the blues that make me happy

 

One of the surprises of immersing myself in quilting/patchwork has been finding which fabrics call me: I was an abstract painter for 10 years, then had to take up installations again, this time made with fibres…but still very abstract. The fabrics l like for quilting include a lot of ornate Jacobean style fabrics, paisleys/ botehs, and lately, Delfts and Chinese Blue ware, and even Willowplate:)

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The postie has been bringing me parcels of celestial blues and today I finally get to cut into some! Ebay has been very useful [ahem, as long as I stop now!] for bargains, feature fabrics and a couple of days ago the perfect backing material, a Prestigious Textiles Ginger Jars pattern in cobalt blue on white.

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It’s taken me a long time to settle on a pattern…partly because the fabrics are so beautiful – it’s much harder to cut into expensive and powerfully patterned materials. Laying some splashes and a wash helps ‘break’ a pure white canvas, but there’s no real equivalent for fabrics! Part of the problem was feeling I wanted to handsew, but cutting the hexagons at the same size I’ve used before wouldn’t display some of the picture fabrics well.

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Choosing an enlarged 9cm per side hexie for those, and then interspersing smaller hexies with the extended 1/2 hexie frame solves that, but oh my, that took a long time to figure out! There are so many possibilities for quilt patches, blocks and patterns, choosing can give you decision fatigue!

Due to fibrofog, I need to keep the pattern simple – I stitched some rosettes together last night and saw this morning one is upside down, grrr. I either unpick 5 seams or live with butterflies and trees upside down to each other.. avoiding that sort of mistake would be good😉

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Again, because the fabrics are so beautiful, the pattern can be very simple – these blues are singing!

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stumbling on is still progress

Working in small and steady efforts has never been my longsuit, I only really got the hang of it after a couple of years on my derelict allotment, when big blitzes failed to turn it round but exhausted me for weeks [mainly mentally/emotionally, coping as an organic/ permaculture agoraphobic with everyone stopping in to advise me to spray it with petrol and burn everything off… omg… there were car batteries and all sorts in there!]

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I’ve been working away on the handsewing for the ‘spring rain’ duvet cover, the quilting for the volunteers quilt and some gifts… I’m delighted that Eleanor has been able to achieve her dream of expanding Knit Nottingham into more central premises that are over twice the size, and wanted to make her a present, so this is one of 2 big cushion covers [2’/ 65cm squares] that now adorn her shop sofa:) Her colour scheme is green/teal and white, and to my chagrin, there is now a sheepy knitting fabric in those colurs, but when I searched only reds and greys seemed available, sigh.

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I’ve also made her some organza totes for shoppers to use now they have to walk up and down, to tide her over till her own design comes through ;)  I feel really proud of/for her, I feel she has done something really amazing in this dismal financial climate to create such goodwill and build such success from a tiny shop a bus stop out of the centre to now be in a central arcade of homemade/ quality/ ooak shops… a link – cos after all, you might want to buy online from her rather than some faceless multiple:)

http://www.knitnottingham.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/knitnottingham/?fref=ts

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Anyway, other progress includes FINISHING the quilt for WorldwideTribe/ other volunteers at the refugee camps in Europe and Syria. It’s a flimsy stitched to fleece, not the full wadding sandwich, but even that has been very hard on my back, so I’ve been working weekly for about half an hour at a time, with a lie-down in the middle… It’s now ready to go with the semi-industrial machine I am donating. I used the automatic stitches on my small machine to make leaf patterns instead of binding and used wavy lines to make a ripple effect. It’s very cosy and the spring colours bring some sunshine:)

The duvet cover I have been working on most nights, sewing a few hexagons before turning my lights out. I started planning it in February and have been stitching hexies for weeks, but have now made the first two rows of machine patches, 15 cm squares. That gives me the ‘edges’ to sew the 6’/1.95 x 18″/45cm block to, and release the side templates of thin card. At that point I may wash it as Nonie has slept on it, washed herself with full generosity of sharing maximum black fluff, and clawed it when annoyed by my lack of attention! It also suffered when a pack of wet wipes spread dye from the brown fabric onto the alstroemerias… sigh… but finishing that big block has been really pleasing, although stitching the two machine rows in less than 20 minutes made me understand why some people could never imagine hand sewing a quilt!

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What next you cry? more hexies to handsew as I machine the duvetcover patches, that night time routine is really soothing – and productive, I now know. So, an impulse buy from Ebay plus a mishap from an online store are now turning into a new cushion cover… mishap? Those teacups are a LOT bigger that I thought😀

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saying thank you

CONTENT WARNING: PTSD, STATE VIOLENCE, FLASHBACKS ETC

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Like most of you, I have been following the news from Calais and Lesvos with great gratitude to those brave volunteers who are out there helping. They know what they are giving up in the moment, but I find myself worried at what they may be storing up… PTSD is horrible, and I’ve been suffering with it for over 30 years now. I saw activists being kicked down a spiral staircase to the cellars at a blockaded conference centre by the West German police and 2 other women joined me in smashing the double glazed window, showering glass all over the stairs. I’m a follower of NVDA, non-violent direct action and even careful about property, so it had actually been an accident, we were beating a rhythm on the window, saw the glass moving and stopped – which caused it to shatter…Later the [activist] guy on the stairs told me how scary it had been facing being kicked down and how after the glass showered down the police had to pick their own way…and stopped beating the guys up until they were in the cellar😦 A week later he was still seeing the stairs in flashes and nursing a broken thumb, nose, and 2 broken ribs. 10 years later I was still seeing and ‘feeling’ the policemen with guns pressing us in on each other in our human chain. I still can’t cope with loud shouting, crowds, and men with guns.. I have a lot of other reasons to have PTSD, but this is the closest to what I fear for the brave volunteers, doing good but acquiring unwanted memories which will haunt for years, helping people, but also pulling dead bodies from the water, burying babies..seeing French police teargas people already traumatized before they even set off on the escape to ‘safety’ as they’d hoped and deserved…

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Last week Worldwide Tribe  https://mydonate.bt.com/charities/theworldwidetribe mentioned on their Facebook page how useful sewing machines would be. Now I have a midarm /semi-industrial sewing machine that I got in a sale, got a donation towards from a friend making a professional commission and have used for a couple of quilts, see the Lakelight Quilt slideshow [button on top right] and then haven’t even been able to lift, never mind use it for 2 years… So I’ve contacted the Tribe and luckily they can collect it:) I’m so happy about this!

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And then it struck me, ooh, a chance to get a quilt to the volunteers without diverting from refugee support… so this last weekend I have been working hard and got the quilt top pinned to a fleece back by a friend [thanks Onni!] so now I can take the quilting slowly – hopefully!

At 1.5m/5′ square I can manage it on my ordinary machine, 20 minutes at a time…DSC_0097

Thinking about what has comforted me most in my journey with PTSD, being outside in nature, by the sea or moving water for choice, gardening, colour and art, spring have all played their part, knowing that someone cares, and wants to help… So I got out the spring/ crocus coloured fabrics I won on eBay a couple of weeks ago, and set to:) My corners don’t meet cos my squares turned into oblongs somewhere along the way, but I doubt this will be a problem…being washable does, so a fleece backing and no wadding means it’s cosy without being too heavy for a machine.

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Comfort quilts are traditionally given to victims of crime, the bereaved.. but I think the same principle applies, a sense of how the world works, that it ought to be more fair than it is, is what gets broken when trauma is induced. When there isn’t enough acknowledgement of how one has been affected and feelings are pushed down to keep going… that’s when trauma becomes PTSD… so that someone cared enough to make a quilt for the volunteers may strike them as odd, it’s the refugees who need help…but maybe somewhere that seed of care and love has been sown, that their needs should be acknowledged too, that I am grateful for what they are giving, and hundreds more send love with it…

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new directions

I’ve been having a flare, brought on by filling in the ESA benefit form: telling unsympathetic people how impaired your abilities are now  for 20 pages is not good for morale. PIP forms are even harder and should be filled in with the help of a welfare advisor so you tick the right boxes, phrasing can make a big difference!

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Getting over the side effects of withdrawing from Venlafaxine was easier than I expected, probably because I managed to make a good care plan, but also a dollop of good luck😉

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One of the tactics I used was a new craft project: handsewn patchwork. New…although I have very fond memories of sewing at middle school where a group of us gathered to sew at lunchtime…I used to be able to sew with either hand and can still sew in either direction, though I tend to sew right to left. Perhaps from the Jewish tailors in my grandfather’s family! I like to think so, I’m certainly a lot neater stitching by hand than by machine where art takes over😉

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I discovered just how relaxing it is to scroll through pages of fabric remnants on eBay, and how much less relaxing it is running through my budget at the end of the month to see if I can pay PA after rent day! EEK! I definitely have a slight problem there… the trouble is none of it is undirected, no buyer’s remorse, I love everything I chose and have projects for it all, I just need to regain my trust that other equally beautiful fabric will be available later… an abundance issue… not helped by that demoralising ESA form, or by friends being very busy, therapist away on training, chiropractor away on a visit etc etc but meanwhile any stress was easiest met by looking at all the lovely fabrics. I had a breakthrough when a search needed me to go via Pinterest and I finally opened an account there. Now I understand why friends find it so therapeutic! I can save all the lovely images there, and NOT on the watch list!

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There is recent research showing looking at beauty in nature or art is very healing/creates a very positive mindset*, so I comforted myself that at least I was filling my mind with lovely ideas, and as long as I actually made/completed things, all would be well – trust the process!

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So finishing my first project has been great, and then having to choose between 3 new projects less so, but getting settled into the next one has been lovely.

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And then yesterday I started seeing lots of possibilities for integrating these very beautiful, very finished fabrics into mixed media collages. They could start with a quilted or patchwork base and then free form out with feathers, beads, my usual ‘more is more’ embellishment approach ;)  I’ve always found it very hard to integrate large patches of very finished cloth or paper into my collages, it seems like stealing or relying on other’s skills, appropriationist… but I am starting to see how the art of the quilter is to harness and enhance and balance those different forces, to make a cohesive whole out of those wild horses, pulling in all directions…One of the reasons I have bought so much I suspect is that my stash was of fabrics still too strong for me to tame😉 It will be much easier to start with florals, paisleys/botehs**  and abstract tie-dyes than very stylized/design heavy pieces covered with another artist’s stamp…

Meanwhile Nonie has no problems expressing dominance😉 I should take notes!

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gold lining

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I’ve been having a lot of luck recently – bad luck with med change and detaching my knee cap from its tracking [ow!] but also good luck with crafting supplies. I mentioned to Cherise the quilt I admire [Passecaglia, drool] but could never make because it takes an immense amount of cutting out, not just ordinary or frugal quilting where you trim, but ‘fussy cutting’ where you find particularly pleasing parts of the design and centre your template on them. You don’t have to waste the rest of the fabric, but you often cut in a long way to get a small piece, several times, and that becomes a lot of repetitive strain if you’re susceptible, which I now am. There are amazing cutter gadgets you can get, but they start at £100, which is a lot to pay when l’m not sure how much it would get used.

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A few hours later, Cherise messaged me that a local crafters Facebook group had a secondhand Sizzix Plus on offer for £25!! I immediately messaged the seller and she kindly dropped it off the next day – happy dance! Now this was the weekend before Xmas, and I knew I’d need cutters as the seller was upgrading, not abandoning making. The mangle bit is fed a sandwich of cutting buffer sheets, a VERY SHARP cutter in the shapes you want – and for paper, some of these are amazingly complex – and the paper, card or fabric. So I betook myself to the tintanet and with Cherise’s expert help [she used to do classroom support at a crafting place] chose hexagon cutters for the paper templates and separate ones for fabric.. and then, cos, well, they’re amazing, I got these:

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to make pretties with:)

They all arrived before Xmas, and when Cherise could show me how to use them! So I was all set up for my quilty retreat, I’d found free downloadable graphpaper for hexagon quilting and we printed off a dozen sheets.

http://incompetech.com/graphpaper/triangle/

the link takes you to triangles, but they offer music paper etc.

The fabric company I buy from regularly gave me a £10 voucher for my birthday, and the parcel had been delayed, due to lazy or stressed delivery peeps ignoring the directions [access via is a BIG clue when you can’t find the address on the top line, sigh] but I had finally collected it without the delivery card [takes soooo much proof when they put the postcard somewhere you can’t get it!] so, I was all set!

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but when I was buying the hexie cutter, I saw this charm pack, a set of 30 different fabrics in 10cm squares, and suddenly I wanted to make a quilt based on the the cloisonne/ Kona Bay style Japanese fabrics…

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drool!

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Perhaps because I painted in a very abstract style, I’ve always had a ‘guilty pleasure’ feeling about liking this style so much… I don’t wear jewellery now except my wedding ring and a jade necklace Andy gave me, but when I had my ear pierced I wore enamel star and moons in this style…

So, by now I was feeling very abundant with this feast of good luck and good timing, and an exciting new project, but it kept rolling! For the first time I went on eBay, and found some lovely fabrics in this style, and even tentatively placed bids [ what, with no adult to supervise?!]  which promptly won! One of the colours was way out, it showed black and arrived green, but that’s screen resolution for you, one of the photos I took of it reads black. Anyway, at a quarter of the normal price, not a problem:)

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All three parcels, even the one from Thailand arrived on New Years Eve, which was a lovely sunny morning here, and I had the loveliest time stacking the fabrics for tone and colour matching, and feasting on all that gold lining…

 

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Yes, more than a silver lining in my clouds, I have gold, kintsugi.

I have a cracked knee that hurts like you wouldn’t believe, because it has triggered a neuralgia/sciatica ‘burning wire being dragged through my leg’ pain, but I also have a pile of 105 hexagons, cut in 25 minutes with effortless ease… and paper patterns to colour in and plan …and finding a way to make things easier builds hope that there may be other bits of luck just waiting around the corner…

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and the best way to help painkillers to work is to find a distraction, and so… they are..

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self centered – a story quilt

I have been collecting fabrics for a year now, knowing that one day l would make another quilt. I still haven’t finished the random plank top, but I made the Trans-ally quilt back in the summer [ see here https://singingbirdartist.wordpress.com/2015/05/16/flag-waving/ ] and that feeling of enjoying what I was making, while wanting to break away into a new project was hovering then. Working to such a tight [self imposed] deadline tired me out of course, but everything comes round, and while I have been thinking a lot about mandalas over autumn, the idea of a crazy/crazed quilt crept back in too.

What has surprised me is that as I looked through all my fabrics, and chose colour sequences, ideas for elements of a story quilt have suggested themselves… The medication situation and this stage of chronic illness seem to be pushing me to a re-evaluation, so I’m choosing to go with it, and trust the process. I’m making 30cm/12″ squares on calico backing and may make a wall hanging, book or just keep them in a box for me, but having a project is helping me deal with the meds ‘side’ effects until I can come off them and go back on Citalopram, fingers crossed!

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This block is called Spin, and I had plenty of flowers and mandalas to choose from, but the matrioschkas demanded some attention… I like the idea and beautiful objects that matrioschkas are, but I also find something sinister/anxiety provoking about them, the little daughters trapped inside the mother unless she allows them out…that’s maybe not a thought you’ve had about them, unless your mother was very controlling. My mother wanted me to go to the same University college and study the same course, living in the same residential halls… omg! Apart from some pretty obvious problems with this, it really screwed up my final years at school, as I wasn’t allowed to do the subjects I wanted, Art and Sociology, because they ‘didn’t fit’… WHOM?! I was allowed to do English with French and German, though my parents put me under a lot of pressure to take a science, or maths…

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I’m 51, and was brought up in a small, rural, conservative country town, and my parents were actually quite radical, ran events for Anti-Apartheid and my father supported Palestinian rights…but the family dysfunction meant that my ability to stand up for myself and my vision of being an artist was really dented. So, I consciously chose overall survival, dropped art [partly because I wasn’t good at drawing, which back in the 70s was where art in schools was at😦 ] and worked hard at getting to University as a way of leaving home that would be sanctioned and even supported by my parents. I think I was attracted to all the fans in the Cache Cache fabric [main disc] because of all the hiding I’ve done in my life… it’s a very odd thought as though I wasn’t a tomboy, I was a feminist and have never played those ‘female’ [read society imposed] role games, so the thought of me fanning myself with demure downcast eyes is outlandishly amusing! The peacocks from Pousse Pousse stand for family pride and keeping a good face up [a fault I still have, one of the odd things about this med is how it makes me very ‘loose lipped’ and open, I can imagine some people on it end up in real trouble!]

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Hiding my need to leave by doing what was approved, was a strange stepping out of myself – unfortunately aided by being good enough at languages to be accepted at University – though fortunately not the one my mother wanted! I wanted to apply for English in the School of African Studies at Brighton, but of course that was squashed, and I was grudgingly allowed to apply for the School of European Studies. I was interviewed on my 18th birthday, by a tutor who informed me ‘everyone’ had studied Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, so my context would be on that – when I explained that not in Suffolk, they didn’t and could I have an extra 5 minutes to read the excerpt through, he sighed and said it wasn’t really fair on the other candidates [!!!] but let me, and I was given a BCC offer, which was low for Brighton.

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The tutor and the huge empty caverns of drained pools with no warning rails in the snow had left me rather unimpressed, so I chose otherwise, but the turnaround, the ‘spinning on a sixpence’ that hypervigilance has made me so good at, really came out around this time… It has served me well, but all that turning to have the right face to the light, to be able to cope, to initially escape my family home and not rock their boat too much, to then keep on to the point where I could make freely, has been a strange skill for someone who prides herself on authenticity and integrity… but then, perhaps that’s why…

crazed but not broken

I’ve been feeling very odd – changing medications is no fun as many of you will know better than me. I have a history of either being absolutely fine and not minding ‘minor’ side effects or getting the most extreme, even life-threatening ones possible. An early experience with Duphaston that the dreadful GP refused to report lead me to be very wary of medication for nearly 20 years…

Then, for me, Citalopram has been nearly the best thing since sliced bread, and to be coming off it after 10 years was a little daunting. My lovely GP hoped Venlafaxine could help with the ‘phantom’ pain fibromyalgia creates and help me use less painkillers and maybe gain more mobility, and also as my mood has been understandably but increasingly low as the fibro has got worse, maybe help more than the maximum dose of Citalopram could. She wanted me to start before she left, and helped me by setting a smooth transition with no tapering [as recommended by consultants] and l’ve now taken Venlafaxine for 4 weeks.

At first it was fine, just a very dry mouth, but drinking extra was easy enough, though by the time l started craving ready salted crisps, it occurred to me that yes, you can drink too much… the lovely chiropractor reminded me to take care of my electrolyte balance as he could see and feel the difference when I went in this week. A friend cooked me a lovely lndian meal including dahl, which confused things a little, as legumes now give me gripey wind, so when l saw my ‘new’ GP I was clear I felt wretched, but wasn’t sure how to separate some of the symptoms out. She briskly told me it was too soon to tell [hmm, 3weeks+ ??] and would see me in early January meanwhile here’s another prescription. I left feeling disgruntled on top of feeling sea sick and on heavy ‘amplification effect’, a most disagreeable fibro symptom where you feel like all noises are TOO loud, all smells are chokingly invasive, everything is clashing with everything else…on top of sea sickness, it’s a peach…

The surgery/practice I go to is patient-centred by ethos, so I am planning to go see a different GP should this one remain brisk/ unhelpful/ dismissive when I go back, if it wasn’t heading for xmas [what, it’s still November?!] I would try to fight for another appointment, and I will definitely be more prepared to argue my corner. An inbox conversation with a friend in London really helped clarify some of what is bothering me, and luckily I went from the doctor to my therapist, so we worked on it there too.

 

Meanwhile, I have been struggling with no immediately engaging artwork around to help me focus and cope, and failing to make much at all as being too nauseous to eat enough to take the painkillers means there’s extra pain on top of all the other symptoms.

Creativity is the singing bird for me, and the tree feels very lonely without her… not all of this is because of the meds, some is because I have been ill now for 6 years and made many changes to my lifestyle, more meds, more help, more pacing, less everything else, from showers to walking, to seeing friends, all while dealing with bereavement and losing not just my allotment, but my ability to garden, and moving from being a painter to a mixed media/ fibre artist, because of damage to my collarbones. That’s a lot, and inevitably there are times when it feels like too much…but lately with the accumulated tiredness from living in a country currently run by entitled sociopaths who are draining money from democratic infrastructure like the NHS and National Insurance benefits, mostly for their own pockets, but also to fund missiles that can never be used… oh, my…that’s way too much…

Another week of feeling sea sick and resting/ lying flat and leaving my face on the floor [instead of keeping it up and smiling!] and being gloomy as all get out, has passed, and gradually the space made by letting all that gripe out has started to allow some more positive thoughts to hang around. I even managed to make some software help me [techno fool win!!] and start rebuilding my lost list of over 200 blogs/resources I used to have on my dead laptop. It has really helped, deciding that Venlafaxine is not for me and that going back to Citalopram is not perfect but will be a lot better than this, if I can also structure in some more…something? Acknowledgement of how hard chronic illness is? Not sure…

What has come to me so far is this, the affirmation that however damaged we may feel, we still have value, all the ones being Westminstered to death and painted as the problem in the media, we are treasure houses of experience and human in ways the pretenders are too frightened to acknowledge.

I’m researching around kintsugi again, and think this will be the key to a new direction or piece of work… my life/ sense of self/ sense of possibility has been shrinking and something wants to fight back…

We are strong in the broken places, we know how to live well, we know what matters, we can be the gold that illuminates…

Kintsugi

the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique. As a philosophy it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. [Wikipedia]

Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated… a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin….Mushin is often literally translated as “no mind,” but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions. …The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject. This poignancy or aesthetic of existence has been known in Japan as mono no aware, a compassionate sensitivity, or perhaps identification with, [things] outside oneself.
— Christy Bartlett, Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics

 

 

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