My peacock fire screen

It isn’t unusual for ideas to come together to form a plan, but I don’t remember the inspiration for a project coming from two ideas found on the same trip.

A couple of summers ago, I went on a trip to Scampston Hall, between Malton and Scarborough. They had an embroidery exhibition of work inspired by the local landscape. There were a couple of group projects, where a picture of a suitable size had been divided up into squares, each of which had been embroidered by a different person, using whatever technique seemed appropriate. The result was a series of very different embroideries, with a variety of colours and textures, but they all worked together as parts of the picture.

On the way home, we stopped at the Stained Glass Centre near Filey for a cup of tea. In front of the tea room window was a rather splendid peacock fire screen. Now I need a fire screen. The one my Mum made when she was a teenager died a few years ago, about 30 years after Dad said the leg wouldn’t last long and couldn’t be mended again. But a stained glass screen is going to look best in front of a window, so the light can shine through.

Both these ideas were burbling round my head. Then one day I found an old book about making felt toys. It had a pattern for a peacock. A quick rummage in the stash produced some hessian that was about the right side, and some suitable colour felt. I enlarged the pattern to fit on the hessian, and made a start.

The ideas for the feathers are a little more challenging. Several ideas just haven’t worked, but here are the ones that are finished or nearly finished so far.

I reckon I am almost half way there…

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Elephants quilt

I’ve had this idea brewing for several years now. Grey patchwork elephants on a red background. There has been a bit of a delay, while I collect fabrics. I don’t really do grey, apart from flannel skirts, and somehow my stash is more russet than red.

And then there is the design. After a bit of experimenting, I’ve drawn out three sizes of elephant on squared paper, so I thought I would have a go. Here are the first three elephants.

Those of you who are into this sort of thing will notice a bit of a wobble in a couple of places. After many years of using the side of the presser foot to make even, equal size seams for patchwork, I now have a proper patchwork foot. It has a mark along the front every 1/8″. All I have to do is line the edge of the fabric with the second tick along, and I have an accurate 1/4″ seam. Marvellous!

The problem is that I’m not used to it yet. The gap at the front of the foot is somehow putting me off. I’m seeing 1/8 inch gap in the foot, plus another 1/8 ” on the foot. I start using the correct marking, but suddenly I’ve only got a 1/8″ seam. So in these blocks, I have most seams at the proper 1/4″, some at 1/8″, and some start at 1/4″ and then wobble over to 1/8″. And I only realised how much I’d varied when I put it all together. So some of the seams need redoing, but for the current purpose of seeing if the blocks work, they will do.

The size of this quilt is dictated by a rather splendid piece of machine patchwork in shades of gold that I have had in my stash for a while. As I have three sizes of elephant, it makes sense to have them walking across the quilt in a line. To balance things up, I’m alternating between processions to the left and the right. Each line needs something solid to walk on. It would be easy for those pathways to form boxes, which I don’t really want. So I thought I’d fill in the background with some traditional blocks and borders. Which is another variable to play with. Here is the current version of plan. Three cheers for pencil, I say!

I was telling my friend about this idea, and she asked whether the elephants are African or Indian. As the size of the ear is governed by how much shaping can be made in a square grid, I’m not really sure whether you can be fussy about this distinction.

But that lead to the fascinating idea of having Indian and African fabrics to make the distinction. I thought this would be quite straight forward, but my trip round the Festival of Quilts and some surfing suggests that this isn’t going to work. There was a whole stall of African prints, but they were all too colourful to be used in a grey elephant. And traditional Indian style designs like paisleys seem to be out of fashion at the moment.

Still, by the time I’ve got this idea finalised, they may be back in fashion again…

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Making patterns with salt

This technique with salt is an idea from watercolour painting. It is often described in books with dire warnings against using it too often.

And I can see why: it is addictive.

When you add salt to wet paint, the crystals absorb the moisture and make a pattern.  The result depends on so many variables that you can’t control the process. Relevant factors include:

  • The size of the salt crystals.
  • The amount of pigment in the paint.
  • The amount of moisture in the paint.
  • Any moisture or colour in the salt from previous uses.
  • How long the paint has been on the fabric, because if any of the paint has dried, the salt won’t have any effect. So the atmospheric conditions are also relevant.
  • Where the salt falls.

Salt after it has been used for this technique

As the salt takes up the moisture, some of the colour is sucked out, leaving the background fabric showing through. In other places the colour of the paint is intensified. Each crystal marks its own place on the surface to form the pattern.

With these scarves, I marked some shapes on the silk in batik wax, so that the flow of colours was limited. Then I painted blends of a couple of different silk paints, letting them mix on the fabric, before adding the salt.

It is important to leave the salt on until it is properly dry, or the patterns will smudge. I try to leave it for at least 24 hours, just in case. Once the salt comes off, the scarves need to be pressed between absorbent paper to remove the wax lines and fix the colour.

Here are some pictures of the process for three different colour ways.

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A new helper in the studio

On duty next to the sewing machine

Following my trip to the Festival of Quilts at the NEC recently, I have a new helper.

According to the instructions that came with her from The Quilters’ Trading Post, her name is Dawn.

I’m not sure about that, because so far she has been too shy to say anything.

Anyway, as you can see, she is making herself jolly useful around the sewing room and the studio, holding bits and bobs, and being a nice cheerful presence.

Helping with the ironing

Her conical body is really sturdy, but it took rather more rice (topped up with lentils) than I had anticipated. Must remember to buy some more.

You can also see my new rack for spools of thread: another treasure from the same foraging trip.

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More experiments with the new sewing machine

Did I mention I have a new sewing machine?

Well, having done some worthy straight lines, I decided I would do something more frivolous. Rather than being completely aimless, I thought I would make a cover for my over locker. Leaving it out all the time isn’t sensible, as dust can’t be good for it. On the other hand, putting it back into the cardboard box and lifting it back onto the top shelf each time is just a bit too much effort.

So I cut out some suitable rectangles of calico, drew on some shapes of about the right size in pencil, and started sewing random patterns in a variety of colours of thread. And I it didn’t take me long to find that, although I liked the results, there was a bit more to it than I bargained for.

Firstly, there was a vast difference in the width of the stitch, which wasn’t apparent from the instructions. Then there was the placement of the stitch. Some of them start in the middle of the band they produce, while others start at side, leaving either an unexpected gap, or going right over what I had just done. And the final problem was that, even with my glasses on, it is difficult to be sure of the difference between some of the stitches. Indeed sometimes it turns out they are the same stitch on two vastly different scales.

So I got another bit of fabric, and worked down the menu, marking the number of the option with a Sharpie from time to time. That turned out to be a very good idea. Not only do I have an easy reference for the main options, but also I have some streamers to hang over the ugly pipes and wires in the corner of the studio. All it took was an off cut of dowelling, slotted into two cup hooks of unknown origin that are in the corner of the ceiling.

Then I went back to the cover. Once I didn’t have any more room for experiments, I set about sewing it together. I had this theory about using a fold for the bottom, to avoid messing about with a hem. As I suspected might happen, the sewing changed the dimensions of the pieces, so the arch of the cover isn’t quite as symmetrical as I had planned. But that didn’t matter, as I had taken the precaution of not bothering to cut out accurate shapes. And anyway, as Mum used to say, a proper pressing session does wonders when you are shaping fabric.

Which lead me to the final discovery of this project. I had been merrily using up scraps of thread, with no regard for anything on the label. Let’s face it, some didn’t actually have a label. Some of it must have had more man made fibre in than I normally buy, because it melted. I now have:

  1. Some interesting dotted patterns near the seams, where I have melted the thread that touched the iron.
  2. Some scruffy unpressed seams, where I chickened out. Which means the finished article is a bit more of an amorphous blob than I had planned.
  3. A chance to test that infallible iron cleaner someone recommended.

So overall, I have gained from this project. I have learned how to use my new toy. I have bitten the bullet about getting a set of samples I can follow in the future. I have recycles some left over materials into something useful. And I don’t have to feel guilty about not bothering to put the over locker away.

I am thinking of it as a one off piece of abstract artwork.

Well, it keeps me amused…

 

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The studio has plumbing!

I have a new sink in the studio!

OK, so it is a newly installed sink.

Up until now, the water supply in the studio has been a large jug. Any rinsing out has happened, very carefully, in the kitchen sink.

Working in the kitchen rather undermines the whole point of having a studio, which is supposed to be a place I can concentrate on being creative, rather than keeping the place clean. But when the alternative is rinsing in a bucket, the kitchen makes sense, although carrying a bucket full of dye through the house is a bit worrying.

But not any more. My chum Ruby stood in the studio one day and said “What you need in here is a sink. Do you want one of my old Belfast ones?” So in due course, she brought it round. I chiselled out the compost from the overflow, and Stan has plumbed it in for me.

Now I can stand in the studio, resting my forearms on the top of the sink, dangling my fingers in the water where I can just reach the bottom to swirl the things I’m rinsing out.

No doubt you will have spotted a notable feature: the elegant soap dish, which contains olive oil soap for cleaning paint brushes. Originally, it was just the nearest container of the right size, but somehow it just seems right…

 

 

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The Festival of Quilts 2018

The first thing to say to anyone thinking of going to the Festival of Quilts at the NEC is to book online. This is the queue to pay on the door at 11am on the first day, a Thursday.

Before I got that far, I had seen a man settling himself down in a coffee shop, equipped with a large coffee and an even larger paperback novel. Obviously a veteran of many previous campaigns.

Well, as you would expect, three halls of the NEC hold a lot of quilts, and all manner of useful things to tempt us. And yes, I did weaken and buy something. More of that when I have made the kits up!

It is a while since I’ve been to one of these things, and in the intervening years the powers that be have given up forbidding photography. I did overhear someone asking “How do I take a picture of the back of this quilt without touching it?”

Other overhead gems included:

  • “Some of these are quite good.”
  • “Do you think it takes them a long time to do them?”
  • And from an American lady, demonstrating a quilting ruler: “It is 25 dollars at home, but I don’t know how much it costs here.”

Anyway, here are the pictures I took. Not the best, as they are over and round other people, so there are some interesting angles, strange shadows, and some dodgy focusing.

None of these quilts were winners. When I arrived, they were all in a designated area, covered in black fabric, with a large sign saying they would be unveiled at 2pm. By 1.15, people were already milling around, occupying all the nearby seating in anticipation. When I went back at 2.30, the unveiling was still in progress. Two lads were working their way round, climbing up matching bright yellow step ladders to unscrew the batten holding the black fabric, and lifting it off to reveal a winner, before moving on to the next.

Not everything on show was a conventional quilt. Here are some of the other items on show. And yes, those are individual leaves, making up a rather holy umbrella:

First of all, some need to be kept together, so you can see detail and/or different angles.

I’ve been thinking of doing a house quilt for a while. Here are three ideas to add to the list of possibilities:

I like the border on this one:

Here are interesting takes on some traditional ideas:

This beach scene has a spectacular pier quilted onto it, and some shingle detail:

This floral one was rather spectacular:

And here is the gallery of all the other pictures I took. I can’t decide which I like best. The maps are very clever, and I like the ones with large areas of very quilted background. But the landscapes are very clever, and then there is the face, and the distorted blocks….

 

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Double wedding rings

I really like double wedding ring quilts. Particularly the ones made of scraps, so there are lots and lots of fabrics involved. If you look hard at my sampler quilt, there is a double wedding ring block in there. I doubt if I will ever get round to doing more than that. I found it really difficult sorting out the fabrics. I kept thinking “Oh, there is a nice one. I haven’t got that yet.” Then a few moments later I would find I had a duplication.

Bother.

And that was just the one block.

I’m really proud to say that I know someone who has recently completed a whole quilt in this pattern. Well done, Rosina!!!

Anyway, I thought I’d share this post. Not only does it have some pictures of finished quilts (although none of them are as nice as Rosina’s), but:

  • it shows an interesting negative space design, which cuts out a lot of the fiddling about.
  • it has a link to some useful templates, for reducing the amount of work (always a good plan).
  • it has a link to some pre-cut kits. Which if you can trust yourself not to lose some of the bits is a huge time saver.So that cuts me out then.

 

 

 

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How linen is made

I’ve found a couple of short films about how linen is made.

And as it is summer, a lot of us are wearing linen, so it is relevant at the moment.

Here is the story from Belgium in Belgium, and then this one is the same process in Ireland.

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In Search of Forgotten Colours

I just had to share this video that the V&A have put on YouTube: In Search of Forgotten Colours – Sachio Yoshioka and the Art of Natural Dyeing.

Sachio Yoshioka runs the family dye workshop in Fushimi, southern Kyoto. Since 1988, he has only used plants and other natural materials for his extensive range of beautiful colours.

Although the video is informative, I like just watching the yards of beautiful colours go by…

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