Sunday, 23 December 2007

a lovely surprise in the post

I had a surprise package in the post yesterday, from Marie at, containing two gifts:

Firstly a beautiful needlefelted purse embellished with masses of tiny beads and hand-made braid. I've admired and coveted her bags and purses for some time now so I really was delighted to receive this, which I think is a particularly good one. I keep taking it out and stroking it. My mobile phone fits into it perfectly, though it took me a while to work out that that was what it is designed for (I can be really thick about such luxury items at times).

It has also marked a change in my thinking: at one time anything as beautiful as this would have been too good to use, and would have been placed carefully in a drawer with other treasures and saved. Now I think this is too good not to use: I want to have the joy of seeing it and using it every day - it's far too beautiful to languish in a drawer!

The second photograph shows the back which is no less beautifully embellished than the front.

And this came with it - a beautifully dyed piece - I think with walnut shells (?): I remember admiring the walnut dyeing on Marie's blog some time ago. You can't see too clearly in the photograph but it has lovely intricate patterning.

Some people don't believe it's possible to have "cyber-friends": I really appreciate all my friends, cyber and otherwise!

And in case I don't see you before then have a wonderful Christmas everybody!

Friday, 21 December 2007

cats' christmas update

It gets better.

I've now visited the cattery to check it out.

The cats get the radio left on (with music) to make them feel at home. Not only do they get home-cooked turkey, chicken or meat on Christmas day, but they get individual Christmas stockings complete with toys and treats. They also get played with and cuddled.

The cat-guests who were there when I visited were lively and friendly (well there was one sitting sulking but there's always one isn't there?), running to the front of the pens with tails up and expecting to be stroked, which was the best of all.

I'm just hoping they'll still want to come home when I collect them after Christmas!

A footnote on Edwardian artist Louis Wain. Though he was best known for his cartoonish pictures of cats, he also produced a number of more abstract works such as the ones above. These are often cited as a "progression" illustrating his "descent into madness" (he suffered from late-onset schizophrenia): in fact though this looks like a sequence, the works were not necessarily produced in sequence, since many of the "abstract" ones were produced earlier than some of the "naturalistic" ones (the so-called sequence was put together by an academic anxious to prove a point) - perhaps Wain was simply, like many artists, exploring ideas!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

cats' christmas

Okay so I finally did it - booked my three furry companions into the cattery for Christmas; my usual one was fully booked and I've had to book them in somewhere else (I'm going to check it out tomorrow) which was the only one I could find that wasn't fully booked up, probably (hopefully) because it is more expensive than the others and charges a significant amount extra for Christmas Day: I assumed that this was because staff were being paid extra (I hope they are - anyone working Christmas Day deserves it) but I was told that the real reason is that the cats get extra attention on Christmas Day plus a cooked Christmas dinner! I still can't get out of my head the picture of a whole crowd of cats with party hats on, pulling Christmas crackers and playing pass the parcel. Still it's nice to know they'll get nice treats for Christmas (though I shall be giving them their own Christmas when I get back from visiting my brother in Oxford) (just in case anyone thinks I'm a bad mum).

Anyway the picture I formed of the Christmas cattery scene reminded me of the illustrations of artist Louis Wain, who drew and painted a whole series of anthropomorphic cats in the middle of the nineteenth century. These are two of his works which seem to fit the situation, and are close to the picture I conjured up (though I trust mouse pie will not actually be on the menu).

Thursday, 13 December 2007

pieces and patches and studio helpers

During the studio makeover, which was at times more like an excavation, I found several pieces of patchwork I did some time ago. This is a sample I made for a workshop I taught on using mathematical progressions (I will do a tutorial on this in the new year) - hand-dyed fabrics and machine quilting.

The second is a different mathematical idea - I like the way the shapes form and unform in different parts of the piece.
I also found a number of improvisationally pieced bits. One I bound and kept separate as a small quiltlet (8" square). The colours were based on summer fields and landscapes and seascapes near Berwick-upon-Tweed.

At my friend Judith's suggestion I stitched three of these together to make a long thin wallhanging - a reminder of those warm summer days!

As usual while I was photographing these Django came along and insisted on having his photograph taken:

And for once I managed to get Pepper - who's somewhat camera-shy -

to pose for the camera! Pepper is, without a doubt, the nicest-natured cat I've ever known; he's even nice to other cats, even ones that he doesn't live with!

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

the macro button

One of the great things about blogging is it makes you work at your photography skills. In search of inspiration I spent a little time this morning in the back alley with my camera, which is only a point and shoot (one day I'll afford a digital SLR) but which has a macro button. The shot above is of a gatepost with peeling paint and a few cobwebs. The one below is two colours of peeling paint on an old garage door. All the other paintwork was, unfortunately, boringly pristine.

These I'm hoping will provide plenty of inspiration, either on their own or when I've played in Paint Shop Pro!

Still plenty of leaves around, and the colours seem particularly vivid against the browns and grays so prevalent just now.

Moss, dying leaves, cobwebs and a bit of brick wall make a fascinating abstract design.

The last of the blackberries...

A flowering currant leaf with wonderful patterning

and an old brick and dying mint-stems.
You don't need to live anywhere special to find inspiration - none of these was more than twenty yards from my front door!

Friday, 23 November 2007

Coping with ophidophobia

Ophidophobia is the fear of snakes and I caught it from my mother. Until recently I couldn't even look ata picture of a snake without shuddering and I doubt if I'll ever get to the stage where I could actually handle one. However I will acknowledge that there are snakes which - providing I don't have to get to close to them - seem to have a certain charm, and I did actually bring myself to stroke a California King Snake (juvenile) briefly a while back while she was being held by someone alse and it wasn't an unpleasant experience - in fact she felt quite soft and silky. It's surprising then that I'm so fascinated by their patternings and the shapes they make, and that I use them in my work as symbols. Contradictory eh? But as Walt Whitman put it: "Do I contradict myself? Very well I contradict myself. I am vast. I contain multitudes"

So far I've made one small snake quilt, which was used for a piece about dislikes in Myrna Giesbrecht's Self Expressions class (highly recommended) at Quilt University, and have an unfinished one (will be finished this year) using the idea of snakes and ladders symbolising - lightheartedly - some stages in the creative process.

I found myself recently playing with curvy lines as part of a Fast Friday challenge on movement and some of these turned into some lighthearted snakes, using - quite unusually for me - some printed fabrics I'd bought because I liked them (as you do) and couldn't think what to do with them:

This one's multicoloured cotton fused to a hand-dyed fabric background, with the outline couched in multi-coloured hand-spun (by me, with a hand spindle) yarn, then quilted in plain and multi-coloured thread to suggest more movement. The second one uses a hologrpahic curvy-line print with aa African print background, fused and couched with hand-dyed rayon/glitter chainette, and free-motion quilted. One thing I'm really proud of: perfect binding properly filled (I finally learnt to do this after reading advice on the Quiltart list for which many thanks).

For anybody not already participating in Pay It Foward, please read the previous blog and sign up - I only have one taker so far. I promise you a really nice gift! (No snakes unless you really like them!)

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Pay it Forward

The picture is here just to get your attention.
Thanks to Marie at for inviting me to participate in Pay it Forward. The idea is the sort of passing on of good things. The first three people to leave a comment on my blog will receive a gift from me of something I have made. I will need to be able to contact you so please either leave an e-mail address (you can do this by e-mailing me with it (address on my profile page) if you prefer. You may not get the gift next week or next month but I guarantee you will receive it within six months. In return you are required to post the same promise and invite people to participate, on your blog.
I love the friendliness of the internet - and really cherish my blogging friends so hopefully the gift will be worth waiting for!

Thursday, 1 November 2007

journal quilt - now showing in Houston!

Not the perfect photo but the best I have at present (suddenly realised as the courier service was due to arrive that I didn't have a picture of it so had to whip out the camera, take it out of the packaging and take a couple of hurried shots (really it does hang straighter than this! I hope!)

The images are taken from Leeds West Indian Carnival which this year celebrated its fortieth anniversary plus the bicentennial of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain and its colonies. The bottom image came from the slave-ship theme and I think may be a slavemaster; the middle image, the peacock, signifies pride; and the top image reminded me of a rising sun - I chose these both for their appearance and their symbolism; on the side panels the symbolism is obvious - broken chains growing into leaves then flowers (flowers loosely based on hibiscus).

As for techniques - the background is a single panel of hand-dyed silk overlaid at the sides with hand-dyed silk chiffon: the leaves chains and flowers are reverse applique outlined in braid. The faces on the centre panel are made very simply using a counterchange effect with multiple layers of silk and metallic organzas. For the top image I've used lame (never again!), fancy threads, sequins and braids; for the peacock, braids, multiple organza and lame layers, beads and threadpaiting fo the feathers; for the bottom image bonded shot silk and black georgette plus silver braid and metallic thread.

I'm still not sure I'm satisfied with it - but I'm conscious of having had to modify the costumes/headdreasses to fit the design - for example the slavemaster's collar (the stand-up bit at the back) was at least twice the size, giving an amazing impression of power and domination which is lost in my interpretation.

However the journal quilts are meant to be about exploring and learning and this one definitely took me out of my comfort zone: the techniques I used from the book are threadpainting, couching and reverse machine applique; these are new or relatively new to me; the composition is much more formal than I sould normally use - but it seemed to fit the subject; I created a number of my own fabrics by bonding together transparent fabrics - unfortunately the depth you can achieve this way doen't show up in the photograph; and I used a lot of unfamiliar and non-traditional fabrics.

Below are details of two of the appliques:

Sunday, 28 October 2007

season of mists...

A few autumn images I'm intending to use as inspiration: First a leaf from the sumac tree - such an amazing pinky-red (I feel a dyeing session coming on!)

and a picture of a spray from the same tree, showing the contrast with the underside of the leaves:

The effect of the dewy cobwebs onthe leaves fascinates me:

And I'm also fascinated by the colours and shapes in this plane-tree bark:

Couldn't resist the horse-chestnut:

And I love the light and general mistiness in this one:

And finally a close-up of a passion-flower which I couldn't resist, with its amazing shapes and patterns:

Thursday, 25 October 2007

my neighbourhood

I live in a large terrace/town house in Leeds which is in the middle of Yorkshire in the UK. Originally built soon after the turn of the century for tradesmen and business people, Leeds has row upon row of these, separated by back alleys or "ginnels", which is where a lot of the socialising between neighbours takes place. The one above is where I live: the houses are larger than most and it is leafier than many.

This picture is of some of the houses across the alleyway from me, taken from my back doorstep a couple of days ago on a perfect autumn morning: I love the light and the colours in this one.

Nowadays the neighbourhood is a mixed one: some people who've lived here for forty years and more (I've been here for 28) and an increasing number of newcomers (to estate agents it is up and coming, as it borders onto one of the trendiest areas in Leeds and you get more house for your money down this end); most of the original residents like myself would not be able to afford to buy their houses if they were having to do so now. There's a mixture of professions too - builders, mechanics, nurses, shop assistants, teachers, social workers, university lecturers, media people - and it's also racially mixed, mostly people born in this country with a good proportion of people of Asian or African-Carribean origin. Makes for a vibrant enjoyable place to live. And for a city the neighbourliness is still outstanding.

There are some wonderful things in the gardens at this time of year:

(I now know that this is called a sumac)

And if you're not a keen gardener you can always walk a hundred yards or so to the local park:

And if it all looks strangely empty that's because I took these photographs on a Monday morning when most of the population was at work or school!

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

a couple of new pieces

This piece is called Untangling - the meaning is both literal and metaphorical: at the moment I am trying to get the various strands of my life untangled and sorted out and - the literal bit - it started with a tangle of hand-dyed twisty rayon thread - very strong (it was once used in the making of car tyres) but twists and coils like snakes when it gets wet; it is also impossible to take through any fabric that isn't very loosely woven - beautiful, with immense possibilities but intensely frustrating to work with (two of those could also apply to me, though I was quite pretty in my youth!). Started by simply attaching (machine zigzag) to the centre of the fabric sandwich that forms the base, then pulled out and couched down coils one by one. When I started I thought that was all I was going to do, but when I looked again it looked rather stark and unfinished, so filled in some of the space with free-machining in my favourite rayon thread, Natesh and various rayons bought from Asian shops in the neighbourhood: I find Indian rayon thread wonderful to use - runs smoothly, rarely breaks and costs a lot less than rayon thread I've seen elsewhere - highly recommended. I cut off the remaining threads at the centre and let them coil. It still needed more. Had bought some beads on impulse in the sales and dug through these, adding them a few at a time over a period of several days (one of the risks I run is overdoing things) until it looked finished. Here's a close-up of the beads:

and finally a picture that shows the stitching a bit better, though it is a little pale:

The second piece is called Mellow Fruitfulness (I'm definitely in Autumn mode these days) and is based on a notion of seed-pods (don't bother consulting the botany books, this species exists only in my imagination).

The idea with this one was to try the approach I used with the previous one (do - question - respond -do and so on) but shorten the time-scale.

When I began it I had a very definite idea of what I was going to do - very simple fused cotton in autumn colours on bright blue - and I did get as far as making a quilt sandwich with the blue on top. At that point I started to play with fabrics, tried out a bit of scrim, ir0ned it and placed it on top of the blue:

Loved the effect of this so decided to use the combination as my base fabric. Auditioned various fabrics and eventually settled for some dark rust-coloured dyed cotton wadding - takes rich colour and really soft after dyeing: you can also get sculptural effects with stitching. Cut shapes directly into the fabric (fun - if it goes wrong it's only a bit of fabric and you can probably use it for something else anyway) and laid them on the base then stitched:

Next the seeds - what to use? The only beads I had were too big and looked clumsy. Felt was too like the wadding in texture. Could have made 3D seeds in fabric but difficult to do them in scale. Tried rolling some silk roving bits into seed-shapes but difficult to get them to stay in shape without lots of stitching or alternatively using fabric medium and waiting for them to dry (getting impatient by this time. Eventually settled on silk noils, which had the right nubbly texture - put a lump of fibre in each pod and used free-machining to anchor:

and then stitched in circles to suggest seeds using a polyester trilobal variegated thread which had touches of turquoise with a lot of orange which I thought would help bring the whole thing together.

Finally I quilted the whole thing with the same thread using a sort of free contouring (a doodle I've been doing since I was a kid - it used to fascinate me the way that by changing the contour slightly you could gradually change the whole shape. I left gaps in the contouring which I filled with shapes that echoed the groups of seeds.

I tried satin-stitching the edge - lazy thinking and it didn't work - but eventually used a chunky chenille thread I'd dyed some time ago which did. I used a blind hem stitch to couch it (I'd already brought the dges together with the satin stitch) which worked better than a zigzag in that it didn't flatten the thread.

All done in under three hours (including a very brief coffee-break). This is what the cutting/putting together area in my studio looked like when I'd finished:

Friday, 19 October 2007


I've been tagged by Marion ( The rules say I have to list the rules here, write seven random/odd facts about myself and tag seven other people. So here goes:

  1. Link to tagger and post these rules;
  2. Share seven facts about yourself, some random, some weird;
  3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them);
  4. Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs.

Seven facts about me:

  1. I'm of mixed Welsh/Portuguese-American (originally Azorean) parentage, though I know little about the Azorean bit since my parents divorced when I was tiny and I have had no contact with my father since;
  2. I played goalie in the school hockey team (originally played in goal because it enabled you to wrap up warm and avoid freezing to death in games lessons);
  3. Blues musician John Mayall played at my 21st birthday party after being brought by a friend;
  4. I have an M.Phil in Cultural History (my tutor for part of this time was Sir Ernst Gombrich);
  5. When I wasn't being a teacher I worked as a Women's Equality Officer;
  6. I am a cat person and addicted to;
  7. I am terrified of snakes, though did bring myself to stroke one (briefly) a couple of years ago and am fascinated by the mythology/symbolism of snakes and by their beauty (Professor Freud would doubtless have a field-day on that one!)

That's the easy bit. Finding people I thought might not mind being tagged and who did not appear to have been tagged recently was a lot harder. So here's the list, with apologies if I've tagged anyone who doesn't want to do it (no obligation folks!). All their blogs have lots of fascinating work to look at and are well worth a visit:

  1. Arlee
  2. Fiona
  3. Terri
  4. Barbara
  5. Waltraud
  6. Kim
  7. Evie

Phew! Done!

Saturday, 13 October 2007


For those of you who have been following Nibs's fortunes I am afraid I have some sad news. Yesterday evening he died suddenly as the result of a heart attack. It was particularly unexpected as he's had a check-up on Tuesday and the vet had said his heart was sounding good, and his various medications had seemed to be working well. At least it was quick, over in well under five minutes. But still upsetting for all of us, me and the other cats, especially Pepper who was close by when it happened.

Nibs arrived just over two years ago as a stray. Initially he was taken in by my neighbour on the understanding that I would take him over if she couldn't find his owner as she was leaving and going to India for a year. Before he moved in he seemed on friendly terms with my cats, playing with them in the garden and wandering into the kitchen to mop up their left-overs.

Once he moved in however it was a different matter - no fights but he clearly had a very intimidating stare and the others avoided him partly because he repelled all their advances in no uncertain terms. The turning-point came after they'd all had a brief visit to the cattery over Christmas - Nibs had been in a separate pen and on their return home they all seemed glad to see each other again and took to curling up together.

Shortly after his arrival, Nibs was diagnosed as hyperthyroid, which may have explained his aggression towards the others. He got along fine on the tablets until earlier this year when he had a minor stroke, losing his eyesight totally for six hours, and then almost totally after bleeding into the eye. After his thyroid tablets had been adjusted, and he'd been prescribed beta-blockers, his blood-pressure and thyroid levels returned to normal and his eyesight improved, but never completely returned to normal. This marked the end of his days of being boss of the neighbourhood, but he was still able to enjoy most things - good food, the company of other cats, cuddles and accompanied strolls round the neighbourhood, all of which he continued to enjoy till the end.

We'll all miss him. Me especially - in recent months he tended to follow me wherever I went in the house and curled up to sleep on my pillow at night. But at least I know he had a happy life here and was well cared for.