These are a few of my favourite things! Part one

These are a few of my favourite things…

Definitely brown paper packages tied up with string but apart from that I thought I’d write a post showing you some of the  materials that I regularly use and that just make me smile. However when I started thinking about it I quickly realised that there are so many that I can’t possibly write about them all  – so here really are a few… and still so many that I’ve split the blog into two parts!!

Wherever possible I use old and used materials for my artwork – often the more tattered and worn the better. I know that they carry their own stories with them all wrapped up in their own history. Sometimes I will ‘imagine’ these stories and this will become part of my piece but often I am perfectly content to let the story remain ‘hidden’ and no less present for that – I know that it is there captured in the layers of my art.

Like so many textile artists, I am a bit of a collector. I wouldn’t say ‘hoarder’ because I am quite specific. There are some things that I know I would never use because they just don’t ‘speak’ to me and they happily get passed on elsewhere. I am a huge fan of Ebay and online sellers of vintage textiles, I love flea markets, I’m not hugely lucky in Charity shops but I am very lucky in that many bits & pieces seem to find their way to me when people are having clear outs. My favourite words ever are ‘could you use?’ – I literally hold my breath until I hear what follows.

‘Could you use some old table linen – it’s a bit marked and stained?’ – Yes please!

‘Could you use these old scissors – they don’t work anymore I’m afraid’ – Yes, yes, yes!

‘Could you use a bit of bling – I’ve some vintage sequins & beads?’ – No sadly not for me!

A few weeks ago I let photographer & stylist Carole Fitzgerald of Lazy Sunday loose in amongst my stash and here is just some of the gorgeousness we uncovered.

Old French table linens
Beautiful old French linens & tea towels

Lets start with vintage linens – old cream table cloths and tea towels. I find white a bit stark but it can, of course, be dyed or tea stained. I just adore french linens with their red stripes – cream & red is one of my favourite colour combinations and probably in the proportions it is used here and all the more gorgeous when it fades through time and use.

Vintage French linens
Frayed edges & woven selvedges

I love the edges and corners of linens – whether ripped and frayed or a beautiful woven selvedge and they are often the first pieces of the fabric that I will use. I’ll buy a piece of fabric just because it has a fabulous edge!

Vintage table linens
Why was I never finished?

I love finding stitched table linens or even those not yet started but have the pattern transfer with that gorgeous blue line. I wonder why this one was only just (beautifully) started? A life too busy? I really quite love finding very badly stitched pieces – I just imagine someone being forced into the pursuit of embroidery under duress and a little bit of ‘ill humour’ going into every stitch. Apologies I know I’m over using ‘I love’ in this blog but I just can’t help it!

Personal markings

Vintage handkerchiefs are another fabulous source of fabric. Often with a small piece of embroidery or edged in lace, monogrammed, washed & worn. Just imagine the emotion that these little squares of fabric have mopped up or helped conceal.

I’m always excited when I find something with some personal markings stitched in – initials or sometimes just seemingly random marks. Always check the back of stitching – it may look more intriguing than the front.

Old & darned cotton organdie
Edges, corners & holes

I often choose to use the most vulnerable parts of the textiles – edges that have been ripped & torn, pieces that have been worn almost threadbare. I look out for different weights of fabrics – cotton organdie is a beautiful very light weight fabric which can be used where you want just a wisp or just a suggestion.

Old garments with darns
Seams & darns

Perhaps my favourite thing to collect is fragments of old garments  – for me in creams & neutrals. I take them apart and use the shape of the garment piece, carefully unpicking the seams so that the stitch holes remain. I also use the seams themselves  – combining someone else’s stitching in with my own. I think above everything else I treasure patches, mends and darns (though I will probably say that about everything – I have a lot of ‘very most favourites’!

vintage sewing sample
Buttonholes & bands

Buttonholes and button bands would have to come into this category of very favourite things. This pic is a real beauty as it is a sewing sample made at school by someone probably in their domestic science classes. I don’t use these in my own sewing but keep them as little masterpieces in their own right – but I do wonder about the life of the stitcher.

Perhaps more mundane but really useful are buttonhole  & button bands from any old shirt. I love deconstructing shirts revealing the seams & shapes and using these as a background to personal stories. The piece below uses a wonderful vintage detachable shirt collar (very high up on my favourite things list) but the cuff comes from a very ordinary man’s white shirt – actually not so ordinary because and old friend of mine gave me some of her dad’s white shirts when he passed on. She discovered, while clearing out his wardrobe, no less than forty identical white shirts all hanging there – now therein lies a story I’m sure!

Artwork by Ali Ferguson
Collars & Cuffs

I’ll talk more about garments pieces in part two of this blog in a couple of weeks time  along with quilts and haberdashery so do check back. In the meantime you can see how I use some of the materials mentioned in my series ‘HiStories Uncovered’.

I’ll leave you with the gift of a couple of my favourite sellers –  but do, please, tell me more:

Sallie Ead who travels the Uk selling at fairs & shows and also regularly on Instagram

Joan – a lovely friend of mine – is on Etsy at Mamaisonfrancaise

and in the USA  – The Cherry Chic. 

 

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The Story Behind The Piece: Not Just Blue

Not Just Blue

Fragile cot sized quilts expressing experiences of postnatal depression

The inspiration for this series came from a creative art project that I delivered several years ago with Midlothian Sure Start working with groups of parents within their six family support centres in Midlothian. Titled ‘Hear Me Out’ the idea was that I would hold discussion sessions with groups of parents encouraging them to speak out about issues that were important to them. We would then go on to create some expressive artworks which would be displayed in an exhibition to which we would invite health care professionals, local MSPs, local councillors as well as the general public.

During the very first session with the very first group I asked if there was anything anyone would like to discuss. One woman said ‘I’d like to talk about postnatal depression’ …and she did. After she shared some of her experiences so then did several others in the group and one of the most emotional discussions that I have been involved in began. I told this story to each subsequent group that I worked with and one by one women opened up and told their stories.

Ali Ferguson Feeling such a failure

During the sessions we wrote down everything discussed. We then went on to create not only several individual personal collages but also a patchwork paper ‘quilt’ as a joint project across all the Sure Start centres. Each patch contained the words that had been spoken during the sessions and the patches were then joined with selotape, staples and safety pins. The finished rather haphazard and scrappy quilt was titled ‘Barely Holding It Together’ and it became one of the centrepieces of our exhibition.  As a result of this work we also went on to publish an accompanying booklet titled “So Why Do I Feel Like This’ which became a resource for new mothers used by health visitors in health centres across Midlothian. Some of the work travelled round the health centres to be exhibited in the waiting rooms and feedback from health visitors revealed that having it displayed in the baby clinics had helped to open meaningful conversations about some of the issues raised.

I’m incredibly proud of this piece of work and the words spoken by the women never left me. In 2016 when I was considering the title ‘Another View’ for an exhibition with Prism Textiles the thought that immediately came into my mind was to explore ‘another view of motherhood’.  I revisited the notes that I had made a few years previously and found them to be just as powerful and just as moving as I remembered. Inspired by our original quilt ‘Barely Holding It Together’ I went on to make my two fragile, scrappy quilts, the first of which was exhibited with Prism Textiles at the RBSA Birmingham and Hoxton Arches, London in 2017. You’ll find more about this series of work under Cloth Work

Experiences of postnatal depression

Now in 2018 I’m returning to this series to start work on Part two. This will comprise of seven vintage baby dresses each stitched with one mother’s (or father’s) story. On the front will be the words that are presented to the world such as – ‘I’m fine’, ‘I’m just tired’ etc.  We’ve all heard people say them. Hand stitched on the back of the dresses will be the real story, the one that tends to get hidden from view.

Vintage baby dress

It saddens me that these stories still go untold and that behind closed doors woman still feel isolated, ashamed and that they are the only ones to be feeling this way. I can’t help but feel that the pressure to be ‘happy’ and to be ‘coping’ must be even higher in these days of social media.

My aim is therefore to create an installation featuring my two original fragile, cot sized quilts (though I think there may be a third quilt added), the seven vintage ‘story dresses’ and three pairs of vintage baby shoes. I am hoping that I will find a venue to exhibit these – possibly during Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 or possibly during Pre and Postnatal Depression Awareness Week 2018. I will be looking for opportunities and venues between now and then so if anyone has any ideas or suggestions then please do get in touch – I’d love to hear them. My hope again is that reading these words will open up other conversations and maybe show other women that they are not alone and give them the courage to speak out and ask for help.

Stitched stories of postnatal depression

Collecting Stories

I’m therefore currently collecting personal stories to be stitched on each of my seven dresses. I already have one which I am about to begin work on but I’m looking for six more. If you have experienced postnatal depression (whether you are a mother or father) and feel that you would like to share your story then I would be so honoured and touched to hear from you. Please just drop me an email and we can have an informal chat and I can let you know what I am looking for.

Embroidered vintage baby shoes

And lastly if a member of your family or a friend has a baby – maybe just check out that they really are ‘fine’.

Postnatal Depression

Gorgeous photographs in this blog by: Michael Graham, The Studio Penicuik & Carole Fitzgerald, Lazy Sunday