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Alison Moger at Bristol Quilters

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This post is about lovely Alison Moger’s visit to Bristol Quilters last night, but it is also about synchronicity and that feeling that the whole world is coming together to help you in your work, which is a bit delusional, but most definitely seems to happen to people when they are in ‘flow’ with a project.

Alison Moger is textile artist who is interested in community narratives, specifically the narratives of families and place.  She makes pieces about women’s lives and concerns, working on recycled domestic textiles such as tablecloths, tea towels, tray cloths and shawls.  She then prints and embroiders and burns and bleaches and patches them into textiles which capture the story she wants to tell.  The stories are about women’s lives and how they have changed over the past couple of decades.  She has done commissioned work on hospital wards for people with Alzheimers making wallpaper from blown up stitched pieces which allowed the patients to navigate the space through pictures but also to remember how they used to do embroidery themselves.  She did what sounds like fascinating work in South Wales with families from the area affected by the recent wave of young people’s suicides to celebrate what was good about the community and to commemorate the dead.

She is Welsh herself, and makes pieces to preserve Welsh culture.  So there were pieces about the ‘Fair People’ who had, like herself, blond hair and were mistrusted in a community of the dark-haired, and stories from the Mabinogion with its attendant seasonal customs such as the skeleton horse who seems to have been some sort of trick or treat character.  She also talked about going on holiday to Porthcawl on the coal lorry when the holiday-makers took their own furniture on the truck to camp with.  The posh person with the caravan became the leader of the field kitchen.  Then they all waited for the lorry to return home.  I liked her idea of working into and onto tea towels because women often work out their problems while doing the washing up, and her invaluable advice, ‘Don’t go out with a man from Bridgend Road, especially if he keeps greyhounds.’

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So, it was a fascinating talk, and the work was really lovely.  But over and above that, I was intrigued to see just how closely our interests overlapped.  I am interested in textiles and their connections to women’s lives and identities.  I am increasingly interested in memory and aging.  And I am getting involved in working on community pieces which will have some connection to changing the world around me.  I had had a great conversation with a colleague about this at the university earlier in the day.  It felt like the universe telling me I was on the right path and to keep going as there are allies and helpers out there.  That is a bit Californian wacky-woo-woo New Age for me, but it was a good feeling.

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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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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.

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What I did at the weekend

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This isn’t what I did last weekend, but the weekend before, a very blustery weekend in January spent in Porthleven in Cornwall with my very excellent friends, Alison, Ceri and Becky.  Alison’s family has a house right on the sea wall, the white house first to the left of the stone building with the tower.  It is unusual because it has sea views on both sides because it is built on a feature jutting out into the harbour:

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These weekends are fantastic, because Alison usually phones up and says the house is free on a particular date, come if you can.  It generally works out that we have a wander round the little town, which has yet to become St Ivesified and still looks like it could conceivably be a working harbour – although Rick Stein has just opened a place there.  These are some pictures I took of it because I felt I had to take the standard inspiration ones!

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I really loved those pastel float things on the boat here.  And no-one can resist lobster pots with a splash of turquoise:

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We walked further out and saw this:

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Sadly, no wrestling to report on, but across the bay you can just about see the remains of the tin mines:

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There were also some great flower forms to sketch:

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And this one looks a lot like the verdigogh zentangle which I have never found easy to do:

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which I have used before in my Collars project:

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Plus, owing to infatuation at an impressionable age, I can never pass by a stone wall without thinking of Kaffe Fassett:

 

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The informal deal on these weekends seems to have worked out to be that they do the cooking, which is wonderful, and I provide a workshop on the Saturday afternoon.  As no-one had done monoprinting with a Gelli plate, that’s what we decided to do.  I took two big bags of paint, stamps, rollers, paper, fabric and stencils and gave them a tiny bit of input and they were off:

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I took pretty cheap acrylic paint so that no-one would feel inhibited about splashing it about, and this was a bit of a false economy as the Gelli plates seem to work better with thicker paint with more pigment.  But we got some great results and had a lovely time trying out techniques, particularly with the stencils:

 

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I had never used the Gelli plates on fabric before and was eager to see what happened.  We used yards of waste curtain lining, which was a kind of cotton sateen, from my mother’s friend’s son, Graham.  I like using this fabric, and have used lots of his samples in my recent applique, because otherwise it would go into landfill.  So it is a form of recycling.  It is also something from nothing, which appeals, and I think that having a lot of materials – yards of fabric and plenty of cheap paint somehow gives people permission to experiment and try things out.  The worst that can happen is that it really does end up in landfill.

The printing on fabric went really well, and I will put some pictures of what I made in a later post.  I printed enough to make a reasonably large piece, although the stitching will largely be machine done as the paint has stiffened the fabric even with some textile medium in it.

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I shall end with some lunatic surfers who were kite surfing in crashing waves:

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Latest Laura Ashley panel

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I have started doing some work with Laura Ashley fabric again.  This time there is no rush.  It’s not for an exhibition or a conference paper, so I can take as long as I like.

It started with one of the fents – or waste trimmings from the manufacturing process, and then I added some extra elements which I bought from one of the traders at the exhibition in Malvern that I went to a couple of weeks ago.  Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the trader.  Much as I would love to say that I dyed the lace myself, I bought it, and it went instantly and magically with the Laura Ashley floral – which is the dark green fabric.

I laid out all the elements, but in the course of sewing everything shifted a bit and I ended up with a different arrangement in the end.  Here are the initial layouts with the Madeira Lana thread that I intended to use to do the stitching:

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This is what it looked like at the end:

 

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I bought the buttons in the summer in a great shop in Utrecht (which is every bit as nice as Amsterdam but without the museums – and the crowds and the frantic-ness).  They are big, but I thought they worked.

The piece really came together, though, when I realised that it was basically a variation on a Victorian crazy quilt.  So I did a lot of embroidery on it, including herringbone stitch, which I consider to be one of the most relaxing things in the world to do:

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While I was poking around the internet looking at pictures of crazy quilts and fancy embroidery stitches, I found some sage advice about not bothering whether the embroidery is absolutely perfect because it reflects your energy at the point at which you were doing it.  I rather like this.  My slightly wonky herringbone is a bit like my signature and the opposite of mass made.  There isn’t any machine stitching on this one, it is all done by hand.  And, as with a lot of my work, it seemed to come to life when I started to stitch on some beads:

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The big pearl beads are stuck on as they must have come from a necklace which was taken to pieces at some point.  This makes the piece a bit fragile, but I think the sparkle justifies it.

The netting, by the way, always suggests textile conservation to me, as professional restorers often use it patch up very fragile pieces of cloth, so this fits into my theme of conservation and preserving the past.

I really enjoyed making this piece and it has spurred me on to make some more panels and to produce a large piece about the importance of nostalgia in the brand.

What I did this weekend

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I spent the weekend at my mother’s, and decided to go up into the loft to see if I could find my old Barbie dolls.  They seem to have disappeared without trace for the time being, but I did find a little cache of fabric from the fifties and sixties as well as some pieces of Laura Ashley fabric.  I love these prints.  They would have been better if I had ironed them, but perfection, as we know, is the enemy of getting things done.

First, this pretty print which is slightly different in the blue and the pink:

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And on the charming folkloric theme, I found one tiny piece of this print featuring a folk art type horse:

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Then there were some great fifties style florals:

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And a happy sixties-looking version, which is a great design for sunflowers:

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And this lovely print which I think might have been curtains:

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Then some very bold prints which have a very modern feel to me:

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As well as a quintessential vintage:

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And finally, a really stunning photo print which could have been made earlier today:

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Not quite sure what that waffle thing is in the background, but the glassy cherries are irresistible, as is the blueprint quality.

And very lastly, a large chunk of one of my very favourite dresses when I was a teenager:

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I can’t wait to see what this lot end up in, and I will keep you posted.

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Modern medals

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A couple of years ago my mother gave me a book she had bought because it was so beautifully produced, but which turned out to be totally useless.  It’s called ‘French General Treasured Notions: Inspirations and Craft Projects Using Vintage Beads, Buttons, Ribbons and Trim from Tinsel Trading Company.’  Snappy, non?  Its author is Kaari Meng and it was published in 2010 by Chronicle Books in San Francisco.

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Mum bought it, I think, because the photos are absolutely sumptuous and enticing:

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The above photos are mood boards or inspiration boards for Meng’s projects and I absolutely love them.  The problem is that the projects all require antique haberdashery: the buttons, beads, ribbons and trims of the title.  Plus, they are not particularly desirable objects when you finish.

But for some reason I got the book off the shelf last weekend, and found the little medals.  I thought that they would be the ideal thing to give to people who had helped me on the recent Thinking Futures day.  So on Sunday afternoon I made some of my own but with a much more contemporary twist.

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I was really interested to see just how much better they looked mounted on the cards.  They could be framed, and they have brooch pins on the backs so they can be worn.  This final one was made for a really good friend of mine who recently got his PhD after 22 years.  I thought he deserved a medal:

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So far the recipients have loved them, and they are a good thing to have in the repertoire for gifts for people that you want to give special thanks to.  I have just ordered a bunch of 1950s ombre ribbon from Etsy, because I am hoping to have occasion to give out a whole bunch of medals in the future.

 

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The Evil Eye Collar

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This piece is based on a very common amulet.  Amulets to ward off the Evil Eye are found all over the world, and the eyes are often blue, as seen on the cover of Desmond Morris’s book containing glorious photographs of his personal collection:

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Inside there is a montage of this sort of amulet:

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The idea behind these amulets is to meet like with like, so the evil eye will be deflected by another evil eye looking right back at it.

My eye is very stylised.  It is a big square glass bead which I bought in the extraordinary bead shop on Derby Road in Nottingham.  The shop is exciting because it sells a good range of really flashy or big or unusual beads.  I couldn’t resist the blue of this one.  Then I surrounded it with all sorts of blue beads which I bought as a collection in the Covent Garden Bead Shop, which I have already mentioned:

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Once again this is influenced by tribal beadwork:

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I have no idea why I love serried ranks of beads so much, but I love these incrusted beads and particularly when they are in rows.  This image taken from Sheila Paine’s book on amulets gives a brilliant example in the headdress above.

The strap is a cheap necklace from Sainsbury’s half-price sale.

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The ‘Don’t Take Any Wooden Nickels’ Collar

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I made this collar because I wanted to say something about the need women have to look out for themselves, because despite Equal Pay acts they are often paid less than men doing equal work of equal value.  And the things that are offered to women are often of a much lower political currency than those offered to men.  So women get to be head of HRM but not Finance, or Strategy, or IT.  We have to learn to resist those blandishments, or at least be quite clear about which currency we are being paid in.

I wanted to use the discs along the bottom which I think might actually be old French coins with holes drilled in them, and the piece was based around this, and the idea of using trading beads as currency.  The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford has some great examples of trading beads and I have always been a bit drawn to them.

Sample card of trading beads

Sample card of trading beads

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I started with a nice piece of silk which I quilted onto some thin cotton wadding:

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I used the Madeira lana thread to get a good textural contrast.

I started to sew the ‘feature’ beads on:

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And it very soon became apparent that this was going to be one of those projects I call ‘Make it Work’ after Tim Gunn turning his nose up at potential disasters in Project Runway.  This one was going to need considerable work to make it look like anything at all.  I had a bag of what looked almost like Roman glass beads which the magnificent Tanya Bentham had given to me, and I supplemented the feature beads with those.  The piece began to come alive, but it was obvkous that it needed to be encrusted with beads to work.   I had a big bag of black glass beads and I think that adding black often gives a tribal feel to things which is what I wanted so I stitched them on to fill in the gaps:

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Then I added the coins which were my starting point.  The two outside edge medallions are there for personal reasons.  They are the Chinese horoscope signs of me and the Medieval Historian.

I finished the piece with some chain that I found in Hobbycraft.

This piece was a real surprise to me.  I didn’t want to abandon it because I had had the big feature beads forever and had been saving them for something special, so I ploughed on with it, but in the end I really, really like the result.  It’s a bit chunky to wear, but with the right dress….

The ‘Little Me?’ Collar

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This collar in my War Collar Series is examining the popular feminine tactile that comes from believing that if you are sweet and demure enough the warrior men will protect you.  This is nonesense, of course, because you are always marked out as not one of the boys, which I have symbolised here with the very pretty bells (which I bought in the bead shop in Seven Dials in Covent Garden, London):

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This collar was simple to make, but not easy.  The flowers are made from paper.  I bought a tube of them ages ago and was playing with them at the work table and thought how pretty they looked with the large pearl beads.  The problem is that the paper was difficult to sew without ripping, and getting the needle through all that paper and two layers of velvet was hard.  It should have been quick to make, but actually took a lot of care.  I can actually imagine someone wearing this one.