Monday, 10 February 2014

Connection at Forge Mill Needle Museum

Last year I was fortunate enough to be selected as a guest artist for Cwilt Cymru, a group whose work I had admired since seeing it in the Spirit of the Celts exhibition.  The theme of the current exhibit is Connection, and I have chosen the connection with my mother as the focus of what I produced.  Since my mother's side of the family is entirely Welsh it seemed appropriate and I had been planning a series of pieces on my relationship with my mother for some time.
 
The first piece was an enjoyable and fairly straightforward quilt to make, called My Mother Made Spitfires, focussing on my mother's experience as a war worker at Vickers Armstrong's Castle Bromwich factory near Birmingham, where she was involved in making parts for Spitfires.
 
 
 
 
The hours were long, the factory a target for bombing, and the work heavy (the machinery she operated, a capstan lathe, was later deemed unsuitable for women to operate).  Even so, her wartime experiences, as she described them to me, were full of fun, films, fashions and dancing.  She had more freedom and more money than she had had before and like many others at the time had a determination to enjoy life to the full (the fact that life was uncertain at the time probably had something to do with this).  It was during these years that she met my father, a GI she married shortly before his return to the US in 1946.  The quilt tries to draw together the different aspects of her life at the time.
 
The poster at top left is used with permission of the Imperial War Museum.  Other images are adapted from contemporary sources, and the photograph near the bottom right is a photograph of my mother, printed onto Extravorganza and overlaid onto hand-dyed fabric.
 
The poster suggested the colour-scheme for the quilt: the base fabrics are cottons hand-dyed in various combinations of orange and purple.  Some of these have been digitally printed with images from the time and my own words describing my mother's experiences.  Overlays of digitally-pinted Extravorganza have formed a basis for applique, and the whole piece has been free-machine quilted.
 

 





The second quilt Turning Ugly was a different matter.  Originally I had planned to take a different area of my mother's life as the focus and to produce something relatively "safe", but as time went on my thoughts constantly got drawn to the years after the war, in particular a two-year period from November 1949 which were the worst two years of mine and my mother's life.

I was conceived shortly before my father's return to the US.  In the early days of her pregnancy, with my grandmother ill, and possibly getting cold feet about the whole experience, my mother did not take up any of the three passages allocated to her as a war-bride.  In 1949 my father divorced her.  She also lost her looks when she suffered a form of facial paralysis called Bell's Palsy which she never completely recovered from.  In November 1949 she married a recently-widowed father of two small daughters and we went to live with them in a village between Chepstow and Tintern in the Wye Valley, a beautiful part of the country made hideous for us because of the violence and abuse we both suffered.


The idea was to produce a quilt that had a sort of "double-take" effect: that looked beautiful on the surface but became other than that when you looked up close.  Originally the words that described the experiences were going to be obscured (as in the piece at top left) but as the quilt was being made, things changed.  The pieces of the story first became blurred but readable if you tried hard (written in inktense pencil overlaid with organza) but in the end they were written in stitch, on the surface of the quilt.  And one set of words - describing in outline an experience which I kept hidden even from myself, but which has been like a sort of invisible ghost haunting me all my life - emerged as I was writing it.  So that the quilt became in itself what it was never intended to be - a sort of therapy.

 
 
My neighbour pointed out that I had probably saved myself quite a lot of money in therapy costs - and I had a quilt at the end of  it.  It's been a very painful and difficult process but I now feel lighter and happier than I've felt in my life.  One thing that bewildered me - the last stage was quilting the larger squares: and it came out - unplanned - like this:
 
 
 
 With very free, joyful lines of quilting redolent of growth and natural forms - exactly the way I felt as a result of the process of making the quilt.
 
The exhibition - which contains beautiful pieces by the six permanent members of the group as well as the other three guest artists - opens at Forge Mill, Redditch tomorrow (11th Feb).






Monday, 20 January 2014

That Dragonfly!



You may have seen it at Festival of Quilts.  It was also featured on The Quilt Show in the US as one of a small selection of art quilts.  And it won the Art Quilt prize and Sylvia Critcher's Judges Choice at the Harrogate show.  It was originally supposed to go to Uttoxeter in April but took longer than I expected (a lot longer in fact - one of my quilting friends kept sending me emails headed "The Curse of the Dragonfly")  It's actually work towards - hopefully - an exhibition by the recently-formed Etcetera group, on the theme of transition and is the first of a series of pieces on this theme.

It's gestation - as is usual with me - took a long time, partly because the format (landscape rather than portrait) was a requirement for the first group piece and it took time to get to grips with it).  After chucking around all sorts of ways of exploring it finally came up with the somewhat obvious idea of huge dragonfly (the quilt is 64" x 48" and it bleeds off the edge with reverse applique wings based fairly closely on real dragonfly wings.  Obvious but I thought it would work visually.  Ok - let's be honest -  I thought it might look spectacular and people might not walk straight past it as happened with the rather quieter Sea Edges at the NEC last year.  One doesn't like to see all that effort go unnoticed.

Though the project started as an investigation of the natural history of the dragonfly (having been fascinated ever since an Emperor Dragonfly accompanied me on a walk through Wytham Woods many years ago) the whole thing quickly acquire a symbolic significance.  Dragonflies can spend up to five years going through all the various stages it takes to grow and spread their wings.  As someone who, for various reasons I won't go into here, was unable fully to spread her creative wings until later in life, this had a particular significance for me.  Added to that dragonflies in some cultures are a symbol of self-realisation and suddenly the whole thing became powerfully meaningful...

For those of you who like to know these things, the background is simply patchwork with stitch-drawn pictures of the various stages in dragonfly development.  The dragonfly itself is cut-back applique in silk/metallic, silk and nylon crystal organzas, all hand-dyed.  The whole thing machine-appliqued and quilted.  It was the cutting back that took the time.  And I am still finding bit of "confetti" around the house even now

Sunday, 15 September 2013

R.I.P Django 1999-2013



The sad news is that my lovely cat Django died suddenly on Wednesday night.  It was very sudden and very unexpected.  Despite his age it looked to everybody as if he would be going on enjoying life for some time yet, but he unexpectedly collapsed and died, all within the space of a few minutes, almost certainly of a heart attack.  The good thing is that he was able to enjoy life right up until the end and any suffering seems to have been extremely short-lived.

Django had been taken in to my vet's as a twelve-week-old feral kitten for adoption.  He had obviously done well as a feral kitten by charming everyone in the neighbourhood.  When I arrived at the vet's to pick him up the entire staff were taking it in turns to give him a cuddle before he left: he was purring loudly and obviously enjoying every bit of attention.  When he arrived at his new home it didn't take long for him to be accepted.  Though the oldest cat, Hoagy, took his time getting to know him, Bixy took to him immediately, and became a kind of surrogate mother.

Django was a fine example of how to get the best out of life.  As a kitten he was extremely naughty, leading the older cats on wild disruptive rampages round the house, creating chaos in his wake.  He was known round the neighbourhood as "the cheeky one" of my three cats.  The only trace of his feral origins was his exceptional scavenging abilities (we once lost a pack of peppered beef and later discovered the opened empty pack and the peppered rind under the sofa and on several occasions found sandwiches and wrappers minus fillings on the kichen floor.

 
Django loved fabrics (especially silks) and was an ever-present studio cat.  On one occasion he experimented with dyes and I found him sauntering proudly down our back alley with bright blue feet.
 
 
 
In 1995 Django had a serious accident, getting knocked down by a car and smashing his pelvis to pieces.  He made it back to the back door by dragging himself on his front claws, which must have been agonising.  Luckily there were no injuries to internal organs but he did need extensive surgery (and a fair selection of nuts and bolts) to put him back together again.  The injuries were so serious it took a couple of months before he was walking again.  At the time I wondered whether I would ever see him walking along the fence again.  The neighbours bet it would take two weeks: in fact he was back there within four days.
 
 
Django suffered from arthritis in later years but despite having to slow down sometimes (though he still played tag with Pepper from time to time and took stairs two at a time and took strolls round the neighbourhood, including on the last day of his life) he remained a lively, bright and extremely affectionate through it all.
 
He was a very special cat and I shall miss him.
 
 
 


Friday, 28 September 2012

Sea Edges

I don't normally take this long over a quilt.  This one took just over a year.  It began with a workshop with Jo Budd on monoprinting and collage and a sketchbook full of drawings paintings and photographs of various bits of the Northumberland coast in the north-east of England, up against the Scottish border, an area of warm welcomes, windy deserted beaches, abbeys and castles, seabird colonies, farms boats and inshore fishing, saints and wildlife: my favourite part of the country.

My monoprints were of the organic rather than formally-patterned kind, sort of messy but deliberately so.  Organising them into a collages (including layering with organzas and chiffons) was a lengthy process, from here:
 

to here:
 
 
 
over a period of about three weeks.  Simply pinning on a design wall, moving elements around until they appeared to balance.  I discovered that the striped bits (originally greyscale samples) were essential to give the piece a bit of structure.  The fabrics chosen were ones which suggested the colours and weathering of the coastal landscape.
 
 
The rest was about the quilting.  Though I'd originally planned it as a machine-quilted piece I found that certain areas needed hand-quilting, and it was this that took the time - a mediatative process that meant the quilt evolved slowly (my hand won't let me hand-stitch for too long at a time) and developed in unexpected ways.
 
 
 


The end result (above) combines areas of texture with areas where stitching has been used as a medium for drawing - close-ups below:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Sunday, 24 June 2012

At the end of our street...


...about twenty-five minutes ago.  Not the greatest photograph in the world  - the torch relay was running late and he was going pretty fast, plus people were jumping up and down in front of me most of the time...plus I was still recovering from cleaning the oven!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

just a taste...


...of what I did this weekend.  More to follow

Sunday, 6 May 2012

From the Salon des Refuses


The Contemporary Quilt Group, of which I am a member, has an exhibition at Festival of Quilts this year and I was one of the sixty-plus members who entered a quilt.  Unfortunately I was one of the ones whose work didn't get chosen.  I did discover however that I am in excellent company: people who have produced much better pieces than I did also didn't get their work chosen.  I suspect the standard of the exhibition will be extremely high.


The theme of the exhibition was Tin and the starting-point was a photograph by Tony Howell of East Pool Tin Mine, a restored tin mine in Cornwall.  A comment by an historian friend about Cornish miners who had migrated to the north of England being known as "Cousin Jacks" led me into spending some time doing historical research of my own, and being deeply moved by the way in which the closure of the mines in Cornwall in the nineteenth century led to mass migration and emigration from the county - a quarter of a million men, mainly miners, emigrated between 1841 and 1901; whole villages could disappear from the census in a ten-year period; there was a twenty percent reduction in the male population in each ten-year period between those years.  At the beginning of the twentieth century the total population - male and female, including children - was less than half a million.  "Cousin Jacks" took their skills to the far corners of the world - including North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. There's a saying: "A mine is a hole in the ground, anywhere in the world, with at least one Cornishman at the bottom of it", and to this day people all over the world celebrate their Cornish ancestry.

I suppose one of the reasons for my response is that I come, a couple of generations back, from a mining family myself.  Not Cornwall, but South Wales, and there and in parts of Yorkshire I have seen the effects of pit closures on local communities - not as devastating or dramatic as in nineteenth century Cornwall, but still a sense of the lifeblood draining out of the community when the mines close.

This became the basis of the quilt above.  Unfortunately, though there is a thematic link to the original photograph, the visual links to it have mostly disappeared - it seemed appropriate to use a ruined mine rather than a restored mine as the main image and the only bit of the photograph I've actually been able to use is the texture of the stone.  So yes  I would acknowledge that it may not have fulfilled the criterion of having a specific (i.e. visual) reference to the original image.  The jurors also felt that there were some pieces where an interest in the history had taken over rather than the consideration of the visual impact of the piece, and I accept this criticism too.

My personal feelings about this piece is that there are things in it that I like but also things that are unresolved.  I think I distracted myself with two things: firstly the attempt to convey a message visually, which is a very difficult thing to do and which I don't think worked out effectively (I have a tendency to believe that a piece of work should be able to communicate independently of artists statements or footnotes) and secondly the decision to include a "picture", however simplified.

It has not been wasted: I learnt a great deal from doing it.  And I do like the lettering (dyed fabric hand-painted with discharge paste), the story of the "Cousin Jacks" half hidden behind the image, and covered with layers of silk organza.

Only problem is - what do I do with it now?  It is a somewhat bleak image, not one that fits easily on the walls of my home!


Sunday, 26 February 2012

A Really Good Day - with Wonky Bits!

Saturday was the latest meeting of Contemporary Quilt Region 14, a workshop with tutor Janet Bottomley on Liberated Piecing.  One of the best workshops I've ever been to - loads of fun, excellent teaching, and plenty of ideas for future projects (just need the time to make them now).  You can find out more about Janet from her blogs:  A Quilters Journal  (her personal blog), her City and Guilds/Contemporary Quilt blog, and her teaching blog.  For anyone involved in running a quilting group she would be an excellent choice for a workshop that could appeal to both traditional and contemporary quilters.


For those who, like me, were unclear about the difference between liberated and improvisational quilting, liberated quilting involves putting together traditional blocks in a non-traditional way, with a minimum of measuring, as in much African American quilting.  Improvisational or freeform quilting doesn't use blocks.

Below are some of the samples Janet brought, and you can see a corner of one of her quilts above (I wish I'd taken more photographs, but you can see more of Janet's work on her blogs.  I especially love her use of bright colours and fresh-looking fabrics, in particular her use of stripes - the blue quilt just peeping out in the picture above is particularly good.


 Anyway we were quickly on with the first blocks - stars and square in a square (occasionally pausing to flick through the books Janet brought)


and by lunchtime we'd completed our first blocks.  Being an adventurous group we soon discovered how to make things wonky, adapt and experiment with the techniques, and have lots of fun playing.



And - probably Janet's influence - there was a lot of orange about.  And some really nice fabrics, as in Lesley's beautifully wonky star.  


In the afternoon we experimented with asterix blocks, hash signs, and wonky houses and trees, but I got so caught up in the process I forgot to take photographs.

And we all went home grinning from ear to ear, with a new challenge - to use the techniques in our own pieces to be revealed at the next meeting.  Watch this space!




Thursday, 23 February 2012

Help!

I'm not sure how I got here, but at present I am unable to use any of the links from my blog. I keep getting an error message that says:
ERROR: Possible problems with your *.gwt.xml.module file. The complete time user.agent value (ie9) does not match the runtime user.agent value (ie8). Expect more errors.

I managed to post this - if it does post - through Blog this! on a Google search - I am unable to link to dashboard or new post from my blog itself.

I have posted a query on a link from the help-page but have not had any reply: is there any way of contacting Blogger direct rather than a user-list? Does anyone out there know what I can do?