Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Being authentic

Recently I read this article and it resonated with me. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that my working practice has changed a lot over the past year or so. Or rather, many aspects have reverted to where I started years ago with old and repurposed cloth and hand stitching. I have rediscovered the pleasure of holding work in my two hands rather than using my sewing machine. Which ever way I look at it though, I have been experimenting, rediscovering old habits and discovering new ones. But I don't want to flounder around and I want my practice to be satisfying.

So as it's roughly a year since I turned at a crossroads (perhaps it was more a T junction, or a fork in the road), it seems like a good time to review 'where I'm to' as they say here in Somerset. So the article came along at the right time. Funny how that happens. After reading it,I made a list of the concepts I find important.

Authentic voice
Fluidity of practice
Being true to myself

But first let me back up a bit.

Around two years ago, I finished a series called Evolution - a Brief History of the Universe from the Big Bang to the Present Day. You can see the pieces here. The techniques I used, mostly with commercial fabrics and some of my own procion hand dyes were stitch and flip, fabric collage, confetti, a LOT of machine top stitching and free machine quilting, some hand stitch, lots of surface embellishment with silk waste, angelina fibres, sheer overlays, fabric confetti, beads etc, all designed and assembled using a technique I developed based on quilt as you go. That's a long list and the pieces reflect that. They are rich and vibrant and they tell a story. Whenever I exhibit them or give my talk based upon them, they are admired. I still take bookings for the workshop teaching people to make their own version. I am proud of them, I feel they are an impressive body of work.

Supernova from the series Evolution - A Brief History of the Universe from the Big Bang to the Present Day
 But finishing the series made me feel that I had 'done' all the techniques I learned and developed in the making of them. I don't want to do that stuff anymore. The series was a huge undertaking involving a lot of learning and research on the subject matter (after all, my inspiration was literally EVERYTHING) and I think it exhausted me, not physically but creatively. I made a couple more pieces for juried exhibitions which are now touring with SAQA Europe and the Contemporary Group of the Quilters Guild.

Pahoehoe - touring with the On The Edge exhibition
with the Contemporary Quilt Group of the
Quilters Guild of the British Isles

But I wanted a change. My home is full of my work. It covers the walls in all the rooms. There is older work rolled up under the bed. I have been very prolific. I wanted to take a more process-focused, considered approach. I wanted to return to my first love, hand stitching. Years ago, all my traditional quilts were hand pieced and hand quilted. Before I was lured by the possibilities of the sewing machine. I used to hand embroider, do English Paper Piecing and crazy patchwork. Now there is nothing wrong with the sewing machine or the work it produces. Teaching myself to do freehand machine quilting gave me a huge boost creatively. I didn't believe I was artistic, didn't think I could draw until I learned to 'draw' with the sewing machine needle. It is a great skill to have and has given me countless hours of pleasure. But over the past year or so, I have felt the need to slow down. Perhaps it's since I reached my half century? Who knows!

Anyway, to review I thought it would be good to itemise the things I wish to focus on, so I don't get distracted or diverted, so here goes. These are the practical how and whats. I don't think it suits me to specify a style or voice. Hopefully that will come through. I plan to review later, in the light of my list at the top.


Repurposed or vintage cloth wherever possible
Vintage threads ditto
Vintage lace ditto
All the above to be natural fibres
Modify my exisiting commercial fabrics and threads by overdyeing or 'ageing' with tea
Found objects, rust, plant materials for printing and dyeing

NB carefully consider purchases and consumption of new materials

Vintage cotton and linen - charity shop finds

Selection of vintage and naturally dyed threads


Eco printing and natural dyeing with rust, kitchen waste and plant materials.
Hand stitching (more below)
Working with nature eg the Cloth Cache project (see earlier posts)
Making 'useful' items as well as art pieces

Recycled cloth dyed with brown onion skins

That's a short list of techniques with some broad categories on it. I need to give more thought to how I want to work within those parameters.

It is a perpetual temptation to try new things and I have fallen foul of this in the past. But referring back to the article mentioned at the beginning, it can be a block to creativity I think. So I am going to make another list of the things I am currently doing and be ruthless about what I want to keep and what will side-lined for now. I'll come back to that. xx

Rust printed scrap of old linen stitched into a piece of wool blanket

Eco prints on silk and wool

Japanese boro inspired sample from recycled denim

Commercial fabrics 'aged' with walnut ink (thanks Nikki!)


  1. Beautiful heartfelt post. These are thoughts also swirling through my thinking and processes. I love the way you have itemised the materials and techniques ...keeping focus... put it out there

  2. Thank you Kathryn. It does my heart good to say it here and hear an echo. Especially from my namesake. xx

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