Monday, 22 December 2014

Roses for Christmas

T's quilt. Based on  Amy Butler's Belle Quilt design

Just in time for Christmas, I have finished the bed quilt as a present for seven-year-old T, who selected the fabrics herself from my "stash" (I hate that word, but it is useful) but doesn't yet know that I've turned them into a quilt. I think it looks rather festive, with its red and green and white, although the flowers - tulips, roses and poppies - are much more summery.

I hope to be there when she unwraps the present, although perhaps that is unwise. Like the well-known and much lauded quilter who couldn't resist hovering near her own work at an exhibition to hear the considered pronouncement of the man who was studying it so intently. Turning to his wife, he finally announced: "Isn't that horr-en-dous."

I adapted Amy Butler's Belle Quilt design, which seemed to be perfect for displaying the bright red floral fabrics. And at the suggestion of a friend, I left the circles entirely unquilted, which seemed a bit risky as they are quite large, but I think has worked very well in making them stand out in all senses. (Thanks Betty.)

Details showing freehand quilting 

The more I use my long-arm quilt machine, aka The Beast, the more I find I am slipping into somewhat formulaic quilting designs. But as when I started gardening and realised that the flowers one saw all the time in other people's gardens are popular because they are easy to grow, long-lasting and hardy, I can appreciate why these types of quilting patterns are ubiquitous - because they work. And for a relatively everyday bed quilt, why fight it? Thus the spaces between the circles are flowers and feathers, but in being freehand I hope the quilting retains a degree of spontaneity.

Let's just hope T doesn't burst into tears.


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

When I got to Dover, it wasn't there

Image from Dover Books' Human Anatomy, with my additions

I have for very many years been an enthusiastic fan of Dover Books - fab image sourcebooks of thousands of copyright-free and royalty-free pictures covering every subject imaginable, from Action Hero Tattoos to Zion in America. I have turned to them when I needed Mexican and Egyptian motifs, for repeating borders I could adapt for quilting, and for Victorian food-related images for a degree project that involved designing the (theoretical) menu cover for a (real) restaurant located in a former docks warehouse.

Images of food and diners taken from Dover books
"Menu cover" using Dover images

So when I needed anatomical drawings for my latest project, Lines of Communication, where else to go but Dover? The last time I looked, it was in Covent Garden, a small shop with floor-to-ceiling shelves loaded with, I should imagine, all of their hundreds of titles. Except that I couldn't find it. I rushed down all seven streets off Seven Dials, pausing in my panic and haste just long enough to buy a dress, cardigan and top in Gudrun Sjoden, my favourite shop, before ending up, panting and frantic, where I started. And still it wasn't there. "Where is it?" I demanded of the purple-haired computer game assistant in the shop where it should have been. (I imagined her sneering thought, "She wants books?") But of course it had closed.

Although available online, it is now impossible to browse a Dover book to make sure it has the right style of images you need before buying. But on the plus side, these days a lot of the books come with excellent CDs that give you high resolution images that can be resized and manipulated (I have "squashed" one diagram of a brain that was a bit too deep). Which is a whole lot better than tracing, photocopying or cutting out the pictures from the book. Which in turns means the books themselves are freed to become artistic works in their own right.

Just some of my reference books from Dover

Alas, the modified picture at the top will not find a place in my textile piece. I was indulging in some nostalgia listening to Aladdin Sane at the time and, well, it just happened. Another time perhaps.

Monday, 24 November 2014

The Woman Who Only Bought a Fat Quarter

It has become, I realise, something of a small, private ritual. And it has taken me many years of going to textile fairs, in particular The Festival of Quilts and The Knitting and Stitching Show, to recognise it as such.

A good excuse to show again the fabrics bought at this year's Festival of Quilts 

Hotel bed during the Festival of Quilts, 2013
Back in my hotel or bed-and-breakfast room, after a day - or two, or sometimes three - of fighting the slow-moving crowds to edge my way to the front of the queues around the various trader stands, buying fabrics and thread and stuffing them in my handbag and an increasing number of carrier bags as my feet and purse take a bashing, I take a few moments before going to bed - tired but buzzy-brained and perhaps after a few glasses of Shiraz - to lay my purchases out on the bed and review them. And more often than not, I photograph them as a group before I arrive back home and they disappear into various drawers, boxes and project bags and the excitement is dissipated.

Furnishing fabrics bought at the "festival fringe"

Sometimes I have spent hundreds of pounds in an orgy of fabric fever; sometimes it is just a few carefully selected necessities. Four years ago, in Harrogate for The Knitting and Stitching Show, my most roaringly successful buy was four remnants of homely furnishing fabrics from the upstairs rummage box in a small shop on the way to the station. They went on to take a starring role in my degree show installation.

Knitting and Stitching 2014: beads, a fat quarter and monofilament

This year, at Harrogate again where I was stewarding for the Prism exhibition, my bed-top selection was probably the smallest yet. My fabric shelves are already groaning and economic necessity played a part, but I also like to think I have become more sure in what I want and what I am most likely to use. Which is not to say that I can't surprise myself: I have acquired several packets of beads with two holes in each. Who knew such things existed? Well, not me. Plus a fat quarter (frugality comes into play again after several reckless years of "Oh, I'll have a couple of metres please") of a sky fabric to add to my collection, this one with dark clouds and lightning. And some monofilament thread as I'm running out.

Government war poster by H.M. Bateman 

I have often envisaged a Bateman cartoon along the lines of "The Woman Who Went to a Quilt Show and Didn't Buy Any Fabric".  (I show my age by assuming that everyone knows who Bateman was, but to quote Wikipedia: "H.M. Bateman was noted for his 'The Man Who' series of cartoons, featuring comically exaggerated reactions to usually minor upper-class gaffes, such as 'The Man Who Threw a Snowball at St Moritz'.") I hope never to commit such an unacceptable faux pas. So I will try a bit harder next year.

Monday, 17 November 2014

I only popped in to get my nails painted...

Bromley by Bow Centre, East London

It was going to be an average sort of weekend. When office colleagues enquired what my plans were, I replied (jokingly, so I hope no one took me too seriously) that I intended to watch daytime TV and drink gin. In truth, my plans for the long weekend were far more exciting: I was going to get my nails done (I'm a new and very enthusiastic fan of gel nails, so please don't judge me too harshly).

Instead, I found myself unexpectedly with a stall at a craft fair, chatting to interesting and very talented craftspeople outside the somewhat enclosed textiles world, watching Somali dancers, eating home-made Indian food, and marveling at dedicated artists who not only create beautiful (and justifiably expensive) work commercially, but share their talents by teaching and encouraging children and disadvantaged adults. I feel exhilarated, enriched and humbled.

How did this happen? Because while I was having my nails gelled a lovely deep grape on the Friday morning, someone was in the salon having her hair done in preparation for a private view that evening for open studios at the Bromley by Bow Centre, a community organisation in a deprived borough in East London. When she handed out flyers and asked if I was "interested in art", one thing led to another and before I knew it I'd been signed up to take on a spare stall at the accompanying craft fair for the Saturday and Sunday.

Paving project by Murude Mehmet with local children

That "someone" was Murude Mehmet, whose ceramic and mosaic work I recognised from various local projects and whose enthusiasm and outgoing energy is of the sort I yearn for. The community garden is enlivened by a beautiful circular tiled space she created with schoolchildren. At the other end of the scale, via Brian the mosaic snail for a primary school commission, is a dazzling golden-glazed bowl that would give the purchaser just £1 change from £1,000. ("I use the same type of gold as Grayson Perry.")

Sculptures by Paula Haughney in the community centre courtyard

Paula's elegant Bath stone  goose, which has quickly settled into its new home in my garden

Also among those opening their studios was the sculptor Paula Haughney, whose stone carvings of child-friendly but slightly unsettling frogs, rabbits, cats and dragons decorate the green courtyard oasis of the community centre and serve as outdoor seating. Among her other commissions, she has created seats and benches for St Katherine's Docks, near Tower Bridge, which I passed frequently and indeed sat on when I was working nearby. I was delighted when she took an interest in one of my brightest quilts - she has a red and yellow bedroom, apparently, so I took to her immediately - and we arranged a "swap". I am now the immensely proud owner of one of her stone bird carvings.

Dreamer: Sheenah McKinlay, stained glass composite

And then there was Sheenagh McKinlay, an artist in stained glass who not only makes a kind of collage, "composites" of salvaged antique shards and contemporary coloured glass, which has something in common with quilting using "found" fabrics and images, but like me has a love of, and fascination for, religious iconography without herself being an adherent of a particular faith. Oh how I longed to take one of her pieces home.

I was privileged to join such an exciting and worthwhile venture, if only briefly.

A temporary interloper

Thursday, 18 September 2014

A stitch just in time

Daisy's quilt, detail

As a journalist, I live by deadlines - three a night, to be precise. If I didn't meet them, well let's just say I wouldn't be a journalist for too much longer. It would be easy to say I thrive on deadlines, but in fact I am constantly stressed out, which can't be healthy. More accurately, I can't resist them.

So when I was asked to make an appliqued single bed quilt in only six weeks, one of which I had already booked as a holiday away from home, I was really happy. Sirens blared, flares went up, charts were rolled down from the ceiling, pins were stuck in maps, and the ticker-tape message went out to all agents: Valerie's on a deadline - it's takeaway meals, un-ironed clothes and unanswered emails until the all-clear sounds. When the deadline was brought forward by ten days, I was happier still.

Why do I like deadlines? Paradoxically, because I'm basically lazy. A deadline gets the adrenalin flowing and makes procrastination impossible. Also because, like most people, I find housework, bill-paying, admin and day-to-day chores boring and tedious. A deadline means I can put on blinkers, ignore the house and garden and put off opening the post, feeding the cat, stuffing mushrooms, going on a diet, worrying about a pension and trying to decipher the Meaning of Life, instead spending deliciously long hours in the studio with a clear conscience doing what I love: quilting.

Daisy's quilt on the long-arm quilter, aka The Beast

When I was doing my textile degree, which being part-time took twice as long as an ordinary one, I managed to put off all these things for six years (apart from feeding the cat). Three years after I finished, I'm still catching up. Because like all toxic addictions, deadlines lead to nasty hangovers. Those weeds, unwashed clothes, neglected friendships and threadbare carpets can only be ignored for so long - or until the next exciting project with a deadline comes along.

And what of the quilt, commissioned by a proud godmother for the Christening of a little girl called Daisy? I suspect that the lack of time focused my mind in a liberating and productive way, forcing me to concentrate and exploit what was to hand rather than indulging in second and third thoughts plus forays to the fabric shops in search of the perfect daisy print.

I handed it over this week, six days before the Christening.  Now back to the real world...

The finished quilt. By happy coincidence, Daisy's sister is named Lily

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Colour bombs

Holi festival of colour .                            Gianluca Ramalho Misiti/ Lisa Davis

I have been deprived of colour, but like the Indian festival of Holi I feel I have suddenly allowed myself to be colour-bombed.

Years ago, in the early stages of my quilting life, I had a terrible dream. I was stitching my first red and blue quilt  - considered quite bold in its day when muted pink and sage green ruled - when the colours unexpectedly started washing away to grey, like the watercolour painting in a shower of rain  in the Cadbury's Flake advert. There was no danger, no menace, but it was a nightmare nonetheless, and it has haunted me ever since.

My colour deprivation came to a head at the recent Festival of Quilts at the NEC in Birmingham, which for me, this year, because of a variety of circumstances, compressed itself into a mere four hours (in the past I've been there for up to four days). What was my overwhelming impression? Neutral. In all senses. Many of the juried art quilts, while technically very accomplished, came in all shades of cream, taupe, grey, greige, calico, sand, off-white, biscuit, buff, ecru, fawn, mushroom and oatmeal. Let's be honest, they were beige.

With the clock ticking, I rebelled by going to the M Rosenberg & Son  trading stands where I bought the most gloriously colourful, wild, ridiculously large-scale floral fabrics I have ever seen (above). I can't wait to use them.

Then, a few days later, I went to the life-affirming, energising, Matisse cut-outs exhibition at Tate Modern. I sat in front of The Snail, thinking that it was so familiar as to be banal, but within minutes I was entranced, wanting only to make a quilt that reproduced every brush stroke and  irregular edge.  I didn't hear a single person coming out at the end of the exhibition saying, "But I wish Matisse had used beige".

Having finally finished the project for a wallhanging to commemorate my aunt, which while being one of my most important and meaningful "commissions", has preoccupied me for the past year (of which more in future blogs), I feel joyously liberated. I have since started a quilt using fabrics selected by my sort-of god-granddaughter, above, only to have to put these to one side for an equally exciting project.  Hooray, let colour rule!

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Striking gold in the National Gallery

I don't know about gilding the lily, but how do you gild gold? Or, to put it another way, how on earth do I quilt the gold border on the wallhanging I am currently making and which is finally nearing completion?

The Beast is more than capable of managing the inner, stained-glass-style section. But he is too much of an animal to be allowed to trample all over my wonderful, expensive Cloth of Gold. My own hand-quilting skills are even less to be trusted.

The Wilton Diptych 1395-99, artist unknown

I explained my quandary to a textile friend - not a quilter - who came at the issue from a completely fresh angle. Given that I took as one of my sources medieval books of hours and altarpieces, I should look at the Wilton Diptych, she suggested, and see how the artist had treated the large areas of gold.

It was complete serendipity that this conversation took place in a Pret a Manger overlooking the National Gallery - the sort of thing that only happens in Hollywood films set in London where every significant encounter happens in front of an iconic tourist attraction and all the characters, even those on meagre salaries, live in Notting Hill, Soho or Bloomsbury Square. So we finished our coffee and hastened past the lions of Trafalgar Square, into the Sainsbury Wing and up the stairs to "Paintings 1250-1500". And there was the Wilton Diptych; rather smaller than I remembered but just as glorious.

The Battle of San Romano, detail, Paulo Uccello, 1435-60

It is fascinating looking at works of art with a narrow focus (I once attended a guided tour of  National Gallery paintings exploring the changing significance of white fabric drapery, sheets and clothing). We whizzed past numerous paintings looking only at the gold backgrounds. And what did we find? The large areas of gold on the diptych itself were filled with tiny repeated patterns, indented into the gold leaf and gesso with, presumably, a small metal stamp. Other pictures displayed the same technique, used mainly for the intricate, highly decorative halos. Even when tempera was beginning to give way to oil and religious scenes to battles - as in one of my favourite paintings, Uccello's The Battle of San Romano - the stamped decoration was still in evidence.

Coronation of the Virgin, detail, Lorenzo Monaco, 1407-09

All very lovely, but somewhat impractical. Then I found the solution in a delicately patterned garment worn by the Virgin Mary in Lorenzo Monaco's Coronation of the Virgin:  simple clusters of spots repeated at intervals across the surface. Once I had seen that motif, I began to find variations everywhere, in groups of three, four, five and seven, and I was away...

Executed in gold beads - thanks to the delicious Bead Shop in Covent Garden (in a movie, we would have hailed a passing black cab from the steps of the National Gallery to get there)  - backed by not-too-shiny gold sequins, the effect is decorative but discreet. As a bonus, it is easy to sew.

My life may not be a Woody Allen film (my neuroses are all rather mundane and I don't have the right clothes) but I have once again been reminded by this small foray how extraordinarily rich in opportunities London, with its free museums and specialist shops, can be.

P.S: Added a couple of weeks later, here is the result .....

Detail of beads and sequins on gold border

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Dear George Osborne, can I make you a quilt?

I ask because I've managed to catch the wonderful Richard Hamilton retrospective at Tate Modern just days before it closes. I won't attempt a review here, except to say I was thrilled by his collages, which in reproduction cannot show the subtle transition between print, paint, cutouts and actual objects such as mirrors, a pencil and pieces of fabric.

But I was especially intrigued by the label on a small, modest watercolour from 1951 that read: "Accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax and allocated to the Tate Gallery in 1992."
My idea of offering a piece of work to the Government - David Cameron and the Chancellor look as if they could do with some comforting at the moment - remained on the level of a happy fantasy until I came to the last room of the exhibition and a large work of 2007 titled Portrait of a Woman as an Artist depicting said woman in a gallery setting wrapped in a sheet-like white gown and holding a  palette and brush: see it here.

Behind her - and this is the really exciting bit - two technicians are hanging on the wall a framed painting of A PATCHWORK QUILT, with blue borders and cream and pink floral fabrics. (I have no idea what message Hamilton was trying to get across, but given his almost fetishistic portrayal of women in the 1960s, 70s and 80s I can't be confident it was a feminist one.)

So here's the deal, Mr Osborne: You let me off my taxes for this past financial year and I make you a quilt like the one in the painting. This way, the Tate can have not a quilt in a picture in a picture but a REAL ONE to hang on its walls. Please think about it, Mr Chancellor. HM Government would be getting a bargain.  

Sunday, 18 May 2014

A few lines on landscape...

I find myself caught up in the contemplation of landscape: a somewhat unexpected statement because my enjoyment of it is normally of the moment, when I am actually in it. But it is as if several artistic paths I have been mentally ambling down have unexpectedly merged into a broader track with a sudden and wonderful view of hills, fields, beach and wide sky. That I have spent the past few days actually walking such countryside (minus the hills) in glorious sunshine has been an added pleasure.

What has inspired such musings in a townie more used to dirty pavements and the Tube? First, the newly chosen theme for next summer’s Prism Textiles exhibition – Lines of Communication. (This year’s show, Coded: Decoded, is at the Mall Gallery, London, May 27-31. I am anticipating some wonderful work – the standard seems to get higher each year. Please come along.)  Secondly, a highly enjoyable  book, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, in which the author, Robert Macfarlane, having walked some of the ancient routes and paths that criss-cross Britain, writes of them with a deep knowledge and love that border on the poetic and mystical. The overarching theme is the marks that man leaves on the landscape. Several times he refers to paths as lines of communication, and at one point even compares the making of footsteps to stitching.

Diana Bliss, Bosigran: Iron Age Fort

Diana Bliss, Landwrap

Diana Bliss, Field 

I was immediately reminded of the work of my good friend the textile artist Diana Bliss, who creates impressionistic landscapes using textiles, paint and minutely executed embroidery, the mark-making with tiny, repetitive stitch becoming almost a meditation.  One series explores ancient field boundaries, “lost paths, plough marks and mysterious markings from the past”.

Landscape and poetry again merged in visual form at a delightful exhibition of Ross Loveday’s Land Lines, at Eames Fine Art, which I came across by happy chance near London Bridge on my way to the Fashion and Textile Museum. Here were paintings and etchings again on the fine line that separates figuration and abstraction: “Time, place, weather and light alongside gesture, glimpse and memory.” (I have kindly been given permission to reproduce some of the works here.) Unlike Bliss's soft, foot-friendly lines of stitch, the lines are hard, fine, dry, like wire or primitive scratches on stone.

Ross Loveday, Mudflats, drypoint with carborundum

Ross Loveday, Breakwater, drypoint with carborundum

While I have been away this past week in North Norfolk, I have been exploring some lines in the landscape of my own. (Not necessarily lines of communication, although aircraft vapour trails could well fit this category.)

I have also been looking again at the later paintings of Patrick Heron, who in his sixties left behind his purely abstract, flat areas of dense colour to return to the landscape and, as Mel Gooding describes it, “forms and configurations that we recognise, not as being directly descriptive but, rather, reminiscent of things seen”. His scribbles, scumbles and lines of raw paint in lemon, scarlet, mauve, pink and sage green on bare white canvas evoke an aerial view or map of the rocks, paths and garden around his home perched above the sea in the far west of Cornwall.

I have been amusing myself trying to work out how I might recreate his paintings in textiles (mainly reverse appliqué I think), not with the intention of doing so, but more to absorb his aesthetic. I’m not a landscape artist and never will be, but sometimes I do so wish I was.  

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Fabric by the kilo and other travel tales

Fabric from a market in Florence

Writing in my previous post about memorable fabric-buying experiences led me to analyse what makes them so special. I have to conclude that it is not just the felicity of unexpectedly finding a material that seems so absolutely right - I would be hard pushed to say where or when I acquired some of my very favourite fabrics  - but also the context. So apologies if this blog suddenly degenerates into "what I did on my holidays" self-indulgence. Some of these fabrics have made it in to quilts or other projects, some of them never will, but they are equally precious.
Not all involve faraway places. Back in the Eighties, when I first began quilting, the hunt for fabrics needed dogged determination and not a little ingenuity. There were very few specialist craft shops and, of course, no online stores. So if one wanted, say, fabrics with blue roses on them, it was not just a case of googling "craft fabric blue roses". No, in those days the thrill of the chase was keener and the joy in bringing down prey far more satisfying. 

"Racing Colours" using boxer shorts

Thus one of my first buying coups was discovering on a market stall a stack of men's boxer shorts in brightly coloured spots and stars when I was making a quilt on the theme of Racing Colours. (Now if I want "red polka dots"  I can search these key words on my favourite US store, eQuilter, and on this site alone I have a choice of 109, of which 16 are immediately relevant.)

More boxer shorts - these from Australia
Boxer shorts also featured on a trip to Australia some 20 years ago, where I was disappointed to find that most of the fabrics available in quilting shops were American. Instead I bought underpants featuring koalas and kangaroos, and a cheap black and white duvet cover that to me conveyed the graphic starkness of Aboriginal design without being a pastiche. A table napkin by Ken Done - a designer not well enough known outside Australia but much copied - was also eagerly swooped upon and added to my suitcase.

"Sunshine Coast Australia". The fabric from a duvet cover bought in Adelaide runs along the bottom

A selection of remnants from another market stall, this time in Florence, contained a vivid design in yellow, acid green, shocking pink and black - see main picture above - that remains my all-time favourite, no matter that it is too bright to be used in anything but small areas, with the added novelty of being sold by the kilo. I can still feel the Italian sun on my back as I watched the crumpled heap shoot out of the silver bowl of the scales into a flimsy plastic bag.

Cheap and very cheerful  from Mexico, plus a sample using a synthetic stripe

Then there was Mexico, where in a hot, dusty little shop off the main square of Oaxaca, I finally tracked down fabric by the metre. It was cheap, nasty and synthetic. And gorgeous. I loved the bright colours and the nylon kitsch so much that I bought several woven synthetic stripes, plus one particular design of garish polyester roses in all six colourways. I later found out this was made in China. I still love it. In India, I bought authentically hand-woven and dyed cotton fabrics from the workshop where I watched it being blocked printed by hand, and it does not give me a bigger thrill than those roses.

Pile of oilcloth in a shop in Oaxaca

Of course an experience can be memorable for the wrong reasons, and one that left me disappointed and dispirited was an expedition to an Amish village at Holmes County, Ohio. The modern quilts on sale were, horrifyingly, made of cotton polyester and patterned fabrics, a world away from the glorious quilts for which the Amish are renowned. The fabrics in the shops that lined the main street were indistinguishable from those that can be bought elsewhere in America and Britain but with the emphasis on the twee and folksy. I bought some because I felt I had to, but I've never used them.

Fabrics are like photographs - they can jog the memory, and for an instant the best of them transport you back to a sunshiny past. Unlike photos, you can cut them up, make something new and even snuggle up under them too.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Cloth of gold

Sometimes I am reminded why, for all its noise, stress and crush of anonymous humanity, I still, after 35 years, love living in London. When it is accompanied by a memorable fabric shopping experience, I am in a state of bliss. Such an occasion occurred last week when I set out anew on my quest to find the crock of gold. Or at least a metre of it.

That adventure led me to a quiet street in the heart of Westminster that transported me to a different world.

Being neither a visitor nor a politician, the area around the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey are not my usual stamping ground (although I once went on a guided tour of Parliament to gawp at the Pugin wallpaper, which sort of ticked both boxes). Walking as quickly as I could to convey that London Is My City and I Am On Important Business, I strode past the queues of  tourists and into the Dean's Yard behind the cathedral, where boys from the Choir School played football on the green, ancient stone buildings cast long shadows, the beer was warm and for all I know an old maid was at that very moment bicycling to holy communion.

Out under the archway in the farthest corner and there it was: in a narrow street devoid of traffic, a bay-fronted shop that didn't look like a shop except in the Old Curiosity sense of the word, with a painted, gilded sign declaring itself to be the delightfully named Faith House, home of the equally historic Watts & Co.

My previous hunts for gold fabric had ultimately failed, the only serious contender proving to be impossible to pin or stitch without leaving a mark and, being rather plasticy, probably liable to perish too. (Is this why real gold is so precious, no cheap substitutes coming anywhere near?) Then a friend suggested that I try an ecclesiastical textiles retailer. A quick check online (let's not get too carried away by nostalgia - I couldn't contemplate life without Google) showed this to be the solution, and so off I went.

I cannot overstate the thrill of entering a shop and saying "May I see your cloth of gold please?". The phrase is so redolent of history that even Wikipedia's dry description of it as "a fabric woven with a gold-wrapped or spun weft" cannot strip it of its magic. More evocatively, the entry also refers to the Book of Psalms, the Golden Fleece, the Byzantine Empire, Roman funerals, royalty and nobility, medieval Venetian weavers and, of course, Henry VIII's Field of the Cloth of Gold.

I'm not sure that my one-metre length wrapped in a plastic carrier bag, carried back on the Tube and now hung up in my house where it gloriously glows with the reflected light not of Renaissance candles or flickering firelight but a 100w bulb and an Asda lampshade can live up to such a weight of history. And then there is the question of whether I will ever find the courage to cut into it. I hope that my finished wall hanging - for a care home run by Benedictine nuns - will in some way match the solemnity of Watts & Co's history and purpose. In the meantime I will look at the fabric, and stroke it, and enjoy it. And avoid opening my credit card statement.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

"And how long did it take you to make?"

Dawn Chorus, 250x202cm £299

... Oh, about 22 years.
It's a rather silly question, though often asked, because how on earth do you measure time spent on a creative project? Do you record all the hours actually spent working to come up with a total? And if so, do you include time spent thinking in the shower, doodling while on the phone, travelling to a fabric shop, browsing online stores, and tidying up before dinner after a day spent sewing at the kitchen table? Or do you just count the days or weeks or months from the first stitch to the last, regardless of how many of those weeks in between were spent in the office, on holiday or otherwise engaged?
But I made an exception and calculated (using the second method) how long it had taken me to make the quilt above. Because - ta dah! - it is finally finished. I started it in about 1992, coming up with the block design* at a residential workshop in Cornwall with Susan Denton and made the top probably the following year. In about 1999 I sent it away to be long-arm quilted (long before I had The Beast). I bought some fabric for the binding about five years ago. And I put the binding on last week, just in time to take it to the Country Living Spring Fair. It's called, rather fancifully, Dawn Chorus, because it is full of little birds.

Dawn Chorus, detail

I've also made a new "Jungle" quilt in the Garden City range. And since you ask ... oh, about a week.

Jungle 2, 190x248cm £212.50

Jungle 2, detail

* P.S. I made three quilts using the same basic block, each of them very different. My favourite was based around an old tablecloth, which included a map of Australia, that I found while clearing my aunt's house, and it became a pointer to my later style. "Look!" I said to my Australian husband when I had finished it. "The colours gets hotter towards the south." I was mortified when he pointed out that Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere... 

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Spring clean sale at Country Living Spring Fair

What better excuse for a spring clean sale than a spring fair - the Country Living event at the Business Design Centre, Islington, March 19-23. Those who have been to a Country Living Christmas Fair or Spring Fair before will know it is buzzing with hundreds of stands, featuring what it delightfully calls "British designers, crafters and artisan makers", selling everything from garden furniture to cupcakes plus workshops and demonstrations. Almost too much to take in at one bite, but don't let that put you off.

I shall be on stand M65, in the same space as before, but this time I have decided to have a clear-out of some of my older stock, with discounts of up to 50 per cent on the website prices of adult-size quilts.

Tresco: Green Show price £199 - was £345
Tresco: Red Show price £199 - was £370

Fraggle Rock Show price £199 - was £345

St Mary's Show price £199 - was £395

To tempt you into attending, here is my Spring Fair "catalogue" - with new additions to my collections not illustrated on my website. Plus I will have baby quilts, cushions and wall panels. If you can't make it, just email me instead:

Grey Poppy Show price £287.50 - was £575

Purple Lotus Show price £312.50 - was £625

Peony Show price £412.50 - was £825

Hibiscus Show price £412.50 - was £825

Rose Show price £300 - was £495 (reduced second: normal price £825)

Jungle Show price £412.50 - was £825

Please stop and say hello. Hope to see you there