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Patchwork and quilting as problem solving – or why sewing is good for the brain

There was a piece on the news a couple of weeks ago about the negative impact of the over-fifties watching more than three and a half hours of television a day.  It seems that over these three and a half hours people became more forgetful.  I was never much of a social scientist, but even I had to ask myself about the sample size and make-up.  Who did they ask?  Did they do anything other than watch television, like crossword puzzles or mental arithmetic?  Were they watching game shows or subtitled black and white art films?  Was this a snapshot or a longitudinal study?  Those sorts of questions came to mind.

I am sure that I watch more television than I should, but I don’t just watch television.  I use it like an augmented radio and knit or sew while cocking half an ear to it.  I have sewn on a gazillion beads and put in a million seed stitches while watching the television.  I wondered if the study took this into account.

I get this industrious habit from my mother who was never keen on my sitting idly and passively consuming television.  She drilled me in making the most of my time.  She also introduced me to the concept of a good ironing film.  Sometimes when the stitching is particularly engrossing I really do just listen to the television as if it were the radio.  I recently sat down and started watching a film with the Medieval Historian and just had the feeling that I had seen it before.  I knew the entire plot but did not recognise any visuals.  Then I realised that I had heard it but not seen it.  Very strange.

This is all just a preamble to thinking about craft as therapy.  There is a lot around at the moment about how good sewing is for you, which is something I really do subscribe to, and I am increasingly interested in the way we link the felt and the seen together so closely.  Sewing can certainly slow you down and calm your thinking.  You have to get the posture right, though, as I find that if you are hunched over your work it can lead to diminished breathing which lowers rather than raises your mood.  If you can take care of that, however, then craft can be therapeutic.

This is fine, but I think that our passion for craft is much more than a mood booster.  When you become good at a craft to the point of having mastered it, perhaps, something else becomes important.  Beginners follow instructions, sit with their teachers or watch a YouTube video and learn the basics.  Once we become proficient, though, and want to produce particularly distinctive work, we have to start working things out for ourselves; we have to become problem solvers.  We have to use our accumulated skills to work out how to get the result we want.  Quite a lot of the time we fail, and many artists talk about falling short of what was in their imaginations, of the gap between the subject and the made object.  Some people hate this, but I like the voyage of discovery.  I love those times when you stand back and think, “I made this’ but have no idea where it came from, and I have blogged before about that feeling of turning up and providing the hands while the work almost gives birth to itself.

There was a phase a few years ago when we all got interested in management development in the notion of 10,000 hours producing mastery.  People have been lining up to take potshots at it as a theory for some time, but I still think it has some validity.  You do have to practise your craft.  I remember when I was still teaching at the university and was in a writing class.  One of my students produced a really moving account of why he worked in the NHS.  Someone asked him how long it had taken him to write it, and he was about to say three hours or whatever, when the guest tutor who was leading the session said, ‘40 years’.  All your life experience and all that practice goes into producing our very best work.

In my most recent work I have been rediscovering my childhood passion for making dolls clothes and drawing historical fashions.  This return to childhood with the benefit of a lifetime of experience and education has been therapeutic in the sense of helping me to recover a lost delight.  It has also made me work very hard to exercise my skill and do some immediate problem solving.  My brain has had to get involved to a surprising degree.  How am I going to represent hair?  How am I going to suggest shoes?  How will I get a 3D object to sit satisfactorily on a 2D substrate?  What shape do you actually have to cut to get a wraparound pinny?  What can I use as a blazingly glittering ring when I don’t have a spare diamond lying around?  I have solved all sorts of problems and even if some of them are not that brilliantly realised, at least I had the mental resources to think of something.

I was talking to the excessively talented English Paper Piecing guru, Naomi Clarke, about the therapeutic side of sewing.  We were talking about people wanting to claim it as a way of achieving mindfulness or as a self-soothing activity, but we haven’t seen anything on sewing strictly for the joy of doing it, or as a way of exercising really quite ‘left brain’ skills.  These are the logical, sequential, numerical skills that have been associated with men for so long and leading to high-paying jobs.  Sewing requires great accomplishment in these skills.  It requires planning, conceptualising in three dimensions, calculating quantities and proportions, prototyping and reworking.  These are the skills required in many of the new approaches to strategic management and project management.  I think I could almost argue for dressmaking and embroidery to be on the curriculum at all business schools.

Just to show you what I mean about problem solving though, here is some work in progress from a series of appliqué portrayals of women for my new talk on cozy crime novels.  I start with the basic body form:

 

This gets modified sometimes, as here, to give a profile:

I thought she looked a bit Egyptian at this point, but because of time constraints I had to go with the original plan.  Her face is deliberately just sketched in.  This is because she is an illustration rather than a portrait.

I knew that I wanted to give her expensive highlights and so I tried some glittery fabric:

This is not brilliantly successful and so I will continue to work on it – watch this space.

Then I wanted to make it more three dimensional so I stuffed it a bit, and I love the way that this gives a sort of crêpey neck.

The arm worked really well.  I wanted her to have a wrap dress so I found a scrap of jersey which I sort of draped over her body.  The size of the scrap meant that I had to drape the less stretchy size of the jersey over the form and this did not give such a good finish, but she is well on the way.

I will post more as the series continues.

 

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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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In which commerce raises its ugly head

A couple of weeks ago I had a small, experimental, try-out stand at a tone-y sort of textile fair to promote my workshops at Pomegranate Studio.  I am still not sure if it generated any business, but it was a good source of feedback.  I was advertising my Blinged-up Boro workshop and took along a lot of examples of the sort of things we would make.  The two small boro-inspired plushie bears I made proved to be very popular:

I blogged about this pair earlier if you would like to know more about them (https://pomegranatestudio.co.uk/2018/06/14/little-boro-bear-and-big-boro-bear/).

As they generated interest, I thought I would make a few more and develop some patterns.  This is fine but there comes a time when you only have so much room for samples.  My mother has a wonderful phrase for this, ‘I’d rather have their room than their company’, which is a line which rings through my head when I am sorting stuff out for the charity shop/thrift store.  In addition to this, I retired from my teaching job just over a year ago, taking very early retirement, and frankly, I need to generate some cash.  And so, much as I love the bears, and so much else of the things I make, I am going to have to learn to sell them.

And so I have decided to revive my ailing Etsy shop.  I started it in 2014 but have never really got going with it.  There is a thriving community of Etsy makers in Bristol and so I have been much encouraged by the bright, enthusiastic, talented young people who are using Etsy and making some sort of return on it.  My bears are going to be my first items in this relaunch.

The two little boro bears are already up there, and so now is the first of my bigger bears, Arturo.

Arturo, of course, is a variation of Arthur, which means ‘bear’.  It was also my grandad’s name.  I know that means this chap is called Bear Bear which is daft, but I like the play on words.  All the bears in this series are going to have stories to go with them.  I realised at the textile fair that one of the things that people loved was when I told them stories about my workshops and products.  This is his story:

Please, please will someone give a home to Arturo, or I won’t be able to part with him. He is such a character. He claims to have danced in Paris with Maya Angelou and to have had cocktails with Jackie O on her yacht. Given his very dapper demeanour and witty conversation, I can well believe it.

Arturo is hand made from pure cotton patched together boro-style. Boro is a Japanese mending technique. His natty beret and foulard are hand-crocheted.

He is 30 cm/11.5″ tall and 33cm/13″ from paw tip to paw tip.

He is not intended as a child’s toy and children should not be allowed to play with him unsupervised. He would, however, be perfect as a commemorative Christening/Naming toy for a lucky child.

Bear made from 100% pure cotton, hand-dyed, with safety eyes and safety stuffing. Hat and scarf 100% pure new wool.

I will include a pattern for these bears in a subsequent post, as there are more to come.  They are not that hard to construct, and all the skill goes into the decoration.  Arturo was made from IKEA fabric which I dyed in a batch using Dylon machine dye so that they all toned together.  His muzzle is a piece of old charity shop cashmere sweater with some embroidery and a scrap of boiled wool.

I also really enjoyed making his accessories.  The beret, in particular, was a lot of fun and really satisfying as I worked out for myself how to get the shape of the hat in crochet and, even more rewardingly, how to make the little stalk thing in the middle:

If you want to visit my Etsy shop you can go to www.etsy.com and search for PomegranateByAnn or have a go with this link; https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/PomegranateByAnn.

Thanks for reading to the end of this one.

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I recently went on a really great workshop organised by Selvedge magazine.  It was called a ‘Craft Spa Day’ and was held in Bloomsbury.  Selvedge, by the way is a fantastic magazine.  It has the most glorious photos which I virtually want to eat, plus it has introductions to wonderful craftspersons and the story of all sorts of textiles and techniques.  It is a real treat.  The only problem is that it makes me want to get up and start doing something every time I read it, so I seldom finish reading it.   You can get it in WH Smith and arty bookshops, or you can subscribe.  If you don’t want to do that you can just look at the website which has glorious graphics.

Okay, so, the day was divided into two parts.  The first had two talks on sewing/craft and therapy.  Ruth Battersby Tooke gave a brilliant talk on Lorina Bulwer’s extraordinary textile letters:

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Bulwer was put in the Great Yarmouth workhouse by her family because she was, as we would now say, suffering from some sort of mental illness.  As Ruth pointed out, this sounds awful but it may have been an act of kindness.  She led an independent life and was not put in an asylum and it seems that her brother visited her regularly.  As part of her condition she wrote the most astounding letters to local dignitaries complaining about her lot and about her sister-in-law, whom she despised.  All the text is couched, and occasionally another panel comes to light.  It is now  in two massive pieces: one twelve feet long and the other fourteen.  Ruth used the pieces to talk about reading history through textiles, and also about the embroideries themselves.

The next speaker, Marie O’Mahoney, was talking about whizzy hightech textiles which was fine, but I sort of thought I’d heard it all before a bit.  Textiles to monitor our health, textiles to interact with our environment, that sort of thing.  The third speaker was due to be Betsan Corkhill, who had a family emergency and so could not attend.  She is the woman who has written about knitting as therapy.  I bought a copy of her book:

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I found it a bit terribly jolly, but it makes some very pertinent points about the therapeutic benefits of knitting and craft in general.  I presume there are also scholarly articles that she has written, but this would give you a good overview of the main arguments for knitting.  We should all knit for ten minutes a day, by the way.

In the afternoon we got to choose from a series of workshops on spinning, weaving, basketry and quilting.  I chose the quilting  I had a lovely calm afternoon stitching as the tutor, Abigail Booth, had already marked the cloth, all of which was dyed with tree-based dyes.  I finished my piece on the day which I think is important in a workshop, and because Abigail, who was really lovely, showed me a new way of finishing the edges which I adapted a tiny bit to give a frame.  My only problem was that I chose a pale turquoise thread to contrast with the nicely browned pastry colour of the cloth:

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Fine close up, but when I stood back it looked like I’d used one of the water soluble marking pens and hadn’t washed it out.  Hubris, of course, always gets its comeuppance.

 

 

 

 

 

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Soft launch at Pomegranate

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Saturday was a big day for me.  I invited four friends to come and try out my studio as a space for workshops.  I was really anxious in case it didn’t work.  It is snug, and people have to cooperate about moving around, but it was doable.

I was trialling a workshop on Maying, or bringing in the May which is a tradition we have rather lost in the British Isles.  There are some good books on the Maying traditions including the truly wonderful Arcadia Britainnica, which has great pictures of people dressing up for the May:

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It has some really inspirational photographs of people dressed up for the various festivals, and I particularly like the shaggy costumes of many of the Jack in the Green characters

It all looks very pagan, but according to the Medieval Historian it isn’t.  It might be Medieval, but is most likely Victorian.  As usual, he loves to drain the romance out of just about anything.

Maying is really about celebrating the return of vegetation and greenery to the earth and so the festivities included bringing greenery into the home as a decoration and celebration.  My original idea was to make paper chandeliers along the lines of Polish Pajaki:

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I wanted to do this to try and connect with diverse Bristol which has a large Polish community.  The only problem is that it is incredibly dull to do and takes forever.  The Polish tradition was to make them in the long dark winter evenings and I can see how this would while them away.  Plus, I had no end of trouble getting the strings to suspend the hoop evenly.  So I think that I might change the workshop to making wreaths.  My lovely, lovely guinea pigs, however, were up to the challenge of making chandeliers:

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We had a great day and everything looks wonderful in the brilliant spring sunshine:

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Plus we had a wonderful shared lunch.

Concentration levels were high:

And they gave me some wonderful feedback.  Of course, not everyone took it totally seriously:

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I am greatly encouraged by this and am encouraged to set up my first real expecting people to pay for it workshop.  Watch this space.

Don't look at me in that tone of voice.

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Knowing that I am a big fan of the writer, a very dear friend of mine gave me a bottle of Dorothy Parker gin.  The gin is the sort of alcohol-rich distillation that would make the average sailor wince, but the bottle was wonderful with a picture of Mrs Parker printed on the inside and a little biography on the back:

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It was too good to throw away, and so I decided to make it into a lamp.  I bought the stick-in bulb fitting and more or less forgot about it, as it took us so long to get through the ‘navy strength’ gin.  When the bottle was finally empty, I started to think about a shade.  For some reason I decided that a lampshade with some of Mrs Parker’s quotes would be just the thing, so I bought a kit which promised to be very easy to make up, and found some cream fabric which had an almost imperceptible pile and took sharpie markers reasonably well.  I made some preliminary sketches and a list of some of her best-known wisecracks:

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and then I transferred it all to the fabric.  I took a deep breath and opened up the various kits:

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Personally, I am terrified when I see anything described as ‘easy’,  but this kit did come with accompanying You Tube video which was very useful.  Most of the job was really easy, and, as the woman in the video kept on assuring me would happen, the results were professional.  The only tricky bit was pushing the excess fabric down behind the wire rings to give a smooth, and, yes, professional finish:

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They are terribly keen in the packaging and on the video to encourage you to start a lampshade making business, which is a bit premature, I think.  Apparently these make great gifts, so look out.

In the end, I think the shade is out of proportion with the bottle base, but as it was just for fun and did allow me to keep the bottle and express my appreciation of Mrs Parker, probably that does not matter.  I also got to use a very old iron I found in a recent clear-out, and a very new, very small table top ironing board from IKEA:

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Very useful in a craft room.

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Field notes from Utopia

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A couple of months ago, I went on a fantastic weekend at Shore Cottage Studio.  I have blogged about this before, but, to recap, it is a gorgeous studio on the Dee Estuary which runs short courses on a variety of activities (textiles, glass making, photography, laser cutting, for example).  It is run by the family team of Sue, Laura and Kris.  This is the word cloud of their trip advisor feedback:

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Word clouds make patterns in which the largest words are the ones most frequently used.  I am very interested to see ‘love’ so prominent here.  I suspect it comes from comments such as ‘I love the Studio’, but I thought it was a place which just about ran on love.  That’s why this post is called ‘Field notes from Utopia’.  I felt loved the minute I walked through the door and that is a utopian feeling.  So this post is about my embroidery, but also a little bit about Utopia.  If you aren’t interested in Utopia, just skip to the pictures of the embroidery, which I hope you enjoy.

I am really interested in utopias because they are so contradictory.  One person’s Utopia is another person’s dystopia.  For example, in HG Wells’ The Time Machine we have the Eloi who seem to have the perfect peaceful, aesthetically beautiful life but who are actually so calm and refined that they are unable to achieve anything new or creative, plus their life depends on an underclass called the Morlocks, a dystopian troglodyte society who only come out at night, but who have the energy to do stuff and in the end to rise up against their oppressors.  One reading of the novel is that the Eloi represent a communist group, and, as we know from our own recent history, communism is seen as paradise by  some and oppression by others.  Utopia and dystopia again.  This was the plot of endless episodes of the first series of Star Trek.  Captain Kirk was always finding new civilisations which looked wonderful at first sight, but which were always inferior to Earth.  And tribes of cultural studies scholars have provided readings of this as code for the Cold War struggles in the US when Kirk and Spock and Uhuru were created.  I am also interested in utopian communities’ carrying within themselves the seeds of their own destruction (we are going in for political economy a bit today).  So, religious groups often go off into the wilderness to find a pure place where they can practise their beliefs without persecution or pollution.  The problem is that sooner or later differences of opinion arise, and no-one is quite pure enough to satisfy the demands of the leader so you get a split and another attempt at a utopian community elsewhere.  These sorts of communities can topple over into cults which often end disastrously, such as David Koresh and the Branch Davidian.  Finally, I am interested in the role of place in all this.  Very often utopians leave a place they consider toxic to go and set up a new purer place elsewhere.  Utopias always seem to be places of tension, reactions against, flights from, black and white situations where you are either right or wrong.  There is not much space for grey in Utopia.

Anyway, for me, Shore Cottage is a form of Utopia.  It is a place where I felt completely at home, loved and cared for, and able to develop my creativity.  I was there as part of a project looking at the anthropology of the Dee Estuary and to do a short ethnography (although really there is no such thing: ethnography done properly is an extended business).  Ethnographers make field notes and so my embroidery represents field notes in cloth.

I designed it to look like an artefact an ethnographer might take with them, so it rolls up:

The linen has a toile print of a river, which is the nearest that I could get to an estuary.  The tree rather appealed to me.

It unrolls to show several ‘leaves’ or panels:

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The piece uses the fabric and thread that I dyed on the weekend with Sue.  Some of them were left whole just to show the effects such as this microwaved tie dye:

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This is a really brilliant simple technique for hand dying cloth which I will use again. There is also a piece of overnight rust dyeing:

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Brilliant results overnight onto this piece of linen.  The marks were so beautiful that I didn’t want to mask them with stitching or embellishment.

I kept the stitching pretty simple on the rest of the panels:

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This is fern stitch with variegated thread onto a thick blanket-y wool that I dyed.

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This shows simple straight stitches arranged as seeding, vertical cross stitch and some running stitch.  I used the big black and white bead as a sort of sample, like you might get in a ethnographer’s collection of material.

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This is a variation on a theme.  I love these big disc beads.  They remind me of pumice or some other sort of lava.

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This is  a found piece of curtain fabric and the pom pom is part of it.  It is stitched down with layered fern stitch.

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This is also a tiny found sample of furnishing fabric.  I loved the indigo and white.  The white thread is quite thick and reminded me of sashiko.  I wish I could get my stitches that even.  I am not sure I quite like the uneven spacing of the mauve beads, but had I been making this in my tent by hurricane lamp in the nineteenth century, I might not have been able to get them straight, so I left them.

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Another bead and seeding combo.

I wanted to use these little wooden hands because of the importance of the hand made on this weekend:

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I got them from Artchix Studio, which is run by a lovely Canadian woman.  I have lots of things from her shop, but I have stopped using it because the postage is ruinously expensive and then there are charges on top when the parcel gets here.  Gorgeous, unusual, inspiring stuff but now very pricey.  That aside, these hands are lovely.  They are about two centimetres long.  I like the combination of the handmade and the manufactured.  They are all alike and symmetrical, and yet they have a real charm for me.

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The above is some knitting tape which I dyed and couched down and then stuffed with brown glass beads which I got from a Hobbycraft cheapo clearance bag.  I also recycled some embroidery I did a couple of years ago.  They maybe jump a bit, but I think they look slightly like sketches of landscapes that you get in ethnographer and explorer notebooks:

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This is another picture of part of the piece showing how the panels fit together:

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You can just about see in the top left-hand corner that there is a heart shape.  I found a stone on the Dee Estuary beach which had the suggestion of a heart on one side and I thought that this was emblematic of the Studio.  I was really pleased when Sue noticed that a heart had emerged from the hand dyeing on this swatch.  To the left of that, which you can see in the picture at the top, there is a piece of embroidery taken from a vintage tablecloth I bought from a textile fair last year.  This refers to the hand-embroidered vintage tablecloths that they used at the Studio and which I really enjoyed.

This has been a long post, so thanks to reading to the end if you did.

 

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Joy in work: feathers

 

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Very occasionally I get to write one of these posts about when a piece of work just goes amazingly well.  This is one of those occasions.  It feels like I just turn up and provide the hands but the universe does the rest.

This small piece of work is part of a series I am making after my visit to the wonderful Shore Cottage Studio I have already mentioned.  I collected some inspirational pieces on the beach and then did some mark making and then dyed some fabric and thread, including making some pieces in the microwave using very ordinary dylon.  I have already blogged about using straight stitches on one piece, inspired by the striations on the beach pebbles.  This piece was inspired by the feathers I collected with Sue:

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I knew that I wanted to do something on feathers and I had bought a sizzix dye machine dye of the feather shape in preparation, but this morning I went to my work table and had completed the piece in about an hour.  It just fell together.  I found the background fabric which is a lovely piece of pure Scottish wool in my pile of samples bought by weight round the corner from me in a curtain maker’s shop, I found exactly the right sized piece of cotton bump to work as the padding, and I found the black Mettler quilting thread sitting on top of the tub of threads I use most often.  I threaded up the machine, got it ready for free machining and off I went.  I did make a sample, which I do more often now, but that went really well and I was off:

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I was a bit worried that I have made so many leaves over the years that I would do that rather than feathers, but it seemed to work.  The secret there was just to do it, not to think, just run the machine fast and get on with it:

 

The very dark and more navy blue pieces are bought fabric.  Mine is the more grey and less densely coloured pieces like the horizontal feather in the above pictures, but the bought fabric blended really well and allowed me to make a bigger piece.

I think you could argue that using the sizzix machine is cheating, but I think that the creativity bit comes in with how you use it, how you cut the fabric, and how you stitch it.  Plus it speeds up the process that you can experiment and do the what if? stage much more quickly.

I did hand cut some feathers as can be seen in the above sketchbook pages, but as the sizzix will cut bondaweb, I intend to use it and cut out the drudgery.  For information, I have the Bit Shot Sizzix Plus:

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I had it for Christmas last year and have really enjoyed using it.

But the point of the post is to record one of those small projects when everything goes really well and when it is a delight to make, and when I experience what Deming and William Morris describe as joy in work.  I don’t think we take enough time to enjoy what we have made with our hands.  I think we think it’s in some way conceited, but I really think we should.

 

Teeny tiny sewing machine

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I have just come back from a long weekend break in Spain.  While we were there we had a less than successful stay in Murcia, where the Medieval Historian had been many years previously.  Sadly, everything shuts in Murcia on a Monday which was the only full day we had there, so I did not get to do my very favourite thing of sketching in an archeological or folk museum.  But, looking on the bright side, the shops were open and were having major sales.  I will blog about them separately, but this is a quick post about a tiny hand-held sewing machine that I bought in Tiger.  I think it is originally a Norwegian firm, but Tiger now has lots of branches in the UK, and is worth going into regularly as it turns over its stock very rapidly.  I bought these sequins, for example, in the Bristol, and they are now permanently out of stock:

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The other reason for going in is that they play great music and I had a nice time singing Tamla Motown classics with the assistant in the Brighton branch on another trip.

Having said all this, it is a cheap and cheerful shop with an interesting selection of things for makers such as rubber stamps, beads, sketchpads, washi tape and so on, but once it’s gone it’s gone.

In Murcia I picked up a pair of snipping scissors with a case which looks like a long thin mouse (I am always looking for scissors to take on planes), and the mini sewing machine.  It is a good job that I did.  I assumed that the product range would be the same in Murcia and Bristol, but I was wrong.  I can find no sign of this product on the British Tiger website, even though I bought it less than 48 hours ago.

So, I bought it because it was so tiny.  I knew that I was never going to make a full set of curtains with it, but I thought it might have potential.  It does sew quilting weight cotton reasonably well, but the stitch is a chain stitch, like the one that I used to have on my toy sewing machine as a little girl, and which I wish I had held onto.  The best bit of this is that the chain stitch is so tiny and delicate:

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I wonder if it has potential for use in embroidery.  The stitch is far tinier and regular than I could ever achieve.  I will experiment and report back.

 

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More applique

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This is the latest of my Mandy Pattullo/Laura Ashley pieces.  The background is pieced paper (English method) hexagon patchwork with an overlay of Laura Ashley fabric applique.  I had thought that I would do a fairly minimalist piece with just the dark flowers at the top like Mandy Pattullo sometimes does:

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but I thought mine looked a bit bare:

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I wanted to use these big plastic rose buttons that came as a free gift with a magazine as the centres of some somerset puff roses, and I think that worked quite well.  I wish I had taken a photo before I put the roses on, because the hexagon looked like a cartoon cactus sticking out of the pot.  Anyway, I decided this needed more, and for some reason, I suddenly thought of the Baltimore originals I had in mind when making the pieces: the rick rack braid rose.

I don’t particularly like rick rack braid apart from the really tiny stuff which looks lovely on borders if you have the patience to stitch it on, so this was something that I didn’t have in my stash.  I went to Flo-Jo in Bristol which is a great shop selling fabric and haberdashery and running workshops and dressmaking classes.  It is run by really lovely enthusiastic people and stocks particularly gorgeous ranges of unusual fabric.  Of course, they had a range of rick rack and I bought some red, pink and orange.  Old Baltimore quilts seem to me to delight in virtuoso effects and experimenting with the latest thing, and they often have 3D elements like these roses.  They are really simple to make.  You take two pieces of rick rack, twist them together like plaiting and then roll them up.  The final stage is to pull back the outer rounds to make unfolding petals.  There are lots and lots of demonstrations of this on You Tube in particular, and they are mostly stuck together (opinion varies on the merits of a hot glue gun), but I stitched mine for authenticity (although I expect the ladies of Baltimore would have used a glue gun if they had had one available).  As an aside, there was a wonderful video of a woman making daisies rather than roses out of rick rack which she then fills with pearls and sticks on lace and which are really not to my taste.  At the end of one of the videos she makes leaves out of synthetic ribbon.  ‘You need to burnish [i.e. singe] the ends together,’ she trills gaily and proceeds to take what looks like one of those things used to light gas rings on cookers and to waft it in front of her ribbon, slightly singeing her fingers.  ‘It doesn’t hurt,’ she says, ‘well not really.’  I am not sure that I really want to scorch my finger ends for ribbon leaves but it doesn’t seem to do her a lot of harm.  Pyrotechnics aside, there are some very clear tutorials available, and, of course, fans of Baltimores will know that Elly Sienkiewicz’s books contain explicit and well-illustrated instructions, particularly her book on dimensional applique.

I am not sure if you can tell from the photograph at the top but I made a big central rose of red and pink twisted together, and four large red roses and four small pink ones.  They are really good fun and quick to make, and the best bit is at the end when you pull back the outer rounds and the rose almost leaps forward.  The You Tube demonstrators tend to stick them on rings or brooches or hair slides.  I would just recommend going easy on the lace.

I finished off with some big mint green leaves with the veins done this time in fly stitch.  In the end, I rather liked the naive charm of the piece, and I think it is an interesting example of something I have written about before: your relationship with your work.  You might think that you have finished, but your work will whisper, or shout very loudly as it did here, that it is not finished.  And you have to finish it because otherwise it will go on shouting until you do.