Category Archives: photographs

Quilt: a wine tasting in Italy

In May I went to a workshop in Italy, run by Tania Katan and Angela Ellsworth. It was a mix of meditation, writing and visual arts, centred around themes of topography, memory, and sensory perception: the Topography of Memory, at Spannocchia

As part of the week, we had a wine tasting for the wines produced on the Spannocchia Estate – the grapes are grown, harvested, made into wine, bottled – all on the Estate.

There were eight of us, a magical week of shared experiences and creative impulse, that I will not describe here. This post is about the quilt that I made, starting at the wine tasting.

We tasted red, rose, white – which was palest yellow – the golden fortified and clear grappa. Five colours, five textures – each liquid having its own unique viscosity and each glass type a smooth but differentiated touch against the lips. There were five sets of perfumes, not a single aroma from each wine, but a whole range which we tried to identify from the wine tasting wheels with their strange and vivid descriptions – fungal bubble-gum fruit… And the sounds – of wine trickling into glasses, of laughter and delight as we tasted, of the rims of the glasses sounding, sounding echoing, fuzzing across the room, against the touch of our fingers. We made music.

As we completed the tasting, I noticed that the glasses scattered across the table, each with a trace of wine left were sometimes quite random, but starting to form patterns. I started to form the glasses into a quilt – red, pink, white, amber, clear, pink, white, amber, clear, red…

I became… slightly obsessed… with the idea of a quilt. When I returned to the UK, I started to draw and paint the experience.

4 sketches: trad-style concept for the quilt, wine glasses vibrating from above, glasses set out in pattern, with calculations, and 8 women vibrating wine glasses

 

Concept sketch – yin-yang of the group and the wine.

 

Next, I went and looked at fabric. I needed something that would proxy the translucent nature of the wine and glass, and the echoes and vibrations of glass music, and the interactions between us.

I found net. I have not worked with net before, so I bought some lengths in red, pink, pale yellow, white to work with. I found that layering the net produced iridescences and merged colours that were very interesting.

2 photos of net overlays

My ideas for the quilt started to change because of the nature of the net itself. I envisioned overlapping the pieces more, and more randomly, than I had at first thought. The quilt needed to be a little wild, a little uncontrolled. It needed to reflect that there are 8 of us, one group, 8 individuals, and within that duos, triples, quartets, sextets, in all the permutations. It needed to be public and private – shared and hidden. It needed to be delicate, graceful, vulnerable to harm, easy to damage, easy to repair. Loosely assembled, yet strong together or apart.

I had net – red, amber, pink, yellow – but nothing for the grappa, nothing for a background. Then, I found more fabric at another store on the remnants table. A clear pale mauve chiffon for the grappa. A white, double sided silky or mat fabric for the background. An Italian style tapestry possibly for the background. I started… experimentally. I cut out circles of the net and started to overlay them.

3 photos of Swatches, cottons, circles and tapestry

Then I realised what I needed: for each person, a white square. For each white square, 8 red, 8 pink, 8 yellow, 8 mauve and 8 orange circles – for the drinks. And 1 white net circle for the tasting wheel. I realised I wanted to quilt the squares as separate pieces and join them together – but maybe not permanently. I realised the tapestry fabric was too heavy – I needed a neutral gauzy fabric for the background. I found a grey scarf in the charity shop, just right for the background. I found some grey satin in my fabric bag for the back of the squares. I got some quilt wadding. I also had 8 colours of sewing thread. I started cutting and arranging. I cut all the circles and the white square, and I arranged and sewed the circles to the squares. Half the squares are shiny-side-up and half are mat-side-up. Each arrangement is semi-random, and unique.

4 Photos: starting to set out a set, starting to quilt one of the backs of the squares, a set laid out for pinning and sewing, and ribbon and bead colours

Then, I cut the eight grey satin squares, and eight pieces of wadding, and quilted the satin to the wadding by hand. On each square, I used the 8 different colour threads, but I focused a different colour on each. Each design is different, each has some reference to the week. All are curved, hand-stitched quilting.

Then, I had to decide how to join it all together. And I realised, it needed to by joined in a way that it could be joined, taken apart, re-joined in a different order. That the net side or the quilt side could be front or back (tho’ I think of the quilts as more hidden). So, the answer was – ribbons and beads.  I got some ribbons of 4 different colours. I had some large beads. And, at the Birmingham Festival of Quilts there was a stand selling Italian buttons and beads. I could buy a set of cloth beads in colours to fit with the quilt.

Now, I was ready to join the back of the squares to the front of the squares. I used a different colour thread for each set, and blanket stitch. I inserted ribbon at each corner, alternate loop and tags.

I sewed by hand again – I knew machine sewing was wrong for this project – too violent, too mechanical, too certain.

As I finished each square I set it on the grey scarf, uncertain where this was going next.

Photo: Starting to lay out the pieces

Once I had finished the squares, I tied the ribbons together, so the eight were joined. Then I had to work out how to attach them to the background. I played around with the ribbons and beads, and eventually set is out with 4 large silk beads each with 2 colours of ribbons down the centre of the grey scarf. This stands for the 4 groups of 2 – we shared rooms in pairs. The eight quilted squares join in pairs to these four., Then more smaller beads are sewn on around the scarf, so the quilt squares also tie to them. They can be untied and moved around, whenever.

NB: the tapestry will get used for cushions or curtains.

The finished wall hanging of quilted and tied pieces: the pieces are designed to be tied and untied, so on can keep rearranging, decide which side to display, and so on.

2 photos: arrangements of the tied quilt

A wonderful, magical week, a wonderful magical afternoon, a beautiful group to be with. The quilt can never be finished, because you take it apart, and make it again. (I originally typed “take it about” and that is true too – it is light and portable, and I will take it to visit my companions from the workshop this autumn).

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Quilt: a journey through Europe by train

In autumn 2016, I travelled by train from Budapest to Stockholm, via Hamburg and the ferry. This is an exciting journey, passing through so many places of historical interest, and such varied landscape. But, it is also exciting because the train from Hamburg to Copenhagen goes on the ferry – they drive the train onto the ferry, with you on board, and then off the ferry on the other side of the water. I love long train journeys. I love to go from one end of the line to another.

This quilt celebrates that journey: the colours of birch woods and autumn leaves, dense woodland, rocks, cities and water streaking past the windows of the train.

The first part of the route is a train from Budapest to Hamburg.  This train was a delight. Old fashioned compartments and a dining car. I had the company of a group of Hungarian lads on their way to Prague for the weekend. They leapt on the train at the last minute before it left Budapest, opened up their packed food and ate continuously all the way to Prague. They did not stop eating! The capacity of youth for food!

At Hamburg, I left the train and met my brother who joined me for the second part of the journey – especially to experience the train on the ferry between Puttgarten & Rødby.  He is keen on trains so had a great time photographing all the different trains, on all the platforms, on all the stations…  and we talked, and talked, and talked… The capacity of middle-age for conversation!

We spent the night in a hotel, and got the train to Copenhagen next morning.  Through countryside, and then we drew into the station Puttgarden to await the ferry to Rødby. My brother took photos of the train, the train driver, the view through the train driver’s window, us on the platform, on the train, by the train, of the ferry as it came in…  The excitement of being on a train pulling onto the lorry deck of a ferry cannot be overestimated – it was brilliant! Once the train was parked in the lorry deck of the ferry – on its own rails – everyone got off the train and onto the deck to enjoy the sea crossing.

It was a beautiful day, the sun sparkling on the water and the gulls wheeling above. The colours of the world had changed from orange, russet and gold to blue, silver and grey. As the ferry drew into dock, all the train passengers had to rush down to the lorry deck and get back on the train before docking, as it sets off as soon as the front of the ferry opens.

In Copenhagen we changed trains, and again crossed water, this time via the ØRESUND BRIDGE and then north through gathering darkness to Stockholm.

I took numerous pictures, but the ones that most evoke the journey for me and which are the source shots for the quilt are the slightly blurred landscapes. Here are some of the inspiration pictures for the quilt.

I made a preliminary sketch based on these impressions and memories.

sketch

The key inspiration was the way that – from the point of view of the passenger – the landscape rushes past the window, becoming smaller as it moves away. The colours of autumn and water streak past horizontally, while the trees and their reflections make strong vertical lines – especially the birch trees, strong yet delicate.

I gathered fabrics in colours that matched the autumn and water, and started to play, plaiting, rouching and manipulating the fabric, experimenting, sewing and unpicking. Gathering, and gathering.

Eventually a theme started to emerge, but I was sketching with fabric – I did not know where it was going to end. The photos below show some stages I went through.

I’ve used the material itself and folds to indicate waves on the sea, and folds in the landscape – from the furrows in ploughed fields to the roll of hills and sides of mountains.

As I manipulated the fabric, the ideas for how to express the quilt’s theme changed. The essentials of horizontal lines moving to a point to give left to right movement, punctuated by the horizontals to represent birch trees remained, but the colour, texture and draping qualities of the various fabrics affected how I could use them.

Eventually I stopped pinning and tacking, and went to the sewing machine – I had to commit to this or it would never happen.

I spent a couple of days sewing with the machine, pulling the fabric around, adding details, joining fabric pieces, overlapping, pleating, rouching and running quilting stitches over the surface – pale vertical stitching to indicate trees, and blue horizontal stitches for water and wind.

And is this the finished quilt?

finished

It is as far as I can bring it at present. As ever I am dis-satisfied, but it has some aspects that I am pleased with. It does feel vertiginous, it make you feel a little dizzy to look at, so there is some sensation of speed. The folds of the cloth do indicate the folds of the landscape and waves on the sea. Probably, I would like it to be longer horizontally and smaller vertically. But there are some ideas I can reuse.

An autumn train journey across Europe from Budapest to Stockholm

via Bratislava, Prague, Berlin, Hamburg, Lübeck, Puttgarden, Rødby, Copenhagen, Malmö, and Linköping.

Woods and fields, trees and rocks, sea and ships, towns and cities.

Thank you to the HUSTEF, UCAAT and EuroSTAR conferences in 2016, whose choices – of date, city, and myself as one of the speakers – meant that I had to make the journey between Budapest and Stockholm, and could choose to make it by train and not plane!

When planning this trip, I consulted “The Man in Seat 61” and I recommend him if you want to plan or dream a train trip anywhere in the world!

Picture Quilt: a visit to the Bass Rock

Bass Rock from North Berwick Beach

Bass Rock from the shore

Earlier this year, I went with my pal John to visit the Bass Rock and look at the Gannet Colony. We went out by boat, on the Sula. As you approach the Rock, it looks white, then like velvet, ad then you see a cloud around it, like the electrons around the nucleus of an atom – if there is an atom with ten’s of thousands of electrons in its cloud. As you get closer, these resolve into thousands of gannets nesting on the rock and thousands more flying around it. John had recommended that I wore a hat. I’m glad I did.

On the boat, it looks smoother than it was

On the boat to Bass Rock

On the boat approaching the Bass RockHere is the view from the boat. I was finding it hard to stay upright. The sea was roughish, for a landlubber like me, and there was lots to catch the attention; puffins, seals, kittiwakes, gulls, gannets, the ever-changing sky and sea.

bass-rock-sketch-cropped

First sketch of the Bass Rock boat trip

The visit resulted in a design for and the execution of a picture quilt. I managed to work this on really quickly. I made a quick sketch of my impression of the rock and the boat trip:

I bought some materials in a fabric shop in Stirling, and sat on John’s dining room floor playing with the pieces. I had found materials in blacks, greys and blues, and in a range of textures and patterns that reflected the sea and sky colours, the white and black of the gannets, the specks of bright colour from swimming puffins, and the swirl and shift of the sea.  And then I played, pinned, stitched and altered. John showed me a website with a print of the Rock done in the 17th century; I was pleased to see the bird cloud.

first attempt at placing fabric to look like the rock and waves

Initial placement of fabric

Here is the first placement of fabric pieces: I had ruched some of the grey satin to give the idea of waves and billows, and also the black and gold material – a printed cotton in a pattern called flying cranes reminded me of the gannets, puffins and kittiwakes on and above the water around the boat. I used two shades of patterned grey to make the sides of the rock where the gannets nest. And the darker grey and black made the cliff on one side where the kittiwakes next. The top and side of the rock are white with birds and guano. Once I had placed those pieces, I started tacking them in place, and thinking about the eventual quilting. I used a piece of the black and gold to make the reverse of the quilt, and then a mix of hand and machine quilting to hold it together, indicating waves and bird flight paths.

work in progress - machine stitching part done

Bass Rock Quilt part way through machine quilting

Here is the quilt part way through machining it; you can see I have folded the backing to the front to make a border.

 

 

 

 

bass-rock-painting-crop

Watercolour pencil sketch of the Bass Rock

At this stage I also did another sketch, this time with watercolour pencils, to remind me of my initial vision.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, I stitched in the cloud of birds using pale grey running stitch in curves.

completed quilt, all hand stitching done to show the bird cloud

Bass Rock Quilt – completed

 

 

Here is the completed quilt, with hand stitching done, you can see the bird cloud around the rock, and the stormy, grey billows of the sea and foam.

photos for July, August and September

Here are three more photos of water and reflections that I have taken over the years.

9 September San Diego Harbour

July, San Diego San Diego Harbour: the banana boat leaves

July: Here is a photo which, although not taken on July, signifies July to me for its memories of heat and colour.  Taken during a software testing conference in San DIego, USA, this is a photo of the reflection of a banana boa and its pilot boat and tugs in the water of the harbour. A group of software testers, myself included, were watching the boat leaving with one person knowledgeably explaining what would happen and the direction the pilot would go. When the ship and pilot went in the opposite direction an unhappy cry of “but they have gone in the wrong direction” signified that this was indeed a group of software testers, who are of course, always right…

August, Bangkok Garden

Reflected petals, Bangkok Garden

August, and the heat and steaminess of Bangkok comes to mind, as well as the relief of cooler, scented shade, water, floating petals and reflections in a garden.

My visit to Bangkok I treasure for the fabric shops, where I bought yards and yards of silks and chiffon in bright and delicate colours, as well as vibrant printed cottons with goldfish, that became part of the big quilt project.

The heat, the smells, the noise: all startling. And here, quiet. I saw an enormous lizard, maybe a metre long. When the garden attendant saw me looking at it, he ushered me away. Then gardeners drove it out. It looked safe, but maybe it was dangerous.

 

11 November Australia

Stream near Meribula

September: Stream near Meribula, Australia.

The heat, the dust, and then this stream in woodland, clear water bubbling across the brown stones under spicy air of eucalyptus. A waterfall nearby, and then sudden rain, and a dash for shelter.

 

Photos for April, May and June

Here are three more of the photos featured on the website and blogs.

4 April NZ

Stream bed New Zealand April

I used a crop of this on the website, on the Learn with Isabel page.

Garden in Bangkok May

Garden in Bangkok May

6 June Australia

Shallow sea bed Australia June

This one I cropped into three sections and used on the website on the About, CV and Blog pages.

Photos used on my website and blogs

I have used several photos on the website and blogs as backgrounds and features photographs, often heavily cropped. These have come from photographs I took for a calendar. Here the January, February and March photos from the calendar.

1 January Worcester

Icicles January Worcester UK

2 February Worcester

Canal Edge February Worcester

3 March Worcester

Lake in the Park – March Worcester

As you can see, I am interested in light, water and reflections. I have used cropped versions of the February and March photos on my website on the Home and Connect pages.