Tagged: scraps

Sep 02

The Napkin Project



Textile notebook by The Napkin Project


If you had dementia, what would the textiles in your environment mean to you? Could they have a therapeutic value?


Purple flower

A flower from my embroidered napkin


Such issues are addressed by The Napkin Projecta joint venture by artist Deirdre Nelson, care-home provider Brunelcare, and arts consultancy Willis Newsonsupported by Arts Council England and Bristol City Council. 

In planning Brunelcare’s newest dementia care home, Saffron Gardens, Deirdre was tasked with contributing to the well-being of residents through art installations. She set out to communicate how important creativity can be to those living with dementia. Here’s more from The Napkin Project’s website:

When is a napkin not a napkin? When it’s something to keep your hands busy.  Or a bag.  Or a hat.  Or an aide-memoire. When she was involved with a project to create artwork for a new dementia care home, artist Deirdre Nelson noticed that residents in Brunelcare’s existing Saffron care home were often fascinated by the textured edges of items, playing with, handling and exploring objects such as the napkins they used at mealtimes.  A member of staff told her that one resident would join napkins together to carry  her possessions around with her or that another used hers as a vase to hold flowers; a napkin became more than just a napkin.

To that end, she recruited volunteers to embroider napkins with resonant images, and I put my hand up. 


Napkin Project WIP

Flowers in progress


My father’s last years were spent in a succession of Bristol hospital wards and care homes, none as forward-thinking as this one sounds, sadly. He had many health problems, including dementia, so this concept really struck a chord with me. I wanted to contribute.

Part of the task was to write what “home” means to us on a parcel label. After much mulling, I settled on: “Watching the flowers grow in the garden” – partly to reflect a year in which I’ve taken on an allotment and realise that I’d probably feel at home anywhere with a small patch, plot or even pot of earth with something (almost anything) green, alive and growing. 

My needlework contribution is very traditional, very cutesy, and not particularly imaginative. But I found it so relaxing to do. I hoped that the flowers, in crochet-like cast-on stitch, would be nice to handle.

I began by marking out by eye a flowing line of flower heads with a row of pins. I picked the thread colours as I went along. Making the flowers in this curious stitch which is midway between knitting and embroidery, I felt like a Borrower – casting on tiny stitches to my embroidery needle, slipping the needle through them and pulling them gently into their little petal loops. Finally, I added the stems and leaves.



Finishing the final stem


True to form, I used up little scraps of embroidery thread, much of it vintage; an arm’s length was enough to complete each flower head, even less to create a split-stiched stem.



A growing row


Although the official deadline to contribute is past (it’s actually today), it isn’t too late to contribute to this project; if you come along to the exhibition on 12th September, you can embroider a napkin there and then. Do go to the project’s Facebook page to view some of the contributions. And you can find the project on Twitter. And on Flickr. And Instagram.



My completed napkin


If you fancy trying your hand at another joint embroidery project, you could take part in UK charity Plantlife ‘s Patchwork Meadow, a Bayeux tapestry of Britain’s plants. And I’m sure there must be many other joint embroidery projects out there. If you happen to know about one and would like to share details in the comments, that would be really welcome. Thanks.



Napkin folded


PS Here’s a useful little film showing you how to do cast-on stitch. I didn’t use a milliner’s (or strawmaker’s or beading) needle with a narrow eye, but wish I had because it was tricky getting the needle through all the cast-on stitches.

PPS Delighted to see the napkin featured in situ at Saffron Gardens in The Guardian’s coverage (29th November 2013). Look out for image 11. Thanks so much to embroiderer Susi Bancroft for spotting it and giving me a nudge!


Aug 23

Laura Ashley stories


Laura Ashley fans, this week’s your last chance to catch the exhibition at the Fashion Museum. But there’s good news for anyone owning a vintage ’60 or ’70s Laura Ashley dress: you can get into the expo FREE this weekend if you wear that dress along! 

I must mention the retrospective just one more time to share with you some of the background stories of the dress loans. One of my favourite elements of the exhibition was the stories behind the dresses: who owned what, when, and why. I’m a sucker for social history, so this aspect really floated my boat. Many of these stories were shared in the display cards, and in the accompanying booklet (see below). I’ll retell a few here to whet your appetite.


Joan Gould and Ruzi Buchanan, LA launch

Joan Gould and Ruzi Buchanan with their dresses at the Laura Ashley expo launch


The pinafore-over-maxi was a key Laura Ashley look in the 1970s. Joan Gould (left) bought hers when working as a copy-editor on scientific journals in London. She tells a great story, recounted in the exhibition booklet:

‘I wore the red dress with green Anello and Davide button shoes with flesh coloured tights, no jewellery. This was my “party dress” in the early 1970s when I was in my early 20s. I bought it from the Fulham Road shop where the changing room was downstairs. There were a few cubicles, but on Saturdays it was so busy everyone just removed clothes in the area outside the cubicles in a seething, hot and bothered mass of partially clothed young women and piles of billowing clothes. Anyone seeing an item on someone else would grab it to try on themselves when they saw it had been rejected. A few boyfriends would sit upstairs on a sofa in the window, glassy-eyed and exhausted, saying “looks lovely” to the stream of young women staggering from this underworld.’


Beverley Peach, a former landscape architect and now volunteer at The Bowes Museum (where the exhibition will relocate from September), made this skirt from patchwork pieces bought in the Bath store in 1975 for the outlay of 50p. Here’s some of her story, again taken from the exhibition booklet:


‘The skirt is made entirely from remnants that were all different shapes and sizes. From the age of about 15, I made most of my own clothes. Fabric was cheap and my mum taught me how to dressmake. For a teenager in the 70s there were few shops with acceptable, affordable clothes. Chelsea Girl was a revelation! …

I remember the skirt taking a long time to make. I spent evenings sewing when I worked as a nanny in Spain during the summer of 1975, between school and university. The skirt went with me to university in Newcastle. Everything travelled in a large blue trunk, which still holds all the clothes I can’t bear to part with, including the patchwork skirt.

I wore the skirt with a white cheesecloth shirt and a long blue corduroy jacket, both of which my daughter now wears.’


Patchwork skirt

Beverley Peach’s patchwork skirt, 1975


Patchwork Laura Ashley skirt

Beverley Peach’s patchwork skirt



Rose Gollop, whose picture is on this Fashion Museum press release, wore Laura Ashley on her wedding day, and her dress stands prominently at the entrance to the exhibition.



Rose Gollop’s wedding dress


‘I was married on 11 August 1973, two days after my 21st birthday. I spent very little time looking for the dress. I didn’t want anything traditional and knew that I was likely to find what I wanted at Laura Ashley. I was lucky to live near the Bath branch, which is where I bought it…

In keeping with the non-traditional theme, I wore nothing in my hair, a simple “daisy chain” bead necklace, and Greek strappy open-toed sandals that I bought in a hippy-type shop at the top of Park Street in Bristol. Unfortunately, the formal flowers that my parents persuaded me to to have did not really complement the overall look! I would have preferred to go out into the fields and gather up natural flowers. I had no bridesmaids, and was slightly dismayed to find that my new mother-in-law had made matching lime green frilly dresses for her three little grand-daughters, so that when they stood together – and near me – they did indeed look like bridesmaids.’


Do you have a Laura Ashley story to tell? The exhibition may be leaving Bath, but the Fashion Museum would still love to hear it. Take a moment and share.


Laura Ashley A Romantic Heroine celebrates 60 years of the Laura Ashley label. The exhibition is on display at the Fashion Museum, Bath, until 26th August 2013, then at The Bowes Museum, County Durham, from 21st September 2013 to 5th January 2014.

The booklet accompanying the exhibition features an introduction by Rosemary Harden and Joanna Hashagen, and contains several of the dress-owners’ personal stories. It is still available at the Fashion Museum shop price £5.99, while stocks last. 

Laura Ashley The Romantic Heroine - exhibition booklet



Jun 18

Scrap of the week #22

Vintage scraps

Green and yellow floral scraps


Here’s a trio of zesty vintage cotton florals found in a scraps bin in a charity shop last week for just 40p a pop. Happy days!

The ’60s one on the right is my favourite. Sorry not to have supplied anything for scale; the dinky little sunlike flower heads measure just 7mm across.

They’re now washed, line-dried and pressed. I have hexagon patchwork in mind. What would you do with them?





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