, , , , ,

On not having a Kaffe Fassett quilt




I haven’t posted much recently because I am mainly trying to finish things off and there isn’t much to show.  I have taken two quilts to be professionally quilted which is a great way of getting them out of their plastic bags and off my workroom floor – so I feel like I am progressing the tidying up, although I then have to do something with them when they return.  I made the first one to cover the sofa when the dogs are bounding about, but, of course, so much work has gone into it that I now can’t let them anywhere near it.  It was made of scraps but these have been transformed into precious fragments after hours have gone into the cutting and stitching.

That aside, I have been finishing off a quilt that my sewing group made for me.  We all took a month of the year and chose a theme and the others in the group, The Saint Andrews Quilters, made the blocks.  So we have had pretty hearts for Valentine’s day, and sparkly fireworks for November, and shiny crystaline snow for January.  My month was either June or July (I don’t have a great head for details), and I wanted to use up a stash of strawberry prints that I have had for a long time.  I began collecting them because strawberries are the Medieval Historian’s favourite fruit.  Shortly before they closed down Rose and Hubble, did a line of really luscious strawberry prints and I couldn’t resist.  So, I chose a very simple Kaffe Fassett design and off we went.  This is the quilt from Quilt Road, one of those irresistible Rowan books:




And this is the book:




And this is Kaffe wearing the quilt on the back of the book:




And now we are getting to the point of the post.

The quilt is very nearly finished.  I am stitching the borders together, and it is really nice, but not what I was expecting, and this is what I wanted to blog about.  I really love Kaffe Fassett’s work and have done for ages.  I bought a copy of Glorious Knitting and pored over every beautiful page and photograph.  I love that idea that you don’t just use one red you use ten, or ten blues, and a flash of lime green.  I have loved his work for years.  But my quilt, which I will photograph when it’s finished, just didn’t look like Kaffe’s: lovely as it is,it isn’t Kaffe.  It has a large variety of blue fabric but it doesn’t have that Kaffe colour drench effect.

I was leafing through the introduction to the book and found out why.  As he says, traditionally quilters use a lot of contrast in terms of light and dark.  Make sure your lights are light and your darks are really dark, and be careful about those mediums is advice that I have been given on any number of workshops.  And if you are interested in playing around with block designs, that is good advice.  If you want those blocks to show up you have to make sure you have enough contrast in the fabric.  But Kaffe isn’t really interested in making Irish Chains that leap out at you, he is interested in a wash of colour, so he deliberately chooses all medium tones.  This is conventional wisdom overturned, but it does explain how his colour glows, and why my quilt with its strawberry prints on pale backgrounds don’t zing like his.  The question then becomes, does this matter or not?

At one level it does because I started out to make a Kaffe Fassett quilt, but in another it is quite a good thing, I think, that I didn’t make a clone.  I have got a quilt which mine and which makes me think of the Medieval Historian, rather than having a pale imitation of Fassett’s style, which he does much better than I can.  Starting with a strawberry printed on white, I could never have achieved a Fassett colourwash, but I have achieved a quilt which will have tremendous sentimental value and which has luscious strawberries all over it.  I remember a very well known quilter running a workshop in Bristol in which people used her techniques and closely specified materials who was then surprised when all the workshop samples looked as if they could have been made by her.  She was really disappointed but gave people no room to improvise.  I am not that good at slavish copies.  Better a really good version of yourself than a pale imitation of someone else, as the saying goes.

, , , ,

What I did on Saturday

Olympic Cauldron: beautiful and functional

Olympic Cauldron: beautiful and functional


I spent Saturday afternoon in the company of the delightful Gwent Quilters giving the talk at their annual Summer lunch.  They gave me and the medieval historian a lovely lunch and Medecins sans Frontieres a very generous donation.

One of my very favourite writers on gender and organisation is Joyce Fletcher who also wrote some interesting stuff on learning and development.  Most academic writers on this assume that development means learning to be a separate, autonomous, individuated in the trade, person.  Fletcher invites us to think about this again and to consider the possibility that what we want is more rather than less connection in life and that learning is a communal activity.  She builds on the work of Jean Baker Miller and Irene Stiver who advocate ‘growth in connection’.  I was reminded of this after the talk at Gwent Quilters.  Fletcher advocates approaching life expecting to learn from our encounters with other people.  I think she’d wholeheartedly approve of the Gwent Quilters.

Over lunch we talked quite a bit about the opening ceremony of the Olympics.  The consensus was that it started off a bit wobbly, but that by the end we were all drawn in and really enjoyed it.  We thought it was an interesting response to the opening ceremony in Beijing.   Breathing life into something exhausted like the grandiose, inflated, macho Olympic Opening Ceremony demands some creativity.  I wonder if this was an example of a single mind creating something rather than a committee coming up with imitative blandness.  So, it was an interesting discussion about creativity and innovation based on a case study.  Not really what I was expecting when I sat down.

But being with the women and approaching the presentation like a conversation also made me think as I was going along.  I was talking about my Laura Ashley project and about how the majority of quilters in the UK got started using her offcut bags.  I suddenly began to think about the ramifications of the company and the industry it went on to spawn: the quilting industry: shops, exhibitions, manufacturers, magazines and books, longarm quilters – would any of this have happened if Laura Ashley hadn’t made the pure cotton with the right scale of print available to us just as second wave quilting took off?  It’s a very good example of what [the medieval historian considers the wrong sort of] historians call a counterfactual.  What if?  What if Napoleon had won at Waterloo?  What if Katherine of Aragon had had six strapping sons?  Or the old favourite, what if Cleopatra’s nose had been half and inch longer?  It’s hard to say, because patchwork took off in the US where they don’t seem to have been so attached to Laura Ashley remnants, but it certainly made it easier for women to take up the craft in the British Isles for 50p a go.

Then I was thinking about this being a pastime, or social phenomenon in which you can very clearly see a point of origin.  Just about every woman in the room nodded when I asked if they had started out with Laura Ashley packs.  The company, her vision after seeing that Women’s Institute Quilt Show, was the fons et origo of the passion and delight of every stitcher in that room more or less.  I wonder how many other pastimes, hobbies, obsessions can trace their roots back to a single source and to a single company.  I was struck forcibly about the strength of those weak ties.  We never knew her but she brought us all together in that room

So, two insights into my current research and into an on-going interest in creativity, plus an apricot mousse to die for.


PS for any Gwent Quilters reading this, sorry the medieval historian and I won two raffle prizes.  I felt very guilty, but I love winning stuff and the braids are going to a very good home.

, , ,

Laura Ashley: her part in my downfall

As I walked into work today in the brilliant, blazing sunshine that we are (temporarily) enjoying here, I was musing on what to blog about as there has been a bit of a gap recently.  The reason for the gap is that I am employed on some good old-fashioned patchwork and quilting and it takes considerably longer than machine quilting – and the results are less showy.  But there is something very therapeutic indeed about doing it.  So at the moment I am working on another death quilt to counterpoint the previous heavily embellished one that I wrote about in a previous post.  But these things take time.

The interesting thing for me is just how much this Laura Ashley project has slowed me down – like slow-cooking or the slow-city movement.  All that handsewing gives you time to think.

So, my thoughts, as I was walking in (thinking at three miles an hour as the psychogeographers sometimes refer to it), fell to Laura Ashley.  Here are a few random thoughts and some pictures.

  1. I wonder just how many quilters began with those 50p bit bags from Laura Ashley.  She probably did more to spear-head the 1970s quilting revival than any other individual.  She made it possible and accessible to a whole generation who didn’t have access to US printed cottons (and there weren’t even that many of them).
  2. Having said this, I wonder just how much money I have spent on this hobby/obsession over the years.  I know it isn’t up there with collecting vintage Bulgari or dressage, but still.  Would the mortgage be nearer to being paid off?  Would our house be more immaculately decorated?  Would we have needed that loft conversion?
  3. If I hadn’t taken up quilting though, would I have made such wonderful life-long friends in Bristol?  Would I have had quite such a clear case example in front of me of the glue which holds British life together – unnoticed, unthanked middle-aged middle-class women who just get on with it?

Historians (unfortunately the wrong sort, according to the Medieval Historian) sometimes deal in counterfactuals – what would have happened if – so what would have happened if Napoleon had won at Waterloo, Henry VIII had had a son with Katherine of Aragon, Cleopatra’s nose had been half an inch longer, that sort of thing.  What if I had never come across Laura Ashley and patchwork?  Would I have found another outlet for whatever makes me want to create?  Or would I have done something quite different?  And what would have happened if I had ever been the sort of woman to have been able to wear this: