On Clearing the Decks

This phrase means to prepare for action by removing everything that is not required, according to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. I was delighted to find that it is exactly the right phrase to describe what I have been doing this week.

I have been trying to finish off unfinished projects so that I can start the year with a clean slate, or a clear worktable. A bonus is that I now have two smallish pieces that I can hand quilt this weekend and during the long lazy summer days of the Christmas break.

Here’s the first one, showing the front and reverse sides of a piece that has been in a storage box marked unfinished for more than a decade.

It is called Tiled Floor and is not very large (about a metre square). The on-point blocks in the centre are one inch square and that was about as far as I got with the quilt all those years ago. I had used pieced strips to create the mosaic effect and there were quite a few leftovers of these. To make more on-point strips seemed like a bridge too far, so I used the leftover strips to add borders of regular squares. I pinned up a third border of these but it didn’t look right so I joined the remaining strips and pieced them into the backing fabric. Thank you Mary of Zippy Quilts for reminding me of this fabric saving, scrap busting trick.

The spur to finish it was a challenge from a group I belong to called TAPE (Textile Artists of Port Elizabeth). We were asked to bring a UFO (unfinished object) to a meeting a while back. Now the time has come to show the completed piece at the last meeting of the year. I will be spending this weekend hand quilting to finish it off completely.

One thing leads to another (as they say). Here’s the second one, also with the leftovers pieced into the backing of the quilt.

This one is called Hyperbolic (aka Enkelblom [single flower]) and is also about a metre square. It was started at a ferociously difficult workshop on curved piecing with Doortjie Gersbach. That said, the workshop was also great fun. Doortjie’s class sample contained thirteen flowers and we were meant to follow her example. But after I had pieced one flower of double curves I took the easy way out and gave it centre stage in the quilt. Besides, when I came to finishing off the quilt last week I could not find the templates we had made at the workshop. (I suspect I may have lost them on purpose.) That meant I could not make more hyperbola shapes (Doorjtie called them swallows). The eight swallow blocks that I made during the workshop surround the central flower. It’s quite hard to see them amongst the brightness of the Kaffe Fassett fabrics that I used. I wrote about this class previously and the post contains a photograph of Doortjie’s fantastic quilt. It also explains why I have called the quilt Hyperbolic.

This week the sun shone and we had municipal water on most days, so I finally got around to washing a set of hand printed fabrics that I bought from the student shop at the Carinus Art Centre during the National Arts Festival in July. They looked so bright and beautiful while they were hanging out to dry.

The third project was to finish tidying my fabric cupboard. I started this job a good many months ago and somehow didn’t get to sorting and tidying the last two shelves — until this week that is. The photograph below should probably come with an advisory warning, or at least an apology for showing one’s untidy fabric stash in public.


Happy Thanksgiving to all who are celebrating today

On trying my hand at modern whole cloth improv hand quilting

One of the workshops I did during the recent South African National Quilt Festival was with the fabulous Diana Vandeyar. The title of the class is in the headline. The reason it’s such a long one is:

Slow stitch, organic quilting, improv quilting; it doesn’t matter what you call it, this is one of the most satisfying and relaxing quilting techniques.  No stress, just you, the needle, the thread and the beautiful texture…  Though this quilt is an easily managed project, it is not a race and you may not finish all the quilting in the class.  Students will also be shown how to finish the whole cloth with a hand-stitched binding to the front, a sample to practice this technique will be supplied. 

—- Diana Vandeyar (from the workshop description)

We were asked to prepare a whole cloth quilt sandwich of 100 x 112 cm at home so that we could immediately start stitching at the half-day workshop. When I saw the photograph of Diana’s class sample I had to sign up for it.

Photograph of Diana Vandeyar’s hand quilted modern whole cloth (from the Quilt Festival website).

I have taken her at her word and have not rushed to finish the quilt that I started during the workshop. Somehow it took on a life of its own and I did not quilt it in improv rows across the width but instead started in the middle in the more traditional way. The fabric has a pattern of fine gold dots and I found myself not quite ‘joining the dots’ but did follow the path that they made through the fabric.

During the class Diana showed as breathtaking and inspiring examples of the whole cloth quilts she has made. Her enthusiasm about stitching is contagious. It was a lovely class with happy chatting as we sttiched. She said that there is a magic moment when all the elements of the quilt-in-the-making come together. Well, I stitched and stitched after the class, and just as I despaired of reaching that moment, this happened :

These skeins of woolen thread fell out of a storage box and ‘asked’ to be included in the quilt.

From here it was an easy step to deciding that I would stitch the outline of the map of the Eastern and Western Cape provinces of South Africa using the bronze thread, and then I will stitch the route I travelled to get from my home to the Quilt Festival and back again. The quilt will be called Road Trip. There, I have written it, now I must finish stitching it. I intend to continue to stitch to the edges of the quilt in the muted tones of perle no. 8, as pictured above, before I over-stitch with the woolen thread.

I know I have at least one reader who wants to know more about hand stitching the binding to the front of the quilt, as mentioned in the quotation above. We were given beautifully prepared samples of sandwiched calico, with a blue binding machine stitched onto the sandwich. All that was left to do was to hand stitch it down with running stitch. Thank you Emmely for telling us that this is called big stitch binding in modern quilting circles. It’s very easy to do, especially when someone else has done the machine work for you.

Diana supplied us with such thoughtful kits. In addition to the binding sample, they included a kit kat (for sustenance and a bit of a break from the stitching), three different sized needles, a ball of perle thread and an extremely useful thread guide.

I have used the binding sample piece to practice a bit of improve quilting as well as a second binding method that Diana showed us. If one carefully squares off the quilt and then cuts back the binding by a quarter of an inch, it is possible to make a neat folded back edge (by turning a small seam to the inside of the quilt, from both the front and the back) and to close it off with running stitch and no binding. The bottom edge of the practice piece below serves as an example.

I have added another page about this workshop to my diversity workbook. Watch this space for the forthcoming Road Trip quilt.

Another Instalment

Two weeks ago I wrote about making a book to hold the stitchings I did at workshops during the recent National Quilt Festival. This week I have another signature to show you. It contains examples from two of Elaine Barnard‘s classes: Textile Flowers and Creating Incredible Trees Using Water-Soluble Fabric.

The double page spread from the Textile Flowers workshop. Stitched into the centre fold is a booklet of the nine different fabric flowers we made during the class. The hydrangea decorating the left page is the first flower we learnt to construct. There is a pocket on the right side page (concealed) that contains the patterns for the flowers. Below is a view of the opened booklet of flowers.

The workshop kit was beautifully packed in a box and I was struck by the clever thought that went into it — from the specially designed booklet where we could stick the examples for future reference, to the carefully chosen and delightful fabrics, to the pattern sheets. The class itself was inspiring. Apart from deftly teaching us how to make this bouquet of blooms, Elaine urged us to make flowers to brighten things up and said they can be used to decorate cushions, clothing, quilts, etc. She had examples of these suggestions but I was too busy cutting and stitching to take photographs. I can only try to describe how, for example, she tranformed a plain, manufactured cardigan into something unique by adding felt daisies down one side of the garment.

The nine flowers we learnt to fashion out of the variety of textiles contained in the kit. From left, by row: hydrangea, rose, strip flower, poppy with a fabric bead centre, rag flower, daisy, yoyo, lilly, and rosette flower.

The pocket containing the patterns for the textile flowers.

Elaine’s tree workshop was more challenging. We were supplied with the tree diagram, water-soluble fabric, netting, fabric beads and springy waste thread. The brief was to first sandwich the green, brown and blue bundles of threads between the netting and the water-soluble. Easier said than done. It literally did spring out of the confines of the flimsy fabrics. The next step was to hand stitch the tree trunk and foliage on top of the sandwich (of netting and water-soluble with the unruly nest of threads between them). I fear that understanding this paragraph has also been challenging! Hopefully this photograph will help explain the process.

Here is the tree when it was nearly complete. The white fabric at the top of the image is the water-soluble fabric and beneath it is a nest of blue threads. The tree was hand-embroidered on top of the surface. I learnt fly-stitch at the workshop and finished the fronds at home, where my stitching became a bit neater. When at home I also machine stitched over the background to hold down the green and brown mass of threads that wanted to escape from between the layers. I tried and failed to contain the brown mass of threads to within the tree trunk and branches. It spilled over into the surrounding green bed of threads.

I am not paticularly proud of my attempt, but am pleased with myself for finishing the project.

The final tree (right) after the water-soluble fabric was dissovled (with water!).

And here is the tree, stitched into my book of examples, along with the class description and an image of Elaine’s accomplished tree.

More Flowers

Summer is in full bloom in this part of the world and to celebrate here are two more appliquéd fabric flowers. They are destined for my proposed Brash Flower Garden quilt and were stitched to mark the months of September and October.

In my real real garden there is an African daisy (Osteospermum) plant which has sentimental associations and which blooms profusely almost all year round. It is particularly abundant in spring and this is why I chose to make a textile representation of it. In keeping with the simple form of the daisy, the stitching is not elaborate. I constructed the flower in my go-to method of layering the petals on the backing fabric and machine stitching around the edges, before beginning the hand-stitching (cum quilting) which gives the flower its depth.

During October I visited the Western Cape and saw many beautiful proteas during walks on Table Mountain and in the Somerset West area. There were also fabulous floral arrangements of proteas at a family wedding. So it was the obvious choice of flower for my October block. Ha! Then I discovered what I had let myself in for. The protea is not a flower which lends its to being ‘flattened’ so that it can be stitched in a two-dimensional representation. My quilting friends failed to identify my fabric flower when I asked them to guess what it was!

For the inspiration and guidelines I used this image of the Protea magnifica from the book Proteas of the World by Lewis Matthews, paintings by Zoe Carter (Durban: Bok Books, 1993)

You may have noticed that I used the same fabric circle for the centres of both the September and October flowers. But for the protea I added a wide section of plain purple fabric and also blotted out the white circle of dots on the original fabric with a black Inktense pencil. Then I stitched the centre closely to emulate the velvet-like texture found at the centre of the protea. Instead of perle thread I used dark purple woolen tapestry thread for the centrall part of the flower and white woolen thread for the outer band.

Here is a close up photograph of the stitching at the centre of the flower:

And here are photographs of the back and the front of the block after the petals had been appliquéd into place, followed by the finished flower to show what a difference the hand stitching makes.

On Collating Samples of Work

This is a draft cover for a fabric book that has a triple function. It will not only hold examples from the workshops I did during the South African National Quilt Festival, but also the memories of those marvellous five days, and it will serve as a kind of a workbook that I can refer to when I want to repeat methods that I learnt.

If I may say this — I think it is a brilliant idea.

The cover is 11 inches square and contains the logo that graced the paper goodie bag I found on my bed in the hostel. I cut out the design and appliquéd it onto the fabric for the cover, along with a logo from the quilt festival catalogue. In both cases the paper is strong and my sewing machine zig-zagged through it with ease. The badge comes from the goodie bag I received when I registered. (Yes, I got two goodie bags, containing thoughtful, handmade, useful gifts. What generosity!)

After three weeks of travelling and visiting friends and family, I arrived home this week and am happily settling back into my sewing space and familiar routines.

Above are the examples I made during Sue Cameron’s one-day workshop Magic with Fabric, laid out on my work table at home. During the class Sue showed us how to create texture with (mostly) synthethic fabrics. We layered, stitched and burnt textiles; we folded and inserted prairie points into cotton squares; we felted chiffon and yarn; we made chenille by layering and cutting fabrics; and generally played happily with the enticing fabrics and yarns in the provided kits and from favourite bits and pieces we had each brought along.

This array is now stitched into the first signature of the book.

Watch this space for further developments.

Feast your eyes

The fibre art group exhibition DiVERSiTY is on show at the Rupert Museum in Stellenbosch until 29 January 2023. It was mounted in collaboration with the National Quilt Festival and curated by Dal Botha. There is an online e-catalogue.

There is another online delight of South African fibre art. The group Fibreworks recently launched a virtual exhibition titled Passage.

On Kawandi-style stitching

At a workshop with Elaine Barnard titled Kawandi and Godhari Quilting, I learnt something of this ancient utilitarian form as I assembled and stitched a small sampler of bright scraps, held down by white running stitch. This was one of the six classes I took during the South African National Quilt Festival in early October.

My godhari sampler, finished after the class. It measures 50 x 50 cm. I took along a box of my own scraps (labelled “Enticements”) but also used the shiny borders and sequined designs from saris that were available for our use.

Elaine Barnard is not only an inspiring textile art teacher, but also a world traveller who has visited India many times. During the workshop she shared her knowledge of Indian customs through stories of her travels as generously as she shared the fabric from saris, which we used to add authenticity to our samplers. We were a large class of enthusiastic quilters learning a new form of stitching, and she patiently showed us the way. It was not easy to change tack and use thick crochet cotton, threaded through a very long needle, and to work from the outer edge inwards. It was also not easy to coax small pieces of sometimes slippery sari fabrics to lie flat and be stitched down with turned-under edges.

But it was fun and inspiring. It was also humbling to realise that what we were doing for fun is done out of necessity by extremely poor women who use every scrap of old and found cloth to make whole cloths, or godharis. During the class I also became more aware of how ancient this form of stitching is.

The following background information comes from the stories Elaine told during the class and from her useful information booklet:

The term godhari refers to the quilt itself, while kawandi is the method used to make it. A kawandi style quilt differs from other godhari quilts. The quilts are stitched by a group of women, usually one woman at each corner. The threaded needle is handed from one woman to the next as they stitch around the cloth, from the outer edge inward.

First they lay out the backing, then they add old saris and bits of old cloth as batting. Then they stitch down the surface patches, each with the edges folded in, using a long length of thread and a long, thin needle. Their only tools are a needle, thread, fabric and a cutting implement — sometimes they don’t have pairs of scissors and use blades to cut the fabric, or simply just tear it. Imagine making a quilt with no thimble, no pins, no design, no sewing machine, no rulers, no iron, no frames. The Sidi people who make kawandi quilts possess none of these tools.

The construction is the opposite of that used for traditional quilts.

“Where we plan and construct every move, kawandi quilts are made intuitively and without any preconceived ideas. It’s just the women and a heap of fabric and the magic of creating something beautiful by pulling the next fabric from the heap and sewing it into the quilt.”

— Elaine Barnard

The makers of kawandi quilts are the Sidi people of Karnataka, India. They are descendents of slaves from south east Africa. They arrived in India in 628 AD and are mostly Muslim. Some of them escaped slavery and established communities in forested areas. They are separated from mainstream society and live in poverty in isolated areas, small villages, or at the edge of larger towns. Many work as day labourers or seasonal migrant workers. Some women remain at home to make quilts that provide comfort and warmth to their families.

And so we set about emulating this method during the workshop. A kawandi-style godhari traditionally has a folded cotton tassel, called a phula (flower) at each corner. Once we had prepared the backing cloth by folding in the edge, we placed these at each corner, and then began stitching down the patches, each with their edges folded back.

Above are in-process photographs. This was as far as I got during the one-day workshop. The close-up on the right is to show the effect of the stitching. I spent a happy, slow week finishing the sampler. It struck me that I have made a kind of a collage. It started with that beautiful sequined design that resembles a roof. The house (or small temple) shape then emerged as I stitched.

While quietly stitching I had the idea to collate all the examples I made at the various workshops I did during the Quilt Festival and construct a small book as a memento of the lovely time I had. So, I have started a smaller kawandi-style quilt, which will better fit into the proposed book.

This is in its early stages of construction, but gives a nice graphic portrayal of the process of making a kawandi-style quiltlet. It is 9 inches square. Note the folded triangles at the corners to make the flowers. I stitched down the folded-in edge of the backing to make it easier to handle. How do the Sidi women manage without pins? I certainly couldn’t.

To end off, here is one of my favourite quilts that was on show during the National Quilt Festival. The maker is Elaine Barnard and it won first prize in the Wall Quilts: Art Pictorial (Masters) section.

When you see 8 crows together by Elaine Barnard. 115 x 146 cm. (Photograph from the Prize Winners catalogue)

On Sweeping the Board*

There is too much to say after spending five exhilarating days at the South African National Quilt Festival held this year in Stellenbosch from 5 to 9 October. So I will concentrate on the highlight. I am very proud of my good friend The Artist who won prizes for all three of the quilts that she entered in the show. She got Best of Show: Wall Quilts for her work titled Invitation; first prize in the category Wall Quilts: Open and Judge’s Choice for Cherry Pickers; and third prize for Faraway in the category Wall Quilts: Art Pictorial.

Catherine Knox aka The Artist caught in action at a workshop during the National Quilt Festival. She balanced her prize-winner’s badges on the name tag lanyard with aplomb.

The photograph was taken during Diana Vandeyar’s improv hexi class.

My photographs of her works, sporting their winning ribbons, are not perfect. For better images please take a look at the Prize Winners Catalogue.

Faraway by Catherine Knox. 71 x 129 cm. Awarded Best of Show: Wall Quilts

Her description on the accompanying label:

“A gleeful response to the freedom and space of my new happy place under the mountains”

Cherry Pickers by Catherine Knox. 77 x 69 cm. Awarded first prize in Wall Quilts: Open and Judge’s Choice

“Repetitive machined mark-making taken to a frenetic extreme creates a new mid layer, calming the base of fabric patches. The hand-stitching creates a more emphatic top-layer for the bird and branch forms.”

Faraway by Catherine Knox. 56 x 105 cm. Awarded third prize in Wall Quilts: Art Pictorial

“An ode to Father Sun and the escape that beckons from our silent spaces…”

It is more than obvious why I have referred to Catherine as The Artist in previous posts. How lucky I am to have a friend who not only makes magnificient work but is also generous in her sharing of ideas and advice.

The above were the only photographs that I took at the quilt exhibition. But the photographs of all the winning quilts are shown in the catalogue mentioned above. Here is the link once more.

Asta’s Quilt

Last week I posted a photograph of a completed quilt that I called the Mystery Quilt because I did not want to give away a surprise. Its real name is Asta’s Quilt. I gave it to her when she visited the quilt festival and was overwhelmed by her response. It was made with fabrics that she had previously given to me. Here it is in its real home:


*The title to this post is misleading. It was not because of gambler’s luck that Catherine won these prizes.

On Packing for …

This week’s post is going to be a short one because I am very busy packing for the classes I will be doing during the National Quilt Festival. I can’t wait! The festival runs for five days and I have signed up for six classes (some of them are half-day ones), so I am in for an immersive quilting experience.

The quilt show itself is always wonderful and I will be spending the lunch breaks looking at the array of quilts that will be on display.

Finishing Line

Mystery Quilt. 199 x 199 cm. Machine pieced and mostly hand quilted

My version of this year’s mystery quilt designed by Diana Vandeyar and run by the Good Hope Quilters’ Guild is now quilted and bound. It was a wonderful challenge and I wrote about the process of piecing it in a previous post.

As you can see from the photograph it is not closely quilted. I chose to hand quilt alongside the seam lines and hope that this shows off the beautiful design. The outside edge is machine quilted with a walking foot.

The reverse side of the quilt and an in process photograph of stitching down the binding one sunny afternoon on the couch.