Post # 23. On Stories

This is the third time I am writing a post about my paper doll series, so I have to find a new angle. It is stories. This particular story begins like this:

When I finished these four small quilts last week they needed to be named. At first I thought to title them Paper Dolls but my good friend Catherine Knox pointed out that this was too obvious. And she was right. The figures in the quilts are modelled on the paper dolls of childhood, but there was a bit more going on in the background as I designed and sewed them. So I thought and thought and after quite a few false starts came up with the title of Storylines. And it felt just right.


I am not going to even try to tell you what was going on in my head as I was making these quilts. Hopefully you will imagine your own story.

Much has been said about the magic and the importance of stories. Books and learned dissertations have been written about the topic. My mentor Don Maclennan, a professor who was also a poet, philosopher and friend, often reminded me of R.D. Laing’s assertion that “we are the stories we tell ourselves of who we are”. This cryptic statement holds a lot of water. We humans use stories – fictions – to cope with the chaos of reality and change. But I promised not to give you a long story!

And this is where this post should end. But I am going to ramble on a bit about my fascination with stories. If I think “book” I see a very tattered copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that I owned as child. Then I think of how my own children would not let me miss one night of reading them a bedtime story. I also think of how comforting bookshelves filled with books are (even if many of them are waiting to be read).

A few days ago I came across a passage in My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, which sums up the gap between reality and fiction; between life and stories:

She said … “It’s not my job to make readers know what’s a narrative voice and not the private view of the author,” and that alone made me glad I had come [to the author’s writing workshop]. The librarian seemed unable to understand. “What do you mean?” he kept saying, and she only repeated what she had said before. He said, “What is your job as a writer of fiction?” And she said that her job as a writer of fiction was to report on the human condition, to tell us who we are and what we think and what we do. (p. 97-98).

In his book, Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari claims that the human imagination and our ability to create stories is the reason Homo sapiens rules the world. This is a simplified summary of his argument, which he makes convincingly and entertainingly. For example, he writes:

We can weave common myths such as the biblical creation story, the Dreamtime myths of Aboriginal Australians, and the nationalist myths of modern states. Such myths give Sapiens the unprecedented ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers… That’s why Sapiens rule the world, whereas ants eat our leftover and chimps are locked up in zoos and research laboratories (p. 27-28)

It is chilling to think how much power the human race has over the fate of the planet. That aside, without stories to warm us, life would be bleak indeed.




Poem #4

Belly Dance #1

Stomach muscles

ripple flesh

into fluid circles of delight,

perfumed garden

and silky night


ancient enticement

sidles down

the spiral


and always the bellybutton

stillpoint at the centre

holy omphalos

that feeds the embryo.


I don’t dare

to do this dance.

Instead I stitch

baubles and beads

onto bold blocks

of sari silks and satins

bellybutton them

with embossed blazons

then circle them

with more stitchery

and couchings of gold.

Belly dance #1

On the doiley

Take an old lace doily, a piece of 10 inch square calico, a skein of hand dyed silk thread and add cotton batting and a backing.  Pin these together, thread your needle, begin to stitch and see where it takes you.

This is what I did at the start of the National Arts Festival. (see Post # 20. On inspiration.) I stitched during in-between times to catch my breath between shows and visits to the exhibitions and craft market. It calmed and refreshed me for the next bout of festival fun. Here is a close-up of the doily. I quilted it down and added a bit of purple stitching in the centre and around the edge.


It was by chance that I found a pair of these lovely lace doilies at one of the craft stalls and, while admiring it, saw the centre of a flower in the pattern. Two years ago I started stitching a series that I called From a Secret Garden, which were inspired by the delightful drawings of flowers in Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Colouring Book by Johanna Bassford.

From a Secret Garden #4
From a Secret Garden #4

To repeat myself – I think that even the best machines can’t beat hand stitching and hand quilting. (See Post #3. On hand quilting) It has just struck me that embroiderers and quilters use repetition of stitch and pattern for effect. Ha!



Poem #3

Amy’s Quilt

I made you a quilt

of forty-two blocks

(six across seven down)

with 21 squares

in strips of berry colours

and 21 plain blocks

of burnt orange.


As I sewed I hoped

love would stitch herself in

but wooed her, anyway,

with slivers of silver and gold

for bright strips

on the plain blocks

from 1 to 21

to count the candles on the cakes

that processessed  through the years

Amy-s quilt

Post # 21. On contemplating the stars

Not really. This week I did a workshop with star teacher Doortjie Gersbach and it was nose down and careful concentration. In two days we made two large stars (out of 13) and there was no time to look up at the sky and daydream. I have been quilting for 18 years and this is the most challenging stitching I have done. Here are my stars.

The workshop More Stars in the Sand was the fifth workshop I have done with Doortjie. Each time she delights and surprises us with her stories and with the new stitching tricks and methods that she teaches. And she comes to us. Grahamstown was her 46th  (and last) stop on a three-month tour of the county with her husband Lochie. Each year they travel from town to town in South Africa to give prearranged classes. They come with a mobile shop and for us who live in small towns it is a real boon to be able to buy beautiful fabrics, notions and clever quilting aids – like a sandpaper board that keeps one’s fabric stable while drawing seam lines onto it.

Doortjie Gersbach with her quilt More Stars in the Sand. It has 56 stars. 13 are large stars.

Here are a few of the gems that Doortjie let drop during the star workshop:

  • Don’t be afraid to use unexpected combinations of colours
  • Use a lightly patterned fabric for the background, then the seam lines won’t show
  • Repeat your zinger in different positions in the various stars
  • Construct the quilt vertically. She pointed out that the human eye naturally moves along a horizontal line. So if the blocks are arranged vertically and staggered it will confuse the eye and woo the viewer
  • Use different sized stars to add interest, and again stagger them
  • Every quilt must have small prints, medium prints, and large prints

For those of you that are still reading, here are the technical details on the making of the two stars. The first block we made was the good old Ohio Star (pictured top, left) and that is not too difficult a block. Except that Doortjie taught us how to make it using templates. This meant first making the template, then cutting out each shape in fabric with a seam allowance, then drawing around the template exactly to transfer the shape onto the fabric, then precisely pinning the pieces together along the lines taking care to match the corners, then carefully machine stitching along each line in a set order. For this self-confessed slapdash sewer that was quite a challenge.

It didn’t help that I drew my lines on the right instead of the wrong side of the fabric. I did not want pale inside-out stars, so I redrew the lines and then had to rub out the pencil marks that showed once I had stitched the star together. The first step of choosing the fabrics for the Ohio Star took quite a while and then Doortjie unerringly advised me to swop them around. And she was right.

Then just as we were breathing out and thinking how clever we were to make an Ohio Star with this template method, Doortjie gave us a real challenge. She let us ride on our accomplishments and did not warn us how hard it was going to be to construct her Two-Colour Star. We soon found out! It then became clear why she had shown us how to use this template method. It would not have been possible to make this star in any other way. She had us producing prefect Y joins. This was for the points of the stars where the three triangles were made to meet by inserting the equilateral triangle into the notch between the two long thin triangles. Here are some snaps of the action:

Today I googled the Y-joint and learnt that it can be used to machine piece hexagons. According to the Craftsy site, most eight-pointed stars, tumbling block designs and machine-pieced hexagon quilts require the Y-seam construction.

It was a completely absorbing workshop. We were all so determined to construct that difficult star that we forgot about any cares or woes. Who needs a holiday when you can spend a day making a star with Doortjie Gersbach!

Here are photographs of quilts I made during two previous workshops. On the left is a double bed quilt called Patched and made using Doortjie’s “beerbox” method. For the Circles from Africa workshop I did not follow the guidelines of using bright African prints for the circles. Jammer [sorry] Doortjie!


Poem #2

African mosaic

It came from

a book on African art,

this yearning

to visit the temple,

to stand barefoot on that cold marble,

to see the diamond mosaic,

to feel the space and antiquity


From the familiarity

of my workroom

I went there,

stood and cut cloth

to match the marble,

sat and stitched

one inch blocks of fabric,

pointed and neat cornered,

one to another

to echo the pattern

and still my heart.

Mariss Everitt

African mosaic
African Mosaic

Post # 20. On inspiration.

Every year at the end of June the South African National Arts Festival comes to Grahamstown for ELEVEN DAYS OF AMAZ!NG. That’s the festival’s tagline and it is truly amazing how this small town is transformed. Nevertheless, every year I am surprised and delighted at the feast of art and inspiration that pops up around us.

The festival started yesterday and I have spent two lunch hours looking at some of the art exhibitions. There are so many exhibitions that it is hard to fit it all in, but fit it in I must because it is such a feast of energy and inspiration.

Of course I honed in on textile art and visited Retha Buitendach’s exhibition Metamorf today. I will return over the weekend when there will be more time to stare at her remarkable creations which include sculpture, fabric art, assemblage and digital art prints.

Blue Housefly by Retha Buitendach
Shwe-Shwe Knopie Spinnekop
Button Spider by Retha Buitendach

These insects are fashioned mainly from shweshwe, the South African fabric that I wrote about previously in Post #10. What a glorious way to display the many and varied patterns and colours in the range.

The entry on Beitendach in the festival programme is almost as enticing as the work itself:

A multi-legged, multi-media exhibition. New insects are discovered every day. See a new cohort of hyper-evolved species created by artist Retha Buitendach. Cyber-hybrids, Bizarre bug plants, Entomological landscapes, Soft-bodied Shweshwe beasties. See them while you can. Before they mutate.

Retha Buitendach with one of her beasties, Red Ant

I then drove to other side of town (luckily it only takes five minutes) to visit the Grahamstown pop up crafters’ collective at Artificer’s Square, the town’s original trading centre. I left wearing a pair of bright earrings and the following photographs on my camera.

Artificer’s Square with the TRADE pop-up market


Carefully crafted children’s dresses by Hilary Mohr of Billy Bunting and soft toys appropriately called CuddleSomeCuties, handmade with love by Sharon Martin.


This year one of the hubs of the festival is literally on our doorstep. The Village Green, a tented craft market, is on the school fields across the road from us. Guess where I will be spending the weekend days – with the added advantage of being able to pop home for a cup of tea when needs be.

Over the past two weeks I have been watching the construction of this temporary village – first the frames went up, then the tents themselves, then the truckloads of woodchips to cover and protect the grass, then the rows and rows of bunting, etc. And this was only what I could see from across the street. In the first paragraph I flippantly said that the festival pops up around us. I know that a lot of people put a lot of work into making it happen, not least the artists themselves, and for that I am grateful.

This year the full moon is shining on the National Arts Festival. Here is the Village Green by night.


The 2018 Standard Bank Young Arts for visual art is Igshaan Adams. His exhibition When Dust Settles includes textiles. Here is another excerpt from the programme: “Adams presents an eclectic and multi-sensory large-scale installation, bringing together aspects of sculpture, textiles, found objects, furniture and performance to create an immersive environment…” Can’t wait to see it.

Some of the links for the festival are or