Stash heaven

A new year …. new projects, new thoughts, new ideas … And, after the rush of Christmas and its busy preparations, January offers such space, such time!

I promptly filled the space with a new project – one of my favourites.  Out came my fabric stash. This is messy play in our small house on a grand scale …And the cats love it!I dig deep into my stash for various projects – doodle stitcheries, patchwork quilts, and, of course, GiveWraps

But my stash is a great sentimental and luscious pleasure, so this week (as my husband was away and I could take time with my mess) I indulged myself on a slow journey through these beautiful fabrics and some of the stories behind them.

The core of my stash came to me via my Australian grandmother Dora, then in her second incarnation as a grand Leicester lady. Married to a local businessman, she would often have occasion to dress up glam, and she could really go to town properly.  Here she is at a smart event in the 1960s …And a few years earlier at a London wedding …These beautiful beautiful dresses were made for her by her Leicester dressmaker, Fernanda. I have very vague memories of visiting Casa Fernanda when my grandmother attended for a fitting – wish they were more vivid!  But what I do have – perhaps even more precious – is scraps from the dresses of other Leicester ladies which Fernanda would save for my grandmother. I doubt if any other of the Leicester ladies wanted these pieces, but my grandmother, my mother – and my great-grandmother – were enthusiastic patchworkers and treasured these scraps.

Later, the leftovers came to me … I don’t have many of them left now, but those I do have are Glamorous! See that tiny little gold piece in the middle? Far too small for me to ever do anything with it, but I keep it as a memory of the gorgeous ostentation of those Leicester ladies …My grandmother only went to Casa Fernanda for the seriously smart stuff. The rest she made herself. She had a particular penchant for batiks which has left a lasting influence on my own taste, – and what sits in my fabric stash.  Here she is in her beautiful Leicester garden, wearing a dress made of Egyptian cotton – and yes, I still have pieces of this material …As I do have of this batik dress that she is wearing outside her London garden in 1971 …I wonder how representative a sample this is of my grandmother’s taste that still sits in my stash?  There’s certainly lots of batik and Indian fabric, also some Thai silks and you might just be able to make out a scrap of fabulous pinky-green tweed. She wasn’t afraid to wear vibrant colours and strong patterns …When she died in 1980, a great many of her batik dresses came to me – I guess nobody else in the family wore such patterns. They were mostly shift dresses which the younger me disdained, so I re-pieced them into other styles. As there wasn’t a great deal of fabric in a shift dress, my trick was to mix several of her dresses into a very 70s-style smock dress. The irony is that now I am in my 60s, I wear lots of shift dresses, and would happily wear these dresses of my grandmother’s. But they are long cut up and re-pieced …

A major contribution to my stash (and my mother’s as well) was a donation of imperfect tie silks.  My parents were living in Kent at the time, near to a factory where fine silk ties were made – and these are just a few of the fabrics. I still have lots left. Indeed, I was amused when I looked these pieces out to see that some of the bundles are still wrapped in elastic bands as they were when they arrived. I guess they’ve just never been used …These have been fabulously useful pieces of strongly coloured material, used in so many projects. Again, there wasn’t really a lot of any one piece of fabric, so the trick was to be ingenious with their use – as here, lining sleeves with different coloured fabrics.  Who would ever know?I wonder if some of you will find my next collection of scraps as evocative as I do? They are so much of my 1970s youth!

Clothkits, Liberty and Laura Ashley really made such a big contribution to our fabric world – and in those days people really did make their own clothes.  John Lewis in London had the entire ground floor dedicated to sales of fabric and cloth. We would pick up fantastic Tana Lawn and Varuna Wool fabrics at Liberty’s in the sales.  Many of these pieces are too small to ever be much use in a project – just look at the snip of red with white spots fabric! – but they won’t be thrown away any time soon …In the 1990s another wonderful gift came our way with a bundle of unwanted church silks. My parents had moved to Wells in Somerset, and my mother – a very find needlewoman – offered her services to the good ladies who repaired the cathedral altar clothes and clergy vestments.  If you know your Christian year, you can identify the fabrics below: red fabrics (used for the commemoration of martyrs), purple fabrics (used in seasons of penance like Advent and Lent) and yellow or gold (used for days of celebration like Easter).  Not much green because that was the fabric of ordinary time and so probably the most used. But aren’t they wonderful?!  So wonderful that I just get them out, stroke them and put them very carefully back again – no, sometimes, I allow myself to use just a little …I’ve been so very lucky – all sorts of people have given me their old dresses so I can make use of the fabrics. These are just a few of them. I particularly love that yellow scrap – from a dress either my mother or grandmother wore in the 1950s.  How I wish I had more of it!But it’s the green fabric with black/brown flowers that really sparked my imagination and sent me off on my first doodle stitchery. Thank you so much, Mandy, for passing this dress on to me …These are all scraps from my clothes – not necessarily my handmade clothes.  Some of these are dresses I wore as a child which my mother made, and some of them are from garments I purchased readymade.  In those cases, I loved the fabric so very much that when the garment no longer suited/fitted me, I kept the fabric for sewing projects …Perhaps a preponderance of red and orange …? Yes, I did use to wear a lot of orange when I was younger …And I did get married in orange batik too, which must say a lot for my taste …More generous donations – this times animal print fleece. I have very little of this left, I guess because I must have used it up on children’s projects …Clockwork Orange scraps left over from my daughter Helen’s art school studies …Look at this wonderful collection of pieces that Helen found for me from another art school! I am struck by the OTT glitteriness of these fabrics – they remind me rather of the fabrics the Leicester ladies wore in my youth …And this is batik heaven! The imagery and colours used by African wax designers is really unsurpassed. My Instagram friend in Nice, Isabelle, shares my passion for batik fabric and has given me many of these lovely pieces. Thank you so very much!And, of course, I’m still wearing batik fabrics …Yet more fabulous fabrics have come my way from other friends on social media.  A big, big thank you to Claire, Anne and Louise.  These pieces are all treasured and admired, lingering in the mind as little nuggets of inspiration …I think what I love most is the picture fabrics …So what did I make from this heavenly stash play, I hear you ask …? Well, I made some GiveWraps, my stock of GiveWraps being reduced by the Christmas season of giving …

This GiveWrap use pieces from an old Japanese yukata which I loved so much that I wore it out.  It is good to see these beautiful Japanese ladies taking pride of places amid the other fabrics.  I guess I won’t be passing this on any time soon, as this fabric is so very precious to me …Quite a contrast here! These strong fabrics are almost all from old dresses of mine …Orange – rich glowing orange. The centerpiece and many of the side pieces are fabric prints made by my cousin, Polly …More of Polly’s prints here – a mixed bag … I hope the colours I’ve used draw them together …And my favourite – orange and purple – what a heavenly strong mix! Just a glimpse of a butterfly from one of Isabelle’s statement batik fabrics in the centre …That’s what I did in the first weeks of the new year.  And then my husband came home and I tidied away the fabrics for another month or so … (He doesn’t mind my fabric mess really …)

I’m struck by the generosity of so many friends, businesses and organisations which has gone to make up this collection. It gives me so much pleasure. Thank you all so very much. And Happy New Year!

GiveWraps

About a year ago, my cousin Polly and I found ourselves searching for a textile project we could work on together.  We had lived quite divergent lives but as we approached the age of retirement discovered a new friendship from our shared love of textiles and gardens – and family history.

We cast around, floated various ideas.  And then I came across this blogpost by Rebecca of Needle and Spindle on GiveWraps.  Lightbulb moment! – could this be what Polly and I were looking for?  I emailed the link to her in hope, got an enthusiastic response, and we were away!

In a nutshell, Rebecca’s idea – implemented with her friends at the Needlework Collective – was to replace our wasteful culture of disposable wrapping paper with handmade re-usable gift-wrappers.  Each GiveWrap gets a label on the back, giving the maker’s name, locality and date.  Then they are set free: given, wrapped around the gift and the new owner can re-use them so (ideally) they get passed on and on and on. (Some people have been known to keep them because they like them so much …)

Polly and I were inspired.  She is an artist and print-maker; I am a knitter, spinner and sewer.  We were excited at the prospect of making gift-wrappers together, both because we love making things with fabrics and prints and colours, and because it is so sensible – after all, it is horrendous that so much wrapping paper gets thrown away after Christmas and birthdays.

So this is how we started.  Polly gave me some of her fabric printed pictures and I stitched them together with a sort of patchwork of fabrics.  This is one of the first GiveWraps we made together – one of my favourites.  I wonder where it is now?Polly and katherine's Second GiveWrapThere are stories in all these GiveWraps.  There are stories in the fabrics I have used, where they have come from, what people I associate with them.  There are stories in Polly’s prints too.  (She will explain more later on.)

We were having such fun!  We made contact with Rebecca and the Needlework Collective and told them how much we were enjoying ourselves making GiveWraps.  Rebecca was kind enough to write a follow-up blogpost about our English take on their wizard Australian idea.  By Christmas, we had made lots of GiveWraps together to send off to family and friends.Lots of GiveWraps for Christmas presentsWe decided to set one of our GiveWraps flying back to Australia, so we sent a GiveWrap to the Needlework Collective.   (The fabrics and prints have stories: Polly has printed the Japanese character for eternity in red, along with other patterns, on an old napkin that belonged to our mutual grandfather; I have stitched it onto a green backing that was once a dress belonging to my Australian grandmother.)Christmas GiveWrap for NeedleworkCollectiveAnd we received one back from them.  (This one also has a story: it was made from worn and much loved shirts by Rebecca and embellished to just brilliant effect with simple decorations made from these same shirts.)Rebecca's worn & loved shirt GiveWrapAnd then – as is the way with the best bands – there came a point when we decided we were going to do our own thing.  Not, of course, that we were splitting up – we still planned to work together again…

I’ve got a large collection of knitted tension and pattern swatches, and they lend themselves so well to GiveWrappery.  This is a sample for a beaded cardigan I made myself.  I have crocheted round the edge of the swatch to finish it off.Katherine's Beaded knitted GiveWrapThese knitted swatches got me thinking.  Why not knit a GiveWrap straight off? Here is my first attempt.  It looks woven but is actually knitted.  (I think it is what is called Woven Stitch).Knitted woven stitch GiveWrapYou can make GiveWraps from all sorts of things.  Another cousin, Lucy, gave me her beloved pink cashmere cardigan when it literally fell to bits and became too moth-holed to wear, hoping I’d find some use for it.  I patched the moth holes with stars, cut the arms off and gave it a fabric backing.  Whey hey! – it’s a GiveWrap.  Lucy got her Christmas present wrapped in this GiveWrap that year.New life for Lucy's cardy GiveWrapWhen my mother moved to a retirement home, she gave me all her sewing materials, including these blue squares of fabric, pre-cut for some project she’d had in mind.  They make a nice GiveWrap – and, of course, I used it to wrap a present to her.Re-using Mary's patchwork GiveWrapThe best GiveWraps are made with people in mind.  My son’s girlfriend, Barbara, loves cats, so I knitted this GiveWrap for her one year. (I don’t think she’s passed it on 🙂 )Katherine's knitted cat GiveWrapFor my daughter Helen, I dug deep into my stash and put together a GiveWrap of all the animal print fur fabrics she loved.  (I know she hasn’t passed on this GiveWrap 🙂 )Fleecy and furry animal print GiveWrapThis GiveWrap was made with a very special friend in mind.  I wanted to convey to her what it is to live here in Northumberland, within sight of the sea.  I was sewing it when the fields around the house were gold and yellow, and sky and the sea were oh so blue.Northumbrian sea and sky and golden fields GiveWrapEnough of my GiveWraps!  Now I’m going to pass you on to Polly for her to tell you about her GiveWraps and the stories behind them.

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For me the pleasure of the GiveWrap project has been in connecting with people: with Katherine and family history, with Rebecca through her original inspiration, with the friends I pass the GiveWraps on to, and more widely through Instagram. It’s a way of sending my work out into the world. It’s about value which has nothing to do with monetary value.

I was already printing a bit onto fabric with Akua inks, but with the GiveWrap impetus I went into full-scale production! As well as old family linen I used beloved worn-out clothes, and rummaged around in charity shops for interesting fabric. I got out my old lino blocks and was pleased to see these images reincarnated as repetitive patterns. Here is an early one, printed onto a woven silk scarf that Katherine’s mother (my aunt) had given me long ago.Polly's GiveWrap G1Katherine asked me to print something for her mother’s birthday – it had to be blue, her mother’s favourite colour. It turned out very blue indeed! She then backed it with her old Japanese dressing-gown and beaded the edge beautifully. Katherine is an ace sewer whereas my sewing is perfunctory – I prefer the messy business of printing and developing an image that way. You can see our mutual grandfather’s name embroidered in the corner, most likely by our grandmother.Polly and Katherine's GiveWrap for Mary G2I rarely plan ahead, but start somewhere and then see where it takes me. Even when I think it’s a disaster, the Japanese kanji for eternity – repeated and dancing across the surface – will miraculously pull a design together. Katherine’s father tapestried this symbol onto a cushion cover for my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, and it has become a recurrent motif in my GiveWraps (did you spot it several times in Katherine’s blog as well as in these last two pictures?)

Rebecca sent me a damaged table-cloth all the way from Australia and I had such fun working around the spoilt area and turning it into a GiveWrap. Here is the finished result:Transformation of damaged tablecloth into GiveWrap G3With a close-up of the rescued area:Detail of damaged tablecloth GiveWrap G4I sent it back to Australia with little English presents from Cambridge for her family. The backing is from a duvet cover I made for my parents in my 20s, fabric I still love.

Friends started giving me fabric once they saw what I was doing. I was inspired by an old sarong to print fish onto a silk handkerchief . Held up to the light you can see the fish from the backing as well as the fish I’ve printed. Often friends receive gifts wrapped in a GiveWrap of their own fabric.Polly's GiveWrap G5On the left there you can just see a silhouette of me and my mother, taken from a photo. My mother didn’t like the precise business of sewing any more than I do, but she did have an old Singer machine and there are intimations of her showing me how to thread it whenever I use my much more modern version. In my current imagery I am on a journey with my mother – though she died in 1990. Here we are together, on our way somewhere with the fish. (Katherine can’t resist commenting here that this is my favourite of Polly’s GiveWraps, and it’s with me at the moment – may not be travelling for a while!)Polly's GiveWrap of her mother and childIn this one you can see my mother as a child peeping out from the corner with her doll. The Japanese onlooker is the lamp that sat on my brother’s bedside table throughout our growing-up years. She is often looking on, a kind of witness, in my images.Japanese doll and Polly's mother as witnessIt’s astonishing how clear printing can be on old linen, often with the added beauty of the damask pattern showing through. This one is a drypoint, for those of you interested in the printing process. I still have stacks of family table-cloths and napkins to use – what a satisfying way to give them another lease of life.Drypoint image GiveWrap G8I love the process of putting imagery onto fabric that already has history and meaning – texture in the fullest sense – and then turning it into a beautiful gift complete with carefully chosen ribbon. I used to be impatient with wrapping presents but now I enjoy it – no more carting rolls of wrapping paper home, no more sellotape and wasteage! The only problem is that sometimes the gift has to be chosen to fit the GiveWrap – to be honest often the present is only an excuse for the GiveWrap…….. This one’s on a silk handkerchief that belonged to my father, and I gave it to my brother for Christmas. I can’t remember what was inside……GiveWrap ready to go G9

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Let’s end where we started.  Recently Polly and I started making GiveWraps together again.  Here are Polly’s green fish, set in watery and weedy fabrics.Polly & Katherine's recent fish GiveWrapIf you use Instagram, you can check out these and many many more GiveWraps that we – and lots of other people – have made.  Search under the #GiveWrap hashtag, and be sure to add any GiveWraps you may make 🙂 .  A big big thank you to Rebecca, Aisha and Emily (AKA the Needlework Collective) for setting us on this wonderful GiveWrap journey!

(If you too are inspired to make a GiveWrap, check out Rebecca’s original post for ideas and instructions.)