Archives for March 2014

Favourite textile and stitching books: Quilt Artistry

‘Quilt Artistry’ by Yoshiko Jinzenji is one of my favourite books. If you’re not aware of her work, I do recommend you have a look. The book’s subtitle is ‘Inspired Designs from the East’, and one of the most interesting aspects of it for me is seeing how Yoshiko has combined Western influences (notably from Amish quilts) with her own unique aesthetic. That aesthetic is one of apparent pared-down simplicity  – I say apparent because it’s clear once you start reading the detailed descriptions and diagrams that her processes are far from simple and that the outstanding results she achieves are the result of a huge amount of thought and very precise work.Quilt Artistry

The author is very generous with her detailed technical instructions. I find these valuable, not because I have any intention of copying her projects, but as an insight into how she undertakes the process of making. One aspect of her work that I particularly like is the recurrence of regular geometric shapes, especially the square which is probably my number one favourite shape. Here’s a very striking composition:Squares composition

This is a personal reworking of a very familiar pattern and theme in quilting. The choice of colours is stunning. This is an example where the detailed maker’s description is really helpful in enhancing the photograph. This is a floor mat, and its construction is appropriately sturdy.

Another example of Yoshiko’s use of squares:Baby quilt by Yoshiko Jinzenji

This is baby quilt, of which there are several beautiful examples in the book. It’s just exquisite.

There are many more examples of her work on Yoshiko’s own website.

I hope you can see why this is one of my favourite books. It’s a joy to look at, and every time I open it I see something new that hasn’t struck me previously.


My first quilt

There are a couple of photographs of my first quilt in the ‘Gallery’ section of the website. I was reminded of it yesterday when Laura Kemshall invited subscribers to the DMTV video series to submit pictures of work inspired by the videos. I’ve been a subscriber to DMTV for a couple of years now, but before that I read the Kemshalls’ book ‘The Painted Quilt‘. This was one of the first books I read about quilting and it got me thinking that I should have a go myself. Which I did. My first quiltI made this 2m square quilt while I was still doing the City & Guilds course which was not exactly good planning as it took time away from the course. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this initial foray into quilting. Here’s another photo showing a close up of the quilt.My first quilt close up

The quilt was made entirely out of commercially-dyed  material that I bought on a trip to the fabric markets at St Pierre in Paris (well worth a trip, although exhausting as it’s all a bit of a scrum). The material comprises silks, cotton (including a couple of batik prints) and a bit of something shiny and artificial. I pieced it on the machine and then quilted it, as you can see in the close up, with hand stitching.

It’s interesting to look at it now, because I wouldn’t make it like this again. I suppose this may suggest that some kind of development has taken place in my approach to designing things. For one thing that yellow looks awfully garish, although actually I think the photo hasn’t done it any favours and it’s more mellow than that really.

What would I not do again? Well, I think I’d probably try to use fabric that I’d dyed myself. Also, I’d put a lot more thought into how the colours fit together. One thing I really have learned is that you have to take your time over these things, and I think I rather boshed this up quickly. And, although I very much like the effect of hand-quilting, I have to say it took ages and I would hesitate to take on such a large project again.

What aspects would I repeat? Well, I love geometric designs, and I think I’ve got a lot left to explore with simple squares. And I continue to be very interested in greys. Also, although it’s difficult to do, I like the effect of using different types of fabric together.

This is all part of the process of learning by doing. I ended up with a piece that hangs on the wall and which I still like very much…. even if, every time I look at it I think about the things I would do differently.

I sent Laura Kemshall a photo of my quilt. The reason she was asking people to do this was because she is putting together a Pinterest board to show pictures of projects undertaken as a result of being inspired by DMTV. She has put my quilt photo on the board. It’s worth looking at the board, not to see my quilt because you can see it above, but to see the other contributors. There are some lovely pieces there.


Furrowing? What on earth is that?

Well, I came across it in Colette Woolf’s excellent book: ‘The Art of Manipulating Fabric’. (Click on the image to get to the Amazon page for the book; there are lots of good reviews of it). The Art of Manipulating FabricThis book contains huge amounts of detail about folding, pleating, gathering, tucking etc; if it’s not the last word on the subject of manipulating fabric I can’t imagine what there could be left to say.

Furrowing is explained as part of her chapter on ‘Gathering’. She says: ‘With tiny tacking stitches, furrowing creates a controlled relief of meandering, swirling grooves and crests from the fabric that balloons between all-sides-gathered edges appliquéd to a foundation stay’. The ‘foundation stay’ is just any piece of fabric with the desired shape of the finished piece marked on it. You can see from the two samples I’ve photographed here that I’ve used a square and a circle. Could be any shape at all. The fabric that is going to be furrowed (the ‘top’ fabric)  is cut out at 2 x the size of the foundation stay. You gather the top fabric at the edges and then appliqué it to the shape of the foundation stay with small stitches.

Then you push a threaded needle up through the foundation stay and into the top fabric. Make a tiny stitch and then pull it back through to the underside of the foundation stay. Then move around the shape repeating this action, at wide spacings to start with and then gradually to narrower spacings.

And what you get will look something like the photographs of my samples here.Furrowing sample The first sample is a red square in a shiny Indian fabric. After I’d completed the furrowing I cut out round the foundation stay (which was lightweight muslin) and then turned it under and slip-stitched it in place.

The second sample is a round black piece. Furrowing sample with beadsThe variant here was adding some beads with each furrowing stitch. Rather a nice effect.

I realise the description above is probably rather difficult to understand and it would have helped to take photographs during the process. Better still would be video. I’m contemplating making some brief videos of a range of techniques, but haven’t got round to it yet. I think my camera is sophisticated enough to produce something of reasonable quality, and I have a tripod. I could do with some better lighting, and I also need to have enough spare time to have a good go at it. Maybe next month…..

Sensing Spaces

I said in my last post that I’d talk this time about the ‘Sensing Spaces’ exhibition that I went to see at the Royal Academy last week in London. This is a set of installations, the work of seven architects from Ireland, Burkina Faso, Japan, China, Chile and Portugal. Mostly these are massive pieces, each occupying whole rooms at the RA. The exhibition, as suggested by its title, is about space, its capture and delineation by architects. The exhibition curator, Kate Goodwin, describes the experience as follows: ‘Since birth, we have been making sense of our place in the world and architecture has been part of the process….. Our physical exploration of space is central to our understanding of architecture, first detected through the body and senses before being rationalised through the mind’. This exhibition is designed, I think, so that the viewer experiences it as a set of sensual stimuli, mostly to do with the visualisation and experience of space. It’s up to you how cerebral and theoretical you want to be about the exhibition, but its primary purpose is for the viewer not to rationalise or explain, but to experience. Whatever, the purpose, the experience is actually rather good fun, and the installations are surprisingly varied. My favourite piece was by the Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma. Here’s a photo:Kengo Kuma Sensing Spaces

(The photo comes from You duck behind a black curtain and go into a room that is lit only by the small lights at the base of the very fine bent pieces of bamboo. What did I especially like about this one?

  • The bamboo is so delicate. It’s on a large scale (as you can see by the people in the photo) and so resembles architecture, but the material used is insubstantial. No concrete here.
  • The three-dimensional nature of the space is emphasised as you walk around it. Even a small shift in view creates new shapes.
  • At first sight, I supposed that the lights at the base of the structure were arranged in a rectilinear grid pattern, but actually the arrangement is more interesting than that; it’s a series of curved lines of differing lengths, which adds complexity and interest to the structure.

Like a lot of people, I suppose, I find it difficult to think and to visualise in three dimensions; of the primary design elements (line, texture, colour etc) I find form the most challenging. This exhibition made me appreciate the talent of those who do have an understanding of form.

The best view in London

I’m sure there are lots of contenders for the best view in London, but my personal favourite is the view of St Paul’s Cathedral across the river from Tate Modern. Here’s a photo: St Paul's from Tate Modern

I must confess I didn’t take the photo myself – I got it from a blog by Steve Reed, an American living in London. I don’t know him, but his blog has some lovely photos.

Why am I writing about this? Well, last week I was in London for three days, mostly for work. My meeting on Tuesday finished unexpectedly early and I was at a loose end for the afternoon. I was in the City of London and thought a good plan would be to walk up to St Paul’s, then over the Millennium Bridge to Tate Modern where I could stow my suitcase in the cloakroom and then have a look at some art. I achieved the first part of this plan which was a pleasing experience. I love walking across the river via the MB. Having stowed my briefcase, however, I suddenly realised that I was exhausted. (I’d woken around 4.30 and had an early start to get off to London). I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be looking at art and couldn’t face another minute on my aching feet.

There’s a small cafe on, I think, the 4th floor of the gallery, so I went and got a bottle of water and sat by the window. And just stayed there for a long time looking at the view of St Paul’s, the skyline and the river. It was magical, and in my frame of mind at the time, just as rewarding as looking at some art on the gallery walls. Sometimes it’s good to just sit and rest your weary bones. I had a think about various things, and felt peaceful and contented. I also enjoyed watching other people. There were two students sitting opposite me drawing the view, each other, and people in the cafe. There were lots of people taking photographs outside on the terrace of the view, usually with their significant other inserted into the foreground.  It was a lovely experience, and all the better for being unplanned and unexpected.

On Wednesday I had a day off work, and went to see the ‘Sensing Spaces’ exhibition at the Royal Academy. I’ll write a bit about that in my next post.


Dyeing with onion skins – result

Dyeing with onion skins –  what a good result!Dyeing with onion skins - results Have a look at the photo, which shows the bundle of dried fabrics and threads, before ironing.

The piece of fabric to the left,  which is fraying in quite an appealing way, is wool crepe. This is an excellent fabric for picking up all the dyes I’ve tried so far. To its right is a piece of habotai silk which has taken up a very similar colour. In the background, out of focus, is a piece of lightweight linen which has come out as much more of a sunshine yellow. The threads in the foreground are (L) stranded cotton and (R) silk.

I’m really pleased with these results, especially as they are low cost as regards the dyestuff. Onion skins are a waste material, normally shoved into the compost bin chez Gowthorpe. After the dye has been extracted, the slimy bits of skin can go into the compost, so no loss there. The only ‘cost’ is remembering to gather them up into a paper bag while you’re doing the food prep. Now that I know how good the results are I’ll be much more inclined to be organised and do this.

And this isn’t the end of it. Currently drying on the rack in the kitchen is a second batch of fabrics and threads which were boiled up and left for 24 hours in the dye pot. These are much lighter in colour; paler versions of the colours in the photo above.

What’s next? Well… looking out of the window from where I’m sitting typing this, I can see a clump of very healthy-looking rhubarb. Last year I tried using rhubarb leaves for both mordant and dyeing purposes, and I’ll be continuing my experiments very soon. The drawback with rhubarb leaves is that the liquid they produce is highly toxic so it requires care in handling. More reports in due course….

The weather has taken a distinct turn for the better in England and today has been a gorgeous spring day – around 14C, sunny all day and a distinct smell of spring in the air. Very unusual, but all the more welcome. I hope this signals some better weather to come, especially for those who have been battered by storms and flooding. I’m now looking forward to another spring and summer of hanging out dyed fabrics and threads to dry in the garden. If you’re a reader of this blog and you have any thoughts or useful tips to share about dyeing please leave a comment.


Dyeing – keeping records

When I started experimenting with natural dyes I told myself sternly that I must keep proper records of what I was doing – otherwise I’d get in a hopeless muddle and if I got a colour I liked I wouldn’t be able to reproduce. So I set up some records and I’m pleased, and slightly surprised, to be able to tell you that I’ve kept them up to date carefully and consistently. The thing is, I actually quite enjoy writing up what I’m doing. It reminds me of chemistry experiments at school. I was hopeless at chemistry – never had the remotest clue what was going on – but maybe that’s just because I wasn’t interested in what they were telling us. When it comes to dyeing, which is very much the same thing as chemistry experiments, I’m completely absorbed.

So, what are my records like? Well, first, every time I do anything related to dyeing, I write it up in some detail in a sketchbook – see photo. Natural dyeing record

This is a page selected at random, but it’s pretty typical of what I write. I find I have to do this straight away, pretty much as I’m dunking stuff into the dyepot because otherwise I forget almost instantly what I’ve done.

The next stage is recording the results in another book – this time one that’s long and thin. I glue (fabric) or tie (threads) samples of the finished results into the book, in date order.

Here’s a photo of the closed book, and next, a photo of a page of it:Record of natural dyeing results

Natural dyeing results book





I make sure I date every page, so that I have a cross reference back to the first book. Is this completely over the top? Well, maybe it’s me being obsessive, but I don’t think so. I find it very useful to be able to go back and read about exactly what I did to produce a particular hue or tone.

Finally, (what? there’s more? is the woman mad?) I staple a little piece of paper to each piece of fabric, and write the description on the thread spool, including the dye name, immersion number (useful if you use the same dye bath several times to produce successively paler tones) and date. Here’s a photo of some of the results of my experiments in logwood:Logwood labelling example

So, maybe it is all a bit over the top, but I find it very helpful indeed, especially at this stage where I’m learning new things about dyeing all the time.

Stitching inspired by Paul Klee – finished piece

Back at the end of January I wrote a post about a piece I was working on, inspired by my visits to the Paul Klee exhibition at Tate Modern. I’ve allowed myself to become distracted by other projects, but I was quite resolved to get this piece finished, and now I have. Here’s a photo of the completed piece with my embroidery scissors alongside to give you an idea of scale.Paul Klee inspired piece

This represents quite a lot of hours of work because I find working satin stitch is quite a slow process. It’s far from being my favourite stitch, but I did enjoy working this piece. I like the way the various layers of different coloured fabric show through the stitching, and have the effect of subtly altering the perceived hue of the stitches.

Paul Klee inspired piece close upHere’s close-up of the stitching to show you how raggedy and uneven my satin stitch can be. This is partly because I’m too impatient to spend time on getting it perfect, but also because I’m still having trouble with my right thumb (I wrote about this quite a while ago). I mentioned this to the doctor the other day and he sent me off for an X ray of the offending object. I’ll see what he says when the results come back but I have a nasty feeling that the problem may be arthritis.

I do like this effect, and I will probably do more. I was thinking about trying out something a bit more linear (as opposed to blocks) next time and will post about it if I do. For the time being, though, I want to concentrate more on continuing my experiments in dyeing, and also on doing some more prolific work for my course which has been rather neglected of late.

Dyeing with onion skins

Just a brief post today about dyeing with onion skins. Onion skinsI’ve been saving up onion skins for some time now to get a sufficient quantity for dyeing. I’ve now collected enough to fill a pan, which is currently (as I write – this is action blogging) coming to the boil. I intend to boil it for about half an hour and then leave for several days to maximise colour saturation before I put any fabrics into it. I’m hoping this works out well, so fingers crossed.

A bit more about City & Guilds…

The other day I wrote a post about what I’d learned from doing the City & Guilds Certificate and Diploma courses in Stitched Textiles. Today’s supplementary thought about this is how fortunate I’ve been to be able to do these courses. I remember reading a while back on a US blog (can’t remember which one) that there is no equivalent of C&G in the USA; the blogger pointed out that we’re very lucky in the UK to have such courses. Having said that, the UK provision of part-time college courses has diminished in recent years, and you may not be able to find what you want at the local college. Still, if you can cope with distance learning, this is always an option.

I was wondering what, if any, equivalents of C&G Stitched Textile courses exist in other countries. Hand stitchingIf you’re reading this from outside the UK, perhaps you could let me know via an email or comment about any course of study you’ve undertaken in textiles and stitching. How did you learn your skills? Was it via a formal course of study? And if so, what course did you do?