My temples and jaw ache from clenching my teeth. All week it seems. Stress. Difficult things to address, deadlines to meet. Even quilting hasn’t helped. There’s just been no time. Instead I’ve been sewing a dress for a friend, designing the pattern from scratch. It was a pretty time consuming task alongside the all encompassing health appointments for both my son and me. I took solace in a book. A wonderful, poetic book of non-fiction. It’s the type of book I’m particularly drawn to these days: H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald.
The wind was battering my bedroom window this morning and I decided to hibernate, stay under the covers the day long. It was the first day with no commitments for what felt like an eternity. Between bouts of deep, headache-inducing sleep I read. I read about a bereavement and the ensuing depths of depression of a woman who retreated from the world of humans and lived for and alongside, even inside, her goshawk. I recognise her fall into blackness only too well and I wonder how far I am heading into the gloom now.
I think about today’s Art Studio post, this post, and what I could possibly show you. I’m not in the mood for joyous colours today and the book has woken a memory of my own obsession with a bird of prey in 2007. I found a dead tawny owl. I found scores of dead birds and drew them, identified with them. I was enduring another interminably long episode of chronic depression and the obsession seemed to be the only meaning I could find in anything.
Here are a few of the owl drawings I made. If you don’t like to be confronted with death, maybe you’d prefer not to look, but for me there was a strange beauty in it that I couldn’t stop searching for.
Pen and ink
Conte and charcoal on paper
Conte and charcoal on paper
Conte and charcoal on paper
This wasn’t the first time I’d drawn dead birds. I think the first time I was at art school, it was about 1984. I found a robin and painted it in watercolour. I remember the fascination and the overwhelming pathos of holding the tiny bird in my hand. Since then there have been goldfinches, black-caps, blue-tits, wrens, more robins… But I’m sure you haven’t come to a patchwork and quilting blog to find a load of dead birds! So I shall leave it at that and if you’re on the look out for a good book highly recommend H is for Hawk to you: part nature writing, part biography of TH White (The Sword in the Stone), part memoir, an utterly absorbing read.
And tomorrow? I shall stitch. And reply to all the wonderful, much read and appreciated comments you’ve generously left during the past week. What will you be doing?
I’ve been slowly hand piecing my way through my half square triangles for my Ocean Waves quilt and today I decided to layout the blocks to see how they’re coming along.
It’s not a good feeling when you’re way behind where you thought you were, haha! I console myself with the realisation I have enough hst’s finished for another 7 or 8 blocks though. But today I’ve been unpicking some of my stitching because I’d set a few triangles upside down as I pieced the rows together. You might wonder how I managed this, one word: talking! I spent a couple of hours stitching away with my friend Janie on Thursday and obviously took my eye off the ball. Or triangle.
It wasn’t the only time I’ve been sewing away from home this week, making the hst’s has been a great way to occupy myself as I sat in waiting rooms waiting for my son at one health appointment or another. Time passes more quickly and calmly with something to occupy my hands and it’s surprising how even just one hst here and there quickly builds up to enough for a block (10 in each block).
I’m considering ‘cheating’ now though. I may enlist Mary to help me along with assembling the blocks. Well, it still counts as slow stitching I tell myself, she’s slow enough.
Linking up with Kathy for Slow Sunday Stitching. What have you been up to today?
I pack up my beloved Unison Pastels and gather together things I think I might need or want once I get a mile and a half or so down the road to where I plan to sit in a cold field and draw. I never find it easy. I never know what I’m going to see so don’t really know what medium will suit my needs. I can pretty much guarantee I won’t have what I want went I get started though. Going on past experience. Get on with it. Make do. It’s what being creative is about.
Got everything? Umm, no…
And it’s never just about what you might need to draw with, or on. Hats, scarves, gloves (all plural), coffee (as much a hand warmer as a drink), waterproofs, wind proofs, something insulating to sit on, a filthy, pastel-covered old coat to cover the good one when I get there (so that I don’t look entirely like a tramp on my journey down the road), plastic bags, bin liners – stuff to cover my legs so the pastel doesn’t become ingrained in my waterproofs, a head torch because it’ll be dusky on the unlit roads when I trudge back home, wet wipes to clean my hands (I forget them today. Irritating.)…and a day sack to pack it all in.
And all of that for one small sketch I’m not sure about and a bigger half started/half finished one. The light fell fast and I could barely see; maybe I’ll go back tomorrow and finish it, but maybe I won’t. I managed to splash water over the one below. Don’t ask, but it’s dried now and there’s no trace left. I wonder how I’ll feel about it in the morning. Right now, I feel pretty flat.
Pasel on A3 paper.
I hope it’s been a good start to the weekend for you and look forward to some slow stitching on Sunday – what have you been up to?
My quilting space today
Sometimes making a decision isn’t easy, even when it feels like it really should be! But since my last post I’ve made the momentous decision (tongue in cheek, obviously!) of how to go ahead quilting my Norfolk Bricks lap quilt – and it’s all thanks to your help. Your informed and helpful comments, here and on social media, were just the confidence booster I needed, thank you! Having online quilty friends is just the best.
The decision? Well the dilemma was whether to bind the quilt before I completely finish the hand quilting so that I can photograph it for the pattern I’m trying to write (bearing in mind that the quilting might take a few more weeks yet). I’ve finished all the ‘in the ditch’ stitching, so the layers are pretty stable, but I’ve never put the binding on a quilt before I finished it before so wasn’t sure how advisable it would be. But it seems that plenty of you out there have done just that! And all things considered it doesn’t seem like it will be too bad a thing to do.
No hoop border
However, I decided I would complete all the quilting in the borders first, which means outlining each square, just to be on the safe side. It’s coming along pretty quickly so far, much to my amazement. Until I looked at the size of my big stitches and realised they’re actually huge stitches and it’s no wonder I’m steaming ahead, haha! I don’t think stitching the squares before binding will make the edges any more stable than they already are, but I hope it might be a bit neater this way. Time will tell…
How are things with you this Work in Progress Wednesday, what have you been up to this week? If you’re stuck and need a helping hand or have a query, I can heartily recommend asking away in the comments below – there are some awesome and very generous quilters about the place and I’m sure they can set you right (I’ll do my best too)!
Linking up with Let’s Bee Social and Work in Progress Wednesday. Looking forward to catching up with good friends this week.
A quiet Sunday. Kim in bed late into the day, sleeping heavily. A cat curled up on the table in front of me. Everything seemed to be sleepy today. My plan, such as it was, was to finish the in-the-ditch quilting of Norfolk Bricks. I was anxious about getting the hand quilting to a stage so that I could photograph the quilt for the pattern I’m writing: slow stitching isn’t quick!!!
After a comment Kaja left on a previous post about this dilemma, it occurred to me that I could quilt in the ditch, put the binding on, photograph what I need to and then continue quilting the bricks afterwards. The quilt would be perfectly serviceable with just the seams quilted of course, but I really like a more textured surface than this will give.
Big stitch quilting in the ditch
Today I finished the ditches though, so I’m celebrating! I’m really pleased with the way my rocking stitch is coming along too, it’s getting much more even, on the back as well as the front. Still got a way to go before I’d call it proficient though.
Centre nine-patch detail, includes some outline quilting
As well as the in the ditch quilting, I’ve outline quilted the nine-patch blocks in the centre of the quilt and I love the effect of the lighter coloured thread on the dark fabric. It’s a variegated cotton perle thread that moves from orange to a light yellow and subtly picks up the colours in the fabrics.
Nine patch border detail
I plan to quilt the borders with outline quilting too, but I wonder if you think it would be ok to do that after the binding is on – or is it likely to distort the fabric in some way? Have any of you lovely quilters continued quilting after you’ve stitched the binding on, what was your experience?
Norfolk Bricks ditched!
Let me know what you think, because I think I’m in love with this quilt so far and don’t want to mess it up!
Hope you’ve had a great weekend and will see you soon! Linking up with Kathy for Slow Sunday Stitching.
When was the last time you wrote a letter? The feel of pen on paper is something I think we’re in danger of forgetting. When I look back through this 2007 series of mail art it reminds me of what it feels like to write, literally trying to form words on the page in the same way I’d try and form an image.
The series is called Unspoken and I thought I’d show you a couple more pieces today (I showed a piece from it last week that I made about my son). I won’t say too much, just a bit of background maybe, because I hope they speak for themselves.
We Will Disappear
Mixed media: body print, paper, beeswax, stitching and text. Approximately 16cm x 23cm.
We Will Disappear
We Will Disappear – the letter
We Will Disappear (stitch detail)
This image was inspired by the Laetoli footprints and the novel Human Traces, amongst other things. The text on the back reads:
I’ve picked up this pen to write to you, but all I can think is empty. I want to say something worthy, or something that you’ll always remember me for, but I realise there’s nothing. I stitch and sew to keep things together, to keep you bound tight to me, but the nature of thread is that it’s fragile. I must stitch tighter, more creatively. I wonder always if you want me bound to you in the same way. Do you use an invisible thread, because I just can’t see it? xx
My Fragile Fragments
Mixed media: paper (folded), hand stitched bag made with fabric from a party dress I had when I was 10 years old, thread, eggshells, ribbon. On the back of the bag is the word ‘hold’ stitched in black thread.
My Fragile Fragments (outside) 2009
My Fragile Fragments (opened out) 2009
So beautiful. I could never have imagined that I would receive something today that would touch me so deeply; a love letter, weaving your words of love into the fabric of my soul. The deep umber shadow that is with me through day and darkness, my constant companion, lifted long enough for me to feel the depths of your words. I want to sear the edges so that there are no loose threads to be pulled or unpicked, so that the cloth you made will bind your words behind my eyes and I will never forget. My body, so ravaged by the years, crumpled easily under the weight of tenderness you packaged up and sent to me. But what words of love can I return to you? I am bereft of anything but deep depression and longing. I long so much to be loved in the way that you love and cry rivers of tears that words like yours are never meant for me. xx
I had hoped to show you some more, but I’ve had a few problems with images loading today… so maybe one or two more next time, if you’d like to see some more? I did have another idea though. I read this article in the New York Times during the week about photographer Nicholas Nixon, who has taken a group photograph of four sisters each year over the last 40 years. It’s intriguing, and the black and white photographs are beautiful. I randomly suggested on Facebook that I bet I could rustle up 40 self portrait drawings from close to the last 40 years myself – Should I? I asked. Yes, came back a couple of replies. So, what do you think, should I? It will likely take me more than a week though, but are you curious… I think I am!
I’ll be back tomorrow with some Slow Sunday Stitching – I’ve got something to show you that I’m excited about, and after a bit more stitching tomorrow, it should be almost done.
Look forward to seeing you soon, until then happy drawing and stitching.
Norfolk Bricks sampler – mini quilt
It seems a while ago I made this sampler quilt top when I was working out ideas for my Norfolk Bricks quilt pattern. It’s been hanging on the fridge door next to my work table for a few months brightening up the space with its rich reds, so it seemed a bit impulsive to take it down and get quilting – for no reason other than I felt like it!
Beginning to quilt
I decided to try out some machine quilting alongside hand quilting, just for a change. As it was Slow Sunday Stitching it seemed like the perfect excuse to test Mary the hand cranked Singer for quilting ability. Impressive, I’d say! A great, even stitch, top and bottom and no problem feeding the quilt through with just the ordinary foot. Puckering? What puckering? None whatsoever, unlike there often is with Mrs Jones who is some 50 years her junior. (Is it weird attributing names and gender to inanimate objects? Hmm, most likely. Whatever.)
Mary quilts nicely too
I decided to keep the lines straight but irregular to emphasise the bricks, but didn’t want to go from edge to edge. This has, of course, resulted in countless loose threads that need tying in and burying. Boring. So, before that became more work that I was prepared to tolerate I switched back to my beloved hand quilting and stitching! I wouldn’t usually machine quilt so many lines so close to each other either as it results in a very stiff fabric, which isn’t what I want from a quilt. For a mini quilt or something like a mug-rug or table runner though it’s not an issue and it does create a great visual effect.
Hand quilted 9 patch detail
I’m enjoying just playing with my hand stitching on this design, but I think I’d like to create something like I did on this little square in a square runner a few years ago (follow the link for more details):
Square in a square sampler
Square in a square sampler – detail
It was very good displacement activity this weekend but really I should be getting on with the Norfolk Bricks quilt proper. It’s coming along quicker than I anticipated (now I’ve got some calluses on the go!), so hopefully I’ll have something to show you mid week. Hope your weekend was good and stitchy too, what did you get up to?
Linking up with Kathy’s Quilts for Slow Sunday Stitching – looking forward to a catch up later, coming?
At Peace, 2007
Today is a special day for me: today is my son Kim’s 17th birthday! To celebrate I thought that on today’s Art Studio post I’d share a work I made a few years ago now, a mixed media letter to Kim. It was part of a mail art (correspondence) project with another artist (‘C’). As part of the project we regularly exchanged art in the post over a period of about 18 months, beginning in 2007. Each piece of art we sent was made in response to the previous one that we’d received. Many of the ‘letters’ (not all of them included writing) were exhibited at the Exchange gallery in Penzance.
I still love this little mixed media piece, it’s so tactile and I’m really sorry you can’t feel it too!
Letter (the front)
Kim (aged 5) (centre, opened, approx 11″ x 7.5″)
Seeds (the back)
Kim was five in the photo and nine when I made this with it. The paper is hand made and has a beautiful translucency and texture to it that appeals to me for lots of reasons. The photo was always one of my favourites: Kim was lagging behind on a walk through summer fields, chatting away to himself, lost in a world of his own; one of those sentimental moments that melts your heart and stays with you forever. The fabric ‘pocket’ contains lunaria (honesty) seeds and is hand stitched in place. The seeds can move about freely behind the fabric – which was once part of the party dress I had when I was 10 years old that I mentioned in a previous post (I’m adding some of it to the Ocean Waves quilt I’m making for Kim at the moment). I sent it to the other artist in a hand made envelope, but unfortunately I don’t have a picture of that to show you today.
Maybe next week I’ll show you some more work from this series – quite a few pieces actually include stitching! For now though, I’m going to go and put some candles on a chocolate cake and get ready to celebrate with Kim. It should be a good weekend. I hope it is for you too