31 July 2009

"But what can you DO with these Little Gems?"

What to DO with Little Gems - this is the burning question in the minds of everyone who's hoping to get lucky and win a Little Gem at the tombola at the Festival of Quilts.

The LG team has been thinking about this, and the results of their cogitations will be shown at FOQ and will be put on the LG website. So, be patient.... (or if you have an idea, send it along to me!)

Of course you might want to display your LG in a frame, or by hanging it up on a rod (or even just pinning it on to the wall) - or use it as a table mat - or as a pocket on a shopping bag.

Or you could easily make it into a useful container, like I did with this rather nondescript one made especially for this demonstration.I folded the long sides in half and, from the inside, whipped them together. (At this stage you can add a loop and button, and you have a nice pouch bag -- but we're going a stage further here.)

To make this pouch into a cube, I folded the sides in so that the seams lay over each other, then used the bound edges as a guide for sewing across the seams, forming triangles. (You can make smaller triangles to get a more rectangular shape, but do make both the same size!)
Turn it inside out, lift up the triangles so you can see the bottom, catch the points of the triangles onto the seam, and take a few stitches at each corner to keep the top edge nice and square.
This will be useful beside the sewing machine or on a desktop.

More wicked ways with Little Gems

OK you've read how to make a nice square basket. After a bit of experimentation, I can offer other ways to make "useful containers".

This Little Gem is nice and firm throughout. Fold in half, right sides together and stitch the long edge till it meets itself in a nice point - do not break off the thread when you get to the end, though -Simply turn up the point - make as crisp as fold as you can - and catch it to the seam with several stitches. (Now you can cut that thread.)
Do the same with the other side - measure down the same distance for placing the second point, so your container will be symmetrical. And, hey presto, there it is -
The bottom has a nice "spread" to it - for stability -
What if the edge isn't bound but is satin stitched? I've used a figure-8 stitch to join these -
(By the way, a little permanent felt pen, red or orange in this case, will hide those bits of white peeking through the satin stitch.)

You can turn the point up on the outside - and choose how far up it comes -
And here we have a variety of "useful containers". The dark red one has the point turned up just a little, so it's more rectangular -

Kensington Roof Garden

The views - to the east, the Albert Hall, and beyond can you see the London Eye, and Canary Wharf?A few degrees to the south, the turrets of the Natural History Museum and the chimneys of Battersea Power Station -

The puddings - mine was "banana parfait" with salted caramel ice cream - very yummy -
The actual roof garden, on the floor, or would that be roof, below the restaurant -
With flamingoes -
And a "moorish" corner -
The address is 99 Derry Street.

30 July 2009

Crisp borders

I've been turning some of the samples from the Karina Thompson workshop at this year's Contemporary Quilt summer school into Little Gems.

To get a crisp edge, I used lengths of firm cord. The photo shows them "betwixt and between" - I started by pinning an A4-sized piece of paper onto the fabric, then placing a cord along an edge and zigzagging it with a narrow, open stitch. Leave at least 2" ends - these are for grabbing onto later. When I got to the corner I left the needle in the fabric, turned the cloth, and added a cord along the next edge - till all edges were done. Remove the paper and carefully trim the excess fabric. Then change the stitch to a wide, close stitch, and go round all the edges. The ends of the cord will help you do those tricky, bulky corners. Cut off the cords once the edge has been stitched.Here are three of the finished "layer and slash" Little Gems -
Recognise the fabric in the middle one?

Summer homework

Over the summer we're to fill a sketchbook on the theme of "collections". The aim is to get us going to galleries, of course, but also to help us find out what's important to us, what we can use for our personal work.

Here's the rationale: "Collecting can be seen as a hobby or complete mania. It can be innocent or completely obsessive. We all collect in one way or another, and sometimes what we collect can surprise ourselves as well as others. For this project you will be working rom a collection that can be as wide, diverse, and varied as you want it to be. It may not be your collection but it must be a collection that you find interesting and be physically accessible. Think about ideas associated with collections - dispaly, arrangement, pattern repetition, seriality. Things that you collect wiususlaly have apersonal meaning for you and pefully your work will take on a personal meaning too."

Last year the Tate did some leaflets about different ways of collecting - or rather, classifying - pictures:Till 23 August, Tate Britain has an interesting free exhibition called "Classified". As an ex-librarian, I found it fascinating. In the first room, ticking metronomes round the walls, and in the middle, the display cabinet with Mark Dion's finds from the banks of the Thames in 1999 (yes it's ok to open the drawers). There's Damien Hirst's "Pharmacy" too. Its final room contains "The Chapman Family Collection" - amusing and thought-provoking -- which brings to mind Henry Wellcome's extensive collection, on display at the Wellcome Institute on Euston Road.

Getting back to the homework brief: "Research other artists or designers who have worked with collections and keep visual and written notes, including examples of thier work. Some artists: Giorgio Morandi, Joseph Cornell, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Michael Craig Martin, Lisa Milroy, Fiona Rae, Philip Taffe, Ellen Gallagher, Andrew Grassie, Fred Tomaselli, Mark Wallinger, Anja Gallacio, Grayson Perry, Rachel Whiteread, Susan Hillier, Darren Almond, Daniel Liebeskind, Ieoh Ming Pei, Maya Lin, Sue Lawty, Deirdrie Nelson, Shirley Chubb."

Two book recommendations: Art and Artifact: The museum as a medium, and Deep Storage: Collecting, storing and archiving in art.

And some online resources:




more sketch books at these sites


Art from recycled materials:





Shirley Chubb website: http://www.thinkingpath.org.uk/

Filling a sketchbook

First make your sketchbook! As the homework is on the theme of "collections", mine draws, first of all, on my book collection - that is, books I've made over the years. (I'd more or less forgotten about these - pulling their box out of the cupboard and looking through was a trip down memory lane!)

This accordion sketchbook has a removable spine, held in place by the way the decorative papers are wrapped around the cover -
You can take the spine out, to work on the entire length of paper --
But the removable spine wasn't going to work with the flexible, adaptable structure I'd chosen for my new "collections" book, so the cover is fastened to the ends of the accordion spine, and I'll have to find some other way of holding the book together in transit. If it ever leaves the studio.
The cover, by the way, is a laminated train timetable I found in the waste bin on the station. It seems a bit heavy-duty for a book that's not going out into wild weather, so I'll change it when another exciting possibility comes along.

The sections (also recycled, from "leftover" paper from various classes) are sewn into some of the folds - other folds are waiting to have loose sheets and exciting fold-outs glued in. I'm thinking of doing collages, or at least gluing lots of things in, and that can make a closely-bound book very bulky and hard to close. Hence the flexible spine.
It only remains to get going on this, to fill the book... I'm collecting "imagined interiors".
Finding those three pictures on the same day is what started me off. I was going through magazines (Art Quarterly, Kew Magazine among them) tearing out the "striking" photos - and couldn't pass by these. You know how it is when there's "just something about it" - maybe later you find out what that "something" is....

(From the homework brief: "So what interests you about your collection? What does it say about you and what do you want to say about it?")

29 July 2009


Last year, as part of the BQL bag challenge, I made this muted messenger bag -
The fabric is a slightly stretchy denim-type, found at a street market. It's printed (using freezer paper triangles to protect the plain areas), which wasn't part of the instructions but was a challenge for me --very fiddly to get those triangles in place, and the piece of fabric needed was surprisingly large! So it might have been quicker to piece it, but the previous month's bag was also triangle piecing, and frankly I'd had enough of that ...

So, along with most of the other bags, this one languished unused - but when I did take it out to use it my son saw it and liked it. And wanted to take it along to use in Africa.

He had suggestions for a few enhancements. A zipped pocket on the strap (it had to be made from two little scraps, all the leftover fabric I could find). An inside pocket - well, I know from experience that two pockets are more useful than just one.
And what you don't see, buttons (closed by loops) on both corners of the flap.

28 July 2009

A week ago

How quickly the three years have passed! Thomas is now BA(Hons) - and has had the benefit not just of the university education but of the entire "university experience".
A rare thing, a pic with proud mum and proud dad -After which we gathered a few more people and it was off for a meal ...
And now he's in Nungwi, north Zanzibar!

Mostly making quiltlets, still

These Little Gems are very simply made - strips of solid fabric, as you can see, heavily machine quilted in close rows - and the centre left unquilted to show off the beaded chain - a Christmas tree decoration, I think, found lying around the house -
This one is also on the Little Gems website (somewhere) - it's called Pond Life and is pieced "over papers" - that English method usually used for hexagons. I cut the whole thing out of freezer paper, marked what went where, and ironed it onto appropriate fabrics. Despite the marking, I nearly went wrong quite a few times. But eventually it all fit, sewn with those tiny stitches that sometimes are a pleasure to make. But it looked rather bare, so the pondweed embroidery appeared....
The green fabrics were screen printed in a class or on a play-day with a friend, I can't remember - it was a long time ago!

27 July 2009

En route

We took a different route to Tate Britain and saw this - only just time to whip out the camera and get one shot...But we took the same route back and passed by slowly...
Turns out it's the Chelsea Arts Club.

25 July 2009

What a difference a day makes

All those Little Gems in the heap on the left are now tidied up and have labels - and it only took a few hours. Leaving about two dozen in the heap on the right that need binding or other slightly more time-consuming operations. The finished ones have been photographed - now, the task of putting them on the website! But while the sun shines, I'll take a few along to the park and sit in the sun and sew.

24 July 2009

Heaps of Little Gems

On the left, completely ready. Centre, need labels or minor things like binding sewing down on the back. On the right, "in progress".

Elsewhere in the room, two bags bulging with Little Gems --contributed by London Quilters, thanks to the "chair's challenge", which was to make one or more LGs, and others handed to me at the June regional day by quilters in the London region; there is some overlap of course. Together those amount to 71 quilts!

22 July 2009

Messing about in the workroom

I’ve got out of the habit of going into my workroom – possibly because it’s such a mess. The other day, looking for a particular fabric, I did clear out a bit of stuff that was under the bed, but that bit of tidying is invisible. What you'd see is the great accumulation of stuff on top of the bed – which I’ll spare you the sight of!

Instead, building on the positive, here are some of the things I like about my workroom/studio.

First, I continually enjoy having a whole room for my art materials and fabrics; a place to leave the sewing machine - and ironing board - set up ready to use. It was not always thus, believe me.

Next, trees outside the window. Sure I moan about them cutting out the light – but I’d be upset if they were cut down.

The “airing cupboard” in the corner of the room contains the hot water tank and provides space not only for drying clothes and a bit of untidy storage (including re-usable wrapping paper), but most importantly it houses my collection of white fabric. The white fabric has a place, it’s organised, hurrah!

Another thing with its own place is the magazine collection. I’m trying to hang onto fewer magazines, to let go of more -- but can’t bring myself to part with Fibrearts, Surface Design,even from way back in the 90s. These fall into the “essential reference tool” category.

To reach those high shelves, I have this dandy little solid-wood stool, which my son schlepped back from Ikea on the bus. It’s heavy. He’s strong. I’m grateful.

In the corner beside the sewing machine, the radio. It rarely moves from Radio4. Long may the BBC prosper.

On the wall are two little pictures that mark milestones for my “creative journey”. The swan dates back to the late 80s and is made of just about all the tapestry wool in a mixed skein from a shop called Creativity that used to be in New Oxford Street. I found the design in a cross-stitch book and actually changed it – by putting one small star in the sky. How daring! Below it, the other little picture was started in a workshop at the late lamented Museum of Mankind in 1991 – a wonderful study day which ended with about 14 women who had come to learn about traditional Palestinian costume sitting around, stitching a traditional design. I realised I had to do “more of this” and enrolled on an embroidery course at City Lit, the first of many.

The Victorian shop-fitting holds some of my fabrics, and next to it is the 1930s oak wardrobe that holds more, as well as my book-making supplies. My aim is to have only as much as fits into these cupboards ...

The bookshelf. Which needs sorting to make room for other books scattered around the house. But how many hours of pleasure it holds.And in the corner, the clock that let me know when it was time to leave for work, in the days when I went to work four days a week - and spent the precious mornings in the workroom, listening to Radio4 till 10am. Now, I’m usually on the computer every morning – because of getting out of the habit of spending the morning in the workroom.

21 July 2009

Tulip Little Gems

These come from a remnant of curtain fabric, and are simply free-machined around the areas of colour (each one with a different colour of thread). It was going to take too long to completely and closely quilt the background, so I didn't! The edges are finished by facing each one with a strip and hemming it round the back.

The Little Gems website now has over 600 contributions! That's a lot of eye candy....

Getting your ducks in a row

18 July 2009

Ceramics show, City Lit

Last week the 13 Ceramics Diploma course graduates showed a pot or two each at New Designers, but the show at City Lit had much more space - three rooms.

Left to right, work by Raewyn Harrison, Christabel Birbeck, Jennifer Harkins, and Jane Pritchard. I had a chance to chat with Christabel and Jennifer about their work and their experience on the course - it sounds incredibly intense, two years of "part time" study that is the equivalent of the first two years of the BA course. Five graduates are going on to Farnham, and others to other degree courses.Work by Linda Rowland (the spider is made of bits of cast barbie-doll!) and Lesley Warner.
Experimental pieces using metal in with the clay - amazing - by Deborah Thompson.
More metal, this time not fired with the clay, by Annabel Nash -
Beautiful bowls by Mariam Cullum -
More work downstairs in the vitrines - Orli Ivanov, Raewyn Harrison, Sandy Layton -
The interior of one of Raewyn Harrison's architectural pieces -
And I couldn't resist including the shoe reflections in this shot (gorgeous pot by Orli Ivanov, scuffed shoes by Arche, vintage 2001) -