Tuesday, 28 August 2012

recent pleasures

I've taken a number of pictures recently; things that caught my eye which I thought you might enjoy.

two evenings ago, the rolling clouds spilling over the rim of Beachy Head at low tide, 
the lights of Eastbourne lining the edge of the water
 watched by evening beach visitors - reminding me of Friedrich and Kroyer
the colour hard to capture, almost surreal
yesterday the little fox, taking his ease on the grass next door
 keeping a sharp eye on me, quietly stepping down the lawn to capture his face through the trees
 and just now, in the night garden, peppered with small night noises, the Plough hanging above the trees
 the nearly full moon
 rising over the house

Good night ....

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Mini quilting

In case you think I've been slacking, here's where I am with the machine quilting of my little quilt. To give you a sense of scale it's about 50 inches by 35 inches, so not huge but not tiny either. Below is the portion I've managed to do so far.

I've never done machine quilting before so this is all a learning experience. To do the sort of freestyle quilting I'm doing here, you drop the feed dogs on the machine, then move the fabric about under the needle, smoothly and methodically, so that you stitch the lines you want to stitch. You hold it taut with each hand spread in a sort of C shape around the area you're stitching, so they act like the embroidery hoop in machine embroidery, providing both frame and tension. This makes sure the three layers, already safety pin basted, don't slip about and cause puckers in the quilting. Sounds simple right? Ha!

The first thing I learned was that this is impossible to do when you've lost the bobbin plate cover of your machine and are making do with a bit of card taped over the space above the bobbin! The cover was the only thing that went missing in our move of 2010 and I'd been making do, due to my terminal inability to remember to sort out small problems. It was fine with machine embroidery; it was fine with piecing, but quilting is another story altogether. Once I'd sewn the card to the back of the quilt twice and managed to get a birds nest of looping thread on the back, all of which had to be unpicked, I realised that I'd have to sort this issue out before doing any more. I ordered a new one from the shop where I'd bought the machine and, once that arrived, returned to my quilting . Hurrah, I thought, off I go. I began with some straight lines, quilting "in the ditch", that is, along the joins. Then I began to branch out into some shapes. Much harder I can tell you. You have to mange three things at once; holding the quilt taut, moving it about in all directions, not just straight, and working out where the hell you're going! Even worse, as you start to stitch your tension increases so your foot presses down on the foot pedal and suddenly the machine is racing along all happily to itself with you trying to control things! Rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time are nothing compared to this! However, I've persevered and have been having great fun in short bursts. I've found if I stitch for too long my hand and arm muscles get rather painful and refuse to work, which is no help at all. So, am stitching for a bit, then stopping, clearing all the stuff away and starting again the next day. This is all happening on the dining table here, hence the need to clear away. The pink gloves are quilter's gloves, an enormous help as they give a better grip than plain skin.
I'm quite pleased with this little bit below, done today, which took about an hour. I have the South Downs in mind for a sort of theme, but my Downs, as you can see from the top image, are a bit wobbly!
Meanwhile, this morning a select group of us met at Barbara's to discuss the next stage of our City and Guilds adventure; a level two certificate which should take us about two years.
I'm very excited!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Cecil's Saga

Cecil is my Aunt, or more properly my first cousin once removed. She lives in the delightfully named Felix Lodge in a little village in the heart of the Home Counties. She stood as my godmother when I was a baby, is the only remaining strand of this part of the family apart from myself and Jen on this side of the water, and has always been an inspiration to me. She never married or had children, much to her sorrow, and worked at a variety of jobs during her life. She rose to the challenge of paying off all her father's debts when he died, leaving her and her mother bankrupt, and cared for her mother as dementia took hold, for as long as work allowed. Her final job was a custodian to one of our country's beautiful National Trust properties, Grey's Court, where she initiated one of the first tea rooms at a National Trust house, drawing great trays of delicious smelling cakes from her Rayburn to sell to guests. I had the pleasure of staying with her many times as a child and young adult, thrilled to be sleeping in "the Keep" one of the cottages in the complex that made up the Grey's estate, which was her home until she retired. She is that sort of middle class Englishwoman who are the backbone of  country life across the land - a keen member of the WI, active in the church, an arranger of flowers and mender of vestments, helper of friends and organiser of good works. When we celebrated her 80th birthday I was deeply touched by the number of her friends who told me what a kind and caring person she was, how often she'd helped others and how much she was appreciated and how little she expected for herself. This attitude might be sneered at now, derided as some sort of submission to an outdated expectation of woman's role.  In a culture more interested in individual rights, gripped by a consuming desire to have all, altruism seems to have gone out of fashion. I think that is a rather sad thing; it makes people unthinkingly unkind and seems to have brought a hard, uncaring tone into our lives. If we don't care for each other, who else is going to do so?

Here Cecil is, with her mother, me and my dear little mum, on one of our get togethers with each other, when I was somewhat smaller than I am now!

Last week I went to visit and help her celebrate her 87th birthday. She is getting old, her short term memory is gone, as I've mentioned before, and life is often difficult for her, despite having a very fine carer called Phyl, who comes in daily during the week to help out with the practical and to bring some fun, stimulation and interest into her life.

What do you give someone who is 87, who has all the things about her that she needs, and whose life is closing in? Well, Cecil has always been a very fine needlewoman. She and my beloved Ganna inspired my to stitch in my youth and she has always taken a great interest in what I've made over the years. Her house is decorated with a number of lovely bits of embroidery done by her with delicate and varied stitches, beautifully executed. She made me dresses as a child, and also clothed my doll, Amanda Jane, including this rather fine rose pink outfit with matching hat!

Well, Phyl, during one of the many "sortings out" that happen from time to time, came across a piece of embroidery that Cecil did when she was 23. It was done as part of a course she went on - sadly she can't remember quite what the course was, but they had evidently been tasked with some autobiographical stitching. So she created Cecil's Saga, a beautifully worked piece of stitchery which includes little vignettes of her life - or rather what small part of she'd lived up until then. I brought this home with me some months ago, delighted that it had been found and thought, "now, what can I do with this lovely cloth"?

As her birthday approached, realisation dawned. Of course; the obvious answer! What gives pleasure to those whose present is dimming? Thoughts of the past, that "other country" which comes and goes in our minds and has, in part, made us who we are. So, knowing of a rather good picture framers in Hastings who have done lovely work for me before, I took it along to consult. Of course they could frame it, what frame would I like? what mount? what size? I left it with them, in pleased anticipation, and when we collected it I was really delighted with the result. The framing was lovely and the mount really sets off the muted colours of the cloth it is stitched on. I brought it to her home wrapped in the Tie Dye quilt which both protected it and was taken to show and amuse in it's currently unfinished state. The cloth was carefully raised, like a stage curtain at the beginning of the play until, voila, the whole could be seen and the spreading smile and exclamations of surprise from her were just marvelous. The gift had worked, she was thrilled, here she is, holding it proudly, with one of her finest knowing smiles!

And, here, since it is rather large, are some of the details so you can appreciate their character and whimsy

Joining up toward the end of the war, moving from civvies to uniform. On the day war was declared "Daddy said, 'well, we'll have to get you back to school my girl'", so she was evacuated with her school from home and family in Sussex, down to the rural West Country. Then, when she was too old to be at school any more "Daddy said, 'come one Totty, time to get you in the army'". So Totty did as she was bid and joined up - terrified, but also glad to have her freedom and a comfort to other young recruits who'd never been away from home before

Commemorating the Battle of Hastings. Hastings had been home before the war as her grandmother (Nanya to me), and three daughters had moved there from Ireland in 1921 after Sinn Feiners, pistols at the ready, creeping though the house in the night, made staying in Arklow less than attractive.

 A delightful little group with their bicycle - Cecil couldn't remember their significance

and Great Aunt B with her cat.

The picture, as you can see, is rather large, and I was a bit worried as to where it might fit in her very small cottage. However, we found the perfect spot here

It is just inside her sitting room door, ready to greet her each morning as she gets up and takes her cup of tea there to sit and read the paper. I'm sure she and Phyl will spend time looking at it, talking about what each image represents, visiting the past and happy times. If you look just past her head, you'll catch a glimpse of the other gift I brought with me - an angel sun catcher with the word PEACE dangling below in rainbow colours, to hang on her conservatory door. I felt it was a good thought with which to start the day.

So thank you Phyl, for finding this gem and bringing it to my attention; thank you Empress Art of Hastings for giving it such a lovely frame, and thank you Cecil for always being the best Godmother and Aunt I could have wanted.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

On the Pin Board

This just makes life so much easier, there's none of that creeping up onto chairs, in socks, one hand hampered by camera, then leaning out over quilt on floor to take picture at correct angle, thereby breaking several health and safety byelaws in fifty two languages including that of common sense! Here, it is pinned up on the wall, for final review before the quilting takes place.

This taken at 2pm this afternoon on my fourth and final day with Christine. All my pieces pieced, I've adjusted the position of a couple of bits in the final arrangement but no quilting, nor even safety pin tacking done yet!  I managed one bit of quilting before I came home - in the ditch round the big blue rectangle in the middle; the quilting that is. I have enjoyed every moment of my time there and have learned such a lot. I understand about precision, retracting your blade every time, undoing mistakes, measuring properly, all sorts. I was amazed at the way, once pieced, this came out with so few misalignments - I'm thinking back to this one. I remember how many joins I fudged, how many differing weights of fabric moved and reacted against each other. As with all personally taught courses, the best part was watching Christine do what she was teaching me to do - to see it done properly I mean. She is a very good teacher as well, so when she demonstrates, you understand what you are being shown. Then you try yourself, and realise how skilled  and precise her piecing and quilting are!

I have had such fun doing this, though I find keeping going through a time constrained day of activity quite exhausting. It makes me realise that, when at home I can practice the sort of pacing I was taught at the pain management course last year. So, I do stuff for a bit, then I take a break, do a bit more, break, do a bit more, push it a bit, then another break. That way I can manage as much, but in a longer timespan and with more rests in between. That is, incidentally, only commentary, not complaint, but I did feel pretty shattered when I got home.

I now have the fun of quilting it, but all in good time. I have to go back to work tomorrow, so it may have to wait 'til the weekend.

I can recommend a pin board!

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Peace Cloth

We had a very civilised afternoon celebrating two "Leos'" birthdays, with family - tea in the garden, a "cold collation" I believe we decided it's called, along with champagne punch. Sounds ridiculously posh; in fact it was a small group of people sitting around enjoying each other's company. The pigeons and collared doves cooed and wooed, the little birds flitted in and out of the feeding tree and a great dragonfly swooped and swam through the air going from shrub to shrub.

I think my little Peace  Cloth gave pleasure,

it certainly raised a smile, and I tried to stitch as much peace into it as I could.

Later, we had another guest, who stayed just a little while

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Oh my goodness, I'm ready to go!

I have finally cut out all the pieces ready for Monday. Here they are, hot off my study floor if you get my drift, well, on it really, but you know what I mean. On Saturday I'll cut the binding strips, it might even be pieced by the end of next week!

then, as  I took my ease after all that cutting, this little fellow shimmered into view and allowed me to capture his vibrations