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Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Knitting and Stitching show 2017

I'll be teaching a few workshops at the K&S show this year. It's the third or fourth time I've done it and the nerves are still as bad as ever. Most of my workshops are booked up but do say hello if you're passing. In the meantime, here's a little animation to whet your appetites for what's in store.


Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Two things I've learnt about thread…

There has been progress on my blue and white quilt, I've put the sandwich together and have started hand quilting. This will take forever, as it's the sort of task that only gets done when a) there's no other sewing to do, and b) when it's cool enough for me to sit under a mound of padded fabric without melting. So far, I've managed 11/2 square foot of quilting, which is about a tenth of what still needs to be done. I'm aiming to get it finished by Christmas but I'm not saying which one.

For my motif, I've chosen an abstract acorn pattern as the house is not only surrounded by oak trees, but the estate is named after them. Shortly after we moved here, all the acorns fell to the ground (not in protest at our arrival) which made walking treacherous and had a huge effect on my choice of footwear, clogs off, sturdy boots on. I wanted to suggest a similar look to a floor covered with acorns, and, rather conveniently, my quilting hoop proved to be the perfect template for an oversized acorn pattern—how's that for luck*.

When I first took up patchwork, I had a go at free motion quilting but didn't get on with it, I like the look of it but not the doing it. Likewise, it would be churlish of me to pretend that I don't admire exquisite machine quilting (the sort that reminds me of patterns on custard cream biscuits) because I do.  Again, I just can't do it. I would have to spend so much time practicing to reach any kind of level of competency that I'd be happy with this would leave no time for anything else. So a hand quilter I shall remain!

Which brings me to the title of this post. I have sewn for a very long time and yet I know diddly squat about needles and thread. I am not a tech head and couldn't care less about the type of steel my needles are made from or the carding process for thread.** I fail on so many technical levels and am driven mainly by aesthetics, sometimes they coincide but usually it's by accident rather than design.

So, when I realised that thread can be loosened from a reel of cotton (like the one in the photo) simply by twisting its head, it was as if I had discovered penicillin—this is technical stuff don't you know! The second thing I learnt is what a huge difference quilting cotton makes. Out of habit I use it, but I've never really questioned why, I just blindly use it because I was told to. Yet the other day I sewed with what I thought was quilting cotton but the end result wasn't the one I was used to—no lovely puckers where the sandwich is pulled together. When I turned the spool round to read the label I realised this was ordinary sewing thread, not quilting cotton. The realisation that there really was an actual difference astounded my Whinnie the Pooh like brain.

What can I say, I'm a slow learner. What some quilters learn on day one of quilting has taken me many years to absorb. But it has made me think: maybe I should try experimenting with different needles for a comparison of their technical attributes instead of just choosing the one I can shove the thread through. Maybe there is a corner of me that is hungry for technical knowledge after all. Maybe?


* I swear it was this way round: idea first, followed by a stroke of luck that the hoop was the ideal tool to realise it, and not, what can I do with the hoop as I'm too lazy to work out another pattern!

** However, I did see this great video on youtube.

Friday, 23 June 2017

A technicolour dreamcoat…

I'm the kind of person who normally wouldn't dream of asking a stranger where they got a shirt/bag/pair of shoes. Something inside me thinks it's just plain rude. But I was sitting behind a woman on a bus a few months ago who was wearing the most amazing coat—Joseph's very own would have paled into insignificance beside it.

I tried to sketch the coat in my notebook, however, my solitary black marker couldn't capture its beautiful embroidery and colours, so eventually I plucked up the courage and nervously asked where it was from. The woman wasn't the friendliest of sorts (this is another reason I don't ask strangers where they shop—fear of refusal or general snarkiness) but she brusquely informed me she'd bought it from the V&A museum shop. This told me, as if I didn't already know by the woman's tone, that I couldn't afford it, besides, as I later found out, it was no longer for sale.

I managed to track down an image of the coat, but it really doesn't do it justice. Each circle appliqué is a different fabric, and the blanket stitching holding them in place is a rich multitude of coloured threads. The over all effect is one that carefully tows the line of looking both rustic and expert at the same time—something I absolute love and aspire to emulate. The increase of size in the circles as you scan down the coat creates the illusion of flare, when in fact, it is quite a fitted garment—so you get the impression of swishiness without the bulk.

I briefly thought about making a similar coat for myself but as I limit clothes making to basics I don't think my seamstress skills would have been up to the job—not to do it justice anyway. Maybe one day I'll make a simple skirt that incorporates some similar embroidery around its hem, but for now I've made do with a project bag. I cut out scraps of patterned silk that I had in my stash and sewed them to a raw silk background with blanket stitch. I used lots of layers of blanket stitch, a) for a homespun look, and b) to stop the edges from fraying. Then I added seed stitch between the appliqués. As you can see, the bag itself  is a simple drawstring affair with printed cotton on its reverse side.

The dumpling work bag has since fallen to bits.

It may not be a technicolour dreamcoat but I am quite fond of my new work bag, it is also extremely useful as it holds more than my dumpling bag which is sadly falling apart.

Patrick doesn't always comment on my sewing, but he said this reminds him of William Scott paintings. Perhaps he's right, we spend a fair bit of time in Hastings and usually visit the Jerwood Gallery when there. Scott's paintings are among the Jerwood's collection and they held a major retrospective of his work a few years ago, which featured many of his pots and pans canvases.

So be it pots, pans, or a fabulous coat, inspiration can be found anywhere.

Where do you stand on asking strangers where they shop?


Tuesday, 23 May 2017

A blue and white flimsy*…

Oh dear, look at all those creases! Still, at least I've finally managed to get my quilt top photographed. For several weeks blue and white quilt top has been folded away in my WIP bag, patiently waiting for its close up, and a sunny day. And what a difference having a garden fence makes to taking photographs of quilts! No more moving furniture out of rooms to create space for photography, no more traipsing over to the park and self-conscious snapping while I try to ignore the puzzled or curious looks of passers by. (Youths on bicycles and parents with ice-cream wielding toddlers have to be the worst). Instead, peg flimsy on the fence, snap snap, and I'm done. Just one of many unexpected reasons to appreciate having a much longed for garden.


* The name was new to me until I read it on Carin's blog but it perfectly describes this stage of quilt making. I think I may have to use it from now on, even if 'pegging flimsy on the fence' does sound as if I'm doing something cruel to a fellow human being.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Twenty-five blocks…

I have made the 25 blocks for my quilt and it feels like a real milestone. Whenever I get to this point, I feel as if the quilt is really going to happen, and, not just be an idea that never gets realised. Having said that, my white quilt never did get finished even though it was 90% complete, it languishes in a drawer, occasionally seeing the light of day when I need to look at it for reference.

So now I need to sew the blocks together, although it will take a month of Sundays to settle on which order they should go. Then I have to make the quilt sandwich, my least favourite part of quilt-making, before I can get onto the best bit—hand quilting.

Most of the blocks are very…blockish and reflect the simple linear style of the houses. The roofs are flat and the exteriors plain, a central column of bricks, a horizontal banner of cladding and ceiling to floor windows. Although the design of the houses is simple, there is variation within it, some have the kitchens at the front, some at the back (those crazy architects) some have the biggest windows on the left, some on the right (totally radical) so I haven't been overly regimental with how the blocks should look. Or, to put it another way, a little inconsistency is just fine. Big windows are taking some getting used to! While it is blissful to live somewhere suffused with light, it does dampen one's keenness for walking around in pyjamas and general states of undress, especially if you want to remain on good terms with the neighbours, and not frighten them to death.

I slashed the corners off a few blocks and added contrasting colours to represent the paths. I used texturally different fabrics for these areas too–pieces of vintage kimono silk and some hand-dyed, red muslin and scraps of poplin. So these areas should look and feel different to the rest of the quilt.

I hope to have the quilt top assembled in a couple of weeks but with a constant programme of DIY on the go, this could be pushing it. Time will tell.