Excavating

After our annual visit to the Jorvik Viking Festival in February, I found myself increasingly fascinated by Viking culture, and specifically with Viking textiles and sewing techniques. I made myself a Viking costume – linen under-dress, linen long-sleeved over-dress, and the characteristic Viking apron dress (photos to follow, when I have the time to gather it all together, put it on and be photographed wearing it). Making clothes entirely by hand is absorbing, and actually doesn’t take that much longer than sewing by machine.

I became really interested in how textiles were made and used in tenth-century Europe, and I started to look for evidence of fabrics in the various Viking burials that have already been explored in Sweden and Norway. The main problem, of course, with fabrics is that they generally fail to survive long periods buried underground. Linen, in particular, tends to rot down to nothing relatively quickly – not surprising, given that it starts life as a plant in the first place.

Then I found that there are a handful of sites – notably Mammen (Denmark) and Oseberg (Norway), plus a few others – where not only fabrics have been preserved, but also examples of embroidery, appliqué and other techniques. Textiles are central to any culture – we all handle them every day, and we use them to convey various cultural messages about status, individuality and community.

I wondered how I would interpret these fragments of cultural messages, if I were to stitch something similar to the shreds of decorated fabrics that have been uncovered by archaeologists. So I’m planning to make four mixed-media books: one based on excavations; one based on reconstruction; and two based on the Oseberg ship burial, looking at clothing in the first, and home furnishings in the second.

I’ve begun work on the first one, interpreting the fragments of fabrics that have been uncovered. I’m collecting images, drawings and photocopies in a sketchbook, and then taking single examples to work up into 8″ square pages using fabric, thread, paint and paper. The first sample page I’m showing here is based on a fragment of braid found in Birka:


And my interpretation of it:

The base is hand-made paper, with fabrics layered, stitched and painted to convey the impression of something buried. The braid is made from hand-dyed silk yarn, with a little gold paint brushed over the surface. I thought I would have to use some sort of stabiliser (Vilene or similar) before sewing on  the paper, but it’s surprisingly robust, and soft enough to stitch quite heavily without any need for support.

I added little stone chips and beads to suggest the stones and grit in the earth that would have held the braid. Strange to think that something so fragile could survive burial for so long, and that it would one day look again on daylight.

Posted in mixed media, Viking | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Picking up the threads

I’m beginning to feel nearly ready to pick up where I left off, though not quite in the same way. Having completed my PhD, I’m now returning to full-time work. I have somewhat mixed feelings about this, having organised my own time for so many years. The main benefit, of course, is a reliable income, which is something I haven’t had for over a decade. The other benefit, I’ve decided, is that I can continue to stitch in my own time, at my own pace, without the pressure to promote and/or sell.

excavations 1

I didn’t expect to ever come back to the blog, but I’ve learned that life bombards you with surprises most of the time.

I’ve been collecting a few thoughts, and stitching them down before they can run away.

oseberg 1

Watch this space.

Posted in mixed media | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

500 and out

I did promise something spectacular for my 500th post, and here it is:

Not quite what you were expecting.

I’ve been quietly making some spectacular changes to my life. During my blog break in June/July I researched, wrote and submitted an application to study for a PhD in English, and have recently received confirmation that my application was successful.

This means that from September I’ll be a full-time student for the next three years. At my age that does sound faintly ridiculous, but there it is.  Clearly, a PhD is going to involve quite a lot of work – 100,000 words and a bibliography the length of a football pitch. I aim to give it my full and undivided attention, which means that I’m withdrawing from my online and blog-related activities.

Writing a blog takes a surprising amount of time and effort, as those of you who maintain blogs will know. Keeping up with the blog circuit also takes a lot of time and effort.  Art doesn’t pay enough; at least, not in my case.  Admittedly, gaining a further qualification also isn’t going to pay the bills, in the short term, but in the longer term at least it has some reliable earning potential. I hope that this period of study might lead eventually to further work in research, publishing or undergraduate teaching.

Obviously I will continue to stitch in whatever spare time I end up having, but only for my own amusement. I’ve already closed my flickr account and will be making a decision about my facebook page in the coming weeks.  I still have a few pieces of work for sale here on the blog (see the tab at the top of this page). I have course fees to pay, and, frankly, I need the money.

So, there it is – my 500th post is also my last, at least for a while.

It’s been a lot of fun: I’ve met some incredible people from all over the world, some of whom have become real, true friends and will (I hope!) remain such. Most of you have made me laugh at some point; all of you have made me think. It’s been good to show my work here, and to write about it, and to read your thoughts about it. It’s been very satisfying to know that my work lives with some of you in your homes; little stitches on cloth witnessing the passing of time, the living of different lives.

But mostly it’s been good to travel with you on this brief passage through my life – your life, our lives – and I thank you you for it.

This is it!

Thank you.

🙂

Posted in Uncategorized | 96 Comments

Untitled

Well, I can’t carry on calling it Beardie Quilt, can I? And every artist, at some point in their life, produces something called ‘Untitled’.

It turned out all right in the end. I like the back, too:

I’ve added this to the ‘work for sale’ tab at the top of this page.

WordPress informs me that this is my 499th post.

Better start working on something spectacular for the 500th!

Posted in art, quilts, textile art | Tagged , , , , | 18 Comments

Keeping calm

Still quilting

Still embroidering

Still bearding.

Keep calm and carry on.

Posted in art, In progress, quilts, textile art | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Scraps Quilt 2

This is Scraps Quilt 2, which will be a gift and should be finished by the end of the year. This one will be very slightly different from Scraps Quilt 1:

This time it’s 7″ blocks. I didn’t like the even numberedness of the 8″ block, which was prone to dividing itself rather too neatly into four equal quarters. A block made of odd-numbered inches seems a little more interesting. This time, as you can see, each block will have a little accent of something else in the centre(-ish).

They won’t be going together in this order; this is just the total number of blocks completed so far. I hope that the whole quilt, when all 110 blocks are pieced together, will read as effectively in real life as it does in my imagination. Bear in mind that these are just scraps, and this is just evening-and-spare-time work, and it really is surprising how much you can achieve with a few spare minutes here and there. To date, 8 down, 102 to go.

However, I think it’s more like task avoidance, since I’d rather be making these blocks than working on beardie-quilt. Tomorrow, I keep saying. Tomorrow I’ll tackle the tough beardie quilt. Really. I will.

Posted in art, In progress, patchwork, quilts | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

the spirit of perseverance

I wondered if embroidering this quilt might be easier than quilting it.

It wasn’t.

Embroidering cardboard is just as difficult as quilting it.

Posted in In progress, patchwork, quilts | Tagged , , | 17 Comments

Revisiting

On the table today, an unfinished quilted piece that I rediscovered recently while tidying. Sometimes it can be interesting to revisit something from the past, just to see the difference between then and now.

This is from several years ago and was based on a woven paper collage:

Unusually, for me, the cloth version is machine pieced. Hand quilted, of course.

Most of the fabrics are commercial prints masquerading as hand-dyes, though some are actually hand-dyed. I quite like it, and it took me a while to realise why it remains unfinished. Having spent a few hours with it today, I know exactly why I gave up.

Usually I prefer wool batting, or occasionally 20/80 poly/cotton blend. The batting in this one is 100% cotton, the first time I’ve ever tried it.  Quilting it is mostly like trying to quilt cardboard, but the worst thing about it is this:

Non-stop, relentless bearding. I will persevere this one time, but I will never use 100% cotton batting again. It’s quite possible that there will be more batting on the lint roller than there will be remaining inside the quilt.

Posted in art, In progress, textile art | Tagged , , , | 15 Comments

Completion

Begun on 1st January 2012; finished on 15th July 2012.

Ninety-nine 8″ blocks, hand-pieced from scraps, hand-quilted, joined and bound by hand.

Originally I was not going to use binding on this quilt. Many historic and traditional English quilts do not have binding; the front and back are simply stitched together around the edge. Binding is mostly an American innovation. However, it just didn’t look right without binding of some sort. In the end I went for a very narrow (half-inch or so) binding, just to finish the edges and to provide a boundary that unifies and frames the patchwork.

The back is almost as interesting as the front:

You can at least see the (admittedly, fairly minimal) quilting better on the back.

I estimate that this has taken somewhere over 600 hours from start to finish, which equates to about a month of my life. Given that I am likely to spend a total of around 26 years of my life asleep, I think this is a pretty good achievement.

And, of course, my next question is naturally, ‘what am I going to do now?’

Since life provides me with a seemingly endless supply of scraps, the answer is – well, another quilt. The next quilt will be a gift.

It has been an enjoyable and productive break.

Posted in patchwork, quilts, textile art | Tagged , , , | 23 Comments

Looking

No, I’m not totally here yet… but today I belatedly turned over the new page of the Paul Klee calendar that hangs in my workroom, and I couldn’t help thinking…

…wouldn’t this make a marvellous quilt?

Posted in art | Tagged , , | 6 Comments