Archives for August 2014


The other day, in London, I went to Loop, an excellent wool shop in Islington. It’s in Camden Passage (number 15) which is full of interesting and quirky little shops. Islington in general is worth a detour if you’re visiting London. (Nearest Tube is Angel, on the Northern Line). Here’s a photo of the shop, which is a little gem:Loop Islington London

It’s small, but the retail space is on two floors, so not quite as tiny as the photo might suggest. The upper floor has sofas and chairs where you can sit and leaf through the pattern collections at your leisure. Some of the wool is up there, and some downstairs on the ground floor, as shown in this photo:Loop interior

Pretty, or what?

I spent ages in there, choosing a pattern and then trying to work out which of the available yarns I could buy without having to take out a bank loan. It really is pretty expensive, but on the other hand, the range of wools is just gorgeous. And operating a retail outlet in this location is, no doubt, incredibly expensive, and I guess the prices have to cover such overheads. Anyway, I ended up buying some Madeline Tosh hand-dyed wool. This comes, as do many of the yarns in Loop, from the USA. The range of colours is stunning and the wool has the most wonderful feel to it.

Because I was there on a wet Tuesday afternoon, the shop wasn’t especially busy, and the staff were really helpful. I imagine it could be a different story on a busy Saturday in such a small space, and if/when I go back I’ll try to go on a weekday.

I can’t get on with this project until I’ve finished the dark blue jumper I’m currently knitting with a lovely Rowan yarn. And of course, I shouldn’t really be doing any of this knitting and should instead be getting on with stitching projects. But what the hell. It’s up to me, after all. And the bonus of knitting, at least simple knitting, is that you can do it while watching the telly, or even while reading a book. Can’t really stitch and read a book at the same time…..

Folk Art/Matisse

Well, yesterday was my Folk Art/Matisse day out in London. I’ve actually been in London since Tuesday, which partly explains why I’ve been a bit late with this week’s blogging. Yesterday I met my friend Laura (like myself, a keen art hound) outside Tate Britain as we’d decided to go to the Folk Art first, and then on to the Matisse at Tate Modern if we had the energy. I’d been looking forward to the Folk Art in particular, as I’d heard that there were some textile exhibits, and it’s been very favourably reviewed. British Folk Art Tate BritainBut, sad to say, I was disappointed. The exhibition comprises a motley collection of objects, some more interesting than others, but I felt it lacked coherence. In a very mixed exhibition like this, I feel the curators need to provide guidance in the form of a strong and coherent narrative. This exhibition seemed to me to lack any such narrative, and so it remained just a weird rag tag group of stuff assembled, mostly, from provincial museums. Perhaps fortunately it’s a relatively small exhibition so it didn’t take long, and we had sufficient remaining energy to contemplate the trip to Tate Britain.

That trip, between the two Tates, was one of the highlights of the day. There’s a fairly frequent boat service, and the trip takes only 13 minutes, although I wouldn’t have minded if it had taken a good deal longer. It’s a lovely way to see some of the most famous touristy landmarks in London. Arriving at Tate Modern we were gripped by a need to sit down and have lunch in the ground floor cafe, and very nice too. After a Caesar salad, a pot of English Breakfast tea and an absorbing and lengthy chat, I felt just about ready to take on Matisse.Matisse Cut Outs Tate Modern

While I think I more or less get the point about Matisse, he’s never been one of my favourite painters, so I wasn’t completely enthused by the prospect of the cut-outs exhibition. I was even less enthused when I saw the vast numbers of people going into the exhibition and glimpsed the crowded first room. But, refreshed by the very nice lunch, we decided we were up for the experience and in we plunged. Well, it was outstanding, and I’m so pleased I didn’t miss it. The exhibition finishes next week, which is such a pity, as I’d love to go again. The first room featured Matisse’s first experiments in cut paper, which were on a modest scale. As you progress around the rooms the exhibits get larger and bolder, and themes (of colour and shape in particular) start to emerge. The exhibits are bold and full of movement, vigour and life. A poignant element of the show is that Matisse himself was failing physically when he created some of the later pieces. They were achieved with the help of assistants because Matisse by this stage was infirm and in a wheelchair. His assistants painted papers in gouache in colours chosen by Matisse. Once he had cut out shapes, the assistants climbed stepladders with tacks and hammers and tacked the shapes into position as directed by Matisse. It notes in the small leaflet handed out to all visitors that Matisse had ‘extraordinary creative energy’ in his final years. Quite so. This exhibition is full of life and energy and is very uplifting. Quite a contrast to the mostly dreary folk art we saw in the morning.

Laura bought the exhibition catalogue which looked like a very good piece of work. I’m trying hard not to buy catalogues when I go to exhibitions, partly to save cash and also to try not to add to the book problem (too many) we’ve got in the house. But I hope I’ll retain the impression of this exhibition without the catalogue. It was so inspiring – it made you want to pick up your scissors and start cutting out shapes straight away. And who knows, one day I might just have a go.

This was a memorable day out. The contrast between the two exhibitions could hardly have been greater. If you’re in London in the next few days, and you haven’t seen the Matisse, I can thoroughly recommend it. As you can see from the illustration of the final weekend poster above, Tate Modern is, intriguingly, offering an all-nighter opportunity. So if you fancy seeing it at 4 in the morning, it looks like you’ll be able to do it.

I’ve got a backlog of things to write about on the blog, and I’ll try to get round to clearing it over the next couple of weeks. Trouble is, as ever, there are just too many things I want to do. And a whole heap of less alluring things that I need to do, notably weed removal, house cleaning, tidying, bits of work etc. The immediate task is soup, so I’ll just go and get on with that…..  More soon.

Through our Hands magazine

Have you seen this – the second issue of the ‘Through our Hands’ online magazine? It’s really rather good; anyone who’s interested in quilting, stitching, or both should enjoy it. In this edition, I especially enjoyed reading about Bobbie Britnell’s bark shoe work, and about Eszter Bornemisza (whose work I very much liked at the FoQ). Also, the review of the Folk Art exhibition at Tate Britain, because I’m hoping to get to see it. (I’ve got plans to see both this AND the Matisse at Tate Modern next Wednesday, but may find this programme is just too ambitious).

And amazingly, this 76 page magazine is available free. It must be a huge amount of work for the editors – Laura and Linda Kemshall and Annabel Rainbow – and I hope they keep up the awesome effort involved in this. As a person who’s written, although in a very different field of endeavour, for money, I’ve been very struck by the change that’s come about because of the Internet over the last ten to fifteen years. Back in the days when information was disseminated through books and magazines only, you could write an article and be paid for it. More recently, an assumption has built up that content is, and should be, free. I’ve got some sympathy with this, as I’ve benefited like many other people, from free content. However, it’s consequently somewhat tough to make a living or even an adequate return from writing. Books never paid that much, on average, to the writer unless you were a JK Rowling, but at least they paid something, and you could probably earn a few quid from a magazine article.

Writing, as we bloggers know, is not like falling off a log. It requires a lot of effort, and I think the editors and writers of ‘Through our Hands’ should be congratulated for their beautifully produced magazine. It looks especially good on the iPad.

Nine patch

Over the weekend I’ve been making some nine patch pieces. Nine patch quilting piecesThese are mostly made of silk but the russet coloured piece in the middle of the main patch here is lightweight wool and there are some cotton patches in the piece with the needle in it. I love mixing up fabrics. I’ll make a few more and then think about what to do with them. These are one inch squares, so pretty small and fiddly. But relaxing to do, and very small so they can be easily carried about when travelling. I spent the weekend in Ludlow in Shropshire, which I think I’ve mentioned previously on this blog. It’s a fantastic place with excellent shops. I bought some clothes, rather expensive but lovely, and had a good time looking round the market. On Saturday it’s food, on Sunday antiques and general junk.

Just a short post today. I’m off to London in a few minutes, for a meeting tomorrow. I’m going again next week for one or two visits (number of visits dependent upon stamina) to galleries. Today I’ll be staying at Earl’s Court so if the weather’s not too hot, and if I have the energy I might walk up to the Victoria & Albert Museum for a cup of tea and a wander about.

More on Contemporary Appliqué

A few days ago I wrote that I’d ordered a copy of Contemporary Appliqué, the new book by Julia Triston and Rachel Lombard. Here’s a photo I found on Julia’s Facebook page showing her and the book:Julia Triston and Contemporary Appliqué

Well, the book promptly arrived (thank you Speedy Hen – very good service) and I’ve been reading it over the last few days. I wasn’t actually sure what to expect with this book – would it be a review of contemporary appliqué styles and methods – or a ‘how to’ book? It turns out to be both of those things, and somewhat more in that it also contains, in Part 1,  a very absorbing survey of historical and cultural perspectives on appliqué. Obviously, the book is restricted in size to the usual Batsford 128 page format, so there can’t be a vast amount of detail in the contexts part. However, there’s enough to make it clear that appliqué has a long history and is very diverse in its cultural contexts. Parts 2 (Design Skills) and 3 (Appliqué: the Basics) contain the ‘how to’ elements of the book. I found the section on how to transfer designs particularly useful and practical, and it contained some ideas that are unfamiliar, to me at least (e.g. soap and net method of transfer). The final part of the book, From Tradition to Innovation, is the longest; it contains loads of ideas about contemporary applications of appliqué techniques.

There is a lot of information in this book, and the text is clearly written. But I think it’s really great strength is the quality and range of the images that illustrate the text. These have obviously been chosen with a great deal of care to demonstrate a huge range of appliqué techniques. Although, of course, the authors use their own work to illustrate certain points, the book is not particularly skewed towards them or towards any other individual makers, or indeed towards a particular style or approach. This is a real strength in a book that aims to ‘take a fresh look at the world of appliqué and surface ornament’ (as it says inside the front cover).

So, in conclusion (because I must depart for a visit to the dentist) if you’re interested in appliqué techniques, this is well worth a look.

Festival of Quilts

Having been bogged down with work for so long, I didn’t think there was any realistic chance of getting to the Festival of Quilts at the NEC in Birmingham. But I redoubled my efforts, worked my socks off on Friday and Saturday, and by Saturday evening got to the end of it. This freed up Sunday, and I decided to get up early and head for Birmingham. This plan worked well in that I thoroughly enjoyed my day out, but it had one major drawback which was the weather. It was atrocious. Apparently we are getting the tail end of Hurricane Bertha. And if this is the tail end I don’t like to think what the beginning and middle must have been like. Driving was really difficult and unpleasant, and it took me almost 3 hours each way. So that’s a lot of time just sitting in the car. Still, preferable to sitting at my computer working. I put the radio on and listened to Radio 3 (the BBC’s classical music channel) all the way there and back which no doubt did me a lot of good.

So, what was it like? Well, for starters, sparsely attended. I was at the FoQ two years ago and there was a vast crowd. One of the stallholders told me that the first three days of the show had been pretty busy, but Sunday was quiet. It’s quite possible that other people were more sensible that I was, and decided to stay indoors rather than experiencing the vile weather.  Anyway, it made it a pretty nice experience as it was so easy to get about. I spent around five hours there in total, and there was lots to see. As on the previous occasion, I was fairly unimpressed with quite a lot of the exhibits. While the craft skill level is very high, I think the quality of design and composition left something to be desired in a lot of the contemporary quilts – although there were of course exceptions. On the whole I preferred the more traditional designs; this may simply reflect my love of geometric design.

What did I see that I liked? Well, there was an excellent example of Sara Impey’s text-based work, and I liked the Ester Bornemisza exhibition. Also, the work of Roberta Le Poidevin, a quilter from the Channel Islands. I spent quite a long time looking at the half-dozen or so pieces of Louise Baldwin’s work. Here’s a photo of one of them:Louise Baldwin Festival of Quilts 2014

And below a close up of the lower edge which I thought was beautiful:Louise Baldwin Festival of Quilts 2014









But the best piece I saw in the whole show was an antique piece on show on the Quilters’ Guild stand. It was a simple composition of squares (regular readers will understand immediately why I liked it), using velvet, cotton and silks. It was just gorgeous. There was a sign right beside it forbidding photography, so I obediently didn’t take a picture; I understand that you have to be careful with exposing old textiles to light and I’m happy to comply. I was annoyed, though, when a woman came up beside me and, ignoring the sign, photographed it anyway. However, virtue was rewarded because I found an image of the piece on the internet:Ann Howe 1890 - 1900

The black squares are velvet, and they serve to make a frame for, and to set off, the brighter colours. Very effective. The theme of the Quilters’ Guild exhibition of half a dozen items was ‘Mosaic patchwork’, which is another way of saying ‘English paper piecing’. I liked it very much.

Apart from the exhibitions, where I spent most of the time, there is of course a lot of shopping opportunities. There’s not that much I need or want, really, but I did buy some silk sari strips and some pieces of grey silk from The Silk Route. And I got one of the helpful ladies on the Bernina stand to give me a demonstration of how to thread up and use an overlocker, as I sometimes think about buying one. Does anyone have any views they’d like to share about overlockers? Have you got one? Can you recommend a particular brand? Please let me know either via comment or email.

Still working

I’m still working hard, unfortunately, but should be through the worst of it by the end of the weekend…. and then I’ll be ready to write some more blog posts. I received my copy of Contemporary Appliqué (see my post from earlier in the week) on Thursday and have been using spare moments to have a good look at it. First impressions are that it’s excellent. I’ll tell you more when I have a bit more time. There are a couple of other books that I’d like to write about too. If only I had the time…..

Contemporary Appliqué

This morning I’ve ordered a copy of ‘Contemporary Appliqué’ by Julia Triston and Rachel Lombard. The book is just out – here’s a picture of the front cover. I’m excited about this because I think it will be a good and interesting read, and also, from a purely selfish point of view, because I know it contains an illustration of a piece of appliqué work that I did a couple of years ago.Contemporary Appliqué by Triston and Lombard

I’ve been working solidly all weekend and have had no time at all to do anything I actually want to do. Work will continue for the next seven days and then I’ll get a bit of a rest. The house is looking pretty squalid and the garden is full of weeds, so I guess I know what I’ll be doing when the work finally draws to a close. Still, from where I’m sitting right now (chained to the computer), even the prospect of weeding, cleaning the kitchen etc. doesn’t look too bad. And ordering this book gives me something to look forward to. When I have a large chunk of work on, like now, I often order a book so that there’s at least the glimmer of a bright prospect on the horizon. I have to keep reminding myself that lots of people are out of work/short of work/chronically underpaid for the work they do, so I have to count myself very fortunate.

And once this batch of work is finished, I’m promising myself some time to spend on stitching and drawing more triangles etc. Won’t be long now…..