Wise words

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Teeny, tiny post today.  I was discussing the perennial scrap quilts leave you with more scraps than you started with problem last week and was delighted to hear the following acronym: STABLE = Stash beyond life expectancy.  Which just about covers it.

Thinking about the stash

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I had a very interesting conversation last week with a group of women women talking about ‘The Stash’.  This is a subject which quilters will always talk about with great enthusiasm, and I thought I would take a little bit of time to write about what the scholars are thinking.  To keep it a bit lighter I am going to sprinkle internet memes about the stash throughout – this is why the pictures are a bit small today.

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Nearly everyone I know who pursues any sort of craft has a stash.  I am in awe of those people who just buy enough for a project and thus have a pristine workroom.  I am not quite sure what they do with the scraps at the end; I presume they make them into things to give to the deserving poor.  I cannot believe they throw them away.  I have to have a stash for my work because very often I just need a one inch piece of something so I keep vast amounts of scraps, but also big pieces which will probably just have a corner cut out sometime in the future.   I think about this as my compost: eventually it will break down into something lovely and sustaining.

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The fantasy way to keep all this stuff is shown in the photograph at the top of this post, but the reality is much more like this:

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or this:

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Or this:

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Or this:

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Which brings me onto my first point discussed by the academics: our feelings about our stash.  There are a number of these:

  • A number of well-adjusted women take the view that they work hard to be financially independent and so how they spend their money is no-one’s business.
  • Some women see what their husbands/partners spend their money on and see their stash as being an equivalent.  It might equal a set of golf clubs or an expensive camera plus accessories.
  • Some women feel extremely guilty about their stash.  This possibly because it is spending money on themselves and not their families, or because they buy it and then can’t bear to use it.  There are probably lots of explanations, but they mainly come down, I think, to women thinking that they are not worth it.  If ever I want to buy something extravagant I phone one of my male gay friends.  They always say one of two things: ‘You work hard, you deserve it’, or: ‘Do you mean to tell me that you don’t think that you are worth a (insert item of choice plus price)?’  Or I recall my mother’s wise words: ‘You will remember (insert name of item you wish to buy) far longer than you will remember the overdraft’.

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  • The older women get the more likely they seem to find the stash a burden.  I have noticed with friends that our mothers become really keen to declutter and to throw stuff away that has been in the attic for years as they get older.  In my case, the stuff transfers from my mother’s attic to mine.  This desire to get rid of stuff seems to be even worse if there is a stash involved, and I think there is sometimes guilt about leaving the burden of sorting it out to whomever has to clear out the house.  I have come across quilters who have had to sell off another quilter’s stash who vow never to pass that job onto someone else.

 

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Some of the women in the group were what are called ‘early career academics’ which means that they are doing their first or second jobs, just having finished their PhDs.  They talked about moving and having to ‘drag it from house to house’ as they tried to find a permanent position.

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A really extreme position was that having a stash was morally corrupt because it represented having an excess while others have nothing.  The Western world always has too much and never enough in the context of a global world

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One of the ways that having the stash is often justified is to collect vintage fabric for reuse, a form of recycling, and this is certainly something that I like to emphasise.  A lot of my stash is old samples or remnants which would have gone into landfill if I hadn’t rescued it.  But, as a colleague of mine who works on the engineering of waste and recycling says, this just delays or defers the problem.  Recycled presents are great, but you are just passing the stuff onto the next person.  ‘It’ still exists and will have to be dealt with at some point in the future.  Overproduction is the problem and recycling is not the answer.

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A slightly lighter note was struck by one of the women who said that she thought the ideal was the ‘sweet spot’ between having enough but not so much that it crossed over into being clutter.

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Even more positive was the position that the stash represents potential.  It is there to be transformed and it is there to liberate creativity.  Certainly in my work with grown-ups involving making of any sort I have found that it works best when there is an enormous, generous amount of stuff.  Having stuff to waste or experiment with seems to liberate the childlike desire to create in people.  It always gets mentioned in feedback.  ‘There was just so much stuff, so much to choose from’.  I wonder if people somehow read this as care in material form, and if you are being cared for then you are safe and free to play.

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There was also some conversation about how stashes circulate, a bit like those friendship cakes where you get a small piece of batter to make your own cake and then to pass on to friends.  I get parts of my mother’s stash which I pass on to friends needing new cushions or bags or backing fabric.  The academic women described these as ‘small circulating economies’ which just means that there is a form of exchange involved.

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An interesting suggestion was that Ebay represents a global electronic stash.  There is all that stuff just sitting there all over the world just waiting to be transported and rehomed and re-used.  I think this is an interesting idea, although this is a very brazen commercial form of stash, and yet it is one that I have participated in, of course.

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As all this material circulates between us, one interesting question is whether or not knowledge is being transferred as well.  Do the skills follow the fabric?  I think it’s an interesting idea, and it is possible that when someone gives you, or swaps you, or even sells you a piece of fabric or equipment they will tell you how to use it or what they used it for or intended to use it for, but my suspicion is that it is mainly about the material exchange.

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There was some talk of the stash being a community resource where people could come and take what they needed for their project.  I thought this was a bit idealistic.  I think that there are politics around the stash, and unwritten and unspoken rules.  We have a sort of stash at Bristol Quilters where there is a Saint Peter’s Hospice stall with fabric for anyone.  But we all know that we are expected to pay for it.  If I just took a chunk of something I would expect at the very least to get some dirty looks.  Even when the lovely women who run the stall and know that I collect Laura Ashley fabric give me something free I feel obligated to make a donation anyway as it is for charity.

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I think there is even a question of who gets to use your stash.  I have two stashes: one is available to anyone.  Take and waste as much as you like.  Cut the centre out of the piece rather than snipping a bit off along the edge.  Spill stuff all over it.  Make something incredibly ugly with it.  I genuinely don’t mind.  The second is my stash for me.  Now if you are a really good friend and want, say, some red fabric, you can have anything, but only because you are a really good friend.  This is a relational activity.  It builds and binds friendships.  It makes me a mealy-mouthed person community-wise and makes me a terrible fabric capitalist, but it is how I feel.  Hands off the precious last bit of my favourite fabric.  I know at least one woman who really resents being seen as a community resource.  She hates takers who never seen to flip over into givers, and I sort of know what she means.

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There is also a class element to all this.  I can afford to spend money on fabric; I have enough disposable income to allow me to do it.  But not everyone has.  My very good friend, Marybeth Stalp talks much more about the guilt over the stash in her interviewees in the US, probably because it is a more working class pursuit than in the UK where the guilt is less.  I think there might also be an age component.  Many quilters were born during or just after the war when there was austerity and utility and shortage.  Having a store of things was fine as that would feed and clothe the family in hard times, but buying things for yourself for the pleasure of stroking and folding and having them was an indulgence and therefore morally wrong.  So I got used to smuggling things in past my father when my mother and I had been shopping.  So I think this brings me back to my starting point about the mixed emotion of the stash.  I would be interested to hear other people’s thoughts if anyone would like to leave a comment.

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Red Rabbits

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I am starting in the middle a bit with things here.  This is the second quilt in a series, and I have yet to blog about the first, but I am aware that it has been a while since I posted anything and this is easier to photograph than the first piece.

This is one of those quilts that started off as a quick demonstration piece of an improvised quilt made with the leftovers of a previous piece.  Then, of course, I decided to make it a bit more interesting and to put some appliqué on it.  As I have recently rediscovered a love of hand appliqué, that’s what it had to be.  In this instance, because the pieces – the rabbits – were so large, I decided to user the freezer paper method.  With this method you iron the freezer paper shape onto the top of the fabric and push the turning under with your needle.  Then you pull the completed shape off the top.  I prefer this to trying to get the paper out from under the shape when you use it underneath, particularly when you have something as tricky as rabbit’s ears.  This probably sounds like badly translated instructions if you are not a quilter.  If you aren’t and you want to see what I am talking about there are dozens of examples of the technique on You Tube.

I got the rabbit design from a clipping from a magazine that I kept because it appealed to me and I knew that it would come in useful at some point.  Unusually for me, I didn’t keep a note of who the original designer was.  All I know is that it was on a ceramic:

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It was quite easy to stitch.  I thought that I would be clever and just cut the shape of the chin and the legs and arms and then turn the edges back.  But, of course, this requires a turning on both edges so you end up with a very large gap.  I made a test piece and decided that I would have to do the outline with embroidery:

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I am rather glad that I did do the test – the piece on the right, before cutting the whole thing out.  I usually cut first and make samples and major mistakes later.  In this case the little bit of extra time was well spent.

After I had finished the piece looked a bit empty.  I thought briefly about doing some lettuces and carrots for a rabbits’ picnic, but my sketches were really a bit too twee.  I fell back on good old flowers.

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These needed a lot of surface embroidery but they worked reasonably well in the end.  I like the fact that they look a bit vintage, which is one of the aims of the piece.  The flower centres, which are raised, are suffolk puffs sewn on backwards.  The outline embroidery on the rabbits is whipped backstitch which I find a lot easier than stem stitch, particularly with a chunky thread.  The surface embroidery here is all done with three strands of embroidery cotton:

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I love using seeding as a quilting stitch even though it takes forever.  I haven’t done it for a while but I think the red here complements the big stitch on the body of the rabbit.

The quilt as a whole is a bit jumbled.  The outlines are not always clear, particularly the leaves and some of the petals on several of the flowers, but in this case, I rather like the effect.  It gives it a lived in, vaguely faded feel, even though almost all the fabric is brand new.

 

As a bit of a trailer, this piece also illustrates another project that I am working on which is about working with ugly or old-fashioned fabric, the sort of thing that you find in your stash which you bought years ago which is good but essentially out of date.  The rabbits are done in this fabric and the backing, which I will show in a subsequent post, is truly horrible and I genuinely do not know how it got into my stash.  More on this project as I go along.

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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.

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What I have been doing since it seems like forever

10425415_10153297601865774_8175496299219269779_n-1Last weekend, which was the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, things had got so bad in my sewing room that I couldn’t face going into it, and when I did I found it very hard to navigate across the floor.  It was like reverse stepping stones: I had to leap between the bags of who knows what all over the floor (see above photo).  So, I girded my loins and decided to have a tidy up and clear-out.  I knew that I had a good three days, which meant that I could do a bit at a time as I know from past experience that just clearing out is really boring and actually quite tiring.  So I spend three or four hours a day and finally finished with an hour yesterday.  I had five bin liners of assorted rubbish and one for the charity shop.

I went from this:

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to this:

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A ‘kind friend’ sent me this to taunt me:

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And it is, of course, the ideal, but it’s a scrapbooker’s stash.  Textiles, the way I do them, require a huge stash of bits which are unruly and will never stack away like these beautifully racked pens.  So, I was impressed with myself for getting the room to a stage where I can easily walk round it to find things and to put them away.

While I was doing it, though, I couldn’t help thinking about a publication called Where Women Create which has the most mind-boggling images of women’s studios and work spaces.  I bought the book when it came out with a missclick on Amazon, and my mother and I really enjoyed being cynical about it and its perfections:

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It is now a magazine, and if you put ‘Where Women Create’ into Pinterest you get a whole wadge of images of exquisite workrooms:

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I think this is a kind of pornography for women.  It presents us with an ideal of what is desirable that very few of us have the means to attain.  I don’t have the space for these remarkable rooms, even though I have the entire loft conversion to myself, and I don’t have the resources to kit it out in this beautiful way.  Fortunately, we can dismiss this as fantasy and just enjoy the absurdity of the pictures (unlike pornography itself), and the book really is a delight in its own way.

What did surprise me, though, about my own room, was just how deflated I felt after I had cleared it up, and how I haven’t really wanted to make anything since I did it.  It feels a bit like the muse was disturbed and has gone off to find a new home.   I was expecting to feel elated and proud of myself, but I just feel a bit empty.  Also, I had one of those terrible intimations of mortality: I knew that I would never have time to use all the stuff in that room.  It would outlive me, and that was quite depressing.

I would be really interested in hearing if anyone else has experienced this flat feeling after clearing up what was clearly a very creative mess – in my case.  I’m really not sure how to account for it.