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What I did on Saturday – Bristol Quilters’ Exhibition



This weekend we held Bristol Quilters’ Exhibition.  It comes round once every two years which is a really good spacing because it gives us time to produce some very nice pieces.   I can’t single out any one piece, and I can’t put everything in, so I will just include a photo of a poppy made by Alison, one of my oldest and best quilting friends.  I am just stunned at the craft and skill and know-how that went into the production of this:

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In some ways, though, the standard and beauty of the quilts is a secondary issue about the exhibition.  What was really striking was the atmosphere in the halls.  We had over a thousand visitors, which is exceptional, and they were all really enjoying the occasion.  With my academic hat on, I was wondering why this was.  There has been a lot of work in the past looking at what makes voluntary organisations work.  Why do people work so enthusiastically for free.  Peter Drucker, the very well-known Swiss management guru wrote extensively on this.  Of course, a lot of the academic interest in this is how can we take this enthusiasm and commitment and turn it to commercial advantage.  No-one has succeeded so far as I know.  I am less interested in that than I am in why that exhibition was such a lovely experience for those visiting.  I am still working on it so here are some bullet points!

  1. The rooms were awash with colour and pattern.  I am convinced that colour therapy works.  Goths dress in black for a reason.  I love bright pink and orange, preferably together, when I am a bit depressed.  Humans love pattern.  We read pattern.  We know when it is wonky.  We love it when it is regular.  We make pattern instinctively.  Our concentration, it seems, improves when we doodle.  We are pattern-making and colour-loving animals, and that room was full of both.
  2. The rooms were stuffed to the gunwales with love.  The quilts were often made with love for someone – a husband, child, friend, relative, but they were almost all made for the sheer love of quilting.  I think that this is one of the great mysteries of the material world.  We really do sense the emotion behind made things.  Not all the time, but often we love a textile because of the emotion which has been infused into it.  I think visitors were picking up that they were in a great vault full of love.
  3. People were joyful.  The magnificent organisers of the show, again it is invidious to name names, were really delighted with the way it was going.  The welcome at the ticket desk was warm and genuine,  The people who exhibited were delighted with the response to their work.  We all felt proud to belong to a group which could produce such high quality work.  Other quilt groups who came felt inspired to try out some of our group ideas.  There was a tremendous feeling of ‘we did this’.  I imagine that you get this in all sorts of settings: concerts, community gardens, charity runs and so so on.  We did this.  We are successful.  We have made a contribution.  We are good.  And I think that is infectious.
  4. There was cake.  Now this is not as flippant as it sounds.  There was cake, reasonably priced, beautifully presented, served with real warmth, and largely handmade.  Again, this is really important.  Not only do we want the unprocessed delight of a cake made in a domestic kitchen rather than stuffed full of preservatives in an industrial bakery, but we also, again, I think, ingest that love that we sensed in the quilts.  One of my favourite novels is Like Water for Chocolate in which the cook’s emotions all find their way into what she is cooking, with all sorts of consequences.  I think there is some truth in it.  Love on a plate.
  5. The whole event was a celebration of creativity.  I have long thought that thwarted creativity is responsible for all sorts of ills in people.  Expressing your creativity is, again, a very human act.  Until very recently in our history we had to be creative to survive – someone had to build a shelter, a pot, a trap, and it would probably help you get a mate if you were good at it, and we tend to be better at things we enjoy.  So your DNA as a good maker would probably get passed on.  Being creative is part of being alive.  I am tempted to think that we should give the socially disruptive a couple of hours with a gelli plate and some paint and let them get on with it.  Creativity and boredom don’t really go together at all.  I live in a city famous for its graffiti which tends to bear this out.  That creative urge will express itself somehow.  So a ritual celebration of our usually overlooked creativity is bound to make everyone feel better.

I am not totally starry-eyed about this.  There is huge competition in quilt groups, and jealousy and resentment.  There are major disparities in wealth and the access to materials that brings.  There are hours of tedium in quilting, which is why so many who can afford it tend to have their quilts professionally quilted (including me).  There is frustration at getting it wrong, or where it won’t fit, or running out of a particular fabric, or the sewing machine playing up.  But overall, we love it because it allows us to access part of ourselves which would otherwise be frustrated and would turn in on us.  And, I defy anyone to say that the atmosphere was not positive, joyful even, but at the very least infused with delight.

In addition…

I put in two pieces: my little Lauras quilt:



which I will blog about later – now that it is finished, and my memorial or mourning quilt:


Not a great photo, but you can see the very basic piecing with a lot of embellishment on top.  The fabric came from Peggy Pounce, whom I used to quilt with for a very long time.  When she died we all had some scraps leftover from a quilt she made and used them to make something of our own.  I am very interested in the way that we commemorate so much with quilting: new babies, weddings, children leaving home, anniversaries and so on, but don’t really continue the old death quilt tradition.  There was a quilt in the exhibition made of a husband’s shirts, which had a really elegant simplicity:


Made by Ann Kelly, it was called  A hug from John.  There were other memorial quilts, but these were really outweighed by the celebration of life pieces.  We don’t do the sitting by the bedside that our Victorian foremothers did, so we don’t need to have something to fill the hours and take our minds off things, but I think there is also something about the last taboo that we don’t want to engage with.

An added bonus was a small exhibition of the school magazine covers of Badminton Girls’ School which was our venue.  They ranged across most of second half of the twentieth century, and were produced by the girls.  They are a rich source of data on the changing fashions in graphic design:

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The 2013 issue, by contrast had a photo of a young woman, positively glowing, as she climbed a sheer rock face.  Although I loved the image of her, I thought it was a bit of a shame that the treasure trove of graphic styles seems to have come to an end.


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What I did at the weekend


I love Bank Holidays because I don’t feel so guilty about spending a chunk of time in my workroom.  I started off today making a quilt for a new baby, but it went horribly wrong when I rather overestimated my ability to machine quilt it.  I decided to cut my losses and just work on something I wanted to do, so I turned to a project which I have had  on the go for a little while: a very liberated and scrappy log cabin quilt.  This is the same idea as the emergency project we have in my small quilting group, the Saint Andrews Quilters, where we have a bag of one inch strips which we pick at random to make up the blocks.   I stopped with four ‘logs’ on each side, but I am terrible at doing this neatly and always going in the same direction.

I wanted to do something using printed commercial fabric.  I started quilting because I loved cloth so much – and this was the seventies when there were some ‘challenging’ prints.  So, the afternoon spent chopping the fabric up and then sewing it together again was a real treat for me.

I once heard a professional quilter say that if you want a scrap quilt you have to use scraps.  So, I include a lot of fabric I really don’t like but which I seem somehow to have acquired and mix it in with the good stuff.  These blocks really are better the scrappier they are.  So I put in some very old-fashioned-looking peach fabric and some skull and crossbones, as well as a ditsy pink flower print.  I bought some orange on beige fabric for the quilt, which is not in the spirit of it, but I knew that it would be a sparkle fabric and I think it is.  Given that my stash is almost all blue, I wonder why there is so little of that colour in the blocks so far.

The other surprise was that I spend most of my time at work challenging the idea that rational processes are always the best way to organise, but I found myself trying all sorts of things to develop a quick way of doing the blocks.  In the end, I just started to stitch complete blocks, one at a time, just for the fun of seeing the finished pieces emerge.

So, I had a lovely time, and in about fifteen years no doubt I shall have a lovely bathmat size quilt.



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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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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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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!

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What I did at the weekend


On Saturday I went to Builth Wells in Mid Wales to do a talk for the area day of the Quilters’ Guild Region 12.  Their small but magnificent banner is shown in the picture above.  Quilters, kindly notice the exquisite piecing on those sawtooth patches, plus the very lovely applique of the dragon.

It was a really good day.  I drove up through the Brecon Beacons along roads that looked like they regularly had adverts shot on them: windy and almost totally empty, through the lovely autumn trees.  The sun was out, the music was on and it was great.

The morning session was ‘Travels Along the Silk Route’ by Jane Davies.  She brought along a number of Suzanes (pronounced Suzannas) which she had bought in Samarkand and Bokhara.  She even had a lovely green coat made in the technique:


All the green you see is Bokhara couching.  I thought the motifs were great and did a fair bit of sketching while she was talking:



Some really good strong shapes to use for printing.

She was a fantastic speaker and I would recommend her to any group looking for someone to talk (www.janedavies.btck.ac.uk).  She also does work with hand-dyed fabric and thread and felt.  I really enjoyed her talk.

I was on after lunch and so got to talk to a lot of the Cowbridge or officially Glamorgan quilters I was sitting with.  They were a delight.  One knew that I was speaking about Laura Ashley and so brought along a quilt that she had salvaged from a junk shop for a couple of pounds.  The photo with the owner in it is a bit blurry but I wanted to include it:


I offered to buy it, but she wasn’t parting with it.


Not all Laura Ashley fabric, but quite a bit:



I think this makes the point that I made in the talk and which my interviewees have confirmed, that Laura Ashley fabric was just better than anything else that was available.

My talk went down really well.  They were a bit predisposed to like it, because I was talking about a Welsh institution in Wales and one woman in the audience had worked at the Carno factory as a lace collar inspector.  So, not what you would call a tough crowd, although several came up to me at the end and said they thought it would be boring but actually they had really enjoyed it.  But the best bit for me, other than the fantastic coffee and walnut cake and tea loaf which would have won the Great British Bakeoff easily, was the fact that they started telling me their Laura Ashley stories, some of which I remembered enough of to write down.  I really do need to take tape recorders on these occasions.


This is what a typical area day looks like with traders which you can just about see at the back, tables full of people comparing notes, showing what they have bought and doing stitching.  Increasingly it is full of iPads and mobile phone cameras.  At the other end is the speaker talking to people, often too shy to shout up in front of a roomful of strangers:


I had that strange experience of the spirit of Ethel Merman coming upon me as I stood up to speak and somehow I managed to make the whole thing funny.  I have no idea how that works.  I don’t plan jokes ahead of time.  But I think that this talk is unique in the sort of work I do in that it is like leading group nostalgia to a time when things were open and possible, and the sad things in life hadn’t happened with quite such frequency.  One of the things I went away wanting to think more about was whether I am encouraging rosy nostalgia as escapism, or whether it is good to provide a forum for people to re-experience some of the joys in their lives.  Probably a bit of both.

And an added bonus, they loved my clothes and hair.

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Mandy Pattullo at the Festival of Quilts


I posted earlier in the week about the Festival of Quilts at the NEC.  I had walked all the way round several times, I thought, but almost at the end of my visit I came to a white cube gallery that I had missed, Mandy Patullo.  Before getting onto her work, I thought it would be worth explaining what a white cube gallery is, as one of my blogging friends asked me after the NEC post.  The white cubes are my descriptions of temporary structures, painted white and with decent lighting, which are dedicated to invited artists.  Sometimes it’s a group or it can be a well-known or particularly interesting lesser-known textile artist.  They vary in size, but the standard in them is particularly high, and they are generally invited people.  They look like trendy white cube art galleries which is where I got the term from.  It is very prestigious to be invited to exhibit in them.  I once helped out my friend, Liz Hewitt with hers and it was totally exhausting, but very interesting meeting people and seeing how they behaved.

The white cube that particularly struck me was Mandy Pattullo.  She was not there but I talked to her partner who said that she was overwhelmed by the reaction at FOQ, as her work was not particularly well-received in the North-East of England where she lives and works.  I thought it was absolutely stunning.  She uses old textiles and then embroiders on top of them and the results are stunning.  It is very hard to explain why something appeals to you, why you find it beautiful.  There were lots of gorgeous things in the main competition and in the other white cubes, but what would I have taken home if it hadn’t been almost entirely sold out?  One of Mandy Pattullo’s small pieces.  They are full of life and exuberance and joy.  They seemed to rejoice in their textile-liness to me.  These were textile pieces not trying to be anything else, not trying to ape anything else, just being cloth.  I think there is also something of the love and respect for cloth, no matter how battered and bruised, that comes through the maker’s approach.  I got the sense that she loved the materials and so I loved them too.  Perhaps I shouldn’t try to explain it, but these seemed to me to cloth lovers’ cloths.  So here is a selection of the work.  Again, I am sorry about the reproduction, but phone photographs are so much quicker to load that pictures taken with a camera.

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These are small pieces which show the way that she includes needlepoint and patchwork in her work.  She also makes pieces based on clothing:




These seem to quote from old Welsh quilts particularly for me; I think it’s the use of washed out red fabric.

There were some larger pieces as well:

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This one shows the broderie perse which is also a feature of Pattullo’s work.  The final piece which I really loved contained a section of what must have been a quilt, so frayed that it looked like a red and white print rather than the wadding showing through:

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I don’t normally much like all this patriotic union jack and keep calm and carry on stuff, but this had a lightness of touch which I liked, and it did remind me of tattered battle colours, which is a subtle reminder of our imperialist past in this country and how it was achieved.

So, a real highlight for me, as was meeting Pattullo’s lovely partner who was very happy for me to take photos.  Her website is www.mandypattullo.co.uk.  So now I just need Bristol Quilters to arrange a workshop with her!


Festival of Quilts, NEC

Retro, one of the magnificent quilts on display at this year's Festival of Quilts

Retro, one of the magnificent quilts on display at this year’s Festival of Quilts

This year I managed to get to the Festival of Quilts at the NEC in Birmingham.  I went with my Grate Frends, Alison, Becky, Ceri and Ruth, collectively known as the Dympnas.  Saint Dympna is the patron saint of the slightly doo-lally, not the entirely mad, the slightly not quite all there, which we think describes us perfectly.

Anyway, this is my take on the show, followed by some very personal highlights.

  1. The standard of work overall was very high, I thought, much higher than last time I went.  I don’t know why this should be the case, but the design standard was high and the execution was pretty good throughout.
  2. The show has become a sort of tripartite event with the competition quilts, the invited white cube exhibition work and the traders taking up a third each.  The actual square footage was bigger than last time I went with more room for tea, coffee and picnics which was welcome.  There are far fewer quilts submitted by the ‘serious leisure’ quilters, and I think that is a shame.  Maybe people still prefer Malvern for that.  In general, though, I like the combination as the white cube quilts were stunning in many cases.  One in particular was a group of Dutch quilters who did not allow photography so I cannot include a photo, but had masterly and very controlled use of vibrant colours. ((Willy Doreleijers, Olga Prins and Anco Brouwers).
  3. There were two big trends: phototransfer and lettering.  In the worst examples, the phototransfer seemed like a thin excuse for showing holiday snaps with some co-ordinating fabric round them, and by and large I didn’t think that the technique was used all that well.  One exception was the professional quilter, Annette Morgan:
    Annette Morgan, Transported - paddling - Mille and Emma

    Annette Morgan, Transported – paddling – Mille and Emma

    And there were some nice lettering pieces like this one by

    Jean Ball, I love fabric

    Jean Ball, I love fabric


  4. There were some great new books on sale, particularly in the Quilt Art category.  I bought Sandra Meech’s new book.  I love her work.  I find the books a bit samey, but buy them anyway because they are so beautifully produced and illustrated and I find her work magnificent and really wish I could do something similar (and here’s a woman who really knows how to make phototransfer work)IMG_2306 IMG_2307
  5. Our trip was very civilised.  We travelled together and then split up and met for lunch and tea.  Otherwise everyone went round on their own which was a good idea as it meant you could go at your own pace and see quilts or go shopping.  On the other hand, the level of rudeness from people was amazing and we all had a tale of grabby fellow shoppers, suitcases on wheels over feet or stroppy traders.  So much for quilters being piecemakers and wanting to cover the world in cuddle quilts.

Here, then, are a few of my very favourite pieces – just a personal selection, and not the prize winners or the much admired portrait of David Tennant in sepia patches.

IMG_2275 Liz Howlett, Bead all you can bead

This is Liz Howlett’s ‘Bead all you can bead’.  I love beads and I love indigo shibori tie-dye techniques so I loved this, and I very much admire the skill of the tying to get those lovely smooth curves.


Lisbet Borggreen, Circles in Squares

Lisbet Borggreen, Circles in Squares

I liked the attention to detail on the quilting on this piece and the very confident use of the circle motif.

Sheena Norquay, Decorative Spirals

Sheena Norquay, Decorative Spirals

I admired the virtuoso quilting on this piece.

Joyce Dorsett, Jonny wanted lizards

Joyce Dorsett, Jonny wanted lizards


For some reason I find lizards really appealing in art works (and sometimes in the flesh, although the enormous one lumbering through the Indian jungle  I encountered with my mother was less cuddly).  I also really like the take on attic windows in this quilt.

Elizabeth Barton, Battersea

Elizabeth Barton, Battersea

I think I might have done a bit more with the quilting in the sky here, but otherwise a gorgeous small quilt.

Dijanne Cevaal, Childhood Memories, Billabong Creek

Dijanne Cevaal, Childhood Memories, Billabong Creek

This is a terrible photograph of a stunning piece which showed the fabulous effects you could get with circular machine quilting:

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This second close-up is very blurry, but shows the black on black which worked brilliantly.

Linda Onions, Der Dah Whoosh

Linda Onions, Der Dah Whoosh


This was a great combination of a painted quilt which really worked and a lovely use of seeding to quilt and enhance the painted cloth.

Jacqueline Amies, Hip, Hip Hooray

Jacqueline Amies, Hip, Hip Hooray


Another lovely painted quilt, which also used negative space in a way that was well-integrated with the rest of the piece (and there were a lot of ideas in this quilt).

Christine Restall, Windfall

Christine Restall, Windfall


Christine Restall seems to me to have really mastered colouring cloth – these pears look like she has used a crayon like Inktense on them.  I must have liked her work because I too photographs of two pieces including this one of flat irons:

Christine Restall, Flat Irons (Grandad's kitchen)

Christine Restall, Flat Irons (Grandad’s kitchen)


Janie Harvey Douglas, A Slight Murmur of Starlings

Janie Harvey Douglas, A Slight Murmur of Starlings


Lots of people have a go at this sort of quilt but very few seem to be able to pull it off with this quality of line.  On a similar theme, the master of this sort of work is Linda Kemshall:

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The gold detail here is painted on and I think the background may have been discharge-sprayed out to bring up the orange.  I love her work.

Anne Ames, Inner Strength

Anne Ames, Inner Strength

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I really loved this.  The quilting was inventive and the colour palette was subtle but punchy.

This is  To The Left of the Moon by Hazel Ryder and was based on a saying of her dad’s.   It is so beautiful and that horse is so lovely.





This post is getting a bit unwieldy and so I will stop here, but I will blog about my very favourite white cube exhibition at some point., and finish by saying that I had a great time with the quilts and the dympnas.

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Our love is here to stay




I have finally more or less finished this artist’s book on Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Destructive Character’.  I am mightily relieved as the conference paper is a week on Sunday and I have run out of time to do any more on it.  I really love the finished piece, and feel very sure that it is not the last thing I will do on the subject – I have just found Susan Sontag’s essay on Benjamin which needs to be worked in, for example.  So, this is all a bit in haste, but it is what I have been working on.  I can’t take the book with me because it is enormous and heavy, so I have had to make some touch pieces which I will put in a later blog.  I had a year to do this, and here we are – right down to the wire, as they say.  So here are my not very brilliant pictures.  I don’t have time for much of a commentary, but I hope you just like looking at the photos.

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I absolutely love working with Benjamin’s ideas, in fact, he is my unlikely muse.  So, even though this mammoth project is over, our love is here to stay.