An escapade…

The advantage of living on the Franco-Swiss-Italian border is that so many places are so easily accessible, and that is why I found myself spending the better part of last week in Venice, well Cavallino to be exact. Dijanne knows Venice very well and it was really good to be with somebody who knew where they were going. I am sure that I am going to asked what I saw, the easy answer is that I saw Venice, there is so much to see and do and all except the fourth day it was lovely weather and we walked. Staying where we were meant taking the boat and by buying a 72 hour transport pass we managed to spread it over 4 days.

The first afternoon was spent on Burano which is known for its lace making, a lot of the lace is now made elsewhere but we did meet some ladies working in a couple of the shops. One shop had an enormous private collection of old lace, a lot of which we were unable to access due to renovation work but what we did see was wonderful and dated back to the 1600s.

The island itself is beautiful, the houses are all brightly painted in all manner of colours and away from the main street there are very few people and it is very peaceful. (In fact that was the same for Venice itself, we were ‘out’ of high season but with an average of 100,000 tourists a day there were still people around.)

There were inspirational  ideas for future textile work everywhere I looked and I hadn’t even got to Venice, I just love the haphazard juxtaposition of the colours, reflections and shadows…

We decided to make the most of our time by getting the 6.59 boat in the mornings to avoid the crowds, this was an excellent idea and the first morning we changed boats and went on up the Grand Canal.

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Before visiting somewhere as well photographed one obviously has an idea of what one is going to see but I found it far larger than I had expected. Due to the early hour the ‘trade’ boats were about and busy and it really made one realise how complicated living in the city must be. I love the wine jeraboams and the rather smart chairs with the delivery crew sitting on them:

Then of course there were the more artistic sites:

IMG_0793Walking around a place so full of inspiration one is always drawn to the things which have a personal design dimension. There was a lot of wrought iron work which suits my growing library of photographs for a future project, there were as one might expect masks.

Then we managed to be in Piazza San Marco while it was empty, well there were the pigeons but very few people, the real plus was being able to have a quick look at the interior of the Duomo before it opened to the public, sadly no photographs are allowed inside, but then something has to be left in one’s personal memory card. The work on the outside of the Duomo is stunning, the sort of building where one would see something different at each visit.

There are then also the sights which are unexpected.

IMG_0944Two things happened which were totally unplanned and really good. It was the  beginning of the Venice Biennial which we had thought that we would visit but the more that we learnt about it and after visiting one of the fringe events we decided that it wasn’t for us, it seems to involve a lot of film and sound. However as we went back to the boat we found an independent exhibition of work by a Bosnian artist, Safet Zec, who now lives in Venice. I had to leave the exhibition because the emotion he expressed in his work was too much for me. I did go back in and we visited again a second time but we were both blown away by the emotion  expresses in his work. This particular exhibition, Exodus, “draws from the biblical dimension of the exodus of thousands of migrants arriving in Europe” and is a subject which has made such an impression on me after me visits to the Gambia. The artist himself has “experienced eradication, escape and exile when with his family he was forced to abandon Bosnia and their war torn city, Sarajevo”.

I don’t usually post pictures of other people’s work but this exhibition moved me more than anything else I have ever seen, this is just a small part of one of the main pieces :

IMG_1023and this one is a detail of another and his provisional sketches for the piece.

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On a more cheerful front we did a morning of mosaic at a studio which opened at the beginning of the year and which is run by two mosaic masters Alessandra de Gennaro and Romuald Mesdagh. It was a really good experience to be taught by somebody who is so passionate about their craft and who is so happy to share their knowledge, I became far more engrossed that I had expected to be and actually managed to finish my small square. While we were working I got chatting to Romuald in French and found that he had lived very near me years ago which was such a coincidence.img_1015-2.jpgThis is one piece in their studio which I really liked, mosaic in a modern form. They also work in glass and produce wonderful commissions http://www.artefactmosaic.com. The final photo shows Dijanne discussing something with Romuald and Alessandro in their studio at the end of our course. (In the background of the photo is the most wonderful print shop which produces unusual small books and lino-cuts).

IMG_1014 2Now all I have to do is find the time to use all my ideas. I have come back with a new pen and some great powder paints from a shop which has the most incredible range of natural pigments.

 

 

 

May

Time has passed and I don’t have much to show for it, in fact I don’t know what I have been doing since I came home from India! I did spend two weeks in the Gambia, it  was essentially for a seminar on rural resilience and waste but we tacked a few days on each end. Our accommodation was in an eco lodge, Sandele, which is within spitting distance of the beach so each night, once I got used to it, I was lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves on the beach and the wind in the trees. The temperature was perfect and I now miss the feeling of salt in my hair!

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With delegates from many different countries it was a very colourful gathering, not least when the Cameroonian wore his velvet tunic with bright stitching.

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During the days devoted to waste there were demonstrations from ladies who create items from plastic bags and bicycle inner tubes. They crochet the plastic and create key rings with the rubber making paper beads for added decoration.

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Ladies from the local town came down to see what was going on and hopefully to inspire them to have a go. In a country where jobs are hard to come by there is a need to inspire the population to find ways of earning a living, the Gambia has the highest percentage per population of people who leave by the ‘back way’ and since I was last there two and a half years ago there are noticeably fewer young men in the town. Between 10 and 13 thousand Gambians have gone, while we were there we heard of a young lad who had died in a camp in Italy. I had spoken with a young welder who has set up in business and he was telling about this lad who had been an apprentice with him who had left and was happily in Italy,  they do not realise that many are in the holding camps in squalid conditions…… What a waste….

The women always seem to be occupied whether tending gardens, collecting firewood or multi-tasking…

No celebration is complete in Africa without music and dancing…

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Once the work was over there was time to observe the wild life whether bird watching on an early morning boat ride, walking through a nature reserve, a visit to the reptile farm which allegedly rescues reptiles or assisting with the release back in to the sea of a turtle caught by fishermen….

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At the reptile farm we were able to handle some of the snakes, I even had a ball python round my neck for a while, but it was the texture of the skin which fascinated me and I can’t now remember which snake this was but I didn’t handle this one!

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Then there was the unexpected wildlife… which moves at the most amazing speed.

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No journey is complete without a visit to see textiles, the Gambia only produces a thick soft cotton which is woven on narrow looms and is used for men’s over tunics or blankets, it is coarse but really soft. I was very pleased to buy around a metre and a half which is eight bands crudely stitched together, I intend to undo the bands and dye them… watch this space for what happens next. I was also lucky enough to visit a family who work with traditional batik and I intend to return to spend some time with them. Then there was  a visit to see fabrics dyed in indigo and kola nut, the latter produces a lovely orangey brown, and yes, there was a kilo of kola nuts in my suitcase when I came home. I just need the weather to be warmer so that I can set up my outdoor kitchen for dyeing.

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Stitching wise there does not seem to be much to show, I have completed two more journal quilts, one was as a result of a tifaifai lesson with Dijanne Ceeval who came and taught my local club for a day. The free quilting leaves a lot to be desired but I was pleased with the edging, the form is from the walls surrounding Fatephur Sikri and I have filled the holes by weaving ribbons, which echo the sari colours, the central motif was also inspired and adapted from one I saw in India.

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The most recent JQ is stencilled and then stitched by hand and machine, it is the reproduction of a photo that I took of a light-shade in our hotel in Pushkar, it is made of wood and it intrigued me. The great thing about Journal Quilts is that they are relatively small and they give one the opportunity to experiment and  play with techniques and ideas.

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Finally this week I have been working on a sample for my courses, I am off to the Israeli Quilter’s Guild in June, Festival of Quilts in August, La Roche sur Foron and Maastricht in October and I am trying to get organised well in advance.

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Now it is time to get back to my fabrics…

 

 

 

 

Home from India

It is hard to believe that I have been back nearly three weeks now, it took a little time to settle back into the everyday life of being at home. India was all it should have been, sunshine, dust, colours, noise and smiley people, but above all inspiration for textiles. Although we visited, if I have counted correctly, ten museums/forts/temples we had plenty of time for looking at fabrics threads and textiles.

There were marvellous moments such as on the second day when I was admiring some fabric which the guy claimed was cotton, I said it wasn’t so he backed down and produced another range, I still doubted it so did the flame test, his attitude change very fast when I proved him wrong! Then there were the shops which guides insisted that we wanted to look at even though we had said we weren’t interested, their faces and attitudes changed radically when we left empty handed. On the other hand having spent time in a shop not aimed at tourists in Jodhpur where we bought brightly coloured plain fabrics we were called back to share the 4 o’clock cup of ‘chai’. Masala tea sounds disgusting but it is so good, the tea and milk are brewed together and then spices and sugar are added, this particular one had a strong flavour of cardamon….

For the most part the ancient monuments are built either of marble or red-sandstone and are covered with decoration carved or inlaid which are a mine of ideas, shapes and forms which I hope will shape my work over the months to come. It was my second visit to the Taj Mahal but although it is impressive I hasn’t wowed me. We went to the baby Taj which was much more interesting , fewer people lovely carvings and totally unexpected. The Red Fort at Agra was much as I remembered it except that one of the best bits, the haveli was not open which was disappointing.

Fatehpur Sikri took me by surprise, to begin with there was a  tourist complex at the car-park and we had to take a bus, somehow we also landed up with a guide. There was both a temple and a palace, the complex is enormous and it isn’t all open to the public but there was more than enough to feast the eyes. On our way into Jaipur we stopped at the Hamamun or Monkey temple ; what a total surprise. It is very dilapidated and there are loads of monkeys, we didn’t go up to the higher part which was probably a mistake because it overlooks Jaipur. In its hey day it must have been stunning because it was highly decorated with paintings, it is built in a narrow gorge so the early evening shadows give it rather a sinister feel.

Jaipur and a visit to the City Palace where we decided to pay to see the private apartments which was well worth it. We walked up the seven stories on a ramp which spiralled its way up. The palace is amazing and it was even better seeing the private part, not only was it spectacular but due to the cost there were very few people there as well. The rest of the palace was very interesting, although the museums less so, and we had to pay extra to visit them!

We then moved on to Pushkar via the Barefoot college. Barefoot trains women to empower them even if they are illiterate, it was a really interesting visit even if we didn’t have the time to see it all. We saw the medical centre which services the surrounding villages, the solar cooker project and solar lamp project, the latter had 39 ladies from a dozen or so different countries all learning to make lamps without having a common language. We also visited the weaving shed and the communications department. Puppets are widely used to spread information to the villagers and the college has a wide range. On the way in to the college we were held up by a mass wedding, this is common in villages as it shares the costs of the big day, I didn’t count but there were at least 20 grooms on horse-back…

After a night in Pushkar and a wander through town where we found wood blocks and paint for the Holi festival we headed on to Jodhpur.

Our hotel had a roof-top restaurant with a stunning view of Mehrangarh Fort. The amount of carving was breathtaking was so much to see. Again the camera shutters were working over time and I have a library of design elements for future use. The size and scale of the work is breathtaking, there was ornamentation at every turn. The town which is known for its blue buildings has fewer now, they were painted blue originally to discourage termites from attacking the buildings, with modern materials this is less necessary but there are still very colour streets.

On our first evening we found an emporium stuffed full of textiles. We went in and were left alone to explore the piles of things laid out on the floor. When the other couple left we were given a ‘show and tell’ of textiles.

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The guy wasn’t pushy and showed us all the different styles of local work and then samples of work for well known western fashion houses. We were blown away and later discovered that there are many shops like this in Jodhpur and in fact we had a second show the following day. The first guy gave the impression of being knowledgable and unusually wasn’t on a hard sell.

There was a local market which had loads of old saris for sale, we didn’t look closely but for the most part they seemed to be synthetic.

We headed back to Pushkar and spent a day happily printing our own blocks and looking at sari scraps at the Stitching Project with Fiona Wright. We had designed blocks a few months before leaving France and she had had them made up for us.

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It was a lovely day, a real contrast from the bustle of the cities we had visited. On the Sunday we went for a walk with a local guide in the countryside outside  Pushkar, Mr Sharma at first thought that we were there for temple visit, but once we explained he changed gear, he was great and explained what is cultivated and explained a bit about Pushkar. Flowers play an important part and the roses had the most wonderful scent, one type used for rose petals and the other for rose water. Within walking distance we saw a lot more of the local life.away from tourists. Pushkar is noisy, full of tourists and temples and tinny music but it goes quiet at night and we really enjoyed staying right in the middle of town where we could sit and eat on the rooftop.

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Back to Delhi for the last couple of days. Using the metro we headed off to the Red Fort; I was amazed as I had wrongly heard that it was swarming with tourists and hawkers, it was closer to Chandi Chowk than I had thought and there were very few hawkers. It was an interesting visit but I think that we had been spoiled by other palaces.

From there we decided to walk to Sadar bazar, buoyed up by the fact that the distances were smaller than I had thought we set off. We stopped en-route for lunch at Haldiman’s and a short rest. My map was accurate and before long we found ourselves in the spice market, from what everybody had said I had believed the spice market to be to one side of the Red Fort so that was a real surprise! What an experience, the air was full of spice and everybody was coughing and spluttering, it was a great experience.

From there we pushed our way through a local market to arrive at Sadar bazar and the thread shop I had wanted to visit.

Our last day was spent shopping, as if we hadn’t done enough, and visiting Hamayan’s tomb which was built before the Taj Mahal. It was a true haven of peace and a lovely way to pass the last afternoon.

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This is just a summary of what we saw, I took so many photographs and got so many ideas, I just now need the time to work on them. Travelling in India has its frustrations, a driver who was lovely but seemed to have a better idea of what we wanted to do than we did, by the end he got used to us and our atypical approach India; roads which are much improved but despite the three lanes vehicles travel in which ever lane takes their fancy; cows doing their own thing; the noise of car horns due to lack of order in lanes; rickshaw drivers who are convinced that you can’t do without their services…. On the other hand the people are on the whole friendly and smiling and willing to help, one only has to look at the map in the metro and somebody is trying to help you; the colours are mind-blowing and the food delicious… Until my next visit.

Back at home I got my latest journal quilt finished, it is based on a textile print that I saw in the Anohki museum last time I was in India. I have used stitch and appliqué to reproduce the idea, the horizontal stitching is as on the original print.

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February

Time has passed and I don’t seem to have anything to show for it, at present I am sitting with my bags packed ready to go to India to collect more inspiration for my textiles; watch this space…

I have done some snow dyeing with limited success, time was short when the weather wasn’t too cold but I had some interesting results.

I was playing with black as I wanted to see what happened, the results on the right were two efforts, the bottom the most interesting because the brown came through very strongly although there wasn’t much in the mix! Judging by the speed at which the snow in the garden is melting I reckon that that is me for another year…

This year for my Quilter’s Guild Contemporary group Journal quilts I have chosen to work in black and white with a flash of colour. The format is 11″ square which is larger than recent years but I am actually quite enjoying the size. For January I used a wrought iron balcony motif that I photographed in la Rochelle and I played around with positive and negative.The flash of green represents the shutters which were on the window behind.

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For February I decided to work with different sized circles, my life this month has been going around in circles so it seemed to be relevant. The yellow are the highlights, the rays of sunshine that we have been enjoying, the promise of warmer times to come. The black and white circles are chain stitched quilting thread, the background is quilted with invisafil, I wanted to quilt it without detracting from the circles.

 

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Now I am turning to developing thoughts about where I want my Indian inspirations to lead me. I know that when many people think of India it is instantly the vibrant colours which come to mind. I am more interested in form and shape, architectural features, but at the same time I should try and be bolder with my colour choices. I will also be collecting a couple of wood print blocks that I have had made for me…..

 

 

 

January 2017

Where does the time go to? The late autumn was very busy and I had no time for sewing But I did get my Fifteen by Fifteen piece finished. the subject was motion and  I decided to entitle my piece ‘A little motion in the air’ and use a piece that I had shibori stitched and dyed in pomegranate and iron when I did a course a couple of summers ago. I love seeing the movement of seeds in the air. I hand stitched and machine stitched to create additional texture.

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The I finished the last of my 2016 journal quilts, I played with scraps of silk and some stencilling, I wanted an old look to it as in things that have faded and was more or less happy with the result. Some squares were stitched to give more richness, others were left to fade away.

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I find producing work difficult when I have too much else going on so it was a great relief when the Christmas break arrived and I could concentrate on creative ideas rather than the preparation of my English classes. The weather was cold and frosty, we had over 50 days of no precipitation which was, I think a record. The crystals were amazing.

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Then there were the trees covered in frost, the sun only hits the house for about 3 hours at this time of year due to the mountains but the light is wonderful.

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I started to organise my thoughts for textile classes this year and played about with stitch pictures, one of which I did as a surprise for my sister’s Christmas present. I had a go at sewing my mother, the mouth wasn’t too clever but I think I captured her spirit.

I also decided that it was time to finish a piece I had started in the summer and which needed stitching. I challenged myself to only use the machine and was quite happ with the results.

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It was made of squares which had been shibori stitched and then dyed, the stitching was then undone and they were dyed a second time, I used four dye baths each time so that no two were the same. The colours were not as bold as I had intended but with the stitching of the veins they came to life. Once the whole was quilted I over painted to make the leaves stand out.

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While looking for inspiration I knitted a new bag,  mounted on an ‘inner’ which I love and which is very practical , using sari yarn.

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Finally this is a section of a new piece made for the Quilter’s Guild suitcase collection.

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I am hoping that I will be rather better at keeping up to date in 2017!

November

Where does the time go?

The OEQC  in Maastricht was great fun, there was a lot to see and teaching there was a great experience. Part of the joy of going to these shows is the chance to network and chat to people before or after the doors are shut. There was a really contemporary feel to the show although traditional work was also present.

Normally I do not like showing the worked others on my pages but there are a few artists whose work really inspired me. There was a competition entitled 20 and a quilt I really liked was that made by Grace Meijer, The Pianist depicting the decade of the 20s and the start of the Jazz scene in New York.wp_20161022_16_54_09_pro

I didn’t take many photographs but certain artists made a real impact on me, Mirjam Pet-Jacobs for the way she quilts and Eszter Bornemisza for her work in general. Mary palmer had some really interesting work, a mix of traditional and contemporary and for the main very large pieces, there was an interesting statement in small quilts about abortion, a smaller one entitled, if I remember correctly Mind-Mapping

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and then a big piece of portraits

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The latter was all in tones of blue and white.

Having a chance to look closely at Susan Chapman’s work also inspired me with the way that she uses hand stitch to create contrast, two examples below, the figures below both have a slightly coloured thread outside the figure which gives a more visual impact.

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Four days after my return from Holland I turned around and headed out west for a few days holiday before Vendée Quilt. The weather was good, there was very little traffic and my drive was accompanied by the most spectacular sunset, the clouds turned blood red…. a good omen. After a night en route I hit the coastal area and visited a lovely village which allegedly is one of France’s best, out of season I dispute that, but it was pretty even if the tide was out so there was a fair amount of mud in the estuary! The autumn colours were great.

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I chose to take small roads to reach my target la Rochelle and had a lovely drive through small villages and across marshes. The sunset a La Rochelle made me realise how I miss large expanses of sky and of course the port of Minimes helped with the ambience, as did a good ‘moules frites’!

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I spent a day exploring the Ile de Ré, walks along the shore at various places and generally just exploring.

There was so much to look at in the way of textures and forms.

La Rochelle has so much to see and I took loads of photos to inspire my work in the future, I am particularly drawn to wrought iron, watch this space!  The buildings are old and those which are timbered have the timber protected presumably from the salty air, the market is wonderful and full of good local produce.

Then there is the stonework, there are streets with vaulted walkways, gargoyles and a wonderful looking statue resting in pieces while the area is being revamped.

The town was tidy and clean and the rubbish bins had metal screens around then which were attractive, what a nice change…

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Was was staying out of the centre near opposite the little boats and the pontoons that led to them, the reflections were just stunning and my mind was working over time…

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I then headed up to Roche sur Yon for Quilt Vendée, a great show which was sadly under attended but again a great time was had by all and of course I made a quick visit to Les Sables d’Olonne to see some of the Vendée Globe boats and absorb some of the atmosphere….

As you can see there was not a lot of sewing done but I have more than enough ideas to keep me going… I did complete my November Journal Quilt though.caroline-higgs-november-pushkar-screen

The richness and sheen of the brown silk does not show up on the photo but I love the contrast of the smooth of the silk and the rough of the dyed wadding.

Off to the OEQC, Maastricht

Bags are packed and I am off at dawn tomorrow to teach four workshops (two of each) and demonstrate at the OECQ….

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The two workshops are Photo to stitch

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and for a bit of fun Geometric Christmas Decorations…

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My most recent journal quilt is completed, based as previously on the idea of screens and colours shining through. I was lucky enough to have some sari scraps which fitted the bill…

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When one buys a length of sari fabric it comes with an extra piece for the ‘top’ so I have tried to group together the fabrics accordingly .

For a local group we had a challenge with water as a title. It wasn’t until I was going through my photographs from this summer that I found ‘the one’, which I posted on the autumn page…

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This is the wrought iron railing on a bridge over the military canal in Kent. I had seen a demo on Facebook of somebody painting on a smooth surface and then wiping the paint back and adding layers. I gave it a go, it used a lot of paint, I had to use extender to stop it drying out, and then treated it as a mono-print. The background fabric is an old sheet and was stable enough to stitch before I added the wadding. I was very conscious that the wrought iron cut-out shouldn’t take on the texture from the background stitching, and by adding the wadding for the last stage I seem to have got away with it.

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As the subject was water I didn’t want to develop the undergrowth to detract from the water.

When I get back next week and once I have made my preparations for Vendée Quilt, I hope to experiment further; watch this space!