Revisiting the Constellation Quilt


The Constellation Quilt has been languishing unloved and uncared for for the past few months, in favour of "quick fix" projects over this time consuming (and daunting!) endeavour. It's not just that though; the quilt just wasn't "hanging together" for me; I wasn't happy with the aesthetic, or with the disjointed narrative of the piece; it all seemed a bit "bitty".

Now that my summer holidays are looming, I'm about to find myself with the time to really take the quilt to task. I toyed with the idea of converting it into a giant fortune teller or cootie catcher structure (and I may still have to make one up in fabric, though on a smaller scale), but it was the concept of the quilt as a giant linear comic strip that most appealed to me.

And so I have written a snippet of text to add into a reworking of the quilt, with much more of a cohesive narrative. I don't think it's quite "done" yet, it needs a decisive ending, and it will be accompanied by a few choice embroidered and appliqued illustrations, but the final quilt will be mostly text; the words will speak for themselves.
I'm excited to make a proper start once my current bee-themed embroidery is out of the way. My hope is that I'll have the quilt ready for exhibition in the Words Over Waltham Forest festival in October. Fingers crossed!

Life! Death! Prizes!


“Life! Death! Prizes!” (complete with exclamation marks) is the rather incongruous strapline of Chat magazine, “your smart real-life read”, aka one of the recent spate of pulp magazines, that, as one reviewer of a book named for the strapline puts it, trade “in human misery by revelling in real-life traumas”.
On a lighter note, I was tickled by the phrase and cross stitched it during my second year at university.
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I chose green as the colour for “life!” due to its association with nature and new life, red for “death!” due to the obvious connotations of blood (alternatively red could have been used for “life!” for the same reason), and a variety of bright colours for “prizes!”, analogous with a flashing neon sign that would be found in an amusement arcade or fairground.
The phrase stuck in my head as I began to plan The Constellation Quilt, and the idea that it could be a neon sign hanging in a fairground made me think that it would make the perfect companion piece to my “fortune telling” patch, with a wheel of fortune or fairground fortune slot vibe.
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When translating the phrase into a patch for The Constellation Quilt, I kept the colours of the text the same (adding purple flowers growing out of the “life!” line), but chose a different font for each word. I think the font of “prizes!” is particularly akin to a neon sign. To add to this effect, I stitched star sequins and purple beads, to tone in with the rest of the quilt, issuing out in rays of “neon light”.
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This was my first time using water soluble cross stitch aida, and I’m largely happy with the results, although as the plastic  texture of the aida makes it difficult to use an embroidery hoop, there is some puckering between the words.
Here is the patch alongside its companion piece. Only three more patches to go, and then it’s the scary part; piecing together the quilt by hand.
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"You will meet a tall dark stranger"


As I mentioned in my previous post, this patch of The Constellation Quilt is all about Polly Kettle’s fortune telling. I couldn’t help but refer back to my Fortunate Cookie Predicts Pavement Proposal embroidery which featured in my project The Cure For Love with this patch; a number of rhyming cookie fortunes are strewn next to Polly’s sparkling crystal ball. I must apologise for taking so long to post this; the “mystic rays” radiating out from the centre of the crystal ball ate up a LOT of thread, and I’ve just been away for the weekend (I know, excuses, excuses!)
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Any Talking Heads fans may notice that I’ve borrowed a bit of a lyric from Once In A Lifetime with the first fortune, “You  may find yourself behind the wheel of a large Land Ranger“:

I decided to make all the fortunes rhyme to add a playful, light-hearted sense to the patch; I don’t think the occult should be taken too seriously! I’m just about to start the companion piece to this patch, in which I will be playing with water soluble aida (or cross stitch) fabric for the first time; I’m excited to see the results!

Stardust


I’m so inspired to complete the remaining patches of The Constellation Quilt that I’ve even been dreaming about them! The next patch will be a playful look at the stars as they apply to fortune telling (appropriate for a quilt based on my character Polly Kettle, a fortune telling siren).
I’ve just finished reading Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, and amongst the reams of gorgeous imagery is quite a bit of writing about the chaos and majesty of the stars, including the below:
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 Yes, it’s a little melodramatic, but so is Polly Kettle, so it seems appropriate! I enjoyed adding all the tiny gold stars (or should I say stardust?) The background fabric of the patch has the slightest gold sheen; I will be interspersing the Polly Kettle letter patches with these, and with patches of a warm yellow-gold colour. I think this “stardust” patch may be the “cornerstone” patch which ends the first “Polly” line of the quilt.

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My Polly Kettle patches for The Constellation Quilt are all finished! Next comes the trickiest step so far; getting out the graph paper and figuring out what the proportions of the quilt will be. I envision half size rectangles between these squares, embroidered with found text and my own, and appliquéd with moths (there they are again) and moons.
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I”m so loving the rich colours of these patches, and their mystical patterns.
To get myself in the mood to write and quilt I’ve written a Polly Kettle-inspired piece, which I’m going to share here, although it’s very much free, stream-of-consciousness verse, and I’m not sure if it’s finished or not yet. Polly is an occultist, part witch, part fortune teller, part medium, and so this piece has occult or supernatural themes:
Gossamer muslin blossoming out of gossiping mouths speaking in tongues and sipping mixed spirits, mixing with spirits, leaving ghostly lipsticks on spritzer glasses and crystal tumblers, wiped away with a white ‘kerchief; a parlour full of parlour tricks, above the mantelpiece the old clock ticks. It is well past the witching hour, and we are bewitching, we are divining, and we are divine, on the divan we deviate, we divide and conquer the dead and the living.
We swoon, we cry for the moon, eyes big as flying saucers, full as a saucer of milk. We three sisters, hag, maiden, whore. It has to be one or the other, the spinster, the mother, the fresh-baked home-wrecker with her wrecking ball.
Hush now sisters; I see a tall dark stranger in my future, the future’s mine, the future’s bright, mine eyes have seen the glory of the ghoulish night, and I’m a moth to my future’s white hot flame, my turban is tattered and unravelling, and I’m suddenly a slip of a thing, thinner than a paper moon, and I see a girl naked in front of her lover, I see my lover in soft focus, vaseline smeared on the glass, I must wait for my crystal ball to clear of mist, I must adjust my lens.
As explained in this article, “ectoplasm” that was produced during Victorian and Edwardian seances was, in fact, muslin, or some other thin natural substance, hence my mention of “gossamer muslin blossoming out of gossiping mouths“.
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I’m currently collating all the writing I can on stars to get me inspired for the small passages of poetry which will make up some of the patches spaced between the Polly Kettle squares. As well as writing my own snippets, Virginia Woolf’s The Waves is proving a mine of stellar imagery. It was given to me by Pip for Valentine’s Day, and by coincidence was going to have moths as its central motif, not waves… I’m sure this will act as inspiration for the lunar moth(s) I’m going to add to The Constellation Quilt!

The beginnings of The Constellation Quilt


Yesterday I accompanied my Granny to a quilting workshop at the Kilchoan Learning Centre. I went along partially as research for The Constellation Quilt. However, I think my quilt will be rather less elaborate in construction than the table mats we were aiming to make; I didn’t get very far at all, and my efforts came out very wonky!
Despite this, the workshop provided a wealth of inspiration, as Joan Kelly, the workshop leader, introduced us to many quilts she had made over the years, all with their own stories and techniques. I was particularly intrigued by her use of three dimensional applique. A border stem was painstakingly rendered by tucking and sewing the rough edge underneath the flowing shape. Even more inspirational was Joan’s exquisite hand quilting. When the quilt has been finished and bound together, a design is sketched in dissolvable pen, and executed in running stitch all over the quilt. I think I’ll be brave and try this embroidery quilting technique on The Constellation Quilt.
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I particularly liked this jewel print fabric, the backing of a quilt for Joan’s son.
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My paltry efforts!
The beginnings of The Constellation Quilt are going rather more successfully (but then again, I haven’t sewn any of  it together yet!) I am currently spelling out my witchy fortune teller character Polly Kettle’s name in appliqué on squares of African print fabric in rich purples and golds; stardust colours.
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I hope to have Polly’s “surname” finished soon, and then it’s on to embroidered and cross stitched sections of the quilt.