On the Satisfaction of Finishing a Quilt

Often a WIP (work in progress) can go cold on one. That’s probably why this acronym has become part of quilting lore. It is also probably safe to say that all quilters have at least one WIP languishing in a drawer or box. I am too scared to count how WIPs I have, but I can say that this week one of them got completed.

Doortjie’s Stars. 142 x 89 cm.

Some of you may recognise these stars, as I have twice before written about them — in July 2018 after completing a workshop with Doortjie Gersbach on how to piece 13 different large stars and then a year later I posted a photograph of the pieced quilt top. I did sandwich it and started to hand quilt around the stars, but other projects got in the way and this quilt again went cold on me.

Having recently finished a set of quilts that were handstitched I felt drawn back to my sewing machine. This WIP sprung to mind after I saw a post on Instagram of an organically quilted work. Unfortunately I did not note the name of the maker and apologise for not crediting the source of my inspiration. I used my walking foot and stitched in wavy lines, starting from the centre of the quilt and stitched from top to bottom and then back up again. It was more relaxing than straight line quilting as one does not have to concentrate on keeping the lines evenly spaced. This method is also referred to as wavy line quilting. I am pleased I have discovered it.

First I practised on one of the star blocks that had not been included in the quilt. I did quilt the entire piece and the photograph of it half-stitched is to show the effect of the wavy quilted lines.

This gave me courage and so I boldy sewed black lines over the stars in the quilt top. But first I hand quilted around all the stars to stablise the quilt. This is another method that I recently stumbled on — a combination of hand and machine quilting, where the hand quilting obviates the need to tack or tension the quilt with pins.

The quilt before it was machine quilted (left) and the quilt when it was halfway through being organically quilted by machine.

And so another WIP is quilted and bound. Yay.

On Gardening

The season has turned, we are on the cusp between spring and summer, and have had our first soaking rains. The vegetable seeds and seedlings planted in September are sprouting. Yesterday I noticed that the pumpkin seeds have sprouted, meanwhile the radish seeds have grown apace and are being harvested for salads and sandwiches. It lifts one’s spirits to see the garden grow. In anticipation of today’s post I raked four barrowfuls (or barrowsful) of leaves from the herb-and-vegetable garden, weeded it and neatened the edges for a photo-shoot.

This glimpse of my garden is to introduce a recently completed quilt (with apologies for the poor photograph).

Garden of Delights. 70 x 70 cm.

After stitching, gardening is one of my favourite activities, hence a quilt to depict this. Some of you may recognise the trowel, which appeared in a smaller format in one of the samplers I made for a Stitch Club exercise. I “cheated” and enlarged the drawing via a photocopier (from A4 to A3 size). It is intentionally oversized so that it stands out against the heavily hand stitched background. In real life the beautifully wrought forked trowel has a wooden handle and stainless steel prongs and these have been represented with hand dyed brown fabric and silver lamé. To accentuate the steel material the lamé has been heavily overstiched by machine. The trowel was appliquéd onto the quilt after it had been stitch-quilted and bound. For the hand stitching I used no. 12 perle thread in shades of green and brown and followed the patterning in the background fabric, which is an Amafu hand dyed block print. The leaf patterns, squares, triangles, and lines printed onto the fabric represent the foliage and structural elements of a garden and these patterns are subtly accentuated through the hand stitching.

On Hand Stitching

This is not the first time that I am writing about hand stitching. I will try not to repeat myself on the delights of using a needle and thread to transform a piece of plain fabric. This week’s excitement was the arrival of hanks of hand dyed no. 12 perlé thread from House of Embroidery.

At left is the remains of the hank of thread bought a year ago from the House of Embroidery stall at the (South African) National Quilt Festival

My local quilt shop (LQS) kindly ordered a new hank for me. To make sure, she ordered the two shades that best matched the plum coloured hank acquired a year ago. They are both enticing and enchanting and I could not resist taking both of them. They arrived not a moment too soon, as I do not have enough thread to make my October kantha stitch sampler.

For the September sampler I intended to stitch a flower to celebrate the arrival of spring, and started stitching from the centre. This is where the needle and thread led me.

Kantha stitch sampler for September 2020 (20 x 20 cm; 8 x 8 inches)

A while ago I posted a photograph of a piece that I named Fragmented Flower. I recently finished its companion, Full Lotus, and have renamed the first piece Half Lotus, with thanks to my good friend, The Artist, who suggested that I borrow the names of yoga poses for the titles of the works.

Half Lotus (69 x 23 cm) and (right) Full Lotus (69 x 69 cm)

The gold reproduction fabric that was so kindly sent to me by Laura Bruno Lilly has been used in both pieces and is now all but used up. The cherry coloured petals in Full Lotus are from an old silk blouse and where a pleasure to stitch down, using the stepped kantha stitch. Here follows a close up from Full Lotus.

On Coffee

One of the things I missed most during hard lockdown was not being able to visit Red Café, my favourite coffee shop in High Street. The restaurant has reopened and I am overjoyed.

Bliss. My second cup of morning coffee, served at the Red Café

It is hard to imagine life without coffee and drinking it at a coffee shop is an indulgent pleasure. That’s not to say that home-brewed coffee is not also delicious, and my two favourite methods are using a coffee plunger (Bodum) or an old fashioned stove top espresso pot (Moka). The first gives a quicker result and the second a richer brew, heralded by a distinctive pop-pop-pop sound as the last of the water pushes its way up through the layer of ground coffee and into the top chamber of the pot.

I vaguely knew that there was an Italian history behind our espresso pot but now also know that this coffee brewing device, where pressurised steam passes through the ground coffee, was named after the Yemeni city of Mocha and was invented by Italian engineer Alfonso Bialetti in 1933 (thanks Wikipedia).

But I digress. What I really want to write about is another pleasurable activity, which is to spend a day sewing and socialising with my quilting group. Last week we met for an enjoyable day workshop, graciously given by one of my quilting friends, where we made coffee plunger cosies from strips of fabric. Karen invented these doofas (as she calls them) so that the coffee in the plunger can stay warm while it brews. I enjoyed the workshop so much that I forgot to take photographs of the various creations and can only show you mine.

First Karen showed us a clever way of joining those leftover strips from previous quilting projects to form interesting pieced fabric. This is then backed, sandwiched, quilted and bound to make a coffee plunger-sized cosy. The fastening tag is stitched into the binding and velcro is used to secure the two edges, with the tab crossing beneath the handle of the pot. It is a clever design, perfected by Karen after a few iterations.

Another generous textile designer, Diana Vandeyar, shared the pattern for a paper pieced Moka pot some weeks ago. We were in lockdown and I welcomed the diversion and challenge of making it. I am full of admiration for Diana for devising the design and also for sharing it on her blog, complete with a downloadable pattern.

The Moka pot I made from Diana Vandeyar’s design. Can you spot the mistake?

I added a extra strips of sashing to make it big enough to use as a tray cloth. Do I get compliments from guests? Of course I do!

Poem #36 of 36

Window to the future

for Andrew

The stained glass windows
in old churches 
let in the light
but block the view
with their pieced pictures
of paradise.

Could this be a priest’s ploy
to screen off reality
with lighted friezes
of comforting grace?

There is energy
in those windows,
infused by the craftsmen
who painstakingly
cut and leaded
the coloured glass
into a message of hope,
a homily
from arched windows
set in the stone
of cathedrals.

So here is a 24-starred window
stitched instead of leaded,
a talisman of hope
and new beginnings
and set in stone coloured cloth
to celebrate
the glow of early morning light
on your hand hewn stairs
Window to the Future (215 x 140 cm)

POSTSCRIPT This is the last of the poems from The Quilt Collection, which I have been posting on my blog at irregular intervals. If you want to backtrack, the set of poems with their accompanying images can be found on the page titled POEMS

On Venturing into the Third Dimension

Again I sing the praises of Stitch Club. This week I learnt how to sculpt with textiles through an online tutorial with Clarissa Callesen, sculptor, installation artist and instructor. After watching the video on the TextileArtist.org Stitch Club site, I took a deep breath, pulled out a bag of leftover bits of batting and the remains of some fabric from a tree quilt, and started stuffing shapes.

3D Tree. 35 cm high

To my delight and surprise I managed to create a 3D object that resembles a tree. Clarissa Callesen makes astounding abstract textile sculptures, but I decided to stick to my comfort zone and to try and follow the lines of a tree. First I rolled strips of batting into fabric covered ‘sausages’ and stitched them closed. Wrapping the thread around the cylinder is also an option. Then I made some ‘potato’ shapes by stitching around the edge of a round shape, stuffing it, and then gathering the stitching to close the shape. These round shapes ended up being useful as ballast in getting the tree trunk to stand upright. The tutorial was not only inspiring but also had practical demonstrations on how to manipulate the fabric and stuffing into usable shapes.

In progress photographs of the tree construction. (At last I have found a use for these fancy clips.)

The tree roots and trunk were stitched together and then the branches were added. I wound some thin copper wire around some of the branches and the base of the trunk, for a bit of interest and also stability. Finally I draped a chain of leaves over the branches for fun. I have not yet sewn them down and may remove them. Now I think I might try to make a forest!

Before making the tree I had had quite a bit of practice in stuffing shapes. Here are some pincushions, pieced from batik scraps and then stuffed.

I was inspired to make these after seeing gorgeous scrap pincushions on Wendy Tuma’s blog called piecefulthoughts. She often makes them as gifts and posts photographs. Then, when I read a recent post called Scrappy Batiks I took the inspiration to my sewing machine and started piecing a pile of batik scraps that had fallen into my lap, as it were.

This leads me to the final installment of my stuffing adventures. I have been making draught excluders for the TRADE at Home local virtual market. Because we have just been through the windy season in Grahamstown, I had sold out and needed to make more for this month’s market. I had run out of fabric scraps to stuff the draught excluders. My quilting friends kindly donated their offcuts and one of the bags contained a treasure trove of batik squares which I could not consign to the dark depths. Hence the pincushions.

The latest batch of draught excluders

The wind has died down (thanks be) and I have a set of draught excluders in stock if anyone in the area wants to purchase one.

On Going Online

This has been a challenging journey. About three years ago I took the idea of ‘establishing an online presence’ seriously after I tried to join a textile site and was asked about my said online presence. Huh? What’s that, I asked myself. What I really wanted to do was to work with textiles, to make quilts and to stitch. Then I realised that to do this I would need to sell some of the works to fund my preoccupation. And to do this I would need to advertise. And the best place to do this is online.

Tentatively I ventured beyond Facebook into Instagram, and then into WordPress where I wanted to set up a website. That was too daunting and I ended up writing a blog by mistake. A couple of years down the line and I am proud to announce that I have now managed to extend FABRICATIONS to more pages (that makes it a website) and have signed up for my own domain name.

Over the past weeks I have been working on the drafts of an About page. (I would call this a biography or a biographical note, but what’s in a name?.) Because I was working off the seat of my pants it took a while to construct the page. WordPress kindly kept a tally so I know that it took 30 revisions. WordPress also offers helpful templates and tutorials, which I did use. But then found myself changing the layout anyway, just because I discovered I could.

Those many revisions to the About page gave me confidence to make another page which contains the poems about quilts that I have published on the blog over the past years. This is thanks to one of my supportive readers who kept urging me to publish the poems. I am glad to have collected them onto one electronic page. (Odd to think that what would have been called a book if the poems had been published on paper is now called a page in the online world.)

After designing and then publishing these two pages I played a little silent game to see if anyone would notice. Another faithful and helpful reader not only noticed but took the trouble to email me about a mistake. I am grateful. This was also a reminder of how supportive and containing the friends I have made in the blogging world are.

This is a rather text heavy post. If you need some pictorial relief, please click on my brand new gallery pages.

This lockdown time has generated other online opportunities. A technically proficient young woman in Grahamstown first established the TRADE virtual market, an online monthly market for local (to my world) crafters on Facebook. This has was worked nicely for me. Then she took a further, generous step to promote local traders and has opened the TRADE shop. I am proud to say that FABRICATIONS occupies a corner of that shop.

When I googled the word ‘online’ to check that I was using the accepted spelling I learnt that it should strictly speaking be written as on-line but that “[i]t’s now common to use ‘online’, whereas, at first, to say that you were ‘online’ was seen to be like saying that a tennis player is ‘oncourt’ or that a builder is ‘onsite’.” (www.future-perfect.co.uk) Language adapts, as do humans and my online adventure has been both challenging and exciting.

And now, for some light relief, let me return to my hand stitching.

On Kantha Stitching and Cultural Appropriation

For some time I have been pondering on the issue of cultural appropriation and whether the use of kantha stitching in my work makes me a thief. While I am more comfortable writing about the technicalities of the art of stitching, perhaps the time has come to say something about my unease at copying the patterns of this ancient craft.

Kantha style sampler for the month of August (22 x 35 cm). Strictly speaking this is the wrong orientation, but I wanted to show that a ‘sideways’ eight is a loose representation of the infinity sign

Two things have prompted me to explore the idea of cultural appropriation. The first was a question put to British textile artist, Cas Homes, during a Stitch Club question and answer session when she was asked what she thought about the use of Japanese borro and Bengali kantha stitch by Westerners. She gave a considered and measured answer in which she explained that both forms originated out of necessity, where worn cloth was mended and stitched in layers to save worn out clothes and cloth. She suggested that if one was respectful of the origins of the craft it is okay to copy the form.

The second thing that got me thinking was the hoo-haa on social media when the singer Adele was accused of committing cultural appropriation when she appeared at the Notting Hill Carnival wearing a bikini top fashioned from the Jamaican flag, and with her hair knotted into an African hairstyle. The reaction and debate that this evoked was astounding.

There is a rash of online definitions and articles on cultural appropriation so I decided to consult my trusted source, The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. While it has an entry for cultural relativism there is not one for cultural appropriation (too new a term and concept?). The OED defines appropriation as The making over (of a thing) into one’s own or another’s possession; the taking of a thing for one’s own use, esp. without permission. To put it bluntly, the stealing of something. One could argue that culture is not a ‘thing’ and that therefore it cannot strictly speaking be appropriated or stolen. Before I get myself into deep waters, perhaps I should define the term more closely. According to ‘Oxford Languages’ via Google, it is “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”

A while ago Melanie J. McNeil of Catbird Quilt Studio wrote a post about copyright and cultural appropriation. She gives its Wikipedia definition (in bold) followed by a clear explanation about how it works: “

 “Cultural appropriation, at times also phrased cultural misappropriation, is the adoption of elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture.” It specifically refers to use of those cultural elements when there is a power imbalance between two groups. In other words, a white person in America using symbolism from Native Americans might be guilty of cultural appropriation, whereas if the reverse happened, it probably wouldn’t be considered inappropriate or disrespectful use. If someone from the US uses Nordic graphics or designs, that probably wouldn’t be inappropriate, but using elements from eastern Africa might be.

Melanie of Catbird Quilt Studio

To recap on my previous posts, I fell in love with kantha stitching after attending a course given by Dorothy Tucker at the South African National Quilt Festival in 2019 and have been experimenting with the stitch form by making samplers this year. I admit to knowing little about the Bengali culture and what I do know I owe to Dorothy Tucker’s explanations. What has caught my imagination is how the simple running stitch can be used to produce such varied patterns and effects. So, if a technique is part of a cultural legacy then I am guilty of appropriation.

In literature the line between copying and imitating is clearly drawn. If you copy without acknowledging your sources you commit the crime of plagiarism. If you imitate, you flatter the original creator. Until the eighteenth century writers were expected to imitate the forms and styles of the ancient masters. That famous quotation about imitation as a form of flattery is from Oscar Wilde : “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness”. I rest my case.

As we are two thirds of the way through 2020 (yes we are!) I felt justified in displaying the month by month samplers made so far this year

With acknowledgements to Carol of Letting Nature Back In for first alerting me to the possible links between cultural appropriation and textile works.