Book of Memorabilia

Velvet was the theme for the July #areyoubookenough challenge that runs on Instagram every month. One has to be brave to sew with velvet, so the innuendo in the catchphrase Are You Book Enough? really did taunt me this time around.

Having made small quilts in a series of Trees on Velvet, I knew that the book I stitched would come out skew. And so it did. That was the lesser problem because, before I could make a book, I had to find an idea associated with velvet. Let me first show you the book.

The accordion book flopping open to the first double page. Below are the three sets of pages contained in the book.

The thought that inspired the book was the simple idea that precious objects (particularly jewelry) are often displayed on a bed of velvet. The three items that I stitched into the book all have sentimental value to me and I thought it would be nice to display them in this way, rather than to leave them to languish in the bottom of a box. The inside front cover contains a pocket which has become a refuge for single earrings.

Another, temporary problem was to find my stash of velvet fabric. My sister in law kindly gave me a piece of silver-sequined fabric some years ago and it took me a while to unearth it. I had been saving it for the perfect project and so it had migrated down to the bottom of the pile. The yardage of plum velvet that I used for the inside of the book was a bit easier to find.

This book was made to the same format as the six previous concertina books made for the #areyoubookenough challenge. I described the form of the book in detail in this previous post. This time I again inserted cotton batting between the velvet strips that formed the inside and the outside cover of the book. To finish off the edges I crocheted the three layers together, with a lustrous no.8 microfibre yarn. This was a bit of a challenge as the fine crochet hook would not go through the fabric when it hit one of the sequins embedded in the velvet, so I used my dressmaking awl to first make a hole in the fabric through which to insert the crochet hook.

The next step was to divide the pages by stitching along the fold line. This time I used cotton perle thread (no. 12) as it is much easier to work with than the microfibre which easily shreds and fluffs. Despite my best efforts, and some unpicking, I didn’t manage to get the foldline stitching perfectly straight. Velvet really does have a mind of its own and likes to shift about as one stitches through it. Finally I made a ‘window’ in the middle of each of the facing pages by quilting the border, and then stitched down each of the three pieces of memorabilia.

Finishing Line

House Portrait #6. 24 Market Street. 25 x 33 cm. Machine appliqued and embellished. Hand quilted.

Do you recognise this? It is another iteration of House Portrait #2, this time making the house grey to match the colour it currently is.

Up and Down

This week I took down my exhibition of textile art and now it is up on the Virtual Fringe of the National Arts Festival’s website. And yes, it does feel as if I have been riding on a see-saw.

The exciting part of this up-and-down time is seeing the work on my computer screen. Thanks to the National Arts Festival for making this happen. If you would like to have a look, click here to get to the relevant page and then scroll down a bit to enter the virtual exhibition space.

There is also a page on the FABRICATIONS website where you can read all the labels that accompany the photographs of the work that was on display. Here’s a quick link (or go to my website’s menu above) to find it.

Taking down the exhibition went quickly. It was a bit depressing to see white walls where the quilts had hung. But it was also nice to bundle them up and bring them home. Another up-and-down experience.

finishing line

House Portrait #5. 25 x 34 cm. Machine appliqued, machine embellished, and hand quilted

The Bishop’s House in Beaufort Street is one of old Grahamstown’s most historic houses. One-time residence of the Catholic bishop, it is now owned by the Albany Museum and was the premises of the National English Literary Museum for decades. For one of those decades it was my place of daily work and I grew fond of the old building with its interesting nooks and crannies. It was the last piece I stitched for my recent exhibition and I added the finishing touches to it this week (after taking the exhibition down).

Round and Round

As I sit and stare out the window, wondering how to begin this week’s post, I see that the jasmine creeper is in bud. The first sign in this part of the world that spring is on the way. This harbinger of seasonal change and new growth echoes the powerful image of a flower growing from blackened ashes that I have just seen in a well-considered post about the looting and rioting in parts of South Africa.

The country is reeling and I don’t know what to say. Or what to do. So I continue to stitch. It seems crass to write about my quilting projects. The other option is to forego my weekly routine of posting something from my sewing space. To be honest, I am glad that I had a project to finish and something to take my mind off the terrifying news broadcasts.

Round the Garden. 97 x 97 cm.

If it looks familiar it is because I have been posting progress photographs of my participation in the Bernina round robin challenge, called Quilt for All. The sixth and final challenge was to machine quilt the piece. The rules forbade edge to edge quilting and so I could not use my preferred method of lines of machine quilting with the walking foot. I am not brave enough to free motion a piece as large as this, so what was a girl to do?

First I pinned the three layers and then tension quilted the piece by hand, by stitching it in the ditch. And then I began at the edge of the central block and machine quilted it in square rounds (if you know what I mean), using the quarter inch mark on the walking foot as a guide to stitch evenly spaced lines. For a bit of variation in the central border, I set my machine to the wavy zig zag stitch (with the length at 2 and the width at 4) and continued going around stitching in a straight line and getting a wavy effect (if you know what I mean!).

Here are some progress shots.

Once again I was pleasantly surprised at how the walking foot gracefully smooths out the undulations in the fabric. The flying geese in the final border were very wavy and so, while I was hand-quilt-tacking the work, I added a few discreet tucks to get rid of the worst of the waves. Even so, the piece does not hang perfectly flat now that it is finished. Do others also have this problem with machine quilted pieces? In my humble opinion, hand quilting is gentler on the eye and the finished effect.

Shall I show you the back? Why not, seeing as I took a photograph of it.

I bound the quilt in the same green fabric that was used as a background for the bright flowers.

Finishing line

Hand stitching hexagons is also a good calming activity. One of my kind quilting friends gave me the kit to make this sweet hexie pouch. It measures about 4 inches by 4 inches. I am busy making a second pouch, this time with silk thread so that my stitching won’t show.

Virtual Exhibition

It’s a strange day. The wind is howling down the dry, empty streets of Makhanda (aka Grahamstown). It feels like appropriate weather for the mixture of disappointment and excitement that I am feeling. The live National Arts Festival was to have opened today and we were gearing up to welcome visitors and all the fun of the festival that traditionally fills the streets of the town. Then, with the exponential rising of the third wave of the Corona Virus, all gatherings were cancelled a week ago and South Africa was placed at Alert Level 4.

The industrious and innovative National Arts Festival staff have pulled out all the stops and the Festival is now a virtual experience. Shows are being streamed online as I write. There are also, inter alia, exhibitions, videos, the young artists awards, a jazz festival, online workshops, theatre for young audiences. Click here for the full bouquet.

This means that my exhibition, which was to have been mounted at the Carinus Art Centre as part of the festival fringe, will be photographed and put up on the National Arts Festival (NAF) website (under The Fringe) where it can be seen as a virtual exhibition by anyone with an internet connection (and a computer or smartphone, of course.) As soon as it has been captured and put online I will post the link.

It is most generous of them to not only offer to professionally capture my work, but also to have provided an exhibition space in which to hang the exhibition. Thank you National Arts Festival team.

It’s been a busy week. With the help of The Woodworker and my good friend Karen Davies, we hung the exhibition on Tuesday morning. By Sunday I still had two quilts to finish (won’t tell you which ones they are!) and all the background work to do. It took all of Monday to get the quilts hang-ready and to finish off the incomplete pieces. I am not sure how a quilter who does not have a Woodworker would manage. With perfect precision he makes the lathes that are inserted into the quilt sleeves, so that the works hang straight and true. And a quilter also needs a good quilting friend with a good eye and a calm demeanour if she wants to mount an exhibition. Thank you more than twice over.

Before I add more photographs to give a closer view of the exhibition, here is a short musing on the word virtual. Not too many years back I would have said “virtual means almost, doesn’t it?” Not quite. Even before virtual came to mean online, it had an other worldly meaning. It’s closely connected to the word virtue. The Oxford English Dictionary entry says:

3. Capable of producing a certain effect or result, effective, potent, powerful… 4. That is so in essence or effect, although not recognised formally, actually, or by strict definition as such; almost absolute.

Rather confusing — as is the virtual world for the uninitiated. But is is also very exciting to live in this “almost absolute” time. Here follows a clockwise tour of the exhibition.

In Black & White

The midpoint of the year has come and gone and I now have a little library of six fabric books, made for the monthly #areyoubookenough community challenge run on Instagram by Sarah Grace Dye. Thank you Sarah!

My concertina fabric books, inspired by the AreYouBookEnough challenges, in a nice neat pile

The theme for June was Black and White and the participants produced an astounding array of handmade books. Something about the theme sparked remarkable feats of bookbinding and creativity. Visit the page of submissions at #areyoubookenough_blackandwhite and be prepared to be delighted and inspired.

I stuck to my usual format of a seven-page accordion fabric book, made to the same dimensions as the previous books (6 x 35 inches when open). But the book is in a vertical format to accommodate the contents, which is a list of things. As usual, it was finding the idea for the book that took the most amount of time. Once the phrase “in black and white” came to me, the rest was fairly easy. It was fun to sift through the files in my brain for objects and concepts that come in black and white.

The first page was set aside as the front cover. This left three “double-spreads”. First I stitched the title of “in black and white” using three rows of alternating running stitch, or the bricked format from kantha-style stitching. After that I played about with different, but simple, stitches to form the words. I used running stitch, back stitch, and couching. I did give chain stitch a try, but the effect was too bulky. The title took up the first page and each following page contains three items. This meant I had to find 15 black and white things. I confess that I did use google to fill in the penultimate space (i.e. WHISKEY).

The first photograph (top left) shows the cover of the book, with a plain row of saddle stitching, and the last one (bottom right) the verso side. For this I used a patterned black, white and grey fabric from Augusta de Jager’s stash and in memory of her. The black fabric is a beautiful linen that was a pleasure to work with. The thread used was no. 8 soft crochet cotton which was, surprisingly, very easy to stitch with.

Previously I sandwiched a layer of batting between the front and the back cover of the book. Because I was making a list, I decided I wanted a thinner, paper-like feel to the book. To stabilise it, I ironed very fine fusible web onto the patterned backing fabric and added a layer of black cotton flannel. As shown in the photograph I turned in a small hem for a neat back cover. The linen used for the front, or pages, of the book was torn to get that rough fringed effect.

The lettering was done more or less freehand and is therefore not perfect. Getting the word to fit in the allotted space was part of the fun of making the book. I used a sliver of old soap as a marker. (This is an old quilters’ trick and is a good way of getting rid of the guiding lines after the stitching is done, as the soap marks rub off easily. Well, mostly. If you look carefully at WHISKEY on the list you will see the traces of the guidelines).

Finishing Line

Here are two more pieces in the traditional costumes series, made from the clothes on souvenir dolls from Thailand and Whales.

House Portraits

Two weeks ago I wrote about my excitement at being invited to exhibit at the Carinus Art Centre at this year’s National Arts Festival and hinted that I was working on another series of small works. Here are the first three:

Portraits of houses in historic Grahamstown

For a long time I have been nursing the idea of making a textile portrait of the beautiful stone house in which we live. Our home is architecturally more complicated than the above houses as it has a Victorian upstairs balcony and an extra street level room (that was once a corner shop that sold sweets). So, I never did find the courage to stitch it down, as it were. Then, when this exhibition opportunity came up, I decided to first stitch some of the more simple-shaped and charming old houses in the town.

I began with one of the smallest houses in historic Grahamstown, which is in the grounds of “Old House” (a double-story stone house at 55 New Street) built soon after 1820 and said to be the smallest house in the town (Van der Riet, 34). The cottage was once the “one-day goal” for petty offenders (Randell, [10]). This little house has recently been renovated and the original stone walls exposed. Replicating the stone wall in stitch was a nice free-motion stitch challenge. There is now a high fence in front of the house, but I chose to copy the low white wall and picket fence gate depicted in both the books referenced above.

An in process (left) and completed view of the small house at 55a New Street. 33 x 25 cm.

Now for a quick paragraph on the technical details. I first made blanks for the backgrounds to the houses, by joining strips of hand-dyed Amafu fabrics in dove grey and charcoal grey. I cut these into equal A4 sized blocks in both portrait and landscape formats. I drafted the house shape by taking a photograph and then tracing the outline of the house from my computer screen. I am much better at measuring and copying the details from a photograph than I am at drawing freehand. And, using this method, means that the end result is in proportion. The next step was to applique the house parts onto the background and to machine stitch the details and finishing edges of the house. I luckily have a good stash of plain fabrics, many of them from the Amafu range. I used matching colours from my stash of threads to outline the windows and add details to the doors in either satin or straight machine stitch. Finally, I hand quilted the background and, in this case, the front fence, again using different coloured quilting cotton to achieve the effects I wanted. Once more, I was surprised and delighted by how the hand stitching changes the appearance of the piece.

Next in line was a gracious old home called Merriman House in Market Street. The nearby Market Square was surveyed in 1824 and became a residential area for officers. This house was originally two semi-detached houses with gable ends and one of these military residences. It was later occupied by Bishop Merriman, hence its name. About 50 years ago the house was combined into one residence and the balconies removed to expose the simple proportions of the old settler house (Reynolds, 67).

A set of photographs to show the different stages of the construction of House Portrait #2, Merriman House in Market Street. 25 x 33 cm.

The next house portrait is of a more modest settler cottage at 17 Bartholomew Street. It is near to Artificers Square and perpendicular to Cross Street, one of the oldest parts of town. The houses of artisans and workpeople were built in this area in the 1820s and 30s (Randell, [41]).

The making of House Portrait #3. 34 x 24 cm.

It struck me when I put these three finished pieces together for the group photograph that they are not all the same size, even though I started off with ‘blanks’ of equal measurements. I have decided that this, along with the slightly skew binding, adds to their charm. Ha!

There is two weeks until the National Arts Festival opens, so there is time to make a few more of these portraits. Maybe I will even get to stitching our own house quite soon.

Meanwhile, below is another version of House Portrait #3. (Don’t you think it’s brave to display one’s stitching in this enlarged format!)


Randell, Dorothy. Grahamstown Magic: Exploring with a Sketchbook. [Self-published. ca 1980]

Reynolds, Rex and Barbara. Grahamstown from Cottage to Villa. Cape Town: David Philip Publisher, 1974.

Variations on the Running Stitch

My faithful readers will know about my love affair with kantha-style stitching and the monthly samplers that I stitched last year. In making these samplers I discovered that the kantha stitch form has seemingly infinite variations. And it is all based on the simple running stitch.

The time had come, I thought, to share my love of kantha-style stitching. I offered an introduction class to my local quilting group, who graciously agreed to be my guinea pigs. This was followed by a second class. To my delight, some of the stitchers also fell in love with kantha and produced more variations.

Jean Schaefer took to the stitching like a duck to water and completed her sampler during the class. She then went home and added enchanting stitched creatures to the leftover spaces on the sampler cloth. She calls them ‘doodles’ done with needle and thread and is planning a ‘proper’ project. (I mistakenly thought the bird was dead (!) but Jean explained that he is just upside down)

After filling the four quadrants of her sampler cloth (above left), Hilary Mohr moved on to make her own beautiful flower design after the class. She says that she is captivated by the potential of running stitch. It shows in the work pictured above (right). As hilarymohrdesigns she makes elegant “mindful” clothes and accessories and said that she will in future add kantha-style stitching to her creations.

Gwenda Euvrard was also captivated and, despite her busy life, added this flower within a circle to her sampler after the workshop. Her stitching is remarkably neat and precise. It struck me that stitching style is a little like handwriting as everyone who attended the class produced different renditions, despite following exactly the same instructions for stitching the three basic patterns, taken from traditional kantha.

I have saved the photograph of Irene Vermaak’s sampler for last because it is also extremely neat and precise and gives a good example of what we did during the introduction to kantha-style stitching class.

This close-up view shows the three stitch styles of bricking (top left quadrant) stepping (top right) and the base-line for the blocking stitch (bottom left quadrant). The final quadrant shows two variations of the weaving stitch. Below is a full-size photograph of the sampler on which I demonstrated during the classes, and the kit, which included a pattern sheet, needle and thread and three layers of cotton and ramie fabrics.

What better way to spend a morning than sitting around a table, stitching together. The comments and quips were enlightening. Some said that what looks so easy is, in fact, not so. This is because one has to concentrate on the negative spaces. I was speaking from experience and could show them an example where I lost the flow and ended up also losing the pattern that the stitches make. We also joked about the ten thousand hour rule and worked out how many hours per day it would take to notch this up within x number of years. (Malcolm Gladwell claims in his book Outliers that in order to master a craft one has to put in ten thousand hours of practice.)

I have new respect for Miss Perks, who taught me and about 30 other 14-year-olds how to sew by hand. What a difficult task that must have been — I can’t image how she managed to convey her knowledge to a group of sweaty-palmed, disinterested adolescents. I am however grateful to her because she taught me a life skill that has stayed with me. The group of grown woman that I had the pleasure of teaching recently all wanted to learn and asked lots of questions. Even so, I found it is not that easy to pass on the tacit knowledge that is in one’s fingers. The best way, I found, was to demonstrate how to do it, rather than to over-explain with words.

We intend to meet again for a more advanced lesson. But before that the Festival will be coming to town in less than a month’s time. Speaking of which, here is the latest advertisement for my exhibition.

On a Dream Coming True

For a few weeks I have been nursing exciting news. I will be holding an exhibition of my work during the South African National Arts Festival. Because of these uncertain COVID times and the possibility of Festival plans having to be cancelled, I decided to hold my breath and keep my counsel until it became official.

This week the National Arts Festival released the programme for the Makhanda Live! section of the Festival and I breathed out. Then I made an advertisement and posted it on social media.

The town in which I live has for decades been the home of the annual National Arts Festival. Makhanda (formerly Grahammstown) has an art school that serves the local government high schools and, during Festival time, becomes the vibrant venue for exhibitions by local artists. I have long dreamt about exhibiting my work at the Carinus Art Centre and am thrilled that this year it will come to pass.

The tagline for this year’s Festival is BEYOND 11 DAYS OF AMAZING and it is being billed as a hybrid festival of the arts, anchored in our home of Makhanda, accessible online and coming to you in cities across South Africa. You can see the programme for the online and physical festivals on the National Arts Festival website by clicking here.

dolls’ clothes

In April I wrote about how I refashioned the traditional dresses on three dolls from a collection. I decided it would be nice to display a series of these folk costumes at my exhibition. There is no shortage of dolls or stamps to make more collages, but time is a most precious commodity at the moment (27 days to go, as I write this). I have been beavering away and have repurposed the costumes for the British Royal Guard, Italy, Scotland, and Switzerland. I will not repeat the details of the method I used. Instead, here are sets of photographs of the process of making each of the collages.

The Royal Guard

Stitching over those epauletes and medals was a bit of a challenge, even though they are made of painted cardboard and plastic. I had to stitch very slowly in order for the needle to miss landing in the middle of a medal! The hats were very bulky so I cut away the back part of the furry helmets. The chin straps had been glued onto the faces of the dolls and disintegrated when I tried to dislodge them. Luckily I have a stash of gold metallic thread and chain-stitched smarter chin straps straight onto the cloth.


I can’t help feeling a little sorry for the undressed dolls! This Italian couple’s clothes were rather difficult to stitch down because of the bulkiness caused by the tied sashes and the woman’s layers of petticoat and decorated apron. I ended up removing the petticoat (which was made of thick paper) to decrease the bulkiness.


This Scottish lass’s kilt is made of a thin fabric (not wool) and it was easy to iron it nice and flat before stitching it down. Her kilt was glued onto her waist and so the pleats had to be handstitched into place. Getting that cross-over shawl to lie neatly over the blouse was also took some tricky hand stitching.


This Swiss costume was also bulky around the waist area, where the blouse, skirt, apron and waistcoat needed to be stitched through simultaneously. I have a useful tool which came in a goody bag at the National Quilt Festival — it is a wooden pointed stick with a knob at the other end. I use this to keep the bulky edges in place as I stitch down a section (hence the photograph above, as an illustration). The laced section over the waistcoat is, in fact, made of plastic and had been added to the outside of the dress. Having learnt my lesson with Royal soldiers, I did not try to stitch this down by machine but hand-stitched it on at the end of the process.

Undressing the dolls and then refashioning the costumes into a one dimensional form is the most fiddly part of the process. I realised that the European folk dolls are probably made in the same factory — it’s obvious from the way the clothes are put onto the dolls and the type of fabrics used. These souvenirs are mass produced, using the quickest methods possible. Sometimes the clothes are glued straight onto the dolls and where there is stitching it is very rough and minimal. This makes me feel better in that I have not destroyed precious artefacts of folk history!

There are now seven collages of folk costumes sitting on my pinboard. (The sizes vary between 33 x 25 cm and 34 x 45 cm.) I was wondering how many pieces make up a series and decided, on the advice of my good friend The Artist, to aim for at least nine. Then, lo and behold, I saw a post on Instagram where someone wrote that she regards a series of works to be between seven and ten pieces. (Apologies for not crediting the post, I did not note it down.)

I am working on another set of themed works, which involve hand stitch and so are taking longer. So I have really cut my work out for myself (if you will pardon my mauling of the saying).