Saturday, May 02, 2009

Breathing space

Back in 2004, my very dear friend Karamah gave me Carol Phillipson's Cross-stitch Designs from India for my birthday. This is a delicious book, full of patterns derived from Indian textiles, metalwork, leatherwork and architecture, from art, and even from travelling theatre.

No, I haven't made anything from it yet, but since we moved into our new flat, which has space to do stuff, space to store stuff on shelves rather than in stacked boxes, space to pull out books and materials, spread out, and not have to put everything away again before you can eat / sleep / scratch your nose, space - space - spaaaaaaaaaaace!!!!!! - wheeeeeeee!!!!! (Did I mention that in our new flat, we've got space?) life is so much more enjoyable. Nesting again.

Mostly, since the first phase of sorting out where things go and resuming old life in new layout, I've been digging through folders and workboxes; sorting and shelving magazines, books, wools and fabrics; and placing, repotting and re-arranging plants as I get to know our new microclimate. The trees have had to go on the rooftop terrace because we have no balconies here, but the enchanting red-stemmed curly leaved willow is right here in the living room, flanked by honeysuckle tendrils, a tall, blunt spear of rosemary, and a peace lily (Spathyphyllum) which, having survived freak hail, plunging temperatures, and savage emergency cutting back and repotting, is just beginning to unfurl new glossy spring leaves - yay! Another heroic survivor is the Aloe Vera: battered but game, it has put forth an inch-long spire between its two remaining wings. Bless.

Meanwhile, back at the sewing box, I'm getting my hand and eye in again. So rusty. I've been looking at two styles of embroidery from Gujarat: kantha, and abhala, both of which incorporate shisha glass. I loved the fine quality Arab and Indian shisha embroidery I saw in Dubai, and we have two patchwork hangings, a black one made up of yokes and cuffs worked in gold and silver threads, from the abayas worn by Muslim women in the UAE; and the other predominantly red and orange, framed in black, and covered in red, black and green chainstitch. I also have an incredibly heavy cotton skirt covered in abhala work, which I adapted as a beanbag because it is just too heavy to wear - but also very hard-wearing.

Here, we have four wicker dining chairs that need cushions , four 50cm feather cushions that need new covers, and our sons's old bedroom curtains - very faded on one side, but a beautiful cornflower blue on the other. I thought I'd experiment with applique, kantha and abhala, keeping the same colour fabrics and threads throughout, but trying something different on each one. I'm quite pleased with my first cushion cover, which has an appliqued bird adapted from a kantha embroidery pattern in Caroline Crabtree's World Embroidery*, and a vine with leaves worked abhala style, in herringbone stitch, with falls of yellow blossoms in french knots. Hmm. Separately, both vine and bird work, but together, they're out of balance: the exotic bird completely at odds with a vine which owes more to English tea trays than Indian door hangings.The other covers need less gentitility and more verve. And then I'll rework the first one.

By the way, Caroline* has written or collaborated on several books on embroidery and needlework. For some reason, there is no online image of this one book! The aesthetic in Munni Srivastava's Embroidery Techniques from East and West takes a sense of colour and texture combines the colour sense derived from growing up in Benares, in northern India, American or European crazy quilting and, though I found that Carol Phiilipson and the Caroline Crabtree and the two .

However, I have now joined the ranks of the women I used to envy: I have a fabric stash. Sorted by colour groups. On shelves. In a store-room with a light switch and a plug socket, so it may well become a workroom one day. Hally-bloomin-looooooya! My stash is not sophisticated, but it's personal: a mix of dress lengths, remnants, old sheets and cut-up favourite old skirts, shirts and jeans: one benefit of being 50+ is that I know what I like, and have done for a long time, so everything I've got stashed pleases my eye and goes with almost everything else. Also, when it comes to re-using old favourites, almost everything is cotton and colourfast, so I can mix anything I like,and know that it will wash: worn denims, sequinned translucent kurtas, fancy dress satins, prints and nets, faded velvet curtains, my hot pinks, yellows and oranges, Keefie's soft blues, greys and greens: past and future stacked up.

Home life.

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