28 April 2017

Language loss

About four months ago I decided to refresh my Spanish, and started using an app called Duolingo - "free, fun, and science-based". The initial test told me I knew 29% of Spanish (whatever that means!) - and as I worked through the bite-sized lessons, reaching checkpoints, my score became 25%, 22%, 21%. Turns out it's not because of getting things wrong but because of not practising enough!

My daily goal was to do two of the bite-sized lessons, which isn't a lot - you don't get fluent in a language with just 15 minutes' practice a day, or rather, whenever it suits you. So I decided to "do my Spanish" every evening, in bed - sleep seems to improve language learning - and to do at least three lessons, or as many as I could stay awake for. (The repetition can be soporific...)

The end was in sight - only 10 lessons-groups to go. Some evenings, the screen would be dotted with lots of little lessons that needed revisiting - it's keeping up with these, keeping the skill bars full, that gets you points (sometimes people reach 60%). And if you reach your daily goal every day, you build up a streak.

My streak reached 101 days yesterday - and then I stayed up later than usual and suddenly realised it was nearly midnight - uh oh -
Message received at three minutes past midnight
Reader, what would you do - pay £9.99 to repair, or say "no thanks"?  I had no option - the screen is locked. Neither works.

It was good to practise regularly and also to be able to speak, repeat, compare pronunciation. The emphasis on the oral, on having to figure things out - rather than read a list declensions etc, that traditional grammar-based approach - was a big leap forward for me. I feel quite devastated that I've lost it - through inattention, through getting away from useful routine.

Maybe I'll put the app on my phone, and start again (it's all practice, right?) and use the "test out" option on the groups of lessons, which can whizz you through them. Maybe I'll have a break. Maybe I'll start a new language - Dutch, Welsh, Norwegian? Vietnamese? It's a shame they don't do Mandarin.

27 April 2017

Poetry Thursday - Just as this Island Belongs to the Gulls by Herman de Coninck

Hans Frank, Seagulls (1924) (via)

Just as this Island Belongs to the Gulls

Just as this island belongs to the gulls,
and the gulls to their cry
and their cry to the wind
and the wind to no one,

So is this island the gulls,
and the gulls are their cry
and their cry is the wind
and the wind no one’s.

Herman de Coninck (1944-97) was a Belgin poet who "aimed to produce poetry for the masses", and also a magazine editor, essayist, and prolific letter-writer. He died of heart failure in Lisbon, where there is a plaque to him that reads: "Fairy Tale. Once upon a time there was a man who was always just." (via)

The poem is combined with Hans Frank's print (colour woodblock on oriental paper) in a British Museum publication, Birds.

26 April 2017

JQ 1 and JQ2

"First catch your rabbit" - which means making some "gridded" fabric -
Cutting it to size - can I get two JQs out of one piece of painted fabric?
A jar of buttons cut from recycled shirts and blouses, over the years -
 Playing around with arrangements - and simplifying -
Neon thread for accents -
Grid #2 - the remnants were just that bit short of the required size, so the wadding (recycled wool jumper) can peak through -
I used threaded running stitch as quilting stitch, and spent the entire day stitching, along with some live radio in the morning and podcasts in the afternoon. And very little computer time!

It's been an unusual day, being quiet at home. Must do more of this.... and must be very quick making the two other JQs before the deadline.

25 April 2017

Drawing Tuesday - Tate Modern

After a quick look at the Radical Eye exhibition - "modernist photography from the Sir Elton John collection" I settled down in the corner of the room with this piece by Helio Oiticica, Tropicalia -
The original installation contained live birds; here, a video of two parrots plays on the wall. Footprints in the sand indicate that the plants get watered.

Combining the near and the far. Maybe it needs a few parrots?
Architecture and patterns of sunlight, by Najlaa

"Behold" by Sheela Gowda, by Joyce

"The legs" and a spider (Louise Bourgeois) by Janet K

Mags revisited another Bourgeois piece in various media

Carol looked out at the landscape

Janet B - the eyes have it (Bourgeois again)
 Extracurricular activities -
Janet K's back yard
Carol's colour mixing at a weekend course

Mags' book, arising from a sketchbook course focused on the
Electricity exhibition at the Wellcome

The Indian-inspired bag that Najlaa handstitched years ago

My quickly-captured reminders of the Radical Eye exhibition
- Paul Outerbridge, Imogen Cunningham, Jaromir Funke,
Emmanuel Sougez, Lloyd Ullberg, Herbert List, Ilse Bing,
Toni Schneiders, and two Edwards: Weston and Steichen.
And Irving Penn's corner portraits

24 April 2017


Tobogganing on Hampstead Heath, 1938 (via)
This lovely photo (where was it, exactly?) brings to mind "Hunters in the Snow", especially when it's taken into monotone -
And yet the two are nothing alike!  What makes the mental link ... Is it the trees in the middle distance? Is it the figures far away?

Or am I just getting mixed up with something else...

Slow start or no start?

It's almost time for photos of the first four JQs for 2017 to be posted in the CQ files. Tick, tick, tick ... that's the sound of time running out.

I've been trying to get going on this, but (excuses, excuses!) can't find fabric, or tools, or wadding, or time, or energy, or (dare I say) enthusiasm.

My topic is grids and there are plenty of those about! Yesterday, wandering homewards through Camden Town in the spring Sunday-morning sunshine, the camera found lots of grids, even grids within grids -

The carpentry workroom has been enlarged to allow access to the sewing machine (it's the mysterious object in front of the microwave) -
So there should be no excuses.

In preparation, I lifted a few more of the plastic sheets and found some fabric ... cut backings to size (enough for all the eventual JQs), and found some plain fabric for backgrounds for some fronts. Good start!

Then the iron was needed. I'd used it a few days before - but where was it now? It became crucial to find and use the iron before anything else could be done. I looked in every room, several times, wandering through the flat like the Flying Dutchman, unable to rest. I looked in crazy places, and cursed the way the plastic sheeting hampered the search ... not that it would have been put in such inaccessible places ... and still it was not in the places I'd already visited several times already.

The afternoon went by, enlivened by a little desultory blog-reading and email writing, interspersed with cups of tea and there may have been a biscuit or two involved as well. And of course the restless, fruitless wandering in The Great Search For The Iron.

It grew dark. Nothing had been accomplished. I'd made some supper, and finally T&G showed up to help eat it.

My first question was: "Have you seen the iron? I need to use it and can't find it." Tom went into the workroom to have a look, then brought me in and pointed -
Clever camouflage, isn't it? Or - you could say, it's a helluva mess and enough is enough.

Fast forward to the next day. The iron has been used - and put away again. If being returned to its previous location can be considered as "put away". (It'll have to do for now.) Silver lining - I found some fabric that fits the "gridded" theme -
 And there's this little piece, printed and invisibly quilted, a grid already and waiting for another grid, perhaps of these thread circles or perhaps of something else.
At this point I have gathered some more fabrics - including some grids made with "travel lines" -

 and even a silk scarf that I probably won't cut up -

So now - or maybe tomorrow - I can get down to doing something. As with drawing - "Just start, and see where it leads."

Seeing where it leads is my reason for doing the JQs. I'm questioning everything at the moment; is that called an existential crisis? Doing JQs seems a bit futile in the teeth of what I can see from my window (beggars, gamblers, and goodness knows what the ordinary people are going through), never the horrors and dangers of the world situation.

Just start, and see where it leads.

23 April 2017

Political quilts

A recent theme on the Contemporary Quilt group's discussion list has been political quilts - those dealing with current affairs and with injustices and conflicts in today's world. Never mind that the UK is now - again, so soon - in the run-up to yet another election, which puts my head in the sand as I retreat to a media-free zone. 

My own work is very unlikely to include any political theme - it's process and materials that interest me: stitching as drawing, the cloth-ness of fabric, that sort of up-in-the-air thing. But I feel strongly that textile artists and contemporary quilters  need to be aware not just of the different varieties of quilts being made, but of what's going on in the world.

So I've noted the names mentioned in the CQ discussion - Peter Kennard, Hew Locke -
"For those in peril on the sea" (via)
Hans Haacke, John Keane, George Grosz, Sigmar Polke, Banksy, Yinka Shonibare - some I know a bit about already, others I've looked up and will watch out for. 

Maggie Hambling may have done work about Syria and climate change [though an environmental message in the Wall of Water series was not a conscious plan]; Gerhard Richter (those Baader-Meinhof paintings come to mind), Anselm Kiefer (German history) - but what about Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, what political themes have they used [flags? the commentary inherent in appropriated images?]; and there are many African & East European artists who are prepared to challenge the status quo.

When it comes to textiles, very few will tackle such issues, said one contributor, but among them are Cas Holmes [connection with nature; sustainable practice], Sandra Meech [arctic meltdown]
"The last silence" (via)
Helen Conway [street art as fractured communication], Leah Higgins [ruins], Rozanne Hawksley [isolation; war; misuse of power], Sara Impey [lettering that comments on social issues] -
"Tickbox Culture" (via)

Christine Chester made a piece about the Bosnian War, and a large memory loss series. Irene MacWilliam has made "year quilts" tracking current events, and other work including "Common Loss" - one red square for each person killed in the Troubles -
Her work is part of the Conflict Textiles collection, as is work by Eileen Harrison -
"Her pillow, the earth" (via)

"Politics is about so much I am wondering how it is possible to actually avoid being political" said another contributor to the discussion.

So ... if I did a textile work on a political theme, it might be about climate change, or biodiversity, or disappearing languages, or illiteracy, or food waste, or over-use of antibiotics, or the disappearance of art/design from school curriculums.

Or the NHS - its death by a thousand cuts. Ditto for libraries. 

Suddenly there seems a lot to do ...

Maybe the common core is the idea of things disappearing through neglect, a neglect that comes from taking them for granted. Perhaps this arises to some extent from a feeling a personal powerlessness.

Address it through art, yes ... but then my "favourite" question arises: Why a quilt? Why cloth, why stitch; why this medium. Would another medium be more appropriate, more telling, more impactful (or quicker, or easier... or reach a wider audience)?


An interesting article, from a non-quilter's perspective, is here. The writer says that a quilt is a good medium for the topic of migration - "for what else is a traditional quilt but the fragments of previous lives, worn out and no longer sustainable, now reassembled and stitched together to create a new whole for a new life? "

22 April 2017

Blast from the past - April 2012

This morning, as I dash around with a duster, preparing for a house guest before rushing out to an all-day meeting, we revisit April of five years ago, during the Book Arts MA course.

On 20 April I was copying out, and over-writing, text from an article on ... what, can't remember (which is what the work was about, obscured memories) -
On 23 April, it was couching threads into small books - 
The concern was with the fronts and backs of embroidery - here the front is the dark thick thread, the back is the lighter thinner couching thread that holds it on the page. They look like landscape, but there's that strange hiatus at the spine...

I still have the colour catchers (somewhere) and the "embarrassing richness of threads", some inherited from friends' mothers -
26 April 2012

21 April 2017

Blast from the past - April 2007

Today has been a very strange day, starting with dashing out of the house to catch a train, and then realising the ticket would be £62 or more, and changing my plans. (Lesson: think ahead, book ahead - or travel by coach.)

Which left me at Paddington at 8.05 am, wondering how to fill the day, and reluctant to simply return home immediately as it was rush hour.

I went on to Hammersmith, wandered down King Street to Chiswick, had a coffee and a conversation with the blind man who was pointed to my small table as one of the only seats available, then went on to the nearest bookshop to browse for at least an hour, reading bits of Jan Morris's Spain, first published during the Franco years (I lived in Menorca in 1972-3) and ...uh-oh... buying How to Read Water, which I've been eyeing for a while (it's got info on polynesian "maps"). On to Chiswick House for a spot of lunch and to make a start on reading water, well the book anyway, and home about 3, avoiding rush hour, to tackle sundry chores from the little list I compiled earlier in the week.

So it was a slightly "different" day: unexpected, and not really satisfying because of the abandoned plan lurking in the back of my mind. Another time this unsettling sort of thing happens is when an appointment suddenly falls through, and you have an hour or two of empty time - nothing particular to do, and you're in a place where it's hard to decide what you "should" be doing instead. And isn't that the problem - the "should"-ness of the everyday, the need to accomplish some planned thing ... today it was great to be able to just wander down a new-to-me street and look at shops and people and divert down sideroads and decide which coffee shop might be congenial - though you do take your chances there! - and simply to divest yourself of should-ness and do some open-ended "living" instead.

Right, that's an everyday everyday, so let's find something from 10 years ago, exactly 10 years ago. We'd been to Burnham Beeches - " An ancient woodland, with a moated area, Hardicanute's (Harding's) Moat, surrounding an ancient settlement (12th-14th century)" -
We went back a few more times, in later years and different seasons - a lovely place for short walks, but there was no cafe....

Ten years ago we went to car boot sales regularly - finding strange pictures and amusing objects for the "conservatory collection" and photographing some of the interesting ones that had to be left behind, like this bit of wildlife -
2007 was the first year of CQ's journal quilt project - I liked the A4 size and spent Sunday afternoons making extra pieces, including some intensely machine-stitched ones based on kilims -
This year I'm very far behind with journal quilts, and the deadline for posting the first batch is about a week away. Will it happen?? At least the sewing machine is now accessible, so there's a chance.

20 April 2017

Poetry Thursday - The Library of T-shirts by joanne burns

(this is a red herring) (via)

This is a poem best heard, with revelation succeeding revelation as the story unrolls, no chance to flick your eyes ahead...

Listen here. It takes three minutes. I hope you'll find it "poignant, perspicacious, [and] pithy" - it made me smile and, here and there, quietly guffaw.

You can read the poem on that page too.

joanne burns was born in 1945 in Sydney, Australia. After graduating from the University of Sydney in 1966 she taught English in London and New South Wales. She writes monologues and short fiction, exploring the boundaries of genre in her work and frequently writes in prose poem form. Surreal and ironic, her work observes and comments on contemporary society and mores. burns is the author of a dozen collections of poetry, one of which is called an illustrated history of diaries.
(and this is another red herring) (via)

19 April 2017

Wednesday workday

This is a sight rarely seen at 136A -
The ironing board is out, and the table has no cloth on it. In fact the "new" spotty tablecloth is rolled up, sprayed to moisten, awaiting the touch of the iron after its first washing left it very very creased (jolly dots but cheap fabric).

I have a little list for things that need doing before I leave the house in 2-1/2 hours. It's good to have a deadline!
Not on the list is a clean sweep of the desk area. Its lovely emptiness has been rather compromised by having to move books around and possibly also by the purchase of as many of the about-to-be-discontinued A6 Rymans sketchbooks as I can get my hands on, kept in plain sight till I can find a safe place for them.
The bit of tape on the left wall indicates how low the intended bookcase will come - to match the case on the other side of the room, it will come to forehead height. The original plan was for the desk to be right against the wall, ie 20cm in, once those books have been removed. There's got to be a rethink on this - it will be psychologically uncomfortable to sit with a solid shelf 15cm from my forehead.

The "final" layout of the room is still in flux. Everything is getting very solidly and beautifully built, but even with trying to build in flexibility, there hasn't been enough planning - or time to reconsider some of the basics. For instance, when deciding on a shelf width of 20cm under the window (for plants), I didn't consider how big - or rather, small - the drawers underneath it would be, or how it would affect the desk drawers, once the desk was back in its former position.
The little inconveniences become great grievances, and it's hard to know where to start to unravel those.

Today, though, the sun is shining, and I have a little list. The tablecloth will be moistened by now and hopefully those deep creases will flatten out somewhat. The laundry is churning away, there is soup to be made from parsnips roasted last night and - let me check the list - it's high time to send the final meter readings to the utility companies. Where, though, is that list?