and secondly lots of variations on a colour in one piece of work:

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I’m not sure if you can still get this pencil print, but it is exactly how I feel about red, pink and orange.  This is why I will never be a really trendy embroiderer.  I cannot do that bleached out, stripped back stuff.  I think colour is life.  I have taken to wearing bright red lipstick in my fifties just for the hell of it and life really changes.  I had a friend who said that if every woman in the country were given an Estee Lauder Parallel Red lipstick we could do without assertiveness courses altogether.

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Confidence with colour marks Kaffe Fassett’s work and I think I owe him a real debt for that.

images-3PS.  Naturally I bought his autobiography in the tiny shop.  I got it home to find it was an autographed copy which was a delight.  On reading it, however, I discover his birth name was Frank.  I seriously don’t think he would have gone so far called Frank Fassett.  Kaffe, by the way, comes from a children’s book about Ancient Egypt that he loved.

 

 

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Walter Benjamin Artists’ Book continued

 

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I am continuing my slow progress on my artists’ book about Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Destructive Character’.  I think that this might eventually be the cover.  This is the bottom half of the panel.  The top is going to be stripped back, bleached, slashed, raw edges and with a modernist stainless steel brooch incorporated somehow.  This is the botton half.  This represents the Victorianism or Bismarckian or Gruenderzeit aesthetic that I think he was rejecting (I am almost certainly misinterpreting it, but the project has changed from understanding the essay to understanding how Benjamin is my muse).  So in this part of the panel I wanted to use a very traditional crazy quilt style which was hugely popular in England for a while and epitomises the leisured class element of Victoriana, super-over embellished pieces of needlework which serve very little purpose except to show off the maker’s ability with the needle:

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Much too delicate and too heavy to sleep under, so they tended to be throws and firescreen panels and so on.

My big problem was that I could not bear to cut up the pieces into the irregular or crazy – like crazed glazes on china – shapes that you need to make this work.  So I have ended up with squares from a pack I bought which I think were samples for fancy waistcoats or ties or similar.  My crazy really should be crazier, but I did enjoy starting to embellish it, and learning some of the combination stitches you need to use to make it look authentic:

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This is a decorated cretan stitch.  The following is a more composite stitch:

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It’s cretan stitch with straight stitch and colonial knots, plus glass beads which look like bunches of grapes to me.  The close up makes me realise how shocking my embroidery is – certainly not making me marriage material in Victorian England.  But I wanted to include some photos of the piece before it get encrusted with stuff, which it will.  It’s a perfect travelling piece and the pieces, which are properly  turned under (unusually for me), have stayed very flat because I used thoroughly contemporary fabric spray glue to keep them down while I sew them.. The result is much flatter and less ‘domed’ than you usually get with an applique piece.  The glue might eventually corrode the silk, but I expect to be dead by then and past caring!

More on this as it develops.

 

 

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All our yesterdays

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I have been clearing out the stuff we had to clear out from my mother-in-law’s attic in something of a hurry, and finally got round to a bag that I don’t think I have opened for at least fifteen years.  It turned out to be full of beautiful but now very dated Liberty woollen shawls, long lengths of calico which smelled really musty and required two good long cycle washes to be bearable, and a selection of my very first attempts at a number of things.  Some, like the dull Hawaiian applique piece, aren’t really worth sharing, but some are a bit more interesting.  So today’s second  post is a bit of a gallery rather than having anything very profound to say.

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This is a very early quilt made from a pattern which dates from a time when I had the leisure to make things for Christmas.  I expect it was hand-pieced over papers. It looks okay from a distance, but close up you can see that the quilting is so bad that I had to stuff the centre to make it look deliberate:

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The points aren’t bad, though.

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I have no idea why I made this piece.  I think it fitted over a dull arm chair we had when we first got married.  It looks like it was ‘inspired’ by a workshop I did with Dawn Pavitt many years ago.  She famously told me: ‘If it offends the maker take it out.’  She didn’t believe in only you will notice it once the binding’s on.  She thought a mistake would irritate you every time you looked at it, and I think she was right.  It’s done with quilt as you go.  It has a fair bit of Laura Ashley fabric and some from Clothkits which used to have a sort of factory shop in Bath when we first moved here:

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Notice the skilled use of decorative machine stitching…

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And one of my earliest attempts at free machine quilting.  I am delighted to say that at least my competence in this area has improved.

Here are a couple of place mats that I was inordinately pleased with:

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A Grandmother’s Fan.  Incidentally, I am now of an age where I feel that the fan should be reinstated as a fashion item.  Anyway, here is a log cabin version:

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The quilting on this isn’t bad:

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The fabric on the right of the picture gives some indication of the range of quilting cottons that were available.  Okay but not spectacular.  We did tend to use a lot of Liberty fabric.  I made this little quilt to go on top of a wooden blanket box we still have.  It sat in the window, though, and more or less disintegrated in front of my eyes:

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This had very clear colours when it was first made entirely from Liberty tana lawn.   I always wanted something like this, very faded, almost eighteenth-century looking, but I was hoping to buy one one day rather than making one myself.  This does not help in the quest for eternal youth:

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I’m not sure where that green stain came from; I think I might have to wash it again with some stain remover.

So, not all that lovely, but definitely like meeting old friends again.