The Redder the Better

I am feeling a bit rusty after not writing last week because there was nothing new to report, despite being busy at my sewing machine, quilting the large Traveller’s Quilt (which is almost done) and making another book.

This week’s post was nearly given the title On Seeing Red, but I thought that might be tempting fate. There is a lovely Afrikaans saying “Hoe rooier hoe mooier” [the more red it is, the more beautiful it is]. Since I am lucky to have overseas readers who would not understand Afrikaans, I opted for a loose translation of the idiom for the heading. It is also a couched warning that a lot of red photographs will be popping up onto your screen. The theme for this month’s #areyoubookenough challenge on Instagram was red. Hence the red book. As it was being constructed I surprised myself by making it redder and redder, until it was completely red.

Now for the story behind the red book. I do yoga with a marvellous teacher, Ruth Woudstra, who not only gently encourages us to stretch our bodies, but also to stretch our minds a little when she introduces us to some of the philosophy behind the ancient practice of yoga. Early in February, when I was pondering on how to interpret the theme of red for the book challenge, Ruth referred to the root chakra, the muladhara, during a yoga session. When she said it is represented by an inverted red triangle I knew I had found the subject for the February Are You Book Enough challenge. The word muladhara comes from the Sanskrit of mula [root] and adhara [support or base]. (Not in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, so thank you Google.)

Ruth has given me permission to mention her name and if you are interested in trying one of her gentle online yoga classes (via zoom) you can contact her at mottache@gmail.com.

The front cover of the book

The more I read about the root chakra, the more excited I became about making a little book about it. There is an enormous amount of information on it on the internet. In brief, it is the first of seven chakras in the body; is situated at the base of the spine; and represents safety, survival, grounding, and nourishment from the Earth’s energy.

A stitched version of the symbol for the root chakra, copied from an image found on http://www.yogiapproved.com

There are also a large number of graphic representations of this chakra on the internet. I honed in on the simplest one and used it on the back cover of the book. The upside down triangle is the alchemical symbol for Earth, or grounded energy. The square represents rigidity and stability and has a foundational energy (think of the foundation of a house). The circle in the diagram is a representation of infinity and the cyclical nature of energy. Finally, the diagram is surrounded by four lotus petals. Whether one believes in these arcane symbols or not, it is still a pleasing graphic image and I had fun copying it and stitching it.

The format is the same as the one I used to make a book about shelter for the January Are You Book Enough challenge. To recap: the base of the book is a torn strip of canvas folded into a concertina, or accordion, to make the pages. There are eight pages that measure 6 x 5 inches (15 x 12.5 cm) each. The first and last pages form the covers and there are three double page spreads inside the book.

After I had torn the strip of canvas to size I folded the book into an accordion and appliqued (with umlaut) the inverted triangle, square and circle shapes onto each of the double page spreads. Then I backed the strip with a loosely woven red fabric from my stash and overstitched through the layers with red thread. The dense stitching gave a nice solid feel to the book. The red stitching against the white canvas was very stark so I got out my red Inktense block and thought long and hard before I painted over the cloth.

Unlike my first book for #areyoubookenough, which was entirely hand stitched, this one was made on my sewing machine. It therefore has a different look and feel to it. The advantage, of course, is that it took much less time to make it. The final touches were to stitch a holding cord along the back cover and to make a secret pocket behind the back cover into which I have slipped notes on the muladhara chakra.

It seems I have found my monthly challenge for 2021. The theme for March is “fenced”. Whatever can I do with that? But it would be nice if, at the end of the year, I have a set of 12 little cloth books all of the same size. Perhaps The Woodworker can make a neat box in which to store them. But I am getting ahead of myself… Fenced? Mmm

On Progress and Process

In 45 minutes the power will go off. Not enough time to write this week’s blog post, I told myself. Then I read another charming post by Wendy Tuma (her fourth this week!) and decided to stop making excuses and to keep my weekly blogging date.

So, here I am writing about my current WIP (Work in Progress). Perhaps it should be called a Work in Process because it has not been languishing in a cupboard but has been keeping me busy over the past few weeks. As I was pinning and tensioning the quilt I mulled over the two words and have discovered that progress and process are more-or-less synonyms. According to the OED (here I go again) progress is “forward or onward movement; advance or development” and process is a “course of action, [or] proceeding, esp. series of operations in manufacture”. It’s a fine line, but I think we should call the WIPs that have to wait in line to be finished Works in Process (rather than Progress).

Enough prattling. Here is the quilt I am working on, pinned and waiting to be quilted.

A few weeks ago I posted a photograph of the collection of travel fabrics that I was about to cut into. It will be a large quilt when it is done, so I have pieced it in three panels and will join them once each has been quilted.

It is not often that my oversized pin cushion is free of pins (what pincushion worth its use ever is?), but this happened as I finished pinning the last panel this week. Luckily I thought to take photographs of the historic occasion.

As my regular readers will know, I live in a small town and need to travel to the nearest city to get bespoke sewing supplies. This week’s trip to stock up on sewing machine needles, decent thread and other notions had a sad edge to it as my local quilt shop (LGS), Pied Piper, will be closing. I am going to miss Yolande’s expertise and good advice and wish her all the best. Luckily (for us) she intends to continue teaching. So, my last purchase from her shop was a bundle of hand dyed no. 12 perle threads and a collection of threads in shades of teal for the quilting of the quilt.

To end off, I would like to sing the praises of The Woodworker. Last year he noticed that I had used the two volumes of my trusted Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as a makeshift extension table when I was machine quilting on my domestic sewing machine. At the start of this year he noticed that I was working on a big quilt that would end up being quilted by machine. And so he made an extension table. It works like a dream.

The 45 minutes are up!

On Being Brave Enough

to take up the Are-You-Book-Enough challenge on Instagram

A while ago my blogging friend Chela of Chela’s Colchas y Mas wrote about the areyoubookenough hashtag and I have since been following it on Instagram, noticing with amazement the beautiful handmade books created by people around the world. Each month there is a new theme and it is fascinating to see the different interpretations and inspired works that the monthly challenge evokes.

It being a new year I decided to screw my courage to the sticking-place (as Shakespeare had Lady Macbeth say) and make a book about shelter, which is the theme for January 2021.

A slantways, sideways view of the cloth book

Having dabbled a little in book-making I knew enough to know that I am not able to make a bound book, so took the easy way out and constructed a concertina book out of cloth. Having decided to stick to what I know (i.e. quiltmaking), I made the book from a strip of cream canvas backed with woolen batting. There are eight pages that measure 6 x 5 inches (15 x 12.5 cm) each. The first and last pages form the covers and there are three double page spreads inside the concertina book. Having torn the cloth and cut the batting, I threaded my needle and first stitched along each of the folds to hold the book together. The woolen batting (or backing) is soft and comforting to the touch, so I decided not to add a cloth backing.

The back view of one of the double spreads

It was the content, not the form of the book, that was the real challenge. As I pondered on the idea of shelter the line “shelter from the storm” popped into my head. When I googled the phrase to check its provenance I was reminded that Bob Dylan wrote and sang this enticing, obscure song. According to Wikipedia it was recorded in 1974 and released on Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks album in 1975. It is believed that he has never commented on the lyrics. Here’s the first verse:

’Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
 When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
 I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
 “Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”
-- Bob Dylan

Finding myself firmly in the world of metaphor, I then stitched the words “The world is too much with us” on the first page. This is the first line from a sonnet by the Romantic poet William Wordsworth. I used it to try to portray the worries and cares which give rise to the human need for shelter and comfort (especially in the current time of COVID).

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
-- William Wordsworth

On the following double page the quotation “A green thought in a green shade” comes from the poem The Garden by the 17th Century poet Andrew Marvell. The poem is an Edenic portrayal of a place where the built world does not intrude and the natural beauty of the garden soothes one into the tranquility of that “green thought” beneath the shady tree. Here follows the sixth stanza of the poem with the fuller quotation “Annihilating all that’s made / To a green thought in a green shade”, where “all that’s made” refers to the built world of cities and industry.

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness;
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find,
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.
-- Andrew Marvell

On the final double page I fall into cliché in order to make my point.

I have not yet finished stitching the back cover. I had thought to leave it plain, but on looking at the photograph I think I should stitch around the central motif. Any advice would be welcome.

While stitching this little book I listened to a Spotify podcast called The Daily Poem. It was good to listen to classic poems beautifully read by David Kern of Goldberry Studios. The readings are accompanied by insightful commentary and biographical details on the poet. I am very glad I stumbled upon this listening pleasure.

TIP

An old sewing machine needle can be used when pinning up blocks on a polystyrene board. It works well because it is sturdier than an ordinary pin. I made this discovery by mistake while pinning up a large quilt and grabbed an old needle that had been pinned into my pincushion.

On Stitching the Christmas Star

About a year ago I confessed to having fallen hopelessly in love with kantha stitching and wrote that I hoped to make a kantha sampler for each month of 2020. Well I stuck to my declaration and think it is safe to say that the love affair developed into a long term relationship over the year as I experimented with different ways to use this versatile stitch form.

Kantha sampler for December 2020. 43 x cm (17 x 14.5 inches)

The twelfth sampler for the year was inspired by the bright Christmas star that appeared in the skies on 21 December when Jupiter and Saturn formed a “great conjunction”. I started stitching it on Christmas Eve and finished it this week. It is one of the larger samplers in the set and the pattern is fairly complicated. Before I started I thought long and hard about how best to stitch a star shape using the kantha stitch called “stepping” (where each new row of running stitches are placed at the halfway point of the previous row of stitches to create a diagonal pattern, or steps).

This is more or less how my thoughts went: there are 360 degrees in a circle, therefore the five lines that form the base of each point of the star should be 72 degrees apart. If I stitch along these lines as a starting point, the star will unfold. And it did. I did have to use my pencil to draw more lines and fill in the spaces with stitching at later stages to create the star shape. After I had finished the sampler I sketched the pattern roughly so that I have a diagram to follow if I ever want to make another star.

Despite my best efforts I did not manage to stitch perfectly straight lines and my Christmas star started to look like a starfish with curly ends. So I again did some filling in, as shown in the photograph below.

The white spaces inside the solid edge were filled in with more rows of stepped stitches.

To get the solid edge to the star I wove the thread through a row of running stitches, sewn in a straight line with the help of a ruled pencil line. Once the star was completed I stitched around the edge to make a border, using the same thread (hand dyed perle no. 12). To echo the points of the star I stitched rows of the blocking pattern, but decreased the stitch length on the third to sixth rows. Then I added three small running stitches, just to make a fine point. Finally, the background was filled in with seed stitch. All the kantha samplers have been finished in this way and so I have developed a rhythm to the stitching which I do in rows with one stitch sideways, one stitch slantways, with the pattern staggered in the next row. (Hope that makes sense.)

Background nearly done. A close-up to show the worthwhile effect of the laborious seed stitching.

A few people have asked what I am going to do with these samplers. (That two-letter word !!) For now I am happy to know that the project is done and that I enjoyed the doing (making) of it. But these month by month samplers are a personal record of a strange year and perhaps I will sew them all onto a backing to make a scroll or a hanging. The samplers are all different sizes, but are all stitched onto a white background.

Starting block

This week I also started a big project — to make a large quilt from a collection of travel fabrics. The cloths were not collected by me, so it was quite hard to make that first cut!

My Year of Stitching

Yesterday was the last day of a watershed year and I thought it would be appropriate to write a last post to bid farewell to the strange year of 2020.

But it did not get written. It somehow seemed flippant to review my year of happy quilt making when the same year has weighed so heavily on so many people. Then today I read Laura Bruno Lilly’s injunction to keep on singing (see Bye, Bye, MMXX). And it made me decide to ‘sing’ about my uninterrupted sewing time during this lockdown year.

The year’s highlights have been the stitching of kantha samplers; my first quilt commission; taking part in the TextileArtist.org community stitching projects; and winning a prize for my quilt Garden of Delights.

A detail from Waiting for the Rain, the first quilt made in 2020

As I write this on a misty, cool, wet, green first day of a brand new year I remember how last year started brown and dry from the long drought. When the rains finally came in January and the brown earth magically turned green during the course of the month I was inspired to record this in Kantha style stitch on a sampler. And so began a monthly challenge to make a sampler to mark each month and at the same time to experiment with this ancient and versatile stitch form.

I recall writing at the start of 2019 that I wanted to make a big quilt that year. I did indeed accomplish that during hard lockdown in March when I stitched a queen sized bed quilt. It was a marvellous distraction. It also helped me to bond with my walking foot as I did not want to hand quilt another large quilt. (One uses a walking foot attachment in order to machine quilt on a domestic sewing machine, FYI if you are not a quilter).

(BTW I have hand quilted six large double bed sized quilts over the years and each time, on finishing the quilt, have said I will not tackle another one. Ha ha.)

The quilt is called Hufflepuff and while it is big in size, it is not the big quilt that I want to make. I will continue to dream about and plan for the making of this elusive magnum opus.

To continue to brag, I have stitched 46 pieces this year: 16 small works, 18 quilts, and (nearly) 12 kantha samplers — hence the title of this post. Many times during the year I thought how lucky I was to be able to stitch my way through the days of uncertainty and boredom.

When the South African lockdown was extended for a further 21 days from March into April I marked this with the following kantha sampler, which is my favourite one.

Kantha sampler for April 2020

The tutorials offered by various artists through the TextileArtist.org Stitch Club were excellent and stimulating and experimental. I produced many practice pieces and my favourite is this rendition of a succulent called Crassula falcata. It was inspired by Merril Cormeau’s workshop.

A high note was getting third prize in the Brother competition. The theme of the challenge was ‘my favourite things’ and I entered a quilt about gardening. The forked trowel depicted in the quilt was first created at a Stitch Club workshop led by Sue Stone.

Garden of Delights. (Photograph from the Brother website)

It is good to know that the pair of quilts Day Tree and Night Tree give pleasure to the ones who commissioned their making.

The South African group of textile artists, Fibreworks, currently has an exhibition at the Tatham Gallery in Natal. I am proud to say that five of my pieces are hanging there. The exhibition spurred me on to complete a Kantha style piece called Full Lotus.

It is a companion piece to the following work, made earlier in the year and called Half Lotus


My year ended with the sad and terrifying news of the death from COVID of one of my close quilting companions. The statistics are no longer just numbers for me…

Christmas is Coming…

Wishing all who celebrate Christmas a peaceful and meaningful time and may everyone be well.

Our family tradition is to harvest a pine tree on Christmas Eve. It is being decorated as I write this. Hope you are also feeling the joy, despite these trying times.

On Nostalgia

Although it has been a busy week I have not done any stitching and so have no new work to post. Instead of not writing a blog this week, I decided to revisit a ten-year-old piece. It is called Wedding Dress and marked my debut as a member of the South African Fibreworks group of textile artists when it was exhibited in 2010 at the Fibreworks VI exhibition at the ArtB Gallery in Cape Town.

Ten years later and the group’s eleventh exhibition, FIBREWORKS microMACRO, opens this Sunday at the Tatham Gallery in Natal at 11h00. The exhibition is both virtual and live and if you would like to visit it via the internet please visit the Tatham Gallery website on 6 December to get the link.

Wedding Dress. 207 x 117 cm

The piece has a rather personal story behind it. It was made in the year of our 25th wedding anniversary after I decided I had to either use the silk scraps from my real wedding dress, or throw them away. I began by joining the large triangular pieces left over from the cutting of the dress’s wide skirt and then moved on to joining the smaller scraps. The replication of the dress happened organically when I discovered the negative shape of the original bodice amongst the scraps.

Here is the artist’s statement for the piece, which is still valid after a decade:

A statement about recycling and renewal, meditation and memory, nostalgia and nurture. Scraps of raw silk are hand pieced and layered on a backing of melkdoek [muslin]. This is in turn laid and stitched onto a quilted cotton counterpane. Silk and silver thread and old, fine crochet cotton hold the layers together. The creams and whites provide a canvas for a pair of hand beaded red shoes.

Having taken it out of storage and looked at it with fresh eyes, I am tempted to add a few more stitches and refashion it a bit.

This may end up being my last post for the year. If so, best wishes for the season.

On Another Kantha Sampler

Kantha sampler for November. 15 x 24 cm; 6 x 9.5 inches

My friend Laura Bruno Lilly wrote about the monthly kantha samplers I have been making during this strange year in a post called Pandemic Potpourri V and it was nice to be reminded that I had sung the praises of the simple running stitch (which is the basis for the various patterns that one can produce using this stitching style).

That said, I am glad to be on the home run of this self-imposed challenge to make a sampler per month during 2020 (or MMXX, with thanks to Laura for alerting me to this alternative convention for writing the date). November’s sampler is rather smaller than its previous monthly companions! I have an idea for December and plan to make a bigger piece as I enjoy the quiet time leading up to Christmas.

Any guesses on what I was up to this month with my stitching experiment?

Starting Block

Last week I mentioned that I was plotting and planning something with the extra templates given to us at the Elongated Hexi class that I attended. Here’s a photograph of the start of a hand-pieced Skinny Elongated Hexigon quilt. I am not planning to finish it any time soon as the patches are rather small. It is a marvellous way of using the scraps and fat quarters that have been given to me by my quilting friends, near and far.