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Threads of Identity 1 – the half-way stage?

Halfway(?) through Threads of Identity 1

Halfway(?) through Threads of Identity 1

Having done what I call the construction sewing on this – putting down the foundations and making sure the whole thing sticks together – I can move into the more interesting decorative phase.   This piece is turning into a bit of a delight for me because it is going together easily and it is allowing me to enjoy really beautiful textiles.  So, there is some more of the lovely linen on the left, and on the right some of the exquisite silk from Margo Selby.  These textiles are so beautiful they don’t really need much doing to them.  The big tassel in the centre is made from a lovely double-sided silk furnishing fabric, and was supplied, as was the piece of old lace at the bottom by my mother.  Once I have finished attaching these elements, the fun can really start with the embellishments, which I think will start to let a narrative emerge.

Threads of Identity 1 lace detail

Threads of Identity 1 lace detail

I think this will be an interesting example of letting the piece speak to me and tell me its own story.

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Is less more? Or is more more?

Threads of Identity project detail

Threads of Identity project detail

 

I went to Bristol Quilters last night, which is the biggest group I belong to with about 100 members.  Although there are far too many of us to stitch, we do have a great show and tell where we share our work. and we can afford to have really wonderful speakers.  Last night’s was Karina Thompson who makes gorgeous, tactile, sophisticated slashed textiles.  I have put a link to her website on the blogroll but for the record it’s www.karinathompson.co.uk.  It was interesting to hear her talk about her work as she is definitely a textile artist rather than an arty quilter, and she spoke the language of a practising artist.  I really like the fact that Bristol Quilters has speakers who are very traditional quilters one month and textile artists the next.  I think it keeps us fresh.  My good friends Becky and Alison who have featured in this blog before went to her workshop and said she was a great teacher as well.  I loved her idea of controlled fraying for when she brushes her textiles into a chenille-type quality.  It was also interesting to hear her talk about her fascination with the doing the least possible to suggest an image.  Some of her work is minimalist; only the barest evocation of a landscape.  This is in total contrast to my own.  I am interested in sumptuous, encrusted, glittering surfaces.  In my imaginary museum of quilts it would be interesting to hang her’s next to mine!  Anyway, treat yourself and have a look at her website.

This morning I indulged in one of my guilty pleasures which is to listen to Melvin Bragg’s Start The Week on BBC Radio 4 while doing some stitching.  I know I should be hard at some administrative task, but it puts me in a good mood for the day to listen to STW and that must benefit any students whose work I am marking.  Today was on the Battle of Bannockburn which is entirely irrelevant.  Last week’s was on Aristotle’s Poetics and I spent the whole 45 minutes taking notes.  So it evens out.

To get to the point, the picture at the top of this post is of the start of my Laura Ashley project inspired by my trip to the Foundling Museum.  I thought it might be interesting to document the progress of the piece – which is very small – only about 14 inches square.  I intend each piece to start the same size and to develop out of a sample of Laura Ashley fabric.  I am not planning much but am responding to the sample, but I would like stories to emerge out of the juxtaposition of cloth.  I started with what turned out to be a fairly fine synthetic fabric which looks like unbleached cotton lawn, which I will use as the foundation for all the pieces.  The wadding is bamboo, which I quite like because it is very low loft.  For once I have started with the frames.  I usually make the pieces and then have to have them expensively framed.  This time, I thought I would be a bit cleverer and get the frames and make the pieces to fit.  Fine, but box frames are like rocking horse poo – extremely hard to find.  In the end I went to good old IKEA and bought five large square frames.  I thought the black edges might be appropriate to the memorialising aspect of the quilts.

On Sunday afternoon I made the basic sandwich and chose potential elements for the piece.  I started with a scrap of Laura Ashley fabric as each piece will have one sample, and off I went.

Initial stages of Threads of Identity 1, February 2011

Initial stages of Threads of Identity 1, February 2011

These are both linen fabrics.  The one on the left is one from a pile of samples my mother gave me ages ago from some of the last cloth produced by Rose and Hubble, a British company which is no longer in business.  The one on the right is from a bag of off-cuts of exquisitely beautiful linen I bought from The Linen Shop when I went to Art in Action at Waterperry about three years ago.  The Linen Shop sells seriously gorgeous linen with a lovely sheen and very subtle colours.  Even though the off-cuts were fairly cheap they are far too beautiful to cut into, and I had to give myself the ‘Do you want to die with this fabric in its pristine shape until the perfect project worthy of them presents itself, or do you want to enjoy them while you still have your faculties?’ talk.  I saw sense.  The Linen Shop’s website is http://www.thelinenshop.biz.  Again, treat yourself.

That’s probably enough for today.  But I will track the progress on this piece which is coming together surprisingly quickly in subsequent posts.

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You can take the hearts off the quilt, but you can't take the quilts out of the heart

Buttonhole applique on The Greek Slave Quilt

Buttonhole applique on The Greek Slave Quilt

Last night I went out with Becky, Alison and my Grate Friend Ceri, who has featured previously in this blog, for a quiet drink and a chat.  We talked about family and jobs and the realities of getting older, but we also talked a lot about the passion that brings us all together: sewing.  Becky is fantastic at recycling and cannot bear to throw anything away.  When she makes beautiful patchwork out of scraps it looks elegant and designed and covertable.  Alison makes beautiful quilts with the subtlest of colour schemes, and the lightest of touches of embellishments, and Ceri makes fabulous riots of colour which are both sophisticated and full of life.  For some reason, though, they seem to think I know more about patchwork and quilting than them, which is wrong.  The conversation turned to current projects and I started to talk about The Greek Slave Quilt, which has taken me by surprise because it is back to traditional pieced patchwork which I haven’t really done for years.  Suddenly, I have a desire to stitch pieces of fabric together.  It must be the recession.  We had all been to see the big quilt show at the Victoria and Albert Museum last year, and knowing that the Greek Slave had been inspired by that trip, Becky suggested that I enter it, when it’s finished, into the V&A’s competition for work inspired by a visit to the Museum.  I am a bit shy about this sort of thing, and so I demurred.  But, back at home and in bed, my mind started racing.  What would I have to do to turn it into an art quilt which might interest the V&A rather than just a ho-hum reproduction knock-off piece?

The answer seemed to me to combine the story elements from the Greek Slave Quilt, which I have blogged about before with the Changi Quilt which was also in the show.  The Changi Quilts have fascinated me for years.  Here’s a description from the Red Cross website about the quilts they own:

When Singapore surrendered to the invading Japanese army early in 1942, many service personnel and civilians from Allied countries – including women and children – were sent to an internment camp at Changi Prison.

Men were separated from the women and children, and there was little contact between them so families didn’t know if their loved ones had survived.

In the first six months of internment, women embroidered their names and an image that meant something to them on squares of fabric. The squares were sewn together to form quilts, which were given to the military hospital at Changi barracks. For many of the men, it was the first sign they had that their wives and daughters were alive.

(www.redcross.org.uk)

Changi Quilt

Changi Quilt

I have often wondered if I were in that situation, with Pete not knowing if I were dead or alive, what would I embroider on my square of fabric?  What sums up my identity, his identity or our identity in our life together?  What would he feel like as he stood there and examined the quilts as they came through looking for some sign that I had survived?  What single image sums up a life together?

The upshot of all this is that I decided to try to bring the two narrative elements together in the quilt and to make a small collection of things that I associate with Pete.  I will incorporate them into the finished piece in some way.  Quite a challenge putting objects onto such a traditional ‘2D’ quilt.  There is much more to say on this subject which I will leave for other posts, but I am struck by how much of my involvement in quilting is work of the heart.

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On 'torturing' fabric

Detail of Pre-Raphaelite panel from Body Shop Quilt

Detail of Pre-Raphaelite panel from Body Shop Quilt

In an idle moment last night when I found myself wandering around the web instead of going to bed, I came across a website with prompts for bloggers with writer’s blog.  One of them suggested writing about a book that you would recommend to other people, and this in turn prompted me to think about a conversation I had with my grate friend Ceri (as Molesworth would say) at St Andrew’s Quilters, our quilting group, on Wednesday evening.  We were talking about Gwen Marston’s book on liberated quilting which is currently going for £127 on Amazon.  I got mine years ago and paid nothing like that for it.  I did spend an amount I am not prepared to disclose for The Whole Cloth by Constantine and Reuter which makes proper textile artists go weak at the knees, and which I subsequently found had come from a library sale so probably cost the crafty vendor under a fiver.  However.  The point of this post is not to have an informal quilters’ book group.  I want to talk a bit about torturing fabric.

So, when I went to Gwen Marston’s weekend workshop I went to the show and tell and sat next to a fantastic, committed quilter who does traditional work wonderfully well.  As we were chatting she said to me, ‘I do hope we’re not going to see a lot of tortured fabric.’  My heart sank, because both pieces I had taken along, and which I shall endeavour to find photos of, were prime example of such practices.  The piece at the top of this post, which is also my header photo is another example of exquisite cruelty to cloth.  In the case of the photo above, the fabric was attacked with a soldering iron.  Not even Quentin Tarantino would stoop to that.

The Pre-Raphaelite Panel, Body Shop Quilt

The Pre-Raphaelite Panel, Body Shop Quilt

When quilting magazines occasionally poll well-known quilters on which piece of equipment they could not bear to lose, I sometimes think it would be my hot air gun.  This beauty actually came in very useful recently when our pipes froze.  My charming husband was up a ladder thawing them out most effectively.  I can probably also use the leftover lagging to print with at some point as well, so the morning was not entirely wasted.

But, there are some of us who work in textiles who just cannot resist the quick zap with the heat gun over chiffon or IKEA curtain voile which melts back beautifully or this lovely sample of Italian furnishing voile:

Body Shop Quilt, filler panel detail

Body Shop Quilt, filler panel detail

I love those big baroque flourishes in quilts where there is the space.  I also love the nerve it takes to put the heat gun over the quilting you have so lovingly worked on for an afternoon.

The quilts will have their revenge, though.  I spent ages stitching voile over some exquisite squares of very choice fabric set out like mosaic, got the hot air gun out, turned it on and waited for the magic to appear.  And waited.  And waited.  And noticed a smell of burning.  The voile my mother had supplied me with from her curtain making contact was pure silk and had no intention of burning.  And that is why you should always make samples.  And thinking through what had happened and how this made me realise that you must respect the integrity of your materials suggests to me that perhaps after all you shouldn’t make samples after all.

For info: the stunning beads on this panel come from Anita’s Beads (www.anitasbeads.com) which is worth searching out at the Festival of Quilts just to meet the wonderful Clive.

The Greek Slave – New Project

The Greek Slave Quilt

The Greek Slave Quilt

This is a slightly blurry photo of a detail of The Greek Slave Quilt which was one of the exhibits in the recent magnificent quilt exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  I went twice and only noticed this quilt on my second visit where I was suddenly entranced by it.

What interests me is the way that the meaning of the quilt changes as the stories about the woman (probably) who made it change.  Originally it was thought that it must have been made by a woman living on a farm as it has a picket fence design round the edge and lots of horses and other domestic animals pictured in its applique.  This was the opinion of Averil Colby  (1900-1983), one of the great figures in the English patchwork and quilting revival.  (There will be a retrospective exhibition about her legacy at the Quilters’ Guild Museum in York in 2011, http://www.quiltmuseum.org.uk/exhibitions/forthcoming/the-averil-colby-legacy.html).  This went unchallenged until a researcher at the V&A looked more closely at the applique figures, one of which is pictured here.  What that researcher saw was a particularly well-known statue by Hiram Powers (1805-1873) called the Greek Slave.

The Greek Slave by Hiram Powers

The Greek Slave by Hiram Powers (1805-1873)

 

It was exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851, and the pose in the applique and crucially the presence of the post to which the woman is chained, suggest very strongly that the woman who made it was not a farmer celebrating the joys of country life through chickens and horses and picket fences but a cultured woman who had either been to the Great Exhibition, or seen pictures or read magazines and was copying what she had seen.  Suddenly this becomes a very different piece as it is a heavily appliqued coverlet, meaning it has no wadding and so was not used for warm bedding.  It is much more likely to be a hobby piece.

I’ll return to the piece in later posts, but I was intrigued by the shifting meanings of the story and decided to make my own version.

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The Greek Slave – my latest project

Greek Slave Quilt

Greek Slave Quilt, detail, Ann Rippin 2011

This is part of a piece I started working on in order to have something to do over Christmas.  I found the patchwork, including some quite nice applique, that I did years and years and years ago with a pack of reproduction vintage fabrics that my mother gave me.  I was amazed when I pulled the bag out, firstly because the work had been in there for so long that the plastic had started to biodegrade and the handles came off in my hand, and second because there was so much piecing already done.

I can also use the contents of the bag to trace how my patchwork has developed.  The main pieces were large and fairly accurate (for me) very traditionally put together, but as my tastes changed I started to like the really wonky piecing you get with very utilitarian quilts.  I suppose this is reverse snobbery: you can admire the charmingly naive when you have double glazing and central heating.  But there is something very energetic about quilting which fits where it touches, as my grandmother used to say.  And I did a brilliant workshop some years ago with Gwen Marston who talks about liberated quilting.  No templates.  Just get on with it and make a bit to fit.  Apropos of nothing, one of the proudest moments of my life was when I showed  a couple of my pieces at the show and tell at the workshop, and she came up to me quietly later and said, ‘Ann, you are a real artist.’  Could have died and gone to heaven.

So, two thirds of my latest piece will be wonky patchwork.  This sample shows the deliberately wonky quilting which I will bung in the washing machine to shrink to make it look antique.  I am currently working on the applique panel which is the whole point of the piece.

Greek Slave applique

Greek Slave Applique from Victoria and Albert Quilt

This is the applique with its attendant narrative that I am working on.  More on this as work progresses.

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Final post on Ann Rippin's sketchbooks for a while…

 

Sketches of goddess figures from Marija Gimbutas's book

Sketches of goddess figures from Marija Gimbutas's book

 

It’s a beautiful bright afternoon and it’s staying light longer, so I think that I will try to make some progress on a project which I picked up so that I would have something to stitch while watching television over Christmas, my Greek Slave project.  This is based on a quilt I saw at the wonderful exhibition of quilts at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2010 (www.vam.ac.uk/collections/textiles/quilts-1700-2010/).  I will write more about it as we go along, but thought I would include one more of the pages of the goddess sketchbooks before moving on to a major new piece.

These sketches are taken from Gimbutas’s book, The Language of the Goddess. I cannot remember exactly when I encountered the work of Marija Gimbutas, but I certainly came across ideas about a Mother Goddess and attendant theories about matriarchal societies while I was at university and when I was developing my own feminist identity.  She was and remains a controversial figure.  I encountered her work as the context was selecting her for prominence as it were.  Her work on the goddess fitted exactly with second-wave feminism when we were looking for possibilities of societies based on something other than the Law of the Father, which the French feminists such as Kristeva and Irigaray were exposing for us.  Gimbutas suggested that there had been matriarchies which had existed very successfully without war or weapons for centuries, before they were displaced by masculine nomadic cultures sweeping from the Steppes.

I don’t know whether or not I believe a word of this version of events.  There seems to be little direct evidence for such societies, and we can never know what went through the minds of people in the very distant past.  They left no written records.  Gimbutas argues that they had a well-worked out visual language which is reflected in the artifacts that they did leave behind.  Perhaps.  What fascinates me is my desire to engage with this beautiful vision of a world governed by respect for nature and craft and the place of women.  It seems to connect with a powerful nostalgia of which I was unaware.  This vision is so engaging and so rich and so resonant with Ecofeminism, that it is hard to resist.  But, my rational side still requires evidence.

The other element that fascinates me is the cultural constructions going on here.  Gimbutas published her work at exactly the right point to be taken up by a generation of women and some men who wanted to recover a gentler and more sustainable way of organising.  But with feminism came the backlash and she was definitely on the receiving end of that.  There is a  photograph of Gimbutas in her native Lithuanian peasant dress on a site dedicated to bad archaeology (www.badarchaeology.net).  She has long been subject to ridicule, but I think that I share some of her fascination for these figures.  And, I went out yesterday and bought some more DAS clay to make some more of my own…

The serious scholar vs the eccentric peasant grandmother.  I have long been fascinated by how forces of conservatism effectively disempower threats to the status quo by making fun of them, and thus trivialising them.  Gimbutas in her funny headdress is a quiet example of this.


 

 

Yet another page from Ann Rippin's sketchbooks

 

Found landscape page from Ann Rippin's sketchbook

Found landscape page from Ann Rippin's sketchbook

One of the things that I like about sketchbooks is that sometimes you get happy accidents like this.  This is a page from my workbook on the Body Shop, although it doesn’t have much to do with the finished piece.  While I was working on the quilt and in this book I bought a brush which I think is called a sword or a blade brush at a craft fair and was just trying it out with some koh-i-nor solid dye.  I was really surprised when the oriental-looking landscape appeared out of nowhere.  If I had been trying for this effect it would have eluded me, but it was fun to see it emerge.

In the top right hand corner there is also a swatch of a beautiful embroidered silk fabric  which I used in this quilt to symbolise Nottingham, my home town, because of the oak leaves and the major oak and Robin Hood.

 

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Another page from Ann Rippin's sketchbooks

The Queen of Scotland

Page from Ann Rippin's Body Shop Workbook

This is one of my favourite pages from my sketchbooks because it came about as a bit of a happy accident.  It is part of the work on the Body Shop concerned with portraiture as a research method.  I was doing some stuff with portraits of Elizabeth 1, particularly in the Gloriana phase, and also looking at the 1970s which were probably my formative decade.  The picture of Rod Stewart just seemed to typify the decade in some way, so I put him into the book.  Then I came across the picture of Mary Queen of Scots and was struck by the similarities between the two.  There is something about the pose and the look in their eyes.  I think they belong to each other across the centuries somehow.  It just made me laugh.  So I thought I would include it here.

Early Europe Figures – Sketchbook

 

Early Europe figure sketchbook page

Early Europe figure sketchbook page from Ann Rippin's sketchbook, 2010

Yesterday I posted about the Early Europe figures to be included on the Body Shop Quilt.  Today I thought it might be interesting to add the page from my sketchbook of the drawing I did for it while I was at the exhibition.  I have included the little DAS figure that I made as well.  There is more about sketchbooks on my sketchbook page.