Sunday, February 25, 2024

Weekend Review: All That Glitters

All that Glitters Martine Desjardins;
trans. from the French by 
Fred Reed & David Homel
Vancouver: Talonbooks, c2005
160 p.

I'm a big fan of Quebec writer Martine Desjardins, who has a novel about Medusa that has recently been translated. This made me think of some of her older books that I've read, and realized I've never shared this novel here; it includes quite a bit of unusual embroidery, so I think some of you might enjoy it too! I first read this book over 15 years ago, but I recall it very clearly. This review first appeared in slightly different form on my book blog way back then. 

All That Glitters is set in Flanders during WWII. It is the story of Canadian and inveterate gambler Simon Dulac, who has enlisted in the military police. His interest in the war is that it gives him the chance to roam around an unsettled France, looking for the treasure that the Knights Templar left buried somewhere in Flanders centuries before. It is a nod to the codes and mysteries of books like The Da Vinci Code, but told in the surreal manner of her previous novel. The two supporting characters are Dulac's Lieutenant Peakes, a man obsessed with metalwork as well as rebuses and secrets, and nurse Miss Nell, who became a field nurse in order to practice suturing wounds, something nurses were not normally permitted to do at the time. She sutures them not with neat black stitches, but with fanciful embroidery, usually in a form of a rebus related to the patient's name. She also practices on herself; she has a feather stitched into the interstice between her thumb and forefinger, and eventually shows Dulac the rebus embroidered within her cleavage - a many-rayed sun with an "N" in the centre.

Dulac struggles to interpret the clues he serendipitously comes across, and thinks he has figured out where to look for the fabled treasure. His lieutenant, injured by a bomb blast and then fitted with a metallic half mask, is now behind lines and has time to use his genius at codes to puzzle out the revealed clues. He finally reveals to Dulac the 'true' interpretation of these clues, and it is a sudden revelation of how the things Dulac struggled to invest with meaning can be seen in a completely different manner. He should have kept in mind the proverb suggested by the title! It's a bit of wink at the obsession with mysterious treasures and conspiracies, but it does feel a bit abrupt, leading to a quick and dire conclusion.

I liked the war setting; it made sense to use this time period for this story, and she paints a clear picture of opportunists at war. The writing style is brief and unsentimental, which adds to the feeling of dissociation from society that all the participants seem to feel. The combination of war, secrets and codes, hidden treasures, and the strangeness of embroidered skin are woven together to make a fascinating reading experience.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Mini quilt for a conference auction

Last year when I went to the SAQA Conference in my local areaSAQA Conference in my local area, I made a small quilt for the traditional conference auction. The Spotlight Auction features 6x8 textile art pieces which are auctioned off to benefit the organization. It's quite fun to see all the variations on a small artwork that show up during this display.

This year's conference is a virtual one, but the auction is still happening - it will just be 100% online. I decided I had time to make a small piece before the deadline. I started it last week but it's taken me over a week to finish, as I just couldn't decide on the design. I knew I wanted a labyrinth motif, but I started with an embroidered idea -- nope, didn't work -- then cut shapes out of two different fabrics, neither of which was just right. I finally found the right fabric, applied the motif, had a fusible glue accident that took an evening to fix, then had to decide what stitching to add, and found it needed a little something to finish it up. I have a pile of plastic florets that come off of sewing pins that wear out (yes, I save everything) and found that three white ones worked nicely as stars. 

It's finally finished! I'm calling it Night Walk, and it will be making its way to the SAQA auction shortly. It's nice to have a different kind of sewing challenge sometimes, to give you another sewing experience. I hope someone will end up liking this small piece enough to bid for it. I certainly enjoyed seeing it come together. 

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Weekend Review: Modern Japanese Embroidery Stitches


Modern Japanese Embroidery Stitches / Noriko Tsuchihashi
Clarendon, VT: Tuttle, c2022.
112 p.

I really loved this book that I found in my library's online collection. I hadn't seen it when it was first released, so am really glad it appeared there -- it is a great book. 

The embroidery style here is a bit different than many of the stitch styles found in books over the last few years. It's motif based (with fabulous alphabets) but it has an ornate, dark & mysterious feeling too. Most of the examples are either unusual, like insects or symbols, or use dark fabric grounds or threads. I like the layout and the feel of this book. 

In her foreword, the author says she was always drawn to little things as a child, and with this book she's trying to share that connection and wonder. She says, "while [these designs] are not a precise rendering of that beauty, they recreate for me that sense of wonder, and I'm happy. I think this is what handicrafts such as embroidery are all about." 

The book is organized into motifs; each chapter simply shows gorgeous photos of projects, framed or made up into other items, with a brief into to the subject and a few words on each design. These 8 sections are followed by a section on materials, tools and a stitch guide, and all the designs and instructions are at the back of the book. She includes recommended stitches and thread colours for all the designs. In her recommendations, threads are DMC, and the ribbon embroidery ideas use Mokuba ribbon, while the beading elements use Delica. But as she says, you can use whatever you like. 

The chapters are: 

  • Embroidering Patterns
  • Embroidering Plants
  • Embroidering Animals
  • Embroidering Lucky Symbols
  • Embroidering A Journey
  • Embroidering Alphabets
  • Embroidering on Patterns
  • Finishing (pouches, brooches, bags etc)

I was particularly taken with the alphabet designs. I love a good letter! These are block letters with filling stitches and they are beautiful. She shows them in different colourways with differing backgrounds and I love them all. There is even a set of numbers to go along with this. 

I also liked the lucky symbols she included, and can think of ways to adapt some of her ideas to use any of your own favourite signs and symbols. All in all I really liked this one and found it fresh and interesting. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Cover Designs!: #35 Look At Me


Cover Designs is a feature in which I try to match up the outfit on a book cover with a dress pattern and sometimes even potential fabric matches as well.

Today's pick is Look At Me, a book by an English author, Sarah Duguid.

Summary from the publisher:

Lizzy lives with her father, Julian, and her brother, Ig, in North London. Two years ago her mother died, leaving in a trail a family bereft by her absence and a house still filled with her things: for Margaret was lively, beautiful, fun, loving; she kept the family together. So Lizzy thinks. Then, one day, Lizzy finds a letter from a stranger to her father, and discovers he has another child. Lizzy invites her into their world in an act of outraged defiance. Almost immediately, she realises her mistake.

Look at Me is a deft exploration of family, grief, and the delicate balance between moving forward and not quite being able to leave someone behind. It is an acute portrayal of how familial upheaval can cause misunderstanding and madness, damaging those you love most.

There are quite a few lookalike patterns for this dual cover dress. First up is Butterick 5181. View A looks perfect, even with a waistband, but I think it may be OOP now. 

If you can't find this one, you could try the more recent Butterick 6759, which also has a similar waist yoke to the cover design, although this pattern has buttons down the front of the skirt. You could adapt that though! 

If neither of these Big 4 patterns floats your boat, there are a few Indies that might work as well! You could try the V-Neck Dress from DG Patterns which is quite similar -- but it offers a knit option while the cover design really says woven to me. 

Or you could use the V-Neck Dress woven pattern from Tailorpatterns on Etsy. It might also capture the shape of our cover design dresses. It's one of many classic designs from this pattern shop. 

As to the fabric choice, well, it's going to be a surface design assignment for you, or an opportunity for some creative piecing! Fabric paint, applique, scrap piecing or a lucky Spoonflower find might suit you if you want an exact copy of either one. I see some pattern hacking in the cards if you want to make your own version, in either colourway. Have fun if you do give this a try! 

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Weekend Review: Creative Embroidery: mixing the old with the new


Creative Embroidery / Christen Brown
Lafayette, CA: C&T, c2023.
159 p.

I picked up this new book on creative embroidery via my library; Christen Brown is a well respected and prolific embroiderer and author, and so I was intrigued. 

The book itself is quite well done. It has 19 project ideas, 3 step-by-step projects, and a ton of inspo pictures. The approach in this book is to use your 'stashed treasures'. By this, she is referring to vintage buttons, lace, doilies, trims, notions, hankies and more. If you love Victoriana or country styles, you may really connect with this book! 

Unfortunately the projects are a bit too fussily vintage and whimsical for my own style, but even if I'm not intending to copy any of these actual projects, I still enjoyed reading the book. The techniques are interesting, and alongside the photos and projects, she includes a stitch guide (pretty standard but well illustrated) and of more interest to me, there is also a guide to using trims and buttons in new ways. 

This covers rickrack flowers, zipper embellishments, braids, rosettes, yoyos and more. And the button section shows different stitching and combos to really use buttons creatively on any project. These guides take up a large part of the book and are useful to anybody who can adapt them to their own kinds of projects. Brown is an expert on embellishment and it really shows here. 

There is one simple project from the book that I am planning on adapting however -- she has used vintage buckles and ribbons to make bookmarks, which I think are so cute, especially since I have quite a few old buckles in my stash from thrift store trips. She puts buttons on the ribbons, which makes them unusable as actual bookmarks, so I'd simplify and just use a nice flat ribbon or fabric scrap.

Anyhow, this was a book I enjoyed and sifted out some interesting ideas, despite the style of the stitching and projects not really being my thing. It's a well designed and thorough book, however, so if it is YOUR thing, you will love it. Fun to browse through in any case! 

Friday, February 9, 2024

Black Community Quilts at Toronto's Textile Museum

If you are in or near Toronto, make some time to get to the Textile Museum this month! There is a beautiful exhibit on until April 28, called The Secret Codes: African Nova Scotian Quilts, curated by David Woods. There are some gorgeous historical pieces as well as modern quilts, all with lots of context to learn from. 

I stopped in when I was in Toronto recently and really enjoyed it. There was a variety of styles and techniques in the more than 35 quilts on display, and there is always lots more to check out in the Museum shop and textile reuse centre. 

I was drawn in by so many details - stitches, quilting, colour choices, stories - and I love that the exhibit is big enough to have breadth but not so big that you feel overwhelmed. It's a great visit. 

One of my favourites was this one, called Amelda's Prayer. So beautiful! 

But there were so many to enjoy.

This traditional quilt was really interesting to me for the details. All that black edging on the stars is blanket stitch. I don't remember seeing this kind of accent before and love it. 

This was the only real abstract of the show and I thought it was great. 

So many representational quilts as well. All fabulous. 

I really enjoyed this show and wish I could have made it to one of the special events they had in conjunction with it. Oh well -- I did get to enjoy it! Try to get there if you can. 

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Burda Swing Top in leafy print

The Make a Garment a Month Group on Instagram had a January challenge -- "Jungle January". I really wanted to make something as I had two excellent fabric choices in my stash. After some waffling, I decided to reuse a pattern for a swing top from Burdastyle magazine which I've made before (Burda 115-11-2018). I had just enough fabric for this easy top. 

My fabric is a light and stretchy knit, so I used straight stitches on the shoulders to try to keep them from stretching out too much. There is supposed to be a bit more gathering on the shoulder seams but I found that the weight of the shoulder seam has reduced the effect a bit. I'm thinking of going back in and stitching a small piece of elastic to the shoulder seam to regather and hold the gathers too! 

Otherwise this was a quick and fun make. I'm used to the pattern now, with all my adjustments (mainly adding 3" to the hem length) even if it does look a little different in each fabric I've used. I love the bright green (more vibrant in real life) and the rayon knit is super soft to wear. 

This is a fun silhouette and I do love an oversized top with a straight skirt. I'm wearing my staple knit skirt, the free Lindy Skirt from Itch to Stitch (with added pockets) which I wear constantly. Burda does have some fun designs and I'm glad I saw the IG sewalong to give me a bit of a boost to make this top. I got it done on the last day of January, so just squeaked in to the sewalong, but would definitely would not have finished without a deadline! Do you enjoy contests/sewalongs/challenges? I often find them stressful, but in this case, I had something in my long-term queue that fit into the challenge and this gave me enough of a kick to get going on it. I'm finding I like these deadlines more and more ;) 

Anyhow off to swish around in my flowy new top!