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The Fearless Quilt : as story unfolding for life

Creative ProcessEllie BeckComment

The Fearless Quilt came to be quite unexpectedly, as does the nature of some things. Divine Inspiration, being open to the muse, listening & actioning, being guided..... or simply following along a path (however wonky & meandering it has been & will be) that you set out on some time ago. It doesn't matter how a thing comes to you, I think what matters is how to receive it and what you do with it, and where you take it, and how you hold it. 

I began on the first of the new year by writing a letter to my future self. I have planned to put it away and read it again in a year's time. What I wrote was nothing too dramatic, but just the putting into words - onto paper - what I have been telling myself all the past year. That I want to make art, create art, practice art, do art. So I wrote - every day this year I will sit and practice art. I will not worry what "art" means, or by what medium I work with. But I will practice at something artfully every single day. 

So, then I sat down with my fabrics and my stitching. And starting my hand sewing. I started slowly, simply enough. The beginnings of a quilt that I have been toying with for a little while now. The fabrics have be unfolded and folded, piled and stacked, sorted, placed, arranged, re-arranged, some stitched over, others the scraps from dye pots. Some ironed, others crumpled. But a smallish collection to begin something, with an intention. 

As I sat working, my mind started pondering. Making art for me starts to work towards the reality of what and where - where does my art go? I live a simple life, in a small home. We do not have space for more things. In my life I often ponder of putting more "stuff" out into the world, of people needing it (I always come round saying people want it, why shouldn't they have my beautiful stuff instead of shop bought stuff). But never-the-less there is that overarching ponder-ment of what happens to it afterwards. Which is why I decided on a quilt. Because a quilt is practical. The bed or person it drapes on becomes the wall for showing off the artwork, but the work takes on a new life by being used, loved, enjoyed. Not simply hung on a wall and looked at (I know that that too is good and important .... but we have so few walls I can't keep making wall things!). 

And as my brain oft does... it starts to ponder how will I be able to support this art making. How will I support my family through this art making. Making art everyday is vital and necessary and good for the soul - but the body and tummy needs nourishment too... which comes in the way of selling the art. And my mind goes off on tangents of selling art quilts... which I would so love to do. To have someone using, loving the work I create with my hands. But the realist in me knows that there's no way I can hand sew enough quilts to make a living, without wearing my fingers raw. 

And while I'm stitching - most importantly - I'm realising that the process with which I'm working / using isn't giving me the scope for the vision I have talking to me. The way that a quilt (bits of fabric sewn together) must work, weren't giving me the right format / blank space for the art aspect. I come across this in my loom weavings sometimes too - where the process of warping and then weaving means that I have to negotiate the vision, that it can't always be as I see it. A painting on canvas is a different way.... a quilt or a weaving has a different structure.

I had wanted to hand quilt the whole piece, but then... due to this aspect I decided to machine sew some sections together, which I can then hand quilt. This putting together will give me a different 'canvas' structure to work with, to begin with. The base plate will give me space for the vision, in a different way. I am not sure if this makes sense at all.... perhaps it doesn't matter ---- because it's all the underpinning for what came next, and then what came next from that. 

So : yesterday, I got out my sewing machine. I laid the backing piece down and started creating the pieces of the quilt top. I worked the colours, patterns, shapes, pieces - like a puzzle. But in small sections only, not like a traditional quilt that thinks about the whole piece as one thing... indeed just a bit here while I worked on that. Then I'll add more while I work on the next bit. And some sections I've left blank at the moment, until I come back to them - to add in other bits as needed. To build the vision, the story slowly slowly as it evolves. 

I am sewing fabrics together with different weights and weaves - some soft flimsy silks beside thick velvet, linen beside wool felt. And the pieces are not the same size or shape, and as in the traditional way of sewing seams and edges of fabric together -  some extend past others, some stop short. The structure of sewing seams together means this is a little wonky, and tricky, and totally "wrong" in any sense of how you machine sew. 

And this.... right here is where it all began!!! The magic of just jumping in. Of starting without an end picture in mind, I do not even have enough fabrics to complete it at the moment, I do not have space on my table to lay it all out. I do not have the inclination to lay it all out as one whole - but in fact to work on one section,  machine sew those pieces together, then hand sewn them onto the quilt backing (Which is a piece of linen). Then add on the next sections, and some will be hand sewn and some machine sewn. And some bits will be wonky, overlapping, there's gaps where the fabrics won't join or match up - I'll simply sew another piece over that to fill the space. 

A combination of all that I am, and all that I know. The straight lines and "rules" of machine sewing, the patched mendedness of boro or kantha, the quiet solitude of sashiko, and the wild fearlessness of my mother!

This morning I got up, the quilt on the kitchen table. (Remember I am home alone for three whole days - no-one to ask me for things, no need to push aside my projects for family meals). And I began playing with the fabrics again. An excitement welling up. But my mind is not one to quietly sit by while my hands work..... 

And so - from there... the notions of pulling my scraps, my precious saved collected stitched loved hand dyed fabrics, combined with my wild notions of making mistakes and just giving it a go, added to my underpinning of understanding the structure of making a quilt / sewing something, joined with the quietness of days at home alone... And I come to this ::

The Fearless Quilt is the story of my life. We all know that quilts are stories of things, and lives.. Traditionally the way they're made, stitched by women around family, life, hardship, joy. Quilt patterns have names that relate to something. Well - here's my quilt pattern, and here's what it relates to.

My life this year will be fearless. I will take all that I know, and jump headfirst into all that I do not know. I will take the precious saved things from our of the boxes and use them, love them, make mistakes with them - maybe even ruin some of them. I will take the knowledge combined with the emotions and create things. I think this is how I run my business, and how I creatively work. But to have the word form in my head - to show me what I have been doing without realising. This year I will take everything and put it together. It will take time, it will be slow and sometimes hard. There will be bursts of inspiration, and moments of having to push through. I'll have to make some new pieces to add in, and borrow some pieces as well. I'll have to find extra bits, ask for help, teach myself things again and anew. 

I received an email this morning that added to all this. That was perhaps like the binding on a quilt - showing me how to make it all as something that can be used. I have an quilt with binding... it's usable but not so practical or pretty, and it looked a little funny, and didn't fold up neatly. And always felt not quite loved enough to be finished. This year I will bind my Fearless Quilt and I will bind my Fearless life, ready to be used, loved, perhaps worn a little, enjoyed, appreciated......

Right now - there's the working it all out. Seeing how it can happen. But the ideas are bubbling. And so here's what I know how :: this year I will write two books. One I already have begun, and have an editor and publishers for. One I will write myself... I will hope to find someone - but maybe publish it myself. It will be based upon my Fearless Simple Creative living, and based upon my Unfurl & Bloom course, and based upon the notions I have inside me that I have so much to give to others... to help them find their creative selves.

slow & simple Christmas traditions : hand stitched Christmas stockings

Motherhood, Craft Tutorials, Slow & Sustainable LivingEllie BeckComment
Ellie Beck Petalplum web size Christmas traditions tutorialIMG_9333.JPG

Part of my slow & simple seasonal Christmas was to make some new traditions. Or more like - redefine and place more ritual around them. Something like that. With my little one now big enough to understand all the Christmas magic, the big kids have been talking to him about a lot of how it all works. And we're bringing it into our everyday for these weeks leading up to Christmas. I decided to do away with the pillowcases and make some hand stitched stockings for the kids - hopefully next year we'll be able to find them to keep the traditions going!

I must admit I did take a little longer to come around to the Christmas magic this year, but then with a few twinkle lights in our life, and going out together to collect a tree (really it's a fallen branch, with no leaves filled with our special decorations). The kids made treats to gift their friends - which I much prefer than just buying a packet of candy canes, I must admit. It makes me happy seeing them in the kitchen baking for other people, and then packaging it all up and writing notes to everyone.

Ellie Beck Petalplum web size Christmas traditions tutorialIMG_9023.JPG

So, this week I pulled out some felt fabric scraps and some strands of embroidery thread, and sat down to stitch the stockings for my three babies. I thought it would take a whole lot longer, but I kept it simple and these only took a few hours - with many get-up to see what Little One wants to read, eat, play, do, show me….. My girl is on holidays already, so she sat beside me and stitched her own; which made me immensely happy. Because really Christmas isn't about stockings, or things, it's about the creating of those things, the time spent together, talking while you're making, thinking about the joy of reaching your hand inside on Christmas morning. Hanging them up along a beach-found branch. And nibbling on chocolates while you're doing it. That's why I love using felt. These are actually made with some organic cotton quilt batting I had little scraps of. It's soft like lambs wool, but perfectly easy to sew and won't fray. Felt, old blankets, anything like that is great for kids to do their own stitching with, because you don't need to worry about the edges fraying, so you can simply sew the sides together. And is it's a little bit wonky, and some stitches go astray it doesn't matter. One day in 3, or 5 or 10 years you'll look at those stitches with the biggest smile and a pang in your heart.

Ellie Beck Petalplum web size Christmas traditions tutorialIMG_9332.JPG

Make your own HandStitched Christmas Stockings:

You'll need: 

  • Felt or an old blanket

  • A needle not too small, not too big

  • Embroidery thread in assorted colours

  • Ribbon or string or wool to make a hanging loop

  • A scrap of other fabric - we had some bird fabric, you could use flowers, Christmas trees, or even hand embroider whatever shapes you want. Stars, snowflakes...

What to do:

Draw the shape of your 'boot' on scrap paper - make it bigger than you think, because a) the edges take up seam allowance, & b) more space for Santa's gifts!

Trace the pattern piece onto your felt and cut out two pieces. It doesn't matter with felt which side is the outside/right side and which side is the inside/wrong side, but if you're using something with an obvious outside/inside then make sure that you place the two layers together when cutting, with the wrong side facing each other.

With a light pencil draw the child's initial on the front side of the stocking - if you have space their whole name can be lovely too. I'm working with simple and finished before Christmas! Using whatever stitch you like - mine is a simple running stitch - hand stitch the name letter. Fancy lettering is pretty. Have you seen this amazing stitched alphabet? Again, I'm working on a time-frame + toddler-time… so simple letters still look beautiful and work well.

Cut out and stitch on the design. I used running stitch that you can see, but you could also stitch it on with a hidden stitch. Once you've added all the decorations you want to the outside pieces, lay the front and back pieces together and pin. Then blanket stitch around the whole edge. Make sure you stitch in the loop as you're going. Maybe a few extra stitches on that part to make sure it doesn't come out when the kids are enthusiastically pulling at their stockings!

Now - put on some twinkle lights, light some candles and hang those pretty stockings up ready for Santa. We leave home baked biscuits, some milk for Santa (who am I kidding, Santa gets beer in our home!), and of course some carrots for those hard-working reindeers who need as much energy as we can all give them!