Monday, 29 August 2016

Talking Quilts

Talking Quilts Exhibition at the Festival of Quilts
When I visited the International Quilt Festival in Houston six years ago, I was very taken with a project called Quilt SOS, or Save Our Stories, organised by the Quilt Alliance.  It records the individual histories of quilt makers, creating a vast, recorded oral history of US quilt making.  You can access loads of information about it here.
Kate Smith's quilt about her amazing mother
I wrote an article about it for The Quilter and asked the question why were we not doing something similar here?  Well, it turned out that some people were already starting to organise such a project.
Jennifer Campbell Kirk
Led by Pauline Macaulay, and under the banner of the Quilters' Guild, Talking Quilts came into being with help from lottery funding.  Over the past few years, volunteers have recorded and transcribed over 140 interviews with quilters talking about one of their quilts.

And at this summer's Festival of Quilts, there was a gallery of some of the quilts which were the focus of the interviews, alongside some details from their recordings and you could listen to the recordings themselves.
Sabi Westoby
It was fantastic to see this project come to fruition and the interviews on display were just as exciting and interesting as those I had seen in the States.  It is fascinating to discover which quilt the maker chose to share - often not their favourite or their best, but one with personal meaning attached.

As a gross generalisation, the ordinary person, in particular women, can get missed from history, as their lives even to themselves, can seem unimportant.  This project records the history of such people as well as more well-known ones, and it shows that there is no such thing as ordinary, everyone counts and everyone has a story to tell and share...or at least quilters do!

This is a link to the Talking Quilts website, where you can read some of the transcripts of the interviews and listen to the audio.  More are still be added.  It is an amazing project aided by so many volunteers, all helping to preserve the history of their craft.
Alongside the Talking Quilts, there were historical quilts owned by the Guild, also with interesting family connections

Friday, 19 August 2016

Some highlights from the Festival of Quilts 2016

The Festival of Quilts at the NEC, Birmingham took place last weekend.  I went down for three days, but as I had decided to take a number of courses, I only really had 1/2 a day for mooching around looking at the quilts.
As always there were some lovely quilts and looking at my photos this morning, I didn't take many photos this year and I don't seem to have taken photos of all my favourite galleries such as that by Claire Benn and Ingrid Press.  Rather than share full photos at such a small resolution you don't get any idea at all of what the quilt was really like, here is a selection of close ups of some that caught my eye at the Show.
Ineke Berlyn - Pieces of Positivity 2
Edwina Mackinnon - Pathways

Helen Cowans - Forgotten Women of the Land

Leah Higgins, winner of the Art Quilts Category - the breakdown printing was beautiful

Cas Holmes - Unfolding Landscape Summer Verge

Laura Kemshall, Winner of the Quilters' Guild Challenge.  You can read about this amazing quilt and her new processes on her blog at

Ruth Singer with her winning quilt in the Fine Art Quilt Masters category

Monday, 15 August 2016

Italian sketchbook

Coliseum, Rome
On holiday we took minimal luggage as we were travelling everywhere by train and had to carry our bags a lot.  Minimal means different things to different people.  For me, it meant few clothes, books on Kindle on the iPad rather than paperbacks, a little bit of hand sewing, full SLR camera, sketchbook, pencils, pens etc.  
Archaeological Museum, Florence
I greatly enjoyed having the sketchbook with me, especially as it was so hot - sitting drawing/doodling was more relaxing than trying to pack in seeing too many things.  It also kept me occupied on train journeys and in the evenings. 
Large tomato from the market
One of the nicest things was sketching in a museum with the kids.  When they got bored, they headed off with the camera whilst I continued sketching.  We have some interesting photos from these museums! 
Large, fresh porcini mushroom from the market
These are a selection of some of my more successful pages.  No, I am not going to share the terrible drawing of Mount Vesuvius looking like a pair of boobs! Even the kids noticed it. 
Stones at the Forum, in Rome
I think this is important to mention as so many people get intimidated by the beautiful work that others share and imagine that all of their work is amazing (I can be just as guilty of this too).  It's useful to remember that what people choose to share is selective and to get to the good drawings, most artists have to plough their way through lots of dross too.

Half a Roman streetlight - I ran out of time to finish it

Based on the crenulations at Sirmione

Based on the millefiore patterns in Murano glass

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Out & About: Mitoraj sculptures at Pompeii

Sculpture by Mitoraj at Pompeii
The blog has been quiet for a few weeks as we were away on our summer holiday.  Rather than our normal family camping trip, we decided to do something different this year and we spent three glorious weeks in Italy visiting some of the major cities - modern and ancient.  
Richard standing next to one of the sculptures gives you a sense of scale - he is 6foot4!
We took rather a lot of photos - the numbers increased hugely increased whenever one of the children borrowed the camera.  Over our three devices I think we have around 4,000 photos.  The number is going down as I remove all the photos of the kids' feet!
Not one of the kids' feet!
One of the highlights of the holiday for me was a visit to an incredibly hot Pompeii.  The visitor facilities were sparse, which was a positive thing, rather than turning it into a theme park.  The main facility was plenty of water taps, which we made good use of refilling our water bottles.
Looking up at one of the Mitoraj sculptures
Fitting in with the ancient town were a number of monumental sculptures by Igor Mitoraj.  They fitted in so well that it was only on a second glance that I noticed they weren't from Roman times (maybe I was a bit hot and tired... or had had too much to drink at lunch prior to visiting!).  The sculptures were generally of parts of the body - never complete - and sometimes with an unexpected disconnected head, for example, in the fold of a shoulder blade.  
Another Mitoraj sculpture

I found these pieces intriguing and when we got back home, I tried to find out a bit more about Mitoraj and the exhibition.  There wasn't a huge amount on the web, but these are a couple of quotes from his 2014 obituary in the Guardian, which echo why I found the work so exciting:

Rupture & fragmentation became metaphors for the passing of antiquity, but could also stand for the nature of time itself and indeed the whole human condition.

Quoting Mitoraj directly, it said:
I feel that a piece of arm or a leg speak far more strongly than a whole body.
Given that I have spent so much time making work inspired by ancient sculptures, it is fascinating and exciting to see work which is interpreting similar ideas more deeply and in a totally different way. 

Another Mitoraj sculpture, this time besides the Leaning Tower of Pisa


Monday, 27 June 2016

Out & About: Glasgow Botanic Gardens

Each of the C&G Patchwork and Quilting courses I run have a four day summer school in June.  The two Certificate Groups each had a day out to the Botanic Gardens so we could be inspired, learn to look and to sketch.  

The weather couldn't have been more different between the two days.  For the first group it drizzled and wasn't very pleasant, making drawing outside interesting, especially if water soluble pencils were being used!  However, we spent some fantastic time in the green houses and the Keble Palace fernery. 

The second group struck lucky with the weather and I ended up with mild sunburn.  However, this meant that the glasshouses were not conducive to spending lots of time in them as they were so hot... and we are Scottish and not used to it.

The aim wasn't to create beautiful drawings, but useful sketches and ideas to then move into fabric.  And this was definitely achieved by both groups. 

Although beforehand some were a bit hesitant about drawing in public, I think everyone enjoyed it and we all agreed that you see so much more when you slow down and attempt to draw something rather than just snapping with your camera and thinking you'll do something with it later.  At least if you have tried to draw it when you come to do something later you understand it better.
The plants had been watered just before I took this photo
Having said all that, all of these images are photos that I took!  I did do some drawing as well, although, of course, I was there to teach the others, not to spend time coming up with new ideas myself.  I have already made some more drawings based on my photos and initial sketches and some thermofax screens of poppies.  So I've got plenty of ideas to work on over the summer when I'm having a break from teaching... not that I will have that much time as the kids are off from school!

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Inspiration: Celts at the National Museum of Scotland

Tis the season of summer schools here.  With the first Diploma Group we had a trip to the Wemyss School of Needlework and the Fife Folk Museum.  Both the Certificate Groups are having a day at the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow (more to follow).  For the other Diploma Group, I thought long and hard about where to go, before settling on the National Museum of Scotland, because there is something for everyone there.  Everyone went their own way to explore and sketch and we met at lunchtime to exchange inspiration.  
Celts exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland
Whilst we were there, I went to the special exhibition on the Celts.  It continues until 25 September 2016, so there is still time to visit it if you can.  And you should!
The exhibition guided you through the idea of the Celts and their place in Europe from the earliest times right up to the revivals in the 19th and 20th Century.  The degree of interpretations was fascinating, from who viewed themselves as Celts and when the whole concept of the Celtic world was born.  The variety of objects was fantastic and there were many which totally fascinated me.  In particular, I loved the patterns and the repeats and how the shapes hinted at animals and objects without being totally explicit.  Unfortunately, no photography was allowed, although there are a couple of images on the website - 
pages from my very rough sketchbook
As the aim in taking the students was to encourage them to sketch, I felt obliged to do the same.  
More pages of quick sketches
However, it is the patterns on one object that really grabbed me - one which I couldn't really sketch at the time as it was circular in nature and circles are notoriously difficult to draw freehand. So when I got home, I got out the compass and drew the interesting pattern.  I scanned it and reprinted a couple of variations to try colouring in.  
I know colouring in is very popular at the moment, but those detailed colouring in books would drive me nuts.  I can't stay within the lines and all that concentration, just to be ruined by not being accurate enough...  
Coloured in with felt tip pens
I didn't mind doing these, but I did realise it would be a lot quicker on the computer, so that's where the second lot came from.  And all the colour is within the lines!
Versions from on the computer - nicer colours too
I've now moved into fabric, but that is for another post as it is in early stages.  I know where it is going, but all you can see at the moment is the insipid under layers.  

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Books about British Quilt History

After our day out last week for the Diploma Summer School, we spent three days in the studio, enjoying historical quilts and getting frustrated with mathematical sequences and progressions!  Lesley, a reader of this blog, asked about books on British Quilt History and as this is something we have just been doing, I have all the information to hand for a blog post.  This is not a definitive list of books on British Quilt History, just ones I have in my collection and which I have found useful.  

This is the book I refer to the most.  Well written and researched, with many images.  Something strange is happening with my images, so either you are seeing this book twice or not at all!  Apologies.  It is Janet Rae's The Quilts of the British Isles in case it is not showing up.
Traditional British Quilts: Dorothy Osler
Not a recent book, but for me, the one where all the interest in the history of British Quilting kind of started from.  Since it was written, much more research has been undertaken and more information has been discovered, but still a great starting point.

Patchwork and Quilting (Shire Library) by [Audin, Heather]
Part of the Shire Library series of short books, primarily on subjects you never imagined anyone would write about!  A good short introduction, written by the curator of the Quilters' Guild Collection

A great exhibition and a lovely catalogue, with large full colour photos and lots of essays written by different people, with different views and approaches.
Another good exhibition and related catalogue

The journal of the British Quilt Study Group of the Quilters' Guild, published annually contains papers presented at its conference on a wide variety of quilting matters past and present.

This book is titled, you just can't see it on the cover!  It is Making Connections by Janet Rae and Dinah Travis, all about the history of log cabin quilts

At the less scholarly end, the relatively new magazine Today's Quilter has had a couple of supplements about different aspects of  British quilt history over the past year, often abridged from books.

Most of these books are available on Amazon.  A word of warning: the prices on Amazon can be a little bit bizarre as some of these books are out of print and don't get offered on Amazon often.  You should be able to pick them up second hand for under £10 each.

A book that I don't have, but which I would like to own as it is very informative:

And finally, coming out later this month, so I haven't read it, but I do have it on order:

Jan has written a number of books on British quilting, and I know she has put a considerable amount of research into this, her latest title.  I can't wait to get my hands on it.

Which books have I missed or that you find informative?  Are there any gaps in the documentation of British quilting history that you think need to be addressed?
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