Friday 4 October 2013

'A time to stop'

Charleston is a magical place. Once you have been, it pulls you back time and time again. To be part of its fabric and its ethos. Nestled at the foot of the south downs, the once home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, is a very inspiring place to spend some time. And that is where I headed this week.

I was lucky enough to receive the perfect gift. A one day quilting course with the charismatic Cassandra Ellis at Charleston Farmhouse. Cassandra has written two books: Quilt Love and the soon to be released Cloth.

I had forgotten how much I love to make and create. I spent the most inspiring day I have had for a long time, in the company of strangers and a pile of fabrics.

Making is intrinsic to our make-up. Put a group of women together and we instinctively nurture and help one another. We share our stories and our techniques. We encourage and console. We lift and enlighten.

The day started with an introduction to quilting or "freestyling' as Cassandra very aptly called it.  All I am going to say is if you can, attend one of her workshops, you will come away with a joy in your heart and the desire to keep on sewing.

What surprised me was how quickly we all decided what to make. It really is a very organic way of working. A quick sketch and a rummage in my fabric bag and we were off.

My fabrics help to tell my own story. Gathered from the fabric markets of Shanghai when I lived there. They have sat patiently, waiting to be used, and I decided that they were deserving of a quilt to mark that time. Beautiful silks in woven stripes.

Using a rotary cutter on a self-healing board we set about cutting up pieces of fabric. And then began the process of piecing the fabric together. 

It is actually more logical than you think; like a jigsaw puzzle but only there is always more than one possibility.

You may have spotted my very floral Singer 'Starlet', my mums machine from the 60's. This trusty beast has been sewing with me since I was 14 and I will continue using it until it gives up. What I loved about the sewing on the day was that I merely matched up the fabric and started sewing. No pinning!

Placing fabric is not as difficult as you first think. Fabric talks to you. If you go with your instincts, it tells you where it wants to be placed. Always trust your judgement. Laying out pieces and playing around with them helps you to create a balance, whether it be texture or colour.

I managed to complete two long segments in one day and sew them together, which really gave me a sense of what the quilt would look like. Still a long way to go though.....layering with wadding and backing, basting and then hand stitching (or quilting) and finishing.

Charleston as a venue is unique. It has such an artistic vibe already that you can't help but pick up on that, whichever part of the cafe area you are working in.

Cassandra draped her quilts over the doorways and each time you walked past you saw something different, whether it was the stitching or the shade of a fabric or the way it was placed.

This was echoed further by other art works hanging on the walls or by the painted suitcases, in the Bloomsbury group style, stacked on a shelf.

An extra treat was sneaking into the garden with our afternoon tea (we did ask first) and wandering through the pathways, flanked by borders groaning with flowers drawing to the end of their Summer show. It really was a 'time to stop' and smell the roses.

Cassandra shared her love of quilt making in a very generous way and inspired in us all, the confidence that we could do it too. Her work very much reflects who she is, but then a quilt is such a personal statement. This quote from her book, Quilt Love, beautifully sums it up:

"This is the drawing together of threads, a piecing together of the past and the future, a time to stop and consider where you've been, where you're heading".

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Seaside Soul

I came across all these photos today, taken on a trip not so long ago to Hastings. Inspiration can be found in abundance on the beach where the fishermen moor their boats. The tangled nets and colourful peeling paint, the dead fish and chalk board menu's. And there is always colour on the greyest of days. It has always inspired me in its tones and textures, in its man meets nature way.

It is little wonder that local artists such as Annie Soudain find their inspiration here and in the surrounding area. Her beautiful prints echo all that nature has to offer.

This seaside place has soul but you have to stray off the pavement and meander through the fishing huts and alongside the boats to really take it in; and don't forget to visit The Fishermen's Museum to really capture the history of the place. 

I dare you not to be inspired. Go on "Seas the day!"

Saturday 6 April 2013

From Russia with Love

I used to travel a lot. My last truly "me" trip was one to St.Petersburg in Russia. When my husband announced that he was off to the former Soviet Union, I quickly jumped on the bandwagon and uttered the words "if you think you're going there without me then think again". He saw sense and I tagged along with him and his work colleagues.

You see, when part of your genetic make-up comes from somewhere, it has a sort of inbuilt homing device which creates this desire to return. Technically the part of Russia my family is from was part of Poland when my father was born but it now lies just across the border in Belarus, the Russians having reclaimed it. Still, I needed to see what, if any, characteristics I had retained from my Slavic ancestry.

As a destination for an art lover/culture vulture, St.Petersburg is delightful. It is not surprising that the Russian royalty chose to live here. 

Two must sees on the art trail are without doubt The Hermitage and The Russian Museum. The sheer scale of the former is breathtaking. Opulent. Extravagant.

But, I fell in love with the charm of what lay within the latter; especially the folk art. That I connected with. That was my heritage.

From the beauty of simple woodblock print textiles in colours of the earth and woods.

To the painted wooden panels in rich shades of reds and ochres.

I came across a door. Painted so honestly. I wondered if my grandmother had had such a painted door leading into her farmhouse.

I have no photographs of my grandmother, just a vague imagined image in my head and a knowledge that she was incredibly brave. She was shot during the war for hiding Jewish children; having already had her family (my father) taken from her and sent to Siberia. But there in the museum in front of the painterly images of peasant girls in their dress, I got a feel for her, her life and what it was to be a country peasant girl.

Art reminds us, informs us and captures a way of looking at things. It encompasses everyday beauty and is a record, for those of us who have no knowledge, of what life was like for people who are part of our heritage and make-up. 

The only thing I have from my grandmother is a piece of embroidery. The textiles thing again. My father revisited Belarus, only once, and his Aunt gave him an embroidered tablecloth with a crocheted edge that had been my grandmothers. She probably would have made it for her bottom drawer.

Looking around The Russian Museum, I felt closer to her. And this was the magic of Russia for me. A glimpse into life as she had known it, in simpler, happier times.