Monday, 30 May 2016

365 Challenge - update

Nearly a month since I last posted - my apologies.  Life here has been complicated and consumed by unavoidable domestic responsibilities.  I am sure I am not alone in having to shelve sewing from time to time to attend to more immediate (can't really say 'pressing'!) concerns.

However there have been some highlights in amongst everything else: I ran a successful Plant Sale in aid of our village playground (the equipment needs replacing after 15 years) and raised lots of money; now busy organising the village fete which is in less that six weeks' time, still much to do.

Best of all was a free ticket to the Chelsea Flower Show on Friday last.  Such an unexpected  treat, and such an amazing show.  The weather was perfect, sunny but not too hot, the gardens were beyond perfect and there were so many interesting plants displayed with art and imagination. Watching the coverage on television just does not compare with seeing it all close up.  

We spent over 8 hours there, and probably could have spent even longer but our feet had just about had enough.  As at the French quilt show, I feel my reserves of colour and inspiration have been topped up for the next year at least.  I hope you all manage to get your fix of creative stimulation somewhere this summer.

So you will understand perhaps why I have not been sewing recently, but I wanted to get another post written before we are into June.  Nearly half way though 2016 - how did that happen?  Before it all got quite so crazy here I was managing more or less to keep up with my 365 Challenge.  I had almost done all the 3" blue blocks, had pieced the middle and first borders, and started on the 6" light blocks.

These are the blue blocks for the month of March (though I think I did most of them in April).

This is the 18" centre medallion and first borders roughly pinned to my design board.  You can see that I have used the same fabrics for all four borders although they are different designs: I am now thinking that as it is a very scrappy quilt I should have used a greater variety of fabrics in the borders. So that will probably need changing in due course.

For the time being, though, I had decided to press on with the 6" light blocks and I had managed to do about half of May's blocks before grinding to a halt.  I was managing about two of the 6" blocks in an evening, so should have been able to catch up.  Unfortunately though, I have not sewn anything for a couple of weeks and there is no prospect of any sewing for the foreseeable.

Despite the recent lack of progress and being constantly behind, I have absolutely loved making these blocks and would not hesitate to recommend the challenge to you.  Each new block is a new adventure and it is so satisfying to get the block together satisfactorily.  Some blocks are harder than others, but those are often the most rewarding and attractive blocks.  And of course there is the endless fun of playing with colour and pattern, which is what we all love about patchwork in the first place.

We are not quite half way through - if you fancy joining in, the downloads are available here, and the series will be repeated next year, I believe.

Monday, 9 May 2016

French Quilt Show 2016 - Part 2

Hello again.  I hope you enjoyed yesterday's quick tour of some of the inspiring quilts from the recent Pour l'Amour du Fil show.  If so, there is a further treat in store as I will now post photos of the gorgeous quilts designed and/or made by Yoko Saito featured in her new book Scrap Valley, which is published by Quiltmania.

This post is going to be heavy on photos, light on text, so feast your eyes!

I know I've said before that I am not mad keen on hexagons in the traditional Grandmother's Flower Garden arrangement - well, this is a glorious exception, just look at all those wonderful taupes.

This was a cushion cover: tiny quilting stitches.  Look how randomly she has cut from the striped fabric, and yet it works brilliantly.

This one is called Blazing Sun.

This is a small section of a beauty called Checkerboard, and before you start thinking about quick ways to strip piece it, you need to know that the squares measure about half an inch and they are all pieced over papers and whip stitched together with tiny stitches!

These are not the hands of Yoko Saito herself but of her assistant who was patiently sewing together the tiny squares into rows.

This quilt is titled 3955 pieces! It almost looks like a crocheted blanket at a distance with the dog tooth borders to the blocks.

The close ups show the exquisite hand quilting which overlays the piecing, different for each block.

Next is a wonderful bed quilt, entitled Kindness, which is in a soft palette.  Meticulous applique and perfect feathered stars enhanced with beautiful hand quilting and embroidery.

And the piece de resistance, to my mind, was this quilt in a rather unusual palette of greys and blues, not at all what I expected from Yoko Saito, but totally stunning in terms of its design and execution.

This was quite a large quilt and, so far as I could see, the design did not repeat: all the applique flowers are different and they are embellished with a variety of embroidery stitches.  There are birds and insects worked into the layout too, and then the whole thing is quilted freely.  Exquisite.

I think that a number of these astonishing quilts may be designed by Yoko Saito but made by other Japanese ladies.  You would need to look at the book to be sure.  Certainly I would need a number of lifetimes to be able to make all these beauties, and of course a massive transfusion of skill and Japanese sensibility!

I have also included a few random pics of other quilts which took my eye for one reason or another; most of these are by Japanese quiltmakers showing the same devotion to their craft.

Apart from the intricate piecing and applique, one of the striking characteristics of all these diverse quilts is that they are hand quilted, which gives them the most wonderful texture.  I am now seriously reconsidering handquilting one or two of my pending quilts....

And here are a few quilts from Linda Koenig's stand which were rather more within my reach and skill level.

And to finish, three quilts from recent issues of Quiltmania or its sister publication Simply Vintage which I might even think about making one day...

Well done if you made it through to the end.  I hope you don't have visual indigestion.  As you can probably tell, I had a totally wonderful time at this show.  I have posted only a fraction of the photos I took, and those photos recorded only a small part of all that there was to see.
The stalls of the vendors were beautiful too with lovely samples to tempt us.

 I have put next year's date in my 2017 diary.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

French Quilt Show 2016 - Part 1

Apologies for the delay in posting the pics from my wonderful trip to the quilt show in Nantes at the end of April. Pour l'Amour du organised by the French quilting magazine, Quiltmania (there is an English language edition, I am glad to say) and the show reflects the distinctive style of the magazine, and vice versa.

The photo above shows the entrance to the exhibition which was on the theme of cherry blossom in honour of Japan.  The sprays of blossom were cleverly made from egg cartons - inspired and very effective. I had a bit of a Blue Peter moment (British readers will understand) when I saw the water lilies below, and wanted to make some myself!

I went to the show last year for the first time (see this post and this post) and it was so enjoyable then that we were even more excited to be going again.  And isn't it so much easier doing anything second time around? We went to the same hotel, even the same restaurant the first night, caught the airport shuttle bus and negotiated the trams so much more easily than last time.  Not that it was difficult the first time, just that I felt really at home this time - whilst enjoying at the same time feeling 'abroad'!

So French!

Terrific mini-holiday and highly recommended, there were quite a few quilters on our flight and it was fun to hear English voices among the French at the show.  I had an in depth conversation with a quilter from Cardiff at one of the stalls about the best way to make half-square triangles!

Anyway enough chat, on with the photos.  I took a LOT of photos so I am going to have to show you edited highlights only, and I will have to split this post into two parts.  This is a slightly unusual show in that there is not a big competition element: most of the quilts on display are collections of the work of individual quiltmakers, which makes it more like going round an art gallery of quilts.

The exhibitions this year in which I was particularly interested were:
  • Quilts made by different makers to the Mountmellick pattern by Di Ford.  This design was offered as a BOM last year but these quilters had all used their own fabrics and some had adjusted or embellished the pattern to suit their own taste.
  • Antique quilts from the collection of Jane Lury
  • Quilts by Yoko Saito 
  • Quilts by a number of other Japanese quilt artists
  • Boutis by Kumiko Nakayama
There were many other very accomplished quiltmakers exhibiting at the show including Linda Collins, Brigitte Giblin, Margaret Sampson-George and Linda Koenig, all of whom have their work beautifully published by Quiltmania; lovely books with pattern instructions in English and French. However I have limited myself to the quilters listed above and a few other  quilts which took my fancy.  

So here goes - Boutis first. This display made me feel quite emotional. Whether it was the wedding dress and waistcoat which tugged at the heartstrings,I'm not sure, but it was such a privilege to see the incredible work which Kumiko Nakayama has done.

I don't think I would ever do Boutis, it seems to me to require too much patience and precision and I am not sure I have quite enough of either, but to think of the hours and skill involved in producing such wonderful, elegant pieces is very humbling.

The display was styled so beautifully and it told a story with accessories and flowers. This sort of presentation is one of the things which gives this show its special character and I believe it is all down to the vision of the organiser and editor of Quiltmania, Carol Veillon.

Next I will show you some of the very old quilts from Jane Lury's collection which also moved me (gosh,I am getting soppy!).  This time it was the sense of connection to the unknown women of two centuries ago whose skill with a needle was so impressive.

I absolutely adored this Broderie Perse Coverlet which is believed to be English circa 1820, the time of Jane Austen, one of my favourite authors. The coverlet is huge, 108" x 124" and in amazing condition so I guess it must have been kept for best.

Broderie perse is an applique technique which involves cutting out motifs from printed fabric (usually expensive chintz in the late 18th and early 19th centuries) and applying the motifs to a background fabric. The raw edges are stitched down with blanket stitch or some other decorative stitch, rather than turned under.  Here's a link to a Barabara Brackman blogpost about the technique with some great explanatory pictures.

I love how the maker has chosen so many wonderful birds, flowers and insects - even sea shells - from the original fabrics and created her own exuberant design.

There is no batting/wadding in the piece so it is a coverlet rather than a quilt, and the edges are turned in rather than bound.  The colours are hardly faded, the fabrics just amazing, the stitches almost invisible, and I could have stood and looked at it for hours.  I make no excuse for all the pictures!

Here is a Lone Star with Broderie perse and pieced borders, also huge (111" x 116") believed to be American, circa 1820 - 1830.

And a more informally pieced quilt from the same period which I love for the scrappy use of fabric.

I will save the Yoko Saito photos for the next instalment, so to finish, here are some of the highlights from the 25 Mountmellick quilts on display:

Clever use of two-tone border fabric above, with the shape of the roses enhanced by the cable quilting.

Subtle colours and simplified borders - hexagon flowers and diamonds replace some of the applique.

Amazing ochre/curry powder coloured background fabric makes the quilt look completely different, very rich.  (Sorry that the lighting has made it difficult to photograph well.) The beautiful machine custom quilting respects the piecing and applique.

This maker used much more modern fabrics and and an unusual colour palette. She tweaked the design quite a bit, but it is still clearly within  the spirit of the original.

The lovely border fabric chosen here set the parameters for the colours and fabrics used in the rest of the quilt.

My absolute favourite though was the quilt made by Cecile Franconie of Facile Cecile: what a work of art.  Her stitching was meticulous and there was lots of embroidery embellishment which enhanced the various elements within the design. 

I have included lots of close-ups so you can enjoy and be inspired too!

Oh, dear, I don't expect I will ever achieve this high standard of workmanship, but it is good to know that there are women out there who can match the seamstresses of the past, and inspire the rest of us to do our best in our everyday sewing.

Another mistress of the needle is Yoko Saito and I will post my photos of her amazing exhibition very soon.