Thursday, 28 February 2019

Public Quilt Photography

I rarely venture into public places to photograph quilts for my blog - I've always tended to be more of a covert, indoor sort of quilt photographer; my own back garden or my parents' house reserved for those times when I've wanted to go wild and step my location up a level (I wonder if you realised you were experiencing the deluxe option on those occasions?).

Writing my book forced me to venture outside, and I found my eyes started to hone in on possible photoshoot locations: old barn doors with peeling paint work, drystone walls, or weathered gate posts, the sight of one appearing like a mirage in the distance causing me to up my pace and race toward it (some would say scuttle, but it's not the style of the dash that's important). I hadn't imagined venturing out with a quilt after my book was finished though, yet it seems a switch has flipped within me, and I've unwittingly joined the league of quilters who take their quilts out into the wild to photograph them. On country walks, I now notice an attractive wall and feel a yearning to bring a quilt back next time to drape over it - possibly a relatively normal thing within our community, but I suspect a distinctly odd thing within the context of the wider world.

Despite my husband being a relaxed accomplice in this activity and our route being largely unpopulated except for sheep, I felt oddly self-conscious - as though I were a burglar stealing photos. If someone was sighted in the distance, I felt compelled to stuff the quilt hastily back into the rucksack and then loiter until the person had passed (possibly worse than just being the oddball taking photos of a quilt - when you're waiting to do something until someone has gone, it is almost impossible not to look shifty).

I suspect it may all feel more normal in summer when a picnic blanket is a legitimate thing to take on a walk, but as there was still snow on the ground in the more shaded places on this walk in January, it would have been hard to carry off...

The photo below is from the same walk - unlike the quilt, Nell could not be packed away into a rucksack and her love of wallowing in mud means people often actually gasp when they see her. It's lovely though, as people only ever seem to gasp in delight, rather than revulsion, and I love seeing how much people love dogs and accept their odd ways. I sometimes wonder where the people are who don't like dogs (so essentially, where was I, pre-Nell? For newer readers, I haven't always loved dogs - you can read about how Nell ended up coming to live with us here). Maybe they're not on muddy walks in the country, but are more pavement-dwelling...

Below is a photo from another walk that feels worth including while on the subject. She is like a hybrid animal, halfway between a dog and a pig, dropping to her stomach to commando crawl through mud the moment she sees it. Initially, I feel the pain of knowing how hard it's going to be to clean her when we get home, but once I've resigned myself to that, it's the most joyful thing to watch. 

For reference, this is what she looks like before she's found a patch of mud. I didn't know it was possible to feel so much love for a creature's jowls, but this photo fills me with fondness for her saggy cheeks.

One day, I might undertake some less covert quilt photography as a social experiment to discover if quilts could actually cause strangers to come and chat in the same way that Nell does...I don't imagine the world loves quilts quite as much as dogs, but who knows what surprises might be in store. Anyway, back to the quilt.

You might remember that I hand-pieced the quilt and wrote a tutorial for making one here. At that point, I hadn't quilted it though. Quilting has never been my strong-point - while I feel like a confident piecer, when it comes to quilting I still feel like a beginner. I'd always imagined my quilting skills would improve with each quilt, but if anything they seem to get worse - I fail to see the quilting pattern that will take the piecing to a new level and lack the skills to execute my quilting with any kind of style, so I consulted Instagram to see if people who have more prowess in this area could help me.

Imagine putting such a question out there and being told by a friend who lives a few streets away that she's written a book exclusively about hexagons, including ways to quilt them, and that she'll pop over the next day to drop it in for you? That actually happened to me, in the form of Carolyn, who has actually written over a dozen books, which is possibly why I'm not familiar with all of them.

This quilting pattern from her book, Hexagon Happenings, was the one that jumped out at us. I don't have any interspersing triangles in my quilt, but we decided I could use the pattern on the hexagons alone.

While Carolyn was here, I asked which thread colour she'd use for the quilting. I'd been expecting her to say something like grey or dark blue, which were the only colours I could imagine sinking in to so many differently coloured prints, but she surprised me by taking an olive green from my thread rack. The minute she laid the thread across the fabrics though, I could see how well it went with them. It didn't blend away, but it seemed to stand out in a way that made the fabrics look even more lovely. For me, it was a fairly mind-blowing moment and it's caused me to look at thread colour slightly differently since, feeling that these details are all things that can be lovely and celebrated in their own right - they don't have to be something that blends away (if you ever get the chance to take a class with Carolyn, leap at it!I feel sure it's these tiny things that are actually the game changers).

With a quilting pattern and a thread colour decided, Carolyn left me to my own devices, and I had the rare experience of diving into something decisively, feeling sure of my choices. The template in Carolyn's book was for a different size of hexagon, so I redrew it on my computer (it would probably be quicker to just mess around with scaling up by different percentages on a photocopier, but I love that kind of laptop work, so was happy to redraw them) and then made a template using a sheet of plastic - it was painstaking work and took a few hours, during which time I variously felt like a surgeon and a psychopath to be brandishing a scalpel so intensely. It turned my head inside-out deciding which bits of plastic to leave joined so that the template would hold together even once the quilting lines had been cut out, but I eventually got there and was pretty pleased with my work!

I transferred the lines onto the quilt about three columns at a time using a Sewline pencil filled with ceramic leads. I switched between leads to mark the fabric, using a mixture of pink, white and green - whichever showed up best on the fabric. The action of the quilt rubbing against itself seemed to remove the lines at just the right moment and I needed to do very little work to remove them, but equally they stayed long enough for me to quilt over them. They don't rub off everything though, so it's worth exercising some caution and testing them on your fabric first if you're going to use them.

I then played around with free-motioning the design on some offcuts, which was fairly disastrous, so in the end I kept the feed dogs raised and used a regular foot (my machine has integrated dual feed, so I don't need a separate walking foot). For such a twisty-turny pattern, it actually worked surprisingly well and, incredibly, I also really enjoyed doing it (incredibly because I often find machine sewing quite dull, as I don't like the way it ties me to one location).

I'm now going to put on my boasting hat, so brace yourself. I think such a thing is meant to be reserved for the arrival of grandchildren, but I feel compelled to put it on for my first-born nicely quilted quilt, and say that I think I might have gone from utterly useless to pro in one quilt under Carolyn's expert tuition. If I never manage to quilt anything as nicely again, I'm fine with that, because this can be my one shining example of Quilting That Actually Looked Good. I love everything about it - I like how it's softened the columns of hexagons; how it's more complex than anything I've done before; how there aren't too many obvious mistakes; and how the olive green thread looks like a perfect but unexpected choice.

Here's another photo of it from a different angle.

It should be said at this point that I somehow messed up my binding - I don't know how, as I've never done this before, but it's slightly wider on the back than the front, which drives me nuts and I think I may have to unpick it and redo it - you'll note that the boasting hat has now been taken off: pride, fall. Whatever. (As an aside, isn't pride comes before the fall the most loathsome expression - it's the kind of saying that sucks the joy out of life. I'm pretty sure I can remember Rachel Lynde saying it in Anne of Green Gables and it feeling like a prime example of what a sourpuss she was, although I think she eventually redeemed herself. I would never think of that expression in relation to anyone else, so I'm unsure why I allowed Rachel Lyndeishness to pop into my head for myself just then).

This is my favourite photo of my quilt, taken as a gust of wind made it billow out, but thankfully it was spared from the mud patch below.

On flu-recovery update: I was off the sofa and had two days where I returned to normal day-to-day activities, which was really lovely, but I now have an annoying cough and feel out of breath doing even the simplest things, as well as looking like someone has sucked all the colour out of my cheeks and replaced it with something grey. Will I ever be well and look normal again, I wonder? A friend left a stash of treats on my doorstep to aid recovery and thankfully I've found I've been able to nibble on them without having to use a nebuliser though. Phew.

Do let me know your thoughts on public quilt photography, and also dogs vs quilts if you have any insight with the general non-quilting public, or your own thoughts on the matter.

Florence x

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Thoughts around Paperclips

You may be forgiven for wondering if you've stumbled upon the Country File blog - this little face was the first thing that leapt out at me when I went into my folder to find a photograph to illustrate this post - it was taken a few weeks ago on a walk with my husband, but bears no real relevance to what follows (especially as it exists outside).

Today marks the first day since the 10th February that I've been outside, having been bedbound, or more lately sofabound, for ten whole days with flu. I slept through the first three days and four nights, only waking to drink water and shiver dramatically with audibly chattering teeth. On the fourth day, I managed to stay awake for longer than five minutes and lay in bed doing nothing other than thinking r e a l l y  s l o w l y about things like how they get the plastic coating onto paperclips (my main consideration was how they coated them with no blobs or missed bits, or whether the coating was actually a pre-formed tube that was carefully slid onto each paperclip). I then moved on to thinking about how they get the led into pencils. Thoughts like these entertained me for at least twenty-four hours and were interspersed regularly with the conviction: I'm going to look this up on my phone and find a video that shows how it's done once I'm well enough to hold my phone.

On the fifth day, when I was well enough to hold a phone, I realised I'd enjoyed not holding one so much that I didn't want to start again, and reached instead for my Kindle, where I spent the next five days devouring books in-between extended catnaps. Here's what I read:

History of Wolves, by Emily Fridlund - this book was incredibly beautifully written - there were certain sentences that made me stop and reread them over and over for how perfectly formed they were, my favourite being 'Winter collapsed on us this year. It knelt down, exhausted, and stayed.' But actually, as a novel, I didn't really enjoy it - the motivations of the characters felt too exhaustingly far from a place I could relate to in order to warm to any of them and the bleak confusion of it all matched my fluey-state and made the story feel like part of a bad dream (this was shortlisted for The Man Booker in 2017, so others clearly felt differently).

Next, I read Life Drawing, by Robin Black, a recommendation from my dad, who'd read an old review of it in the Guardian online and texted to say he thought I'd like it. I really love books where a good part of the narrative is based around the character's creative process (I loved Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere for this, and Anita Amirrezvani's The Blood of Flowers did it excellently too). Life Drawing centres around painting, but for some reason that part of the book didn't engage me in the way I'd hoped, although I did enjoy it generally and the last quarter was a page turner.

My next choice was Convenience Store Woman by Murata Sayaka, the much talked-about translation set in a Japanese convenience store. It's a quirky story that makes some interesting comments about life and the way we are as human beings, and I liked the central character who struggles to fit in with society's expectations, but found a storyline with a co-worker who went to live with her felt implausible, and ultimately it stole away some of the book's credibility for me.

I then read half of two different books, and gave up on both of them, so they'll remain nameless, but at this point, I was feeling I'd had only one true hit and several misses and semi-misses and should avoid choosing any more books, but then the next one was a corker. The moment I started reading Natalie Hart's Pieces of Me, I sank into the writing and knew I wanted to stay there for longer than the pages of the book would allow. It's a love story set between Iraq and America and shows the effect war can have on the psyche of those who fight in them.

Next came Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion, which I chose because it came really high on the Readers Choice Awards 2018 on Goodreads. The overarching theme (as you might imagine from the title) is feminism, which is unpicked and dissected through a myriad of different storylines within the book, but the bit that really carried me away are the wonderful characters Meg creates, so richly drawn that I felt I knew them. She also writes brilliantly about being young and idealistic and trying to discover who you are. I've added several of her other titles to my 'To read' list - have you read any of them, and do you have any favourites?

Finally, on day nine of my extended stay in bed, I started reading The Leavers by Lisa Ko, which I'm yet to finish, but it's excellent so far and centres around the life of an illegal immigrant and her child.

In between all that reading, I also watched some good things on television. On the recommendation of a friend, my daughter and I watched the BBC three-part series of Andrea Levy's The Long Song, which was excellent, if disturbing (it centres around slavery in Jamaica). We also tore through the new Amazon Prime series, New Amsterdam, which is set in a New York hospital (think Grey's Anatomy, but better), and we're enjoying watching each episode of Cold Feet as it arrives (Monday evenings). 

I picked my husband up from dropping his car in at the garage this morning at 8am and we stopped in at a nearby supermarket to do some food shopping. It felt quite odd to be out in the world and by the time we arrived home forty minutes later, I felt ready for another lie down. I'm hoping to have the energy to see if a sewing needle weighs too heavily in my hand this evening...

As a flu-related footnote, I can tell you that keeping one's skin in a stable environment (with none of the indoors/outdoors shenanigans that normal life requires) does amazing things and it feels weirdly smooth and seems to require no moisturisation or any of the usual things it cries out for - if only I could stay indoors forever. The last time I had flu this bad was at the turn of the millennium when it stayed for three weeks - I remember dragging myself into work half-delirious several times (I worked for a paper and regularly started my shift at 4am and am sure I nearly died on a London bus going into work early one January morning), but being sent home each time, and there too sleeping through several entire took me weeks to feel normal again, but when I finally did, I found that all the extra sleep left me feeling super-charged, so I'm excited to get to that point again...

I'm also relieved to have started reading again as I didn't read a single book for the whole of January, which felt like an odd thing indeed. What are you reading or watching at the moment? 

Wishing you a lovely week, 
Florence x

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

The Very Best of Shelves

In my last post, I briefly mentioned 'the very best of shelves' and, probably lured by the mention of plastic golden retrievers, there was a request from Caroline to see it. So, here it is, along with a full inventory of the area, and a backstory for each item. Note that some of the items I consider to be an integral part of the shelf's contents, are too big to fit on the actual shelf.
  • Beginning at the very left of the above photo, there's a black Rifle Paper tin, full of recipe cards. Only one of those recipe cards has ever been filled in, but I like to keep it on my desk as one day I might add to them and it's good to have some untapped potential sitting in front of me. Also, I like the pattern on the outside, so there's really no pressure over whether my potential in this department is ever unleashed. Win win. 
  • Resting on top is a pink rag-paper envelope, complete with gold hand-printed patterning and glorious tassel. I bought this in a shop in Rye nearly a decade ago (I think the shop was called The Paper Place and it was a real treasure trove). I'd intended to give it to someone in the form of gift packaging, but several years on I still haven't been able to part with it, so I think we can probably call this mine now. 
  • In front of the tin is a Liberty print postcard. I rarely buy fabric online from Liberty as they only sell it in hard-to-afford one metre cuts (they sell in 1/2 metres in-store), but just occasionally there's a need for it, and I'm always excited imagining which postcard might be included with my parcel, although last time there wasn't one and I was crestfallen. This one (above) was a real joy though as it's one of my favourite prints.
  • Moving onto the actual shelf, this section is like a miniature memorial garden of EPP rosettes that didn't make the cut. Front left is a rejected centre to this piece, while back right is the sun-bleached rosette that didn't make it into this piece
  • The wooden doll was a gift from my mum a few years ago - it has a slot cut in it so bias binding can be wrapped around it for storage, but I don't actually have any binding that needs storing due to being an ill-prepared sort of creature who makes binding up several days after I first needed it, but I love the doll all the same so it lives on the shelf. If you do have binding that needs storing, then you have admiration and you can find your own Binding Baby storage here
  • Behind that is the stretch limo of postcards (fitting for the very best of shelves) featuring dresses on lovely ladies, from the Orla Kiely exhibition at The Fashion & Textiles Museum. A friend and I took our daughters there for an afternoon and the postcard is a memory of a lovely day and a souvenir too, as Orla Kiely has sadly since gone into administration. 
  • My children created this Lego sewing machine for me as a Christmas gift back in 2010. It came in a handmade box with step-by-step instructions on how to put it together and nearly made me cry with its loveliness. It is one of my most treasured possessions. 
  • The tiny wooden pig has kept me company since I was four years old. I was, and still am, quite crazy for pigs and it's their lovely faces that caused me to stop eating sausages (and all other meat) in my first year at primary school. I decorated the walls of the bedroom I shared with my sister with pig posters and cards, and on outings wore a woollen cross-body handbag with a piglet knitted onto the front. The tiny wooden pig was nestled inside that bag, amongst a collection of boiled sweets that slid out of their wrappers during a holiday in Greece - I can still remember the trauma of realising the wool had been made sticky and sugary; the bag never felt as nice after that and I always dreaded putting my hand in to get something, when once it had been such a delight...but either way, the wooden pig survived its time in the woollen pigsty unscathed). 

The plastic golden retrievers are now in view, but I'm working up to them in order, so don't skip ahead in the excitement! 
  • This is just one of the many conkers my son has given me over the years, usually with a characterful face drawn on. This one has the wondrous addition of small fangs and is probably about six years old now. My very favourite one, which looked like a small baby, I carried around in my handbag for years until it disintegrated, so I'm enjoying this conker while I still can.
  • I bought the EPP printing blocks as a photo prop for my book and liked them so much they made their way onto the shelf. And as I've linked to everything else I've mentioned, here's a link to my book šŸ¤—!
  • The small blue business card bearing a rabbit (just in view) was sent with an order from Chloe Giordano's lovely shop - do go and have a look - her embroideries are divine. I've bought several of her cards and they always feel like a real treat to send to people. I also had one framed as a Christmas gift for my mum. (I love beautiful business cards - the one on display changes fairly frequently, but this one is a favourite). 
  • Finally, yes finally, we arrive at the plastic golden retrievers! The items that truly make this the very best of shelves. My husband bought the larger one for me while passing through Fenwicks' toy department. I don't think he really expected me to treasure it in the way that I have, but I loved this curious gift and liked imaging what might have been going through his head when he chose it for me. I still haven't quite worked that one out, but noting its success, a few years later he bought me a golden retriever puppy to go alongside it. His mission is now to buy curiosities that will be considered special enough to go on the the shelf. I'm not sure how he could beat this offering though. If Marie Kondo were to put this plastic duo in front of me and say 'Florence, do these dogs spark joy in you?', I would say 'Yes, Marie, joy by the bucketload,' and put them straight back on the shelf. 
  • You may have noticed the die-cast Mini just peeping into shot. Cars don't feature heavily in my thoughts, but I do love very small ones with beautiful design features - pastel-coloured Nissan Figaro, tiny Fiat 500s, old Morris Minors (we had two in succession when I was growing up - one of which had a rusty hole in the floor covered with a mat to stop the air rushing in around my father's feet as he drove, and both of which made a cosy whining noise as they turned into our drive, which we called its 'home-time noise' as it never happened at any other time - it must have been something about the speed of the engine and the angle of the turn that produced the sound. We then got our first modern car, an Alfa Sud, another awesome small car, which I remember us all being astounded by because it had a push up sunroof and went a LOT faster than the Morris). As an adult, I've always loved Minis for the position of the headlamps, which look like eyes, and the beautiful round dials inside, so this die-cast one was a gift from my husband a few birthdays ago (I think he always buys this type of gift as a little extra or a stocking filler, not realising that they're actually the main event). 
  • The other printer's block letters were a gift from my sister and they can be a bit of a mystery as most people think they read if, which I quite like as 'if' is a word that has so much possibility, but actually its our initials: Ian and Florence. 
  • Moving along the shelf, we come to this appliquĆ©d version of me, beside the doll version of me, which is all very me-centric. I first bought one of these handmade dolls as a gift for my sister - her one looked just like her, in that it had blonde hair instead of brown - and I liked it so much that my husband bought a dark-haired version for my birthday. It arrived with this gorgeous little panel with my name stitched on! They're made by Just So Sara - do take a look at her shop if you'd like your own me-centric doll. 
  • Hidden behind the doll (who is clearly far more adventurous when it comes to hair accessories and spends longer in the gym...which wouldn't be hard as I don't spend any time in it), is what my daughter and I like to call 'the stolen tin'. This was a gift given to my daughter by my mum years ago, but we later agreed that I appreciated it far more than she did, so would become its caretaker. Here was the conversation we had while tidying her room together one day that enabled the theft: Do you really love that tin? - Erm, yeah, it's nice - Just nice? - Mmm, yeah, it's okay - Oh, because I actually reeeealllly love it - Do you? - Yes, I think I like it a lot more than you do. Do you want me to have it for you? - Okay, you can look after it then). It's now filled with carefully cut fabric flowers ready to appliquĆ© in an emergency, which makes me sound like the kind of person who would have pre-made bias binding to hand after all, doesn't it! Also the kind of person who shamelessly steals things from her daughter's bedroom...don't worry, I think badly of me too.
  • Moving onto the desk, we have a beautiful turquoise tin that, when turned, plays music and the horses go around the merry-go-round - a gift from my mum. I really love music boxes and this one feels extra special as she bought a matching one for my sister, who is my merry-go-round riding companion in life (literally - as adults we've leapt on them together in Spain, France, Russia, and around the UK)
  • Below that, a Diptique candle with a scent called Baies, a gift from my sister after we'd been to one of her scans while she was pregnant. It's entirely coincidental that the name of the candle is one letter short of the word 'babies', but I always read it that way as it felt so in keeping with the day. It smells amazing, by the way, although nothing like babies.
  • On top of the candle sits a tiny swatch of Liberty silk that Alice Caroline included with an order. It shows barely any of the print, but the exquisite turquoise background and the tiniest bit of petal creeping in make this one of my favourite fabrics ever, so the swatch lives in the shelf-overflow area (sadly, they didn't have a larger piece for me to buy). 
You may have noticed one limitation with the shelf, and that's that it's just below the point where the roof begins to slope, so all shelf items are limited to being about 5" tall, but I quite like the challenge of that. The items on the shelf get shuffled and edited quite frequently, but I'm actually going to put a second shelf up next to it to make one long shelf, and although bigger isn't always better, I have hopes that it may become the very best of the very best of shelves.

Thanks so much to Caroline for inspiring this post. 

Florence x
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.