31 May 2015

One day... maybe ...

Some UFOs that emerged recently. Do I ruthlessly discard them, or will I ever make them into Linus quilts?
pieced over papers

about a metre square - it could maybe be salvaged by a nice border and some interesting quilting?
You know how it is - you don't want to "waste" the time you've already put into them, but surely it's more of a waste of time to continue? Yet the idea of salvaging them - making a silk purse out of a sow's ear, or making something useful - has its appeal.

30 May 2015

Blast from the past - sofa cushions

The moth-fight has its upside - such as rediscovering things stashed at the back of the cupboard.
These cushions have seen better days and in fact the covers are now in the bin, and the pads (feather filled; £3.85 at John Lewis, back in the day) are offered on Freecycle.

The centres were printed (in a press) from some copper plates found at a flea market, ages ago. More of those prints are ... somewhere; so are the plates. The cushions date back to my early years in this flat, mid-90s, and have been in storage for ... no idea how long. They've cleared some room.

And weren't particularly well thought out, in the first place - one of those ideas that you have to act on instantly, for the joy of getting it done.

It may be that they were chair cushions rather than sofa cushions. I used to have some rather uncomfortable folding chairs with slatted seats.

It's good to move on! I also found a box with some printed cotton dresses from the 70s or perhaps even 60s, found at jumble sales and intended for patchwork. Colour theme: lilac. Now they are "vintage" and I'm wondering what to do with them. The yardage that was in the same box is leaving the building as soon as possible - it's of no interest to me now.

In case you think this is suddenly being too ruthless  ... we had a bit of a shock in that the young man who works with Tom found himself out on the street in the middle of the night, without shoes even, watching his home go up in flames. He and the other residents were lucky to escape with their lives - minutes after they were roused from sleep and hurried out, their rooms were blazing. Everyone lost everything - computers, clothes, bikes, cash - but "it's only stuff".

Fighting moths

The beige wool carpet in my (adult) son's room has been thoroughly chewed by moths, working in the quiet darkness of a place where furniture isn't regularly moved to let the hoover in. Moths thrive in dark, undisturbed places ... and there are a number of those in the room. It's his responsibility, really, but after seeing a grand flutter of wings when I had to go in there one day, I decided that action couldn't wait.
He moved the furniture into the small amount of clear space, and then kept moving it at appropriate intervals; throughout the day I used his workshop hoover, and the smallest nozzle, to go over every inch of the carpet, edge to edge. "You can do anything for 15 minutes" - again and again - do an area, spray it with a magic elixir, then go do something pleasant while it dries. Repeat throughout the day, as fresh areas of carpet become available.

And, as mothers do, I did a bit of dusting in the room ... though while I was shaking the duster out the window, the morning's fresh breeze whipped the yellow cloth out of my hand and sent it blowing down the street. It's probably caught in some tree round the corner. Replacement dusters come in packs of four, but I find that one lasts for many years, with considerate usage.

On top of the beige wool carpet lay a persian rug, a present to myself when I moved into the flat 20 years ago. It now has some areas of moth damage -
Hoovering from the back showed up the bald patches, and I've applied Fray-Check in hopes of holding the tufts in place, but they may well disappear up the nozzle the next time this rug is hoovered from the front. It's been sprayed too. Everything is getting sprayed - in hopes that this elixir really does do what it says on the tin - but also among the small print is an instruction to repeat the treatment within a month if possible.

That's up to the room's usual inhabitant. He's now aware that it takes only moments to move the furniture, so a bit of carpet spraying shouldn't take much longer.

And perhaps he'll undertake rotation of woolen items through the freezer - which is the best (the only?) way of keeping a check on the moths in clothes ... they certainly do love cashmere, don't you find?

29 May 2015

Slow but steady etc.

Of a morning, it's best, I find, to get straight into the studio after making a pot of tea - leaving the computer till later. (Or else you somehow never get to the studio. Why is that?)

So for the past wee while I've been taking the tea over to the workbench and letting it cool while I get stuck in to continuing with the Elements quilt. The time available to finish it is rapidly disappearing - I need to submit before leaving on 3 June.

A few days ago it looked like this, being built up row by row of overlapping squares - not very promising, I felt ... and rather lost heart ... but "I've started so I'll finish" and one must Simply Carry On -
Today it is starting to come together, row upon row (attached with backstitch) - although the blue doesn't really sing out. Hey ho. It does look more vivid in real life - a little more vivid, anyway, and those glimmery circles (floaters??) add a je ne sais quoi - 
At the current - escalating - rate of progress, there's a good chance it will actually get finished. I'm unsure how to finish the edges and rather regret not cutting the background to size at the outset, and machining along the edges before attaching anything. But at that point I was planning to use machine stitch for attaching the squares, which might have shrunk the quilt further.

It's always been part of the plan that any fraying of the squares - at the sides of the quilt, or elsewhere - is part of the "natural ageing" of the piece - analogous to the natural ageing of the eyes [title: Elements of Visual Perception].

28 May 2015

Poetry Thursday - Modern Love by Douglas Dunn

(Bit late with this today - been fighting moths - but I hope you enjoy the poem!)
Matisse, Acanthus 1912 (via)

"Modern Love" - Douglas Dunn

It is summer, and we are in a house
That is not ours, sitting at a table
Enjoying minutes of a rented silence,
The upstairs people gone. The pigeons lull
To sleep the under-tens and invalids,
The tree shakes out its shadows to the grass,
The roses rove through the wilds of my neglect.
Our lives flap, and we have no hope of better
Happiness than this, not much to show for love
Than how we are, or how this evening is,
Unpeopled, silent, and where we are alive
In a domestic love, seemingly alone,
All other lives worn down to trees and sunlight,
Looking forward to a visit from the cat.

Douglas Dunn (b.1942) is a major Scottish poet. After attending the Scottish School of Librarianship, he worked for 14 months as a librarian in Akron, Ohio, leaving after being involved in a serious car accident and receiving call-up papers for the war in Vietnam. In 1969, studying English at Hull University, he graduated with a first-class degree, by which time he was working in the university library under Philip Larkin. It was Larkin's refusal, after publication of Dunn's first collection of poems, to allow time off for reading engagements, to led to the decision to become a full-time writer in 1971.

You can read what happened next here.

27 May 2015

Drowning in fabric

The past few days have seen a flurry of curtain making - not my favourite sewing activity. Even though my sewing space is fairly large, there has somehow never been enough room for laying out the fabric and being able to pin things easily.

Most were "medium-sized" curtains, or rather, curtains for medium-sized windows, but one curtain was a door curtain -
The fabric for that, and its matching window curtains, came from an end-of-roll sale at a local upholsterer, total cost £10 - the curtains used every inch, and have false hems. Cost of lining, ruffling tape, hooks - £38. Time taken - 10 hours (includes conversion of Ikea loop-top pair). Job satisfaction - 5/10.

My tips for curtain making -
- clear as much space as you can, and sweep the floor
- pick up threads as you go ... or the curtains will ...
- set up the ironing board next to your machine, and use it to support the fabric
- measure twice before cutting (ie, measure both edges)
- measure the windows yourself if at all possible
- pin up hems and put curtains on the rail to check the length before machining them
- check that lining hems don't droop below the curtain hem
- preferably use a steam iron that doesn't leak

and - if in doubt, buy an extra metre of ruffling tape. I'm half a metre short, and must go back for more. 

Superscript overkill

The silly-seriousness of the "little sentence" (description, mission statement, catch-phrase - what's it called??) that follows the company name didn't sink in till the lights changed and the truck moved off, so it's hard to see the words, never mind the superscripts. Here's a closer view -
Note the superscript R in a circle after "nila" (= registered trade mark, presumably) and the TM superscript after "name" - or is it "final name" that's trademarked? [and why?]

An overkill of punctiliousness? But the rules of what we used to call "display matter" indicate that less is more in titles - superscripts (eg reference numbers in titles of journal articles) are a no-no. Equally, they're out of place here ... or perhaps they abound in such situations, and this happens to be the first time I've noticed them - seen any good superscripts lately?

26 May 2015

Drawing on Tuesday - Imperial War Museum

 The intimidating guns outside the museum (which until 1930 was the Bethlem Royal Hospital) are 15-inch naval guns developed in 1912 and used on 22 ships - like the model below, which sits at the entrance to the WWI galleries.
After a bit of drawing amid the cacophany of sound and low lighting of the galleries (fine for walking through, less good for staying in), we ended up in the more spacious central area, which held planes and jeeps and other larger military equipment. The engine of the V-2 rocket called to me - was it skeleton-like, or more like guts? - but despite my fondness for drawing bones and tubes, it all but defeated me.
 I was not bold and decisive with it, perhaps from some idea that you have to know what things are called in order to draw them [wrong!]. Or perhaps I didn't spend enough time Just Looking before leaping in; in any case, as time went on, my drawing was getting nowhere; written analysis didn't help, nor did trying to start with the darkest bits or focus on negative spaces -
 Eventually a tiny corner took shape -
Being some distance away didn't help. The closer view was fascinating ... I'd like to know what the "dangling" the pipes are for -
Here is the rocket being installed piecemeal at the museum; at the very end, showing the other side of the engine, now covered by the carapace.

The museum cafe was convenient, if crowded (and rather pricey, but aren't they all?). We were lucky to get a table, and Cathy got the prize (had there been one, and there wasn't) for Sketchbook Cover. Neither camera nor photo editing caught how the stitch colours interact, around the printed shapes -
 She had been drawing the doodlebug, suspended overhead, and included a bit of the V-2 to give it some context - and the impression of forward motion -
Janet B turned from drawing soldiers' uniforms to these three toby jugs (the museum has at least 10 in its collection) -
Janet K was interested in soldiers' kit too - 
Sue was drawn to the shapes within a large rusty object - obviously a car of some sort - and later learned it had been donated by Jeremy Deller. Called 5 March 2007, it was rescued after being mangled in the al-Mutanabbi Street bombing in Baghdad, an explosion that killed 38 people in the "street of the booksellers", a centre of literary and cultural life in the city.
" It is more than wrecked. It appears to have been flung in the air, crushed, then burned in an inferno. It suggests a human body in a deeply perturbing way," said a review of its installation in 2010. It toured America - representing the effect of war on civilians - before coming to the museum.

For completeness' sake, my other drawings - , and some grappling with that rocket engine
warm-up blind drawing, funny helmet, uniform (I quite liked
drawing the uniform, with its floating cap
grappling with that rocket engine
some sort of result
Interesting facts about Britain on the eve of WW1 -
-life expectancy was 54 for women and 50 for men, and whereas the median age of death in the prosperous West End was 50, in the poor East End it was 30
-school leaving age was 12, and by age 16 only 6% of children were in education
-only half of men (and no women) had the vote
-a pint of beer cost 2 (old) pence
-there were 300,000 horses in London - and 3000 motor buses, but most people used (horse-drawn) trams
-half the world's ships were built in Britain
-1 in 20 of the British population emigrated

And also -
In 1914 the average wage for a basic 58 hours working week was 16 shillings and 9 pence. By 1918 the working week was 52 hours and the average weekly wage was 1 pound 10 shillings and 6 pence.

25 May 2015


Every year one is faced with "oh no, I'm how old?" when another birthday rolls around. A certain feeling of dread. With practice, years of practice, it becomes easier to ignore the dread and embrace the moment.

This year I had an utter surfeit of Good Birthday Moments, starting several days ahead with several bouts of coffee, exhibitions, shopping, lunch with friends, and even a shopping afternoon with my son (despite his intention to splurge, the major purchase was curtain lining) which segued into dinner in Soho at a chinese restaurant with this "legendary dish" on the menu -
"Pock-marked Old Woman's beancurd" - appealing??
which we didn't have - we had "the big bowl", like so many of the other tables. What's in the bowl, we asked - "Fish". Fish? What are all those red things? Turns out the fish is cooked with chilis in oil. Fortunately the chilis are scooped out and whisked away when the dish is served -
The dry-fried green beans are delicious
After which, a walk past the beautifully lit facades of Oxford Street -
The Big Treat was a trip to Manchester to see the Cornelia Parker exhibition at the Whitworth Gallery (till 31 May), more of which later perhaps. And lunch with friends along the Curry Mile. Home to a simple supper and a set of intriguing packages, carefully and beautifully tied in knots in the expectation that, as is my habit, I would carefully (and excruciatingly) untie each one -
 Perhaps it was the wine, but patience had fled -
I'm thrilled with all of it, and especially the book, Tania Kovat's "Drawing Water", which I had dropped a heavy hint about, months ago, and then (alas?) forgotten. Haven't had much time yet to read it, as the next day involved hiring a bike and riding round Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, and then a marathon of gardening, and today saw more gardening and some curtain-making ... and a continuation of cake-eating (one of Tony's specialties is New York cheesecake) -
Cake for breakfast!
A life-enhancing surprise from the resident carpenter - beautifully finished wood dividers for the cutlery drawer, which has needed reorganisation for quite some time -
To conclude, thanks to Jo for these joyous pompons - "channeling Frida Kahlo" -

Moan on Monday - How to prove you're not a robot

The "captchas" are getting ridiculous, don't you think? You write a comment on someone's blog, and up comes "Please prove you're not a robot" - you tick the box and up comes this - 

24 May 2015

Seen on Savile Row

"Grand Cru - Special Reserve" ... cloth?!
"Made by one of Huddersfield's finest weavers" from merino golden bale

That's 24 carat gold in the pinstripe
"The fabric provides individuality as well as being a talking point" says the manufacturer's website.

23 May 2015

On yer bike!

Bikeworks, "the not for profit bike shop" in Bethnal Green, offers cycle training at Olympic Park, so off I went earlier this week, on a rainy, windy, 'orrible day, to somewhere I'd never been to do something I hadn't done for years. It didn't start well - off the Overground at Hackney Wick and heading in the wrong direction. Going in the right direction involved going past places like this - all part of the vibrant East London art scene -
 Nearer the park, a completely different landscape ... of nothingness ...
Along the road verges, some beautiful meadow-scapes  -
and what delight to see the plantings in the park, currently crowded with those big daisies, lots of tall purple alliums - well there was no time to stop and list them all, pink flowers and yellow ones, and in some places, huge scarlet poppies being whipped about by the wind, holding on to their petals. And hillsides of orange poppies, tumbling down to the canal/river.

The park was understandably empty, given the wet and windyness. Never mind, it was great. Along miles of paths we rode, and eventually the rain stopped. There wasn't much time to take photos, but during a short pause I caught some typical scenery (or lack of it) -
and one of the others was kind enough to take a photo of me -
Bikeworks provided bikes (and three wheelers, including a recumbent) and helmets. Thank you, Bikeworks!

21 May 2015

Some exhibitions

Two Chairs with People, photographic drawing, 2014
Experiments with perspective
Card Players #1, 2014
David Hockney, Painting and Photography, at Annely Juda (till 27 June).

Hockney's comment: "“Painters have always known there is something wrong with perspective.
The problem is the foreground and the vanishing point. The reason we have perspective with a vanishing point, is that it came from optics. I am sure that that’s what Brunelleschi did. He used a five inch diameter concave mirror to project the Baptistry onto his panel. This gives automatically a perspective picture, just like a camera would. This is why there is always a void between you and the photograph. I am taking this void away, to put you in the picture.
I made the paintings of the card players first. That helped me work out how to photograph them. Everything in the photographs is taken very close. The heads the jackets and shirt and shoes are all photographed up close. Each photograph has a vanishing point, so instead of just one I get many vanishing points. It is this that I think gives them an almost 3D effect without the glasses. I think this opens up photography into something new.
If you really think about it, I know the single photograph cannot be seen as the ultimate realist picture. Well not now. Digital photography can free us from a chemically imposed perspective that has lasted for 180 years.”"

Idris Khan, Conflicting Lines, at Victoria Miro (till 6 June).

Gallery says: "Khan is well known for his large-scale works, which use techniques of layering to arrive at what might be considered the essence of an image, and to create something entirely new through repetition and superimposition. For his exhibition at Victoria Miro Mayfair, Khan has produced large-scale composite photographs made from a series of oil stick paintings. These have gone through an intensive process of overlaying lines of writing repeatedly painted onto a minimal ground, until the language becomes obscured."

A corner of the gallery
Colour woodcuts using 21 and 22 colours
Gillian Ayres, New Paintings and Prints, at Alan Cristea (till 30 May)

From a review: " As Titian and Turner devotees often stress, an old artist can actually reach sublime peaks, the combination of experience and looming death yielding new-found profundity. Where, then, does Gillian Ayres stand, as a show of new paintings and prints opens to mark her 85th birthday?
On a practical level, she’s not as mobile or as forceful with her paint as she once was. She used to lay it on thick, building up the impasto into rich, often encrusted, textures. Now her surfaces are smoother, her forms simpler and cleaner."

Definitely a feel-good show - the colours, the colours....

One of Rovner's multi-screen LCD video installations
The figures keep moving....
Michal Rovner, Panorama, at Pace (till 16 June)

Gallery says: "These large-scale, multi-screen works combine her signature human figures with the landscape elements which she has been exploring for the last two years. The brooding soulful expression of the human and natural worlds is intertwined through the use of increasingly bold abstraction. Panorama evokes Rovner’s themes of human interaction, dislocation and the persistence of history, while creating a new level of immediacy by further removing the narrative to its barest and most urgent elements.

Adding painting qualities and gestural “brushstrokes” to video recordings of real-life situations, the new work respond to Rovner’s sense of disjointed reality."

Also seen: Isa Genzken, Geldbilder, at Hauser & Wirth; Diane Thater, Life is a Time-Based Medium, at Hauser & Wirth. And talks by Rebecca Salter on Japanese wood block prints (a skill that is being lost as its practitioners die off); Jack Zipes on his new translation of the first edition of Grimm's Kinder- und Hausmaerchen. It's been a busy week.