Thursday, 9 February 2017

Bedtime Story Quilt at the Museum of Childhood, Edinburgh

Land of Counterpane (detail)

The Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh is not a place I would generally go to see a quilt, but what is more associated with childhood than a favourite blankie or quilt?  Unsurprisingly, I don't think any of these are on show as generally by the time a child has grown up, the fabric in its comforter has totally disintegrated through love and use.
Bedtime Stories Quilt

At the moment though, it has a small, but sweet exhibition about the links between bedtime stories and quilts.  For many of us, the idea of snuggling under the covers with a favourite book even as an adult is a lovely treat.  And it can bring back many happy memories of childhood as we recall the magic of the first time we discovered Narnia, Harry Potter or the land at the top of the Faraway Tree.  

Taking this as a theme, curator Alice Sage asked people to make a quilt block based on their memories of bedtime stories. These were then put together into a quilt which is large enough for a bed.  

As well as this quilt, there was a quilt based on the book 'The Dream Quilt' by Adèle Geras.  There is also a simple quilt on a bed with the Robert Louis Stevenson poem, 'The Land of Counterpane', complete with toy soldiers marching across it.
Land of Counterpane
Whilst I wouldn't necessarily recommend a special visit to Edinburgh to see such a tiny exhibition, if you are there, I would definitely pop in to see it and be reminded of all those magical bedtime stories.
For those unable to make it, I've written a fuller review for British Patchwork and Quilting and there is a lovely website with details of stories behind each of the blocks, which is well worth a look.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Hepworth inspired stone quilts

Version 1
CQ, the contemporary group of the British Quilters' Guild had a call out for A3 sized pieces inspired by a favourite artist for their new suitcase collection.  
As I love art and the size was not painful, it seemed a good thing to do, although choosing an artist took me ages - who actually is my favourite artist? I like the work of so many.  Should I choose someone instantly recognisable or go for a contemporary artist no-one would have heard of or, or, or...  Too much choice.  So I prevaricated, until one day I opened an old sketchbook and found a photo of a sculpture by Barbara Hepworth and thought it would make a great starting point for a quilt.  It was a piece I had seen at the Hepworth late 2015 and it reminded me of the many drawings I was making of stones.  I liked the idea of choosing Barbara Hepworth - well known, but not too well known and also a female artist as the majority people have heard of are men.  
I had got very excited when I saw her sculptures for the first time at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park of shapes with holes, especially as I was making images of people with holes at that time.
Computer drawings
From my initial drawings I tried out some colour combinations on the computer to fit in with some ideas I was working with.
Trying out the fabrics
I had some left over fabric from another piece, which was breakdown printed, discharged out some colour and added some gorgeous kimono silk I had purchased from Susan Briscoe.  
Quilting pattern sketch
I liked the way the colours were working but couldn't decide on the quilting pattern, so did a number of sketches.  I liked one, R preferred another. 
Another quilting pattern sketch

In the end, I made a second, smaller version for the SAQA Suitcase Collection, so got to try out two quilting patterns.  Which one do you prefer?

Version 2

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Sketchbook development over 2016

Final drawing of the year, based on a Barbara Hepworth sculpture

Happy New Year everyone!
One of the things that has really been occupying my time recently is the development and delivery of the Creative Sketchbook City & Guilds course.
Like many other textile artists, I struggle at times with the idea of working in sketchbooks.  I've been more of a back of an envelope and large drawing girl.  So I was really keen to develop my own use of sketchbooks to improve my work as well as to make the course better for the students.  I set myself a daily drawing challenge at the start of 2016 and to begin with, I had my doubts as to whether I would be good enough to teach a sketchbook course.  But the mantra 'practice makes perfect' is certainly true and the improvement in my work of the year is astounding.
Abstracted drawing of tree trunk and leaves
It is only when I look back that I realise how much I have improved.  I haven't worked in my sketchbook every day over the year, but I think if I add up the pages, I will have done way more than 366 as some days I was able to spend more time than others and this worked for me rather than beating myself up if I had to miss a day due to illness or life in general.  
Chesnut leaves found on holiday
Most of my pages took less than 30 minutes, so they are definitely sketches rather than complete drawings but that is what sketching is about.  Over the year I became less precious about my books and things improved
.  More words have crept in as I find it useful to write about what I am doing as a way of processing it.  The books are definitely less pristine, but also they have become more exciting.  I've been drawing whatever has caught my eye when I sit down to draw, but there are definitely some recurring themes: rocks and stones, whether on a beach, a rockface or a sculpture being the main one, with leaves and Italy, as a result of our holiday, close seconds. 
Three stones drawn without taking the pen off the paper
I've used lots of different types of media such as inktense, dye, charcoal, acrylic and even occasionally pencil in my books.  Again this is really useful as I've learnt more about how these different media work and whether they work together, which isn't always the case.  I even learned to embrace oil pastels, something that had never worked for me before.
Thermofax print coloured with inktense of a maple leaf from the garden
Was it a useful thing to do?  Well, I have already continued drawing in 2017 in my sketchbook, as it has become part of my daily life, so yes.  I've got books full of ideas of things to develop.  So 2017's goal is to find time to develop them, whilst still continuing to draw!

And for comparison, a drawing from last Jaunary (one of the better ones!)

Playing with print blocks and collage

Charcoal drawing of rocks

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Frieda Oxenham and Sketchbook Techniques

My attempt, using collage, stencils, stamps, paint and baby wipes

At the end of November, I had a special birthday treat a couple of days after my birthday.  Frieda Oxenham came to share some of her art journaling techniques for creating backgrounds with my Creative Sketchbooks City and Guilds Group.  
Student work
Frieda doesn't teach often at the moment, so we were especially honoured that she came and shared so much of her work with the Group.  Although I was organising the day, I managed to have a go at some of the techniques too, covering myself and the worktop in lots of paint, gesso and used baby wipes.  In fact, I don't think I've ever used so many baby wipes since we had three kids in nappies!
Frieda (bottom right) explaining her techniques

We added lots of paint and wiped most of it off using stencils.  We used stamps and print blocks on spare paper.  Precious scraps got glued into place and then covered in paint.
Student Work

Frieda showed us her most recent work in her art journal and talked us through the layers of techniques in great detail.  Two things I came away with as useful comments were:

  1. Don't believe an artist when they say they 'just throw things on a paper without thinking about the layout'.  What they mean is 'through years of experience, I can just place things in the right place by instinct rather than conscious thought'
  2. Don't stop after one or two layers.  It adds to the richness of the piece if there are many layers.  Sometimes Frieda has up to 20 layers of paint on a page.
Student Work

The day went incredibly fast and the students all worked so hard.  I know my head was buzzing by the end with some many possibilities and I have been creating even more mess on my worktop ever since, putting layers of paint on to several sketchbooks and loose pages all at once.
Student Work
You can see much more of Frieda's amazing work on her blog,

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Make it Personal: Inspired by the Coast

At the Knitting & Stitching Show in Harrogate, I was really pleased to get a copy of Hilary Beattie's new book 'Make it Personal, Book 2: Inspired by the Coast'.  I have Hilary's other books and I was interested to see what her vision for this one would be.  I wasn't disappointed.  
In this book, Hilary takes her theme of the Coast and shows four different ways of interpreting her source material in great detail.  It is rare to see this whole process and fascinating to see how the work developed.  It was also full of interesting tips and advice on how to make something personal and ideas for collage techniques.
The book is full of photos, showing each stage of the journey, and some diversions.  This is encouraging as it shows the work from the initial excitement, through the early stages, when many makers get discouraged, to the final reveal of the finished, exciting piece.

I will definitely be recommending this book to my students as it helps explain why you need to work through a theme rather than just going with your first idea, in a full colour, easy to follow format.
The book is available for purchase, along with many other goodies on Hilary's shop website at

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Catching up at the K&S Show in Harrogate

Hello again!  I can't believe how long it is since I last wrote on this blog.  Nothing major has happened to stop me from blogging, just, well, life gets in the way.  Teaching from home is going really well and I'm definitely enjoying it.  It has become a full time job, which is fabulous and wonderfully distracting, as I have to try lots of different techniques to share with students and I can see so many possibilities for each one that I just want to try... well, apart maybe from the suffolk puffs!
So when I have a spare moment, I'm finding myself creating in the studio rather than getting on with writing the blog.  Sorry!
In December, things quieten down work-wise and before I get overly absorbed in gift buying, card writing and fudge making, I'm hoping to get some blog posts written to catch you up on all that has been happening here.
Starting with one of the more recent events:  the other weekend I managed to arrange a visit to the in-laws in Harrogate for the same weekend as the Knitting & Stitching Show.  Lucky, I know!
The daughter and I had a great day at the Show.  She was particularly taken with the Quilters' Guild stand where we could stop, have a seat and make a little bird.  These are our attempts. 
 We also had a go at adding to the world's longest embroidery with the Embroiderers' Guild.  

This didn't leave much time for seeing the exhibits and as I was entertaining daughter, I didn't get as many photo opportunities as normal - in fact this is the only one I took of the exhibitions of the fantastic work by Ruth Singer and Bethany Walker, working together as 'Interlace'.

We also did a little bit of shopping and have many print blocks to try out soon.

As we were down seeing family, we were also able to give this baby quilt to the newest addition.  When it was in progress on my wall, some of my students thought I'd printed the fabric myself.  I didn't.  It is incredibly rare that I buy printed fabric, let alone a panel, but I knew I would need to make a baby quilt and this just seemed perfect.  Given that babies can only see in black and white to start with (or so I've been told), I thought the contrast would be really good and I brightened it up with some pieces from a jelly roll I bought last year.  The jelly roll was bought to make another quilt, which I've never got around to, so it was good to put some of it to use.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Cyanotype workshop with Ruth Brown

At the Festival of Quilts this summer, I had the pleasure of being a student rather than being a tutor.  I spent two lovely days in a class with Ruth Brown of Stone Creek Textiles learning how to cyanotype - a blue photography technique that works really well on fabric and paper.  These are some of the fabulous results.
Cyanotyping is a great way to add images onto fabric.  It was good to learn from an expert and discover how to put the cyanotype on the fabric without ending up with the downstairs loo looking like a blue slasher movie has just been filmed there.  I do seem to get in a bit of a mess.
One of the key things I learned was how well pinned down everything needs to be on the fabric before you expose it to light and you see the fabric turning from green to blue to grey.
If the fabric is not well pinned, you get a fuzzy image, which may be desirable, but you want to be able to control it yourself.
We also learnt how to turn the cyanotype from blue to yellow and brown, through soda ash and tea.  I've still to try coffee, which apparently gives a more purple-y brown.
We also discovered how to add photos by making a negative on acetate.  I also loved the random effects you can get by just scrunching up the fabric and exposing it at different times.
Ruth has a book on cyanotyping which is really comprehensive and I would definitely recommend taking a class with her.  Find out more at

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Free machine quilting of leaves with thermofax

Silver Birch leaf, on a background of free machined sari strips
Free machine quilting seems to intimidate many quilters.  It has taken on mythical proportions of difficulty and some quilters would do anything to avoid it.  I remember when I first started quilting doing everything by hand because every time I looked at the machine something seemed to go wrong.  Now, after years of practice, I don't even notice that I am free machining, it is as easy as straight stitching.
Free machining is where you lower the feed-dogs on your machine and then you control the size and direction of the stitch rather than the machine.  Like most worthwhile things in life, it just takes practice.  The more you do, the better you become.  
I'm currently making a quilt with some leaves on it and this is how I've recreated the leaves.
Silver birch leaves on the scanner
First I went into the garden and picked some silver birch leaves.  I discovered that our tree is a bit diseased and I need to look up why most of the leaves have funny spots on them.

I scanned in the leaves on the computer and then printed them off and traced the outline and some of the veins of the more interesting ones on tracing paper.  I then scanned the tracing in, printed it off on a laser printer and turned it into a thermofax screen.
Stitch'n'tear leaf, machined over
Using some textile paint, I then printed a number of leaves onto stitch and tear, which after the paint had dried I pinned onto the back of the quilt and stitched round the lines.
From the front, stitched and trimming back the excess fabric from the applique
I tried this in a number of different ways - adding fabric on the front, so it was appliqued on with the stitching as well as just the stitched outline.  
Finished leaf - stitched round once in very thick thread
The fabric was then turned over to the front and more machining added.
I'm really pleased with the effect of these and am now piecing together the quilt top to add the leaves too as the samples worked so well.

Only the outline of the leaves were stitched, then the central veins filled in with more machine stitching in different colours and types of thread

A different silver birch leaf, totally stitched in in three colours.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Textile Treasures from the Quilters' Guild

Detail of a 1930s quilt made with an astounding array of dress making fabrics
As part of the C&G Diploma in Patchwork and Quilting, you have to write an illustrated study of British Quilt History.  To help make this come alive, I've borrowed a suitcase collection of historical quilts, called Textile Treasures from the Quilters' Guild to share with my students.  It is amazing what will fit into one suitcase.  It was even more exciting when I was finally able to open it - the case was padlocked and I didn't have the combination to start with!
Visitors to the Open Day
As it was here, I thought it would nice to share with others who may be interested and so I had an Open Day last Friday.  I had no idea how many people, if any, would turn up, but in the end, even in the rotten weather, we had a lovely crowd of about 60 across the day.  The age range was 17-90 which was fantastic, most of us fascinated by textiles, with a few reluctant partners dragged along.
More visitors - isn't my studio really tidy for once!
I've now seen this collection three times and it is amazing the different insights each group has about the quilts.  It can be difficult when you first look at an old quilt to appreciate it and that is part of the beauty of having this collection here - understanding how to look at these historical textiles and learning what we can from them.
Here are some quick points we have learned:

  • some of the ugliest quilts have the most brilliant stories behind them, like this Canadian Red Cross Quilt, which was given to a family who had been bombed out three times in World War II
Canadian Red Cross Quilt
  • some of the hand-stitching is stunning, especially when it has been stitched by candle or gaslight.  And if you look closely enough, not all the shapes are as crisp as they should be.  So quilts were fudged years ago as well and we don't notice it on other people's quilts straight away, nor does it diminish our pleasure of them (there is a moral there!)
One inch hexagon quilt
  • some of these quilts have their small pieces made up from scraps or they have used mended fabric, so nothing was wasted.  I can't imagine piecing two bits of fabric to make a one inch hexagon.
  • on the other hand, some of these quilts were made from new, good fabric as you can still see the glaze on the chintz, which would have washed off if it had been laundered.  
A hexagon quilt, which has been carefully 'fussy-cut'
  • you can learn a lot about printing techniques and chemical development over time by looking at the different printed cottons used.  Green was hard to make, so blue was over-printed with yellow.  Where it didn't line up, you can see the blue and yellow still.
  • fabric doesn't last forever and decay depends on what chemicals were used to dye it.  
  • quilters have always loved the new and 'exciting'
Two North Country Quilts.  The one of the left must have been one of the earliest to use viscose rayon as the fabric
  • just because it is old does not mean it is very good - we shouldn't lose our ability to be discerning when faced with something that has been lovingly preserved over the years.  However, this is a judgement call and we all have different tastes, thank goodness.
Two more of my C&G groups still have to see the collection before I return it.  If you get the chance, I would highly recommend borrowing it and spending time with these historical objects.

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