Posts

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Imagine my surprise when…

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I bought a copy of Mollie Makes last week to pass the time when I was on a train and was interested to see the following article:

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That looks interesting, I thought, just my sort of thing.  As I read on, I found I agreed wholeheartedly with it, not least because I was quoted extensively in it, and not in a way that made me look terminally stupid.  I had forgotten about giving the interview, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it.  Jessica Bateman, the author is a lovely person and the piece is a lovely read.

Also you can learn how to make a pom-pomed muff, and that I feel would make the ideal Christmas present for anyone.

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A good read

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I haven’t done much in the way of recommending quilting books, but this is one worth looking at, not because I particularly want to make three fabric quilts, but because it has a really good introduction on how to make a quilt.  There is a lot of good advice in this one.   At least a third of it is about sewing.   Also if you want to make a small quilt in a weekend, I think that this would be an excellent place to start.

I bought it in one of those bargain bookshops at the weekend.  I saw it full price and passed it by some time ago, but for £6 it was a real bargain.

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Red Rabbits

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I am starting in the middle a bit with things here.  This is the second quilt in a series, and I have yet to blog about the first, but I am aware that it has been a while since I posted anything and this is easier to photograph than the first piece.

This is one of those quilts that started off as a quick demonstration piece of an improvised quilt made with the leftovers of a previous piece.  Then, of course, I decided to make it a bit more interesting and to put some appliqué on it.  As I have recently rediscovered a love of hand appliqué, that’s what it had to be.  In this instance, because the pieces – the rabbits – were so large, I decided to user the freezer paper method.  With this method you iron the freezer paper shape onto the top of the fabric and push the turning under with your needle.  Then you pull the completed shape off the top.  I prefer this to trying to get the paper out from under the shape when you use it underneath, particularly when you have something as tricky as rabbit’s ears.  This probably sounds like badly translated instructions if you are not a quilter.  If you aren’t and you want to see what I am talking about there are dozens of examples of the technique on You Tube.

I got the rabbit design from a clipping from a magazine that I kept because it appealed to me and I knew that it would come in useful at some point.  Unusually for me, I didn’t keep a note of who the original designer was.  All I know is that it was on a ceramic:

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It was quite easy to stitch.  I thought that I would be clever and just cut the shape of the chin and the legs and arms and then turn the edges back.  But, of course, this requires a turning on both edges so you end up with a very large gap.  I made a test piece and decided that I would have to do the outline with embroidery:

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I am rather glad that I did do the test – the piece on the right, before cutting the whole thing out.  I usually cut first and make samples and major mistakes later.  In this case the little bit of extra time was well spent.

After I had finished the piece looked a bit empty.  I thought briefly about doing some lettuces and carrots for a rabbits’ picnic, but my sketches were really a bit too twee.  I fell back on good old flowers.

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These needed a lot of surface embroidery but they worked reasonably well in the end.  I like the fact that they look a bit vintage, which is one of the aims of the piece.  The flower centres, which are raised, are suffolk puffs sewn on backwards.  The outline embroidery on the rabbits is whipped backstitch which I find a lot easier than stem stitch, particularly with a chunky thread.  The surface embroidery here is all done with three strands of embroidery cotton:

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I love using seeding as a quilting stitch even though it takes forever.  I haven’t done it for a while but I think the red here complements the big stitch on the body of the rabbit.

The quilt as a whole is a bit jumbled.  The outlines are not always clear, particularly the leaves and some of the petals on several of the flowers, but in this case, I rather like the effect.  It gives it a lived in, vaguely faded feel, even though almost all the fabric is brand new.

 

As a bit of a trailer, this piece also illustrates another project that I am working on which is about working with ugly or old-fashioned fabric, the sort of thing that you find in your stash which you bought years ago which is good but essentially out of date.  The rabbits are done in this fabric and the backing, which I will show in a subsequent post, is truly horrible and I genuinely do not know how it got into my stash.  More on this project as I go along.

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Moon quilt

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This is my most recently finished quilt.  It isn’t the greatest photo of it because I thought I could either wait until I could get a great shot or write the post and the latter won.

There are a few things which I think are interesting about this quilt.

  1. Although it is made from new fabric it is a memory quilt.  I bought the charm pack squares when the very lovely Marybeth Stalp was over last year and we were touring quilt shops in the South West for our research project.  So it immediately reminds me of Marybeth and the great time we had together.  Then I stitched a lot of the very simple four patch blocks together in Copenhagen hotel rooms as I was doing my academic work over there.  So it reminds me of that and of what I think of as my Scandi family who live in Copenhagen.
  2. It is what Jane Brocket calls a ‘Collection Quilt’.  This is a modern quilting possibility when you use all the fabrics in one particular manufacturer or designer’s collection.  In this case it is Nocturne by Janet Clare.  I absolutely loved the fabrics in this collection.  I wasn’t that keen on the neutral blenders, but I loved all the ‘feature’ fabrics and the indigo colourway in particular.  All the colourways blended in this collection so that was good.  I think this is an interesting modern development.  Many quilters now have the disposable income to buy a piece of an entire collection, and Moda in particular caters for this with its precut packs.  Jelly rolls seem to encapsulate this small piece of all of them approach to me.  It’s a bit like the tasting menu or the assiette of desserts.  I quite like the bountiful and indulgent feel of it sometimes.
  3. The quilt is hand pieced but has a lot of machine work.  I decided to use a Janet Clare-type technique on a Janet Clare range of fabrics by applying the large pink batik circles.  This is not Janet Clare fabric.  In fact, it was some bargain batik that I picked up at a Quilters Area Day.  The blue-y undertones of the pink seemed to fit with the yellow-y blues of the patchwork fabric.  I used bondaweb and cut the circles with my Sizzix machine (a die cutting machine) and then top stitched them on with Mettler black quilting thread.  Mettler is definitely my favourite thread at the moment because it is really smooth and strong.

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I thought the batik looked like the gas clouds on Jupiter.  You can also see the long-arm quilting pattern done at Midsomer Quilting, which looks like orbits to me particularly on the second grey patch at the bottom left.  This is a good example of the quilting enhancing the design, I think:

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The quilting design is called champagne, which I also like.

I remember once reading the tongue in cheek but nevertheless sage advice somewhere that you should never make art about menstruation.  This quilt does have red moons which is inescapable symbolism.  I like to think of it, however, as a liberatory, Thank God all that’s over quilt, rather than let’s embrace our femininity and squat in a red tent, sort of piece.

Finally, I like the simplicity of this quilt.  It is a medallion quilt, made up entirely of strips and squares, very simple to do on the move by hand.  I have been doing some very traditional quilting recently and have really enjoyed it.  I will be posting some more pictures soon.

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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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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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Quilt chic

deluxe-productFor my birthday I asked for a copy of the The Decemberists’ new album.  I am not a big fan, but I really wanted the CD for the cover, which looked to me like one of the wonderful nineteenth-century applique quilts which I have recently been studying.  It turns out not to have been a quilt, but a painting.  According to the website plans are in hand to make the two paintings into quilts and there is a competition to win them.  I would just like the pattern:

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I think it gives a good indication of what these quilts would have looked like when they were new.  We are used to seeing the faded and worn versions, but they would probably have sparkled when the fabric was new.

On the subject of the old and romantically faded and worn, this is also taken from ‘popular music’.  I saw this poster last year and have been meaning to post it ever since:

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Never mind Mr Mayer, let’s see more of the quilt!

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I am fascinated by the way quilts are used to reference Americana, rootsiness and home.  If you want to suggest heritage, even if you are going to subvert it, get a quilt.

 

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What I learned about identity from Jan Hassard

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The speaker at Bristol Quilters last week was the lovely and very talented Jan Hassard.  She has been a member of Bristol Quilters for years, and so it was nice to see  her body of work as it developed; it was something of a retrospective, as they call it in the fine art world.

Jan’s work couldn’t be more different from mine.  Her work is totally precise, planned, ordered, structured and disciplined.  Mine is slapdash and improvised.  But even so, it is glorious because it has so much beautiful colour and vivacity.

I am not posting many photos, because a. I didn’t take a camera – even my phone, and b. she was talking about the increasing phenomena of work on the net being stolen and copied, or just used without permission.

The riot of colour which was a tonic for the soul aside, I enjoyed Jan’s talk for its insistence on craft, standards, high levels of finish and presentation, many concerns which I would like Craftivists to take into account.  I loved it even more because it seemed to me to be the perfect riposte to the anti-nostalgia rally that I seem to keep running into recently.  It is like there is something deficient in people who want to hold the past with affection.  They should be letting go and moving on.  They should be facing up to the realities of the present and not seeking solace in the imaginary golden past of tea and crumpets and church picnics.  Nostalgia is the new opium of the people, according to this analysis, and women are particularly susceptible.  At the same time we hear lots of stuff about identity (see, for example, Grayson Perry’s wonderful recent series on British television).  Most of the identity theory at the moment is about our fugitive, unstable, protean identities, constructed only in relation to others (I am different as a daughter, wife, friend, university academic, driver, customer, quilter and so on).  Jan’s talk, however, included her experience of being a very small child in the war and being bombed out of her home.  Her parents knew how to count between hearing the bomb and its exploding.  So they managed to get her to safety but the house was destroyed: everything gone in an instant.  Later on, as dispossessed person she got a Canadian Red Cross quilt.  These were utility quilts made by Canadian women to aid British allies who had lost everything.images-5 images-4

Jan talked about sleeping under hers until she was about eleven.  One day her mother just threw the quilts away.  To a collector like Jan in later years, this was devastating, but to her mother it made perfect sense.  She did not want to be reminded of the horrible period in her life when she lost everything.  Jan now acquires these Red Cross quilts.  I don’t think that this is fuzzy nostalgia of the sort that fuels our delight in Downtown Abbey.  I think this is a serious identity project.  Our identities might be shifting and relational and contextual and contingent, but they are built on experience that matters to us.  We cannot just throw off that quilt and become post-modern, or worse yet post-human.  And, once again, cloth plays a major part on our view of ourselves as people in the world.

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What I did at the weekend

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If you read my previous post you will know that I have had a very busy time recently.  So this weekend, although I have a head buzzing with Laura Ashley ideas which need making, I found myself making small scale old school patchwork.  I made two dolls quilt size pieces.  I suddenly had the urge to do some very small, simple, self-contained bits of sewing.  They were made with the tiny leftovers from the squares I cut for the quilting bee last week, and which I couldn’t bear to throw away.  The fabric came from Flo-Jo Boutique on Gloucester Road, very kindly donated for our premature babies quilts.

The first piece is a sort of crazy quilt, just laying down the pieces in a more or less random way:

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Then adding some machine embroidery with variegated thread, and some hand stitching with embroidery floss.  The machine embroidery was done on the cheapo IKEA machine which is great, except that it has a massive take up of thread for its first stitch which means the needle comes unthreaded repeatedly and is a bit irritating after a while.  Otherwise it is brilliant, and I used it throughout to make the two pieces, except for putting on the binding where I wanted the 1/4″ foot on the Bernina.  The Bernina, incidentally was playing up and snapping threads.  I gave it a good clean with a stiff brush and removed a mountain of fluff, so let’s hope that fixed it.

Here’s the embroidery on the first piece again:

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The second piece is a variation on the old strippy quilts and I thought I might do some embroidery on the strips, but in the end, just plain in the ditch quilting seemed to work fine:

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Nice stitch on the IKEA machine.  This is the back which I pieced from a remnant I bought and which was exactly the width of the front – meaning I needed to add a bit to make sure it fitted.  Somehow, despite adding a good inch it was still the exact width of the quilt.  Strange:

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I have always liked those pieced backs, and this is about the size I can cope with.

I really loved stitching on the binding as the cotton fabric is so lovely and so crisp to work with.  It had a very soothing effect.  I was talking to some friends about why we quilt and they talked quite a lot about its bringing order and giving a sense of control.  Clearing up the scraps and making them into something and then actually finishing them did act as a restorative, I think, after a very busy week.

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Public engagement – Thinking Futures Workshop and Glamorgan Quilters

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It has been one of the busiest two weeks of my life, which is why I haven’t posted anything recently.  First my lovely PhD student, Zara, had her viva.  Although this is her oral exam on her thesis, I was quietly nervous as there is no way of predicting what questions will come up.  I had prepared her as well as I could with my colleague, Mary, but there is still unpredictability involved.  In the event she sailed through it and the examiners loved her work.  I am delighted for her.

Then, the following day, I went and gave a talk to the Glamorgan Quilters.  They are a lovely group and a delight to talk to.  One of them gave me some tiny scraps of Laura Ashley fabric which I don’t have in my collection and which I intend to do something with.  Another member brought this lovely bag to show me:

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I love everything about this bag.  The piece is like a time capsule of what we were doing in the 70s and 80s and the handles are just delightful as is the quilter who brought it along.

After the talk I went into Cowbridge with one of my colleagues, Sheena, who had come along to support me.  She took me to a sort of indoor antiques/vintage market with a tea room on the side.  I got a packet of Laura Ashley prints, and somehow managed to spend £17 without blinking.  We had a great time.  Cowbridge is the place to go for swanky dress and shoe shops, by the way.  I got off lightly in retrospect with my £17.

Wednesday was my Thinking Futures Day.  This is part of a ten-day-long programme of events put on by the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law in which we try to reach people who wouldn’t normally come into the University to hear about our research.  I did a workshop on patchwork and quilting and the contribution that quilters make to the fabric of our culture and society.  I held it at the Friends Meeting House where Bristol Quilters meets, and we had two wonderful speakers, Harriet Shortt from UWE, and Jenny Hall from Bournemouth University.  They were both great, speaking very passionately about their work.  I talked a bit about the academic study of patchwork and quilting, and gave an update on my Laura Ashley research.  I notice there are a lot of ‘I’s and ‘me’s’ in that paragraph, but really it was a communal day.

I really wanted it to be a bit of a party for Bristol Quilters, to celebrate their contribution to society, as well as to my research.  So, we, my Grate Frend Ceri, and I tried to add some little touches to make it feel like a series of small treats as well as an educational day.  Ceri made these wonderful biscuits:

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The stamp set comes from Lakeland.  These were a great hit.  I made parkin, which I always associate with Bonfire Night which is when we held the workshop.  Alison, Stephanie and Ceri contributed homemade cakes and biscuits and traybakes for afternoon tea.   Ceri and I had already had an afternoon making posies for the table, and in the process realising that a second career as florists was probably not for us:

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This is the pile of things I had to take in for the day:

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We were aiming for amplitude and generosity:

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As well as cake and sandwiches, there were notebooks for taking notes in the morning, and cards with vintage fabric and needles ready-threaded in the afternoon.  I’ll post some pictures of those separately.  There was also fabric very kindly donated by Flo-Jo in Bristol in the afternoon for our sewing bee:

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People worked on a variety of things, but the most popular were the little coverlets for the premature babies unit in Southmead Hospital in Bristol.  These are 16″x20″ unwadded patchworks which we donate to the unit.  The mothers get to keep the quilts no matter what the outcome, and there is always a demand for a steady stream of replacement quilts.  They are exactly the right size for a group project like this.  Although I think only one top was finished completely, Ruth Case, one of the Bristol Quilters, very generously volunteered for finishing duty.

Here are some more images from the day:

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And here is my friend Beatriz talking to Eva, the organiser:

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I didn’t take as many photos as I would have liked of the speakers because I was too busy listening, but here is the marvellous Jenny  and her quilt:

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And I didn’t have my camera when Harriet was speaking so this is a photograph of a doll that her mother made of her in her wedding dress that she brought to show us:

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Finally, I spend a lot of time trying to find writers who have something sensible and useful to say about leadership.  There isn’t much out there, I think, that isn’t about people desperate to justify wanting to be in charge.  They should hang their heads in shame and come and look at the self-managing teams which effortlessly formed, performed and disbanded throughout the day, without my having to ask, to make sure that everything went smoothly.  Not least of these were the tea and coffee makers and the washers-up, real unsung heroic examples of distributed leadership.  Thanks to all of them:

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