Exhibitions, films and magazines
There are so many exciting exhibitions on at the moment that I thought I might share a few here, but first, for immediate sofa-based consumption, The Quilter, the quarterly magazine produced by The Quilter's Guild for its members. The magazine is always packed full of interesting articles, features and news about quilt-related events and shows, but being a Guild member is also an investment in our country's quilt-based heritage and sustaining the collection that the Guild holds in York. Since 1979 when the Guild first began, they've been buying quilts to bring together a collection of over 800 today. It feels important that not only does the UK have some central point for curating a history of our quilting, but also a place that works to preserve those examples and uncover some of the history behind each piece. When I was researching my book, I spent an afternoon at the Guild's headquarters in York, studying some of the quilts alongside curator Heather Audin, and it's quite a dreamy place and Heather has so much knowledge to share - from memory, I think they hold regular study days where people can go and look at the quilts.
One of the quilts that the Guild owns is the 1718 Coverlet, which contains the oldest known example of English paper piecing in The British Isles. It's currently being displayed at The America Museum, where I just happened to be recently as my daughter and I had gone up to Bath for a few days as a post-GCSE treat. The museum has a shuttle bus that takes you up from the centre of town and it's a gorgeous location with amazing views from the back of the building.
The coverlet is displayed on a raised platform on the floor, presumably to avoid stressing the fabrics by hanging it, and it feels a very unusual way of viewing a quilt in a museum, but really quite lovely and intimate. The quilt is covered by a sheet of plastic to protect it from light and fingers - I've never actually touched a quilt in a museum or exhibition, but it's an exercise in self-restraint...a momentary slip in concentration and I could quite easily imagine my hand being sucked down into the quilt-stroking vortex.
The blocks in the quilt are placed with vertical symmetry, with each block mirrored across onto the other side of the quilt, although there's no symmetry top to bottom. From this viewpoint, it was interesting to look at which fabrics had deteriorated on one side and to see that the same was usually true on the other side.
The central fabric on these blocks had sadly worn away on both sides of the quilt to reveal the papers beneath - it was quite thrilling to see some handwriting on one of them though. And look at all those little stitches.
These circles have such perfectly smooth outlines and gorgeous colours too. It's amazing to think those stitches were made 300 years ago - the fabrics are still so vibrant. It's rare for this quilt to make an outing as it's so fragile, but to celebrate it's 300th anniversary it will also be on display at Festival of Quilts this year in August, where the Guild will also be sharing some replicas of the coverlet made by its members. I'm so looking forward to seeing the reproductions (and relieved to have already seen the original coverlet in a deserted room, as I imagine it will be swamped at the festival - worth a trip to Bath if you're nearby).
Upstairs at the American Museum, the quilts are hung in enormous frames that you can flip through, or creak through...they are heavy and with each turn sound like an unoiled door opening, which is quite atmospheric.
This was my favourite quilt - a Grandmother's Flower Garden from 1840 - the colours are beautiful and I love the way that they've pieced the borders.
We were also fascinated to find that each individual hexagon wasn't individually wrapped and pieced - in many places two or three hexagons were combined, which you can see in the photo above. It seemed quite ingenious and I couldn't stop looking at it and hunting out the combined pieces, but when I thought about making some myself this way, I found it would feel like cheating. Looking at this weird moral quirk objectively, I realised that it's based purely on an inexplicable 'instinct' as I have no idea who or what it would be 'cheating', particularly when surely it's just actually a new elongated shape in its own right, a bit like the body of a caterpillar. As an aside to this kind of over-analysis, last night at my writing class we were looking at the Myers Briggs questionnaire with the idea that you could complete it on behalf of one of your characters and in doing so get a firmer idea of who they are as you consider what their response would be to each statement. One of the statements to be agreed or disagreed with was something along the lines of: I believe that everything can be analysed. Typing up this post just now and realising that I'm even analysing why I wouldn't combine hexagons, I guess that one is curiously strong in me. The website we used in class wasn't great, but if you're interested in doing a personality test yourself, my husband and I have done this one before and found the results freakily accurate, so much so that our children ended up doing it too and really enjoyed it.
We stayed at a really lovely hotel while we were in Bath and that was wonderfully quirky and eccentric in its decor. This was a mural painted on the wall in the bar...
And this was on our bedroom wall, by a local sixth form student, Jamie Mount, aged 17. Our bedroom was up in the attic and really lovely, but even with a Dyson fan we nearly melted and died in our bed at night (it was only about 18 degrees during the day, so I think this may be an all-summer issue). If you're considering staying, it would be worth paying a bit more and going for a room on a lower floor. All guests were free to raid the larder, which was a small room full of soft drinks, sweets, brownies and a freezer full of ice-cream...this detail and the amazing art all over the hotel somehow made up for overheating each night.
It was worth taking the stairs rather than the lift as the staircases are covered in treats.
We liked these framed pom-poms.
We went to an amazing vegetarian cafe called The Green Rocket a few times where we had wonderful salads and cakes; we also visited The Boston Tea Party for scrambled eggs and had pizzas at Dough Pizza. I can't eat gluten and they had four types of gluten free base, which seemed quite incredible. I went for the gluten free hemp base topped with aubergine and gorgonzola (my own combination, but a winning one) and it was one of the best things I've ever tasted. My daughter said her full-gluten version was amazing too.
One evening we went to the Bath Thermae Spa. The lilac woggles, which people place beneath their arms to enjoy floating around with, are in very hot demand and waiting for a woggle to be abandoned is an amusing situation: both us and others we noticed, watched furtively, not wanting to look too desperate and then not wanting to appear too fast and grabby when one does finally become free, but underneath feeling so very keen to have that damn woggle! We were privately scandalised by one woman who saw fit to hog a woggle beneath each arm when all around her people stood utterly woggleless. Surely there is a clear woggle etiquette. This is only the second spa I've been to and I think ultimately although I find spas fun for very brief periods, I really like to either be 'doing' things while relaxing (i.e. hand-sewing) or to do things to relax (i.e. the hand-sewing becomes the vehicle to relaxation). Passive floating just makes me feel restless. My daughter seemed to feel the same, so we were both ready to relinquish our woggles long before our two hour slot was up and went off to forage for pizza (using a knife and fork: curiously relaxing).
Back in London, at the always wonderful Fashion & Textiles Museum, Orla Kiely: A Life in Pattern. I'm really looking forward to visiting this one.
Then over at the V&A, Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up. I am more than a little in love with Frida, so I'm really excited about this one. I really enjoyed watching the eponymously named film about Frida's life too (trailer here), although discovering what went on behind the scenes of that movie when the Harvey Weinstein scandal unfolded left a bitter taste in the mouth and took the edge off the movie. You can find Frida in stunning quilt-form here.
Patrick mentions a few things within the video that you might like to take a look at if you're interested to find out more: his maverick clothing factory, Community Clothing (with gorgeous raincoats); a film called The True Cost about the cost of the fashion industry in terms of human lives; Machines, a film by Rahul Jain, which goes inside a sweatshop in India. I haven't had a chance to watch more than the trailers for the latter two yet, but I'm steeling myself to watch them soon.
Ps. Yes, dear readers! I have contact lens and I'm so grateful for all your input in the comments on this post where I was pondering them. I have an astigmatism in my left eye, which meant that they had to do all kinds of weird things to get them to work for me, first with a differently-shaped contact lens that felt hideously uncomfortable and then by compensating within the prescription to allow me to wear regular ones, but they really do work and I feel I've been given the gift of sight. It's always a shock at the end of a day wearing them to take them out and realise that that gift isn't actually permanent or truly mine to keep. I don't wear them every day, as they throw my near vision out, so if I'm having a day at home on my laptop or sewing, then they I leave them out, but they're fun for going out into the world with.