Friday, 16 March 2012

Chagall with mangoes

I’ve been attending an art quilting class this term at Material Obsession. What fun! I’ve never been a big fan of traditional quilts, though I’ve made a few over the years – getting sucked in by the colours in my usual way. Plus they’re a great way to learn the sewing skills you need. I’m certainly not knocking traditional quilts with their regular block designs. I just wanted to try something a bit more “out there”.

You might remember my first attempt at an art quilt, which I blogged about here.

Oops. I can’t believe that was nearly two years ago! Aaaand it hasn’t got much further along in all that time. I know, you’re shocked. But it now has a red leaf and is ready to quilt, so hey - progress! Glacial, but progress.

So, given the fact that I work so much better with a deadline (ah, Grasshopper, self-knowledge is a wonderful thing), I decided to join the marvellous Kathy again for art quilting classes.

Our first month the assignment was a still life. Not the most exciting of things to me, having watched Mum paint half a bazillion of them over the years, but oh well. I dutifully flipped through some art books for inspiration – artists love still lifes – and gathered my fabrics to take to class.

When we arrived Kathy had some all-white objects to set up against a white backdrop, her point being that colour would distract us. If everything was white we could really concentrate on the shapes and the relationships between them. You can see Kathy’s account of the class here, with a picture of the set-up.

And then she handed out paper and pencils and told us to draw. EEK!! I haven’t drawn since high school, so I wasn’t very comfortable with this step. Predictably enough my drawing was fairly unimpressive.

Then the fun started. “Now draw it again, this time without looking down at the paper.” It was fascinating to see how much looser and freer everyone’s drawing was this time. I liked mine much better. “Now draw it with your eyes shut.” I admit I did peek once, but my drawing was only slightly more surreal this time than the previous attempt.

Then it was time to get started on the designing and sewing of our quilts. Some chose to use the sketches we’d just done as a starting point. I had a still life by Chagall.

I love Chagall’s blues! I was picturing this colour scheme, with the window and the bowl on the table in front of it, only with mangoes in the bowl. In my head the contrast of the orange mangoes against the blue room would be delicious. Only problem was I’d forgotten to bring any mangoes with me, so off I trotted in the middle of the class to buy some.

Once I’d done a quick sketch of my mangoes (without looking at the paper – yay for bold free drawing!) and worked out the proportions of my design I got busy with my blue fabrics creating a background. I tried a new-to-me technique for cutting and piecing curved lines, so there are no straight lines in the piece. I like the slight wonkiness of it all.

I completed the background by the end of the class. True to form, I then put off adding the bowl of mangoes till it was almost time for the next month’s class. It felt like it was going to be too hard. Without the motivating power of the deadline I still wouldn’t have done it, but I managed, and it wasn’t as hard as I’d feared.

At first I wasn’t happy. I’d tried to suggest shading by using different fabrics, but it seemed to me that it hadn’t worked until I was doing something on the other side of the room and happened to look back. Then I could see the blending effect and felt better.

I still have to quilt it, of course, but I’m pleased with it so far. For some reason I'm ridiculously happy with the shadow under the bowl, of all things. Mainly just because I thought to add one(!), but also because it's a scrap from a quilt I made for my Dad many years ago.

Turns out still life was fun after all!

Monday, 12 March 2012

*@!!*$%! names

Cardygirl had a cute suggestion for Baby Duck’s new name: “Duck Dodgers of the 21st Century”. Of course Baby Duck would have to have it explained to him, not being of the right vintage to get the reference. The Carnivore also offered “What the Duck” as an option. That man amuses himself greatly.

Why are names so difficult? Shakespeare reckons “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, but being right doesn’t change the fact that names matter. We all have different associations with different names – which makes getting two people to agree on a name for a baby a hell of a job. Thank goodness I only had to do it three times.

Plus I cheated by not letting the Carnivore have a say the third time. I mean, I ask you – how would you feel if, after protracted negotiations with your beloved over the name of your second child, in which, in the spirit of loving compromise, you gave up the middle name you had your heart set on in favour of the one he wanted, which you didn’t even like – only to have him ask a few weeks later: “what’s her middle name again?”??

“That’s it! I’m picking the next one’s name All On My Own.”

I always wished they came with a name already attached. Picking names is so hard. There’s all the ones you can’t stand because you used to know someone you didn’t like who had that name, plus the ones you can’t stand just because they’re gross, or oldfashioned, or they sound hideous with your surname. Then there’s the ones you like but so does everyone else and there’d be bound to be three of them at least in the same class at school. Or the ones you like but someone you know has already used them. Or even the ones you like but the family expects you to use in honour of some dead relative so you refuse to even consider them.

Fortunately I’m not having any more children, so I don’t have to negotiate that particular minefield again. Unfortunately I’m a writer, so naming characters is part of the job description. Whole books full of them, dammit. I hate naming characters.

I’ve been working on an outline for a new novel lately. I’m about a quarter of the way through and I’m completely stuck. Why? Because I don’t know what anyone’s name is! It sounds ridiculous, I know. I’ve been using X and Y, or role descriptions like “the ex”, “the ex’s best friend”, and that’s got me so far, but I’m at the point now where I really need to know my characters and what motivates them before I can figure out any more of the story. So I have to know their names. I mean, an “Erin” sounds like a very different person to a “Katie” or even a “Phyllis” or “Muriel”, to take it to extremes.

I’ve been going through baby name books and internet sites, in search of my perfect character names. No luck so far. I’m in awe of people who are good at this. JK Rowling, for instance. “Sybil” for a seer? So clever! And what about “Sirius Black”? I love that one! Sirius, of course, is the name of the dog star. And what does Sirius Black turn into? A black dog. Genius.

So I’m squirming like a worm on a hook here, knowing that names are important, and the right ones will help capture my characters, but unable to find them. Did I mention I hate naming people?

I even made this cute little crochet owl the other day, following this pattern, and I can’t think of a name for him either.

I know what you’re thinking. You don’t have to name the owl, Marina. It’s just a stuffed toy. And it doesn’t even look like an owl.

I know you’re right, but he’s just sitting on my desk staring at me, all vague and nameless. Sad, unloved and nameless. Accusing, almost. What kind of mother are you? If you really cared you’d give me a name. And stop letting people say I don’t look like an owl.

Sorry, buster, you really don’t look like an owl. The original did, but I think I overstuffed you. You look more like a sparrow with a really big butt. Maybe an overweight robin.

Hey, I could call him Robin. Robin the Owl.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Spot the problem

Hmmm. I think I may have a problem here:

I promised Baby Duck a “bugs in bottles” quilt about two years ago. I made the blocks and then they just sat there, unloved. A few weeks ago I decided I’d better pull the finger out and get on with it, so I laid the blocks out on the floor, settled on an arrangement and started sewing the rows together.

I thought I remembered having made an extra block with a mainly white bottle to use as the quilt label on the back. Apparently my memory was playing tricks on me, since there was no sign of it. It had been so long.

And then, what do you know – I lay the last row back down on the floor and it’s suddenly sprouted an extra bottle. The missing white bottle must have been lurking under another block all the time. No wonder I’d seemed to be short one black strip.

My trusty unpicker soon had the culprit out of there and the row resewn. I’m now nearly done with the quilting and should have a completed quilt to show you any day now. Just as well. The kid’s not getting any younger, and this quilt has a definite use-by date. Some day soon my baby’s not going to be a baby any more, and bugs in bottles will be daggy beyond belief.

We’ll have to come up with another pseudonym for him when that day comes. I’m not sure I can still call him Baby Duck when he’s a hulking creature with facial hair and a baritone growl. He thinks it should start with a “D”, like the girls’. Darling Duck? Ditzy Duck?

His sisters have been known to get out the dictionary in search of annoying adjectives, Demon Duck in particular. (Why am I not surprised?) Some of her suggestions include Desexed Duck (inaccurate but satisfyingly insulting, apparently), Dopey Duck, or Demented Duck.

Actually, that last one could work …