Wednesday, 23 January 2008

love not war

Thought I'd share one of my favourite photographs from the icanhascheesburger website - I love the tenderness of this photograph, and the gentleness in the face and hand of the young soldier... I've been putting some of the funnier ones in my sidebar, but this one seemed to warrant more attention.
Currently not posting much or doing much of anything - have the awful norvirus that's sweeping the country so am feeling ill and weak (food doesn't stay put for long - though, rather unfairly, I don't seem to be any thinner!)

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

quilting with friends

These are my friends (from left to right) Liz, Gayle and Elaine, working on the beginnings of a group quilt for our quilt group Leeds Night Owls (so called because the emblem of Leeds includes two owls) as our contribution to a challenge from The Quilters Guild of the British Isles to produce a maximum one metre square hanging which can be buttoned onto other hangings on two sides. The top and side edges need to be square to fit the format, but the bottom edge can be irregular. Without giving too much away at this stage I can tell you that our will be - irregular that is. This is just the first stage - a strip-pieced background - and there will be a lot more people involved than the four of us!

It's been some time since I've worked on a group quilt, and it's been a really fascinating experience learning to shift my own ideas around to allow for the ideas of others and a real learning curve for the four of us working together, each with our own strengths and ways of working. Though I was taught by Elaine and have worked closely with her on one other project she is still able to come up with ways of solving problems I hadn't thought of (she really is an expert on how to do things perfectly!); and though I've known Gayle and Liz for years and thought I knew their work pretty well too I've discovered new things about their ways of working too. All of which has been an enormous learning curve - for all of us apparently. In my case it's certainly been a freeing up process - learning to share again after working so long on my own is really good for me and brings new ideas to my own work as well.

What's been amazing - and amusing - is the way usual roles have changed: Elaine the exact (so-called because normally everything she does is technically perfect) has been heard to say on several occasions "nobody'll notice that", "it's only the background so that bit can be covered up" and so on. Whereas Gayle who's normally very laid-back had to be almost physically restrained from pulling out and redoing work that looked fine to the rest of us.

All in all a nighly enjoyable experience and one we hope to repeat on a regular basis!

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

A Brief History of Western Art

Written in response to recent discussions on the Quilt Art list. Some of this I learned at the Warburg Institute (University of London); the rest I made up myself. To be taken with a big pinch of salt!

In the beginning there were things that needed to be made and makers who made them. Most things that were made had uses: tools, containers, clothes, bedcoverings and so on. Some had extra powers: images of animals that helped you catch food more easily, patterns that descibed journeys or gave you magical protection or told people who you were. People had begun to make art but they did not know it then for the word had not been invented. In any case, everyone did it so it was no big deal and there was no need to make up a special word for it.

Communities over time grew and became more complicated and instead of all doing the same things, people began to specialise in different things. Some tilled, some spun, some fished, some fought off raids from other groups or in turn raided other groups; some sat and watched. They made up a special word for this and called it civilisation.

In this civilisation there were some people who managed to live well without actually doing very much at all, but were good at making people believe that they were right to live like this because they alone understood what everyone else should be doing. They did not need to be makers anymore because other people made things for them. But because they themselves were special the things that were made had to be special too, and they invented a special word - art - to describe them, and they called the people who made them artists.

Soon great competition developed between these civilised groups to be biggest and best, and there was competition about art and artists too - you know the sort of thing: "My artist's got a bigger paintbrush than your artist", "my artist knows how to mix up two thousand shades of green", "my artist painted a whole ceiling with cherubs that look like they're actually peeing on you" and so on. And the people who didn't make art themselves but Knew What They Liked made up titles for themselves, and called themselves Patrons Of The Arts and Arbiters Of Good Taste. And the Arists, who by this time had acquired a capital letter, learnt that if they made their Patrons feel bigger and more important they got extra helpings at dinner, and flattery was born. And making things that flattered became far more important than making things that had uses.

In the meantime, some of the makers had also learnt that you could make things that didn't have uses, and they became artists. Though they didn't have capital letters they tried to become more like the Artists that did, in the hope that when they grew up they would get capital letters too.

When they discovered that there weren't enough capital letters to go round, some artists decided they would do something different and made up the word original to describe what they did. They were told that they were not Real Artists, only starving artists and as a punishment they were forced to live in draughty garrets with pot-bellied stoves that did not work very well so that they died of consumption and afterwards became Great Artists.

And the civilisations grew and grew and there were uppings and downings and massive topsy-turveyings all over the place. Suddenly capital letters were being lost and passed on and confiscated and begged and borrowed and stolen and nobody knew whose they were any longer and all sorts of confusions resulted. And out of the confusions came new and strange creatures - Gallery Owners, Critics, Collectors, Professors of Art; some of them were arists themselves but many were not but they were Rich and Respected and Had Taste and Knew What They Liked so they were able to explain to the artists what they should be doing. They saw all the artists and divided them into groups - Good Artists, bad artists, amateur artists, Real Artists, New Wave Artists, folk artists, commercial artists, craftspeople, would-be-artists and so on.

And in the end no-one knew who they were any more and many became uncertain whether they were allowed to call themselves artists at all.

And then someone asked the questions What is Art? and What is an Artist? and no-one knew the answer. So the only thing to do was laugh.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Make My Day Award

I was delighted to be sent this award by Marie at
I started this blog about nine months ago in a fit of total self-indulgence and as a means of sharing what I was doing with some of the people I had met on online courses, and as a sort of disciplining tool: if I had a blog I would have to make stuff so I'd have something to write about! At that time I'd never dreamed people would actually come back to it and enjoy reading it; and actually getting comments was very exciting (still is!). But the best of all is the number of cyber-friends I've made as a result of the blog and some of the email lists I'm on: it's so good to be able to "talk" to people who know where you're coming from.

Anyway one of the things I can now do is pass on the award to others whose blogs I enjoy and visit regularly. Some I haven't included have already received their award from other people. I've managed to whittle it down with some difficulty to ten, the recommended number, though I don't require anyone to pass it on if they've already received an award or aren't for any reason able to do it.

I've chosen the following blogs though there are plenty more I could have included:

Andrea: who lives in Paris, produces wonderful work based on the idea of spirit-masks and includes her own drawings and photographs on her blog (I specially love her walks through Paris) - oh and she is a cat-lover too!
Maggie: whose blog contains a wealth and variety of wonderful stitchery with entertaining episodes from everyday life.
Marion: who I first met in the days when I used to trade at the Scottish quilt shows - again a blog that's a mixture of wit and wisdom, beautiful artwork and light-hearted and fun pieces (with cats, too, which is always a bonus!)
Dijanne: whose wonderful artwork I have admired and gasped over for a long long time.
Cynthia: who produces amazing mixed-media and textile work.
Linda: whose blog I find fascinating in the way it shows the inspirations for and the development of her textile art.
Kate: whose energy, enthusiasm and sense of fun are guaranteed to cheer me up on the darkest of days - and I really envy the mass of glorious work she does, though can't imagine how she finds the time with a lively family to keep tabs on - do you have a time-turner, Kate?
Shirley: colour in blog-form, wonderful dyed fabrics (her latest monoprints are to die for - no pun intended), dyer and quilter extraordinaire!
Liz: again a really enjoyable mix of artwork and everyday life with lots of detail about the way her designs and her work develop, which is always fascinating to read;
Julie: great photographs, wonderful artwork and (my favourite) really inspirational watercolours.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Back home and voiceless

Arrived home Saturday after a really good Christmas with my brother who lives in a cottage in Wytham woods just outside Oxford. This is a shot of part of the house: about half of the ground floor to be exact - not a large building and we are constantly amazed by the fact that it was originally not one but two houses - some time ago we had a visit from an old lady who had brought up a family of six in what is now the kitchen, entrance hall and master bedroom!

The house was originally built in the nineteenth century as estate cottages for Wytham Abbey, about two miles distant. Now the estate is owned by Oxford University, which means that, much as my brother would like to buy this house, he is only allowed to rent it. You can read more about Wytham Wood at and see some wonderful pictures at the website of local photographer Tobias at

This is the gate leading from the front to the back garden. The architecture of the estate buildings is gothic revival, as is Wytham abbey itself. The walls are really substantial - the external house walls being two feet thick in places. Even so, it did suffer subsidence (all those trees!) several years ago and had to have extensive repairs.

As you can see the stone itself has wonderful colours and textures.

One of the great things about staying there (in addition of course to the warm welcome, good company, excellent food, and walks in the woods) is that my sister-in-law Gill looks after a colony of feral cats.
These qualify as feral cats only technically: they live out doors most of the time (a few of the bolder ones come in to curl up in the warm for a while sometimes and in inclement weather the doors of various outbuildings are left open for them) and from time to time hunt their own food - a cat has to keep in pratice! The colony remains, but the members of it change - the lives of feral cats are short, but there are several kittenings a year (local farm-cats oblige as absentee fathers). My sister-in-law feeds them, with some of the food subsidised by a local cat charity.

The cat on the right is the mother of many of the colony. The grey cat behind is called Bat because he had to grow into his large ears and Tiger is the youngest of the current colony, still a kitten. The other tortoiseshell, on the left, has a habit of disappearing from time to time (probably to chat up the farm cats!). The older toms (two each of ginger and black) are rather nervous around humans. Momma is the only one who will let herself be stroked and then only occasionally - with the exception of Bat who will let my nephew cuddle him (Gareth has always had a way with animals and really works hard at gaining their tru

As you can see from the state of Ginger, they actually look nothing like feral cats - very fluffy and well-rounded and beautifully clean - a short life but a happy one, as far as we can see.

Oh yes, the voiceless bit: I had a cold, then a nasty chesty cough. Went to bed late after celebrating the New Year. Woke up this morning - no voice - which is weird and VERY frustrating!

Anyway, since I can't say Happy New Year to anyone by phone let me say Happy 2008 here to all my cyber-friends!