Friday, 18 August 2017

Festival of Quilts 2017 + Tiny Piecing

Firstly, before moving on to the comfort of quilts, if you're reading from America, I just wanted to say how much I've been thinking of you after the awfulness that took place in Charlottesville last weekend and then Trump sinking to new lows in his response to it. I'm sending so much love your way if you've been left reeling from this. x

I hadn't been so sure whether I'd get to the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham this year, but I ended up going over the weekend with the unexpected company of my daughter, who is keen to absorb all the inspiration she can while in the midst of her Textiles GCSE. I usually find the hours of connecting train journeys, the walk through the strange dystopia that is the Birmingham NEC building, and then the sudden joyful overload of inspiration inside the Festival of Quilts to be both thrilling and surreal in equal measure, but it all felt more lovely and less surreal in my daughter's company and we giggled and chatted our way through the day and the journeys seemed too quickly over.

My daughter was more interested in the exhibition side of things than the shops (and I am too, but it's so easy to get side-tracked by the consumeristic imp that lives inside when it comes to sewing supplies!), so we devoted an hour to them at the end of the day and spent the rest of the day carefully combing through the aisles and stands of quilts, trying hard not to miss anything. We'd been so conscientious in this mission that I felt sure we'd left having hoovered up every little bit of inspiration that was there to be had, but on returning home and looking on Instagram, I saw that we'd actually still somehow missed many things. One of which was this portrait by Jenni Dutton. Jenni's work focused on exploring dementia through mixed media pieces and I still feel full of regret that I somehow missed seeing her work in person.


But to the bits that we did see: this princess-cut diamond quilt by Katherine Jones was one of the most extraordinary quilts I've ever seen. It was even more dazzling in real life.

One of the other highlights for both of us was The Egg, which was pieced by Hillary Goodwin and quilted by Rachael Dorr. The texture was fascinating and we found it hard not to touch it. It was difficult to grasp where the piecing ended and the quilting began - they seemed to have morphed deliciously into one.

Kumiko Frydl had a stand all to herself for her miniature quilts and they were so inspiring. All of the samples shared here were less than 30cm/12" square. 

Somehow the machine quilting on these mini quilts feels harder to comprehend that the piecing itself for me. It is just at such a minuscule scale, especially the seaweed quilting that lies in between the main design. I was left feeling fascinated by how Kumiko works and whether she has a vast magnifying glass attached to her machine.

Each year's festival has a slightly different feel, determined by the work that's been submitted and this year felt more weighted toward art quilts and modern quilts. Although the area I'm most drawn to in my quilts is traditional, there's something inspiring about viewing so much work that's not necessarily in my own comfort zone. The thing I took from it was that there's so much potential to make a quilt more wonderful with the quilting and that my own vision often stops when the piecing is completed. It was a slightly uncomfortable realisation to see that in doing so, I'm probably allowing a whole layer of extra interest to go unexplored. I'm slightly frustrated with myself that I didn't take any images to share with you that represent this, but I really loved it when people had envisioned a quilting design that worked like a jigsaw with the piecing - accentuating, complementing or contrasting with it, but never settling for an all-over-design that offered little conversation with the piecing.

I was left feeling it's an area I'd love to explore, but also with an awareness that I lack a natural vision for it - quilting is just never part of what I conjure up in my mind when creating a quilt. My fabric choices and relatively traditional piecing tend to mean that there's very little negative space to fill, but even if there was, I'm not sure I'd see the potential for what could go there. I wonder if you know of any books that you'd be happy to recommend for quilting inspiration? Or maybe a particular quilter's work that it would be good to study? I've been pondering this book by Angela Walters, but I'd love to hear if you have any recommendations. 

Throughout the day, my daughter spotted both Kaffe Fassett and Brandon Mably (I think she's absorbed their faces from the piles of quilting books around the house and perhaps Kaffe's exhibition of quilts at Standen earlier in the year, if there was a photo of him there). We didn't speak to either, but we were looking at some fabric near Kaffe while he was having a conversation with someone else and we heard an anecdote that made us laugh and that we shall keep in our pockets and which feels somehow more lovely than having spoken to him ourselves. I did have a brief chat with Anna Maria Horner, who was just as lovely as I'd imagined she might be. Seeing the crowds of people around her, my daughter asked me later if Anna Maria was the Beyonce of the quilting world. Pretty much :)

I think the quilt-related highlight of the day for me was seeing this framed tiny piecing. When I caught sight of it, I felt drawn to it with an almost magnetic force (that in retrospect, possible caused me to scuttle toward it, rather than maintaining a dignified walking pace). It was just as magical close up as it had looked from several metres away. The pieces were magnificently tiny and the fussy cutting and piecing quite stunning. The stars are pieced from beautiful silk ribbons, which were apparently popular for this use between 1880 - 1920. I don't feel I have adequate words to convey quite how breathtakingly lovely I find it and how ridiculously exciting it was to see it - giddy and heart-flippy don't quite capture it. I'm intending to have a go at recreating a few blocks at the same scale at some point soon - although probably not from ribbon as that's possibly one challenge too many! (FYI - the owner of this piece is Carolyn Gibbs - I'm so grateful she decided to share it at FoQ).

I've become more fascinated with miniature piecing projects recently (I have one appearing in a book I contributed to recently, that I'm looking forward to sharing with you soon) and when I was in the midst of writing my Eight Dials pattern, I had a go at creating a small version of the main block. This one uses Liberty Tana lawns and I quite like how three-dimensional the penultimate round of bulbous blooms makes it appear to be. I find it hard to show scale in photos, but here are a needle, thread and hand for an idea. There are 24 little pieces tucked into this rosette!

It always surprises me to find just how quickly tiny pieces come together - it's obvious because there are less stitches to be made, but I'd always thought that would be evened out by dealing with the tinier pieces, but somehow it's not, as it's never quite as fiddly as I imagine it to be (unlike making doll clothes, which make my fingers feel itchy with how fiddly it is).

I can't remember now how much I scaled down by, but here it is with the regular sized block. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this little piece, but I've enjoyed having it sitting on my desk for the last few months.

Did you go to FoQ? What was your favourite piece?

Wishing you a happy weekend,
Florence x

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Holidays and handbags

In my last post, I'd written about  our forthcoming holiday to St Paul de Vence, near Nice. It was just as dreamy as we'd hoped - one of those lovely towns that feels totally unspoiled, despite it's popularity. It was a place of winding, cobbled streets, where every turn seemed to offer something new to 'ooh' and 'ahh' over.

We stayed in a beautiful self-catering villa at the bottom of a ridiculously steep hill. When the man who we'd rented the villa from realised we'd come without a car, he said that no one had made it past Day 2 in that location without taking a taxi back to Nice to hire a car. Reader, we broke that record and walked up the wretched hill every day, usually in about 33 degree heat. Although whenever we arrived in the town, we must have looked curiously fuchsia-cheeked and wet of brow, as though we may be a family who relished completing marathons while wearing sundresses and day shorts; everyone else wandered around looking serene having arrived in their cars like civilised people. We couldn't tell if a defibrillator was positioned on the wall near our entrance to the town ironically, but we grimly noted its presence each day.

The road we walked up (not pictured) was private and cars were only permitted to travel down it in one direction, due to how narrow, steep and winding it was. At the top, there was a sign drawing attention to the danger of its 20% incline (although, I feel sure that that was a grave underestimation, and that it was nearer 50%)! Very occasionally, we would see an English person driving down this road, identifiable by their speed not going above 3mph, a look of pure terror worn across their face, and their foot permanently resting the brake pedal. Mostly, it was French drivers though, who would barrel merrily down the hill, appearing around one of the many twists and turns at such speed that no audible sound would announce their presence until they were almost upon us, scattering us in different directions, as they joyfully continued their helter-skelter descent. Getting to the top of the hill alive was a truly challenging experience.

Once we'd reached the summit (St Paul de Vence), we were well-connected to all sorts of lovely places by a wonderfully reliable bus service, that allowed you to go pretty much anywhere for just €1.50 in air-conditioned luxury. We went over to Vence (the next town along) several times, where we winkled out Matisse's Rosary Chapel and his beautiful stained glass windows.

En route to the chapel (which was out of town, up many more hills), we were discussing how pristine and beautifully maintained everything was, when we saw this house, with dreamy blue shutters and doors, which offered evidence that even the local vandals were careful to respect the town's loveliness, having used sympathetic colours when graffitiing expletives.

Back in the centre of Vence, the Museum of Vence proved to be an unexpected treasure, full of more wonderful pieces of Matisse's work and also a long French documentary (with English subtitles) interviewing Sister Jacques-Marie, who was instrumental in making Matisse's vision for the Rosary Chapel a reality. It was an incredibly moving film, discussing both their friendship and the difficulty she'd had in persuading others within her religious community to approve his plans. It was possibly one of the most engaging interviews I've ever watched (I've since found it won Best Documentary at New York Film Festival), so I bought a copy of the DVD to share with my mum and sister, but if you have Amazon Prime in the US, the film is included in your membership! You can watch it here, if you're interested. For some reason, sadly that's not the case if you're in the UK.

By the time we found a day to take the bus over to Nice to visit the Matisse Museum, my expectations were high! By that point we'd seen many of Matisse's sketches, appliqué and paper cuts, and I was ready for some of the beautiful vibrant paintings I'd seen in Russia and which were inspiring my second version of my Eight Dials pattern. My husband and children weren't crazy about the sketches, but I promised them that they would love the paintings. The Matisse Museum was quite a way from the city centre and (predictably) up more hills, so we broke the walk up with a visit to the Marc Chagall gallery, which we all really enjoyed. I realised I knew and liked lots of his work, even though I hadn't necessarily been conscious of it beforehand. What's really noticeable about Chagall's work is that he is absolutely crazy about goats (and often violins too) - they seemed to make their way into so many of his paintings and we enjoyed playing Spot the Goat as we worked our way around the gallery. I felt fairly sure that this must have had some religious relevance, but I wasn't able to ascertain quite what by reading the cards around the museum, which seemed odd as surely that's the thing everyone wants to know (it was only when we got home, I found he was Jewish and the goat was often used as a sacrifice for God in the Old Testament). Above is a Chagall painting where no goat appears...I'm unsure how I've ended up with such an unrepresentative photo for this post!

When we got to the Matisse Gallery, we were feeling quite hot and tired (it was scorching the week we were there), so, it was with a sinking -slightly dehydrated- heart that I walked from room to room and realised that they had barely any of Matisse's more vibrant paintings. My sister and I had truly been spoilt when we visited The Hermitage in Russia - it really was wall-to-wall breathtaking goodness. By contrast, the Matisse Museum seemed to offer a sparse collection that was missing some of its heart. It feels such a shame that more paintings hadn't been able to stay in Matisse's homeland - I felt really heartbroken for the museum itself, as well as its visitors. We walked back down to the old quarter of the city centre feeling really quite disappointed (at that point, my son nobly offered to visit more museums, if there was anywhere that might feel like a consolation to me. Sometimes I want to gobble him up; having teenagers is so much lovelier than I ever imagined. My imaginings were mainly based on how absolutely awful I was myself as a teenager though, which may not be representative)! We were revived, not by more museums, but by an amazing meal in the old part of Nice - we went to Sentimi, where the other three had pizzas which slotted into their Top Five ever. After Sentimi, we visited a wonderful ice-cream parlour that my sister had told me about (if you find yourself in Nice, it's called Oui, Jelato! It has an amazing range of flavours, all beautifully displayed).

As an antidote to all the galleries they'd endured on my behalf, my husband and son took a taxi to watch a football match at Nice's stadium (I think it was Nice vs Ajax), which they both said was a really wonderful experience. My daughter and I stayed at the villa and watched two films, which I think we enjoyed almost as much.

I realised my children had never experienced a pool holiday involving inflatables and I wanted to rectify that before they reached 18, so on our first supermarket trip to Vence, we bought two lilos (St Paul de Vence has no supermarkets - not even a tiny one). The above picture was taken on our first morning, before we'd introduced large pieces of brightly-coloured plastic to the pool. I'd forgotten quite how relaxing drifting around on a lilo can be, having not done it since I was a teenager (also, how much fun it is to tip one another off them and have lilo races). We also bought a few nose pegs before leaving home and spent a substantial amount of time perfecting our syncopated swimming and underwater handstands. And also sitting on the ledge in the pool or lying in a hammock reading books. I tore through these three books while we were away and would recommend all of them.

Our garden came complete with a vegetable patch that we were free to raid during our stay. It rather dwarfed the tomatoes that we'd left growing in our own back garden...

One of the things that always amazes me whenever we go to Europe is how misshapen the fruit and vegetables are in the supermarkets, but how incredibly flavoursome it all is. I feel utterly perplexed by why we have such uniform specimens in England, even when they're imported from Europe. Also, why they taste so bland...I'm imagining that may be something to do with cold storage and picking the fruit and vegetables a little before they're ripe to allow for the transportation time, but that doesn't explain why the obsession with uniform specimens. I wonder at what point our supermarkets decided we would only eat perfectly-shaped offerings? The farmers who grow things to be shipped to Britain must think we're absolutely curious creatures. Back to home-grown, which although misshapen, still doesn't taste as good as the food on the continent, I've suggested to my husband that I think we may be better leaving our tomato plants in the greenhouse for the whole summer, rather than bringing them out to sit on the patio around July to try and bump up the heat - does anyone have any thoughts on this? What do you do with your tomatoes?

I always find myself frantically preparing paper pieces before we leave to go on holiday and this was no exception. Although I tend to do lots of EPP on English holidays, once the plane journey is over, it's rare for me to do any EPP abroad - the heat seems to make it a less appealing activity and I tend to want to use any spare time for reading instead. The daily trauma of the hill caused lengthy family analysis of exactly what I was choosing to haul up and down it each day in my handbag. There was much teasing on discovering that despite having no intention of actually sewing due to the heat, I still felt compelled to carry my EPP everywhere with me like a strange comfort blanket.

I think my mum, sister and daughter all carry a lot around in their bags too, but I'm not really sure what it's not normal to be carrying (EPP that you have no intention of sewing with while on holiday aside - I'm aware that that one is really quite strange, but the idea of wanting to sew and not being able to is so horrible that it feels worth insuring against). As the contents of my bag are all entirely essential in my eyes, I'm not really looking to reduce them, but I'd love to know how it compares to your own handbag and also if you have any odd things that you feel you can't leave home without (or anything that's wonderfully space saving)!

So, here's what I'd usually carry when I'm in England (Keys, phone, plasters etc aren't shown here and if it's sunny, I'd also add in a miniature bottle of sunscreen and a pair of sunglasses), in rows from left to right: a cotton bag for carrying shopping home; Liberty print handkerchief; tissues; umbrella; earphones (if I'm going on a long train journey, I actually pack two pairs, just in case one breaks - evidence of a hearty podcast addiction); wallet and chrome Spacepen - these have both been in my handbags since they were given to me by my parents for my 21st birthday. The wallet now desperately needs replacing, but the space pen is still going strong; English paper piecing pouch, which is in frequent use when not abroad; a tiny drawstring bag containing a beautiful white heart and wishbone, bought for me by my mum and sister on a trip to Bath; a mirror (I've only recently started carrying one, so rarely remember to actually use it, but I like the flamingos against the creamy background too much to leave it at home - you can find it here, if you're interested); Nars lip crayon in Dolce Vita (this needs resharpening often, so is ultimately quite irritating, but I love the colour); my husband bought me an iPhone charger at an airport several years ago when I realised my phone was likely to die before we arrived at our destination and it's one of his best ever purchases - it's light, holds its charge and recharges super-quickly; finally, Lanolips Lemonaid Lip balm - this is my absolute favourite lip balm - it moisturises brilliantly and somehow makes the Nars lip pencil colour last for longer when placed over the top. For years, I also carried two tiny drawings by my children, but I finally took them out when they reached a point near disintegration.

How has your summer been so far?
Florence x

Ps. If you like Matisse, this exhibition is now on at the RA in London!
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