Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Don't Read the Comments

In recent years I’ve been struck by the power the internet has to bring quilters together. Yes, quilters have always had social circles and guilds, but the virtual world has allowed us to make global connections, transforming what can sometimes be a solitary craft into something that is hugely connected - for better or for worse.

I’m active in a lot of social circles on social media. For example the Men Who Quilt Facebook group, another group called UK Quilters United, and of course the 52Quilters project I run on Instagram. Recently I have been thinking more and more about the power that the internet has in our creative work. It holds the power to connect us, but also it has the power to cause much misunderstanding and division among us.

I’ve experienced this as the organiser of 52Quilters where comments have occasionally spun out of control, but thankfully I do not have to moderate this feed very often. Still, behind the scenes emails are often misinterpreted or people who work hard to promote a social, warm and aspirational tone on Instagram turn out to have a surprisingly different tone or attitude behind the scenes. There are inevitably problems, misunderstanding and communication barriers when you are organising a project that connects 52 participants across a year to a channel with many followers.

Rather than just think and stew about this, I've started taking on projects that explore the impact of technology in my life. One is a series of works I’ve stared called “Don’t Read The Comments” another is my “I quilt for...” project, which responded to a call out I shared via 52 Quilters.

In advance of this year’s Festival of Quilts I was anxious about sharing a mini quilt I created that features the face of radio presenter Chris Evans. Last Summer I had taken a day off work and was planning on going to the Festival of Quilts, but woke up to a fury of comments on the UK Quilters United group that were spurned by some coverage Chris Evans gave to the festival on his radio show.

Some of the comments were fair and considered but some were very strong and I found it interesting to see how divided the comments were among a community that seeks to be united.  Some of the comments were personal views on Chris Evans but as the tangents split off there were also comments about how crowded the festival gets, that it shouldn’t be promoted to new people, and many other unrelated complaints. The seemingly light-hearted coverage, opened a pandora's box of complaints including a unfortunate rant about the presence of mobility scooters and wheeled shopping bags/trolleys. The moderators had their hands full on what for many quilters is already one of the biggest days of the year - the opening of the Festival of Quilts.

I see the online quoting community like family - UKQU in particular is a wonderful group that I value being a part of - I think of it a bit like a family, sometimes things are lovely and smooth and other times people clash, but ultimately there is love and support... but as I sat in bed reading the mix of comments, I decided not to travel to the FOQ that day. I was already feeling run down and the comments I were reading made me feel less and less like making the journey. 

I totally own that decision and know that it was the best one for me - I’m not blaming anyone for me missing the show, I’m just saying that if how I felt in the moment and that is what got me thinking about the power that social media has over me and others.

I decided to turn this into a project and have begun making mini quilts that reflect some of my online experiences.  The ‘Don’t Read The Comments: Chris Evans' piece is the first of a few that I will share when I’m ready.

The quilt is a mini quilt featuring a foundation paper pieced graphic of Chris Evans, and the fabric features anonymised quotes from the Chris Evans discussions that took place on the Facebook group.  I've submitted it to the Festival of Quilts, and sheepishly shared with the Facebook group in fear that it might start a fury of comments - but the feedback has been largely positive. Proving that much like family, the online community can also reflect and laugh about their falling outs and flare ups... as long as a bit of time has passed!

Ultimately I don't see this as an entirely negative piece, it’s just an exploration of one of the many sides of online interaction. I do understand that not everyone will like it - but hope you’ll appreciate me sharing it and hope you'll share your thoughts with me.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Vinyls Quilt

Amidst full-time work, other projects and life stuff, it is often hard to find time to sew.  Projects that I'm making for fun or for the sake of making, are easy enough to dip in and out of (I currently have two quilt tops in the queue to be quilted, and a few more unfinished projects to catch up on) - but projects with a deadline like a wedding or baby arriving have to be planned and managed - otherwise I'd always be giving baby quilts to toddlers.

One of my favourite things is making gifts for people. I understand that not everyone appreciates a hand made gift, but when I think of a special occasion and plan to make a quilt for someone, it is a process that I really savour and enjoy from start to finish, despite the fact that it often comes with a deadline. 

When I was growing up my great aunt was an epic quilter, and often made us quilts for Christmas, birthdays or other life events and so it is a tradition I happily carry on - making gifts for my family, and extended squad in Canada and the UK.

This summer some dear friends of ours were getting married, and I was determined to make them a 'festival' style quilt, inspired by their love of music and festivals. I selected a number of fabrics that I felt had a real festival vibe, but something in the planning just didn't fit right and I couldn't quite work out how to execute a patchwork that reflected the vibe I wanted. I went around in circles, unable to decide what to do before packing it in completely.

I was only when I was on the verge of giving up that I looked more closely at one of the fabrics that had reminded me of vinyl records, that I started to look at the fabrics differently and instead of going for a folky/festival vibe - decided to take a much more graphic approach and create a quilt covered in iconic album covers.

A post shared by Chris Webb (@chrismakesthings) on
A few weeks later, I had shortlisted a few album covers to try and decided to have a go at creating a patchwork version of David Bowie's Alladin Sane cover, by sketching out and testing a foundation pieced design.

My first one was a success, and from there I went on to do album covers my our friends' other favourite artists including Prince, Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles, Grace Jones and Bruce Springsteen.

The process of creating six album covers worked well around my other commitments, instead of working on a massive project - I was able to focus my attention in one one 12 inch cover at a time, sketching and making each cover individually as mini project.

Of all the blocks I made my favourite was the cover of Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. It was a slightly more complicated design with the body shapes and took a bit of consideration in terms of interpreting the many shades of black/grey/white so that the design wouldn't become too muddled, but I'm really pleased with the result.

When it came time to fit my six album covers into a layout, I felt I needed one more - and opted for a playful modern twist by including Taylor Swift - an artist who is a slight anomaly in this musical roll call, but totally appropriate for the gift I was making.  I'd also realised that all the album covers featured the artist in one way or another, so Taylor Swift's 1989 serendipitously fit with this unintended theme.

As the album covers came together, so did my playlist - going through the back catalogues of each artist and adding to a growing playlist as I worked on each cover.

In the end I think I was able to capture the literal references to music as well as the festival vibe I'd originally intended. Looking back this quilt is not unlike my Canadian Wild quilt I made a few years ago, with just a different subject and colour scheme - but this one is more my own because I used entirely my own foundation pieced designs, and adapted the overall plan as I went.

I now have a bank of foundation pieced designs which I'm tempted to digitise and share, but I don't want to take away the uniqueness of this project and that time I savoured working on the quilt my friends in mind. Music and memory are strongly linked for me, and so making this quilt has added a new layer for me - I know I'll never be able to listen to Rumours again without thinking about the quilt and my friends.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Craft Club tutorial - stop and stitch

I was recently invited by Craft Club UK to create a step-by-step mini quilt tutorial as their spring tutorial and newsletter. For those who don't know Craft Club is a national campaign that champions craft groups in schools, galleries, libraries and any where else you can bring people together to share craft skills. An ethos that is very near and dear to my heart!

I'm all about making and sharing, and so I jumped at the chance to make a modern mini quilt and photography and film the process for my pals at Craft Club.

Click the image for a link to the tutorial in full 
For years I resisted the idea of hand-sewing, hand-quilting and slow craft - my time-saving mind thought "why waste my time?" - but the truth is that you can not only do completely different things when you stitch by hand, but you also get a completely different experience....  I've learned to savour my slow crafting time, and encourage you to try it out and do the same.

I hope you'll enjoy the tutorial and have fun making your mini-quilts. I've been doing a lot more slow-making and hand stitching lately, will be sharing more of my projects on the blog over the course of 2017.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Is sewing a sport?

I have posted before about how making is much more than just a hobby for me, it's something that is important to help me find balance, focus and maintain my resilience in life.  It has taken me many years to really unpick what I get from making and I've learned that teaching beginners always gives me new insight into that process.

I've recently been thinking about it more and more, and my train of thought for this post has come from one of the most earnest (and peculiar) questions I've ever been asking in a workshop: 'Is sewing a sport?'

Last year I delivered a series of workshops in the Wellcome Collection Reading Room, which focused on visitors sharing their experience of sleep and literally stitching them into a 'Sleep Quilt' - this was a wonderful opportunity for me, and an exciting proposition that married my earliest experience of museum work at the Museum of Healthcare at Kingston with my life-long love of craft and quilting. Following on from this experience I wanted to do more work in the Reading Room, so I pitched a new series of workshops called 'Heart on My Sleeve' where visitors were encouraged to take inspiration from anatomical drawings and the books in the Reading Room and create carefully stitches brooches. The results were a range of beautifully hand made accessories, alongside some very interesting discussion about our relationships with our bodies.

A heart brooch inspired by the drawings in Gray's Anatomy
I planned this quite consciously as a slow craft activity, suited to the Reading Room which feels like a welcoming haven for thoughtfulness in the busy heart of central London. I was a bit nervous about asking visitors to embellish their work sequin by sequin, but despite being asked for glue or a stapler a few times I won the participants over by engaging them in slow and thoughtful stitching one stitch at a time.

People who have never sewn anything by hand tend to be quite nervous and easily frustrated – for many people the idea of picking up a needle and thread is anxiety-inducing. Although the first few stitches can feel a bit clumsy I always try to draw people’s attention to their process and progress. The beauty of the relationship between the mind and body, is that by the time you have completed ten to fifteen stitches, the sewing process quickly shifts from conscious movement to automatic muscle memory. I find it particularly effective to explore this with people in the Reading Room, which actively explores the mind and body across a range of themes.

You might think the design process would be the most interesting part for visitors, but when the making happens and muscle memory is doing most of the work is when the best discussions emerge. Once you get your head around what your hands are doing, your mind moves into this wonderful place where it is just occupied enough, but not overly focused. This is a space where the mind can wander without distraction – the act of sewing anchors you enough to a task, and the bustling physical and online worlds that constantly pull our attention nicely fade away.
Sewing excercises the connections between mind and body
It was in one of these moments of focus and discussion that a young boy turned and asked me “Is sewing a sport?” – he had joined the session excitedly but was quite reluctant when it came to the sewing, like many young children he initially felt limited (and frustrated) by his hand-eye coordination, but he quickly got a handle on his project and then ask to make a second, and then third brooch.  I’m sure that he was in this mindful making space when he asked this question – which really made me stop and think.    

Aside from competitive aspects (which many sewists and quilters would argue are the ways sewing is MOST like sport), it occurred to me that from the mind and body perspective, sewing is just like a sport in many ways. Many people sew in groups or gather in guilds to challenge themselves and experience a sort of camaraderie from fellow makers - just like in sport. Makers practice and train their bodies and minds to work together to achieve quite precise processes - just like in sport - it may not be as athletic but the process is very much the same. 
Sewing is like a sport, perhaps with less impact on the respiratory system
For many, playing sports, swimming, running and active exercise provides stress-relief and relieves tension. Sport balances a satisfying mix of repetitive motions that are driven by muscle memory and reactive movements and problem solving on the go. So with that in mind, could craft be considered a slow sport?

For some it may be a stretch, but for me what they have in common is that wonderful headspace I described earlier. Whether you are dancing, running, stretching or sewing, your mind moves into a place of focus, with just enough room to wander without distraction. It's no wonder that the most interesting conversations and philosophical questions came as participants were finishing their work - the process of slowing down, making and thinking allowed us to think about our bodies in a different way.

The mind-body process of stitching led that young curious mind to ask if sewing was a sport, is the same thing that keeps me picking up a needle day after day after so many years. The basic movements might seem repetitive, but the creative process and the journey of the mind is unique every time. 

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The Wellcome Reading Room  is an innovative hybrid of gallery, library and events space, the Reading Room is designed to encourage you to indulge your curiosity and explore more than ever before.