Entries in sewing (6)

Wednesday
May302012

woman's work *

It's been an unusually domestic week - mostly because the sun suddenly came out and my strongest wish was to sit quietly outside watching the fishermen cast and reel on the lake or listening to the radio in the shade of a tree. Both provided the perfect accompaniment to sewing.

First, I stitched up some little stones for Jude's project. I loved the process of setting the pleasingly imperfect stone shapes onto tiny squares of linen and could have carried on for ages. Only the thought of Jude's heart sinking as she gazed upon mountains of my stones made me stop. But I'm working up a whole pile more to incorporate into my own project. Or two. Honestly, they're addictive and perfect for impromptu stitching. Then I tried a little freehand embroidery but the heat sapped any creativity and I set aside my hoop with not a little irritation.

So it was that I gave in and got domestic. I cut down some outgrown patchwork trousers to shorts for Joel and then spent a frustratingly long while unpicking the excellent stitching that held all the separate patches together. Still, I now have a tantalising stack of colourful squares to work into a floor cushion or rug for his room. I finally patched up the pockets on my favourite 'hot evening at home' Antik Batik kaftan. I sewed swimming badges onto Joel's pool towel. I even fixed the hems on John's cricket trousers such was the domestic goodness of my heart. And remembering Anja's beautiful checks, I cut and hemmed up some extra large gingham napkins to use on picnics. Oddly satisfying; all of it. 

Though the tranquillity of sitting happily outside in the heat contrasted uneasily with the sense of dread that always accompanies the bowel-shifting grind of the low flying chinooks that are busy in the sky this week. There is something about the simple, homely sewing that I'm doing now that makes me think of all those women - stitching, mending, running a home - in places and circumstances where tranquillity is a distant memory. And thinking about them doing their best in intolerable situations, I feel - yes - gratitude for my quiet days but also such impotent outrage for the too many lives that are far from ordinary.

* Kate

Saturday
Oct152011

make do and mend

Susan Collis 'Made by work' 2001 Royal College of Art, MA Sculpture show

Seeing Karen Barbé's glorious fantasy darning of a favourite dress unexpectedly ripped, I was reminded of this degree show piece, consisting of a pair of dungarees with repair work and bleach marks. I remember coming around the corner, in a bit of a hurry and full of the itchy irritation I sometimes get at the shows, and looking around to see where the exhibit was. Then I realised those old dungarees were it and I smiled. They reminded me of the tenderly mended clothing I've sometimes unearthed during my years of trawling flea markets and vintage shops: aprons, work shirts, nightwear, jackets. I love the old and frayed and patched. I like an object to be a little imperfect. And there is something about the utility of darning that moves me, perhaps because it reminds me of my grandmother. She wasn't a keen sewer but she could darn beautifully; a skill she learned during those years of necessity in the second world war when everything was in short supply.

As I rue the lack of wearable autumn clothes in my wardrobe (moths have holed both jersey and wool) I'm thinking of re-purposing instead of replacing. I love the descriptions in E F Benson's Mapp and Lucia books of competitive dress alterations: roses cut from a curtain and sewn onto an old dress to revamp and evoke jealousy or a judicious re-dye and re-collar. 

In that spirit, I'll try adding lace to the neck of a sweater that's starting to fray, and perhaps I can transform those moth holes into something more agreeable. I've discovered this cunning new moth-patching product and it looks fun as well as being practical. For those worn out elbows (I just can't shake the elbow on the table lean -I'm doing it now!) I like this lovely take on the patched elbow: a pretty solution and the chance to learn to crochet while I'm at it.  And, of course, there is Karen's superb tutorial on making lovely patches that adorn rather than simply disguise. Thriftiness can be fun!    

Thursday
Sep222011

a song of love and loss

Absent-mindedly stitching onto a little square of linen this afternoon, I found myself incanting one of my favourite poems, 'Donal Og'. A centuries old poem of Irish origin and uncertain date, I first heard it read by Seamus Heaney at a reading to celebrate the publication of The Rattle Bag. Sadly, it was shortly before Ted Hughes died, and he was too ill to attend. Heaney concluded the evening by reading this poem on behalf of Hughes, for whom it held a powerful, personal resonance. 

I've read the poem so many times I know most of it by heart. But it's never my voice that I hear. Often it's the voice of a young, Irish girl; sometimes Heaney's gentle murmur. But mostly, I hear the deep, doleful crack of Hughes' voice, making the lines ring.

Donal Og

It is late last night the dog was speaking of you;

the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.

It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;

and that you may be without a mate until you find me.

 

You promised me, and you said a lie to me,

that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;

I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,

and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.

 

You promised me a thing that was hard for you,

a ship of gold under a silver mast;

twelve towns with a market in all of them,

and a fine white court by the side of the sea.

 

You promised me a thing that is not possible,

that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;

that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird;

and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.

 

When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness,

I sit down and I go through my trouble;

when I see the world and do not see my boy,

he that has an amber shade in his hair.

 

It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you;

the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday.

And myself on my knees reading the Passion;

and my two eyes giving love to you for ever.

 

My mother said to me not to be talking with you today,

or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;

it was a bad time she took for telling me that;

it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

 

My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,

or as the black coal that is on the smith's forge;

or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;

it was you put that darkness over my life.

 

You have taken the east from me; you have taken the west from

    me;

you have taken what is before me and what is behind me;

you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me;

and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!

 

Anon. from the 8th century Irish (trans. Lady Augusta Gregory) from

The Rattle Bag ed. Heaney & Hughes, (Faber & Faber 1982)

Friday
Jun172011

desperate measures

Looking onto a steel grey sky with rain pouring straight down and heavy, it seems I need to take matters into my own hands. Gardening being central to our lives, we are friends of rain. We appreciate that each day the world is getting greener. But precious, life affirming blooms are also being defeated and bent sadly towards the ground they spent so much time getting clear of.

So it's out with the secateurs and in with the blooms. A bunch of ludicrously blowsy but delicately fragrant peonies. A few darkly red, modestly proportioned roses that fill a room with their rich perfume by the evening. And last night John brought back the first, intensely fragrant sweet peas. Some have evolved into a particularly attention-seeking neon coral that doesn't seem quite the thing, but for their scent and brightness in the gloom I'll forgive them anything.

I'm also peppering my notebooks with flowers, even digging out the watercolours, inspired by brand new but long lost brushes I found tucked down the back of the desk. Something like this perhaps? And I still have Emin's embroidered flowers urging me to get back to stitching. I have the fabric, the ideas and the thread and, from next week, a little more time.

So, I've determined it will be summer inside if I can't have the real thing. I'll pretend the blazing wood burner is actually a summer campfire and sing along with Minnie (although I'll probably have a bit of a distracted cough when it comes to the difficult up and down bits.)  

Wednesday
May252011

big smoke

I stepped onto London's South Bank to find myself at the seaside. Beach-huts, bunting, even a strip of sand. A very short strip - not quite the Paris city beach experience. Enough for a toddler or two, but not a sun lounger. Anyway. There was a general perkiness about the place; perhaps we were temporarily stunned by the colour scattered amongst the brutalist architecture, and by seeing both sun and blue sky for the first time in a while. 

After lunch with a friend I haven't seen in too long a time, I headed to the Hayward Gallery to see the Tracey Emin exhibition Love is What You Want. It steps away from many of the infamous pieces that have been featured so frequently and instead shows quieter, more crafted but still acutely personal works. What I returned to over and again were the large-scale sewn drawings. The juxtaposition of the beautifully finished stitching with the aching acuity of the emotions the drawings described, gave the pieces a real power. Worked onto fine, cool, vintage sheeting or blankets, some were given an unexpected, vivid and lovely scattering of applique flowers that I longed to try at home.

I found myself thinking of them in the context of the generations of women for whom sewing was, variously, a means of making a living; a solace; a necessary social skill. And I wondered at the emotions that were stitched into the fabrics I sometimes find discarded in thrift shops, or gaze at in awe in museums. Emin acknowledges this tradition, and the role of craft in her work, in an interesting Radio 4 interview

Too soon, it was time to bolt for the station. And no matter how much I enjoy my days in London, I always love to catch the train away. I lived in London for several years and have so many memories associated with it. But now, when I come home to my little house, step through my gate and hear .... nothing, except birdsong, I feel - to quote Sinatra - that yes, it's so much nicer to come home.

 

Friday
May202011

spiral

 

At the end of a long phone call I realised my notepad was spilling over with spirals. Disturbingly so. I wouldn't want it to be seen by anyone with an interest in psychology, for instance. But the reason behind the obsessive drawing is completely pedestrian: I'm trying to gain control over my sewing-machine. And that means sewing spirals. 

Recently I took my first ever sewing course with the lovely Alice and Ginny, aimed at those of us who own a machine but, for whatever reason, have failed to use it. Simply being able to ask embarassingly basic questions, in a room full of women with similar problems, put behind me the horrors of school sewing from which - to my utter relief - I was banned for continuously mangling the bobbins. Instead I was to spend the hour in the library, all by myself.  The nearest thing to the perfect punishment for me, especially on summer days when I took my haul of books outside and lay beneath trees or drew warmth from the brick steps.

But back to spirals. With each turn I feel my grip on the fabric loosen and my certainty that the turn will be made smoothly increases. And so I find myself beginning to relax, and to enjoy. And feel compelled to reward myself with yet another book full of projects to sew. But this time, I'm confident that some of those projects will actually get made.