I’ve been…..

I’ve been…. doing a number of things. Lots of work, for one, but I’ve managed to keep going with stitching too. I’m currently working on a large sample piece, exploring squares (yet again). Here’s a photo of where I’m up to with it:Embroidery 27 6 17

I’m fairly sure I’ve blogged about the importance of constraints in the past. At the moment I’m constrained by what I’ve got available because most of my stitching materials are in storage. So, when I was planning this rather large sample piece, I was making do with the range of colours and materials I have available. Regular readers of this blog will recognise the square, pretty much my favourite shape, but in this case I’ve added in a few circles as well. This piece comprises 9 x 9 x 2 inch squares, so its overall size is 18″ x 18″. It’s made mostly out of squares of cotton, and a few squares of silk, left over from other things. The cotton is dress fabrics, batiks and a bit of quilting cotton in plain colours. It all goes together quite well, although it’s a bit bulky in places because I’ve left relatively large seam allowances. This is to take account of the silk, which tends to fray. But it’s quite easy to sew through.

You can’t see from this photo, but there is an attempt at a coherent design in this. I haven’t just stuck the colours together at random. If I get it finished (will I, won’t I? Don’t know) I’ll try to get it all into one photograph.

I’ve been posting regular updates on Instagram, and will continue to do this. So, if you don’t see any more on the blog about this, have a look on Instagram. I know I’ve said it before, but I’m enjoying Instagram.

Living Colour textiles draws to a close

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from Brenda Gael Smith, who has curated Living Colour Textiles, to say that the final exhibition would be taking place in Des Moines from 10 September to 3 October. So by now, it’s all done and dusted. It’s been lovely to get a series of emails from Brenda keeping me and others up to date on the stately progress of the exhibition around New Zealand, Australia and the USA. It must have entailed a vast amount of work for her, and I’m so pleased to have been part of it. Soon she will be sending my well-travelled piece back to me.

Brenda is organising another travelling exhibition ‘A matter of time’. The closing date for entries is 15 January 2016. I have an idea for a piece, and indeed had the idea quite a while ago, but have not yet got round to doing anything about it. If I can exert myself to put in an entry I will do so. The volume of entries is likely to be high, so it’s quite a competitive enterprise with a relatively small probability of success. But you never know….

A matter of timeClick on the image to go to the Matter of Time website where you can find all the details for entry. And why not have a go? There’s still time.



Getting things finished

Looking back, I see that in August last year I wrote about creating some nine-patch pieces of quilting. I started off with the intention of creating a sample based on the old quilt I saw at the Festival of Quilts. Here’s the photograph of that quilt again:Ann Howe 1890 - 1900

And here’s the photograph of the beginning stages of the nine-patch pieces:Nine patch quilting pieces

Sometimes, life just gets in the way and getting things finished turns out to take a long time. However, I am usually a finisher, even if the process is long and convoluted, and I’m pleased to report that I have now produced a completed sample.Patchwork sample It’s taken ages to produce this piece, and I’ve mostly worked on it in lots of short bursts of a few minutes at a time. When I look at it now I am reminded of the day I finished it off by doing the hand-quilting. I had the most appalling toothache, and felt very low because of it. However, I stuck to the stitching doggedly throughout that day, being unfit to do anything else, and I’m sure it helped. I’m pleased with the finished sample because I think it contains the elements that I liked about the original, but is not a slavish copy. I like the colour combinations, and the effect of using a range of different fabrics. This has habotai silk, silk brocade, dupion silk, cotton lawn, wool and a little bit of linen. I love mixing fabrics up.

Gee’s Bend quilters

Some months ago I wrote a blog about an unexpected gift I’d received – an Amazon voucher. I spent this on two items: a book about Amish quilting, and another about the Gee’s Bend quilters. I won’t review the first book –  it’s interesting enough but a bit of a disappointment mostly because it was a very battered second-hand copy. I generally find when buying second-hand books through Amazon that the description of the book’s condition tends to be pretty accurate, but not in this case. The book in allegedly ‘good’ condition, was in bad shape.

Gee's Bend quiltsHowever, the other book ‘Gee’s Bend: the Architecture of the Quilt‘ was brand new, and very reasonably priced for such an impressive production. It’s an oversized book; a coffee-table book, I suppose, but this feature means that the photographs are relatively large and informative. It’s a stunning book and I’m very pleased to have it in my collection. The story of the Gee’s Bend community and the ‘discovery’ of the quilts by the art world are recorded in detail, and  a very absorbing story it is too. The artists who created these wonderful artefacts lived in conditions of dire poverty, with very few resources to hand. Despite, or maybe because of, these constraints, they succeeded in producing this rich body of work. The artists have been compared, rightly as it seems to me, with Klee and Matisse, although these guys are, obviously, Europeans, and the Gee’s Bend work seem to be firmly rooted in the design traditions of Africa.

There’s quite a lot of text in this book, which suits me as I like to read as well as to see. Some of the chapters have been contributed by a few of the younger quilters. Here’s a excerpt from Mary Lee Bendolph’s chapter: ‘The materials I use is mostly old material: pants, shirts, dresses, corduroy, jean pants. I take it and make quilts. Sometimes I use new material, but mostly I just use old cloth. People loved their pants or dresses, and they have worn out or just don’t fit anymore. I make quilts out of it because I hate throwing away things, because somebody can use things that people throw away. People are so wasteful now. It hurts me to see people waste up things. Because everything you throw away, it can be used and make something beautiful out of it. It makes me feel good when I take old clothes and make something beautiful. And old clothes have spirit in them. They also have love.’ Well, yes, Mary Lee, quite right. Although I think most of us would struggle to make something as beautiful as these women produced out of such worn and basic materials.

It’s a lovely book, and it’s become one of the most treasured items in my little textiles library. If you’re looking for something to spend a gift voucher on, then this could be an excellent choice.

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.

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.


Regular readers may remember me wittering on a few weeks ago about my proposed entry for the Carrefour Européen du Patchwork on this year’s theme ‘Imagine’. If you read that far, you’ll know that I failed to make the deadline for this (26th June) and was consequently somewhat downcast. Since then, the unfinished piece has been sitting around in the spare room as I’ve not felt motivated to get on with it, and indeed, I hadn’t decided whether or not it would be worth finishing. Last week my stitching friend Bren came over for one of our stitching day meetings. These are supposed to take place about once a month, but it’s more like every eight weeks as we both have lots of other things to do. I didn’t have anything on the go for the stitching day, apart from my ‘Imagine’ quilt, so I got to work on it. Bren said she thought it was lovely and recommended that I should finish it, as I could try exhibiting it elsewhere. Good idea! It would be a lot of wasted work to abandon it now, and I feel re-enthused by getting some positive feedback on it. So, since then, I’ve been doing a few minutes of stitching every now and then, and as I’ve found in the past, if you do this regularly, even a large piece will sooner or later get finished.

My interpretation of the Imagine theme involved the use of lettering. I’ve not previously used lettering and was keen to have a go, especially after reading the Sara Impey book ‘Text in Textile Art’ that I reviewed a while ago on this blog. I thought I’d imagine a meadow full of flowers and stems, using the letters I, M, A, G, N and E. So this is what I did. One of the ideas I developed during the City & Guilds Diploma was using quite stylised images to create the image of a meadow with intertwining stems and stalks, so I’d already done some of the thinking. I did quite a lot of sampling of various techniques (spending too long on the sampling was one reason why the piece didn’t get finished) and decided to use a kantha-style technique for quilting. It’s a whole cloth quilt made using linen (no particular reason for this, except that I really like linen). Here’s an image of the I flower:The I flower in the Imagine quilt

I’ve chosen quite a limited range of colours – mostly greys with some yellows. I made plastic templates of the letter forms I wanted to use, then drew out the design in pencil, using the templates as stencils, on a piece of lining paper of the right size. When I was happy with the arrangement I pressed the linen, laid it out on the kitchen table, and drew the design, again using the stencils, in a very hard, fine pencil. Then I set up the sewing machine and filled in the shapes using free-motion machine embroidery. This bit didn’t take as long as I’d thought it would. The thread is Madeira rayon, which I like very much. Then I put together the quilt sandwich, using cotton batting and a plain calico backing, and started the hand embroidery. WELL…. what a massive job that has turned out to be. I am making a line in running stitch around each coloured shape, and then quilting the background using, not Kantha stitch, but seed stitch. This gives a very nice nubbly effect to the quilt. Here’s another close-up showing the texture. You can see a little bit of the M stem at the top of the photo.

Close-up of Imagine quilt

I’ve mostly finished outlining the shapes but there is lots of the ground work still to do. Perhaps I’ll finish it, perhaps I won’t…. if I do, it will be largely because of Bren’s encouragement. So… thank you Bren!

In praise of sashiko needles

Just a brief post today in praise of sashiko needles. I’ve been doing some hand quilting, through a couple of layers of fabric plus batting, and a fairly long sashiko needle is ideal for this. I’ve been using the same needle for this type of work for some time now, and it’s just perfect. Here’s an image of Olympus brand sashiko needles, to show you the kind of thing I mean:

Olympus sashiko needles

This is not quite the same as the brand I bought which has a Japanese label and the word ‘Suncoccoh’ on it. I bought mine from Euro Japan Links Ltd – the pack of six needles for £3.60 sterling or 5 euro. It’s an excellent product, and if you’ve not tried it for this type of work I can thoroughly recommend it. Oh, and I did use the needles for some sashiko work. One of the City & Guilds Diploma course requirements is to study and write about textile work in three different countries. I chose Japan, Afghanistan and Peru – all well worth the effort. A requirement is to work a piece in a typical style of the country, and I worked a couple of sashiko pieces. I loved making the pieces and I really like the plainness of traditional sashiko work. Don’t know when I’d ever find the time to do more, though….

Elegance and constraints

The other day I found this image on the Quilt Museum website, and added it to one of my Pinterest boards:Canadian Red Cross quilt

The accompanying text explains that it’s an example of a Canadian Red Cross quilt; these were sent over from Canada to Britain in their thousands during the Second World War as donations to the war effort. The intention underlying these quilts was to produce an item whose function was, simply, to keep people warm in difficult circumstances. Accidentally, though, it manages to achieve elegance and beauty. The quilt is made of rectangles and squares of suiting wool. Because no two pieces are the same, it is thought that the fabric comes from a sample book. The quilt is tied with pink and blue wool, probably because that is what came to hand at the time, and, as the description points out, tying is a quicker method of quilting than stitching. So, in summary, it appears that this piece was put together quickly, out of whatever materials serendipitously presented themselves, and its focus was on function, not ornament.

Isn’t that interesting? One of the big challenges, it seems to me, about creating or designing anything, is to establish constraints of materials, colours, shape and so on. Where there is a superabundance of materials available, which is the case for many of us, how do you go about making these choices? I’ve been thinking about this in any case, because of the Matthew Harris course that I wrote about a week ago, but this Canadian quilt has helped to focus my attention on the matter still further. Some of the most striking and lovely examples of textile art (e.g. the Gee’s Bends quilts, and Japanese boro work) are the result of the use of scarce and precious resources in the form of rags. In my own recent family past, rags were used routinely to make rugs, and jumpers were unravelled when worn out with the better elements of wool preserved for making into something else. It’s not always the case, of course, that accidental elegance will result; in most cases this probably won’t happen. But sometimes it does, and then something wonderful is created.

Living Colour! update

The Living Colour! exhibition will open on Thursday at its first venue, the Australasian Quilt Convention. Here’s a mosaic of the 32 exhibits:Living Colour!

Mine is 3rd from the left on the top row. Brenda Gael Smith, the curator of the travelling exhibition, has been super-busy arranging new venues. So far, it’s been confirmed that the exhibition will show in 11 different venues in Australia, New Zealand and the USA, but it looks as though there may be more to come. The current list of dates and locations is on the Living Colour! website. Also available is a print catalogue showing the exhibits in more detail – an online preview of the catalogue can also be found on  a different page of the website.

Needless to say, I’m very pleased that my work has been selected for this exhibition. I’m just sorry that I’m unlikely to see the exhibition, as all the venues are a long, long way away, especially for someone who dislikes air travel as much as I do. However, the catalogue looks like a high quality production, and it should give a good insight into the working techniques and methods used to produce the 32 exhibits.