29 August 2007


Unable (unwilling?) to leap straight to the sewing machine, I started the day by browsing through a few books. This densely embroidered piece was designed and executed by William Morris, and it's from "Embroidered Gardens" by Thomasina Beck, which was published in 1979.

Amid all the needlepoint and stumpwork from earlier times was this wool embroidery from the second quarter of the 18th century, still bright and fresh -

On the same shelf I found Embroidery Studio, published in 1993. Embroiders took an item from the Guild's collection and reinterpreted it. These little pieces by Jenny Bullen are probably my favourites in the book -- they're based on a quilted fragment from a 17th century garment.

Not having looked at this book for a few (!) years, I now find the contemporary work overly fussy. But the historical notes are interesting, as are the artists' working processes. My current favourite historical example is this 1927 "firescreen" by Madeleine Clifton - densely stitched, but with an airy feel -

Another book I haven't looked at for years is Fiberarts Design Book Four, published in 1991 (and costing £15.99 at the time!) Sue Benner's "Three times of sky" still looks fresh to me, even though her work has changed considerably --

And just to pick one of the dozen other things I photographed from the book (the tapestries and baskets seem the most timeless categories), this felt piece by Maria Stachowska measures 78 x 113 cm -

It probably influenced today's journal quilt.

Journal quilt

In light of the rotten weather we had in August, I wanted to do something about wind and rain. Out came the grey fabrics

but when it fell together it was very bitty and complicated. I left it pinned together and hopped on the bus to Hampstead, but found Fenton House didn't open till 2 so went window shopping. Unexpectedly there were great bargains in one of my favourite shops, and I came out with items that will be useful next summer, whatever the weather...

Fenton House has a musical instrument collection, rather a lot of fussy china, and delightfully detailed needlepoint and stumpwork embroideries from the 17th and 18th centuries. The rooms are lovely - the bedrooms have arched nooks with inviting windowseats and leafy views.

When it's not overrun with people, as today, Fenton House is a lovely place to visit. I'd intended to sit in the garden and draw, and did do that, and continued to sit in the garden, stitching. What a pleasant afternoon, after all. Did I mention the sun was shining? And that the garden has two kinds of holly topiary? The pointy trees are along the path to the left, and are a variegated kind of holly. The pointy leaves and careful shaping have a disquieting effect.
Back home, to the machine, and in about an hour the JQ was stitched down. I used several kinds of black-white-grey variegated thread, trying to get the effect of rain but achieving a feeling of being on a suspension bridge!

28 August 2007

Screenprint sequel

This is as far as last week's printing has gone so far - some of it was pieced together, and now some of the hand embroidery is started (it was great fun to pick out threads from my copious, hoarded collection). The idea is to drift flowers across the piece, picking up on the colours of the patches, and to base the machine quilting on the stems. I wonder how - or whether - it will turn out; I'm going into this without preconceptions (or much of an idea, perhaps) - and am quite prepared to abandon it if something better comes along!

Wednesdays and weekends

Now that I'm working just 4 days a week, I try to keep the non-working day as "studio day" -- mainly, no computer. This is difficult! And since last week I've not only not posted anything here, but haven't downloaded any photos, so there are lots to choose from and too many possibilities for what to blog about....

It was Bank Holiday Weekend here in UK. We had a delightful Saturday on the boat (on the Oxford Canal) - it was the first sunny day for grizzled Londoners, though apparently the sun had been shining on the Oxford Canal all week.

Sunday, to take advantage of the continued sunshine, we headed for Wimpole Hall, near Cambridge, taking the back roads through untrammelled countryside and delightful villages. Click, click, went my camera, as Tony obligingly slowed at obviously scenic spots.

Wimpole Hall has a wonderful walled garden complete with cordon-trained apples and pears

And the staff had been having a good time making scarecrows - there were at least a dozen individuals in the walled garden, including this humpty dumpty -

And who can resist koi, and water lilies? They were in the very centre of the garden -

22 August 2007

Screen printing

The flower shapes are real flowers from my windowbox. The first print of the six in the piece above used just the flowers, then I added some of their stems for subsequent prints. And rotated the screen.

In later prints, I added more stems and small leaves -- and, in between one piece and another, some of the elements fell off ... so others had to be added in:

In order to spend the morning printing, I had first of all to make space in the studio. So, last evening, heaps of fabric, UFOs, etc etc went willynilly into boxes, and the boxes went upstairs: out of sight, out of mind. Oh the glorious acres of floorspace, the completely empty surfaces! One day those boxes will need sorting (or tossing), but not yet.

Another discharge print

From the workshop. It uses leaves under a screen - the brown is done with Thiox and the greenish with Formisol, on a panel unpicked from an old black silk skirt. (The photos are as grey as the weather has been all day.)

20 August 2007

August journal quilts

It never rains but it pours - so here, to match the weather, is a sprinkling of recent JQs. The first uses fabrics - cottons - discharged with chlorine bleach on day 1 of the workshop - sewn, with thread unravelled from the fabric (necessity being the mother of invention when spools of thread have all been left at home) while listening to the tv 'cos I couldn't get the silly radio in the hotelroom to work.

Same procedure next evening, using cotton and silk discharged with Thiox or Formisol. The vivid yellow-orange of the blue shirt has faded over the past few days to something rather dingy. Live and learn (and wash the fabric promptly?) -

Then yesterday with my head full of lots of art seen at the Tate, this one came together fast:

It uses the circles (donut holes!) left over from Luna, the moon quilt. Following instructions for the first exercise in "Finding your own visual language", I split the shape in various ways - with one cut, with two - splitting with three cuts and a little spreading, and what do we get but the suggestion of a star... Scraps of sheers add further colour (next time: sheers go underneath the circles) and it's held down with nylon chiffon (old scarf) and machine and hand stitched. Just needs some satin stitch round the edges - the machine at my "weekend studio" doesn't have zigzag, and usually I don't miss it.

19 August 2007

A metaphor for blogging?

Could be ... lots of little flashes as various people visit the blog, or as topics for posts appear briefly in the blogger's mind - and behind those, the great vast untapped universe....

Technical details: this, from the Astronomy Picture of the Day website, is the result of combining a series of 30-second images of the night sky during the annual August Perseid meteor shower - comet dust burns up as it enters the atmosphere, and on a clear and moonless night, it's great to see - usually one flash at a time.

Discharge - a taster

In the first day of Bob's workshop we used chlorine bleach and discovered the various colours we could get from the cottons we'd brought. You had to work fast applying the bleach. The next day was much more exciting - we used thiox and also formisol, which work on silk and wool as well as cotton. You didn't have to rush the application, as the colour appeared (along with the toxic fumes) when you ironed the now-dry fabric. Here it comes:

And you can somewhat control the depth of colour (or rather, of discharge) during the ironing. And then rinse out, dry, apply more, dry, iron more ... etc ...

13 August 2007

August journal quilt(s)

The fabrics fell out of a drawer together, and I added some thread...

The blue-on-red was done with Markal sticks and rubbing plates (thanks, Tricia!). After a bit of piecing and lots of satisfying stitching, here's what they ended up as:

Too complicated! But one thing leads to another:

And now it's time to leave for the Festival of Quilts. I'm doing a three-day workshop with Bob Adams, and will have Friday and Saturday to look around.

Closets etc

A successful shopping session - everything half price, or less, at the tail end of the summer sales - had me reorganising my clothes closet, and reflecting on the process.

There are a lot of horrible garments out there - clingy knits that do worse than nothing for their wearers, for instance. But hey, it's "fashion" - and it's disposable. Cheap to buy, why even bother washing it, just throw it out - then you'll have the pleasure of shopping for more...

Well, no; not at "my age" anyway. My younger self feared middle age as the time when your choices started narrowing: you could no longer do "everything", you had to start choosing. Now, poised at the point of choice, I'm starting to see this focus as a good thing. And what came out of my closet reaffirms this.

The wisdom is that one old garment should be discarded for every garment that is newly acquired. [How old is "old", anyway? - or, even for clothing, is age just a state of mind?] The stars must have been in the right alignment: 7 garments have gone into the charity shop bag, and three have joined my artfabric stash. Less is more!

In the process everything came out of the closet and only the things I wanted to keep went back in -- much easier to do than selecting individual items to discard. From the back of the closet emerged a heap of scarves and shawls, including this one from Nepal (thanks again Margo!)

And I updated my cardfile. Having a file of cards listing your clothes may seem about as crazy as having your neckties carefully catalogued in a computer file, but everyone to their own obsession, ok? My cards fit into a small file and are sorted in several sections: clothes for "best", for work, for home and/or fun, and for in the studio; clothes almost ready to be discarded; and discards (this section is an aide-memoire and repository of sentiment). At the front is a section for clothes that need the hem taking up etc - if a garment get buried under other stuff somewhere, I'll know I wasn't dreaming that I'd bought it...

A messy little sketch of the garment goes in the middle of the card, and under it the fabric type, date acquired, and other salient info. Around the edges go messy little sketches of the things I like to wear with it.

Maybe it's the cards themselves, or maybe it's the thought process that has gone into them, but I find packing minimally isn't a problem, nor is realising what's missing from your wardrobe. Unfortunately I've discovered through doing this that I have far too many jackets (is it possible to have too many jackets, though?).

11 August 2007


Annabel tagged me for "seven gardening things about me" and my first reaction was that I don't know seven people with gardening blogs who can be tagged, followed immediately by "hey I just don't DO chain letters - pyramid selling (or tupperware parties)" - but a moment's thought revealed both these reactions as churlish and contrary to the spirit of blogging. So, if I can break the chain by not tagging anyone at the moment, here are seven garden-related things that come to mind:

1. Because I live in an upstairs flat my garden consists of three (slightly illegal)windowboxes. Houseplants used to number 27 but are now down to 11, excluding the cuttings in water taking root, and a recovering orchid.

2. DSO's garden

has an ancient apple tree and equally ancient roses. Weeding round the roses can be a bit prickly, if not downright dangerous.

3. Some people are compulsive weeders and plant-movers, but not very interested in planning, planting, or sowing. Many of these people have day jobs as editors.

4. Plants should not be overcrowded. (And people need space too. Ask any city-dweller.)

5. "To see paradise in a flower..." - yes, regularly.

6. The garden will get along without you, but many a plant needs TLC to survive.

7. If you do it every week, mowing the average suburban patch of grass takes just 15 minutes, and that includes getting out the (electric) mower and putting it away.

And, for something completely different, part of the garden at West Dean

10 August 2007

Stash downsizing

Even though I've been back in the UK for all of 12 hours, and even though I've done no sewing for three weeks, I haven't yet set foot in the workroom. Anne's question on BQL about how to go about downsizing the stash has made me realise that my stash has reached the right size -- it supplies just about all the fabric I need for any idea I might have. (Is that because knowing what's there sets limits for the ideas I have?)

Also the art materials on hand are sufficient that new stuff isn't constantly needed. Yet there are some that never get used -- is this a call for getting rid of those, or for trying to use them more?

Back to the fabric -- it ranges from dressmaking lengths, kept in trunks and drawers in other rooms, and under beds, to bags of really quite small scraps. I'm reluctant to throw anything out because the oddest things spark off the really stretching ideas, or are just what's needed now and then. Coming across these odd things, or seeing them next to something unexpected -- those are the glorious moments of impetus.

And if there's an unexpected group project, the stash will usually yield enough to get started. Here's what turned up when I needed "rich autumn colours" - they obviously won't be used in these proportions, to get a real autumnal feel.

Trawling through the stash for projects like this seems to turn up so many forgotten things - it's like having new fabric. Recently I found a lot of silk blouses, just needing cutting up, in all sorts of gorgeous colours -- when fashion changed and people were getting rid of their "big shirts" the charity shops were good sources. Recycling is good, yes? So instead of buying fat quarters I focus on thread, including embroidery thread, and on the tools that make the making easier.

For serious downsizing, though, when the day comes that I simply must do it, the only way will be to take everything out of the room and put back only what I want to keep, and be ruthless with the rest. Living out of a suitcase gets you thinking about the simple life.

07 August 2007

Going nowhere

Trying to make "something" with some of the printed drier sheets (used of course) - very pleasant to sit on the patio in the sunshine doing this, but to no great effect. This is instructive as an example of how not to go about it - or maybe it was just the devil making work for idle hands?

One I prepared earlier

This small piece uses sweet (candy) wrappers, coils of tissue paper, metallic paint, and machine quilting through a top layer of net; it was inspired by medieval architecture and made about 10 years ago. It hangs in the staircase of my parents' home.

...and one for later

This little bag from the grocery store cries out to be replicated in cloth.

05 August 2007

Neighbourhood at night

These pictures were taken a year ago.From visually raucous restaurant to abandoned bakery (rye bread a specialty - closed down a couple of months ago) estate agents touting for business (must check if they're still there - dangerous times for estate agents)Where the pavement is wide enough, late-night open-air cafes (doing a roaring trade)
and late-night grocery shopping at Tesco (people gotta eat)
There are always lots of people on the street - not really a scary place, though it looks sinister in these photos. Looking out my window, I have an ever-changing scene -- including the weekly spectacle of the gathering crowds waiting for Tesco to open at 11am on Sunday.

03 August 2007

Quilters' tea party

You could have patchwork cake (Battenburg) --and reverse applique jammy-sandwich biscuits --
but what would this be? layered sheers with embellishment?

01 August 2007

Visual language

Following an exercise in Jane Dunnewold, Clare Benn, and Leslie Morgan's new book, Finding your own visual language, I've been cutting designs into erasers and printing them. It's fun, and so far (perhaps as a result of doing these in batches, rather than one every day) the visual language is more of the same-old same-old.

Spooky forest

The trail to Widgeon Falls goes through the woods, and the moss-covered trees are very photogenic. Here is a link to some photos of enchanted forests recently carried by Die Zeit, with excerpts from German fairy tales. Seriously spooky!