July 28, 2008

Quilt Hunting

Today we went down the road to the O'Keefe Ranch, in the dry hills north of Oyama. Worked by father and son for over 140 years, the O'Keefe was established in 1867, and it's now a heritage site with houses, a store and a church, farm machinery, proud chickens and young sheep, and of course... quilts.

Imagine my delight when I came up the steep stairs of the log cabin (the original house), to see this lovely feather applique quilt.

My memory says that this is called a Princess Feather quilt, but perhaps I've got that wrong? (There's a quilt like this in the textile collection of the American Museum in Britain, at Bath).

There were also more utilitarian quilts in the children's rooms in the Schubert House, one of the houses on the ranch. I loved the blue walls and this well-worn, slightly faded tufted bed quilt.

Downstairs, in the farmhouse kitchen, a very knowledgeable guide sat and told us the tale of the settlers coming across the whole of North America to build and live in this house. A party of descendents , some of whom had grown up in this actual house, were visiting.

The tale of their ancestors' cross-Canada journey is incredible: from the East to Fort Edmonton - two months by Red River wagon. Mrs Schubert was pregnant, and although friends begged her to stay in the East until the child was born, the couple were determined to get to the Goldfields, and they set out with their three young children, all under 5 - one in each saddle bag on their mother's horse, the other perched in front of one of the men.
Confident that they would reach the Goldfields of interior BC before winter, and before the birth, they struggled through the Rockies on foot and on horseback, all the way to the wild rivers of BC, where, starving, the settlement team finally took to rafts. -Only to discover that their river suddenly descended into a canyon and a mighty waterfall. So they walked. Three days up and around a mountain, then down again to the river to build more rafts, where, somewhere on a riverbank, not far from Fort Kamloops, their daughter was born.

I can hardly imagine the story, though we're sitting on old chairs in their kitchen, and there are toddler great-grandchildren rolling around on the grass outside. The swing screen door bangs, and when we go out into the meadow, it all looks peaceful, as if rivers and starvation and drowning never shadowed the horizon, and we know that they lived to a ripe, quiet old age.

July 27, 2008

A Currant Affair

Red and juicy, some of them dried already and prey to birds, the currants glow like jewels. I can feel the sun on my neck and my back as I stoop over the bush. Every so often, a berry breaks, and my fingers are stained red with the warm juice.

Dad’s currant bushes are on the edge of the property, on a hot, dry steep slope. You’ve got to watch your feet scrabbly gravel. Every once in a while, a warm red berry pops off the bush and lands, caught in the dry stiff grasses. It’s hot.

I’ve gone out to pick the berries, not knowing what I’ll make with them – arguably a foolish thing to do, but I want to play in the kitchen indoors where it’s cool.

So I’m out in the heat, snipping sprigs of berries and encouraging the occasional ant to look elsewhere for dinner. We opt to split the bush: there are enough berries for everyone and no doubt for some early-morning birds, too.

Inside, the berries are sorted. My feet hurt; it takes almost an hour to pluck and clean just over 2 cups of berries, but they are so beautiful that I’m proud.

The best sprigs stay to one side for garnishing; the rest onto the stove for sauce. I have to get a clean spoon, because I’ve licked this one! The sauce is warm and bubbly, very tart – almost, but not quite, sour.

Red Currant whip – 15 mins prep; 1 hour cooling time

Lemon sherry cream
- Some heavy cream, about 1 cup
- Half a fresh lemon
- 2 Tablespoons sherry
- sprinkling of sugar
In a bowl or a large measuring jug, stir together the cream, the juice of half a lemon and the sherry. Sprinkle with sugar. Whip with a wire whisk until frothy and stiffened – this may or may not take 2 minutes. Put in the fridge to cool.

Red currant compote
- 2 cups fresh currants
- 1/2 cup sugar
Place the currants and the sugar in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool. You can strain it if you want, but I don’t mind the seeds.

Layer nice glass dishes with cut nectarines, spoonfuls of the currant compote, and chill until dessert time. Then pour the lemon cream on top and blance sprigs of fresh currants to decorate. Best served chilled.



I told myself I would never make a hexagon quilt. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always admired them, but I decided long ago that there wasn’t enough time in my life and patience in my character to see me making a hexagon quilt.

That was before I received in the post an innocuous-looking kit containing 7 squares of fabric and 7 pre-cut hexagons. Just baste them on, trim the corners, and sew into a flower. It’s really not hard. What I didn’t realise was that it’s addictive. – And I thank my friend who started the interest with this lovely story and the kit: she did give me ample warning, so I’ve got nothing to complain about…

What I discovered was that although there is no time in my life for hexagon obsession, there is, on the other hand, a lot of waiting time involved in travelling, and a project that does not require scissors and can fit in the average pocket will inevitably become a traveller’s best friend.

No longer for me the endless games of solitaire on my iPod, I’m into hexagons, I can hexagon while I wait. I can hexagon on the train. I can hexagon in waiting lounges and on planes (sans scissors), and I can hexagon while I’m talking to people….. hang on, that’s not dead time! So why am I hexagoning?

Well, it is oddly satisfying, and I am one of those women who like to work on something while they talk. The occasional baffled comment from on-looking family rings gentle alarm bells as I remember my former hexagon-free self:
“But what’s it FOR?” (I don’t know; does it matter?)
“Won’t that take forever?” (Well, yes, but that’s not bothering me at the moment.)
“Won’t those paper pieces disintegrate and fall out?” (Ah-ha, a potential convert, thinking through the logistics. I spot a fellow obsessive mindset…)
“Do you actually buy fabric to do that?” (Blush. I pretend I’m not, but we all know the truth.)
...And so forth.

Let the hexagons roll on, I’m into the forties and counting, and I’m getting oh so much better at dividing numbers by sixes and sevens. Twelve pieces equals two outer circles; now I need contrasting centres… Four pieces from this scrap equals most of one outer circle, if I can match it, or perhaps they’ll make four good bright centres. And so on.

Thank you to Jennifer for sending the kit in the first place, to the family and friends who have understood and donated scraps, found and offered perfect card for more centres, put up with talking to the top of my head, or driven me to the fabric store. You’re all hexagonal stars!

July 24, 2008

Listening to the breeze through Canadian pines

It's a sound I catch sometimes, even in Australia, and it always reminds me of home. The gentle whoosh of wind through pine trees, ruffling and rustling the thousands of needles. Some love the sound of the sea on the beach, but I grew up loving the northern woods.

I've been off-line for a few days, and that's because I've been hanging out in my woods. We arrived in Canada a week ago, and since then I have swum in cool northern lakes, slapped a lot of mosquitos, gone canoeing, jumped off the dock, messed about in boats, talked with my sister and cuddled her dog, eaten bbq'd dinners, checked for bears before venturing out of the cabin in the morning, and fallen asleep under whooshing pine trees.

There's peace in the unspoken elements that represent home when you have lived away from 'home' for so long. I left in 1995 and haven't been back much since; ten years in the UK, now 3 and a half in Australia.

When you leave for so long, you find you love things about each of them, but sometimes you've got to just sit and listen to the wind in the pine trees.

July 10, 2008

London life

I'm going to make a confession: I'm a little overwhelmed by London. Maybe it's not the city itself, because I'd like to think that having been here dozens, even hundreds of times before, for work and for play, I'm not completely unused to it.

But it's the old London quandary: there is something interesting happening at every single minute of every single day, and I am just going to have to accept that I will miss things. Like Hampton Court Palace, or a concert at the Wigmore Hall. -And any number of exhibitions that sound interesting, or downright fascinating.

Am I complaining? No, definitely not. I'm on holiday, I'm fascinated by the wealth of arts and popular culture here, but I have to accept that there are only so many hours in the day, and that like many humans, I need to sleep! (And, alas! you still have to do laundry when on holiday, when you've been away as long as we have).

So for today, our last day in London, I am resisting the urge to run around in circles, hyperventilating at the prospect of leaving so much richness, and just zen it on through.

Tired, but happy.


July 9, 2008

Just doing a bit of ironing...

I threatened to tell you more about the V&A: and here it is!

One of the great things about the V&A is that the collections are divided, in many cases, by the material. So, Ironwork has its own galleries, which are arranged regardless of the date or country of manufacture of much of the material, in general.

These galleries upstairs hold piece after piece of iron work; gates, grilles, torch brackets, locks, decorations, and all manner of glorious and intriguing things. Black on white walls, shape after shape; it's heaven for any quilter or embroiderer or confirmed pattern-hunter like me.

How about these scrolled beauties, and the phoenix-like birds with branches in their beaks?

And these two really made an impression: I would love to embroider or applique the tree. And look closely, down to the left....

There's a silhouette of a man working metal, his force and implements:

Oh arr, heavy metal delights. That's what I call inspiration!


July 8, 2008

Sunshine on The Sun

I hear that London doesn't get sunshine often. And that's borne out as truth by what I see ... rain, rain, and more rain.... with a sudden break for a spot of sunshine, shining on the aptly-named Sun Tavern.

Don't you love those two dark round windows, and the bold red and white scheme?


July 7, 2008

Training in letters

I took these photos a few days ago, when we were still up north, in Yorkshire.

We visited the National Railway Museum, which - okay, I confess! - I thought I might find it dull. Instead, I found some design delights!

How about the colours and shapes of these signals, against the big blue roof?

- Or the lettering and that big fat W.

Best of all, I think, was the hand-painted lettering on this wonderfully-restored train.

Look at how the shadows are made of diagonals of red and green. It works!

And here's the whole thing for perspective.

It's industrial design, and it could inspire some stitching composition, or perhaps I'll try that lettering style.


Days of discovery and delight

Quiet afternoons in hushed halls, the smell of varnished old wood, and a gentle rustling creak as another visitor slips through the door to pass through the long gallery next door.

These are the little memories I want to take home of my recent afternoons in the textile study room at the V&A museum, London.

The big memories? Well, the big memories are of Persian and Egyptian beauties, unfathomably old, resting in silent dark drawers that any visitor can open to view.

What was this portrait for, and made by whom? Who wove rough Coptic imagery into a band for a tunic - and which child wore it? What 5th century hands worked the intricate embroidery of white thread onto the woven rough black ground?

- And whose sleeve was decorated with this embroidered panel of birds and flowers?

Do we know much about the young stitcher in Italy, who worked her sampler carefully with letters and patterns, trees, people and birds - but not her name?

The V&A makes the material in the study collection open to anyone who wants to explore.

It's a bit like being invited into a warehouse of colourful sweets. Should I pull out the drawers labelled "Embroidery - Europe: Italy" - or "Woven textiles - Persian 12-15 centuries". What about Medieval tapestries? Venetian lace? Samplers, Northern Europe. Persian knitted items. Printed textiles, 20th century?

My head was spinning.

Knitted Persian purses.

So I settled (reluctantly) for one hour exploring embroidered fabrics of any origin and date. -And then I managed to sneak off again today on my own to look at lots more. (- And I intend to do it again....)

I feel as if I have been dipping my toe into a very big, very deep ocean. I'm not sure what's in there, and I suspect it will carry me away into new ideas and a growing impulse to study this material for real. After all, I'm just an amateur and one time art historian who has taken the opportunity that is free to anyone - come to the V&A, claim a desk in the quiet of the textile study room, and carefully lift out a glass drawer from the rows and rows of heavy Victorian wooden cabinets. And think. And look, draw, and wonder.

I think my favourite was the Persian sleeve-ornament; a panel of symmetrical, densely-worked chain stitch decoration, with birds, stems and flowers, lotus and, I think, tulips, all on an indigo-grey blue dark silk ground.

Look at those fat little birds, and the regular paisleys - all the same and yet all slightly different, each one stitched by hand.

Here's an overview of the design:

Stay tuned, because I think you're going to be hearing more about this place....

Interesting links:
Have fun and explore some!

July 4, 2008

Art can be lonesome at times...

Spotted at the main entrance to the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square.