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Still more applique


This piece is backed onto some curtain interlining and then washed in hot water to give it a vintage feel.  This particular interlining seems to turn into tungsten steel when you give it this treatment so I thought I would stick to something fairly simple for this piece, a spray of leaves.  Once more it is based on a lovely piece by Mandy Pattullo:


Her’s has a lot of dynamism because of the swirl of the quilt piece behind it.  Mine is much more stable and sedate:


I wanted to use these lovely purple-y Laura Ashley pieces which were given to me by Gill Bonham, one of the Bristol Quilters.  They were mainly quite fine lawn pieces and very easy to applique.  I decided to embroider them in pink because of the lovely foliage on some flowers I was recently sent:


I love that pink edge on the shiny strappy leaves.  I was wondering what to do lift the piece and I decided to add some buttons:


I am not normally a big fan of buttons, and I do actually know someone who genuinely has a phobia of them, but on this occasion I thought they matched the naive quality of the piece.  Furthermore, these all came from my mother-in-law’s button box which I inherited when she died.  Most of them are fairly vintage, which fits in with the general theme of the series.

This little piece has some really old Laura Ashley prints.  The background has some of what looks like Indian woodblock print and this is some of the first designs the company produced for clothing.  The navy and white prints in the above piece are also quite old ones.

It was a delight to do, and I think my hand applique has really improved over the course of this project.

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More applique


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:


but I thought mine looked a bit bare:


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.

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This is not something I thought I’d ever live to see


This weekend’s Financial Times magazine has an article about Tracey Chevalier teaching the journalist to quilt.  The article is about her ‘method’ writing – like method acting, but it does sort of explain how to do English paper piecing.  Strangely ,this is the second article I have seen in the magazine about quilting.  The first was about Ricky Tims doing some sort of drive-by quilting, which I have been meaning to write about for ages.  It’s odd given that this section is usually about extreme fitness or mushroom hunting in Calabria.  If you can’t get hold of the magazine you can see the video:



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All our yesterdays


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.


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:


The points aren’t bad, though.


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:


Notice the skilled use of decorative machine stitching…


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:


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:


The quilting on this isn’t bad:


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:


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:


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.

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What I did on Saturday

I am what I sometimes refer to as ‘stupid busy’.  For some reason, I am completely swamped by the day job with deadlines piling up all around me and no idea how I found myself in this position, and this is why I haven’t been posting much recently.  The temptation when I am so pressured is to abandon doing anything creative (and I defy anyone to see marking as creative except in the very loosest sense and moderating other people’s marking is even less so).  But I have learned in the past that if I don’t do anything creative I get nastier and nastier and tetchier and tetchier and that, strangely, won’t help the students as the frustration will come out somewhere in the marking process.  So, on Saturday afternoon I managed to find three hours to do some stitching.  I was putting the binding on first part of my big Laura Ashley quilt, which like most of my large pieces is made in panels.

This is a detail of the quilt panel which is made from, I think, two bags of Laura Ashley squares for patchwork which have been lying about for at least twenty years.  There will be more about the quilt in subsequent posts.

What I wanted to write about today, though, is something that struck me while I was doing the very dull, prosaic work of putting the binding on.  I make folded-over continuous binding on my quilts when I do bind them.  I like it because you get nice neat mitred corners and it’s very sturdy and you measure once and that’s it and you don’t need to pin whole thing twice.  And it’s very even, and even I, queen of the slapdash, get a neat, professional effect which I sometimes want.  But there is a lot of dull stuff – particularly pressing it before it goes on, and this gives great thinking time.  One of my favourite thinkers on creativity and, indeed, happiness, two things he links firmly together, is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who is credited with developing the idea of being’ in the zone’.  It’s applied to sport a lot – those moments when apparently you have hours to hit the right shot because time seems to slow down and you are in perfect synch with your environment.  I will never know about this, but I like what he says about being in the zone because I definitely experience it when I am sewing, particularly at the machine.  He says that you lose track of time – you could have been working for an hour or three hours, that you have more energy when you finish than when you started, and that you experience total contentment and well-being (it’s a while since I actually read this stuff, but I seem to remember those were the hallmarks of being in the zone).  To get into the zone you have to be doing something which you can do well but which is not so hard that you get frustrated and give up.  So driving is difficult because of everything going on around you but it’s possible to do it without becoming too overstimulated and that’s why so many people get ideas when they are driving.  I find this with sewing on binding.  You have to watch what you’re doing if you don’t want to burn your fingers on the iron, or lose the quarter inch allowance when you are stitching but it doesn’t demand your total concentration.  So, yesterday, repetitively pressing and stitching I wandered into the zone.

I have been trying to make a showstopper Laura Ashley quilt for at least a year, but the one thing that I have learned is that these pieces want to be small.  This is a whole other post, but they want to be miniature.  They want to sit in the hand.  They want to be keepsakes.  They don’t want to be huge embellished wall pieces.  I need and want a quilt to be the opposite bookend to my huge Anita Roddick quilt, but I have not been able to make one.  The fabric cries out against it.  So, I have a number of false starts.  It has become apparent to me as I have been working on the Laura Ashley pieces, and doing some interviews with quilters, which I really do need to buckle down to this spring, that this quilt for me is not about Laura Ashley plc at all.  This work is about my love of patchwork, quilting, cloth and sewing.  And cotton.  So, this quilt is really not about the company.  Whereas my Anita Roddick/Body Shop quilt could most definitely be called Anita and Me, this one, I think, is going to be called For the love of cloth.  My academic research for this project has definitely lead me into thinking about the sociology and anthropology of cloth – hence the Death Quilt, and I have loved doing that part of the work.  What this quilt seems to want to talk about is how I started stitching in the first place.  So, finally, we arrive at the point of the post.

Yesterday, as I was sewing the binding around these very simple nine-patches, I was thinking about how I started making patchwork with my mother when I was pretty small, and I remembered that a few years ago I found a copy of the book which I would say started it all in a jumble sale at the Friends Meeting House on Gloucester Road in Bristol near where I live.  I need an old book on sewing like a hole in the head, but I couldn’t pass it by.  I expect I paid a pound for it.  But when I opened it, it really was like a time machine.  I was right back in Nottingham as a little girl making a doll quilt.  How traditional is that – starting off making a doll quilt before progressing to the full-size version?  It is like Little House on the Prairie all over again.  Here is the very page of the instructions in My Learn to Sew Book, published in 1970 from which I made my first quilt:

I really wish I still had the quilt.  I remember it vividly.  It was made up of predominantly turquoise blue prints, almost certainly polycotton, stitched at random like this one, and very definitely no work of art.  The real turning point came when my mother made a similar piece but arranged the patches in diagonal rows like a quarter of a Trip Around The World.  I thought it was the most exquisite thing in the world and had plans to make it into a clutch bag, although what a ten-year-old would do with one of those escapes me.  Anyway, that was it.  The bug had bitten.  The rest is personal history.

I have a rather large professional problem which is that although I think this stuff is fascinating, I cannot see any way of turning it in an academic production, and this will need some creativity of a different order, but it might make for some interesting autoethnography, which is a social science technique which involves examining a phenomenon through personal experience – investigating an illness by giving a personal account, for example.  It isn’t considered quite nice, though, by the majority of social scientists.  At the moment I am prepared to ‘sit with it’ with all this and see what emerges, but I begin to think that there is a book about Laura Ashley, stitching and the construction of femininity.  I just need an imaginative publisher to go with it…

That aside, I thought I would include some pictures from the book.  This is the full-page spread. for example:

This is a pattern for a hedgehog pin cushion which I am so going to make (watch out at Christmas, my friends):

Here are some wonderful late sixties/early seventies illustrations which I think formed my aesthetic judgement early on:

And finally, here is a page of patterns for felt bookmarks which for some reason sent the biggest wave of nostalgia crashing over me:

Right, catharsis over, back to the marking…

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Living with Laura

Kaffe Fassett Pennants Quilt

Kaffe Fassett Pennants Quilt

For reasons which we don’t have to go into here, I have been spending quite a lot of time recently staring at a wall in my living room on which this quilt is hanging.  The first thing I noticed is that it really, really needs a good wash; the second thing is just how much Laura Ashley fabric there is in it, and how well it has aged.  In this block, for example, you can see a dark blue print with tiny pink rosebuds on the right, and, on the left, a pink block with a vaguely mauve piece of Indian block print that was originally a deep indigo:

Pennants quilt, detail

Pennants quilt, detail


I don’t mind the fading; I think it gives the quilt a more interesting look than when it was new, but I am surprised at just how fade resistant the Laura Ashley fabric is, and it is now  quite old.  Some of the commercial prints have also held up really well.


Pennants quilt, detail

Pennants quilt, detail


These yellows are particularly vibrant.  I will wash it, although when it comes to the colourfastness, to adapt one of my Mother’s phrases, I am a bit worried that it’s only the muck holding it together.  None of this is helped by the fact that the dog likes to like against it when she gets the chance.

Incidentally, the quilt is paper-pieced.  When this method first came out I thought it was the answer to all my problems with accuracy.  It does improve precision piecing, but at a price.  All that tedious pulling out of the papers.  It took hours with this piece, particularly as a fellow Bristol quilter showed me how to line up the pieces by sewing just outside the stitching line.  This means that you get pieces of paper about 1/8th of an inch wide in the seam lines.  Tweezer job.  I also learned that if you stitch the blocks together just outside the sewing line you keep the sharp points.  So I am proud of this one, but would never do it again.   I was asked if I would make one for someone else on commission.  Absolutely not.  This one took years.  Trying to do it to a time limit.  Nooooo.