Needlecraft is in the news

Now I know I have blogged before about quilting in the news (click here to see that post) , and in that case it was a local newspaper. There was, however, a longish article in the national newspaper The Observer dated 30 April, entitled ‘A stitch in time saves stress down the line: needlecraft is the cool new way to unwind’ which is remarkable enough in itself, but in addition, it was in the NEWS section, please note.

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I was asked recently how I learnt to sew and I guess it would be true to say ‘at my mother’s knee’, since my mother was a keen (and expert) dressmaker. She kept all the left-over materials in what she called her ‘piece drawer’ (in fact it was several drawers) and as a child I was allowed to make things from this scrap fabric. She had a lovely gold-decorated, black Singer sewing machine set into a work-table and I can never remember not being able to use a sewing machine, so that must be thanks to her. As I teenager, I can recall devising and making a drawstring bag in pale blue chambray with white cord – and I’m still doing that kind of thing…

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Unfortunately, I was very put off ‘needlework’ at school: all that un-picking!  How strange that I later spent a good few years of my working life as a teacher passing on Textiles skills to the next generation. And I’m still teaching now as part of my Amanda Jane Textiles business.

So I’m delighted to read that needlecrafts of all kinds are booming. The Observer article by Karen Kay says that market research firm Mintel ‘reports a 12% rise in women doing some sort of needlecraft as a hobby in the last two years’.  The piece also reports ‘a fifth of women under 45 are interested in taking up knitting and sewing, while 17% of men aged 16 to 24 are keen to try one of these pastimes’.

Much is made in the Observer article of the way in which crafts of all kinds are appearing on the internet, for example on Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube. I certainly enjoy using all of those and I post to them, too. (You should be able to find me there as Amanda Jane Textiles.)

I wrote not long ago about taking up knitting again (click here to see the post) and I need to report that I got completely gripped by making little hats for the Age UK charity scheme and ended up with a small hat shop, which will be posted off tomorrow, well ahead of the 31 July 2017 deadline. They were so delightfully quick to finish and so more-ish, I found them really relaxing to make.

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It is this quality of inducing relaxation which is appealing to the tech-savvy younger generation, apparently, and no less an authority than Polly Leonard, founder of Selvedge magazine is quoted in the Observer article, saying ‘The therapeutic rhythm of knitting, sewing or crocheting is proven to improve emotional wellbeing’. I couldn’t agree more. It is one of the reasons that I so enjoy hand-quilting and hand embroidery, though I enjoy the sewing machine versions of both those activities, too. In this context, I would like to share with you pictures of a most beautiful embroidered sewing-machine cover made by a fellow-member of my quilt group Lynn Gibson. It was made over a period of two years and is an absolute delight:

 

 

Buttons in Harrogate and Paris

I’m a member of the Quilters’ Guild, a nationwide organisation that’s a must for anyone interested in Patchwork and Quilting. The Guild’s magazine ‘The Quilter’ is a particular benefit of membership: the current, Summer, edition has , for example, an article about the Sonia Delaunay exhibition at Tate Modern in London (which I plan to see this month), a listings section for all manner of exhibitions across the country, a how-to techniques article on crazy patchwork which I’m interested in, having taught this at my last workshop (see Craft Saturdays), a directory of all the retailers offering 10% discount to Guild members and much more.

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The Quilters’ Guild has an Annual General Meeting and conference each year and the venue for 2015 was Harrogate, so I attended for the first time. There were some real highlights, in particular talks by speakers who are well known for their craft. Philippa Naylor gave an interesting, varied and passionate talk about her recent work and included in it several strands of thought about her philosophy of life, touching on green issues such as the use of products made in the UK, the horror of the amount of textiles going in to landfill sites and the choosing and eating of food that is locally sourced.

Philippa Naylor speaking at the Quilters'Guild AGM

Her magnificent quilted dress was on show during the conference:

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Another key speaker was Stuart Hillard who was a contestant on the first series of BBC television’s ‘The Great British Sewing Bee’. Here he is in action at the conference, speaking and leaping about the stage:

Stuart Hilliard speaking at the Quilters' Guild Conference 2015

Stuart had been a quilt-maker for twenty years when he appeared on the ‘Sewing Bee’ programmes and the large number of stunning quilts which he brought with him to the conference to illustrate his talk, provided evidence of his skill in design and in execution. We were told all kinds of ‘behind the scenes’ stories and Stuart kept a conference crowd of hundreds entertained and informed for sixty minutes without a single note. He brought with him the quilt which appeared on his first ever magazine cover – something for me to aim at then! Here is one of the many items he showed us:

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He also brought with him his recently published book ‘Sew Fabulous’, which is well worth buying for it’s cheerful, chatty tone, clear instructions and vibrant modern projects. In both the book and the conference speech, Stuart paid tribute to his primary school teacher Miss Jenkins, who taught him to sew. This in itself was both touching and encouraging to me, as someone who taught Textiles in school for 14 years (if you count the training year). You rarely find out what your students have done with what you gave them…

Sew Fabulous by Stuart Hillard

As part of the Quilters’ Guild conference, members were asked to enter small quilts (24 x 24″/60 x 60cm) on the theme of Yorkshire for the Sue Ridgewell Challenge. I made this piece, ‘Yorkshire Rose’, which uses machine applique, using pale neutrals, white, cream and pale grey. Twenty-five Yorkshire towns were free-machine-embroidered onto the various petals (they are hard to see in the photograph, so are perhaps a bit too subtle – a learning point for me!). The edges of the rose petals were hand quilted. Each corner was quilted with a variety of modern shirt buttons and the centre was quilted by the addition of vintage glass buttons.

Yorkshire Rose quilt for the Sue Ridgewell Chan

When the time came to collect the little quilt, it transpired that whilst it was being taken down, it had been dropped and seven of the glass buttons had smashed, indeed some shards were still attached by their threads to the surface and I had to borrow some scissors to make it safe. Although an offer was made to buy some more glass buttons, these ones were old, and treasured, and thus impossible to replace… Once home, I searched once more through the button box and found a few more precious buttons and the piece has lost its desolate look.

I love buttons and keep a very large number, adding frequently to the collection of buttons I inherited from my mother who was a skilled dressmaker. I like to use buttons in quilting as you can see in my ‘Blue Mountains’ quilt below.

Quilting with buttons

So, given this ongoing fascination with buttons, imagine my delight, when visiting the ‘Musee d’Arts Decoratifs’ in Paris recently, to discover that their current temporary exhibition is ‘Deboutonner La Mode’ (Unbuttoning Fashion).  The museum is just next to the his large-scale graphic was on the entrance doors to the galleries where the exhibition was showing:

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This included a single individual’s collection of thousands of buttons and also a great many garments from the 17th century to the present day – including a number of couture garments which used buttons to great effect.

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coat with buttons

More on the Paris adventure in the next post.