On Refashioning

Do other bloggers find that, through this writing process, a seed is sometimes sown for a new project? In December 2020 I wrote a post about a work that I had made from the silk scraps of my wedding dress and ended the post by saying: “Having taken it out of storage and looked at it with fresh eyes, I am tempted to add a few more stitches and refashion it a bit.”

Wedding Dress #1, Take 2. 207 x 117 cm.

The section that has been refashioned is the bodice. It took a long time to work out how to do it and, in the end, the solution was simple. I had made a camisole from the same fabric as the orginal wedding dress and, luckily, had kept it for all these years. The idea came to me while writing my morning pages and so I unearthed the camisole, unpicked the side seams and threaded my needle to appliqué it over the patched original bodice area of the work.

It is still a strange piece but I confess to being rather fond of it. I did, afterall, originally stitch it to mark our 25th wedding anniversary. The new bodice is only stitched onto the background at the top end, so one can lift it and see the original patches. You may notice that I snipped off the frayed muslin bits on the side of the dress.

A close up of the new bodice. I used rows of close running stitch to create the illusion of armholes

Of course I looked up the word ‘refashion’ and was once again delighted to find that it means what I intended : “once more, again, afresh, (esp. in order to alter or improve or renew” (OED).

Finishing Line

Flower for April. 50 x 50 cm. Machine appliqué and hand quilted.

You may recall that I am making a flower each month as a block for the proposed quilt Brash Flower Garden. May is marching on and I had not had an idea of what to stitch for this month until yesterday when I saw some bold nastursiums blooming and brightening my garden. (We are moving into winter in this hemisphere.) So I am, of course, itching to start work on that. Shall I make the flower orange or a deep maroon red? Nastursiums bloom in a cheerful range of colours, from yellow through to red.

The title for my forthcoming exhibition at the National Arts Festival came to me while reading a novel. I had been mulling over what to call it (if anything). Then the following perceptive comment about the function of fiction from Monogomy by Sue Miller got me thinking:

“[W]e read fiction because it suggests that life has shape and we feel …. consoled, I think he said, by that notion. Consoled to think that life isn’t just one damned thing after another. That it has sequence and consequence.”

— Sue Miller (p.153. London: Bloomsbury, 2020)

With apologies to Sue Miller, it struck me that if I replaced “life” with stitching this could serve as an explanation for why I make quilts. While this is rather fuzzy thinking, it is true that the word sequence is a good description of the results of my stitchings. The word itself also has a nice sound and shape to it.

In fine art and quilting circles the word series is used to describe a set of works with a similar theme. Here’s a clear definition: “A series is essentially a collection of paintings that when viewed leaves no doubt the same artist created them all. The theme running through the work is stated and restated in different yet interconnected ways, and the viewer can look at the collection and understand more easily what the artist is trying to convey. 31 May 2018.” (from a google search with no URL)

I still prefer sequence which is, afterall, “a continuous series of things, a succession; a set of related things arranged in a certain order” (OED). The title of sequence for the exhibtion was also apt because I have made works that can be called a series, particularly the house portraits of buildings of historical Grahamstown. Here are the two latest ones:

House Portrait #10: 13 Bartholomew Street (34 x 24 cm) and House Portrait #11: 11 Bartholomew Street (32 x 24 cm). In real life the portrait and landscape formats are the same size.

Settling on the title of sequence has also helped me to focus on the new works that I will be making in the coming seven weeks. There are too many ideas buzzing through my brain and I hope that at least some of them will materialise. The hope is to repeat the themes of some of my larger work in sets of A4 sized smaller works. So, there will be other series besides the house portraits on the exhibition. There, I have said it. Now I must just do it.

Well, that was fun. I trawled through my media library to put up all the previous house portraits. Not all of the above will be on the exhibition as some of them have found new homes. If you are new to this blog, you can read about the making of these houses here and here.

Did you know that the word sequence also refers to: a liturgical chant; the repetition of a phrase or melody in musical compositions; an ordered set of infinite quantities in mathematics; a passage in a film; a group of three or more cards; a logical consequence. See why I like the word.

And The Winner is…

The quilt made by the QUOGs to raise funds for the Ukrainian disaster fund was won by Eileen Shepherd.

‘How Does Your Garden Grow?’

The Brash Flower Garden quilt (or my self-challenge to make a large flower block every month) is more or less on track. It’s been a busy start to the year and here’s the recently completed March flower:

It’s a stylised magnolia, made as a reminder of the blossoming of the magnolia trees in the streets of London during March. What a magnificent and unexpected sight they were. I used chintz fabric (thanks Asta) and machine appliquéd the petals into place, then added the centre. The hand quilting and kantha-style stitching is what gives the flower a bit of depth.

For the April flower I made a sunflower in futile solidarity with Ukraine. It still has to be quilted. I had made sunflower blocks to contribute to the raffle quilt made by my quilting group, the QUOGS, to raise funds for Ukraine, so I could copy my own pattern. (By the way, the draw takes place on 4 May. If you wish to take a ticket, here’s the link.)

I plan to quilt the sunflower block over this long weekend and am looking forward to some quiet stitching. Meanwhile, here’s a set of photographs to show how the flower was constructed with machine appliqué. I used the same process for the magnolia flower, which is to place the outside whorl of petals down first, and then work towards the centre. Then I pin it all carefully in place and then machine it down.

While I have your attention (hopefully!) here is the completed February flower. This one is very heavily stitched, mostly by hand.

I plan to make a flower a month during 2022. Each block is 50 cm square and the twelve blocks will make up a single-bed sized quilt. For the centre of each flower I am using the same fabric, an African design of dotted, bright circles. The backing for each block is plain white and I am using the quilt-as-you-go method. The intensive stitching is therefore making a pleasing flower pattern on the reverse side of each block. (If you notice any repetition from the first post I wrote on the proposed Brash Flower Garden, I apologise.)

A Big Announcement

On Mending

One of my abiding childhood memories is my mother’s darning basket. It was the lightbulb that nestled amongst the cards of darning wool that caught my young imagination and not the threads (which were boring greys and blacks). She used the lightbulb to tension the damaged area of a sock when she was darning it. There is a customized tool for this, called a darning mushroom*, but she did not have one.

In those days it was fairly common for people to mend clothes and darn socks. We were even taught how to darn at school. Nowadays it is quicker and easier to replace worn out garments, if one has the resources. My guess is that the first world throw-away culture, the availability of cheaper synthetic textiles, and the busyness of work-a-day lives of city people have all contributed to this trend to buy new socks and garments, rather than to mend them.

Guilty as charged. But not in every case.

A linen shirt, mended at the neckline. Compare the clumsy machine darning on the right shoulder with the more subtle hand darning on the left (right hand side of the photograph)

This week I mended a favourite linen shirt that I am enjoying wearing again. It was one of those garments that fitted so comfortably that, when it wore out below the mandarin collar, I didn’t want to discard it. So I tried to darn it with my sewing machine, but this led to scratchy lumps of stitching that the worn fabric could not support, and the cloth tore some more. So I put it away. Then an inspiring and beautifully produced book, Darning by Hikaru Noguchi (Quickthorn Press, 2019), came my way. After I had read the book I took out my tattered, favourite linen shirt, and mended it.

First I placed strips of soft hemp cloth on the inside of the neck edge and stitched this down, with small running stitches. This stablised the worn section of the shirt and also provided a soft backing to those knotty machine stitches. Then I darned the worn areas by hand. The stitches are not as neat and precise as the examples in Hikaru’s book, but they will do. I used a single thread of embroidery floss in a matching colour to weave over the worn areas around the neck and on one of the sleeves.

The front and back covers of the book that inspired me to try out my mending skills. For more information on the book, click here. The publisher’s introduction encourages us not to be trapped by fast-fashion but rather to re-use and mend our clothes so that they do not end up in landfill.

Ana Yong gives this definition of fast-fashion in an article published in unsustainable

Throwaway Fashion, Or Fast Fashion, – a callous disregard for the cost of creating, and thus the true value of, clothing and fashion accessories is incredibly harmful to ecosystems worldwide., and this is a harm that will last for generations if nothing is done to abate it.

Throwaway fashion and fast fashion

This week I also rekindled my fondness for kantha-style stitching when I gave an introductory class to this simple but versatile stitch form. We spent a very pleasant day around the dining room table, stitching, drinking tea and chatting. The next class will be on Saturday 14 May in Makhanda.


*The Woodworker turns darning mushrooms on his lathe and we sell them at the Hogsback Saturday morning craft markets when we are on the mountain.

Solving A Mystery

Did you know that mystery is an archaic term for a handicraft or trade, as in the art and mystery of printing (Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable)? I didn’t, but was delighted to discover this embedded double meaning when setting out to write about completing the Greenmarket Square mystery quilt run by the Good Hope Quilters’ Guild. I was also tickled to read about another mystery quilt that was finished on another continent, in Pieceful Wendy’s blog post of today.

My unnamed, but completed mystery quilt. It measures 80 x 80 inches.

Yes, I know it’s hard to see the pattern in this photograph. To get a better idea of Diana Vandeyar’s fantastic design, click here. This is the second year running where Diana has generously done the design for the Good Hope Quilters’ Guild mystery quilt and, after completing last year’s Cape Wildflowers modern quilt, I simply had to take part in this year’s mystery.

It was a bit of a gamble to use cream and white fabrics with the only contrast being textured and plain fabrics, especially as the brief was to use high contrast hues. But I am pleased with the result, even if the design is not immediately apparent when looking at the quilt. It was also very difficult to photograph it. Here is another photograph, taken inside, and two close-ups:

The mystery stitch along ran over 12 weeks, with a new part being released each week. A group of us formed a WhatsApp group to post photographs of our progress and to egg one another one. We all looked forward to Fridays when each new part was released. The website is still live so please be tempted to make this quilt. The instructions are crystal clear and, once again, I learnt as I followed them. Now I know how to make the flying geese block with no wastage or sighing. I have also learnt how easy it is to use a freezer paper template.

There is an Instagram feed and Facebook page where others have posted images of their quilts. Below are some photographs of my process and progress over the weeks.

After a bit of a breather I plan to hand quilt it and have started to think about what colour thread to use. Should I keep to the white theme and quilt it in ecru perle thread, or should I add a dash of colour with some raspberry thread?

To end off and brighten things up a bit after all the above white images, here is the donation quilt made by the QUOGS (Quilters of Grahamstown), which is being raffled for the Ukraine disaster fund. It has been magnificently machine quilted by Sue Bax.

Eight of the ten members of the QUOGs who made this group quilt

A Quilt for Ukraine

Take someone with a big heart and remarkable organisational skills, add a group of willing quilters, and the result is a lovely blue and yellow quilt that is being raffled to raise funds towards helping the plight of the people of Ukraine.

The quilt for Ukraine after the top had been pieced. It measures 85 x 61 inches (about 220 x 155 cm)

It was my good quilting friend, often mentioned in this blog, who had the bright idea of a communal fund-raising quilt. She was inspired to do this when an artist she knows invited her to take a ticket for a painting he was raffling through the JustGiving site. The initiative raised 10000 GBP for the Ukraine disaster fund.

So, at the next QUOGS (Quilters of Grahamstown) meeting, K asked everyone in the group to make at least one 12 and a half inch square and bring it to the next meeting. The brief was to use the Ukraine colours of blue and yellow and to make either a sunflower or a star. Within two weeks there were nearly enough blocks for a single bed sized quilt. The call for a few more blocks was quickly and generously heeded, and by the next week we were ready to stitch together the quilt top.

The QUOGS is a group of wonderful women who have been meeting and convivially stitching for more than two decades.

Three of the young QUOGS (😂🤣) gathered to stitch the blocks together. Here’s a picture story of that process.

The quilt is now with professional long-arm quilter Sue Bax and, once it is quilted, it will be bound in navy blue. It is a bright and handsome quilt, made with love, to keep the lucky winner warm.

To take a raffle ticket is a simple on-line process, and can be done from anywhere in the world.

Click on this link and follow the prompts. Please be sure to add your name and email at the end so that your ticket can be entered in the draw.

Any generous South Africans reading this and wishing to contribute, please don’t be put off when you see that there is not a Rand option. You can buy a ticket by selecting any currency, and your bank will convert it into Rands when debiting your account. You can also reduce the amounts given in the drop down menu. For a $10 ticket it cost R173. This included a 15% admin cost, which is probably optional.

Before and after being stitched, using only a few of the tantalising embroidery stitch options on my no-longer-quite-so-new Bernina sewing machine.

On grandmotherhood

During our month in London we saw the magnolia trees that dot the streets come into bloom. We also watched a flowering cherry tree transform its bare branches into a floral abundance that attracted a flock of bright green parrots. To see this recurring miracle of spring unfold along those densely built London streets was a new experience and a gift.

But the greater gift was to see how our grandson grew and developed in one short month. It was an unforgettable time, a rite of passage into grandmotherhood.

After our last child was born it struck me that I had gone through all the rites of passage in my own life, and that I would only experience these vicariously through our children’s life-experiences, until my own final rite of passage of death.

But I was wrong.

Becoming a grandmother has been so overwhelming and all-consuming and enthralling that it can only be described as a rite of passage.

I use the phrase loosely, in a biological and non-religious sense.

Checking In and Out

This will be my last post for a while as we are off to London to meet our new grandbaby. In between the excitement and travel preparations I have finished off a few projects and started a new one.

February’s Flower. 50 x 50 cm

Because February is known as the month of love, I have made this flower pink. It is destined to become part of a 12-block album quilt for 2022. January’s Flower is complete, using a combination of kantha-style stitching and quilt-as-you-go to stabilise the large flower shape.

It seems that I am in mandala-making mode. The latest challenge to the TAPE group was to transform a piece of striking African Wax fabric into a geometric shape. We were all given a fat quarter of the same fabric and were allowed to use one extra fabric in the construction. This is what I made:

I cut out the shapes in the given fabric and fused them onto a plain background to create this radiating circle shape. It was great fun to play with the different strings of circles and other shapes in the original piece. Once I was happy with the design I sandwiched the work and machine quilted it in straight lines.

I joined TAPE (Textile Artists of Port Elizabeth) at the end of last year and am so pleased to be part of this vibrant and fun-loving group.

Another ongoing project is the Greenmarket Square mystery quilt currently being run by the Good Hope Quilters’ Guild. I have made the blocks for the first five weeks of the 12-week challenge and hope to return to the project when we get back from the UK. It is possible to stop at week 5 and make a baby or lap quilt from the blocks made so far. It’s nice to have options! The layout pattern will only be released at week 12. I couldn’t resist playing with my blocks and laid them out like this:

I have been a bit shy about posting my blocks on Instagram and tagging #GHQGMysteryQuilt because I have not followed the instructions to use contrasting fabrics. Instead I am experimenting with using differently textured fabrics in cream and white. To see the beautiful blocks others have made visit @ghqg_south_africa on Instagram.

Finishing Line

Here’s another completed house portrait of one of the old cottages in historical Grahamstown.

Until next time, which will probably be sometime in April.