On coincidence, etc.

In my last post I mused about luck and chance and made a sideways reference to coincidence. [See On hand appliqué] Well, two days later I came across this passage in a novel:

“So,” said Attila … “you say it’s a coincidence we have met three times. What if I tell you I don’t believe in coincidences? By which I mean the idea that coincidences are out of the ordinary, coincidences happen far too often to be considered extraordinary. People are always saying it. My, what a coincidence!”

Jean thought about that. She nodded: “True.”

“A statistician will tell you that you are as likely to get a row of zeros on a winning lottery ticket as a row of different numbers. We should be less surprised when life takes an unexpected turn. Life is disorderly. In certain parts of the world, in the absence of plagues and floods it’s easy to mistake mundanity for normality and therefore to react to what seems extraordinary. But what we call coincidences are merely normal events of low probability. There’s another possibility, of course.”

“What’s that?”

“That you have been stalking me.”

“So you see,” said Attila, “we could never have run into each other if you were in a more conventional line of work. It was not a true coincidence, closer really to a statistical likelihood.”

“Of course you’re right. I’m a scientist, I should never have used the word coincidence. There’s less synchronicity and more causality than we often think. Things happen. Sometimes in ways we couldn’t even start to imagine…”

                                                                                                         (p. 61-62)

So, was it a coincidence or just a statistical likelihood that I happened to be reading this novel at the same time as I was musing on the idea of coincidence? And does it matter anyway? What does matter is that this novel Happiness by Aminatta Forna (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2108) has opened my eyes to many things – from urban wildlife to serious social issues –  and has been a delightful reading experience at the same time.


The travel journal

A few of you said you would like to see the proposed travel journal I wrote about in a previous post [On journaling]. I have since had fun learning how to make signatures (sets of pages) from the London brochures, by stitching them in a special way, and then managing to bind them together between two covers. And that is as far as it’s gone with the construction of the book.

This doesn’t look that exciting, I know, but it is a work in progress and it does open nicely like a proper book. Here follows an inside view.


Here are the handwritten and typed versions of the journal.

The next step will be stick down the carefully typed travel account, transposed from the notes I kept en route, and to decorate the covers, and maybe add a secret pocket or two for the more personal accounts, which I did not transcribe into the typed version.

I will probably only get around to finishing off the travel journal at Sally Scott’s next workshop, where I can get some guidance and inspiration. Time is also a bit of an issue as I am stitching away at various quilts, one for an exhibition and others as entries for the South African National Quilt Festival, Interchange.





Poem #18

Extension 3

Outside Alice you’ll find

a house-covered hill,

row upon row gaping

roofless and doorless

– grimacing at some

corrupted contract left undone.


It is a ghost town

though no-one has lived or died here,

the rough streets have not rung

with children’s trills or mothers’ calls

– barren shells, the houses stretch

into the distance of broken promises.


The wasteland becomes a sketch

in my workbook, for I see a quilt

blanketing the skyline,

a hill covered in painted blocks

curiously coloured. (The painter

must have kept to his contract.)


Back home I turn the sketch

into a cotton quilt of happy houses,

doored, windowed and roofed

ready for occupation

in a world where no-one lives,

but promises are dreamt into fulfilment.

Extension 3

On hand appliqué

Call it chance, luck, happenstance, coincidence, synchronicity, or (for the rationalists) seeking out opportunity – all of these have come my way over the past couple of weeks when I discovered the pleasure of hand appliqué. No-one is more surprised than I am.


It started some weeks back when I decided I wanted to make a story quilt, using the traditional storytelling method of words. I considered using machine appliqué or embroidery to make the letters. While I was still mulling over this, our quilting group met at the home of Sue Hummel, generous keeper of many books on quilting and embroidery. She urged us to look through and borrow her books and I came home with three: one on Baltimore quilts, one on the Rose of Sharon, and one called Material Obsession 2 by Kathy Doughty and Sarah Fielke. The first two books devote a lot of space to hand apppliqé as a method to make those traditional flower designs, but it was the third book that tipped the balance for me.

Was it happenstance that drew me to the book? It was the clever, ambiguous title that caught my eye, for what is quilting if it is not a material obsession? I was browsing through the book’s final section on “Quilting Basics” and nearly skimmed over the sub-section “Sarah’s needle-turn appliqué” because the very term needle-turn has always frightened me (long and short satin stitch is another one of those scary terms). Luckily I didn’t skip it. In the second sentence she writes: “I find it both an easy method to use and also an easy method for beginners.” I carried on reading. When I got to the bit about using a silver gel pen to mark the sewing lines I was sold. So I tried her method for the first of the letters. And it worked, and it wasn’t that difficult.

When I had finished the letters for the very short story for the quilt, I decided to turn my hand (and my needle) to the Rose of Sharon, using the templates that Sue had made and stored in her book. For this I went back to my old method of “doodling” with the fabric and threads to see where this will lead. There were scraps of Kaffee Fassett fabric that were calling to be used (the leftovers of the Happy Christmas Tree quilt. See a previous post On the eve of Christmas). This fabric went nicely with the threads that I have collected for my From a Secret Garden series. Here is a photograph of how far I have got with this small piece, which will be 25 x 25 cm when finished.


Now that I have added needle-turned hand appliqué to my repertoire (ahem) I want to create an Aunt Millie’s Garden quilt from the pattern that Sue Hummel has kindly donated to our group. She has made the quilt and it was much admired by all the QUOGs (Quilters of Grahamstown). That’s another project to add to my wish list. By its nature, this will be a slow quilt and it will be fun to stitch it in tandem with my fellow quilters.

Aunt Millie's Garden

Finally, I noticed quite a few workshops on hand appliqué, which will be on offer at the 20th South African National Quilt Festival, from 16 to 23 August this year. Perhaps this is an example of seeking out opportunity. I would like to improve my book-taught skills and hope to be able to sign up for one of the hand appliqué workshops.

The theme of the quilt festival is Interchange. Threads connect. The programme went live this week and there are many exciting workshops and lectures on offer. The link to the website is: www.http://festival.quiltsouthafrica.co.za/

Poem #16

Extension 1

for Sandy


Caribbean – a place where greening rain

lushes down on simple stoeped houses.

I’ve only been there on Walcott’s words

and through your letters from the island.


In Africa urban houses sprawl

cheek by jowl on the once wild land.

But blue sky and birds still sing

above these bared earth patches.


I stitched this into a quilt of cotton cloth

to warm the body and the eye.

I’m glad it crossed the seas with you,

and rests now in an island house.

Extension 1

Extension 2

A gap in the story

like a missing tooth

carried off

by the toothmouse.

On journaling

On a Saturday morning once a month I take the bag that holds my working journals, crayons, pens, pencils, scissors, etc. and head across town to a regular art journaling workshop with Sally Scott. https://sallyscottsart.wordpress.com And each time it is a morning of fun, companionship and experimentation. I cannot boast that I produce art at these sessions – but that does not matter, because during the workshops I become immersed in the process, and performance anxiety fades.

 Sally (top); Jill and Lisa; and an example of Jill’s mono-prints

Aware of the process versus product debate, I googled the words “art” and “process” for some background information. This is what Wikipedia has to say: “process art is an artistic movement as well as a creative sentiment where the end product of art and craft, the objet d’art (work of art/found object), is not the principal focus”.

Art journaling is thus a marvellous vehicle for process art. It is also an adventure. Acclaimed and versatile artist and teacher, Sally Scott, is very good at helping us explore new territory. Each month she teaches us something new and I have played with paint, made mono-prints, cut and pasted, sketched, glued, gesso-ed pages, made collages, and more. For someone who is much more comfortable holding a needle and who does not like to get her hands dirty (except when gardening), this is quite remarkable.

When Sally Scott first started these journaling workshops a few years ago I hesitated. Not my thing, I thought. But, having done a number of textile workshops with Sally, I was drawn to revisit her inspiring studio and classes. When I saw that the list of possibilities included fabric journals I was sold.

Last Saturday was the first workshop of this year and it was lovely to see the other art journalers again and to meet new people who came with bright new notebooks waiting to be filled with surprises. I have a practice journal, a “proper” journal, and a fabric book on the go. The fabric book was started at one of the workshops, where Sally helped me make the signatures (sets of pages, stitched in a special way) for the book. The design for the cover was ignited at another workshop when I spent my time cutting out strings of paper dolls and then decided to fabricate the idea.

The cover and the unfinished Book of Dolls, which still has many blank pages.

The first of the dolls, dressed in African Shweshwe fabrics.

Here’s a good definition from a good book on art journaling, Creative Wildfire by L.K. Ludwig. “What’s an art journal? An art journal is a space, most often a traditional book, that houses a collection of artwork created on blank pages that are really journal entries. The journal entries, while primarily visual, can explore the full range of an artist’s experiences” (p.10)

And from the same book, Katie Kendrick has this to say about process: “I remind them [her students] that the process is where the juiciness is, where the life is, that when they have a finished piece, that particular journey is over, so enjoy the moments of creating.” (p.50)

Like stitching, art or visual journaling, can be addictive. I am thinking about making a travel journal on last year’s Great London Adventure. Dare I say, watch this space?




Poem #15


My intention

­– buried as deep

as rock strata

beneath the mined

and broken earth –

was abstracted

into straight strips

and squared off.


The obsessive search

until the silver seam

is found.


the gutted Earth

gasps, goes unheard.


Who would follow

these strange maps

turtle turned into

a quiltmaker’s template?

The geologist

who has it now.


On getting into the swing


My sewing year got off to a bumpy start. Having announced in the first post of the year my intention to sew a house a weekend during 2019, I had fired myself up for the challenge. The first weekend of January came and I dithered about the background fabric. I wanted all 50 houses to have the same background, so it needed to be a fairly large piece. I decided on the size of the individual blocks – 6 x 4 inches – and started going through my stash. The whites were too white, the creams looked too flat, the browns were too boring, the greens too bright or too dull.  I even contemplated a black and white piece with a basket weave pattern (used before as backgrounds) and thought it would be too busy 50 times over. So I did a bit of gardening, took the dog for a walk, and then returned to the heap of possible fabrics spread on my cutting table. That “yes, this is the right one” feeling still eluded me. Then I remembered the yards and yards of sage-coloured cotton sheeting I had bought and stashed in another cupboard. It also looked too flat, but I told myself that quilting stitches in sky and earth colours would brighten it up.

January’s batch of houses

Luckily I had a photograph of houses that I wanted to mimic. (It was taken last year at Mevagissey when we visited and were enchanted by the town on the Cornish coast.) Luckily, too, the choosing of the fabrics for the actual houses went quite quickly. Offcuts of cream canvas were just the thing for walls and in the scrap bag I found the roofing, door and window materials. That left Sunday evening to sew the house.  It was fun to construct it, using machine applique, and a glue stick to hold the fairly small windows and door in place as I stitched around them with my magic darning foot. As it turned out, most of the background fabric was covered by the house anyway. By the next weekend I was keen to make house number two. It was a wider house, so I cut a six inch square piece for the background.  I will use the two sizes for the backgrounds as I stitch my way through the year. The four houses made so far have matching colour schemes and I am not sure what February will produce.


The Romantic poet, John Keats, famously wrote that poetry should come “as the leaves to the tree” or not at all. Well, the leaves for the newly completed quilt Silver Tree with Green Leaves, did not come easily. But I am glad I preserved. I used lurex with embedded sequins for the leaves because of the lovely shiny and twinkly effect of the fabric. The lurex tends to roll up on itself, so to get the leaves to lie flat I  hand stitched a stablising layer of black vilene between two layers of lurex. It was a rather fiddly task and I hope that I made enough leaves for a generous canopy.  I did also redo the bottom binding. This piece was started at least a year ago, and I am relieved (and also pleased) that it is now finished. Unless, of course, someone tells me that it needs more leaves!