Hearts

The Covid Chronicle, founded by Wendy Bliss, is a community textile art installation, currently touring in the UK. It comprises about 140 panels worked in a range of textile art techniques and records contributors’ experiences of the pandemic since the first UK lockdown. You can see the work here from today until 19th June, and from July it will be on display at Riverside Studios, near Hammersmith Bridge.

The Hammersmith venue has a huge window space that isn’t suitable for the textile art because it gets too much light, so contributors have been invited to make hearts that can be displayed there a bit like the Wall of Hearts.

I already had a couple of patchwork hearts lying around in a drawer so it was quite easy to put these together.

Patchwork heart on layered background 9” x 12”

I really like layered sheers. I like the way they reveal as well as conceal, the way they cover the background but you can still see through them if you look closely. And of course we are all like that too. Very few people get to see through all our layers.

Layered linens, silk organza and silk chiffon

The other two are slightly smaller, about 6” x 8”, and are made with eco-dyed fabrics from Jane Hunter.

Pair of hearts made from linen, cotton and wool

The white heart is just strips of cotton fabrics pieced together into a heart shape, with some decorative stitching over the seams.

Strip of silk chiffon covering the edge

I really like the scrap of eco-dyed felted wool – it’s quite thick and substantial, I’m guessing from an old wool blanket, and perfect for this. It always amazes me how these orphans and scraps find their home eventually.

Eco-dyed wool with vintage cotton lace and little seed stitches

These will be travelling to Wendy very soon, and if you’re in London in July maybe you could go and visit.

Getting it together

I finished the scraps quilt that I started about this time last year.

‘Together’ – scraps quilt, hand-pieced, hand-quilted

Its working title was ‘All Together Now’ but I found that gave me a constant earworm of the song with the same name, which became distracting, so it had to go. I dropped the outer words and have named it simply ‘Together’. I like the etymology – it comes from an Old English word meaning ‘to gather’ – and that’s exactly what this quilt is. It’s a gathering: of fabrics, of textures, of colours, and of time.

‘Together’ 66″ square (121 x 6″ blocks)

I have a perennial problem with making large quilts. I like working on a large scale, as a rule, but when the thing is finished I have no way of taking a decent photograph of it. I don’t have a wall big enough to hang it on (in any case, there is no hanging sleeve on this one). Usually what happens is we have to move the furniture out of the dining room, lay the quilt out on the floor, and then climb up a stepladder, hold a camera out at arms length over it and hope for the best. Textiles are very difficult to photograph at the best of times and always look so much better in real life.

Seed stitching across the central panel

The quilt is made entirely of scraps and leftovers, hand-pieced over paper using the traditional English paper-piecing method. I assembled the blocks as 6″ squares, using patches in multiples of 1″ (so for example, 1 x 1, 1 x 2, 2 x 2, etc). I then arranged the blocks by colour group, with the whites and neutrals in the centre. The fabrics are an immensely eclectic mix of very modern and very old, plain and patterned, textured and plain-weave. The oldest pieces in it are from the eighteenth century, and they sit happily next to very modern scraps and samples. Most of the fabrics are hand-dyed vintage cotton and linen, with some over-dyed modern quilting cottons. There are a few synthetics and satins in there as well. I don’t normally like shiny fabrics much but I do like the way these little squares catch the light.

The blue corner
The red corner

The seeding stitches in the central panel create circles of negative space. Initially this was just a design decision to disrupt the straight lines created by the square blocks, but now I can see that the circles create little oases floating like bubbles across the surface. I like the way the circles are distinct but at the same time visibly still a part of their foundation.

Lots of seeding
spots of time among seeding stitches

The middle layer of the quilt is cotton flannel rather than traditional quilt batting, only because that’s what I had. I didn’t want to have to buy anything for this one. The backing is pieced together from a vintage silk sari. The quilt is thin but quite heavy.

Quilt back, pieced from patterned silk sari

I am a little nervous about the longevity of the quilt. It’s designed to be decorative rather than functional, but not to hang on a wall. I imagine it displayed on a bed, ideally. I don’t know the remaining life span of the silk backing: silk tends to tear very easily as it ages, and I’m not sure how old this sari is. The quilt isn’t washable, due to all the different kinds of fibre – the very elderly patches will shred, and the hand-dyed fabrics might not be entirely colour-fast. The seeding stitches on the surface would be quite easy to pull and distort accidentally. Its new owner (when I find them) is going to have to be very careful with it. But then, very few things last for ever.

Quilt label made from embroidered vintage linen, hand-dyed. I really like the way those two embroidered arms reach out to each other.

I did think about whether it needed some sort of additional circular pattern in the outer borders, but in the end I think there’s probably enough going on in it. I’m looking forward to being able to start something a little more manageable.

Going straight

I started quilting ‘All Together Now’ with a meandering line, and I thought I knew exactly where it was going.

Wandering aimlessly

This quilt has been very particular from the very beginning about what it wants, but I was just starting to feel that we were becoming friends now that we’ve reached the outer sections. The quilt waited until I had done a fair few meandering lines before telling me that was very wrong and not what it wanted at all. Quite a lot of unpicking and tutting ensued. The second attempt is now well under way, and everyone seems to be happier. I’m now working very simple diagonal lines across each of the 6” blocks.

Diagonal quilting lines across 6” blocks

I couldn’t sew a straight line if my life depended on it, so I use quilter’s masking tape. It’s one of the best things ever invented.

Quilter’s masking tape

I confess I am slightly disappointed not to have more expressive quilting lines to create. It’s one of my philosophies of life that there are already enough straight lines in the world and now here I am, adding to them. There is, however, quite a lot going on in this quilt – there are a lot of colours to manage, with a lot of seams and some very busy seed stitching – and keeping the rest of it simple I think is the right thing to do.

All together now

I started this quilt some time last year, rounding up (squaring up) all the scraps into 6” blocks and then assembling them into a kind of square colour wheel with all the whites in the centre. It’s 11 blocks square, so 66”-ish, all paper-pieced. I had to abandon it when I broke a bone in my right hand in October, but that was no great hardship as by then I didn’t really like it. It also had no name, so I didn’t know what it was trying to be.

In progress
Lots of seed-stitching

Last year I had started seed-stitching the central panel to define the circles, and it quickly turned into one of those things I wish I’d never started. Seed-stitch takes a long time, and there was acres of it. OK, about a square yard. I tend to exaggerate.

Seed-stitching around circles

So since October it has been rolled up in a corner of the room, nameless and baleful, scowling every time I passed it, and now I need to finish it before I feel free enough to start something else. A few days ago I steeled myself to set about finishing the seed-stitching. And what do you know? It didn’t take as long as I thought it would, and it looks OK. The texture is really interesting. The backing is made from a vintage silk sari, and the middle layer is cotton flannel, so it isn’t too bulky but is still quite substantial. It’s surprisingly heavy.

Quilting the edge

And then it named itself: All Together Now. So now I need to figure out what to do with the rest of it. I’ve couched some two-tone silk bourette yarn down to create a couple of borders around the central panel, and I’m starting with a meandering line just to see where it goes.

First line of quilting

Sometimes making a large quilt by hand feels a bit like wrestling with an alligator (no, since you ask, I have never wrestled an alligator). I do feel as if I am starting to tame this one.

On paper

I really like paper. I especially like painting sheets of paper and then tearing them up to make collages for sketchbook pages – I find this much easier than drawing on a blank page with a pen or pencil. I like the accidental shadings that occur, and the blocks of colour. It’s like patchwork, really.

sketchbook page, collage with painted paper

I’m in the process of making two sketchbooks: one that explores the marks on ancient rocks and stones, and one that explores the marks on ancient landscapes. I find land particularly fascinating because it holds so much time and has witnessed millions of years of life. Land and ground can be synonyms, and grounding is what happens when we connect to the land.

sketchbook page, collage with painted and textured papers
sketchbook page, drawing over collage
Sketchbook page, cut and torn painted papers
sketchbook page, mark-making over monoprint

While I’ve been working on these pages, some thoughts about the fiction I’ve read recently have been weaving themselves together. A couple of months ago I read All Passion Spent, by Vita Sackville West (first published in 1931), which is about an elderly woman who, when widowed, decides to live where she chooses and on her own terms. There is a passage at the beginning of Part Two, where Lady Slane finds that for once she has time to reflect:

‘She had plenty of leisure now, day in, day out, to survey her life as a tract of country traversed, and at last become a landscape instead of separate fields or separate years and days, so that it became a unity and she could see the whole view, and could even pick out a particular field and wander around it again in spirit, though seeing it all the while as it were from a height, fallen into its proper place, with the exact pattern drawn round it by the hedge, and the next field into which the gap in the hedge would lead. So, she thought, could she at last put circles around her life.’

Sketchbook page, collage – ‘so could she at last put circles around her life’

I recall seeing a fascinating interview with the actor Liz Smith a few months ago, and she said it’s only when you get older that you can look back at your life and begin to see the recurring patterns that have always been there. You don’t notice the patterns at the time because you’re too close to recognise them.

In another novel I’ve read recently, Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood (1996), one of the characters, Reverend Verringer, speaks this line:

“What becomes of the soul? We cannot be mere patchworks!” (p. 471, ‘Pandora’s Box’)

Patchwork, silk and cotton fabrics

All these thoughts and patterns are coming together, like paths converging, and it feels as if I am going somewhere. I am still drawing the map, but I have a compass and a vague sense of direction. I am travelling slowly, on foot. Step by step, or stitch by stitch, or piece by piece, it will come together somehow, in its own time.

And *of course* we are all patchworks. What else could we possibly be?

Hearts and flowers

Well, it is Valentine’s Day.

‘Have a Heart’, 20.5” x 20.5”

I’m still going through cupboards and finding work that needs to be re-homed, to make some space. This one is a square(ish) cloth made from hand-dyed silk on a vintage damask cloth backing. The heart is hand-pieced, from new and vintage fabrics.

Vintage (1920s) beaded decoration

The background is made from layered sheer and semi-sheer silk fabrics, quilted with hand-dyed threads.

Hand-quilting on layered sheer silk

This cloth is very lightweight as I didn’t use batting or wadding between the layers. It is thin but strong, like love. The heart is pieced and patched, as all our hearts are after a lifetime of love and loss, but somehow all the pieces join together to make a whole.

Love

And talking of sharing the love, I am thrilled to have been featured today on Carina’s blog here. Go and give her some heartfelt appreciation from me ❤️