The Mystery Continues

The most exciting part of my week was to open up the instructions for Part 1 of the Greenmarket Square Mystery Quilt. Last year’s mystery quilt-along, run by the Good Hope Quilters’ Guild, was so worthwhile that I am fired up to do this one. Three of my local quilting friends have also caught the enthusiasm and we are egging one another on. They had made their blocks for this week by the end of yesterday (Friday 14 January) when the pattern was released on the website (link above). My excuse for lagging behind my super-fast sewing friends is that I have been finishing off last year’s mystery quilt.

Modern Mystery. 183 cm (73 inches) square

Also designed by Diana Vandeyar, the 2021 pattern is called Cape Wildflowers. Apart from the excitement of wondering where the blocks constructed week-by-week were going to lead, there was also the pleasure of following very clear instructions and thus producing perfectly constructed blocks.

The quilt top was finished in 12 weeks but waited until the end of the year to be sandwiched and quilted. I decided to quilt it by hand over the Christmas break and didn’t manage to finish it until this week. There’s nothing quite like a new challenge to spur one on to finish a previous project!

The back of the quilt. I used a beautiful soft cotton African cloth, given to me by one of my quilting friends, and bordered it with white cotton. This photograph shows up the rows of machine quilting that I did along the outside borders.

And now it is time to go and sew my blocks for this week’s Greenmarket Square mystery quil. The fabric is cut and the four 16-patch blocks are waiting to be sewn.

As an aside (and for my non-South African readers) Greenmarket Square is a cobbled square in the city centre of Cape Town. I have fond memories of it, as I used to walk across it twice a day during the week en route to my very first job. I also enjoyed going there over weekends for the flea market that transformed the square.

In the introduction to this mystery quilt Diana Vandeyar gives very useful sewing tips for the construction of the quilt as well as a brief history of Greenmarket Square:

This years’ mystery quilt is called “Greenmarket Square” after the historical square, built in 1696, in the centre of old Cape Town. Following its establishment as a market, the square became the administrative and social centre of the city. Eventually, simple thatch-roofed dwellings gave way to imposing and elegant buildings. The first of the new buildings was the Burger Watch House and Council Chamber (Old Town House), whose history is inextricably interwoven with Greenmarket Square.
South Africa’s oldest tobacconist, Sturks Tobacco (opened in August 1793), was located on the square until the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting tobacco sales ban resulted in its closure in June 2020.

Introduction to the Greenmarket Square Mystery Quilt

On Easing into the new year

Crochet baby blanket. 120 x 90 cm.

The brand new year is one week old and I haven’t yet tackled any big projects. I have a marvellous excuse. We have a brand new grandbaby boy who was born on New Year’s Eve.

What a wonder!

I have been doing small bits of stitching to keep myself calm and grandmotherly. So, for this first post of the year, I will write about the books I made each month last year in response to the #areyoubookenough community challenge.

First, here are photographs of the opened out concertina (accordion) books. I used the same format for each month’s book.

The twelve books made during 2021.

It’s obvious that each of the books didn’t turn out exactly the same size as its siblings! Trying to get the books all neatly lined up for the photographs was almost as big a challenge as making them.

The covers of the 12 concertina books made during 2021, in response to specific prompts.

The themes or prompts were : shelter, red, fenced, body language, fruits, black and white, velvet, winding, open, rings, winged, and frozen. The final one was a real challenge for me as I live in a hot dry country and have hardly even experienced snow, let alone frozen landscapes. With the help of internet images and my imagination, I set about stitching a Book of Glaciers.

The inside pages of the concertina book, containing three renditions of what a glacier may look like.

It was fun to make this book, which is completely machine stitched except for the title on the cover page. To make the glaciers, sea and sky, I used netting and sheer organza fabrics over bits of white cotton and silk and a good smattering of silver lamé to create the impression of the frozen ice and sea. These were all appliquéd and then over-stitched onto a backing of white cotton fabric that had been fused onto the book’s backing. Spiderweb, a double-sided sheer fusible web, has become a favourite medium. (It can even be used to fuse paper onto a backing, a trick I learnt from my friend The Artist.)

The set of new challenges for the 2022 AreYouBookEnough challenge has been released. Here they are:

Photograph courtesy of #areyoubookenough

Starting block

I have joined a blackwork stitch-along, run by Clare Ardali of Peppermint Purple. She generously provides a pattern each week so that, by the end of year, I will have a made a blackwork sampler. Isn’t this exciting! Each block is quite small (about 1.5 by 1 inch) so it is quite quick to stitch it. I am looking forward to next Wednesday when the next pattern will be released.

My first block of blackwork stitching.

Here’s a link that takes you directly to the Peppermint Purple SAL page. One can also join on Facebook, which is what I did. I learnt about it through the blog written by TheCraftyCreek. If you are reading this CC, thank you for your entertaining and useful blog. (Your name seems to be a well kept secret.)

On Wrapping up the year

It does feel as if 2021 has been a gift, with lots of happy surprises along the way. So here’s a wrap of the year, to borrow that rather cumbersome phrase which, apparently, originated in the movie industry to indicate the end of the filming of a scene.

The year began and ended with big quilts. The first was a commission, the second that happy surprise I wrote about last week.

Another big, and very special, quilt was the communal quilt the QUOGs (Quilters of Grahamstown) made in memory of our dear quilting companion, Augusta. We each used our brightest fabrics and made blocks in the the wonky star design that she had so loved and gave the quilt to her husband, Strauss. Here is the quilt and a link to the full story behind its making.

The list in my notebook shows that I made 12 large to medium quilts during the year. Two of these were in response to challenges. I did the Good Hope Quilters Guild mystery quilt, and was so pleased that I did. Designed by Diana Vandeyar it is a modern quilt called Cape Wildflowers. I also joined the Bernina South African round robin challenge that ran for six months via a Facebook page. Run by Linda Venter, the challenge was to make specified borders for a medallion quilt.

I was the lucky winner of the grand prize of a Bernina 435 sewing machine when my name was drawn when 85 of us had finished the round robin quilt. I am still thanking my lucky stars. This was definitely one of the highlights of my year.

This morning I realised that I have well and truly bonded with this machine when I anticipated that the bobbin was about to run out. Within the next few stitches it did indeed run out of thread. The machine has a jumbo bobbin and so holds a lot more thread than my old, more familiar, sewing machine. If any non-sewers reading this think I have lost my marbles, so be it.

In the middle of the year I worked hard towards an exhibition that was to be held in Makhanda (aka Grahamstown) during the National Arts Festival. Then along came the third wave of the COVID virus and the exhibition had to become a virtual one. That was a sharp learning curve and an interesting experience. If you would like to have a look at it, I have left the exhibition on my website. Here it is.

While sewing and planning for the exhibition I made many small works. There is a series of old houses from historic Grahamstown and another series of national costumes, that previously graced souvenir dolls.

My year of sewing ended on a high note with classes given by South African textile artists Paul Schutte and Kathryn Harmer Fox. (The quilt Carnival pictured at the start of this post was born at one of the two Paul Schutte workshops I attended.)

At the start of the year I joined an Instagram challenge to make a book a month. I am grateful to my blogging friend Chela for writing about this hashtag, as I have really enjoyed the monthly challenge of constructing a book according to a specified theme. I chose to make the simplest book form of concertina books, all to the same size and format. I am busy working on the book for December and will write about it next year, which is just around the corner. Ha!

This is my last post for 2021. Wishing everyone a good holiday season.

An Explosion of Exuberance

Perhaps this headline would be a better title than Carnival for the quilt pictured below. Both describe the mood behind the making of the quilt. Here’s a list of synonyms for carnival, to emphasize the point I am making: festivity, playtime, holiday-making, fun, whirl, round of pleasure (Roget’s Thesaurus). However, the dictionary definition of carnival doesn’t quite match the intention of celebration that lies behind the quilt. It reads “festivities usual during period before Lent in RC countries; riotous revelry; travelling circus or fair” (OED).

Carnival. 160 x 133 cm.

This piece was one of those happy surprises that just grew and grew. It started at a wonderful workshop given by Paul Schutte as part of the Dias Guild’s Spring Show in early October this year. During the class, called Gaudi and Orphan Blocks, he showed us how to convert unfinished pieced blocks into a new, vibrant composition, by cutting up the blocks and fusing them onto a sturdy backing fabric to create a mosaic, or an effect similar to that of stained glass windows.

Looking at the notes Paul gave us, I see where my inspiration came from. He uses words like elaborate Decorativism, richness, multi-coloured and exuberant, abundance, and spontaneous design to describe the features of Gaudi mosaics. Added to this, I was in an exuberant mood after the experience of a magical family wedding the previous weekend.

At the start of the class we studied examples of works by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (852 – 1926), as well as Paul’s class samples, and a work made by Joy Clark.

Paul supplied us with drawing paper and suggested we draw shapes and ideas for our proposed quilts. I drew a circle and was on a roll (pardon the pun). I ironed a sheet of ‘spider web’ fusible bond onto the back of a quilt top made years ago and began cutting circles. The piece grew and grew to fill the area of the rather large background fabric I had brought along. Here’s a sequence of snaps I took of the evolution of the piece during the two-day workshop.

Paul shared in my excitement and even helped me to cut the ’tiles’ that he suggested as a frame around the circular shapes:

Once we had fused our composition to the background, he showed us a clever way to blanket stitch or zig zag around the shapes in the mosaic, in a continuous stretch with very little stitching showing in the gaps or ‘grouting’ between the shapes. Paul did ask me if I intended to stitch around the myriad of shapes I had fixed to the backing. I realised that that would be almost impossible, so only machine stitched around the shapes within the larger circles. After the workshop I added even more shapes and then began the long process of overstitching the entire piece (an area of just over 2 square metres) to make sure that all the small circles and tiles were secured to the backing by stitches.

Below are photographs of before (left) and after the overstitching.

I backed the piece with a layer of thin batting (Loomtex) before I began the overstitching. The large round shapes were not overstitched by machine. The final step was to add a backing fabric to the whole quilt and hand stitch this in place, with large running stitches in the gaps (grouting) within the larger circular shapes.

It has been a bit of a push to finish this large and rather strange piece. But I am glad that it is done before the year has ended. I have not put a binding on the piece and have only added a simple row of running stitch along the raw edge. I don’t want to ‘close off’ the edges and might add a row of discrete machine zig zag to stop it from fraying, or I might leave the edge raw and a bit frayed.

There was much laughter and discrete cussing and chatter during Paul Schutte’s workshop, while we worked on our pieces. Here are some pictures to tell the story:

Finishing Line

It’s been a week of finishing off things started at the rash of workshops I attended recently. I previously wrote about thread stitching African flora and fauna with Kathryn Harmer Fox at her ‘sew a postcard’ workshop. Here are the two A4-sized ‘postcards’ I made from her comprehensive kits:

It was fun to make these and, as I finished stitching them and added the borders, I heard Kathryn’s voice in my head, joking about that flamboyant metallic spotty fabric I used to border the giraffe. The secretary bird is bordered by one of the striking fabrics in the African shweshwe range.

A journey of the Imagination

Take the prompts “suitcase exhibition” and “journey of the artist”, combine them, and get a surprising result. This is what happened when I took up the invitation from the enthusiastic and creative duo, Antoinette Kriel and Macky Cilliers, to contribute to a proposed travelling exhibition, where the textile works and objects must all fit into a “suitcase with character”.

The suitcase exhibition will be launched in Nieu Bethesda, a village in South Africa’s Great Karoo, on 15 December. It will form part of larger exhibition titled Quilts in a Church, to be held in the village’s Dutch Reformed Church from 15 to 18 December 2021. For forthcoming announcements about the exhibition, follow this Facebook page.

After I had gaily signed up to take part in the exhibition earlier this year, I was sent a set of photographs and asked to choose one as the inspiration for the piece I was to contribute. I chose this photograph, taken by Willem Kriel.

The next step was to find a vintage suitcase. That was also easy as I still have the small suitcases our children used at nursery school and simply had to empty my collection of tapestry and woolen threads into another container. The suitcase measures 20 x 30 cm and is 10 cm deep.

It was not quite so easy to make the textile works that had to go into the suitcase. The brief was that there should be at least two and that they should, obviously, fit in with the theme. After helpful conversations with my friend The Artist, I retrieved two previously made works — a small tree quilt and an experimental piece of woven cloth strips — and found they fitted snugly into the suitcase as a ‘forest floor’ and a hanging. After this I finished a forest quilt that I had been working on for some time, to make the enchanted forest that is stored in the suitcase, waiting to be displayed at the exhibition.

The final step was to find three related objects to put into the suitcase. Here The Woodworker came to the rescue and polished two of his turned wooden chalices. I also added a feather from the African hoopoe, my favourite bird that I have come to regard as a talisman.

Here is my artist’s statement, which explains my intention:

For me the journey of an artist is primarily a journey of the imagination. This is where the ideas and inspiration for a work are born. I have thus chosen to portray aspects of an enchanted forest in my suitcase installation.  The installation draws strongly from the world of fairy tales, where the imagination is nurtured. The suitcase itself is a child’s battered and well-used pre-school case. Hanging on the inside of the suitcase lid is a quilt with a stylised bronze tree and golden moon. These are appliquéd onto a luscious velvet background. The piece is hand quilted and is 33 x 25 cm. On the floor of the suitcase is a “forest carpet” made of woven strips of fabric that have been hand-stitched and embroidered. Packed in the suitcase is the Enchanted Forest quilt. Its textured trees and bright foliage evoke the magic of a forest of the imagination. The trees and foliage are appliquéd onto a hand-dyed cloth and heavily overstitched by machine. Textured upholstery fabrics, brown paper, and a metallic textile were used to make the trees. The foliage was cut from a Kaffe Fassett fabric. The piece is hand-quilted and contains the figure of the artist entering the forest. It is 45 x 65 cm. The three related objects in the suitcase are the feather of an African Hoopoe and two wooden chalices. These were hand-turned by Andrew Stevens and are made from the wood of the Chestnut and Blackwood trees.

— Artist’s Statement

Above are close up views of the suitcase and its contents. The Woodworker also made a customised hanging device for the small tree quilt and fixed a battered corner so that the suitcase would close properly. Below is the Enchanted Forest quilt that will travel in the suitcase.

And here are a set of photographs to show the process of making the forest.

After all that intensive machine stitching, it was a nice change of pace to sandwich the work and hand quilt it. I quilted around the outlines of the trees and was surprised to find that, despite the heavy machine stitching, the needle went through the layers smoothly and easily. The quilt is bound with the hand-dyed green fabric that was used for both the background and the backing.

Thank you to Antoinette Kriel and Macky Cilliers, whose conceptualization of the suitcase exhibition has taken me on this surprising journey. I delivered my suitcase to them this week when I attended my first TAPE (Textile Artists of Port Elizabeth) meeting. It was most inspiring and I am very pleased to be part of this group. We met at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum and were treated to a guided tour of the current exhibition, Transformational Textiles, by the museum’s assistant director Emma O’Brien. If you are in or near Gqeberha, visit it! It includes works by the Keiskamma Art Project, Mapula Embroiders, TAPE members, and art works from the museum’s permanent collection.

TAPE members in front of the astounding Keiskamma Geurnica, on display at the Nelson Mandela Metroplitan Art Museum as part of the Transformational Textiles exhibition that runs until May next year. Photograph courtesy of the museum photographer.

November Thoughts

One of my best blogging buddies recently wrote that she had noticed that some of us had become less active on-line. As the year draws to an end one tends to run out of energy, doesn’t one? And I have been struggling to write this week’s post. So why didn’t I just abandon it? To say that I don’t want to disappoint my faithful readers would be only half-true and also rather pompous. The honest answer is that I write these weekly reports mostly for myself. It’s a way of keeping a record, of describing a newly discovered stitching method or insight, and of keeping myself on track. While walking this tightrope of telling the truth, I admit that often I push through and finish a project so that I will have something to write about. And here’s another true confession: I am a little shy about showing you my latest creation.

This week’s post is about my memento mori [remember, you must die]. In case anyone is put off and is expecting to see a skull, let me reassure you. It is no longer fashionable to keep a skull on one’s desk as a reminder of mortality and the shortness and uncertainty of life. My memento mori is a a book containing a quotation that reminds me of the passing of time more than of the inevitability of death. I stitched it not in a fit of morbidity on my 64th birthday, but as a response to a prompt from the AreYouBookEnough monthly challenge that runs on Instagram. November’s theme is winged and so I decided to play with a phrase from Andrew Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress”:

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near:

The making of the book was also a bit of a struggle. Following the same format I used for the ten previous concertina books I have made this year for the monthly #areyoubookenough community challenges, I decided I would speed up the process by stitching the book by machine. After all, I wanted to finish it on the day of my birthday. The ‘blank’ or canvas was prepared by fusing black flannel onto a 6 x 40 inch strip of hemp cloth. This gave the book-to-be a nice weight to work with. I then folded the book to make the pages and the front and back covers. With my new knowledge on the use of Inktense pencils (from Kathryn Harmer Fox’s recent workshop) I boldly set about colouring in the carriage, after tracing and then stitching the outline onto the front cover. The ‘wings’ on the side of the carriage were stitched in gold rayon thread.

Next I tackled the words. It was a dismal failure because the words were too large and clumsy and it was difficult to read the phrase. Nevertheless, I stitched a border around the words, hoping the frame would rescue the situation. It didn’t.

So what was to be done. Put the project aside and ponder on a solution. I listened to my own advice and went off to an end-of-the-year celebratory meal with my quilting group (the QUOGs). And there the solution presented itself in the form a reel of Madeira gold thread, given as a gift by one of my dear friends.

To add to the serendipity, the electricity was turned off the next morning, so I was ‘forced’ to hand stitch the phrase onto a fresh piece of hemp cloth. The Madeira thread behaves beautifully and does not snap or shred (as other metallic threads sometimes do).

I used Inktense to colour over the original machine stitched words and hand stitched the bandage of the new, hand stitched lettering over this, allowing my mistake to still show.

The front and verso sides of the opened out concertina book

So, the lesson I (again) learned during the making of this book is summed up by that old adage “more haste, less speed”. I think I first learnt the phrase in sewing class at school!

On Rain and the Night Sky

I am wallowing in the green relief brought by summer rains. So, that’s the first part of this post. And now to write about a recent quilting adventure.

The theme for the 2021 Brother South Africa quilting contest is Africa Inspired! It is a well-known fact that the natural beauty in this part of the world is spectacular. The inspiration is endless and at first I could not think what to do for my entry in the competition. One of the basic rules for writers is to start with what you know, and perhaps it was this piece of wisdom that prompted the bright idea to start with the fabric (rather than an image). So I focussed on shweshwe, that distinctive African fabric.

To digress a little and to quote from a previous post: “The word shweshwe is pronounced as it is spelt. There is a long story of how this indigo printed European fabric came to be popular and acculturalised in South Africa. When I was a girl we called it German print. Apparently the name shweshwe came to be used because French missionaries in the 1840s gave the cloth to Lesotho’s King Moshoeshoe I as a gift. It was known in Lesotho as shoeshoe, after the King. The word was later modified to shweshwe (”

There are now a plethora of shweshwe designs in a range of colours. A distinctive feature of contempoary shweshwe cloth is the intricate circular motif in many of the designs. It is easy to imagine these dotted circles as stars. This led to the decision to stitch the African night sky. Anyone who has been to the Karoo will know that the stars there shine brilliantly and brightly. One of South Africa’s greatest writers, Herman Charles Bosman, claimed that the stars are closer in the Groot Marico (the area where he sets his stories). I trust he would agree that this statement is also true of the stars that shine over the Karoo. But I digress again. Here is the quilt I made, using the circular motifs to represent the stars in the African sky.

Night Sky. 70 x 70 cm.

The motifs were cut from three different shweshwe fabrics and appliquéd onto the reverse side of a square of shweshwe cloth. This happily contains the Three Cats stamp, also in a circular format, which was incorporated into the design. The “stars” were hand stitched onto the background, using gold thread. Sections were hand quilted with the same gold thread and then the piece was machine quilted in curved lines, using my walking foot. A happy discovery was rayon thread in a gold colour. This thread stitched perfectly, with no snapping and snarling (as metallic thread can do) and gave a nice gold shimmer to the work. I snapped the photograph below while stitching the curved lines.

I must give credit to Leah Day, whose website Master Walking Foot Quilting was most helpful and clear. One of her tips is not to make too sharp a bend in the curve when quilting wavy lines. I did not follow this advice and regretted it. It was indeed very difficult to negotiate those sharp curves with my walking foot. (The reason for ignoring the tip was that I wanted the machine quilting to follow the line of the “milky way”.)

And that’s the story behind my Night Sky quilt. It is bound with a striped Kaffe Fassett fabric.

Starting Block

Here is a sneak preview of what is currently under my machine. I am bonding beautifully with my brand new Bernina B435. Thank you again Bernina for drawing my name out of the hat at the end of the Round Robin challenge.

Two Fantabulous days of stitching

It’s been a whirlwind week. I only travelled 120 km to attend a two-day workshop given by Kathryn Harmer Fox, but feel as if I have been to the other side of the world. Kathryn took us on a fabulous* journey as she showed us how to recreate images of African flora and fauna with snippets of fabric and lots of thread. The workshop is modestly titled SEW A POSTCARD. Held in Gqeberha in the spacious classroom at the quilt shop Skatkislap, this was the first of a series of these workshops that Kathryn Harmer Fox is giving en route to Cape Town.

These are the eight postcards Kathryn has created, and from which we could choose. We were then given a comprehensive kit for the animal or flower chosen and guided through the process of creating our own postcards. There were ten of us doing the class and four of us chose the giraffe. Below are our works, as at the end of the second day of the workshop when we pinned them up and Kathryn gave us a marvellously thorough crit and enthusiastic words of encouragement.

I had chosen not to make a postcard and decided to make a Christmas card instead. That didn’t work out as I had envisaged so I covered the word Christmas with the shorter, more generic word “days”, bought another kit for the secretary bird, and started stitching a postcard to myself.

This is what I stitched during the workshop and look forward to finishing them (once I have unpacked!)

Instead of writing an account of the class, I decided to try out a photo-essay. Hope it gives you an idea of the fabulous fun that was had by all.

(Above) Kathryn Harmer Fox wearing her own creations, boots and all.

Below are snapshots of the fabulously free creative atmosphere during the class.

*fabulous Resembling a fable. Like things found in a fable; astonishing. Excllent, marvellous, terrific. colloqu.

Finishing Line

October has come and gone and I again made a book for the AreYouBookEnough challenge that runs on Instagram. The theme for October was rings. Once more I made a concertina book and this one is also all hand-stitched. I simply used different methods to create rings: kantha stitch on the first double page spread, applique using fused shiny fabrics on the second double page; and weaving through the stitches on the third set of pages. And here is another set of photographs to describe the book.

The front and verso sides of the book.