Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Rainbow Soup and Other Thoughts

The photos in this post may well give the impression that I'm merrily making rainbow soup, throwing all the colours into the pan willy-nilly, but it's not actually going to be a soup at all. Once the pieced blocks are all arranged, it will be more akin to a tart where the chef has spent quite some time carefully considering vegetable placement.

I'm colour-matching each piece to a plan that I drew up in Illustrator, which is somewhat time-consuming and constraining at times, as I only cut the pieces during daylight hours as it's hard to get a completely accurate colour match in synthetic light, but I love working in this way. It means that the creative part of the process takes place on my laptop, so the cutting and sewing part is an entirely meditative thing, free from stressful pondering, seam-ripping or fabric wastage. I know that playing with the actual fabric is meant to be the relaxing, artistic part, but for a long-term project, I like to cling onto the security blanket of knowing exactly how the final version will look. I also really love messing around with things on a computer screen, so this way it means the whole process is enjoyable for me.

This piece was partly inspired by my mother-in-law asking me a question about something that I was already feeling. She was standing in our hallway one day, admiring a piece that hangs on the wall there, and said 'Do you ever feel like doing anything freer and less structured?' I feel compelled to say, just in case anyone reads her question in the wrong way, as it's easy to misunderstand the tone of things when they're written down, that I'm lucky to have a mother-in-law who's both lovely and incredibly artistic, so this wasn't a criticism, just an open question as part of our on-going conversation about all things textile-related.

Her question tapped in to how I'd been feeling at that time though (it was several months ago now). I'm naturally drawn to order and structure, but I had started to experience a feeling that's similar to when I've been wearing the same shoes all day and my toes crave some room to stretch and wiggle and feel the ground (actually, make that a carpet. Nell has brought about many positive changes in me, but there's no need to sink one's trotters into the mud in midwinter, just because it sounds like the right thing to do). This project has really cured me of that tight-shoed feeling and also breathed fresh air into my love of English paper piecing.

It's amused me though that even when working on something that's visually far less structured than my usual style, I can't actually break away entirely from a love of order...from the way that I've drafted this pattern and am then using it as a map, to numbered storage systems. It seems to prove that no matter how you might try to run away from yourself, the fundamental essence will still be there!

To keep things in order, each set of pieces is numbered and stored carefully in its own compartment until they've been sewn together. I've tended to spend a day cutting enough pieces for several blocks and then pieced them together slowly over the following evenings. It's been an oddly enjoyable process for something that's so repetitive and I've looked forward to refilling the box with fresh pieces and then watching fully-formed blocks take over each compartment all over again.

When I come to piece a block together I lay out a block, referring to my plan to see what should go where...then it's just a case of slowly stitching them together while devouring endless episodes of Grey's Anatomy.

Once a new row has been completed, it's then pinned onto my design wall. The final thing will be made up of two different blocks - I decided to create the main blocks first and to only begin on the secondary blocks that will connect them once I'd finished. I'm excited to have now finally moved onto sewing these connecting blocks, although I do feel a little sad to have left behind this stage of the project - I've really enjoyed it. Without the interconnecting blocks in place, it's still not really apparent where I'm going with this, but it's all matching up to my plan, so we can rest easy! Phew.

I love this photo of the fabrics glowing in the late afternoon sun.

In other thoughts, yesterday morning brought what felt like quite shocking news about Freespirit/Westminster Fabrics being closed by its parent company, Coats. Freespirit is home to virtually every one of my favourite designers: Anna Maria Horner, Amy Butler, Kaffe Fassett, Tula Pink...the list goes on. There are many different types of print that make up a healthy fabric stash, but to me, these names represent the beautiful, painterly end of things and my stash would feel a less joyful place without them in it. They and their designs are all so well loved that I feel sure this will eventually be a catalyst for new adventures and that (so many fingers crossed) their fabrics designs will become available again through different sources. What a loss though, and so sad for the many people working behind the scenes who have lost their jobs. For now, it's taking considerable amounts of willpower not to panic purchase my favourite prints. The Craft Industry Alliance blog has shared a little more detail about Coats' decision - the comments are interesting to read too, although largely speculative.

It's half-term here this week. We've been on long country walks and, on rainier days, decamped to strange places with wall-to-wall trampolines (along with the tiny twins of the Twin Peaks quilt); met up with family and friends at various points to eat scrambled eggs in our favourite coffee shop; rewatched When Harry Met Sally with my mum, sister and the joyful creature that I mentioned in this post (yes, it seems there are babies everywhere in my life right now! Also, it's funny how much some films date visually - we were shocked by how overtly 1980s When Harry Met Sally now looked); spent a lovely evening looking at our friend's daughter's beautiful textiles coursework, fuelled by prosecco and pizza; and I've also sat stitching with my daughter at times. It's all been quite low-key, with lots of work fitted in around the edges, but I love these kinds of holidays where there's no real plan.

Finally, Valentine's Day. There are so many things that I'd like to go back and tell my younger self (really, I think I could write a whole book on the subject), but one of them would be not to be quite so quick to pour scorn on Valentine's Day. As an 18 year old, I was quick to dismiss it and although my then-boyfriend-now-husband tried to circumvent my stance by arriving with goldfish (complete with awesome tank, gravel and interesting rocks), rather than roses, even that failed to thaw my cold anti-commercialist heart. As I sat chatting with friends today and Valentines plans cropped up in conversation it suddenly hit me that I'd really rather ruined the path to an extra annual day of fun all those years ago. In 2008, we briefly attempted to try Valentine's Day on for size, which was fun, but somehow didn't break down the years of anti-valentine that had accumulated. Damn that foolish young thing who inhabited my mind back then! How do you feel about Valentine's Day?

Florence x

Ps. Last year, someone I'd recently interviewed over the phone sent me a signed Valentine in the post (amazingly, it arrived on my doorstep on February 14th, even though it had come all the way from America - she's a magical woman, so I guess that's the kind of thing that would happen). There was something so lovely about receiving a non-romantic valentine from another woman. I've since discovered that the practice of celebrating girlfriends in this way is called Galentine's Day - such a sweet idea. I might do some Galentining next year.
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