Monday, 17 July 2017

From Brush to Needle


I'd said in my last post about my latest English paper piecing pattern, Eight Dials, that I'd show you some of the blocks for another version that I've been working on - as promised, they are completely different - it doesn't even look like the same pattern. I wanted to explain my thinking behind these blocks, so bear with me - there are lots more images later in the post!

A few months ago, I came downstairs to show my husband the latest block that I'd sewn. It's nice, he said. I think most students who travelled through the English education system will have had it drummed into them that 'nice' is a forbidden adjective, lacking in imagination and permissible only at times when one is totally unenthused by something. Despite, at that point, feeling like a rather reluctant and weary sort of fish, I took the bait and asked him what the problem was. He suggested that the thing I'd just made was similar in colour and style to most of what I'd made over the past year (for a Secret Project, yet to be shared here). But I LOVE those colours, I replied. I use them a lot because to my eyes they are the best of colours; when I open my fabric drawers, they're what I feel drawn to pull out.

My husband put down his laptop and lay back on the sofa - a signal that he was either about to fall asleep or give me his COMPLETE attention. On this occasion, it was the latter. He broke it to me that  the problem with always using similar colours, no matter how much you love them, is that you risk stagnating, becoming bored and eventually failing to move forward creatively. I saw his point, even though it was slightly painful to hear. But I found the idea of using a totally different colour palette uninspiring - why would I use colours that I don't truly love? And also, maybe, a little overwhelming.

Next, he said something wise and then something extremely practical and helpful. Together they made this one of our Favourite Conversations Ever, because it felt like I sat down with one mindset and left shortly after with one that was totally refreshed. He first told me that he thought people were often able to be more creative when they had constraints placed on their work. He explained that when he used to have clients (in a previous life, my husband was a web and games designer), having a brief to stick to was actually a springboard to coming up with an exciting design. Mmmm.

So how do I put constraints on my work, I asked (because why think for yourself when you have your own Wise Man suddenly lying on the sofa)? He suggested that I could base each block for a quilt on the colour palette of a painting that I really loved. The conversation had gone from uncomfortable, to thought-provoking, to finally a level of inspiration that saw me haring off upstairs hungry to wield a rotary cutter and leaving him perfectly positioned for an afternoon nap.

An afternoon looking at Matisse's paintings in The Hermitage, St Petersburg, while in Russia with my sister, planted a seed that has left him as one of my favourite artists and so moments later I was printing out one of his paintings and matching up fabrics. The dilemmas that would normally bring my work to a standstill disappeared, entrusting those decisions on Matisse's magical hands (it helps to pick someone's work who you really love, so that you trust them entirely on these matters). It was possibly one of the most invigorating afternoons of my sewing life to date. It made me look not only at the painting differently, but my whole fabric collection. My Eight Dials pattern allows for four fabrics to be used in each block and it was immensely satisfying to try and find fabrics that each contained a few specific colours so that all of the colours in the painting could be represented. It was also unusually speedy and free-flowing - I decided on my fabrics in less than 1.5 hours...something that has previously been known to take days!


This block is based on The Painting Lesson, 1919. Here, the pink roses and green vase are represented at the centre of the block; the grey of the girl's shirt appears in the next round; the yellow of the artist, canvas, lemons and mirror and the cream of the table cloth are represented in the penultimate round; while the black background, the girl's skin and the highlights in her hair are revealed in the final squares. They're not colours I would have chosen to put together - I have always avoided mixing pink and yellow - but I adore how this block turned out.


Next, Calla Lilies, Irises and Mimosas, 1913. The central blue print represents the backdrop of the painting and also the style of the design that appears both there and in the table cloth; the greens (light and dark) are represented in the next round (although the darkest green not in the qualities that I would have ideally liked); Next, some more blue to bolster the vibrancy of the earlier blues and also to give a smattering of white found in the calla lilies and the yellow found in the mimosa; finally the coral swathe of fabric that appears in the background is picked up in the outer squares.

It's interesting to take a photo that blurs both the block and the painting, as it's here that I can see whether I've achieved what I was hoping for.



I'll post some more blocks once I've had a chance to photograph them - these were taken shortly because the light started to fade this evening. I'll also show you the colours I'm intending to use to connect them together. 

If you'd like to join me in an artist-inspired version of Eight Dials, I'm using the hashtag #frombrushtoneedle over on Instagram. And if you missed it and are interested, you can find the pattern here

Over the summer, I'm visiting the area around Nice in France - Vence is home to some of Matisse's stained glass windows and there's also a new exhibition opening at Musée Matisse in the centre of Nice - super-excited would be an understatement! We stayed in England last summer and although we had some wonderful time away, I'm looking forward to being abroad again. 

I'm wondering if anyone is familiar with the area around Nice and knows of some good fabric shops? Dressmaking or quilt-making? And maybe some vegetarian restaurants? 

Florence x

30 comments:

  1. Interesting how "nice" started as a dismissive word, became an artistic catalyst, and ended the post as "Nice", a visitor destination for more soul-filling art/inspiration. Ah, words...!

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    1. That's so funny - I hadn't noticed that, but you're right - it's a full circle of niceness! x

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  2. What a brilliant conversation you had together! I like to use constraints- mini challenges, using a colour I don't like, using a new colour palette. I like magazine commissions with a specific element to include too rather than total freedom. Creativity loves to rise to a challenge!

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    1. Yes, I guess it's in all of those things - I'd somehow never stood back and thought of it consciously before as a 'thing', but I can see how regularly imposing them into your work would increase creativity now. x

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  3. This is such an inspiring post, thank you for sharing it. I often advise friends who say they have no eye for colour to pick a particular fabric or decorative object and find the colours in it to use as a spring board but how wonderful to use a favourite painting as inspiration. i now have all sorts of ideas buzzing in my head. Please thank your husband from me too for putting down that laptop and engaing in what turned out to be a revelationary conversation for you and I'm sure for many others, myself included.

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    1. I'm so pleased it's left you feeling that way, because that's exactly how my head felt too! x

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  4. Well, this is exciting! I was lurking on your Instagram and when I saw the black/yellow photo my first thought was, "Ooh, Florence is breaking out of her colour comfort zone!" Couldn't agree with your Wise Man more about the power of limitations, almost feel a blog post of my own coming on (don't count on it). Great to have a live-in constructive critic, isn't it? Felicia has been writing about her colour comfort zone on thecraftsessions.com recently - you might be interested. x

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    1. Are you on Instagram yourself, Nina, or were you just using the web version? Please do tell me your username if you are!

      Ha! I love that you clocked that the moment you saw it.

      I've never read The Craft Sessions before, but from the little I've read just now, it's wonderful - I will add it to my reader. Thank you for mentioning it (do you have any other recommendations? A lot of the blogs I used to follow don't really post anymore and have moved over to IG instead). Are you referring to the post about allowing yourself to suck and knitting the gloves? I really enjoyed it :) I will await your post...but without holding any breath so as to avoid laying on too much pressure! x

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    2. Yep, that post - and I'm sure she's discussed it before as well. I've recently discovered mademywardrobe.com which is really unique and extremely beautiful (very harrowing back-story). No, still not on IG, was just looking on computer screen - I'm one of the last 3 people on Flickr! x

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    3. Oh yes - I think either my sister or mum sent me a cutting from the newspaper about Made My Wardrobe - I will follow up with some blog reading - thank you. Do you think IG will happen in this decade or do you object to the very idea of it (I seem to recall it was just a not-the-right-kind-of-phone issue, but am now wondering whether you are taking a stand in defence of Flickr)? x

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  5. Really interesting post, Florence. I looked in my stash drawer and at first glance there was a definite lack of yellows, greens and reds. I must consider that next time I make a quilt. Currently I'm making dolly's clothes which have, of course, to be mainly pink when the dolly owner is 4 years old!
    I love the idea of matching fabric to paintings-all the lovely turquioses in some Hockney's and Renoir's blues come immediately to mind. My husband has a tendency to say things are 'nice' when he's axtually not enthusiastic, so that rang a definite bell.

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    1. They're all the same colours that I had less of (now rectified...oh dear!) - particularly red. Excluding Liberty, I had just four red prints. It feels quite amazing that I could have unwittingly written off so many colours!

      Yes, those artists would be a brilliant springboard. x

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  6. Can't spell today - I mean actually.

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  7. This is such an interesting idea Florence, I love how your blocks have turned out. It might also be nice to use colours from photographs (for example family memories) as well as paintings. Really beautiful work as usual.

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  8. What a great way to use colour and print in a way that's related to a painting but also stands by itself if the original inspiration isn't shown alongside it. Genius! (Both of you!) I love this idea!!

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    1. That was the thing that I've kept wondering, Helen: does this rosette appeal to me in isolation, when not thinking about the painting its based on, and oddly all the ones I've made so far do - clever Matisse!

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  9. A fascinating post full of inspiration and energy! Have a wonderful time in Nice and enjoy the exhibitions.

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  10. Thank you for another very enjoyable post. Your thoughts and ideas (on this and many of your other posts) have helped me think more creatively and I really appreciate that!

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    1. What a lovely comment - thank you.

      It's so helpful when people share the way that they work, isn't it. I always remember someone on Instagram talking to me about 'giving the eye room to rest' when planning out fabrics for a project - it wasn't something I'd previously been conscious of as a 'thing'. I'd often put a plain fabric in only when I couldn't find quite the right fussy-cut to go with all the surrounding fussy-cuts - it was only later that I realised that a plain fabric was actually what was needed, but my reason for putting it in at that time was often defeat, rather than as a conscious positive act. It really changed the way I worked when planning out my Passacaglia cogwheels and pretty much everything else since :)

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  11. Thank you so much for sharing this - I'm new to EPP and struggle to choose colours. I'm now feeling more confident already. Big thankyou to both you and your husband 😊

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  12. I have never done any quilt making but I have often felt like it's something that will envelop me one day. This post has likely brought that forward as I can see a clear way of putting something together that should result in a quilt I really like.

    Please thank your husband from me for his inspiring thoughts. Also thanks to you for your inspiration over the months I have been reading your blog :)

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    1. Wow! I'm so pleased, Amy - that's really lovely. I'd love to see your quilt once you've got started.

      And thank you - that means a lot. x

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  13. Really interesting post, Florence. I looked in my stash drawer and at first glance there was a definite lack of yellows, greens and reds. I must consider that next time I make a quilt. Currently I'm making dolly's clothes which have, of course, to be mainly pink when the dolly owner is 4 years old!
    I love the idea of matching fabric to paintings-all the lovely turquioses in some Hockney's and Renoir's blues come immediately to mind. My husband has a tendency to say things are 'nice' when he's axtually not enthusiastic, so that rang a definite bell.

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    1. I've replied above - I'm wondering if there's a technical glitch as it's just reposted exactly what you said earlier. x

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    2. Sorry, Florence. Blogger keeps posting my comments twice -often hours or even days apart! I can't seem to get to the bottom of it though I do usually find and delete the duplicates. It's really annoying.

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    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x

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