A very few of my experiments are for sale on my website very cheaply if you're interested, as I hate to throw things away. However, selling is not what this blog is about - I'd have starved to death years ago if it was - it would make me happy if you just enjoy the processes.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Kenilworth Castle - Posting 1

 I usually separate postings if there's a lot of photos, into the Insides and the Outsides of buildings. There isn't that option for Kenilworth Castle as there's no roof! This posting is about the castle itself, and the next one will be about the Seige of the castle in 1173 (performed yesterday by 6 re-enactment groups.)

For almost five centuries, Kenilworth Castle served as a royal residence. The Kings and barons who created and lived in its buildings are among the most familiar names in English History.
It once stood at the heart of a 1,600-ha (4,000-acre) hunting ground, and surrounded by a vast man-made lake, it represented a rich prize to the generations of royal and almost-royal great men who owned  it: among them Geoffrey de Clinton, John of Gaunt, Henry V, and Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester. 

Even in melancholy decay its influence has been far-reaching, thanks, in part, to Walter Scott’s best-selling romance, 'Kenilworth', which brought the castle new fame.
Geoffrey de Clinton, Henry I's treasurer, began the massive Norman keep at the core of the fortress in the 1120s, and under Henry II Kenilworth became a royal castle. King John greatly strengthened it between 1210 and 1215, enlarging the surrounding watery 'mere' which effectively made it an island stronghold.

This meant it could withstand an epic siege in 1266, when rebellious barons held out against Henry III's siege engines for six months, succumbing only to starvation.

 The delightful thing about Kenilworth Castle is that you are free to scramble around on the ruins and climb to the very tops of the towers if you have the energy.

The groups who were re-enacting the seige of the castle, seemed to enjoy wandering around in costume afterwards, giving us all the chance to have some unusual photos.
Ok, so this gentleman/knight was having fun striking a pose, looking all handsome and powerful into the distance, but there again,  I was having equal amounts of fun taking his photo.

Queen Elizabeth 1st at Kenilworth.

Queen Elizabeth I had granted Kenilworth Castle to her favourite, Robert Dudley, in 1563 and he spent a fortune transforming it into a luxurious palace fit to receive his queen and her court. 

The following extract is from the Kenilworth Castle website. (Copyright © Reading Museum Service (Reading Borough Council). All rights reserved.)

Queen Elizabeth I by an unknown artist

"The queen visited him there several times on her famous summer progresses away from London. Her fourth and final visit lasted for 19 days, from 9 to 27 July 1575, the longest she had ever stayed at a courtier’s house. In her honour, Leicester built sumptuous apartments especially for her use, with large airy windows with superb views, huge fires and a whole chamber dedicated to one of the queen’s great passions – dancing. Decorated with dazzling plasterwork, hung with rich tapestries and furnished sumptuously, this would have been the summit of Elizabethan luxury. Leicester also devised the most lavish series of entertainments for the queen, and took as much care with the surrounding landscape as he had with the buildings, embellishing his park with bowers, arbours, seats and walks. He wanted Elizabeth’s privy, or private, garden to be as magnificent an outdoor space as the interiors he had created for her. 

Two detailed accounts of the festivities survive, one written by the poet and actor George Gascoigne, the other by Robert Langham, keeper of the council chamber door. It is from Langham, a minor official, that we have the description of the garden. Although it was designed as a privy garden, closed to all but the queen’s closest companions, one day, while the queen was out hunting, Adrian the gardener allowed Langham to sneak inside. Langham’s account is written in the form of a long letter, in a curious style which has provoked a great deal of debate. Although he cannot have visited the garden for more than a few hours, Langham left an extremely detailed description of its features. The accuracy of his account is borne out by archaeological evidence, which confirms that an eight-sided fountain once stood at the centre of the garden, just as he claims."

Photos of the reconstructed garden. ( A tour of the garden is here if you want more information.)

The tower which was built by Dudley for the Queen's visit in 1563 has this rather long drop to the grounds outside the castle. I suspect a dunny.

Above right: really thick walls to withstand attack.
 Graffiti through the ages.

The shots below are some more of the stones, window arches, and below ground rooms.

To the left are the underground rooms and above is the light pouring through a doorway from a window high up in the wall. Possibly a dungeon? 

Looking back through the remains at a row of arches over doorways.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Blakesley Hall, Birmingham - Wattle and Daub, and gingerbread

 The road sign that says "Birmingham Attractions" is not an oxymoron.

Poor old Birmingham is much maligned. It's the second largest city in England, and has a strong industrial past. It was bombed heavily in WW2 and much of the centre is new and commercial. You might think it's a multi-cultural shopping hub without history, but of course it's still there if you look!

Blakesley Hall is in Yardley, and was first mentioned in 972AD when it was a Benedictine Abbey. 

 The population of Birmingham grew steadily until 1348 when the Black Death (bubonic plague) wiped out over 200 villages in the Midlands alone. One effect of the Black Death was that surviving families became wealthier, as the available land was shared between fewer people.

"The Smalbroke family are known to have been living in Yardley as early as 1275, and in 1440 John Smalbroke was Yardley's first recorded yeoman (yeomen were landowner-farmers who could be called on to serve as jurors) - so this family survived the plague years. The Smalbrokes and another ancient Birmingham family, the Colmores, rivalled each other for wealth and status. At times the rivalry led to fisticuffs, running battles and lawsuits, though there were also marriages between the two families."
 It's thought that this earlier house was demolished and rebuilt as the Blakesley Hall we see today in 1590. It would have been built to the height of fashion, having fireplaces with brick chimneys, glazed windows, and an upper floor with rooms opening off a gallery.

 The massive front door, made of two layers of thick oak boards still has it's original hinges and locking system.

There is a small garden mostly laid to herbs which you can walk around, but much of the outside space is lawned. This enables children free reign to run around. I imagine that much of the funding for the house has been secured by it's providing educational days out for school children.  Much of the inside space is roped off, and appears quite bare of furniture, fittings and information. During the school terms I can imagine hoards of children charging round finding out information for their projects etc. Whilst this is a good use of course, it does leave the space clinical and less interesting for the non-school visitor. The entrance price of £4 is reasonable and there is a tearoom selling small snacks, so is worth an hour or two if you're passing. Click here for more visitor information

The inside of Blakesley Hall

The Hall is laid out like a medieval hall, with service rooms at one end, separated from it by the timber-framed screen and cross-passage, and private rooms at the other end.

The walls, including the timbers, have been lime-washed. This was done to make the rooms fresh and clean, although there is evidence that the walls in the hall were painted a rich red.   

"The original floor was of beaten earth, about a foot lower than the present wooden floor. Taking this into account, the ceiling is unusually high for the period. Beaten earth floors coated with a mixture of dung and ox blood, that dried to form a durable surface, were usually strewn with rushes or straw mixed with herbs to freshen the air"

The Boulting House was a space used for storing flour, and preparation of dough for bread; a very important part of the Tudor and Stuart diet. The quality of the bread eaten depended on the status of the diner.

 In the Still Room (left) the mistress of the house would make medicines, perfumes and household preparations, using herbs, spices and other ingredients, disguising bitter tastes by grating in sugar from a tall conical sugar loaf.

On the floor at the back is a tiny still oven. A distilling vessel containing water and ingredients would be placed on the top. As it boiled, the steam condensed inside the top of the vessel. This condensate, containing the distilled essence of the ingredients, would drip out through the spout and be carefully bottled, ready for use.
 The Great Parlour was used for private dining, sitting and entertaining. It has a door to the garden so people could come and go without passing through the main hall.

It has a high ceiling with moulded beams. When Blakesley was built, plastered ceilings were uncommon, so the joists and floor boards of the bedrooms would have been visible.

The fireplace is original and the carved overmantel is late 17th C and came fromLittle Aston Hall in Staffordshire in the 1980's.

" The painted wall-hangings depict the Old Testament story of Joseph and his brothers. They are based on a set of seventeenth-century painted hangings at Owlpen Manor in Gloucestershire.

These are replicas.

Painted hangings were used in middle-class homes where tapestries might be used in grander house, both as decoration and to reduce draughts."

 This is a turned chair of about 1680. Chairs like this were constructed from turned parts pushed together and were fashionable and came in both three and four legged versions. Three legs are more stable on uneven floors.
 The Little Parlour was re-instated in the 2001 restoration. The timber framed walls are hidden behind linen hangings dyed in colours similar to the natural dyes in use in the 17th C.

It was very fashionable to have hangings made of seamed widths of fabric in alternate plain colours forming broad stripes. They were called "paned" hangings.

This room might have been used by the women of the household as a comfortable little room in which to sit and chat (the word parlour comes from the French "parler" or to talk)

An Inventory of the Hall's contents in 1684 listed

"two little table boards one Livery Cupboard six old Chaires on child's chaire one old Grate fire Shovelle and tongs one paire of Snuffers and one Clocke" They had a total value of £2 3shillings.

Wattle and Daub walls. The wattle is
interwoven mesh wood strips, and the daub is the plaster mix on top of them.

The slats or wattle are made from hazel twigs or riven oak, and the daub infilling is made from cow dung, chopped straw, and coarse hair pressed onto the wattle. The whole lot was then rendered with lime and cow dung mixed with chopped straw or hair.

 This photo is of the upstairs Gallery. I loved the angle it's on!  Having a gallery was quite a new idea as the bedrooms would normally have opened into each other.
 Painted Chamber.

The wall paintings in this room date from when the house was built. They were plastered over, probably in the 17thC when they were thought old fashioned, and they remained hidden until the 1950's when post war repairs to the bomb shattered plaster revealed them.

These paintings are of lilies, pomegranates, centaurs and a four line inscription which no one can decipher. It's thought the paintings originally covered the ceiling as well.

There are information sheets in most of the rooms. Informative up to a point, but I would have liked much more. I bought the Guide Book for £5 and that contains all you'd need to know including extra bits on clothing and lifestyle. However, it's for sale in the shop which is quite a walk away from the house, and I didn't know I'd need it!  Here's a couple of extra snippets from the book.............


Clothing in yeomen's families was fairly modest. Men wore knee-length breeches and tailored stockings, a long shirt and a padded and fitted long sleeved doublet. Women's everyday wear consisted of a shift (a simple undergarment), underskirts, a fitted jacket and an outer skirt, protected by a large apron. They might wear a large lace trimmed collar, and their hair would be covered with a coif or cap. It was not unusual for people to bequeath their best clothes in their wills, as Isabel Wheeler of Yarley did in 1598, leaving her gown of grogram (a coarse silk fabric) a kirtle, and doublet of taffeta to the wife of Richard Smalbroke.

A 1656 gingerbread recipe

Take a quart of Honey clarified, and seeth (boil) it to be brown, and if it be thick, put to it a dish of water; then take fine crumbs of white bread grated, and put to it and stirre it well, and when it is almost could (cold), put to it the powder of Ginger, Cloves, Cinnamon, and a little of locoras (liquorice) and Anniseeds, then knead it and put into a mould or print it: some use to put to it also a little Pepper, but that is according unto taste and pleasure.

Monday, 22 August 2011

International Quilt Challenge - Light and Shadow Posting 2

 Light and Shadow, stage 2

I'd left you last in the middle of my brainstorm.  Light and Shadow evolved into lots and lots of ideas, but nothing madly motivated me. This is partly because I had an idea right at the start, but which would be too vast a challenge for 6 weeks. It won't leave my head though - very frustrating!

But, pressing on, I went through the brainstorm notes. At the side of the sketchbook page, I drew some little boxes and jotted down a pictorial representation of whatever came into my head from reading the notes. I now had at least 7 possibilities for a piece.

I decided to go with the idea shown here on the right. In my little box, I have two panels, one light, one darker (in shadow), one large, one smaller,  stitched into a background cloth.

The idea was to embellish this cloth with weaving lines of colour and shapes. It would be burnt, or cut away.

So I made a start. The panels are done by putting torn masking tape on white cloth, and then using various markal sticks to rub colour onto the cloth in waves.   The panels were stitched in situ through the backing and wadding.

However, my boat is not floated, and I have stopped working on them. Not sure if I'll continue.

So I had a play with 3D which only makes sense to the eye with heightened use of light and shadow colours.

Blah too. I will muse some more.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Explanation and story behind "Life (Measures of Time)" and Judges Comments

I've had a little bit of contact about this quilt which is at the Festival of Quilts.  It's truly delightful that anyone is interested enough to post photos of it and ask about it, and it's also interesting to read what other people have got out of it.

I left a comment on a blog to say that I would explain it in more detail, so that's what this posting is about.

Can I just say that Foq got the name wrong on the label; it's Measures of Time not Measure. Plural because there's two tape measures.

Judges comments at end of posting.

First of all this isn't a self portrait, the lady isn't me but a professional life model, and was at a class I went to. I did a few paintings of her and enjoyed her curves (usually the life models in these classes have all been young, female and thin) It was obvious that the lady had no worries about body image at all and I found that inspiring.

After I'd stitched the outline of the body onto cloth, I needed to quilt the body to avoid too much loft - I dislike puffy!  I didn't want to use contour lines of any kind and thought I'd add an extra layer of meaning by using the poem by Jenny Joseph, "Warning" It's the one that begins.....

” When I am an old woman I shall wear purple with a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t   suit me,  And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves……etc  etc.  

She also has "Happy in my skin" and "pass the cake" on her nipples. It reflects the models happiness with herself and also my sense of humour, which try as I might to stop, just sneaks itself in. After the stitching, I painted her in exactly the same way as I would tackle any painting, using acrylics. The cloth is absorbent so I needed to do many many washes to build the colour. You can treat the cloth first with acrylic gel to stop this and make a less absorbent surface, but this makes the cloth hard and almost impossible to stitch through, and I wasn't sure if I'd finished stitching at this stage.  

The rest of the image just grew out of my imagination as I was doing it.  I wanted to put in the table which was behind her in the life class, but I decided to make it mine by adding sewing stuff. The mug is the largest I own and I use it a lot because I like to drink heaps of coffee (decaff of course!)  The plate is a favourite too.  I had just recently told that I needed to go on statins, so they were large in my mind, and after I'd given myself a cake to have with my coffee, I thought of my doctors comments about ageing, and gave myself some statins to offset the fat in the cake!  But, I had to chocolate coat them to make them acceptable. I love irony.

The quilt on the table is pieced over papers and is a miniature of one of my hogweed quilts, which I have put there as a momento of them, as they have all been sold now. The hogweed outline also appears in the background on the wallpaper.

The hardest part was the quilt over the chair.  I draped one of my bedquilts over a chair and took a photo of it.  I used this photo as templates for the pieces. Having selected the colours of fabric I wanted to use, it was then just a matter of hand sewing them all together. A pain as the curves are difficult with this method of piecing.  It was then appliqued into place. I had to paint it to give it the illusion of 3D because as it is, the eye couldn't make sense of what it was seeing.

The flowers at the back were stitched in outline and painted. The vase is appliqued, after being discharged with circles.

And the snakes?  Well, that's the meaning of the title,  "Life - Measures of Time" bit really.  The bottom snake is pointing to , well, you can see for yourself! Both snakes start off as tape measures and change half way down. The snake is used quite often in paintings as an image for sex and original sin. The top snake counts up from 10 to 21 and the bottom snake counts from 53 onwards.  I can honestly say that I put these in without thinking about the connotations, and it wasn't until afterwards that I realised what I'd done; which is to make a comment about women ageing and going through puberty and menopause.

And, yes, I guess that from a quilt point of view,  it could have been better stitched, it could have had less paint and more fabric to make it more vibrant. But, it's just a reflection of what I was thinking and feeling at the time, and I used a quilt to express that. I made it mine in my own way.

Thank you for reading, and thank you everyone who was kind enough to look at the quilt at FoQ, or indeed at Leamington Art Gallery Open 2011.

Footnote: Judges Comments.

I don't normally open the comments envelope which comes back with your quilt. This is because, in the past, I've been miffed by occasional injustice! Things like, "I liked the black, and thought it offset the colours beautifully" when there was no black. Or, "not applicable" under applique when the whole quilt was appliqued.  Such inaccuracies and lack of judgment cause unnecessary upset imho.

Anyway, I was asked what the judges said about the above quilt, so have opened them and share them here for anyone interested.

There were 3 judging slips. All boxes were ticked on all three slips of paper. I won't go through each point, just some of the anomalies. The judges can mark each point as 1) not applicable 2) Excellent 3)Good 4) Satisfactory 5) Needs Attention.

Under "Surface Design and Embellishment" one judge said it was "Not applicable," one said it was "excellent" and one said it was "satisfactory." Conclusion? I haven't the foggiest. One wonders if they talk to each other during the judging process.

Under "Applique: Design and Execution"  One judge said it was "Not Applicable", but two said it was "good". It had lots of applique so not sure why it wasn't applicable.

Under "Design" (fulfils category, visual impact, emotional response, originality, content, composition, colour, and choice and suitability of materials) 2 judges gave me 5 "Excellents", and 1 judge gave me 3 "goods" and 2 "satisfactories".  Quite a difference. I get a strong feeling that judge 3 simply didn't like it much!

Piecing: 1 excellent, 2 good
Quilting Design: 1 Excellent, 2 Good.

They all said nice things in the comment's box. I feel it's unfair to everyone to mark in such a way as this, and am sure more consistency is possible. For example, how can they get away with saying  Surface Design and Embellishment, or Applique aren't applicable, when they obviously are, or have I misunderstood?

The Bamboo piece

This was marked in all categories as good or excellent with the exception of 1. Under Design Composition and Colour it was marked as "Satisfactory."

There was a little note attached from one judge which said: I've probably been too hard on marking you down on the "colour" section, as this reads better from a distance than close up. Lovely use of light to indicate sun"  But, she didn't feel inclined to alter her marking!

Make of it what you will. I find I'm not wounded! Past years have had me hopping mad, and I've written extensively to the organizers to try and get things improved, but I just can't be bothered any more!