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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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Little Boro Bear and Big Boro Bear

I haven’t posted much recently because I am so busy trying to get my business ideas off the ground or preparing to give talks to groups.  I really don’t want this blog to turn into one of those thinly disguised sales pitches, so I am trying to avoid writing too much about upcoming events and workshops.  However, I have really loved making my boro-inspired pieces and wanted to share a bit of the work which is delighting me.

I have made a couple of boro bears, following on from the popularity of the boro dog.  I tend to make these stuffed toys in the same way.  I start by making a piece of fabric and then cut out the shapes.  Where possible I draw round a template and stitch and then cutting them out as this is much less fiddly than trying to machine stitch round little pieces.  Here, though I drew round my template with chunky felt tip pen and then cut inside the thick ink line.  I have used all sorts of things to mark with, but I get really irritated if I cannot see the fine pencil line I drew thirty seconds ago, and that is not good way to feel if you are stitching.  So, this was my big piece for the big bear in the photo:

There was plenty left over after cutting the bear out to make other things such as little brooches or key rings.  Then I sewed him together.  He is all hand stitched, whereas the little bear was the result of an experiment to see if I could do some approximation of boro on the sewing machine.

I added the red tassels on little bear’s ears and a bit of hand embroidery just to finish him off.  Big bear got a ruff:

If I were making them again, I think that I would make the body a bit longer and remember to slant the cut at the top of the arms so they point down more (little bear is better in this respect).

This is a leftover.  I like it because I think the blue crosses with the bit of yellow capture the spirit of boro a bit more than some of my work.

One thing that helped here, I think, was putting a layer of wadding on top of the cardboard template and under the face fabric before drawing up the thread around the cardboard.

Picture pinched from the internet

This is the easiest way I know to appliqué a circle, although I would need a considerably larger turning than the one shown in the photograph above.  I like the slightly raised and padded feel the addition of the wadding gives.  Another idea worth considering would be reverse appliqué as no bear’s face is slapped on top of its coat; it should come from underneath.  I might try this if I make another.

I was making a sample playing with the cross shape which is very common in boro, and found that it made a perfect-sized blanket for little bear:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lots of fun just trying things out and experimenting.

 

 

 

 

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A joyful piece from leftovers

Leftovers hanging

If you have read previous posts on this blog, you will know that I hate throwing things away.  I also like to make other projects with the leftovers of previous pieces.  This little wallhanging is a good example of this.  It is made with leftovers from a much bigger piece which I showed at the last Bristol Quilters exhibition:

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I started the piece with this tiny leftover square:

Leftovers centre

Those half triangles in the centre are about 1 cm-1/3″ square and are the trimmings from a block where you sew a small square to a big square and then press it back to give you another shape:

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I also included more leftover strips using Kaffe Fassett and Philip Jackson fabric which I had stitched together to form one long random strip which you can see on the outer rows of the small piece.  I was really pleased to be able to use this gold fabric:

Leftovers gold

I got this in an Anna Scholz sale.  Whenever people compliment on a frock or coat, it is always by Anna Scholz.  Occasionally she sells off really luxurious fabric off the roll at ridiculously cheap prices for fashion students.  Somehow I got an invite and then to meet Anna, who was lovely.  I had to stagger back to the tube with all this stuff, but the bargains were stupendous.  The gold would not have cost more than a fiver a metre, but it takes hand stitching really beautifully.  Pulled the stitches quite tightly to give that rippled effect.  I had intended to do more stitching on the piece, but the fabrics were too ‘shouty’ and didn’t need more detail.  You can just see some fly stitch in the top left hand corner of the above picture.  I more or less left it at that.

I now have to decide what to do with it.  It is cushion-sized, but I think I would prefer it as a small wallhanging.  For that I will need to do the binding.

The thing I thought was interesting, though, is what a happy piece it is.  I can’t help but wonder if this is because it was the first piece of patchwork I did after I got my retirement options sorted out.  The piece came together in an afternoon, and I think expresses my delight at being able to get on with the next phase of my life.