Monday, 24 November 2014

The Woman Who Only Bought a Fat Quarter

It has become, I realise, something of a small, private ritual. And it has taken me many years of going to textile fairs, in particular The Festival of Quilts and The Knitting and Stitching Show, to recognise it as such.

A good excuse to show again the fabrics bought at this year's Festival of Quilts 

Hotel bed during the Festival of Quilts, 2013
Back in my hotel or bed-and-breakfast room, after a day - or two, or sometimes three - of fighting the slow-moving crowds to edge my way to the front of the queues around the various trader stands, buying fabrics and thread and stuffing them in my handbag and an increasing number of carrier bags as my feet and purse take a bashing, I take a few moments before going to bed - tired but buzzy-brained and perhaps after a few glasses of Shiraz - to lay my purchases out on the bed and review them. And more often than not, I photograph them as a group before I arrive back home and they disappear into various drawers, boxes and project bags and the excitement is dissipated.

Furnishing fabrics bought at the "festival fringe"

Sometimes I have spent hundreds of pounds in an orgy of fabric fever; sometimes it is just a few carefully selected necessities. Four years ago, in Harrogate for The Knitting and Stitching Show, my most roaringly successful buy was four remnants of homely furnishing fabrics from the upstairs rummage box in a small shop on the way to the station. They went on to take a starring role in my degree show installation.

Knitting and Stitching 2014: beads, a fat quarter and monofilament

This year, at Harrogate again where I was stewarding for the Prism exhibition, my bed-top selection was probably the smallest yet. My fabric shelves are already groaning and economic necessity played a part, but I also like to think I have become more sure in what I want and what I am most likely to use. Which is not to say that I can't surprise myself: I have acquired several packets of beads with two holes in each. Who knew such things existed? Well, not me. Plus a fat quarter (frugality comes into play again after several reckless years of "Oh, I'll have a couple of metres please") of a sky fabric to add to my collection, this one with dark clouds and lightning. And some monofilament thread as I'm running out.

Government war poster by H.M. Bateman 

I have often envisaged a Bateman cartoon along the lines of "The Woman Who Went to a Quilt Show and Didn't Buy Any Fabric".  (I show my age by assuming that everyone knows who Bateman was, but to quote Wikipedia: "H.M. Bateman was noted for his 'The Man Who' series of cartoons, featuring comically exaggerated reactions to usually minor upper-class gaffes, such as 'The Man Who Threw a Snowball at St Moritz'.") I hope never to commit such an unacceptable faux pas. So I will try a bit harder next year.

Monday, 17 November 2014

I only popped in to get my nails painted...

Bromley by Bow Centre, East London

It was going to be an average sort of weekend. When office colleagues enquired what my plans were, I replied (jokingly, so I hope no one took me too seriously) that I intended to watch daytime TV and drink gin. In truth, my plans for the long weekend were far more exciting: I was going to get my nails done (I'm a new and very enthusiastic fan of gel nails, so please don't judge me too harshly).

Instead, I found myself unexpectedly with a stall at a craft fair, chatting to interesting and very talented craftspeople outside the somewhat enclosed textiles world, watching Somali dancers, eating home-made Indian food, and marveling at dedicated artists who not only create beautiful (and justifiably expensive) work commercially, but share their talents by teaching and encouraging children and disadvantaged adults. I feel exhilarated, enriched and humbled.

How did this happen? Because while I was having my nails gelled a lovely deep grape on the Friday morning, someone was in the salon having her hair done in preparation for a private view that evening for open studios at the Bromley by Bow Centre, a community organisation in a deprived borough in East London. When she handed out flyers and asked if I was "interested in art", one thing led to another and before I knew it I'd been signed up to take on a spare stall at the accompanying craft fair for the Saturday and Sunday.

Paving project by Murude Mehmet with local children

That "someone" was Murude Mehmet, whose ceramic and mosaic work I recognised from various local projects and whose enthusiasm and outgoing energy is of the sort I yearn for. The community garden is enlivened by a beautiful circular tiled space she created with schoolchildren. At the other end of the scale, via Brian the mosaic snail for a primary school commission, is a dazzling golden-glazed bowl that would give the purchaser just £1 change from £1,000. ("I use the same type of gold as Grayson Perry.")

Sculptures by Paula Haughney in the community centre courtyard

Paula's elegant Bath stone  goose, which has quickly settled into its new home in my garden

Also among those opening their studios was the sculptor Paula Haughney, whose stone carvings of child-friendly but slightly unsettling frogs, rabbits, cats and dragons decorate the green courtyard oasis of the community centre and serve as outdoor seating. Among her other commissions, she has created seats and benches for St Katherine's Docks, near Tower Bridge, which I passed frequently and indeed sat on when I was working nearby. I was delighted when she took an interest in one of my brightest quilts - she has a red and yellow bedroom, apparently, so I took to her immediately - and we arranged a "swap". I am now the immensely proud owner of one of her stone bird carvings.

Dreamer: Sheenah McKinlay, stained glass composite

And then there was Sheenagh McKinlay, an artist in stained glass who not only makes a kind of collage, "composites" of salvaged antique shards and contemporary coloured glass, which has something in common with quilting using "found" fabrics and images, but like me has a love of, and fascination for, religious iconography without herself being an adherent of a particular faith. Oh how I longed to take one of her pieces home.

I was privileged to join such an exciting and worthwhile venture, if only briefly.

A temporary interloper