What I did on Sunday

Well, I should have been working at the day job, but for some reason I have the big Urge to Create yesterday and so I gave in.

I finished the last of the little Laura panels just after lunch and I went up to my workroom and thought about what to do with them.  I was going to make them into a long band to use as a border on the big Laura Ashley quilt, but in the end I thought that they looked better as a mini quilt in their own right.  Here they are roughly laid out against a piece of fleece on the sofa.  These were just planning photos to help me to remember the placement of the panels, so they aren’t top quality:


I intended to stitch the panels together and then do some embroidered arches to frame them, as in this paper mock-up in my sketchbook:


But when I put the quilt together – very simply with two lines of topstitching in a blending in colour – it soon became apparent that the quilt with all the beads would be too heavy to move under the sewing machine – it would result in pointy stitching instead of smooth curves.  So I would need to think of something else.

The background fabric is a really tough upholstery Laura Ashley fabric which limits choices.  I thought about applique-ing on the arches over black tulle, but it didn’t read clearly enough against the gold background.  I was hoping to use some patterns from all the zentangling I have been doing, and this worked on the stitch sample I made, but again would not have been feasible with so much embellishment weighing the whole thing down.  So, I began to experiment with drawing onto the cloth:


Again, this is a working photo to see how this ‘reads’ from a distance.  What I decided I liked was the little highlights of white which the pattern provided, so I experiment with working with that:


You can see this on the left.


I extended it a bit to get an idea of what a whole row would look like.  I think it could look great.  So I thought about drawing directly onto the quilt top.  The only problem with that would be drawing against seam lines which would stop the flow of the pen.  Which leaves cutting arches from another piece of fabric and applique-ing them down.  This is fine, except that every archway will have to be different, which will look fantastic – I really like irregularity in these things – but it will take forever to draw up and cut out!  At this point the light was going, so I left it and decided to sleep on it.  Assuming I go back and finish it, it does mean that I will have something for the Bristol Quilters exhibition, which is a relief.


Little Laura 6


This seemed like a nice Little Laura for Valentine’s Day (which happens to be my birthday), because of the little red enamel heart;


I like this one because the stitchery at the bottom of her skirt is the direct result of sketchbook work.

My dog loves going for a walk, but actually understands ‘walk’ as ‘stand about in the open air not moving for hours’.  Over the years I have developed a number of things to fill the waiting time, including taking photos and drawing when the weather is up to it.  On one walk I took some photos and then worked on them a bit when I got home:


It occurred to me when I was working on the pages that I could place Laura in the grass:


The grass is simple long stitches with some mal-formed french knots to represent seed heads.  This shows off the wonderful perlé cotton that is my favourite.  The sketchbook is an experiment in clipping together loose leaves with clip rings.  It is less robust than an ordinary sketchbook but allows me to move stuff around.  It’s also lighter to take with me to talks.


Little Laura 5


I rather let rip on this one and added about as much embellishment as I could squeeze in.  Sometimes more is more.  I think it works because there is a lot of patterning and repetition in it, otherwise it might just be overwhelming.


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Little Laura 4


This one is the first of this series that I did.  It has a very geometric stacked-up pattern feel, but the bronze on bronze pattern made with metallic machine sewing thread, here used for hand embroidery seems to me to give it a kind of sixties feel:

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I really love these kinds of Troika pottery designs and wish I had the money to collect some.  I grew up with these kinds of ceramics and it looks like they are making their way into my work.

As usual, the first one I made is probably my favourite.  I think it’s because the scale is right, I like the Troika aesthetic, and I find the patterning of the geometrics rather restful.

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Little Laura 3


I do love an encrusted surface and this Laura has a lot of very shiny black beads appliqué-d down the right-hand-side.  There is an old turquoise bead earring on the left, which I got in a lucky bag I bought at a vintage fair.  She also has a strip of burnt orange silk with a traditional wheat ear quilting pattern in turquoise.  I put in some silk to enrich the Laura Ashley fabric and I think that the beads would not have worked without it.  The quilting is clearly a nod to traditional quilt patterns which I really love.



Little Laura no 2


This Little Laura uses one of my favourite stitches: fly stitch.  Here there are some examples used as a stand-alone stitch, but also to sew down some substantial sequins.  There are also beads sewn into the single down or stem stitch.  I find this a really versatile stitch which is great for incorporating beads and it will come up again.



, No 1 in a series of quick posts of Little Laura panels


I haven‘t done much posting recently as I have been spending so much time on my day job, and I haven‘t had that much time for my Laura Ashley projects.  Plus in the dead of winter I don‘t feel that much like stitching in artificial light.  But I have been working on things slowly, including a whole series of mini–Lauras to finish off my big Laura Ashley piece.  I will be posting these more or less at random.  The first series are made by making a whole piece of fabric, a bit like a crazy quilt and then cutting the very simple shapes out – which I have blogged about before.  Here, basically are some of the finished things.

This one is quite a lot of needlecord with gold markal paintstick.  I wanted to get the effect of the icons you sometimes see with a printed cardboard face surrounded by lace or tinsel.  The faces on these are beads from www.artchixstudio.com – they are probably about half an inch or a centimetre high.  The Lauras are about six inches or 15 cms.

It was a big mistake to try to stitch through top fabric, bondaweb, wadding and furnishing fabric.  It made it hard to do many fancy embroidery stitches, but it did keep the applique very flat.

This series of photographs are taken with my new iPad, and I think that the quality is much better than the phone.  I hope they don’t take forever to load.

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What I did on Thursday


On Thursday night I went to the Emerson Green Quilters in Bristol to give a talk on my Laura Ashley project.  It was a really good evening.  I was delighted to see how much they loved the things that I had taken with me, and how much they loved handling the stuff and reminiscing about the brand.  They gave me a set of great stories to add to my bank of narratives, and an old friend gave me a pile of pre-cut squares in a design that I don’t have.  I love this particular group and always say yes to an invitation to go and talk to them.  They really seem to go for a great night out and don’t give off even a whiff of ‘come on, then, impress us’, which I have encountered elsewhere in the past.  I was a bit surprised when one of them came up to me and said she was disappointed that I hadn’t talked more about my academic work in social sciences.  That’s something I’ve never heard, and never expected to hear.  So I gave her a quick run through the theoretical background which seemed to be enough.  It did make me think about developing a talk on the sociology of cloth, which is a subsidiary interest of mine.

This all came after a day discussing sustainability and enterprise in the curriculum.  The last speaker of the day harangued us yet again about how deficient our teaching methods were and how effective his were, based on psychology and design theory.  No matter how valid these ideas always are, I get very fed up with it, and the constant droning on about how ineffective lectures are.  ‘When did you last have a great idea or feel inspired?  I’ll bet it wasn’t in a lecture.’  And so on.  I’m not sure about this.  I have always found Mark Steele’s comedy lectures engaging and thought provoking, and I am pretty sure that the women who turned up to hear me last night were creatively engaged in thinking about their relationship to the brand.  The Medieval Historian, who had accompanied me, said that they were all talking about Laura Ashley and what they felt about it as I passed round my examples and samples.  I concede that we should think about how we lecture and what we do to students that makes them potentially so passive by the end of the first term, but to dismiss lectures in general always strikes me as rather shallow.

The Medieval Historian was there, by the way, because I had tripped over the mat and bashed my temple and was in a bit of shock as I was loading the car.  I am not seeking sympathy here, but rather wanted to make a point that I have noticed throughout my career: adrenaline is a wonderful thing.  It will get you through any performance of any kind.  So you hear people say that they have terrible colds and their voice might give out, but it never does, because of adrenaline.  I didn’t fancy driving in the dark and rain, but I knew I could do my performance and that the minute I stopped I would be exhausted.  And I was right.  But it was worth it for a lovely night at Emerson’s Green.  I hope they invite me back soon.

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Work in progress – Little Lauras 1


My new project involves making a series of small panels of little Saint Lauras.  I started by making a biggish piece of machine-made crazy patchwork, using my faithful Bernina and the Singer my mother gave me which does a wide range of fancy embroidery stitches:


I made a large piece and then cut the small shapes out using steam-a-seam which I really like and much prefer to bondaweb.  I was using tiny scraps – which is the point of this work about preserving shreds of the past.  Some of the scraps are quite nasty late fabric and again I found myself transforming them a bit, either with an organza over the top or gold markal paintstick over the quilting:



I put in some bits of silk to give it more richness and depth.  Then I waited, cured the markal, set it with a heat gun, and started to cut out the shapes:


Entirely by chance I had been to a sale at Heartspace, a great gallery/shop/sewing class venue in Bristol, and had bought some old Laura Ashley fabric, the heavy cotton in the background here, so I could get on with the application of the pieces and their decoration, which will be the subject of a subsequent post.

I loved working on this piece, and just felt better in myself after I had stared to make something that I had been planning for some time.  Stitching is definitely good for my soul.


What I did at the weekend


I had a great day on Sunday after a not very thrilling week.  I have been working on a new series of small pieces as part of my big Laura Ashley project.  I am making some little Saint Lauras as part of my work in completing my large St Laura quilt, which I thought I had finished until I put it on the wall and it really does look undercooked.

I’ll post more about the work as I go along.  One of my really favourite bloggers writes about work in progress and shows the stages of her pieces, and I think I might do that with this group.  Her blog is fabulous – although it’s not for the faint-hearted.  She is an embroiderer, dressmaker, jeweller, silver smith and on and on.  Anyway, here are some pages from my workbook to be going on with:

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Also featured, my very unlovely worktable!