Tag Archives: reflections

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!

Rebooting my life: the effect of attending GTAC2016

I’ve rebooted. I’m renewing myself; my self is new. I’m starting again. At 61, it’s time to embrace my next 50 years of productive, happy, useful and fulfilling life. Everything is up for grabs, anything is possible: work and play, friends and family, where I live, what I do, how I see myself and how others see me. Attending the GTAC conference in November 2016 has been a major part of that reboot.

This is part of my story. If I can get to GTAC and reboot, you can too. Application, Acceptance, Conference, Project.

Summary Haiku

Watch my feet dance now
In my new red pixie boots
Rocking a new tune.

         New found freedom scares
         And exhilarates me. I
         Reach out and kiss life.

                   Old white woman fears.
                   But she was wrong two ways: Young, 
                   not old. Not fearful.

                              GTAC wakes me up.
                              I hold my head up, standing
                              proud. I am ready, able.

                                        I hold my hand out.
                                        You take it willingly. Love
                                        and friendship always.

Application

  • A formal request to be considered for a position
  • Sustained effort
  • A program or piece of software

I subscribed to the Google Testing blog, and got an email which said that there would be a conference about test automation (GTAC 2016), and how to apply to go. I thought: that doesn’t mean me but I was waking up in my life, and wanted more than I was experiencing. Could I do this? Was I even allowed?

What’s the worst that could happen, when an old white woman applies for a diversity scholarship place at Google’s GTAC conference? That she gets laughed at? Go for it! Being an older woman in tech is not that unusual, but it does feel like being in a minority… And 61 is not old, it is the accumulation of decades in the industry, rich experience, and the knowledge there is more to learn.

So I applied, with the encouragement of friends. I was starting to think about the user experience and usability of testing tools, and how that needed to be addressed. I realised I had a story to tell, about myself, and about the user experience of tools. It took application, but I applied. The act of applying made me look at myself and my life. It made me think more clearly about the UX for test tools. I’d been thinking Someone needs to do something about this. Maybe that was – me.

After applying, I had to “forget” GTAC for a while. But I kept working at ideas around the user experience of test tools, attending the CREST workshop, following up on-line with research, writing a paper for UCAAT 2016. I discussed the ideas with other people, friends in the industry. I made an application to the Women in Innovation funding, for money to carry out a project during 2017 to research UX of test tools and develop UX guidelines for tools builders. The application was not successful, but the act of applying made me clarify my ideas some more, and the conversations with colleagues in the industry built my confidence. Something was beginning to happen… and it started with applying to GTAC2016.

Acceptance

  • The process or fact of being received as adequate, valid or suitable
  • The action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered
  • Willingness to tolerate a difficult situation

The day dawned that successful applicants for scholarships would be announced. I had told myself repeatedly not to expect success, so I was disappointed but not distraught when by close of business UK time I had not heard anything. But later that night I could not sleep and was on my laptop, working, surfing, thinking, worrying, self-criticising, when at 4am UK time an email arrived. I had been accepted. I leapt up, amazed, delighted, elated. I was accepted, validated. I accepted the place.

Between acceptance and the conference, in that space of time, my confidence start to grow and yet falter. Could I do this? Was I capable? Would I fit in? All the excitement and frisson of encountering the new was upon me. That delicious yet terrifying mix of anticipations, that urge caution and its opposite, that cause the heart to pound, and the adrenaline to surge.

And yet, amongst the congratulations and the excitement for me, there were those who were dismissive, who said that achieving the place and the scholarship was nothing, and that I would not succeed when I got to the conference. The naysayers and the draggers-down, with their grey and dreary negativity, trying to close around me. I learnt something about the people around me because of applying to and getting a scholarship for GTAC. I learnt who are my friends, who loves me for myself. And so it was that, shortly before GTAC, I walked away from my home and into the light of new possibilities. I started to meet new people, make new friends, present at new conferences.

Conference

  • A formal meeting of people with a shared interest

I’ve attended and spoken at several conferences this year: story-telling, user experience of test tools and quality in use. Some of these have gone very well, some less so, but each one provides me with lessons, about myself, how people perceive me, what I am capable of, what else I want to do and learn. I’ve learnt from others as well as teaching. At UCAAT in Budapest, I spoke about the user experience of test tools, and about human factors in test automation.

And so to GTAC2016. I arrive nervous, but quickly realise that all the scholarship recipients are in the same hotel and that I’m on the communal list that Joel and others have made – we are in this together! I make a post to my 5 Facebook friends about imposter syndrome, and then over lunch it turns out that the others have had the same thoughts. Am I an imposter? Do I belong? I am amazed – this group of young, vibrant, beautiful, intelligent, witty, accomplished, younger people accept me and they are also a little apprehensive! They are wiser than me in many ways, and I get good advice on networking, social media and smartphone apps…

We visit the LinkedIn offices and Olga is a great host, showing us around, sitting and chatting with us. We start to share experiences. It’s fascinating, hearing the similarities in what we experience. Also, I would like to work somewhere that has a meditation room. And we visit Stanford University. Pink fountains, wildly funny celebrations in music, dance and teddy-bear impalement of the upcoming match with Stanford’s big football rival (CalTech? I cannot remember, all other memories overshadowed by the sight of beefy football players attempting cheer-leading dances.)

In the evening, the reception at the Computing History Museum. Interesting place, but I become overcome with nerves, and my attempts at networking flounder. Thank you, Ari, for your intervention. I survived…

The conference itself, 2 days of great talks, with insights on the need for speed and value in test automation. Over and over, people talk about the need for improved usability and user experience for tools, to enable better productivity for engineers. I listen to people who have research results with evidence that points to how we can improve, to people who have solved practical problems to automate tests in diverse and challenging circumstances, who have succeeded in providing value and speed. I make notes till my hands hurt. My brain fills with ideas and sparkles.

In the evening, there is a funfair. It is worrying. People, noise, strange things to do. I do them anyway… I survive, I enjoy myself.

The highlight talk for me among so many great talks: Niranjan Tulpule gives a keynote where he talks about the democratisation of the development process. I am blown away. He is focused entirely on the need to widen the group of people who can engineers software successfully. He is talking about the drivers that made me think about the user experience of test tools. I start to think more, as he speaks. It is not just engineers who test. It is not just engineers who solve problems. The problems that need to be solved are not just engineering problems. If the tool set allows a wider range of people to engage, we are more likely to reflect the diversity of people in the world, and we’ll get software that solves people’s problems, allows them to work as they want, instead of building software that forces people to be like software.

I finish the conference elated. My brain is happily buzzing, and I want to take the next steps.

And I have learnt in these few days – you can out of your comfort zone and survive. Doing something that makes you look foolish is not as bad as doing nothing. At a conference, we have a lot in common. More than separates us across our diversity. I link to some of the others, and make Facebook friend requests – another small step into the world.

Project 

  • Enterprise that is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim
  • Estimate or forecast
  • Extend outwards beyond
  • Throw or cause to move forward

So what next? Where will I project myself? How do I move forward? I have two areas of work to explore. Story telling and TX: The tester experience of tools.

Storytelling project: I applied for and have been accepted on a story telling and art workshop in Italy 2017 run by Tania Katan and Angela Ellsworth (The Topography of Memory). This is so exciting! And, succeeding getting a place at GTAC was one factor in building my courage to apply. This blog is a piece of storytelling, as are the haiku that I wrote yesterday on a plane, reflecting on GTAC2016.

TX project: I will do a project on the tester experience of test tools. I made a small survey at a conference in Lisbon last week, to try out a tools usability questionnaire that I wrote. I am going to talk to several people about how to make this project happen. Watch out world: GTAC2016 has given me confidence, motivation and the will to make this happen.

Thank you GTAC2016: organisers, speakers, other attendees, fellow diversity scholarship winners: for being you, for welcoming me, for helping me reboot. With your kindness and friendship, I felt accepted, welcomed, enabled to learn and grow.

GTAC2017, London: looking forward to seeing you all again.

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.