Saturday, 28 March 2015

Completed: The Charlotte Bartlett Quilt II

I made this quilt as my parents' Christmas gift, but I've only recently photographed it, because when I finally finished this quilt, either me or one of my family had flu (the flu took five weeks to complete a full circle of the family, with each person suffering for nearly three weeks, decimating Christmas with fevers and chills) and just the idea of hauling a quilt up onto the wall to photograph it made me ache, so I didn't bother and gave it to them only having taken a few close up photos.

To recap, I've made this quilt before and loathed every minute of construction due the repetitive machine piecing it requires, but whenever I got that first bright red snowball quilt out, my father admired it with such previously-unheard-of enthusiasm, that it spurred me on to embark on the hateful pattern once more. I called the original quilt The Charlotte Bartlett Quilt - here's an explanation of why, taken from a blog post a few years ago:

It is intended to be a huge quilt, perhaps the largest I've made, to accommodate the whole family and a picnic...however, I'm mentally reducing the amount of food that one really needs for a picnic...and even thinking that some family members may like to sit on the grass, not on the quilt at all. I shall force Charlotte Bartlettism on them to allow for a smaller quilt. 

If you haven't met Charlotte, she's a character from an EM Forster novel who featured highly in our household as I grew up. If anyone was self-sacrificing in a way that inspired guilt in others they would quickly be accused of being Charlotte Bartlett, or if one wished to imply that they themselves were being badly done by, then muttering 'no, no, you sit on the rug' in the manner of Charlotte would convey the extreme level of self-deprivation with no other explanation necessary. Here's a passage from the A Room with a View that particularly delighted my mother and shows Charlotte at her very worst!

With many a smile she produced two of those mackintosh squares that protect the frame of the tourist from damp grass or cold marble steps. She sat on one; who was to sit on the other?

"Lucy; without a moment's doubt, Lucy. The ground will do for me. Really I have not had rheumatism for years. If I do feel it coming on I shall stand. Imagine your mother's feelings if I let you sit in the wet in your white linen." She sat down heavily where the ground looked particularly moist. "Here we are, all settled delightfully. Even if my dress is thinner it will not show so much, being brown. Sit down, dear; you are too unselfish; you don't assert yourself enough." She cleared her throat. "Now don't be alarmed; this isn't a cold. It's the tiniest cough, and I have had it three days. It's nothing to do with sitting here at all."

True to form, my parents' snowball quilt ended up being much smaller than I'd originally planned too, making it a very worthy Charlotte Bartlett Quilt II. However, despite my not enjoying the pattern, I did put large amounts of love into making it, so there is no bad feeling emitted by the quilt - I would say it is positively puffy with love!

While the quilt pattern was chosen for my father, the fabrics were really very focused on my mother's tastes. Ever since I can remember, she has always revelled in rich blues and I chose the fabrics for this really carefully, trying to pinpoint which prints contained the exact shades of blue that I know she is particularly drawn to. Because Kaffe Fassett and Philip Jacobs prints are large in scale, it's actually quite a tricky task doing this via the Internet as often the swatch that you see, doesn't reveal quite how many other unexpected colours appear. I cross-referenced each print with larger samples that I could find around the Internet before ordering, to try and get around this problem and, luckily, I was really thrilled with the colours when they arrived and only omitted a few of the ones I'd ordered.

I went and photographed the quilt in situ one day in February after a dog walk with my mum and the boy child. I had thought it would take two minutes...but we discovered that we don't possess a stylist's skill for artfully draping quilts and ended up laughing over our own poor attempts at a successful this-quilt-just-happened-to-be-draped-nonchalantly-over-the-chair shots. This photo is entirely affected and there was nothing nonchalant about the draping whatsoever. It involved two grown women tweaking, pulling at it and frequently marvelling at our own ability to make a quilt look like it had been 'dolloped' somewhere. But look, at least you can see quite how right the colours are for my parents, when cross-referenced with the print on the wall!

Eventually, we realised that it was far easier to photograph a quilt when draped over a mezzanine wall, which my mother happened to have to hand (over a decade ago, we lived in this house for eight months when our own house was found to be structurally unsafe. The wall hides my parents' bedroom, which meant that they were often woken to the noise of our two-year-old daughter playing with farm animals and having tea parties below! In retrospect, this was possibly the loveliest alarm clark imaginable for them).

The photo below shows you the piecing before it was quilted. I really love the snowy blue print that sits between each snowball. 

I also really love that hidden in amongst all the snowballs, is a picture of my father's moustachioed face (before he grew a beard). I asked my parents if they could find his face in the quilt and apparently they could. 

The quilting for this was something of an experiment. As a graduate from the School of Straight-Line Quilting, as well as that of the University of Seaweed-Shaped Meandering, I felt the need to embark on another course of action that challenged my over-reliance on these two techniques. I sought advice on Instagram as to where I should go next, and someone came up with the clever idea of big, lazy concentric flower petals, that are just (apparently) one step up from the curves of seaweed. 

You can see a close up of some of my flowers here. I would say it took the course of the entire quilt for me to come close to completing a perfect flower - I am awe of people who have the ability to do incredibly intricate quilting, because for me, this took days and extreme amounts of concentration. Every time my husband came up to see me, I was sat in exactly the same place, doing exactly the same thing, seemingly making very little progress at all. My husband took this photo of me one night at around midnight when he went off to bed (for the uninitiated, the white gloves are quilting paraphernalia, rather than a sartorial homage to Michael Jackson), but a photo taken 24 hours later would have looked almost identical. Quilting does not come naturally to me. 

Right, it's now half-past nine on Saturday morning and I probably ought to get out of bed. 

Wishing you a lovely weekend, 
Florence x

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Giveaway winner

Thank you so much for all the thoughtful comments you left on my give away post. More than any other giveaway I've ever done, seeing these entries flooding into my inbox gave me enormous delight, especially as many of them arrived on my birthday. I truly loved reading about your extravagances, even though I think the word is almost a contradiction of itself, because your answers crystallised what I'd already been thinking when considering my own: an extravagance is rarely a true extravagance to the person appreciating the thing in question, when to them it feels like the most worthwhile use of time or money, rather than a squandering of it, contrary to what the word 'extravagance' implies.

So many of you wrote that your sewing or craft supplies as your extravagance - guiltily, I realised that I hadn't even considered that as one of mine. I think I may have consigned those things as living in the same category as air, water and food. Oops. 

I really loved how similar many of our extravagances are, but also how many odd, curious ones cropped up too (like the ownership of a beautiful red tractor, which doesn't do any useful farming tasks, but which makes a delicious noise putt-putting around the lanes on a summer's afternoon! I really loved that idea). If you ever have half an hour to spare with a cup of coffee (because I now know that coffee is the extravagance of many), do read through the comments - there's something deliciously cheering about reading comment after comment of people savouring the small things - thank you so much to everyone who entered!

The English paper piecing paraphernalia will be sent to Julie of Mack and Mabel, who said: For me it's definitely books. I buy them even when I know I might not have time to read them. I feel comforted having them around me, having them on the coffee table to pick up at odd moments and to be able to share them with family and friends. Julie, please do send your address and I'll get your little package of goodness sent out to you. Thank you so much to Backstitch for offering up the loveliness!

Florence x

Thursday, 5 March 2015

An English paper piecing giveaway

I have a giveaway in the form of some English paper piecing paraphernalia from my lovely sponsor, Backstitch, for you today, which includes my most favourite EPP accessory ever: the Sewline Glue Pen, which dispenses with the need for hand basting. I have three of these glue pens myself and normally like to keep around 20 glue refills in my desk drawer so that a lack of glue or a lost glue pen can never be the cause of a project grinding to a halt (many things can halt a project for me - usually indecision over fabric choices - but to be stopped purely on practical grounds would feel disastrous. Like the time when I was 38 weeks pregnant with our first child, aged 23, and I rang my mother in tears because I was so desperate to bake cakes, but didn't own any of my own baking trays. I still have many of the mixing bowls and trays that she sweetly dug out from her own kitchen cupboards and gave to me from that time, but I think it may test her powers of ingenuity to find an EPP glue pen at the back of her drawers now when she doesn't sew, so I find it's best to stay well-prepared on this front). 

There is also some silver-coloured thread (unless I'm piecing white fabrics, I usually pick silver for EPP because it blends well with most colours); 50 precut 1.5" hexagon paper pieces, an acrylic hexagon template for rotary cutting fabrics; some lovely fabrics and, possibly most lovely of all (I don't know why this part of the whole package delighted me so much when it arrived, but it did as I hadn't noticed that they were selling them) a Backstitch drawstring bag to stow it all away in! It's a fantastic starter kit if you're new to EPP and has some lovely stock items if you're already absorbed by it.

To be in with the chance to win, I was going to throw it open and say that you should pick one question of your choice from the Proust questionnaire and answer it, but, perhaps you might not have time for going off and surveying all the questions and then trying to decide which to answer, so for those on what a friend's husband calls 'a tight schedule!', I thought I'd pick one question from it myself and ask: what is your greatest extravagance? 

I think extravagance is such a subjective thing and what one person sees as a waste of money, another may feel is an almost priceless luxury - I'd love to know what this means to you. I've been discussing this with my husband over lunch and we found it quite difficult to pin down our own extravagances, because often that thing will feel essential to you and your only context for it being extravagant is an awareness that others may view it as such. It's almost easier to see what others' extravagances might be than your own. 

Then there is also the issue of whether extravagance is being viewed in terms of time, money, environmental resources, convenience or the many other ways in which it can manifest itself, so instead of picking just one thing I'm going to put forward a whole list of my own extravagances (omitting the 20 glue stick refills, which if you don't do EPP may appear extravagant, but if you do, you'll very likely understand it's a moderate amount): 
  • Having the heating on whenever I'm cold, irrespective of the time of year. 
  • Going on weekday dog walks out in the countryside, even though it would be quicker to walk close to home. 
  • Having my eyebrows threaded each month by someone lovely, just because it makes me feel nice to have them neat and tidy (rather than any practical reason, such as that my brows are actually draping into my eyes and causing a hazard while driving! To me, getting a haircut feels like far more of an inessential, but I can see that it may appear the other way around to most, which is why eyebrow maintenance is appearing here on my extravagance list). 
  • Buying fresh flowers always feels incredibly extravagant, but when I weigh up the amount of pleasure that £2 worth of daffodils can offer, they feel far better value than many other things. 
  • Collecting pizza every Friday night - an extravagance of both money and, for me, gluten intake, but it's something that the whole family looks forward to, so I'd rather forgo many other things before sacrificing this. 
Over to you! I'm so looking forward to reading what your own greatest extravagances are. 

Florence x

Monday, 2 March 2015

A Miscellany

Today's post is a miscellany of other people's delicious things! I hope you enjoy it.

When I was researching possible fabrics for making up an Amy Butler Gum Drop Pouffe a few weeks ago, I found myself disappearing down a rabbit hole when I discovered Ian Lawson, a photographer who has created an incredibly beautiful book entitled From the Land Comes the Cloth, a photographic and written journal telling the story of crofters and weavers on the Outer Hebrides as they manufacture Harris Tweed. You can look inside the book here and I defy you not to fall in love with the photography, but the words are just as captivating - do save it for a time when you can read as well as look. The book is eye-wateringly expensive, but once I'd looked though it, I found myself thinking that if there comes a point where something needs celebrating in treat-form, then it may be with the Classic Edition of this book, which is cloth bound and, I feel sure, probably worth every penny.

I think I'm a bit closer to deciding which fabric I'm going to use for my Gum Drop and it's nothing to do with Harris Tweed, but it was a welcome detour. I've only heard good things about the Gum Drop pattern and having recently found a new (or new-old, as it's a Victorian dining table with the legs sawn off) coffee table that's big enough to play board games on, we realised we wanted some low-level seating to pull up around it. I'll let you know how construction goes.

When I was gazing at the cloth bound books above, I suddenly realised that, while I'd posted on Instagram over the summer when it arrived with me, I hadn't shared here on my blog, my sister, Laura's, latest in the series of poetry books which she anthologises for Penguin, whose hardback editions have always been bound in delicious cloth (aside from Poems by Heart, which is a smaller book, more suited for tucking into your bag and bringing out when you're stuck on a bus and want to attempt to commit a favourite poem to memory). This is the problem with Instagram - sharing things there too makes it very difficult to remember what I have and haven't written about here, but I now, cunningly, keep a list on my phone of things I want to post about here, so that I should never be outfoxed by this problem again.

I know that many of you have enjoyed Poems for Life and Poems for Love, so I really want to mention Poems for Weddings. The beautiful cover design is again by Coralie Bickford-Smith and inside Laura has divided the poetry up into Proposals; Declarations; Promises; Celebrations; Continuations; and Confetti - a deliciously apt term for fragments and shorter poems, which I'm imagining would be perfect on favours, invitations and place settings. Poems for Weddings would make a wonderfully special gift for anyone who is planning a wedding.  And gulp. As well as being dedicated our parents, this book is also dedicated to me and my husband - a stomach-flip-floppingly lovely surprise when I opened it last year (it also includes one of my favourite poems, Love Adrian Henri).

If you enjoy poetry you can also hear my sister discussing Emily Dickinson's 'I Dwell in Possibility' with Steve Wasserman in his Read Me Something You Love podcast - I love the way this programme is produced with lots of quirky overlaying of clips. I was so pleased to find that my sister also often just reads a difficult-to-pronounce name in a book as a loose, slightly gibberish, interpretation of the word, rather than stopping to properly sound it out. I'd never vocalised that I did this, but I'm now wondering if many people do this? The discussion is also available as a free podcast on iTunes  - episode RMSYL 57. Coincidentally, I noticed today that Juliet Stevenson is reading Emily Dickinson at The Southbank Centre in London this weekend as part of the Women of the World festival - seriously considering going along to learn how to fashion the perfect headwrap, amongst other things).

Moving away from things bound in cloth, I don't read many blogs that aren't sewing-related, but aside from Cup of Jo, a New York-based lifestyle blog, I really enjoy the interiors blog, Apartment Apothecary. Its author, Katy, recently began a feature called 'Ask Apartment Apothecary', where you can write in with your very own house-related conundrums. Being a huge fan of Katy's style, I took no second-bidding and immediately sent Katy a very lengthy email asking her for her advice on what I should put in our empty, blocked-up fireplace, because nothing that I have ever put in there has seemed quite right. Today we have some daffodils sitting in there, but very often we have nothing at all. It is just a hole in the room. You can read her reply here.

Katy's answer was completely unexpected, but just the kind of insightful expert advice I'd been hoping for - as she didn't think the fireplace was the problem at all...but instead an issue with the overall balance of the room (unfortunately, my husband isn't particularly enthused by rebalancing the room when it involves construction work, but it's nice to know what the solution is if he ever does wake up with the curious desire to build some cupboards and shelves or to pay someone else to wield a saw on our behalf!). If you have your own strokey-beard home-related query, do write to Katy - she has a real gift for winkling out what might help, as well as not appearing to discriminate in the face of a slightly insane plea for help, in my case accompanied by a super-long email detailing every sorry thing that has ever been temporarily housed in the fireplace since it was built in 1927 (in reality only since 2006, but it may have felt more like 1927 on reading). You can read other posts in the AAA series, here.

Finally, a few weeks ago, Alice, owner of Backstitch, interviewed me for a new series on her blog called From Where I Sew. I enjoyed answering Alice's thought-provoking questions and you can read her post here (I always love reading articles where the questions have been edited out to make it sound more like a flowing series of thoughts, so I liked reading this as it felt completely new to me! It's also lovely to have someone else edit my thoughts into a more concise package than the sprawling, adjective-strewn form that they normally appear in!). Thank you, Alice. I'm looking forward to reading whatever comes next in the series.

I began writing this post last week and then went away for a few days with my sister, so didn't quite finish it, but I have so much more to tell you now! There simply don't seem to be enough hours in the week for all the blog posts that I want to write at the moment. Me and my husband are currently busy wrapping up a new soon-to-be-released app and a few weeks ago we ran a last minute competition, so that we could include some designs from the children who already use our apps. These competitions are my very favourite thing about our work - if you're interested and love looking at children's artwork as much as I do, you can see a handful of the entries here. I also love seeing just how close to the original artwork we can make the graphics too.

Right, I think that may be about it for today. I have an English paper piecing related give away coming up, so do check back later in the week for that.

Florence x

Ps. The picture of Nell's sweet little snout sniffing the daffodils actually melts my heart. I love that she appreciates so many of the same things as we do.
A few of the books/products that I link to on Amazon from my blog contain affiliate links and very occasionally, I'll mention a product that I've been given free of charge. I choose the things that I recommend carefully and my priority is to only share things that I love.