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Henry Moore Helmet Heads 1

This photo is of the preparation stage for the series of pieces inspired by the Henry Moore heads.  I decided on three things:

  1. That I would make some small collages to get me into the flow of the appliques.
  2. I would make monoprints using my gelli plate to use in the fabric pieces.
  3. I would use the Sanderson prints that I had got from Bristol Children’s Scrapstore as the backgrounds

I had a lot of fun doing the prints:

I made a lot on paper and then on fabric, which was also from a variety of furnishing fabric samplebooks I have collected over the years.  The time has come to use them.

Because we are in lockdown it is hard to get things quickly.  I really could have done with some textile medium to keep the fabric soft as I was using acrylic paint which is nasty to hand stitch through.  As it was, I decided that I would just have to put a jeans needle in the sewing machine and do a lot of machine embroidery.  I thought I had some textile medium somewhere, but it seems to have gone to ground.  I love gelli printing and have piles of the prints.  It is good finally to be using them.

I decided to use the Sanderson prints because they epitomise the English country house, gentleman’s home is his castle look to me.  They are traditional.  They never date.  They have gorgeous botanical prints on them, and they are very high quality fabric.  These pieces have been through the washing machine at least three times to soften them up a bit, and they have not faded a bit.  They haven’t really softened much either, but I did get a lot of the paper backing off the,m as they had been mounted on mood board pages in the swanky sample book.

I wanted something that said home, tradition, stability, safety and protection and the Sanderson brand has all these associations for me.  That’s why I decided on them as the substrate.  I mounted them with spray glue onto some eco-friendly recycled wadding.  I think I should possibly have tried this out first given the size of the project – getting on for 25 pieces, but patience has never been my strong point.  The wadding is okay to work with, by the way.  The Sanderson fabric stitches like what it is: high quality furnishing fabric rather than quilting weight or dress weight cotton.  This means that the hand sewing on it is necessarily pretty basic:

There is a lot of simple stitching like this, mainly straight stitches but a bit of stem stitch which you can see on the left.  I might go mad with some colonial knots on some of them and possibly some bullion stitches.

I used some of the more textured fabric to print from by inking the gelli plate, pressing the fabric into iy and then lifting that off, and putting a lighter smoother fabric onto the gelli to pick up the paint left on the plate.  I got some nice prints, which I will point ou,t using this technique.  I know that gelli plates are expensive and that you can make your own, but I have found that the proprietary ones are surprisingly robust and highly reliable.

One interesting thing was that in lockdown I used some acrylic paint which I would not normally use.  I usually use Golden Fluid Acrylic, which is the best in my book, but I had found a lot of paint in my stash as I had been clearing stuff out.  There have been a lot of cupboards cleared out during our isolation period, I think.  I found some really cheap stuff in big tubes that an ex-Brownie leader gave me, and some that we have had in our house for at least twenty years.  This paint is all thin and as luck would have it, acted much like ink so the prints worked well.  I stuck to black, white, red, a pinky red, yellow, dark green, ultramarine, dark grey, peach and burnt umber.  Mainly I used the black and grey.  Unusually for me there were no metallics to jazz it up a bit.

The next blog will be about the process of putting the pieces together so far.

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Henry Moore Helmet Heads – introduction

Henry Moore (1898-1986) is generally considered to be one of the greatest sculptors of the twentieth century.  One of his best-known figures is located outside the United Nations Building.

I am not that big a fan of Moore, except that I love his drawings in the underground from World War II, and his sketchbook drawings of sheep.  I also like his series of king and queen sculptures, but as for the rest, I can take or leave it.  All this with the exception of his helmets which I love, and more than that, his lithographs of helmet heads.

Moore came from a mining background in Yorkshire, and his first experience of sculpture was when he went as a small boy to St Oswald’s church in Methley, South Yorkshire.  Here he saw a tomb effigies of Sir Robert Waterton (d. 1424) and Sir Lionel, Lord of Welles (d. 1461).  These were life-sized figures dressed in their battle armour.  So, Moore’s first exposure to sculpture involved medieval armour.  He served in the First World War, where he wore a helmet himself as well as seeing both British and German soldiers wearing them.  He also visited the Wallace Collection between the wars and saw and sketched the armour in the displays there.  He seems to have had a life-long fascination with armour, and he saw it as both a practical,  protective object and a work of art in itself.  He seems to have been more interested in the pure form of fighting armour rather than the highly decorated pieces of dress or ceremonial armour in the Wallace Collection.

I discover that we are slightly kindred spirits.  I went with the medieval historian to the Wallace Collection several years ago and absolutely loved the strong shapes of the armour and have long been fascinated by its connection to modern men’s suits in which tubes of cloth have replaced tubes of metal in forming work wear.  At the time I visited the Wallace Collection I was obsessed with Zentangles and filled the shapes with them.

I went back to the Wallace Collection (which is without doubt my favourite London Museum) to see the exhibition of Moore’s Helmet Heads last year.  I did a blog about it, which I shall not repeat.  I loved it and was fascinated by the themes of whether something to do with death and violence can be seen as a work of art in its own right, which intrigued Moore before me.  I was fascinated by all the dualities of helmets as being about protection and the inflicting of violence, or interior and exterior, of hard metal and soft bodies, of containment and liberation.  It was amazing to see the whole series of them together in one place, but the part of the exhibition which I found the absolutely most moving was a short series of lithographs that he made in the mid-1970s as he was getting older in which he returned to his helmet theme.

Even as I looked at them I could see that they would make great textile pieces. 

I was also intrigued by the comments in the catalogue that Moore had been very disappointed by the prints and he tore them up.  It was only when he saw the sections of the heads that he became excited and inspired and went back to working on them.

I found these fearful faces staring out from battlements waiting for the attack to start moving and unsettling.  I think that they are terrifying in the way that suggesting the monster off-stage rather than showing it in detail is in films and novels.

I have been meaning to do something with all this for ages – well, since last year, at least.  They came back to my mind when the corona virus forced us into lockdown, and I decided to find the sketchbook with my ideas from the time and see what I could make with them.  I will blog separately about them, but I think they really are art for our time.  Like the soldiers on the battlements, we are confined to our protective spaces, with no real idea of what the outcome might be of the ‘war’ against the virus.  We are not sure whether or not we will face death.  We are not sure what to do.  We are not sure how long the siege will last.  We do not know whether our safe space will keep us safe, and we have no idea how effective our protective clothing, in our case, our masks will be.

In my series of textile pieces, I am offsetting the Mrs Miniver-like domestic textiles made by Sanderson with cabbage roses and cottage garden flowers against the starkness of the dark mono prints I have made.  This will be the subject of the next blog.

Further reading: T. Capwell and H. Higham (eds.) (2019) Henry Moore: The Helmet Heads. London: Bloomsbury/The Wallace Collection.

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Ring pillows for the wrinklies

This post is about more work for my other role in life, that of humanist celebrant doing weddings and namings.

I was thinking about older brides in particular after leafing through another wedding magazine.  There really are only fresh-faced, porcelain-skinned young women in them.  You would be excused for thinking that no older women ever get married – or remarried.   I think it’s the equivalent of thinking women over 55 only ever want to dress in navy blue or beige artificial fibre tents.

I was wondering what sort of thing would suit older women.  I wanted to make some hearts that could be easily converted into ring pillows for weddings, and could be keepsakes thereafter.  Thinking about myself and my own tastes, these are hand-embroidered hearts worked on recycled fabrics.  Some are on the reverse of a very nice linen furnishing fabric:

You can see the front on the back, ironically, of this small heart:

The print is of these gorgeous, overblown tulips, but it would have fought against any lettering.  The fabric is leftover from some upmarket curtains.

The other is a printed commercial king-sized quilt which I bought in a charity shop and have been cutting up and using for a couple of years now:

The embroidery is largely stem stitch.  I learned how to do it a couple of years ago when a wonderful teacher explained to me that it is basically back stitch done on the back rather than the front of the fabric.  The scales fell from my eyes and I have been using it ever since after years of frustration not having any success and having to unpick it every time.  You can teach old dogs new tricks.

The little heart with LOVE on it is worked in two rows of chain stitch.  They are all done in variegated embroidery floss which is my current favourite thread.  They are all partly stuffed with the leftover fabric from when I cut them out.  All part of my drive for more sustainability.

You may have noticed that these all have quotations from Beatles songs on them.  These take me right back to being a little girl and being given Beatles singles for Christmas.  I would love to do a Beatles-themed wedding.  A couple coming into the ceremony to ‘Here comes the sun’ would be lovely.  I’m not sure what they would go out to.  The chorus of ‘All you need is love’ maybe.  Might be nice for a sing-song half-way through as well.

Just in case you are thinking of getting married and would like to use one of these as a ring pillow, they will be going in my Etsy shop which you can find by putting PomegranateByAnn in the search box on Etsy.com.  I can convert them to proper ring pillows by embroidering a little loop to thread ribbons through.  I am also happy to stitch any other song lyrics that have special meanings.

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Baby shoes

Now that I have retired from the university, like lots of the retired, I find myself in straitened circumstances.  One of the things that I do to support myself is to work as a Humanist celebrant.  I create Wedding and Naming ceremonies.

Humanists do not believe in supernatural forces, including God, fate, destiny, and so on.  This means that we all have to think about living a good life for its own sake and not because we can expect some ultimate judgement in an afterlife.  We are highly discouraged from describing Humanism in these negative terms, according to what we don’t believe in, but I think it is by far and away the most interesting thing about it.  When I write what we are for you can see that it is not that different from the Christianity that I was brought up with: kindness, tolerance, openness, inclusivity and a desire for human flourishing.  If you want to know more about this, you can have a look at www.humanism.org.uk where luminaries such as Stephen Fry, Alice Roberts and Sandi Toksvig explain the principles extremely well.

All that out of the way, I can turn to the  point of this post, which is that in order to do anything at all these days, it seems that you have to have a web presence.  So, I put up quite a bit on instragram (@AnnRippin if you want to have a look).  Finding things to photograph and put up about Naming ceremonies is quite difficult, especially if you don’t want to put the child’s photo on the web.  So, I have been thinking about what I can include instead.

I have decided to make a series of baby shoes and put a poem that people planning a naming might like to consider.  The shoes are designed as decorative items, although theoretically they could be worn.  Maybe only for photographs, though, as they are very likely to fall off.

This pair is my prototype.  I made up a piece of patched together cotton fabric and quilted it roughly onto some purple felt.  Then I cut out the shapes from the ‘yardage’.  I stitched them together very roughly with variegated thread.

I really enjoy making them.  The pattern is by Simplicity and I got it in a pattern sale for a fiver.  I will blog more about that later.  Suffice to say they went together really easily and with only the tiniest bit of easing around the heel.

This pair also has pieced soles which I like.

The fabric for this pair comes from Aldi and/or Lidl.  They sell packs of fat quarters really cheaply and it looks a bit poor quality until you wash it, when, once the fierce dressing is out of it, it becomes delightfully soft.  Their cotton is from Pakistan, which is a change from the gorgeous US cottons we often use.   A lot of the designs, as you will see in later posts look a bit like vintage Laura Ashley which I also like.

Lots more to post on this project later.

 

 

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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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Yet more recycled fabric

This is one of those pieces that I am making but have no idea why.  I am just really enjoying stitching together these tiny scraps leftover from the leftovers of leftovers.  I think after this I might finally have to throw the scraps away.  I think it has the spirit of boro: never wasting anything, and if there is a gap finding a piece of fabric to cover it and then stitching it down.

It is put together on curtain lining scraps with embroidery floss which is turning out to be my current favourite thread:

 

I don’t really know what to do with it.  I might cut it up and make it into another dog or a bird:

It will be quite big when it’s finished.

I think it’s a form of crazy patchwork although the wadding is already on the fabric which has been machine quilted.  It’s quite hard on the wrists, though.

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Inspired by boro

This is not the best picture in the world, but it gives an idea of my latest boro-inspired experiment. I used a convenient pomeranian dog to prop it up against for the photograph and I don’t think it really worked.

This piece, which is about the size of an A4 piece of paper, is made from strips of silk, mainly slubbed dupion, which I tore ages ago to make a scarf.  I had made about a foot of the scarf before I realised it looks fantastic in the book but would look ridiculous on me.  So, I was left with a bag of bits, and, as regular readers will know, I can’t bear to throw anything away.  I found them recently when looking for something else of course.   I rather like them as a variation on the boro idea of making up a cloth using tiny scraps, and I particularly like the rich colours of the shot dupion:

The strips were hand sewn with perlé cotton onto a piece of linen from a charity shop skirt, and the whole thing was a delight to sew.

I am doing quit a bit of hand sewing at the moment as it is too hot for machining in my studio and the fan blows all my stuff about.  Plus, I am still learning how to use my behemoth of a new machine.  Watch this space, though, for when it cools down and I start to become more machine confident.

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Welsh Tweed Eggs

The medieval historian and I are just back from our annual trip to Pembrokeshire.  The family joke is that we go for the dogs, but actually, we go because it is so beautiful and we never tire of the beaches and the walks and the small towns.  A very regular place of pilgrimage is Melin Tregwynt (pictured above) which is a Welsh woollen mill in the absolute middle of nowhere, but a bit near Fishguard.  It makes traditional Welsh wool fabric, not sure you can call it tweed if it isn’t Scottish, but the designs are modern, the palettes contemporary and the whole thing very high end.  You have almost certainly seen some of it on television shows on fancy sofas, or in hotels you might have stayed at – the Mercure chain has it for example.  It is pretty expensive but fabulous.  I bought a throw in the half price sale last year for our 30th wedding anniversary and it is the best thing possible for an afternoon nap.  So, count me as a fan.

I have been going and collecting offcuts which they sell by weight or in prepacked bags for years and I have quite a collection.  I have been steadily adding them to make blankets for some time.

I have also made embroidered bags with them:

 

I love doing wool embroidery as the needle slides through so much more easily and the wool feels lovely in the hand.

All this leads on to a group of embroidered egg panels which I did while in Pembrokeshire.  I took threads and some beads from home, but I also came across a bead shop in Narberth, Begelly Beads.  It’s a tiny bit out of the town so you have to look for it, but it is worth a visit.  Some really nice £1 selection bags to be had in various colours, as well as bargains.  I often find that the beads that no-one wants for jewellery are perfect for embroidery.  Take these unlovely brown rose beads:

I can quite see why you wouldn’t want brown plastic roses round your neck, but they really do look like piped chocolate flowers and they worked very well on this egg.  I sewed them onto the edge with blanket stitch and then dotted some on the tweed, following the pattern.  I am pretty sure that Fabergé would have loved the skill and delicate palette of the weaving.  I am not sure what he would have made of the beads.

I also experimented with different sizes of egg using the same fairly bold pattern:

I reversed the fabric so that the top one has the darker background.  Then I used the spot design as a basis for embellishment.

The top, smaller egg gave me a few problems:

The metallic silver glass beads refused to stay put in a graceful sweeping curve.  Incidentally, the beads around the edge are glass cubes with orange pigment of some description around the threading hole.  They are lovely to work with: chunky and well-finished so they don’t fray the thread.  I was introduced to these cube beads by Linda Kemshall who sometimes finishes off her magnificent art pieces with them.  That was roughly twenty years ago, and at that time the beads were ruinously expensive.  They were imported from Japan and hard to get hold of.  Now you can get them widely and they have really come down in price.  They are a brilliant way to get a really neat edge and they give weight to a wall piece.  Again, you put them on with a blanket stitch the width of the bead.

The final egg for this post is this one where I decided to concentrate on the background rather than decorating the egg.  It’s a ‘What if?’ technique for those of you interested in creativity:

I used a variegated thread for the stitching.  I was going to put beads on as well, but the simplicity of the design, and the seeding which is a very basic stitch, seemed to make sparkly bits rather too much for once.  These are all very small pieces, roughly A5 and so useful for using up scraps.

Just to finish, here is Affie, the colour reference pom:

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Orange rose egg

This egg panel is very simple.  I wanted to use the orange rose print just because I think it is so pretty.  I tacked the fabric over a stiff card egg template, stitched almost all the way round it and then pulled the card through the gap.  I find this is a good way to handle curves.  Then, to give it some interest, I used variegated thread to go round it in beaded fly stitch:

Orange rose detail

I used very cheap glass beads from Tiger.  Sometimes having cheap elements is good because it is easier to be generous with them.  The fabric came from a cheap bargain bin at a quilt show.  I suppose that lilac and tangerine isn’t everyone’s choice, but I really liked the exuberant full-blown roses which lent themselves to fancy-cutting here.

I don’t have much else to say about this one.  It was quick and easy and has a bit of a sparkle but not enough to look flashy.

 

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More good works at Pomegranate Studio

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We had two days of glorious sunshine at the weekend which I took advantage of to repaint the summerhouse at the bottom of the (very short) garden at Pomegranate Studio.  I was using Annie Sloan chalk paint which I am assured sticks to everything without need of sanding and priming.  It shows the sort of place this is that when I ran out of painter’s tape to mask the glass I used what I had: several rolls of washi tape mainly from Tiger and Paperchase.  The problem is that now I rather like the gingerbread cottage look it gives.  Certainly the fresh green and the airforce blue (‘Aubusson’) seem to work well together.

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The paint is fantastic, though.  It dried quickly and I think I might get away with one coat, at least for now.

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The summerhouse is in a bad way needing a new roof covering, plus a good scrub out, but the structure is pretty sound.  The lovely Adirondack chairs I bought myself as a present were in good shape too.  I will post pictures as the makeover continues.

This is my Westie, Hedy, who was on hand to help throughout.  But the end of the afternoon she was covered in blue paint although I thought I kept a close eye on her.  Miraculously it washed off when she had a bath.  Another plus for the chalk paint.

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