My latest commission is to design and make a patchwork quilt to be placed on a bed in a show garden for this year’s RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park. This is the idea of plants-woman and garden designer, Julie Dunn, And I think that her design is really intriguing – to make a garden for recuperation and healing, full of scented plants and herbs that aid relaxation plus a double bed in which to rest.
When Julie first contacted me, I responded by asking for her ideas for the atmosphere of the garden, particularly her chosen plants, so that I could give her some fabrics to consider.
She had very definite ideas of the actual fabrics that she wanted – they were by Kaffe Fassett and they featured flowering plants, most notably Brassica – the classic fabric featuring flowers that looks like roses but are in fact cabbages.
I pulled together several colour “stories” to choose from. although they are similar they give very different overall tones – I wanted the quilt to reflect and augment the garden, not overwhelm it
The sheer scale and incongruity of the bed in the small ‘Back to Back” gardens in the show, means that it will dominate if we are not careful with the pattern and the colours
The large enveloping quilt needs to give a feeling of comfort and protection as well as being light-weight and warm whilst the sleeper is wrapped up in it. I already knew what the backing fabric would be – Dream, one of my favourite Kaffe Fassett fabrics.
Julie and I spent a day in my studio, and with her visuals pinned to the quilt wall, we started to develop a design together. I wanted a very simple quilt design with large scale patches, as although a decent hand-stitcher I am not a happy machine stitcher, particularly with the precision needed for patchwork.
Working with the first of the colour-way choices shown above, I cut simple large scale heads from several shades of the Brassica fabric and simply made a chequer-board formation with them. This first attempt look too strongly coloured, but the simple square format was good as it showed the full ‘flower’ heads of the cabbages. But the simple deep pink strips looked too solid and they would dominate the entire quilt, we needed a more subtle variation. Cut into triangular sections, the square becomes a diamond
Julie was happier with this softer set of fabrics; strangely adding more patterns and colours often makes a design more subtle, the secret is to work within a tonal range – these red triangles dominate here – they may have to go eventually!
I tried to balance the deep colour with a strong striped border but the dark blue stripes make the centre even more dominant. Julie wants the magenta red to stay as it is exactly the colour of a chosen Sanguisorba – I take her word for it.
working on through the afternoon we slowly we start to feel that the colours, although strong, are softened over all and now enough of the quilt is decided for me to carry on developing the design from here.
The actual quilt needs to very large, Julie’s vision of it is to cover the bed almost to the floor, this useful as I see the bed to be a type of extending couch- a day bed. Julie sees a four poster!
We turn our minds to the application forms and read them extensively and decide that I will illustrate the envisaged quilt on the envisaged bed in the envisaged garden…this I can do more easily than make the quilt, having illustrated all sorts of ‘envisaged’ designs for gardens, plants, embroideries, fabrics, enamels, clothes…..so I offered to illustrate the whole of the garden application.
We discuss the problem of the English weather, even in July, we will need a canopy. I imagine that you would not use the bed when it was raining, but at a pinch could hide under a canopy at the head of it – if we use a day bed. But the vision of a real romantic bed with curtains is still the main aim. This is when as a designer, you have to really listen carefully to the client – and try to find a compromise; a drawing, even a scrappy one often makes your point, the metal sub-structure of the canopy will dominate the small garden.
Of course the one thing I felt I must do was to inform Kaffe Fassett of our plans. So at our next quilt design meeting I showed him the scribbled design drawing and the other garden plans and asked for his “blessing” for the project and could he sponsor it with his fabrics? His immediate reaction was to offer more suggestions about the design using lots of other fabrics I could use.
I am leaving the next stage of illustrating the garden for the application for another post – watch this space.
My recent meeting with Lillian Delavoryas is, in her words “serendipitous” and in mine “bizarre”. During October 2017 I was visiting various friends who were taking part in the annual West Bristol Arts Trail . The artist, Anna Christy, recommended that I visit the studio of another friend of hers who, “used to design textiles”; she was sure that we had a lot in common. I recognised the name immediately, but it was late in the day and the studios were all closing, so with 10 minutes to spare I rushed into the signed doorway, and felt that my working life had come full circle.
I walked into a sitting room full of people and hung with small jewel-like paintings of people, landscapes and flowers. lovely work but this wasn’t what I was expecting!
but in an adjoining room I saw a large blue and mauve flowered embroidery, this looked more familiar. then delving further into the exhibition I found a piece of work I recognised, Nicotianas.
I had just a little time before she closed, and although I had never met her, I realised who she was, sitting on a settee amidst cushions that I also knew were her designs. Thanking her for the opportunity of seeing the exhibition, I introduced myself and explained that I often worked with Kaffe Fassett, organising the production of his patchwork quilts for publication and exhibition. Also that I had worked on the original “Good Housekeeping Encyclopaedia of Needlecraft, first published in 1979 by Ebury Press and was now delighted to see some of her original work.
2 days later, she emailed me asking that I visit her with the idea of helping to find a home for her collection of textile based books and various pieces of her old work , some half-finished canvases, needle work samples and painted design drawings. She thought it could all go to a school as an aid to design education!
Lillian Delavoryas and Kaffe Fassett and were leading textile designers in the late 1970’s, when I first left college and became a freelance designer and illustrator in the Fashion industry. Influenced, no doubt, by their work I taught myself to hand embroider onto canvas as a way of the easing the frustration of my hectic working life. But my early works were tiny, so when I saw the scale of these pieces I was deeply impressed. Kaffe and Lillian knew one another when they both lived in America and he is responsible for bringing her to the UK, in order for her work to be recognised here.
For the past 3 years I have been working directly with Kaffe Fassett, organising the making of his patchwork quilt designs as well as other stitching projects. I was recommended to him by Susan Berry, the publishing consultant of his major series of patchwork books. Susan was the first person to commission me in publishing, and I have worked with her on many projects over the intervening years. So now you see the complete circle!
When I visited, Lillian had organised a whole lot of different books, copies of articles featuring her past textiles and the promised samples.
Also, and this I did not expect, samples and books of fabric and wall paper designs from Designers Guild circa 1980’s , all looking very familiar to me. Lillian assured me that she had ceramics to match somewhere in her flat, and a lot more besides – if I was interested….
Assessing what I was looking at – a part-archive of an innovative and influential designer of 20th century textiles, I suggested that she collect as much of her work as she could locate and that we try to tell her textile design ‘story’. I thought that it would eventually become of interest either for a museum to keep as an archive and a work-in-progress exhibit, or to students undertaking higher degrees, to research and catalogue it all, enabling her to be set within the context of 20th century design.
This is an ongoing story. My next contact was Hugh Ehrman of “Ehrman Tapestry” for whom Lillian, Kaffe and I have worked. Explaining to him of my serendipitous meeting he at once visited me, bringing a folder of painted paper designs that his company had held on her behalf…but that will be covered in the next post on this saga.
I have been invited to deliver 3 day drawing classes at the Bristol Drawing School based at the Royal West of England Academy. I was asked to work with my collections of vintage embroidered textiles which include Chinese embroidered robes, Japanese kimono and Indian/Pakistani children’s clothing and tent hangings.. first I brought in the Chinese robes…
the old tattered, ripped and worn fabrics never fail to inspire students; each class is different – although my teaching methods remain basically the same: – take care to tell the truth about what you are seeing, pay close attention to the making processes and most of all the colour.
As we start to draw using only dry media – pastels, crayon and pencils – getting the colour correct is always tricky, but I try to get students to develop a colour quality rather than to try to copy the real colours…this teaches awareness of atmospheric colour.
I gave these students an hour to develop their first studies… they seemed to be engaged immediately – always surprising who picks what to draw. Unfortunately I have a very bad grasp of names – I could describe each student’s appearance perfectly by looking at their individual drawings but names evade me for this first week – my apologies to all.
The silk theatrical costume of a dragon is really in a sorry state now but the colours are subtle, faded and very beautiful. The wild cardboard eyes of the dragon still command attention and trying to capture the quality of the threadbare silk really tests the students. For a totally opposite colour experience, the choice for those who like bold colour is the red and blue silk court skirt…
working from more decorative sections of the skirt still produces a strong response.
using the coloured paper grounds with the pastels makes it possible to give an impression of the nuanced colours of the faded and friable silks – blending the colors to achieve the exact shade is difficult but rewarding – and you learn a lot about colour mixing and trying to keep everything clean…
The soft grey-blue padded jacket, embroidered with wisteria blossoms, brought out everyone best attention to stitch…and although the colour proved illusive, many lovely studies were made from it.
We ended the morning with a short critical discussion about the work achieved in the first hours of the morning. In the afternoon session everyone chose different pieces to work with. I had more or less dictated the scope of first drawings (detail, detail, detail) now the students could choose how they wished to interpret the fabrics. The grey silk jacket still held its appeal.
it is always interesting to see different interpretations of the same subject…the drawings below probably say more about the artists than the robe.
My own black modern Chinese embroidered jacket has resulted in these 2 different interpretations…however in the drawing below, the student told us that she had not drawn anything for more than 20 years – so as far as I am concerned this study is a major achievement – for bravery – but had it been on black it would have been even more striking…
when studying textiles it is often difficult not to get engrossed by the garment they constitute – here are 2 images of drawing the same skirt – the first is about the skirt, the second about the textile and the fabric manipulation.
the following drawing is totally different in its approach – the whole folded cloth has become a world of its own..
who would have guessed it is a study from a wrapped and folded silk skirt…but oh the colours!
and last of all this simple line drawing of a white hand embroidered black jacket – each line describing the direction of the stitch. How wonderful it would be to see this extended for a whole wall full!
Autumn is here and the new term started for Kantha Club – run by Susi Bancroft for Heart Space Studios. We all wanted to swap summer experiences and stories and show what we had been up to – or not!
Susi had embarked on a very large piece ( I meanwhile had put my first attempt at a large piece aside). She had dyed the fabric in Turmeric and Tea to get this very subtle yellow. She finds it easier to hold the needle at the eye end to keep the cloth steady – so each stitch requires 2 hands on the needle, standing to work on such a large-scale fabric she says ” I am surrounded by beautiful colour with the light behind you, like being cocooned in colour ”
Explaining how she made decisions for spacing the stitching bands by using simple hand measurements she said “I used the fact that I couldn’t see the whole cloth working so close up so the hand spans were the measurement I adopted”
to enable her to keep stitching rhythmically while standing up, she threaded several needles at a time in different colours, using each as she felt that she wanted them – relying on her instinct for the colour striations, she enjoyed the feeling of the fabric being “just being out of my reach’ whilst she worked.
Kay Swancutt showed us some dying samples that she had stitched , she had exhibited these recently at Nature in Art and used many natural materials to make the different patterns and colours
Steph Wooster brought several examples of her earlier drawn textile work that she has now worked with a kantha stitched ground…these were also exhibited at Nature in Art and I feel that they could lead to even more intricate background stitched patterns – I am thinking animal skin patterns, leaves, grass..
I particularly like the combination of the stark elegant drawings and the tone on tone rippled grounds.
she also brought a new piece fabric that she wanted some feedback from us – it was a parachute silk sheet, very old and damaged,
she wanted to mend it – we suggested she start with the weakest area.
Meanwhile Naomi Clarke has been having fun just using Kantha technique to stitch the patterned cloth and also appliqueing it to the tie- dyed ground – as a technique this could really be developed to make lively fabrics
I had started another project in the break – a quilt based on a painting by Alfred Stockham, an old friend and ex colleague, it is a small painting that had always called to me to be made as a patchwork…
starting in the top right hand corner I ripped some pieces of shot cottons into squares and strips and stitched them down onto a red cotton ground…the coours of the threads made for the nuance of his dragged brush marks
during the last few hectic weeks of launching my book it has been a relief to get back to simply stitching these square transitions from paint to cloth
I am interested to see how each square is in itself a small complete composition
I am fascinated by this work but it may take some time to get finished
And so to Ally Pally for the annual Knitting & Stitching show, attentive readers of this blog will realise that this is where Heart Space Studios headed to advertise our new book at the invitation of The Cotton Patch, the home of all things patchwork and quilting in Birmingham. For a week I worked at this amazing show – and looking at textiles for so long, I now feel well able to select my personal ‘ Best in Show’ awards to several outstanding exhibitions and commercial stands.
In no particular order – ” Kate’s Plaice the Stitchmongers’ ” was by far the most amusing, the concept or rather – to use a literary term – “the conceit” was completely thought through, it was highly technically proficient and the most entertaining piece of textile work that I have ever seen at this event.
The installation was designed specially for the Knitting and Stitching show by Kate Jenkins, Everything on the stand was completely in keeping with the joke…from the dressed shop assistants that like all good fishmongers knew their subject inside out and wanted to share their delight and knowledge with you, to the stunning array of ‘ seafood’ on offer…
below are the details of the counter of fish, the use of material and the shapes and colour are perfectly chosen – you really did want to order and eat what was on offer…..
For those, like me, who prefer their fish cooked and served, rather than making the dish themselves, the fish platters definitely looked good enough to eat.
the hand written sign below, perfectly in keeping with the whole fish shop ethic, was written to deter a fellow exhibitor, an embroiderer, who pawed the little sequined morsels as they were being arranged, and was extremely rude when he was asked to stop! This is such an unusual occurance – stall holders being rude to anyone, let alone one another that I feel it deserves reporting.
Among the exhibition, chosen from recent graduates by the Embroiderer’s Guild, was this enigmatic large photographic hand embroidered panel by Susana Borobia, part of an small body of work called ” Awaken Threads…this spoke ro me on lots of levels – it reminds me of my own work developed through a fascination with White Work techniques and the difficult transition from cloth or fibre to other materials…here is it managed elegantly and artlessly.
Ihave to admit that I chose to ignore the notice not to take photographs; it was early in the morning, I couldn’t find the student to ask and thought that she may prefer it to appear on this blog than me to ignore her work. I have had this problem of no photography before …but it is a odd embargo now in the age of instant imagery and social media and who can possibly copy this ??????…that’s my excuse anyway.
It is difficult to show a range of different work in such a small space as a booth in the fair – but here Robert Ely has managed to do exactly that – he shows his woven ribbon design work, such as braces and book marks with his more art based weavings of sea and landscapes – the ribbon dimensions are shared but the colour depth and small scale pointilism is also evident in both sets of work – seen below are the 2 types of work on display
the seascapes exhibited made me think that he must live near me on the Severn Estuary, in fact these images are taken from much further down the estuary at Devon, Start Point.
what everyone goes to these fairs of is to stock up their stash! So 2 specialists who always show wonderful collection of the real things…first my old favourite importer of real Japanese fabrics, Euro Japan Links, a Japanese husband and English wife team who have been in business for years- long before their was a fashion in Japanese fabrics; their pieces of fabric neatly folded into colour co-ordinated ranges never fail to fascinate me.
My other favourite company exhibiting and selling mainly tribal Chinese fabrics and clothing is Slow Loris. I have written about this marvelous collection for sale before but do so again as Martin Conlon the owner is a fund of knowledge and is really enthusiastic to tell you the stories behind the garments. There always new things to see – well old new things.
The other exhibition I liked for its sense of space and calm and truly sumptuous colour was ‘The Other’ coloured work by Vivienne Prideaux paired with the white and neutral work of Amanda J Clayton. They made a handsome area of beautiful controlled textile hangings and panels. I thought that these these glowing panels by Vivienne Prideaux were just so desirable, the depth of texture and range of nuanced colour that this artist builds up with her various tie dyed and gilded grounds is so inspiring – makes me yearn to return to my own studio again.
the neutral and range of white fabrics shown by Amanda J Clayton were perfect partners
So enough of what I like – what about my exhibit…i was given a space on The Cotton Patch stand, to show and sell my new book, Little Ribbon Patchwork and Applique – comprising designs based on Kaffe Fassett’s ribbon collection for Renaissance Ribbons
several people helped me to set up and run the stand during the week …
several people helped to run the stand with me for the 5 days of the show….
The Ribbon beads have proved to be most popular things we show how to make in the book, see the next post down!
And so to Bath, to launch the Heart Space Studio book, ‘Little Ribbon Patchwork and Applique’ at the American Museum, with a workshop in the morning to show how to make ribbon beads. I made these originally as a way of using up all the small ends of Jaquard ribbons made by the American company Renaissance Ribbons left over from the other projects in the book – but also to show off the wonderful floating threads that form on the backs of the ribbons.
As the workshop was conducted for just the morning before the launch, we had only 3 hours to make beads, and knowing that choosing the ribbons and felts takes a long time, decision decisions….we had made packs of small pieces of ribbon and the felt strips – enough for 12 beads, added tiny glass beads for embellishing and some gold thread for wrapping and stitching, plus a small wooden skewer on which to assemble the beads. Each student was first asked to choose a package.
constructing the beads is easy peasy – if you can stitch neatly, I showed how to make 3 simple beads with variations.
everyone quickly got wrapping and sewing and inventing different colours and patterns, fascinating to watch so many variations happen at the first ever class I have given in this technique.
just simple plain coloured thread cross stitch when repeated looks lovely..
when all the ribbon beads are strung together with glass beads onto an elastic cord the effect is simply lovely.
After this came the launch party, so we all made our way to the Gallery.
Earlier in the week, we had designed and re-packaged the basic Renaissance Ribbon packs that the gallery had in stock to sell with the books,
we were really pleased with the effect….
lots of other people joined us for the launch…the heart Space tutors and friends all enjoyed a good time together
All in all it was a good day, and lots of other guests have blogged it as well, most notably, Rosemary Murphy on one of her blogs for September 2015 http://storiesinwood.blogspot.co.uk/–
So that’s the Launch sorted, what next?
I have been invited to the Knitting and Stitching show in London by Nik Sewell the owner of The Cotton Patch to demonstrate how to make several simple projects from the book on their stand, F27. And to sell the books as well as lots of Renaissance Ribbons and Kaffe Fassett’s lovely shot cottons that are used throughout the book. So I am now busy developing new combinations as shown above.