Monday, 25 December 2017

Christmas greetings

Just a message to wish you all a very happy Christmas.  I am afraid this blog is almost dead because I can no longer sew but I am thinking of starting a new one in the New Year - not textiles but more about my childhood which I have been writing about.  So keep looking for the link here.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

My sampler

A week ago I shared a post on Facebook.  It was about samplers held in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.  It was seen by lots of people on my Reensstitcher Facebook page and made me realise that I have a sampler I made which I should also share.  So here is a post about it.

In my last year at school I studied four subjects whereas some of my friends studied five.  (The education system in New Zealand is different from the UK).  This meant I had some spare time which had to be filled.  The headmistress suggested that I 'did' embroidery with the art teacher.  This was the best thing the headmistress ever did for me as it gave me a lifelong love of embroidery and started me on years of doing it myself.

What I did not know when I started was that the art teacher had taken City and Guilds Embroidery.  She still had all her notes which she shared with me.  She told me to make a sampler although I have to confess I never finished it because my academic work became m ore time-consuming as the year went on.  She made me design each piece of it myself so that was the beginning of my education in design.  I made the sampler on even weave fabric but I am not certain if it was linen or not. Somehow this sampler has survived for fifty years.  It came through our house fire because it was in the blanket box  in my bedroom.  The room was undamaged

As you can see there are still some tacking threads in it.

 I began with samples of stitches which I think I thought was all you usually did.

Later I moved on to examples of different techniques.  I think this was probably how I learnt about counted thread work, which I did a lot of in later years, as well as techniques such as Jacobean work (which I did not enjoy).

 Along the way I learnt about the history of each of these forms of embroidery. I already knew about Assisi work but Blackwork was new to me and I really enjoyed it.

I always had something 'on the go' but you need to remember that there was no television in New Zealand in my childhood.

One result of this study was that when I reached London several years later, I used to go to the Victoria and Albert museum to look at the embroideries.  I can remember asking to see some of the work they held as much of it was not on open display.  I also realised I 'understood' the textile work I saw in museums. There was. a museum in Sarajevo with a great collection of Balkans embroidery which we visited on our honeymoon.  I felt very sad when I realised it had been destroyed in the Balkan wars.  I was also inspired by these museums to make articles based on what I had seen there.  After Sarajevo I made a tablecloth with counted thread Balkan designs on evenweave linen.  I still have it although we have not used it for years.  Around 1970 I liked going to the needlework shop in Regent Street in London where I used to buy fabric and threads.  In fact I recently gave away an incomplete tablecloth based on a book I bought there and using their fabric.  Unfortunately I chose a finer count of thread than the one in the book so it took forever.  In the end, having stopped wandering around Europe, I put it away and never finished it.  So we all have UFOs.

The work I did in that year at school led to my making lots of birthday and Christmas presents for people in my youth.  There was the set of tablemats I made for a school friend's wedding present.  I had a holiday job in an office at a psychiatric hospital at the time and was very under-worked so I made them quite quickly while keeping them sort of hidden under my desk.  There were guest towels in the days when these were made of linen, not towelling.  And I even embroidered some of my clothes when I was a student.  I do not have any photographs but I remember drawn thread work on what we called a 'choirboy' blouse.  It was one way of having distinctive clothing at minimal cost.  Of course, these days people do not have time for interests such as this as there is so much else for us to do with our time. 

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

My sweetie jars - more downsizing

Although my husband is adamant that he is not moving house and the housing market down here is dead, I know we will have to go for health reasons and I really think my quilting days are over because of my disability.  So I am very slowly continuing to downsize my textile supplies.

Years ago I acquired a set of sweetie jars through someone in the quilting group I belonged to.  They were the large size jars that old fashioned sweet shops kept filled with sweets that were sold loose.  I used them to keep little off-cuts of fabric which I could dip into, especially for my journal quilts.  Like many quilters I stopped throwing anything away in case it came in handy but I have to say there comes a point where this is not a useful thing to do!  The jars took up most of a shelf in a bookcase. but at least it meant the cats could not get at the scraps.  Now the time has come to get rid of them.

Rather than just throw them away I have given them (jars and all) to a small local primary school.  The children are making collages from them.  Here are some examples of their pictures.

They have made boat pictures because we live by the sea.

As you can see, the pictures combine work on paper with the fabric scraps. 

Of course, I also still have a lot of fabric pieces that are bigger, including fat quarters and various larger pieces.  Some of them are in this photo.

I feel these would be better used by older people so I have not yet decided who to offer them to.  We live so far from everywhere that even the nearest Project Linus coordinator is based in Devon.  I gave the local college a lot of things a couple of years ago but they do not teach textiles.  I had my fingers burnt somewhat when I offered things to a local group and a bit of me thinks that I will still use them although that is probably unrealistic.  So for now I am living with bookcases that are becoming emptier.  I believe that we have to treat downsizing like mourning and take it slowly but I am also conscious that I could suddenly find myself in a situation that means someone else will have to do the clearing out so this is an attempt to pre-empt that.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Things I have enjoyed at Festival of Quilts

As I have already said, there are lots of things to do at FoQ if you are there for long enough.  As the years wore on, I enjoyed the individual galleries more than the open competition quilts.  I am sure there are many visitors who are like me and want to spend a lot of time looking at these.  If you are lucky you get to talk to the person whose art it is but sometimes there is no-one on the stand.  I also tended to buy the catalogues which means I now have a couple of shelves in my bookcase which are full of these things.  Among those I really enjoyed were the European Art Quilts and as you can see I bought the books.  If allowed, I always took photographs but I see I have deleted most of them because if I am honest I do not really look at them and this down-sizing has meant clearing out a lot of photographs.  I had boxes of twentieth century photograhs as well as the more recent stuff on the computer!

As a member of Contemporary Quilt I used to do my turn on the stand.  This was a great way of seeing old friends, especially after we moved to Cornwall.  Until recently I also belonged to SAQA and used to do a turn on their stand too.

One of the perks from this was getting a free copy of the catalogue as SAQA used to say they could not afford to transport them all back to the USA.  However, I think they have stopped giving them away.

And a lot of professional people had stands even if they were tucked away at the back of the Hall.  There were people whom I always made a point of visiting, usually because our paths had crossed at quilting events.  Sometimes I had studied with them.  One such was Committed to Cloth who have a wonderful working open studio.  I had bought treated myself to a week long course with them as a sixtieth birthday present to myself.  It was always good to catch up with what they were doing.

There are also meetings of various groups which are open to their members.  I used to attend the SAQA tea as it was the only time during the year when I could participate in their activities because of living too far away.  And Contemporary Quilt also had meetings.

And then there is the programme of workshops and lectures.  Most years I would attend two or three lectures and often do a half-day workshop.  I know I have recently thrown away the little stuffed brooches I made at one workshop – a pity as I could have included one in this post.  The workshops put huge demands on the tutors because of the time constraints.  I never did one of the masterclasses because they were very expensive.  I was lucky to have access first to Bramble Patch in Weedon and then to Cowslip Workshops near Launceston where the same tutors offered things much cheaper!  And of course Bramble Patch was only ten minutes’ drive from home when we lived in Northants.  

So all in all I really enjoyed Festival of Quilts in the years when I went.  A shame that I can no longer go but I am impressed with the number of posts about it on Facebook and this enables me to get a flavour of the whole thing.  Congratulations to all this year's winnere!

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Shopping at the Festival of Quilts

What stage of your quilting career are you at?  Do you buy a lot of stuff at FOQ and if so, what?  Or have you reached the point where you try very hard not to buy things.  Going through my stash with a view to disposing of a lot of it, I have found fabric and other items that trace my thirty plus years of quilting, many of them bought at FoQ.   And that does not include all the 'wet work' supplies I bought over the years as I have already disposed of most of those.

I can remember in the twentieth century buying traditional fat quarters to make into quilts.  However, by the time FoQ started I had moved on to more exotic fare.  Here are some of the things I bought which I still have.  Many of them will probably not get used now but when I pressed them in order to photograph them I was quite surprised how many pieces I had cut into.  I think quite a few have ended up in Journal Quilts such as this one of pine trees.

This includes pieces of hand-dyed fine cotton which I think were sold by a Dutch or German maker.

I will not deny that I have bought those packs of fat quarters already chosen by the sellers. I have hunted for ones that go together and remember that yellow used to be a difficult colour to find.   I used to like the batiks that Kalaidescope sold and would buy them without knowing what I would make from them..  I have a lap quilt that I use every evening in the sitting room which is made from them.

I did once buy a small sewing machine at a show but it was too simple, even as a back-up, so I sold it.  I have never bought a machine at FoQ although my sister bought herself a new Bernina one year.  I used to go and badger the Bernina people with questions, especially about using the needle threader which in twenty years of owning my machine, I have never learnt how to do!

I think every visitor to FoQ has their favourite places to shop.  I learnt early on that the best way to tackle the crowds was to do one's shopping in the morning while everyone was busy examining the quilts and to then look at the displays later by which time people had often gravitated to the shopping. I also reached a point where I was buying fabrics other than cotton and I frequently spent money on silk fabric.

Then I decided it was the threads that I wanted.  I now have a large collection of threads of different weights which have been wonderful.  I need to think how to dispose of them because I am finding thread a hand sewing needle difficult, especially tying the knot.  I have a friend who has expressed interest in them but she has not seen them yet.

Several years ago using rusted fabrics was all the fashion.  I did some rust dyeing myself but then decided it was better to buy the fabric as I did not really have suitable objects to use and the method is also quite tricky and requires the weather to be right.

And finally, I was often tempted by what the exhibitors with their own galleries were showing.  Just one example.  This is Liz Hewitt who did wonderful things with African cloth she sourced herself.  I think she has moved on to other things now and I have to confess that I have not found a use for the three pieces I bought.

Still sitting and stroking fabric is what one of my mother's friends told me she used to do when she could no longer quilt.  I am wondering how many of you are sitting and stroking what you have bought, given I am writing this on the first day of this year's Festival.  And I hope that if you are you can find a use for it.  I will write a further post about the galleries of invited people as that is what I really came to like most.

The Festival of Quilts
Part 1

I love the Festival of Quilts, having been very involved in its early days.  Unfortunately my mobility issues meant I had to stop attending several years ago and I really miss it.  There came a point when I realised it was not a good idea to be driving round the countryside on my own and as I have always got sick on coaches, going with a group was not an option.  I used to say the event was like a school reunion!  So I am quite envious of those of you who are there this week.

I know the first Festival was held in 2003 which was when I was on QGBI’s PR committee.  Actually, I remember the first time I heard about it was when Andrew Salmon addressed the Guild AGM to tell us what was proposed.  I guess that was in 2002.  I suspect many people did not realise then what a major event it would become.  I had one great advantage in that I lived an hour’s drive away from the NEC so it was ‘commutable’, particularly early in the day.   As a committee member I got some perks including being able to view the exhibits in the hour before the punters were let in and a chance to get to know many of the stall holders.  I also learnt a great deal about how shows are run as I spent time on the Guild stand and was involved in setting up and breaking down.  The stand that was designed to attract members was situated at the front of the Hall so you could see everyone arriving.

I entered quilts in the competitions a few times although they were not particularly good ones.  In some cases they were very derivative and each time I had trouble wondering what class they should be going in.  Was my effort an ‘innovative’ quilt or just ‘contemporary’?  I used to dither about this but at that time so did lots of other people so I knew I was not alone.  I enjoyed the whole process of getting the entry to the NEC and of collecting it at the end of the Festival.  I always insisted on hand delivery and collection because I had heard so many stories about quilts getting lost.  This is At the Bay, my 2003 entry which was about the New Zealand landscape. As you can see, it is very much a product of a workshop, in this case an Alicia Merrett one at Bramble Patch.

I used to drive to the industrial estate somewhere on the edge of Birmingham where the couriers were, with my quilt in its approved wrappings.  I would try and do something else in the area to make the trip a day’s outing.  One year I found two National Trust properties on the edge of Warwick and visited both.   Collecting the quilt at the end was another interesting experience.  As I was on the main Guild stand at the front entrance I can remember standing there for hours being able to see my quilt but not collect it!  Later the collecting process was moved to one of the other halls which made things easier and a bit quieter.

In 2004 I entered Misty Morning which I had made in silk fabrics given to me after our house fire by a woman who ran a wedding dress business in our village.  It was a whole packer's box and I never managed to use all of the fabric although I almost ran out of some 'colourways'.  In the end I gave the remainder to Penwith College.

When we moved to Cornwall in 2006 I obviously had to rethink how I got to the NEC.  First I had to take my quilt to the carrier’s depot near Truro. As I remember it was quite difficult to find the depot and the firm who did the carrying turned out to be one whose lorries we were familiar with from driving up and down the motorway and which we had always associated with cauliflowers!

This is Colours of the Coromandel based on the trip I had made to New Zealand earlier that year.  It began as a Journal Quilt and then I did a bigger version.  I seem only to have a photo of the journal quilt version.

The week of the Festival I would drive up to visit my sister in Shropshire for a few days.  I needed the car for all the shopping! This would enable us to visit the exhibition at the Minerva Arts Centre in Llanidloes as well as exploring the Shropshire countryside.  In return I would run a session for her village craft group although that was quite a challenge as only one person was a quilter and people had different interests and levels of skill.  Rotary cutters were new to almost all, for example.  I had never taught quilting although I worked in adult education for many years and I quickly learnt some basic principles about how to deal with beginners who want something ‘finished’ at the end of two hours.  I would teach them how to make small objects such as book covers as this did not require you to be a quilter.

 My sister and I usually then went to Festival for the first day by train.  From where she lives this could involve three trains: one to Shrewsbury, a second to Wolverhampton and possibly a third from there to the NEC.  The trains were always full of people going to the Festival although as this was a very different part of the country I rarely knew anyone.  Of course, it also depended on the trains running smoothly.  There was one year when on the way home we broke down in the middle of the countryside for some considerable time.  I remember learning a lot about sewage systems because the young woman sitting opposite us worked for a waste management firm.   Once at the NEC we would join a very long queue even though we had bought tickets in advance but I always saw people I knew so it was very sociable.  After Day One I would spend another day with my sister and then drive back on Saturday morning to have two more days.  I developed strategies for dealing with the crowds.  Always do your shopping first and look at the quilts later as most people ‘do’ the quilts first and then the shopping.  With three days available rushing through things was not such an issue.

I would then have another day with my sister and first thing on Saturday morning I would drive back to the NEC for two days.  I know one year I stayed in Meriden and another in one of the hotels at the NEC.  That was better in a way as it meant I could meet up with other quilters and then get to and from the Halls by coach.

I plan another post on the activities I did in the years I went and I have recently found a lot of my 'shopping', some of which I have never used, so I will try to photograph thins.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

My life with the Quilters Guild 3: Cornwall


By 2006 when we moved to Cornwall, I had finished my turn on the committee.  I already knew that quilting in Cornwall was pretty traditional so I did not join a local group and I think I only ever went to one area meeting as it was held right at the other end of Cornwall.  Along with other people I made a few attempts to get the Guild to offer something more local for those of us in the far west. But the numbers were too small and travelling times difficult.

At this point I began to play an active role in Contemporary Quilt and enthusiastically did the Journal Quilt project for some years.   I photographed all the quilts as I made them so here are a few examples.  I even made a little book with photos and the explanations we had to supply and took this with me to New Zealand.  It was a really good way of showing people what I had been up to as well as giving me a good record.

In 2008 I made my last trip to New Zealand and this inspired two/  This one of Hahei Beach complete with shells I collected there, is of a beach on the Coromandel Peninsula.  And this one was inspired by the same area but by the colours rather than the forms.  I then did a large version of this and entered it into FOQ.

I have always found the Cornish landscape provides plenty of ideas. I used to walk a lot, take photographs and do some drawing.  Here are a couple of quilts that reflect this interest.

This one is of the bulb fields at the bottom of the hill near here.  Bulb growing was an important industry in these parts.

Other journal quilts had themes related to the coastal scenery

and fishing:

while I also did some inspired by the moors.

 I even had an exhibition with another St Ives person  I put a lot of  journal quilts in this and a couple of larger ones.. I had the journal quilts framed on the advice of a school friend who ran a craft gallery in New Zealand.  I made postcards of them and these sold very well but unfortunately I did not sell any quilts.  I think a lot of this was because English people do not buy textiles.  New Zealanders do.  I still have a number of these quilts and have been giving them away for 'big' birthday presents: fortieths, seventieths etc.

I also attended a couple of CQ summer schools where I did a lot of design work. They involved travelling which is why I did so few but I remember that on one occasion I stopped to buy lunch in, I think, Wolverhampton and got absolutely drowned getting from the car park to the bakery.  I had to change my clothes before I continued the journey and was glad I had a suitcase of stuff with me.  After a number of years these Summer School are becoming confused with workshops I did at Cowslip so I do not have any photographs.

I stopped doing Journal Quilts when one senior member of the group said I should work bigger.  It was true that I had explored a lot of techniques. and I did make one or two larger ones. Then I was diagnosed with a rare condition called Inclusion Body Myositis which has been called ‘Alzheimers of the muscles’.  It meant I had to stop driving about three years ago which meant I could not get to any Guild events nor to the Festival of Quilts. I also had to give up walking and that was what had inspired much of my work.  

However, I keep up my membership of the Guild as I regard it as a donation to charity.  It is good to read about new trends and general quilting activities but I have to agree with the statement in the latest issue of The Quilter about ageing volunteers as I have always been the 'median' age of the membership, i.e. it has got older as I have got older.  I know this is happening to a lot of organisations that rely on volunteers to run them.  People's ways of life change and these days with most women working and changing patterns of leisure I can see why people do not join organisations like they used to.  I know the Women's Institute has had a new lease of life and I was interested to read that the Guild is now questioning whether it should still have an AGM that runs over a complete weekend.  I am sure the Guild will continue and I think that the emergence of special interest groups is definitely the way to go.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

My life with the Quilters Guild 2: Northamptonshire


We moved to Northamptonshire from Oxfordshire in 1995 because I was working at the Open University in Milton Keynes and having us both commuting in opposite directions was too expensive.  (My husband always worked in London.)  The move was a bit complicated and we had to house mind for a few weeks.  While doing that there was an exhibition at Sulgrave Manor.  It was by a group called Danetree Quilters and the standard of work was extremely high.  This led to me joining a quilting group for the only time in my life.  I thought it would be a good way of meeting people.  It was, and as I quickly learned that several people were involved with City and Guilds, it gave me some support as I struggled to do Part 1, Patchwork and Quilting by distance learning.  As people in the group belonged to the Guild I began to attend regional events although I was quite passive.  Within a year of moving I was made redundant from the OU and had to return to working in London which meant four hours a day commuting.  Not good news and I had to give up on City and Guilds.  Then in 2001 I was made redundant again and decided not to get another full-time job.

That is when I really got involved with the Guild.  One of the members of Danetree Quilters was Sheila Acton who was the national PR person.  She had a committee for which she could choose the members and she persuaded me to join it.   It opened all sorts of doors for me.  I think I had a title of Exhibition Officer or similar.  A lot of the work was paperwork and telephoning but I also became involved with various shows. I met a lot of people who were involved at national level, some of whom became real friends.  I have memories of going to meetings in people’s houses including Margaret Armstrong, president when I began who had a National Collection of hellebores and Fay Alcock who took over from her.

I have a lot of catalogues for Guild exhibitions at this time although I know I did not attend them all.  Sheila and I drove up to Dean Clough one Saturday to the opening of 'Transforming Tradition' the Guild's exhibition in 2002.  It was interesting to see the inside of Dean Clough and to realise what limited space the Guild had there.

Looking at these catalogues again after more than ten years I remember who the 'big names' in quilting were at that time.  Fascinating to look back.

I also attended several Guild AGMs at this time. They were another good way of meeting people and of going to new places.  On one occasion someone hired a mini-bus and a husband drove a group of us from Region 7 to somewhere on the South Coast, possibly Eastbourne.   I remember that one of these conferences was the silver jubilee of the Guild so we were asked to wear something silver to the dinner.  I seem to remember I bought a silver-coloured top from a charity shop in Daventry. I also know I sat next to Linda Kemshall at one of the dinners.  I had already met her but this turned into a hilarious evening and she remained a friend within the quilting world.

My time in Northants was my most active time in the Guild because it was easy to get to events and I knew a lot of the people regionally.  Everything changed when we moved to Cornwall at the beginning of 2006 although I had expected it to because of geography and because about the time we moved I attended a local exhibition and realised that quilting down here had a very traditional approach.  As I was always more interested in 'slash and burn' as my husband calls it, I knew joining a group would not really be me and I soon found that the Guild had a very minor presence down here.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

My life with the Quilters Guild 1


The summer edition of The Quilter has several articles in it which chime with my experience of the Guild. (QGBI)  As my quilting days draw to an end because of increasing age and my disabilities, I have decided it is time I wrote something about my involvement with the Guild and with The Festival of Quilts.

The magazine has an article about the future of the AGM and Conference in which one reason for changing the format is given as the increasing age of volunteers.  Apparently it is now about seventy, having originally been nearer forty.   This does not surprise me as I have always been the median age i.e. the one with the most members, ever since I joined in 1989.  We were living in a village near Wallingford in Oxfordshire.  Wallingford had a very good patchwork shop, Village Fabrics, and I used to go there on Saturday afternoons to look at fabrics and books.   I never belonged to a quilting group when I lived there as I was working in adult education and worked a huge number of evenings.  However, I do remember that before we moved away one of the local adult education organisers said he would start something up.  I did not stay around long enough to find out what happened.

When I joined the Guild, I did not really know how it functioned.  I certainly never attended any meetings but I always remember that the first thing I went to was the quilt show at Ascot where I volunteered to help out on the Guild stand.  Although I can remember the drive there and standing at the stand, I honestly cannot remember anything else about the day!  I think most of my contact was through reading ‘The Quilter’.   At one point I joined the Oxford branch of the Embroiderers' Guild but soon after that we left the area.

What I do remember about quilting when I lived in Oxfordshire is that one year there was an excellent exhibition in Oxford Town Hall.  I think it may have been by the Quilt Art group.  I certainly remember there was a quilt by Susan Denton and I know I stuck my head above the parapet and told one of the other visitors off for touching the quilts!  I can also remember dragging my husband all the way to Bath to a Guild exhibition in which all the quilts had to incorporate a particular range of fabric.  I now know this was the Skopos Challenge and that the fabric was furniture fabric with a nasty smell.  The day we drove all the way to Bath was extremely wet and I think this was the first and last time my husband ever willingly attended a quilt exhibition although I do remember him coming to one or two other events in later years. Fortunately I was used to driving quite long distances so I could do all these things on my own.  

I am afraid I have no illustrations for this post.  The main reason for this is that in 1999 we had a very serious house fire in which I lost all my quilting materials, most of the things I had made and most of my photographs although I do have box of photos some of which seem to be very old. I have just looked through it but none of them are relevant to this topic.  They have given me an idea for another post, though,

I plan to write separately about the Festival of Quilts but first there are probably two more posts about my involvement with the Guild more generally.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Dog quilt

I am afraid my quilting days are coming to an end.  My Inclusion Body Myositis is making it increasingly difficult to sew, particularly hand-sewing,   My right (non-dominant) had is getting weak and I find it a bit difficult to thread needles and tie knots, mainly because my index finger has no power and cannot grip things.  So I am trying to finish off various UFOs before I have to give up completely!

I began this quilt last year and it has sat in the top of my wardrobe waiting for a binding.  I was making it at the same time as I made the patchwork dogs for my great-nephew and great nieces.  In fact, I have a second top in the same design and hope to do something with it next.  Over the last few days I have managed to get the binding on to this one although I am uncertain what will happen to it.  It should have black felt eyes in each dog but that means fine hand-stitching and I am not sure if I can do that any more so in the meantime it is an 'eyeless dog' quilt.

The second dog quilt is more of a problem.  As I am determined not to buy any more fabric I need to piece the backing from my stash.  Then this morning I suddenly realised that I no longer have any safety pins!  This is because I offered my 'wet work' supplies to a local craft group several months ago.  Unfortunately at the time I was not well enough to stand over them and the next thing I knew they had walked off with vast quantities of stuff I did not want them to have including all my rotary cutting equipment, a box of batik fabric that I was using, all my bobbins and goodness knows what else.  I got some of the things back but after this length of time, I cannot ask for anything more.  The moral of this story is only ever to allow people into your studio when  you are there to supervise!  And also to make lists of what is 'for sale' and what not.

Today I have sent a friend off to buy me some 505 adhesive spray (being an aerosol shops are not generally happy to sell it on-line).  I generally use this for smaller items and these are only laptop size.  And I am also asking myself how difficult I would find it to do up the safety pins, even with a grapefruit spoon!  So watch this space.  If I find I cannot put the sandwich together I can always pass the top and backing to my sister but she has rather given up textiles in favour of painting over the last couple of years.  I would normally quilt this by machine, outline quilting the dogs and then free machine quilting the background.  I have been able to piece simple shapes on the machine this year but have no idea if I can still do more difficult work.

I know I am not the only one in this situation.  So many of we quilters are getting older and lots of people are beginning to find the techniques difficult because of 'old age' complaints!  For that reason I thought it was worth doing a post.  Just think about what is involved in the various techniques we use.  I have decided that for machine work you need two good hands and a good right foot!  Do comment if you have any advice on this somewhat depressing subject.  Now you know why I have turned to blogs about textiles I have worn and other elements of my family history.  Typing is a much simpler skill and if you make mistakes they are easy to correct,.

Thursday, 1 June 2017


Can you remember what you wore for swimming in your childhood?  Having found a few photos I realise that the nature of ‘bathing costumes’ has changed incredibly in my lifetime.  I think a lot of it is because of the arrival and development of nylon and stretchable fabrics as it seems that in the 1940s and early 50s we wore knitted costumes.  I can still remember how prickly they felt. 

In New Zealand we spent a lot of time in the water or playing on the beach/lakeshore.  This meant that we wore our ‘togs’ as they were called, for long hours in the middle of summer.  Having two sets was wonderful because it meant you could take off the wet one at lunchtime and put on a dry one when you went back to the beach in mid-afternoon.  Even so, I think I was almost a teenager before I had two sets.  As our family holiday house was just across the road from the best beach on the lake shore at Taupo, we just used to wear a shirt and shorts over the top and take them off after we had crossed the road.  No wrapping ourselves in towels to change discretely in our family!

At some point in the 1950s woollen costumes gave way to cotton that had been given some shape by rows of shirring elastic stitched into the wrong (under) side.  I can remember being very pleased when this gave way and the fabric did not cling properly because it meant we could have a new costume.  I think we wore this type until the early sixties.  I had photos taken in 1960 that show my friends in this attire but unfortunately they were destroyed in our house fire so I am not able to provide an illustration.

You can see from the photos that rubber bathing caps were also worn when we were younger.  My main memory of them is that my sister had a red one which attracted a wasp, back in the late 1950s when wasps first appeared in New Zealand.  We all know that wasps like red and my poor sister was forced to spend a long time keeping still in the water as we could not get it to move away.  I remember that they became a fashion item in the sixties and many adults had bathing caps with rubber 'petals' or even flowers attached to them.  At some point we abandoned wearing them altogether although we did wear them when swimming in swimming pools.  It was probably a rule related to hygiene.  At least if you had a bathing cap, you could put your wet costume inside it and then wrap the whole thing in a towel to carry home.

I cannot remember when we started wearing proper ‘stretch’ fabric but it must have been in the sixties.  The same goes for two-piece bathing suits.  I think I was grown up before I wore anything approaching a bikini!

And why was what we wore called ‘togs’?  I do not really know but it was definitely a New Zealand word as when I moved to Australia I had to unlearn it and learn to say ‘bathers’.  Then I came to England and it was ‘bathing suit’.  Swimming costume was always a term I associated with my mother’s generation.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Lemon (surprise) pudding

As I have probably come to the end of the photographs I have to illustrate my posts on textiles in my childhood I am starting another strand: cooking.  I am a keen cook and food obviously played an important role in my early life as I did not have any trouble remembering incidents that I could write about.  I may have more difficulty in finding photos to illustrate them, however.  I have my mother's hand-written recipe books to remind me of some things we ate and in some cases I plan just to put a link to the internet or even, where there are many recipes to tell readers to Google them.

Lemon Pudding

My first memory of cooking is of making lemon pudding in Havelock North. I must have been about three because we moved to Hastings in October 1948.  Here is a photo which I think was taken at the time we lived there.  I thought I had a more recent one taken in 2008 but now realise I did not take one, probably because the light was wrong when I walked there from the village.  The house was much improved and it was no longer in the country. I know my mother did not enjoy living here.  She was a city girl and this house was up an unsealed road and almost a mile from the 'village' that was Havelock North.  There was only one neighbour: a middle-aged couple who lived across the road.  In this photo you can see the side of the sitting room with its two small windows, one on each side of the fireplace.  Then there is an 'extension'.  The window on the left is the dining room and I assume the one on the right in the kitchen.  I did not realise we had tank water but it makes sense and I do remember my mother saying we had a septic tank (I think).  

Like most very early memories this one is short and may have been altered by remembering it during my adult life.  It is dark so must be winter.  I am standing on a stool or a chair at the kitchen table and ‘helping’ my mother to make a lemon pudding for my father’s ‘tea’.  Tea in New Zealand English was a word generally used to describe the evening meal.  At the time my father worked in Napier which is about fifteen miles away, so he was out all day.   My sister who is eighteen months younger than me, does not feature in this memory so I expect she had already been put to bed.  I know it was a privilege to be allowed to help like this.  In this memory I am banging the grater to get the lemon rind off.  You also had to scrape at the grooves on the grater to get enough zest.  I can dimly remember my mother adding things to the mixture: I think an egg.   Certainly the recipe my mother used only had one egg although I have always used two.

We ate this pudding often so my other memories of making it may be from other occasions.  I remember that it was cooked in an oval Pyrex glass dish which was then stood in a roasting dish half filled with water.  I now realise that was a form of bain marie.  My parents received a lot of Pyrex items as wedding presents in 1943.  A ship had arrived in Wellington with a load of Pyrex and there was very little else available because of the War.  In those days presents were delivered to the home of the bride and her parents in the days leading up to the wedding (only a fortnight in my parents’ case as when my father announced he was about to be sent overseas his mother immediately said ‘Why don’t you get married then?’)  My parents had been engaged for some time. The presents were then displayed for the guests to admire and I guess people must have gone to the house specially to do this.  I can certainly remember these visits as a child.  Apparently another guest then arrived at the house with another piece of Pyrex.  When he saw the pile of Pyrex items he immediately said he would get something else and took the item away.  The replacement was a set of bellows for the fire.  In the days when the only form of heating we had was an open fire, these bellows were very well used.  But lemon pudding was always cooked in the oval pie dish.

Other things I remember about lemon pudding as we called it, were that there was a lemony juice under the sponge.  I was going to put a link to a recipe on-line but there are so many that I think you should just Google it.  It seems the more accurate name for this pudding is Lemon Surprise Pudding.  Also the quantities of ingredients differ from one cookery writer to another.  Some have as many as four eggs!  I think the version my mother made was probably frugal because, although I do not remember rationing, there was some in New Zealand.  Also lemons were truly seasonal and only available in the winter.  They were grown in the far north of New Zealand so it was not like the British and bananas in the forties.  And of course we used salted butter because there was no other kind and as far as I know no margarine.   Food in New Zealand at this time was definitely superior to that in Europe.

Friday, 12 May 2017

A 1970s wedding

I think this is the last post on the theme of my childhood textiles as I have run out of photos to use.  We were married in 1972 and did  it 'on the smell of an oily rag' as they say.  So making the wedding dress and the bridesmaids' dresses was essential.  This was the decade in which lots of people abandoned the whole idea of a white wedding and did things as cheaply as possible.  All so different from the last few years.

In our case my parents sent money to pay for the parts of the wedding the bride's parents generally paid for.  They never knew that this money also had to pay for my husband's suit and even the wedding ring.  The reception was in a local pub which kept the cost down and we used a friend as photographer and another friend as chauffeur.  There were fewer than forty guests but by getting married in London we avoided having to invite lots of relatives and members of the older generation.

When it came to the dresses, I remembered that en route to Europe four years earlier I had bought a white sari in Singapore.  White because I had become very sun-tanned from living n Australia for eighteen months.  This sari had sat in a polythene bag as I had no idea what I wanted to use it for and would not have worn it as a proper sari.  Now I had a use for it.  It was extremely fine silk with a narrow border in gold right along one long edge and a much wider border in gold across one end.  The first task was to design a dress.  At the time I more or less lived in long dresses so I began by buying some Laura Ashley cotton fabric, choosing a pattern and making a 'mock-up' which I could wear to work.  I got a lot of wear out of that dress but I do not have any photos of it.

I decided to use the heavily embroidered end as the bodice and to cut off some of the narrow border to make a collar.  The dress was to have long sleeves with cuffs made from more of the narrow border and was vaguely Empire in style.  There were plenty of patterns to choose from in the pattern books.

The second task was to find a sewing machine on which to stitch it.  Here I failed.  I borrowed a Bernina from our landlady but the silk was so fine that I abandoned the idea of machine sewing it at all and made the whole thing by hand.  This meant stitching the under-layer which was made of taffeta.  I even did French seams because the fabric was so fine.  How to sew French seams

I had always dreaded the idea of wearing a veil so I was very happy when I realised this was not compulsory!  Instead I bought a white straw hat from Libertys.

I added a narrow gold velvet ribbon around the crown.  As I remember it, it was a typical spring day: showers, cold, so I borrowed my sister's vest as my 'something borrowed' and quite windy. I nearly lost control of the hat at times, especially when we were taking photos outside the church.

When it came to the bridesmaids, one of them wanted to wear purple but this was a colour that no-one in our family ever wore so I put my foot down!  I think they made their own dresses which were Liberty lawn in shades of yellow with olive green sashes.  I was also determined to have good flowers so we went to the poshest florist in Wimbledon.  As you can see from the photo, I carried yellow roses  and the bridesmaids had daisies (cheaper).   Some leftovers of the bridesmaids' dress fabric appeared in the first quilt I made for our bed.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Formal wear in the sixties

New Zealand in the 1960s was rather behind Europe in many ways, including fashion.  As teenagers we often tried to emulate our mothers and the posher the occasion the truer this was.  We still made most of our clothes, though.  I think the fact that it was a society where you could wear cotton dresses much of the time was a help, especially when you could add ‘puffy’ petticoats to make the skirts stick out. These were made of something very stiff – I am not sure what.  Another difference between NZ and Europe was that new fashions still took some time to reach our end of the world.  This made it easier for us because the dressmaking patterns were as up-to-date as the ready-made clothes.  I remember being surprised when I arrived in England to find that it was not always possible to find patterns for the latest styles in the shops.  The photo below illustrates the cotton dresses and was taken in 1954.

The choice of fabric available was very great and it became something of a ritual to go Friday night shopping (the shops were all closed on Saturday but stayed open till 9pm on Fridays) and choose patterns, fabric and haberdashery for garments that you them made up over the weekend. I have friends who talk about making a dress on Saturday to wear on Saturday evening.  Other garments that were central to our style included white button to the neck cardigans and short white gloves that we wore to church and when going to town.  Jewellery was important but cheap and I can remember lots of necklaces made from ‘knitted’ plastic or 'poppit' plastic beads as you can see in the photo below.  You can also see the effect of the 'puffy petticoar' on my dress and the white gloves!  It all sounds very strange today.

When we left school we started going to formal ‘balls’.  These were really a relic of our parents’ generation but I can remember attending balls put on by the old pupils' associations of schools, by employers for their staff and by sports clubs.  I expect some of them hoped to raise funds for the organisation.  The most important ball for some of us in our first year out of school was the debutante ball.  This was based on the British season in which young ladies dressed all in white were presented at Buckingham Palace.  The practice had already died out in England but in New Zealand it was much less formal and the balls were still being held.  Far fewer people became debutantes.  However, people like my mother who had been ‘debs’ still kept up the tradition so a number of us were dressed in white, paraded in front of some important dignitary and taught to curtsy.  It all sounds very strange now and I have to say that in my year at school fewer than twenty of us took part.

We were debs at our old school and were presented to the bishop because it was a church school.  The local newspaper used to carry group photographs and it was common to have your photograph taken by a studio photographer.  Your parents then framed it and put it on a suitable surface in the living room.  I guess the whole thing was an ancestor or today's school-leaving prom although there was much less conspicuous consumption associated with it.  Despite these slightly arcane practices we still made our own dresses.  I was very proud of mine because in sewing it I mastered some new advanced dressmaking skills and was allowed to sew expensive fabric. 

My dress was made of heavy white satin.  I am not sure but think it was made to a Vogue Design.  Vogue patterns were the poshest because there were several ranges including Vogue Paris Originals (the most difficult to sew) and Vogue Couturier.  I think my dress design may have been one of this second group although I also have a feeling that the neckline was chosen by putting an upturned dinner plate on the fabric and drawing round it so maybe it was cobbled together from various sources.  What I do remember is that the dress had a dropped waistline with piping around it where the bodice joined the skirt.  This meant learning how to make piping from cord that came from the haberdashery department and bias cut strips of the dress fabric. You covered the cord, tacking the satin in place and then machined it very carefully between the bodice and the skirt.

My dress also had satin flowers on the skirt.  My mother had a couple of friends who were extremely skilled dressmakers and I seem to remember it was one of those who taught me how to make the flowers.  They were then attached to the skirt when the dress was nearly finished.  Here is the studio photograph of me in my ‘deb’ dress, all made by me!  The photograph was taken at someone else’s house.

To complete our outfits we wore long white leather gloves and white shoes and carried posies which were made by professional florists. And there was jewellery of course. I am wearing a Victorian pendant that had been a present to my grandmother when she was a bridesmaid. I remember my shoes because they had ‘baby Louis’ heels.  Most people wore stilettos which were just coming onto the market but I was tall and preferred something that did not make me as tall as the boys I would be dancing with.  I remember buying these shoes one Friday night in the market town near where we were picking tobacco as a holiday job!  What a contrast between the day job and the evening outfit!
The dresses were expected to last for a second season but you had to disguise them so they did not seem like a ‘deb dress’.  I made an overblouse in deep red guipure lace.  Unfortunately I do not have a photograph.  Nor do I have a photo of the dress I wore to balls in my third year as a student.  Of course you only went to a few balls and there were many less formal kinds of dance, although I do not think we would have recognised the word 'disco'.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Early cot quilts 1980s

I cannot really remember when I started quilting because all textile work was so much part of our childhood.  But we did patchwork and did not quilt items.  And in those days you made things very traditionally over papers.  I can remember making tray cloths for relatives, for example.  I can also remember doing little bits of quilting from childhood but none of them survive.  I studied embroidery as a timetable filler in my last year at school and the art teacher who taught me made me work through some of the City and Guilds syllabus so I knew quite a bit about different embroidery techniques and used to enjoy visiting the Victoria and Albert museum and looking at the textile collections.   I do remember getting enthusiastic about blackwork and making traycloths in this pattern.  I always like counted thread work and did a lot, some of which still survives.

I suppose I really started  quilting in the nineteen eighties which is when the quilting revival began.  My younger sister made several cot quilts from Laura Ashley pre-cut squares and I caught the bug.  Here is a very early one - possibly the first one I ever did.

It was made for one of my nephews.  My sister and family were living in Cairo at the time so it did not need to be quilted with wadding.  As you will see, it is Laura Ashley squares and I satin-stitched around them on the machine.  This quilt has now gone to the second generation.  When this nephew had his first child three years ago, my sister found it and added wadding.  I made several like this for friends' babies.  This next one had a bit of a history.

It was made for the youngest child of one of my oldest friends in New Zealand which meant it had to be posted and I seem to remember parcels went by sea in those days.  So I made it and posted it before the baby was born.  That was the last time I ever did that as the baby had major medical problems when he was born and then the mother got very ill.  So I vowed never to send a quilt until after the baby was born!

But it was a while before I became more adventurous.  I made this one for another friend in New Zealand and took it with me in a suitcase as that seemed much safer.

By now I was capable of hand quilting patterns along the stripes.  Even the back looked better!

And I made them big enough to fit on a bed rather than crib size although when I did City and Guilds I made a wholecloth pram quilt.  The photo is not good enough to reproduce, however.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Ready-made dresses

I have already said that in New Zealand in the 1950s most clothes were home-made.  I can really only remember having three 'bought' dresses before I was about twelve, although I will say that our thick winter skirts, made of such things as Harris tweed, were made by a dressmaker.  What I remember about her was going to her house for fittings and she had pins in her mouth!  At a very early age we had been taught NEVER to do that, which I think is why I have not forgotten.  With these skirts we wore hand knitted pullovers (called jumpers in NZ) usually in oatmeal colours.  They were generally knitted by my maternal grandmother.  My sister and I generally had the same outfits which meant she, as the younger one, had to work her way not only through the one made for her but, when she was a bit bigger, the one in the larger size which had been made for me!  I think it put her off 'hand-me-downs' for life!

Anway, I can only remember having three dresses that were not made by my mother.  First there was a red and white checked number which was supposed to have been designed by Norman Hartnell.  A likely story but it was given to our family by an English family whose daughter did not want it or had grown out of it.  I do not have a photo of it.  Both the other dresses were bought when I was about eight.  We had just moved to Wellington which meant there were department stores and I am not sure why I was privileged to get these two dresses.  It was certainly considered a treat.

The first one was a party dress.  We did not have 'party dresses' in Hastings although I do remember going to birthday parties where perhaps other people had special dresses.  I am on the right in this photo.  I am not sure what the dress was made of but probably voile as party dresses were supposed to be filmy.  It was yellow and you can just make out that it has puff sleeves.

The second dress was completely different but I was very fond of it.

It was blue denim and came into the category of 'sun dress' although it was quite covered up.  It had a heart-shaped neckline and a gathered skirt, I seem to remember.  I remember that at this stage of our lives our casual summer wear was generally denim shorts and striped T-shirts or gingham shirts/blouses.  In this photo my younger sister who must have been about four, is wearing the standard dress.  Although we wore shorts in summer I distinctly remember that for most of my childhood I never wore trousers in winter.  Of course, jeans did not exist but I do not know whether the fact that my father hated women in trousers had anything to do with it.  I distinctly remember being invited by a cousin when I was about thirteen to stay at their beach house in the the winter school holidays and that my mother set to and made me a pair of trousers for this.  I seem to remember they were tartan wool.  From then on I had a pair of winter trousers but again, I do not have any photos of them.

Of course, we wore school uniform five days a week so we only had one 'posh' winter skirt for going to church and the trousers.  I cannot remember if we had more skirts in the years when I did not wear trousers at all.  What I do remember is that we had very few 'mufti' clothes - more for summer because of the long summer holidays but in winter there were only two breaks of two or three weeks from school: one in May and one in August.  As there was no Christmas or other festival during this period, what to wear was not important.

Old work - hangings

Recently I found a whole box of photos of quilts I made in the twentieth century.  I think this proves that it is a good idea to photograph everything although I am still looking for photos of some of the more important ones!  I may even have to retake some of the photos as I realise the originals may have gone up in smoke in 1999.  It appears I made a lot of traditional - ish quilts before I got into what my husband always calls 'slash and burn' in the mid-nineties so I will do a post or two about those.  A lot of you know I am very much a cat person so to start here are some cat things which I made back then.

This is a foundation pieced cushion which I made my husband for his desk chair. It was from a 'Piecemakers' kit and it was much more difficult to stitch than I had anticipated.  The cushion has now bitten the dust!

And back in those days I used to do Christmas items.  One year I made two cat wall hangings: this one for us

and this one for the friends we used to share Christmas with.

 It must have been about twenty years ago that I made these and I can see that the quilting was pretty basic.  In the end we stopped hanging ours so last year I gave it to the friends' daughter.  We no longer have Christmas together and the daughter, who lives in a tiny cottage, celebrates Christmas at home.  However, I thought it was probably full of memories for her and it seemed better than sending it to the car boot sale.  When you get to the down-sizing stage it is difficult to know what to do with the finished items as opposed to the UFOs.  I have a whole suitcase of earlier efforts under my bed and another couple of hangings rolled up in sheets and stored on top of a high bookcase.  I know I should unroll and reroll them from time to time but life is too short.  I honestly have no idea what to do with them so if you have any ideas, post a comment.