07 June 2014


We've had a run of lovely fine weather these last few days and, perversely, it's been a bit of a strain. Firstly because there always seems to be an obligation to be out and about when it's fine, at least in my mind; I put that down to having to catch up after working indoors for too many years. But secondly, and more currently, because the blackbirds have built a nest in our holly tree. Maybe it's because each of our three cats are black that the birds hadn't cottoned on to the fact that there were three potential killers around. So it has been totally nerve wracking  with the constant and exhausting alarm call of the male bird each time one of the cats goes out, adding to his burden of having to find food for the nestlings. Apart from some initial curiosity, including a half hearted and failed attempt to climb into the holly tree by one cat (ha, ha! it wasn't a bad choice on that score then), the cats have ignored the racket. The Mitten Cat continued to pursue her inexorable search for the perfect warm spot in the garden, mostly on next door's polished black granite slabs, and the Fluffy one just stretched out on the baked asphalt roofing of the other side's garage, as per usual. The little cat just slept indoors all day, recovering I think from a luffing by the look of her eye. None of this stopped the blackbird getting into a parental frenzy that put my nerves on edge so much that I had to seize the creatures and lock them indoors to be driven mad instead by their mewling to be released.

Just listening to the rain this morning has been, then, an interlude of great peace. It's stopped now, and so I think have the alarm calls. The fledgelings must have moved on to a neighbouring space.

Paws crossed.

04 June 2014

a family, a tree, a story

There is something very absorbing and meditative about making a quilt - the pleasure of choosing the fabrics, shifting colours and patterns around to get the right balance, the uncomplicated rhythm of sewing and quilting a simple design. This one was a special pleasure not only because it celebrates a birth, but because it has a story to tell. The design is taken from Cassandra Ellis's book "Quilt Love" and is inspired by "how a baby is a mix of both its parents as well as its grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins...".  Ideally the quilt would contain some old fabrics, but the new parents, both born overseas, travel light (and often), so most of the fabric had to be bought new and with consideration and purpose.

This was the quest. Mother is from Malaysia and observes Chinese festivals and culture so certain colours and shapes are symbolic. Father is from Martinique - his memories are of trees, the green hills, the sea. The challenge was to find patterns and colours that would reflect these elements and meld into a coherent tree of life. So we have red and gold for luck and wealth, green for health and harmony. There are lots of leaves, and those greens fabrics were also a reminder of the baby's grandmother and great grandmother. There are some puns - the seed heads, birds in the clouds and the bright orange fabric are all puns on the parents' surnames and the baby's forename. There is also a fabric designed by Spitalfields based textile designer Anna Maria Garthwaite to represent London where they live.

One of the things that surprises me about making quilts is that they develop a life of their own. You might start off with some ideas, but as you gather the fabrics what seemed to be quite fixed ideas shift and change leading to and all sorts of surprising outcomes. That orange for example - I love it, but would never have imagined it would be a choice I would have made. It's almost as if the quilt made the decision for me. Moreover you would have thought that after spending hours gathering, cutting, sewing, hand quilting and pressing that you might be reluctant to say goodbye to the finished object. Not a bit of it. Handing over your finished work to somebody else is the best bit of all.

Here's hoping baby Clementine enjoys the story.

(And this one's gone too! With love.)

03 June 2014

a life in frocks

That's me on the right with the spotty frock and the gappy smile. I would have been coming up for seven. My cousin is on the left. The name of the girl in the middle is a bit of a mystery- Linda? Barbara perhaps? It was her brother who had the camera and he took several photos on the that day, Procession Day, the day we paraded around Tower Hill, dressed in our long dresses and holding posies, the streamers of banners depicting the saints pressed between our gloved hands.  It was early summer and a big event in the social calendar. The kerbs were whitewashed in John Fisher Street and, with the exception of Thomas Moore Street which wound through the dock walls, there were temporary altars all along the route. Friends, families, neighbours, whatever their religion, would assemble to watch and afterwords there was a party atmosphere. Here we've changed into our Sunday best at the end of the day, though we still have our parade sandals on - I seem to remember being particularly jealous that my cousin had been allowed to wear kitten heels but the mum-made dress, well, that was a pearl.

Crepe paper, Mum-made, fancy dress at holiday camp as Miss Kitty (!), aged 3/4

So this is how you develop a taste for frocks. Dress- up. A frill here, petticoats there, a fabric with a bit of body so that it stands proud and facilitates a swish or a twirl. You may go through various phases - the uniformity of navy blue serge at school, turquoise paisley bell-bottoms or denim jeans, tailored mohair suits as a teenager or clipped woollen suits to prove that you can compete with the men at work. But if you want to enjoy dressing up, it really has to be a frock, or maybe a skirt, something with a bit of gentle architecture.

I hadn't really thought about any of this until I paid a visit to Stereochron Island, the imaginary state without clocks. Cathy Haynes had invited us to create our depiction of how a life might be mapped. What with the rediscovery of the photo and my recent obsession with trying to find the perfect dress pattern/ fabric combination, I realised that my life could be mapped in frocks, or as a cross section of a map with peaks and troughs. (I still remember the thrill of learning how to draw a cross section from an ordinance survey map at school, you see.) And this is the result - with limited materials - and time - available.

Navy viyella, blue spot, made by my friend Chris, my boy's christening, October 87

Just now I am in a gaudy frock phase. It was a a conscious decision when I stopped work not to wear jeans, or trousers. I would mend or modify old or second hand clothes or create new ones and severely rein in the purchase of any brand new clothes to a couple of items a year. It's amazing how easy it is to adapt, and how much you can learn along the way. And if you have kept some frocks for a very long time, like me, there is a great deal of pleasure to be taken from a revival of an old favourite.

African wax fabric, me-made, Madison bodice, self drafted full circle skirt, May 2014
Is it so very bad to remember what you were wearing on high days, holidays and the most ordinary of days when your spirit was lifted by the texture, the colour, the heft or lightness, the drape or swish of a well-loved frock? And what would your map of time look like?