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Dragon Hide No 2

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As suggested by the title, this is the second blog post on my series on dragons with my grate frend, Beatriz Acevedo.  This is another piece which has a lot of stitching on it because I had time over the Christmas break to spend stitching, which I generally do while watching television.  Christmas is good for this, otherwise I can spend hours watching the specials and become slightly goggle-eyed.

This piece started with a piece of strange stretchy dress fabric which I bought in a lucky dip bag at the Knitting and Stitching Show in October:

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It is choc-ful of lycra which makes it quite difficult to sew, but if you distort the fabric it just springs back, so it is hard to make a mess of.  I thought it looked like a reptile hide, and so I backed it over some very heavy yellow silk and a thin curtain interlining and then stitched into it.  I tacked it down using fly stitch, which I use a lot, but which went a bit odd when I decided that I liked it portrait rather than landscape.  I fixed this by stitching over the top with more fly stitch:

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and then I added a lot of beads which I had got very cheaply in the Hobbycraft sale in Nottingham with my mother.  The whole thing jumped into life, though, when I added some tiny red seed beads:

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just enough to move the eye around.  I remember from some distant history of art class that medieval stained glass artists often put dots of red around the edge of windows as the eye reads these as a frame.

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I enjoyed working with this unusual fabric and making a magical pelt whether or not it has been splashed with dragon blood…

Dragon hide no 1

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The theme of my favourite conference, SCOS, this year is The Animal, and my grate frend, Beatriz and I have decided to do some work together.  We are going to make a piece each week for twenty-five weeks, (deep breath) based on the dragon.  Beatriz mainly works on paper and in mixed media, and so she will paint; I am going to use a lot of cloth.  We are working on the dragon because it is the SCOS emblem, and that of many of the cities we have visited with the conference over the years.  We thought a mythological beast might bring something extra to the proceedings next year in Uppsala.

So this is my first offering.  I made it over Christmas when I had plenty of time to do colonial knots in front of the tv.  I decided to do a dragon pelt.  It is a variation on clamshell patchwork.  When patchwork had its big revival in the 1970s, the how-to books were full of how to do this form of piecing.  If you look closely at them, however, the finished items are really pretty small.  This is because it is really fiddly and time-consuming and requires the ability to get a smooth curve on every single piece.  There is often a reproduction of this piece of antique clamshell, which I think is in the Victoria and Albert’s collection:

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That sort of green piping suggests to me that this was made by someone with a great deal of leisure who wanted to show her fine needlework skills to the marriage market.  Be that as it may, the examples in the books are usually cushions, spectacle cases, bag flaps and, surprisingly often, owl chests.

I decided to avoid the tricky piecing and gathering that long curved edge by making mine out of felt:

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This is very cheap felt from Hobbycraft.  I would have liked to have used some of the gorgeous handmade woollen felt that I see at the quilt shows, but just after Christmas a trip to the retail park was pretty much all that was on offer, so I decided to use this pretty nasty acrylic stuff.  It has a nasty, almost squeaky texture, and it only comes in pretty garish colours, but it is really forgiving.  I stitched the clamshells onto some old curtain interlining:

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and stitched it down with what looks like black, but which is actually a very dark brown, embroidery floss, two strands.  Both fabrics are springy which meant I could pull the clamshells about to fit as much as I liked.  Then I decorated with deliberately free-hand cut contrasting circles and put them on with straight stitch and colonial knots.  I always use colonial knots since I had an impromptu tutorial at the Festival of Quilts with Sandie Lush.  The are much easier to do than french knots and they hardly ever go wrong.

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I wanted a really folkartsy feel to this piece.

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I wanted to invoke the embroidery that I had grown up with, but also to make the piece feel like something you might find tucked away in an ethnographic museum somewhere.

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I was thinking about the sort of embroidery on the right-hand side of this instruction booklet which I found on the web, the sort of thing my mother did in the seventies in her modern free-embroidery classes.  My attempt was the opposite of fine needlework.  Overall, I think it worked quite well to give me a dragon pelt:

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I can’t help thinking that a dragon pelt is a good thing to have.  I am sure that one like this would be protective, which is not a bad thing to have at the beginning of the new year.  Dragons as protectors is something that Beatriz and I want to look at because it is the other side of dragons as hoarders and fierce, attacking defenders.  So in some ways, this is a (very small) safety blanket.

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Fabric pictures of houses

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Quick post today.

Yesterday was the first event on the schedule that I have drawn up with my visiting US quilt scholar academic, Marybeth Stalp.  As part of the workshop, I made up some packs for people to do some sewing who weren’t ‘self-identified’ stitchers.  I made some samples to show them what they could make with the packs and the extra materials I had provided.  The theme was around the domestic and what happens when your hobby turns slightly serious.  We had a great afternoon, and here are the samples, pictures of houses or homes, to go with the theme of the day:

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House and home

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This is a quick post today, to some extent to show I am still alive.

I am planning a series of events with a visiting quilter from the US, Marybeth Stalp, and one of them involves a workshop in which we will invite participants to make something as we are talking.  I thought that it would be nice to have a domestic theme, and that we could make houses.  Houses have nice simple shapes and are something we can all have a go at making recognisable.  So I have been making some samples.  This is my first attempt.  The house itself has got to be achievable over the course of the workshop, but I know from experience that people are going to ask what they can do with them.  So I put this one on a backing fabric and all of a sudden it became a tree house, so I added some leaves and a bird.  It’s become a bird tree house.  I am really interested in that conversation with the materials, when the picture tells you what it wants.  This one wanted to be a bit whimsical, and possibly, and this might be fanciful, it wanted to remind me of the importance of living creatures and their needs for home as well us humans.

As usual, this is made entirely from scrap fabric which would otherwise go into landfill, including the thread which came from surplus floss for embroidery kits.  The bead for the eye and the button for the doorknob came from a tin my mother found at the back of a shelf.

 

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What I did at the weekend, or, the joy of having the right tools

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It’s a bit of a stitcher’s post today, although it rings true for anyone practising their craft, I suspect.

Over the weekend I had to make some prototype cushions for a project we are doing at the University, called Tangible Memories.  The idea is that people with dementia benefit from music and singing and so the team led by the estimable Helen Manchester are making small cushions to put mp3 players in.  This involves making buttoned pockets.

I volunteered to make a couple, and so, had to make buttonholes.  I have done this plenty of times before but a. not recently, and b. not on very thick furnishing fabric, as we wanted to have texture as well.  So, I vaguely remembered how to do it, but being me, couldn’t be bothered to find the instructions for the machine.  In the event I remembered there was a special foot.

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And after much trial and error, I got the hang of it:

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And, as you can see from the second photo, I decided to make the inner buttoned pockets from a much lighter fabric, and to do loops and buttons on the heavy stuff.  I could probably have made it work on the heavy furnishing fabric, but I fear life is too short and walls don’t deserve to have things flung at them when it is clearly not their fault.

Once I had the hang of it, it was clear that it is pretty straightforward if you have the right foot on the machine.  When it came to stitching all those layers of heavy furnishing fabric together I actually managed to find my walking foot, which was a birthday present years ago and, once you can fit it on, which is a real fiddle, is a brilliant tool:

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It lives in this pristine little box in a drawer.  I also used my quilter’s foot with its quarter inch guide to make a block for a Bristol Quilters‘ project and even that came out with the points more or less meeting.  I like having these gadgets, and I find it fun, of all things, to use them.

What I did yesterday

 

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Something slightly different today.  I have been working on presentations of working women in a suite of magazine issues from 1984-1985.  The magazine is Working Woman, which I just about remember.  It gave lots of very sober advice to women about how to succeed in the executive positions they were just beginning to get after the second wave of feminism.  There are some timepieces like why we should have Sunday trading which seem like social history now, and some very dull solid advice pieces on pensions and employment rights, as well as really thorough profiles of blue-chip companies (including the late lamented Habitat group), presumably so that you could prepare yourself thoroughly for interview or investment purposes.

My colleagues, Sam Warren and Harriet Shortt and I have been looking at the advice given to women on how to present themselves to be taken seriously at work in terms of clothes and accessories, hair and make-up.  I don’t want to rewrite the article here, but I thought I would put the drawings I did in the blog, just for interest.  I did them because I have decided that this is a much easier way of handling things than trying to get (expensive) copyright.  So these are sketches to illustrate a text and not beautiful drawings, but they were fun to do and I hope you like them.

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Under lock and key

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(Please note: this is one of my slightly more academic posts – continue reading at your own risk of terminal boredom!)

One of the reasons that I like using textiles as part of my academic work is that it slows things down.  We are under tremendous pressure to produce published articles and this cuts down the time we have to consider what we are doing.  Reflection is a bit of a thing of the past.  This is fine for research which deals in quantitative data where analysis is largely mechanical and carried out by computers crunching numbers, but work which deals with ideas and the complexity of lived experience often needs a bit more time to ‘cook’.  The textile pieces provide this space and allow all sorts of things to emerge.

I had a case in point last week.  I am becoming very interested in what historians call the ‘long eighteenth century’, that is a period roughly from The Glorious Revolution (1688) to the Battle of Waterloo (1815).  I became interested in this through my work on Laura Ashley and the second phase of her design aesthetic which draws on this period, but, as I have done my research, I have become fascinated by  the period as a consumer revolution, when shopping became a real element of social life.  All of this is a preamble to talking about keys.

I have long used keys on my textiles, such as this really early piece which has a band of tiny keys on the right hand side:

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This is from a suite of five small quilts, several of which featured keys:

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The piece was about confession and secrets.  For me the most obvious symbol for secrets is a key.  I also like the duality of them – they lock and unlock.  They can be symbols of dead ends – the locked door, or opportunities as the door unlocks.  Keys are a significant metaphor in our language.  In my first job, in the dark ages, we talked about keyman insurance.  In my current occupation we have keynote speakers, and talk about the key work on the subject.  In the case studies we use to teach strategy there is often a key fact which unlocks the case.  In education in general, our children go through key stages.  I have some problem with this.  When I was a very little girl I thought you learned languages instantly by being given the translation key which transformed English into French and so on, and we see what a mess that can lead to with the translation programmes available to us now which lead to garbled approximations of a text.  I dislike this notion that education is an event – passing a keystone – rather than a unpredictable process.  Information, I suspect can be acquired to order – how to strip down an engine, for example, but wisdom and knowledge take a bit longer to acquire.  But this notion that there is a key which will unlock the world for us if we just look long and hard enough for it, is deeply engrained in our thinking about education.  George Elliot satirised it in Middlemarch with Casaubon’s fruitless, lifelong search for the Key to all Mythologies, a search for arcane knowledge.  He died suffering from this delusion.  Douglas Adams subsequently satirised this in his ‘Casaubon Delusion’ in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  The delusion is that we can overcome uncertainty by finding the key to all knowledge.  Keys and knowledge, then, are closely linked – locked into each other, perhaps.

So, I was a bit surprised when I was reading Amanda Vickery’s excellent book on Georgian life: Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England to read her comments on keys and their importance in Georgian homes.  She argues that keys became almost synonymous with women.

The association of keys with women is archaeological.  Anglo-saxon women were buried with keys.  A collection of keys hanging from the waist was a female ornament from at least the Renaissance.  Eighteenth-century pickpocketing trials reveal that keys were commonly found along with money, teaspoons, thimbles and scissors, pieces of jewellery and handkerchiefs in women’s tie on pockets.  Small padlocks can be found amongst the tokens vouchsafed by desperate mothers (probably servants) when they surrendered their infants to the London Foundling Hospital in the mid-eighteenth century.  In paintings, the bundle of keys was the attribute of Martha, the patroness of housewives.  Trial responsibility for the keys was part of female training.  (Vickery, 2009: 45)

And giving up the keys was a ceremonial passing over of power either from a sacked and disgraced housekeeper or a mother handing over her son’s inheritance.  Vickery is led to this consideration of keys through her examination of privacy in the eighteenth-century home.  Essentially there was none.  The only private space anyone, other than the very pinnacle of the elite classes, had was their locked box, to which they alone held the key.

I was struck when I was making the early pink quilt at the top of this post by all the keys on it, which I don’t really remember consciously putting there.  This led me to thinking about the most important key bearer of them all in my upbringing: St Peter.  Peter holds the keys to the kingdom, and this is a very interesting dynamic.  He decides who gets into heaven and who is refused admission.  Here he is on the Vatican, overlooking (I think) his cathedral in Rome, clutching his key:

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For me, then, St Peter is a symbol of patriarchy, the keeper of the rulebook which keeps social order in place, and that social order has man at the head of the faith and the family.  His word is absolute; there is no getting round him.

But, I think that Vickery also gives us a timely reminder of the connection between keys and women.  People frequently ask me where I get all the stuff for my quilts:

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I am given a lot of stuff (for which I am very grateful), but I also scour bead shops wherever I go.  I like using pieces which remind me of good trips, and some of the keys in these photos were bought in Denmark and Brighton.  What is fascinating about this is that the key is a very popular charm, as they are known, in bead shops which largely cater for young women who make jewellery.  The prevalence of key charms, which are also on sale in the big out of town box stores such as HobbyCraft, suggests that there is a ready market for them.  Young women – and longer in the tooth ones like me, must connect at some level with keys.  They appear to have a universal appeal, along with hearts and flowers and birds.  Clearly they are a supplied choice: we can only buy what we are offered for sale, but, their prevalence suggests that they are popular and have meaning of some description for the women who buy them.  It is as if, and that is a phrase that a proper academic would never use, they belong to a shared unconscious repertoire of images, and one with a complex set of gendered associations: inclusion and exclusion, public and private, hope and denial.

I am not sure what, if anything, to do with this.  One thing might be to look at old quilts and see if they have this imagery in amongst the freemasonry and the flora and fauna, to see if this is a recent resurgence in use of key imagery.  Another might be to do some empirical research – perish the thought – and ask women why they are attracted to keys as design motifs.  Perhaps they will talk about the five year diaries with tiny locks and keys that most women of my age were presented with at some point.  I don’t really know, and I don’t know if it’s worth pursuing.  Any ideas would be welcome.

Finally, I couldn’t find a way to fit this in, but one of the images I remember from reading books at school was this one from E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It, published in 1902, in which It speaks ‘in a harsh, grating voice like large rusty keys being turned in locks’.   Which is a great image to end on.

 

Reference

Amanda Vickery (2009) Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England.  New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

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What I finished off at the weekend

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I am still working on this large Laura Ashley wall piece, although there are other things I should be getting on with.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I lost all interest in this piece and so I am rather surprised to find myself enjoying finishing it off so much.  I have two more of the Regency panels to go and then a very small Marie Antoinette and then I will have to get it all together which is going to be fun as it will be very heavy.

I am really pleased with these two panels, the one above and this one:

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The colours, which have not come out well in these photographs, go together really nicely.  Almost everything, as usual, is scrap and was destined for landfill.  The beautiful machine embroidered silk, for example is a tiny scrap from a sample book:

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I couldn’t bear to throw that away even though it is just a scrap.

These panels are supposed to evoke these ‘simple’ muslin gowns of the Regency period – seen here with the fashionable paisley shawl accessory, necessary because the dresses were pretty flimsy in the un-central-heated mansions seen in the background here:

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All these panels have some Laura Ashley fabric, although the further I get into the project the more I am using silk scraps.  The Laura Ashley piece here is some very tightly woven, fine grade furnishing fabric printed with olives.  I decided that the ladies in these panels would at the very least have heard about olives from their dissolute brothers on the Grand Tour, even if they didn’t eat them.  I couldn’t be bothered to do the food historian bit to find out if olives were commonly eaten in the eighteenth century.  I apologise!

IMG_1047The scraps for these two panels were attached to the thin cotton wadding with decorative machine stitching which I did with the tank-like Singer machine that my mother gave me because she could no longer lift it.  Some of the stitches are perfect for doing a sort of pseudo-crazy quilt.

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I’m afraid I use spray glue to keep everything in place and then do as much construction stitching as I can on the machine before doing the embellishments by hand.  I have no idea what the long-term effects of the spray glue will be, but I expect to be past caring in the nursing home when I find out.

I used some beads I bought on a weekend away in Brighton to finish off the quilts like the three little flower charms in the above panel which were exactly what I needed, and the key here:

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Again, you can see a little bit of the luscious embroidered silk, also from a discarded sample book.

These beads are from a broken necklace, and I love the way they look like little walnuts or even brains:

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Finally, I don’t really like the craze for buttons as jewellery.  Buttons are utilitarian things, unless they are the really special ones, and no amount of stringing them seems to me to create art from plain plastic in primary colours.  But, I do like mother of pearl and I like it, like all my embellishments, massed, so here are some ordinary round buttons, sewn on with pearl beads:

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I really like the difference in tone of the mother of pearl.

 

The Brighton Bead shop the beads came from was KerrieBerrie

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Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?

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This is quite a small panel, one of the last ones I made, but the one which will be in the top-left-hand corner.  Some of the panels have fents or offcuts instead of costume prints, including this one, which has three pieces of the finer lawn prints from the 1980s and 1990s.  On top of this is some beaded lace, and some burnt away fabric offcuts from another project.

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Because this came quite late in the process, I bought little items rather than using things in my stash, and as ever, I have only dim memories of where they came from.  But these two bits came from Copenhagen:

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I am quite proud of the little seed beads holding on the golden spray of leaves, and I really like the little black crown underneath the key.

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Although this doesn’t look much, I am very pleased with the stem-stitched box round the leaf charms.  Stem stitch has always defeated me until the wonderful Tanya Bentham showed me how to do it properly in one of her workshops.  So a small personal triumph.

I really enjoyed the hand embroidery on all of the pieces.  This is a ribbon rose:

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IMG_0845I wish it were as glorious as this contemporary take on a crazy quilt from the Bristol Embroiderers’ Guild Exhibition.  Unfortunately, I didn’t make a note of the artist’s name, so only one unauthorised picture.  If you know who made it please let me know.

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Falling in love again

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There haven’t been many posts recently as I have been finishing things off and there hasn’t been much to report, but suddenly I have quite a lot to post about.

This is a big project from my work on Laura Ashley.  I made a start on it ages ago and just didn’t like what I’d done.  The colours were too pastel for me.  But a couple of months ago I got it out of the box and started again, and for some reason, I totally fell in love with it.  So, I have done a lot more work and the piece is almost ready.

As usual with my work it is made in panels.  These were inspired by the printed panels from Quilters’ Trading Post.  They are fashion plates of Regency costumes, which I have combined with Laura Ashley fabric and lots of fabric samples including silk and embroidered wool, and lace.  Again, a lot of the fabric would otherwise have gone into landfill, so there is recycling and upcycling involved.

My interest in Laura Ashley was originally in the seventies with the milk maid and country cottage ranges, but I have become increasingly interested in her later product ranges and the way in which everything became much grander and country house-y.   There is some nice scholarly work about the brand coming out of it, which I will outline at some point, but this project is about the airy muslin loveliness of the Jane Austen type view of the eighteenth century, which will be contrasted with the gruesome Hogarth vision.

For the moment, though, this is the pretty top.

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This is fly stitch done in a wine-red Madeira luna thread which has a lot of wool in it.  The second part of the stitch is done through a clear bugle bead.  The little dots are done with colonial knots which are much easier and reliable than french knots and give a nice dimple in the middle.

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These are pieces of old-ish lace over silk samples.  I love stitching through this thick upholstery silk because it is so crisp.

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This is a lovely bit of tiered lace, with some composite embroidery from Judith Montano Baker’s Elegant Stitches, which is a fantastic source book for embroidering crazy quilts.  These panels are essentially well-ordered crazy pieces.

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I used this panel to work in a piece of my favourite Laura Ashley fabric, the swan print:

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More of the panels to come.