Monday, 3 December 2018

A patchwork education

There are rather a lot of textiley things I could update you on, I've been busy with all sorts; my stitching in Studio 11 time is coming on slowly, as it often does; we had a lovely talk recently at the Embroiderers Guild from Emily Jo Gibbs, which included a brief tutorial at the end to show us the techniques she uses to create her beautiful stitched portraits; I've also been learning to use a small rigid heddle loom, having been inspired by the weaving I saw in Bhutan. I already have a much deeper appreciation of the skill that goes into weaving their beautiful textiles. But today it's patchwork that I'm sharing with you. One of our Guild members is also a very good patchworker, and she offered us a course to teach us the basics. We started in May with an introduction to patchwork and quilting, both the technical aspects and some history. Over the year we are to make nine blocks, each in a different technique, all hand pieced, quilting as we go. These will all come together to make a nine patch quilt.

So, below is my most recent block, Rocky Road to Kansas.


Each of the four arms of the star are pieced using the crazy patchwork technique; delightfully fiddly, each little scrap is stitched down onto a foundation fabric, with lots of puzzling and careful folding and stitching to get the bits to fit together. Crazy patchwork is a way of using up all sorts of scraps, and is often further embellished by decorative surface stitching. I cannot imagine making a whole quilt using this technique, but one block was terrific fun.

The pictures below show the block in context. Naomi's idea was for us to use just three different fabrics to keep things simple, a light, medium and dark, but because I have a bit if a stash already I thought I'd use a series of related fabrics, mostly fat quarters, and try to balance them across the quilt. 


I've enjoyed selecting fabrics that work together, and have been adding in different fabrics to bring variety to the blocks, along with ones I've used previously, so that none of the blocks is out of kilter with the rest. So far it seems to be working. The Rocky Road block hasn't been backed and quilted yet. Once I've done that it will be joined to the top row and then on to the next block, one with needle turned appliqué. I'll update you as I go :-)

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Where does the time go?

It has been a long time, hasn't it? But rather a lot has happened in the meantime.

First I retired - early retirement, I've not quite reached pensionable age yet, but it felt like time to stop and let life become less stressful and more focused on my wellbeing; time to begin to look at all the various projects I've had in mind for a year or two. So at the end of August I hung up my library hat after 40 years and started wondering what to do.

Well that question was answered, in the short term by an utterly amazing two week trip with Colouricious to Bhutan. This wasn't a flash in the pan plan you understand, but something that I'd booked a while back and had been preparing for and getting gradually more excited about as time went on. Having decided on retirement, following that with the Bhutan trip seemed the most sensible thing to do, so off I went in late September.

It was simply amazing, the most "exotic" trip I have every taken, being rather a home body. And without anyone I knew, including the dear Man, who stayed at home, indulged the cat chaps' every whim and breathed a sigh of relief that he didn't have to go all that way..

Colouricious, who specialise in textile focused travel,  were a marvellous choice; the trip so well organized, that we eleven ladies (christened "Team Happiness" by our delightful local guide Subash) felt really well cared for. And the trip itself was such an experience.

Team Happiness at Buddha Point - Thimphu

What can I say about Bhutan, a country which defines itself by the measure of gross national happiness? So different in so many ways from home that it's hard to give you a sense of how it was. A mixture of some urban, but much more rural, awash with the sound of the breeze in the prayer flags; shining silver clouds and mist, that gave way to incredible blue skies and views through clean clear air. The sense of huge mountains in the background and vast spaces in between - I cannot begin to describe it really, but some photos will give you at least a little idea.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dochula_Pass#Druk_Wangyal_Khang_Zhang_Chortens
Chortens in the mist - Dochula Pass

Prayer flags flutter above Paro valley

Himalayan ranges in the distance - Dochula Pass when the mist had cleared

Our first couple of days were marked by urban dogs barking in the nighttime streets of Thimphu, shining mist and a very long road trip - roads the like which you haven't seen until you've been somewhere like this. For a significant part of the journey we rattled and bumped along exclaiming at one moment at the beautiful waterfalls and prayer wheels, and the next covering our eyes and wondering if we were going plummet down the mountainside - the Himalayas are doing their best to reclaim, despite the valiant efforts of the country to provide a safe modern road to get the population from A to B, or in this case from Thimphu to Bumthang, our furthest point East.


Where Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan, was urban and obviously undergoing a huge amount of development,

Thimphu - bamboo scaffolding reaching for the sky

the more rural areas were, green, lush, captivating; views appearing and disappearing through the mist and cloud.

Gangtey valley

Paro - storm over the hills

Along the way, both there and back, we saw rice fields, their bright green layers echoing the contours of the land;

Punakha valley rice

Chorten in the rice fields on the way to the fertility temple

numerous temples and several dzongs - the administrative centres of each region in the country;

Monks gathering for a ritual - Paro Dzong

Trongsa Dzong rooftops

prayer wheels, which are everywhere; some that you can turn yourself, others that utilise the flow of water to turn them, all intended to release the chant "om mani padme hum" into the blue air to bring blessings to all living beings

Mother and child with prayer wheel - Gangtey Goempa

Prayer wheel with Trongsa Dzong in the background

We visited weaving centres where we saw the amazingly intricate weaving, on simple backstrap looms, for which Bhutan is so famous

I could have watched her all day


and went to the arts and crafts centre where students are taught the thirteen traditional crafts of Bhutan, including embroidery and painting.

no embroidery frames, and surprisingly low light levels for such fine work




such concentration - but he was larking with his friends a minute ago!

GNH? Gross National Happiness

On our travels we stopped at roadside markets to purchase local crafts,

opportunities to buy

lady with drop spindle enjoying being photographed by one of us

weaving centre wares

waved at passing traffic


captured the smiles of the locals


watched monks and lay people practice dancing for an upcoming festival



enjoyed the bright colours of the chillies drying in the heat (yes, it was surprisingly hot)


admired the beautiful faces of the nuns we met at their nunnery


enjoyed the theatrics of Subash, who explained so much to us, with such delight


did our very best to climb to the Tiger's Nest Monastery - a feat I and a couple of others didn't manage, but I was so proud of myself for making it to the half way point (2 1/2 hours of steep walking, puffing and panting all the way) that I didn't feel I'd missed out on the further climb, followed by 750 steps down and up to get to the monastery itself. Several steps too far!


The views on the way up were wonderful,




and our trusty driver Mr Chimi, who negotiated all those bumpy roads with a calm smile, took good care of we three stragglers, and posed in a tree over a steep drop for our fearful delight


On our last full day there we had the chance to see for ourselves what a Bhutanese festival looks and feels like - in our case Thimphu Tshechu. This was the most overwhelming experience. The day was scorchingly hot, the crowds all dressed up in their festival best - Kira and jackets for the ladies, Gho for the men, both are the national dress of Bhutan and people are expected to wear them for any formal occasion.


The dancers twirled and swirled in their fantastic costumes, all in the hot sun, while the music, very alien to our western ears, created an almost mesmeric backdrop to all the excitements


the clowns did their naughty clown stuff!!




the audience were seeing and being seen in their best festival dress



It was a wonderful trip, with great company and full of so many marvellous things. I will be thinking back on it for a very long time indeed, and could probably do several more long blog posts with endless photos had I the time and you the attention span!

Now, about those projects ….

Monday, 20 August 2018

A little indigo a little Japan a little Jude

I was deeply moved by the quilts of Shizuko Kuroha at FOQ in Birmingham last weekend. A lovely weekend spent with my daughter meandering up from and back to the South Coast.

This was my second time at the show, and again Christine was there exhibiting; this time with unFOLD, a textile group she belongs to. All the works were themed around Lynn Knight's fascinating book book "The Button Box". Here you can see Christine with her "Just Got To Finish the Mending", in the background and below, mending being metioned in the book as an informal contraceptive of sorts - read the book and you'll find out. Christine's piece, which we have watched develop during our Studio 11 days, is densely stitched over a deconstructed shirt, with the darning stitch so often used to mend, and mend, and mend in those days when we still did that sort of thing. It was marvellous to see it hung in the gallery space along with so many other thought provoking textiles.


If you look closely there's just a hint of a daughter in the background as well!


While there we also really enjoyed Ruth Singer's textile meditations on the lives of women prisoners. Again, such an inspiration to see how textile artists express their thoughts about life and ideas using the medium of cloth and stitch. A thing I aspire to, but haven't quite worked out the how yet!

But back to Kuroha and her beautiful indigo quilts, impeccably pieced and hand quilted, each one a symphony of movement and subtle colour. They really are works of art. She was there in her gallery space, signing books for eager middle aged ladies, amongst whom I include myself (though not in this picture); her smile so sweet as she inscribed the book with my name and her signature. 


I was touched to the core, both by her and her art.




On my return home I had a week off work, but am preparing for two momentous things: first, at the end of the month, after forty years of fulfilling work in my local library service, I am taking early retirement - a big step, but one I am longing for. The ability to just go to bed in the afternoon and sleep for a couple of hours will be transformative! Oh, and get on with my stitching, and weaving, and dyeing, and gardening, and perhaps a little piano playing, and a thousand other things that have been waiting for "when I have time".

Then in September, I am off to Bhutan. How easily that types itself out, what an amazing thing to be doing. One of Colouricious' textile trips, I will be beside myself when it happens. Will try and post a couple of updates while I'm there.

So, Indigo, Japan, Jude? What's the link you are asking yourself?

Well, I need to take a sketchbook to Bhutan, obviously. I loved the simplicity of the indigo quilts, and all sketchbooks should have a cover. Especially one made from a couple of pairs of jeans I haven't worn since my slim early twenties, but have always kept because "I'll do something with these one day".


And Jude? Well this is a sort of Jude house, patched and darned and quietly stitched.