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In case you thought I had disappeared

Leaves

I am very sorry that I have not been posting much recently.  Life has rather got the better of me from domestic disasters to family ill health, to starting a whole new life.  I have now retired from the University of Bristol and am starting what I grandly call a portfolio career.  This will consist of running Pomegranate Studio, starting to sell my textiles and being a humanist celebrant taking non-religious naming ceremonies.

That’s quite a lot to take in and also quite a lot to work on.  I have also managed to set-up on-line banking, which I consider to be one of my achievements of this year.

There will be more about this as the portfolio is properly opened, but for now, I wanted to show you an image of one of the things that I am hoping to sell through my Etsy shop.  There isn’t much in the shop at the moment as I just wanted to bag the name PomegranateAnn, but I will be adding more.  I have decided to sell some small pieces.  I have always found it extremely difficult to sell my work as it is a part of me, but needs must at the moment.  The problem is that making to sell, rather than making because I want to make is difficult because it always feels very different.

This is in the Etsy shop:

Full piece

It’s really very pretty and quite a wintery piece.  Unusually for me is that the fabrics used are all my hand-dyes.  This second piece did not behave quite so well.  It came out as a trapezium.  I quite like that because it makes it look particularly handmade, but I can see that it won’t appeal to everyone.  It is made from samples of neutral pale fabric, mainly linen and silk.   I also used some very chi-chi Japanese organic embroidery thread for the leaves and stem:

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This is a really interesting venture for me – to see if I can make a living outside the university, and to see if I can reinvent myself.

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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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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:

eifel tower concealed

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

long lady quilt

canvas quilt

 

 

Serious quilt

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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Gillian Travis at Malvern Quilt Show

 

 

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There was a lot of lovely work on show at Malvern, but the ones I liked the absolute best were Gillian Travis’ Indian quilts.  I think this is probably because my own work is going through such a figurative phase.  I loved the vibrant colours and the clever techniques

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Nice use of block printing over the finished piece, here, for example, and I like her substitution of foil for glass shisha mirrors.  I also really liked the use of a small mini-quilt on the side of the main piece picking up a design element:

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The figure here is a very clever layering of black tulle.  This is the ‘detail’ quilt

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I also admire the machine quilting in metallic thread, which really isn’t as easy as it looks here.

Her book with Pat Archibald, Dual Journeys in Stitch is absolutely gorgeous and had the weird effect of making me want to reach not for a needle but my sketchbook.  I did say that I wouldn’t use many photos as people are  increasingly nervous of having their international property stolen, so she has a lovely blog, website and facebook page, so there is plenty of opportunity to see the work.  Here’s one more quilt to finish the post:

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