On Stitching Together

About a year ago I wrote about South Africa’s travelling quilt teacher, Doortjie Gersbach, and the challenging star workshop we did with her. Well, she returned to Grahamstown-Makhanda this week and treated us to a more meditative class on hand stitching when she showed us how to make blocks using her version of the Japanese folding technique.

Watching intently as Doortjie demonstrates her 17-pin method

It was a glorious day. Doortjie Gersbach is an inspiring and patient teacher and draws one into the joy of stitching, even when it feels as if it is impossible to close those corners neatly. Through the ingenious use of two shapes — a larger outer circle and a raw edged inner square — cut exactly from templates and then folded and stitched together, one can create this mermaid’s purse shape.

These are the collected works of the two blocks made by each of the stitchers who attended the class. Wouldn’t it make a lovely, bright quilt.

Doortjie is known for her bold and vibrant use of colour and always adds red to her quilts. Many of us were inadvertently influenced by her beautifully bright work. Here are photographs of some of her samples (with apologies for the poor quality of my photographs.)

The second block we learnt to make was the star. For this one uses hexagon templates of two sizes and, again, the two pieces are folded one to the other and stitched together. The piece of fabric at the back is cut with a seam allowance and tacked carefully along the fold line to create a hem, and therefore a finished edge around the star shape. (It is so much easier to demonstrate a method than it is to describe it.) Here are a set of photographs of the process:

I am looking forward to making more of both these blocks. One of the people who attended the class, Elmarie Riddin, has been busy stitching to make cushions for her patio out of a set of gorgeous fabrics. This is what she produced in the last couple of days, after the workshop.

Elmarie’s set of blocks

I am inspired to continue stitching until I have enough for a table runner. Doortjie’s set of templates includes those for medium and small blocks in the same pattern (see the photograph of her class sample) and of course I want to try them all. I know the small block will be more of a stitching challenge with all those pins on a smaller piece of fabric. But oh, the satisfaction when you get the corners to fold in neatly and cover the sandwiched batting and raw edge of the central piece.

Talking of a challenge… Doortjie has a version of the American Beauty design which she calls her distorted American Beauty. She made it after visiting New York in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy had wreaked devastation and flooded the subway system.

Doortjie Gersbach’s quilt, Distorted American Beauty

She has offered to teach us how to make this on her next visit to Grahamstown. I have to confess that I am terrified of making this design. Then again, it would be a challenge! And if anyone can help me face my fear of sewing all those points and making this quilt, Doortjie can. She offers a range of classes and showed us examples of the many different quilts she has made. There is a very pleasing scrap quilt which also caught our attention. It would be much easier to make, but not nearly as challenging at this Beauty. Luckily we have a year to decide. And another stimulating workshop with Doortjie to look forward to.


On Bags

It is a universal assumption that women love bags. The fashion industry and glossy magazines certainly play into this and produce and advertise bags of all shapes, sizes, materials, and colours.

I have heard it said that a quilter can use a self-made bag to make a statement and confess to having done exactly this. Recently I gathered some of the bags I have made over the years and displayed them on the hat and coat rack in the entrance to our house.

(The entrance room is also my workspace and I decided I would rather look at these than an untidy collection of hats, umbrellas, jackets, yoga mat, and shopping bags.)

Vanity aside, bags are practical items. And if a bag is beautiful as well as useful then it is a double bonus.

These thoughts were going through my mind yesterday as I stitched away at my sewing machine, making … yes, you guessed correctly … bags.

First I stitched some shopping totes from quirky overdyed fabric.

Then I made small sling bags, which can safely and comfortably hold a cellphone, wallet and keys.

The National Arts Festival opens on 27 June in Grahamstown-Makhanda and the Village Green craft market is literally on our doorstep. So, we are going to have a home-based stall on our verandah. The bags will be on sale at the stall.

If you are coming for festival, look out for FABRICATIONS and Nonsuch Woodware, opposite the entrance gates to The Green. Our stoep-stall will be festooned with quilts.

To return to the subject of bags. I finally got round to making the lining for the crocheted bag, made last year from the Sophie’s Garden pattern.

It measures 48×48 cm, and is 15 cm deep. My yarn stash fits neatly into the bag. A repurposed box between the lining and the bag keeps it nice and stiff. I also used table mat batting to add to the firm finish.

On returning to the world

In my last post I wrote that we were about to set off on a two-week walk through the wilderness. It was a refreshing and remarkable, but also physically rigorous time.

Maybe I can stitch something of that experience into a quilt.

Meanwhile, it has taken a while to recover and return to this reality.

On stepping off the world

It’s been a week of packing and packaging. The packing was for a walk through the wilds, and the packaging to send quilts off to the kind conveners of the National Quilt Festival.

So it’s been a busy time. Too busy to write a proper post this week. This comes to you from my cellphone and from the kerksaal (church hall) in the small Eastern Cape town of Patensie. I am part of a group of walkers that sets off tomorrow to walk about 300 km through the Baviaans. This is a world heritage site, containing seven biomes.

I can’t quite believe I am about to set off on this adventure. It is South African version of the Camino. If you would like to know more about the Indlela yo buntu, look for it on Facebook.

Once the quilt exhibition is up at the National Quilt Festival in August I will be able to post photographs of the quilts I have entered. Right now I am glad that they are finished, packaged, and sent off, and am looking forward to two weeks of walking through beautiful countryside.

Poem #21

Klee’s Curtain

With his seeing eye and tacit hand
Klee captured on canvas
the pattern and flow of fabric.

A curtain became an attic beauty
hinting at a story of unknown lives
behind its shielding folds.

Cloth warms as it breathes
through its ephemeral fibres,
offers more comfort than painted art.

Moved by this unmoving curtain
I refabrictated it in cloth.

On the Finishing Touch

After you have spent hours and months first piecing and then quilting a new work, you grow a little jaded and so, when it comes to finishing off the quilt, it can feel like a bridge too far. But if you don’t finish it off, then all those hours and months of stitching will go to waste. Yes, I am writing about myself in the second person, and yes, this is a conversation I have had with myself more than once.

The most recent such conversation had an added irritation. I had to sew a facing onto this particular quilt because I did not have any more of the charcoal edging fabric to use for a matching binding. I have been told that a facing is a better, more professional finish for an an art quilt than a binding, and so, I faced my fear, and did it. I first researched how to face a quilt (thank you google) and then very carefully measured, cut, pinned, and stitched the facing onto Honky-Tonk Blues.

Honky-Tonk Blues

I am disappointed that, despite my best efforts, the quilt does not hang perfectly straight. The undulation on the bottom edge irritates me, despite telling myself that it is keeping with the idea of the off-key honky-tonk piano that the quilt adumbrates. So, as I write this it is swaddled between two towels, with a large cutting matting weighting it down. Hopefully this will gently press the undulations into submission.

Now that I have got that off my chest, let me say that was very pleased to be asked to contribute a piece to an exhibition which will form part of FynArts 2019. This music and art festival will take place in Hermanus, South Africa, from 7 to 17 June. The Art of Thread exhibition titled Shades and Tones is curated by Dal Botha and will feature work by 33 fibre artists. The brief was to use fibre and textile to interpret a piece of music.

Not being well-versed in music, I was not sure where to start and decided to read up about the patterns in music. When I learnt that an octave of a piano keyboard is a reflection of the Fibonacci Sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8…) I was inspired to stitch this sequence, using a set of plain fabrics with beatiful shades and tones that I had bought as a set of fat quarters (because I could not resist them). Working out how to construct the block was fun, sewing the 25th block was not as much fun, but by then I had used up all the fabric and possible colour combinations.

These photographs show the process, from working out the measurements for the piano keys and the construction of the blocks, to the pin up, and the completed top.

And the name of the quilt? It wanted to be called Honky-Tonk Blues from the start. When I found that the song is a guitar, not a piano, piece I nearly renamed it Bohemian Rhapsody. But the quilt objected.

To end off, here is a close up of the quilting.

On the Changing of the Season

It’s been a good week. A big factor is the gentle autumnal weather, with the occasional night time shower of rain. This is balm after a summer of dry earth, heat and drought. Then there was the excitement of our first foray into the Grahamstown-Makanda market scene.

We were made to feel very welcome with our Fabrications and Nonsuch Woodware stall at the Sunnyside Street Festival. Even the person living in the house didn’t mind at all that we were on her doorstep with my banner strung to her burglar guards.

There was certainly a festive atmosphere in Atificer’s Square, where the market was held on the first of May public holiday. There was live music, street performers, good coffee and food stalls, old and new friends amongst the throngs of people, a Great Dane and other dogs, about 50 stalls with a variety of hand crafted goods, plants, food, flowers, vintage jewellery and clothes, etc.

This was taken late in the afternoon, pretty much after the carnival was over

Thanks must go to Phillipa Irvine, the intrepid organiser. It must have been a lot of work to arrange to get the streets closed off and to get permission from the residents to hold the street festival in this old part of town (where artisans lived in the 1800s).

The third thing that has made it a good week is the coming together of a textile work that I have been mulling over for quite a while. When it is finished and when the time is right, I will post a photograph and description. Meanwhile here is a slice of it as a WIP (work in progress).

I used some of the “paper” dolls that didn’t quite match the black and white and grey theme as embellishments on covered notebooks, made for the market.

Poem #20

Forest Archive

Archived alphabetically from a,
Boxed and ordered where b
Comes after a and is followed by c,
Documents foldered for posterity.
Each box is the same size – an easy
Form to follow. Copy the motif
Given in rectangles of energy
Holding the papered lives and aches,
In acid-free folders, of writers who’ve died
Just recently or long ago,
Killed by chance or inevitable decay.
Living authors too, their letters
Merging with the manuscripts of women and men
No longer with us, but whose work lives on –
Outlines, drafts, and the books also
Preserved on paper, filed in the archive’s keep.

Quilt this, I thought, follow the cue
Residing in this boxed array
Set out and shelved in neatness.
The template is there, just copy it to a T
Using the form and parchment hues.
Vanity, as it turned out, for the reverie
Would not materialise. The rectangles withdrew,
Exactitude excused itself. Instead
Yearning green crept in to defy my
Zestful plan. And I sewed a fabric forest.