Saturday, 1 August 2020

The Endeavourers #11, An Imaginary Voyage of Discovery in the South Pacific

Today The Endeavourers quilt group reveal their quilts for the quarter.  This time we did not have the usual quarterly theme but were to make quilts inspired by a prompt sent to us by our partner - a poem, a picture, a piece of fabric, etc.  My partner, Janine, sent me this wonderful compass as my inspiration piece for this quarter's quilt.  I was quite overwhelmed to receive it.  

Knowing that all my fabric was, at the time, in my studio where I couldn't get it during lockdown Janine also very kindly and generously sent me some fabrics, including the marvellous piece of map which went into the quilt.

The compass immediately set me thinking about great endeavours.   I love the stories of Scott and Shackleton, and sea-going adventures, like Darwin's on the Beagle.   A couple of years back, we visited the Discovery in Dundee, and I was really taken with the laboratory and its portholes.  

Then, having a particular interest in plants and horticulture, I read up about some of the great plant hunters who travelled the world bringing back new (to us) species from round the world.  In my head all these things finally came together in this quilt, combining science and adventure.

The story goes...

It is sometime in the 1800s.  The occupant of this cabin, the Scientific Officer of HMS Persevere (Leith), has gone on deck to watch as the tiny South Sea island they have just visited recedes out of view as they head further south.  On his bench are some shells he picked up there, and a piece of Ipomea pes-caprae - named Goat's foot morning glory because of the shape of the leaves - which grows on beaches throughout the world.  Its seeds are dispersed in salt water.  It is not a great discovery as it is already well known, but it was beautiful to see and he may paint it later - he is a competent botanical artist.  A Monarch butterfly has found its way on board and will hopefully evade the killing bottle.    The Scientific Officer has been delighted in the last month to receive a letter from his wife, enclosing a studio portrait of his three little girls who he hasn't seen for a year.  He hopes to find more letters from home next time they reach a port visited by packet ships.    He misses his family very much, but until then he will be busy examining rocks and barnacles under his travelling microscope (currently in its box away from the salt air), and writing notes for posterity about beetles of the South Pacific.

Porthole view

Monarch butterfly

A family picture

A real, and a stitched shell

I had a lot of fun making this quilt and imagining the life of its subject has been a hugely therapeutic bit of escapism. Thank you so much Janine for such a lovely prompt!  Please check out the other quilts on our group blog where you will also find links to the other members' personal blogs. 

[Note: Leith is part of Edinburgh where I live, and contains a large port.  The motto of Leith is 'Persevere' - a good motto for the times!  The little Victorian girls in the photograph are actually my great grandmother and her sisters in the 1800s.  The butterfly is a tribute to my grandfather, an entomologist.  I still plan to use a picture of my other great-grandmother as a stand-in for the Scientific Officer's wife, but she is currently in a box somewhere at the back of the attic!  The woman of this era who were not fortunate enough to be adventurers themselves deserve a lot of sympathy and recognition.]

Quilt details

Size: 18 x 24 inches

Techniques used:  watercolour and acrylic paints, textile pens, trapunto, raw edge appliqué, free-motion embroidery,  printing on fabric, free-motion quilting

Fabrics used: Quilting cotton, Oakshott cotton, gauze, interfacing

Friday, 1 May 2020

The Endeavourers #10, A Scene From a Book, 'My Mistress' Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun'

Today is the 10th quarterly reveal of the Endeavourers, and our theme for the Quarter is A Scene From A Book.   You can find all the members' works on our group blog and I'm looking forward to seeing what scene everyone chose, and how they've represented it.   I feel especially grateful to be a member of the group just now.  While we are all locked down it's reassuring to feel part of something that involves such positive human contact.   But whenever I get the chance to communicate with anyone I'm talking far too much, so be prepared for a long post!

At the beginning of lockdown I didn't feel in any way creative, and was concentrating on doing practical things to prepare for all eventualities.  However I did spend a lot of time thinking about the theme. I initially struggled to think of a scene from a book because I've already turned some of my favourites into quilts, but finally decided on Shakespeare's sonnet No 130 which I love.   (Not really a scene from a book, but a scene from a poem in a book...)

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

I love the way Shakespeare is poking fun at other contemporary poets and their flowery and somewhat ridiculous use of metaphor to describe the objects of their desire.   But while he is doing that he also manages to builds up a picture of his mistress - a real woman who doesn't float about but treads on the ground - who he loves to hear speak and thinks as rare as anyone described with false comparisons.  With social media placing so much emphasis on conforming to a particular, idealised and often artificial idea of beauty this poem has quite a contemporary relevance.

Incidentally, out of curiosity I looked out images of woman of Shakespeare's time.  Being wealthy and important enough to have their portraits painted, decked out in their finest, and on their best behaviour, they often look rather bland and lifeless. The poets Shakespeare teases, with their unrealistic, idealised view don't seem to properly see the real woman, and I didn't get much feeling of the person underneath in these pictures.   

However I came upon some paintings by Artemesia Gentileschi and it is worth looking them up. (I was just now adding the link to the Wikipedia article and realised that there was actually going to be an exhibition of her paintings at the National Gallery this year but it has been cancelled because of Coronavirus.)  She used herself as the model for several paintings and her intelligent face is beautiful and full of character, though somewhat sad as she had a rather terrible life which is reflected in some of her grimmer pictures.  I like the way she confronts the viewer.

Anyway, that was a digression.  I began by thinking about what I could make with a rather ragtag collection of bits and bobs I had at home.   It was an interesting challenge to use up some of it in my quilt, just as I'm getting creative at making dinners out of what's left in the fridge because of course you can't just casually pop out to the shops.  My plan was to throw these odd scraps into the pot and make a mosaic quilt using them to build up a picture of the woman in the poem.  That seemed to fit the times and to fit the poem which also builds up a picture with each line.   I thought I would make something quite colourful and down to earth.  

However, when I started laying out fabric, another quilt started to take shape by itself.  It moved totally away from the original colourful mosaic idea.   I like this about making pictorial quilts - it's a fairly leisurely process and you're not committed until you sew.  Things sometimes take on a life of their own.

My Mistress' Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun
My black-haired woman was cut from one small piece of black Oakshott cotton, which was fused to another piece of cream Oakshott, then the whole thing was machine appliqued to a pieced and quilted panel I had made for another project and not used (the section in the middle of this quilt).

I found a bag of scraps of batting in a drawer under my bed (yay!) and 'frankenbatted' them together to extend the size of the panel by sewing them round the edge.  I had cut some calico from the back of a mini quilt, which I had planned to use as a substrate for scraps in the mosaic quilt plan, and that turned into the border.   I had a tiny piece of gold silk, only just enough for the sun.

My Mistress' Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun
I took the above photo in the sun outdoors so that the shadows would show up the quilting. She's not the colourful earthy woman I intended to make, but there you go!  I wanted to make an image of a woman who asserted her personality into the picture, so she is framed by the border around her but is not constrained by it. She has a direct gaze and I tried to make her to look as if there's more to her than what you initially see.   

My Mistress' Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun


Crafting during Coronavirus. The dining room is now also for sewing, online pilates class, and growing sweet pea seedlings in toilet roll tubes.

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Mr and Mrs Blackbird

I've just finished working on this quilt, which is the fourth in a series of blackbird quilts, though the third is still waiting for a few finishing touches.

Like my other blackbird pictures this has a curve-pieced background which is quilted before I start to lay on the applique.

Then, as usual I sketched out various elements on pieces of paper, and tinkered with the composition until I felt it was right.  This part of the process takes ages.

I use Oakshott shot cottons a lot, as you can see if you look for the label in my side bar.  The different warps and wefts create a feeling of dimension, and the colours are extremely beautiful, so they are ideal for applique.     

Only the brown was difficult to get right and so I used a single French General fabric (front and reverse) for Mrs Blackbird.  This turned out to be very fortuitous because I have run out of the second-hand black beads I used for the eyes of previous blackbirds and I couldn't believe my luck when I looked at the colour test circles on selvedge.

I added a shine to the eyes with a french knot.

This piece is a commission, and I wanted to give it a bit of clout so, rather than binding, I finished it by wrapping round a homemade wooden 'stretcher'.

Mr and Mrs Blackbird
Shot cotton and quilting cotton
Curve piecing, raw-edge applique, free-motion embroidery
38 x 38 cm

Monday, 3 February 2020

Poppies by the Sea

I've just finished a quilt inspired by a miraculous sight last summer when there was a beautiful flush of poppies by the sea near where I work in East Lothian.

They were such a surprise as they are not what I usually associate with coastal flora.

Although they look so delicate and fragile, with their silky petals, they seemed to stand up surprisingly robustly against the wind and rain.

I love those colours against the sand and sea.

This little quilt is at about 12 inches square.  It is pieced, quilted, appliqued using Oakshott shot cottons, and embroidered.

Poppies by the Sea at Cockenzie, East Lothian
12 x 12 inches
Pieced, quilted, appliqued, embroidered
Oakshott cotton, quilting cotton
Mounted on canvas

Saturday, 1 February 2020

The Endeavourers #9, Wishes: Say it With Flowers

Today is our quarterly reveal for The Endeavourers quilt group, and our theme this quarter was 'Wishes'.  For some reason I found this theme a very difficult one.  I couldn't think how to express it.  I had lots of thoughts about what 'wishes' might be about but none of them would settle into a quilt.  Eventually I set on what I would wish for someone else - happiness.

We often express our hopes and wishes to other people in the form of flowers  - either as a bunch of flowers or as a symbolic bunch of flowers on a card - so this became my plan.   I wanted to make a really jolly, happy and exuberant quilt as my quilts are usually more restrained, and maybe subconsciously I was wishing for a bit of colour at the end of a long grey January!

I was going to add a little banner at the top of the quilt, saying "Be Happy", but when I tried it out I didn't like it and although it would have made the quilt more obviously relevant to the theme artistic vanity won over.

The vase and table cloth are pieced, and the flowers are raw-edge applique, with quilting to make parts of the flowers stand out.  I thought a couple of the flowers needed a bit of extra pop so added buttons to the centres - the largest amount of time was spent in fussing with the composition.   Finally I bound the quilt round a canvas and stapled it in place.  I had a lot of fun making it!

Please check out the fantastic work of my fellow Endeavourers on our group blog.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Positivity: A quilt gets a second life

Four years ago I made a quilt.  It was very difficult to make but I had a particular vision of how I wanted it to be.  At the time I was looking for a bit of optimism, and though I'm not religious the quilt was a symbol of my faith at the time that everything would be alright.     

The quilt was pieced with tiny squares - each one finished at one quarter of a square inch, ie the sides are a half-inch long - in Oakshott cotton and gold silk, and had on it a red cross under which I laboriously pieced the words 'Help Will Come'.

It was a kind of personal marching banner and when I was finished with it I was really happy with it, but looking at it I suddenly realised (duh!) that although it was a very personal quilt it might be taken to refer to an international aid organisation - not what I intended at all.

This realisation was a bit of a blow and I kept it under my bed for the next four years trying to decide what to do with it.  Yesterday I got it out again and, holding my breath, cut the bottom off.

Without the wording it is very reminiscent of Victoria Gertenbach's "9 Patch Quilt in Red and White" but I am still proud of it because it really was a beast to make and although I am its mother, so to speak, I think it is still beautiful even if it is in a different way to what I originally intended.  In fact its transformation rather matches my evolving attitude to life - I don't feel any more that help will necessarily come from external sources but that we have try to stay positive and make our own changes to the world.

Friday, 1 November 2019

The Endeavourers #8, Dreams, "Moonlit"

Today is the 8th reveal for the Endeavourers art quilt group. 

Our theme this quarter was 'Dreams' and I knew straight away that I wanted to make a quilt about the moments between twilight and dawn when your senses become really acute but at the same time the natural world takes on a magical and rather dream-like quality. 

One of the best things about being involved in a quilt group like ours is being inspired by all the other members.   In this quilt I borrowed a technique from Fiona who is always so adventurous in trying out something different.  In her last piece for the group she used cyanotype (solar-printing fabric) and the colour and effect of this technique fit perfectly with what I envisaged.

My initial plan was to use a bit of cyanotype along with overprinting and painting but once I got started I fell so in love with the process and the result that I did not want to add any further colour or techniques, so my quilt owes a far bigger debt to Fiona than I first intended.

You can buy the chemicals required to create cyanotype fabric yourself but I bought ready-to-use fabric.  You use sunlight to 'expose' it, masking out the shapes you want by placing found or made material on top.  I used flowers, grasses and foliage along with moth shapes which I drew and cut out of card.  I also tried drawing on acetate but the result was too faint.

Once you have taken your piece of cyanotype fabric out of its lightproof packet you obviously have to work quite quickly to compose your image but it was not cheap so I was careful to plan my images first.  I took some glass out of a couple of picture frames and placed it on top of each piece to stop my materials blowing away - the sun doesn't make it over the roofs into my garden at this time of year so I laid out my work first on the pavement outside, and then on the roof of my car in the street!

The glass also helps to hold your material flat and in contact with the cyanotype fabric, resulting in a crisp image without any 'shadows' where the light has got in round the edges,  but I liked the more blurry and ambiguous results best as they are far more ethereal, delicate and dreamlike and I stopped making any effort to weight the glass down completely flat.  I also really loved the differences in colour according to how long each piece was exposed, and how sunny it happened to be at the time.  I exploited this for the section that is supposed to look lit by the abstract moon. 

Having assembled images into a composition (which took ages of faffing) I wanted the stitching to add texture and interest without dominating in any way, so the only thing I did was to add some barely-there embroidery (seed stitch and french knots) to the moths and fennel flowers, in off-white Aurifil wool because I love the matt and organic look and feel of it.   I also took advantage of the pattern showing through the 'moon' from underneath and highlighted it with some machine quilting.

It's always very exciting to read how the other members of the group interpreted the theme, and to see how this was translated into their quilts!  Please check out all the quilts on our group blog, where you'll also find links to members' individual blogs.

Things I learned:

The colour in cyanotype fabric is only on the surface - and stitching left tiny white puncture holes.  These show in my seams if you looked closely, and also where I tried and took out some additional machine stitching, and I would try a very sharp needle and very fine thread (eg Aurifil 80?) next time in case that helped.

The texture of the fabric is more open than quilting cotton and there is a lot of fraying.

The colour of the fabric after washing and drying keeps developing over the next several hours, becoming deeper.

I don't know why it didn't occur to me to cut at least some of the fabric sheets into smaller pieces to play and experiment with first!


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