Teaching updates – new Hove classes, a Sacred Maths Conference 21-22 October, London. Shows and work I’ve done & Sainsbury’s fake fairtrade…

Sorry it’s a very long post (read it in stages!) there’s ebb so much going on over the summer

Please see my updates on this link. If you are interested in Sacred Maths, please sign up straight away or it might not run. Register your interest with the organisers at the very least, so if it is rescheduled they can contact you again! See my post at


AE (Adult Education) classes didn’t subscribe again, I am getting so fed up with all the effort and admin involved, so I have finally made the last push on reorganising my home studio so I can teach in this house at last. Just got loads of paperwork to sort out in my son’s empty bedroom now!) Please contact me for details of the current class or see the events blog for details.

Other updates

The Great British Sewing Bee

It was a lovely show but didn’t work for me, I made a massive loss! I didn’t have enough chairs to go round the teaching table, so it wasn’t obvious I was offering drop in classes and only had 1 student who had to leave suddenly so didn’t end up doing the class on Saturday and 4 on Sunday!

Also sales were very poor – I think it being a dressmaking focussed event meant people were more interested in buying fabric. Talking of that almost everyone was touching my artwork on the walls. Generally at quilt or other sewing shows people understand things on the table can be touched but not on the walls. I think there need to be big notices in the catalogues and on the walls between stands about touching etiquette. One person came and really tugged on some of my origami pieces, with her headphones on, didn’t engage with me or my husband at all and walked off without even seeming to recognise what she was looking at!

Also regarding photography, I know many teachers who have No photo signs up, I choose to take a softer line and have notices up asking people to talk to Please ask the artist first. This is because I recognise the help and inspiration I have had from other artists in the past, but I don’t want students in particular, just taking shots, using my ideas and giving me no credit for stretching the boundaries in the techniques I am pioneering. I like to have a meaningful conversation with people and ask them to record my name on the photo, or give them my business card so they can remember what we talked about and how to contact me if they need more information.

Many years back at at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace I realised I was getting really bad headaches each day and wondered why I hadn’t before. I worked out it was all the students flashing their mobiles at me all day long. When I asked some of them who wanted to interview me, some questions about what they were having to do there, many of them had been told to interview 3 artists thy admired. Since my Fabric Origami was quite distinct and my stand very much more colourful than everyone elses that year, I was having more interest than I usually did at other shows, but it was very stressful. Thankfully mobiles can now photo well enough without the flash, but I stopped doing the show there for 3 reasons:

  • For almost 5 days I never got to see daylight despite staying at my sister in Law’s in Croydon it still took over 2 hours by trains, tubes and walking or bus at the end. (The following show they upped it to 5 days unexpectedly but I think it’s 4 again and on this week but I’m too tired to go)
  • I never ever covered my stall and transport costs (I do more kits now and usually do, but it means I have to take the car a lot now (undermining my environmental responsibilities and some of the places are really hard to park at. (Festival of Quilts is fine, AP is not, ExCel is expensive)
  • I got fed up with students taking furtive photos behind their friends, & teachers not telling their students about engaging with artists properly

At a more recent show a teacher came along with a load of older secondary students. Before I saw her I had just said to a girl taking a photo that it was courtesy to ask the artist first if you could take photos, the teacher glared at me as if I’d said something really vulgar, she then tried to get me to explain my whole technique in front of all the other students, the more she dug in the more I started to feel evasive and, on saying it was in the instruction kits she got huffy. I felt like saying ‘look you have a full time paid and satisfying job, you probably own your own house’ and ‘I have a very irregular income and a lot of frustration trying to get enough teaching and sales to cover my basics and I can’t even take a wage out of it. I might love what I do but I couldn’t live on on work at the moment if we didn’t live in tied accommodation and frugally on my husband’s small income, so the peanuts I manage to sell these for at expensive shows enable me to keep going and creatively sane, so no, I’m not going to give it all away for free!’

Having said that I always have some amazing and inspiring conversations with people, often bored men (bag carriers) will talk to me about the maths in some of my work and women maths teachers ask interesting questions which is great, others just go ‘wow’ when they see the colours. My sister in law always says she feels really ‘loved up’ when she sits on my stall! It helps me keep going when life is tough and when working on your own is hard going….

Pulborough United Reformed Church Banners

On Sunday Alex is preaching at PURC and dedicating an incredible banner project I have been working on with members of PURC. It’s taken about 2 years from my initial talk to inspire them with possibilities and to discuss possible design ideas, though drawing up plans, setting out 4 designs of base colour fabrics on which they could create an interpretation of the Sussex countryside including the River Arun, Pulborough Brooks nature sanctuary and the Downs.

We were in part inspired by a card one of them brought along by Rebecca Vincent of Northumberland countryside scenes Rebecca’s website. Years ago we used to holiday up there when the children were little, before we started doing the wonderful Clergy Family holiday’s at the Society of Martha & Mary’s Sheldon centre in Devon  where we were spoilt by the volunteer helpers and regular community with amazing food, no housework, sandwiches for our daytrips and activities of all sorts for the whole family in the evenings, with ministry job talk banned and till recently no internet or TV’s as such to wreck the peace.

One day when we were driving somewhere in Northumberland, I felt a great urge to start making some long thin appliqué-come-embroideries based on the beautiful scenery of layers of fields, farms and skies. Like most things it never happened, family events did – illnesses, hospitalisations, nearly loosing Alex twice, children’s needs, too many house moves and a load of interesting commissions in-between all this, but when I saw and then researched Rebecca’s work this year, it was like she had done my ideas only she’s a printmaker – not a textile artist. Imagine my surprise then when I saw the card and realised she was based in Northumberland and how much I liked her images. We decided to do a series of 4,  1x 3m banners based on the Sussex hills, one for each season, and to cover the basic underlay I had done, in lots of tactile stitching, couching and 3D flora and fauna.

Then we holidayed in Northumberland again this summer, since our eldest was finishing his MSc at Newcastle Uni and couldn’t get to Brighton till much later in the summer. We borrowed a fellow minister’s house in Whitley Bay and spent our 10 days shuttling between our son’s house & he ours, seeing Beamish (I last saw it decades ago at a Quilter’s Guild AGM weekend) and I made a trip to see Rebecca’s studio, but though she was due to be there according to her website she wasn’t. Her fellow artist was very helpful and I bought loads of her cards which the PURC ladies snapped up because they’d fallen in love with her work too. Maybe next year I’ll get to meet her?

Anyway when I saw what the amazing women at PURC had added to my foundations I was ‘gobsmacked’ as they say, it was so beautiful and far more intricate that I had imagined. I’ve been back to them for a few days of trimming, putting on hanging tubes, checking measurements etc and now they have finished them so I am really excited to see the finished result on Sunday. I’ll post pictures on the blog sometime.

Pauline Burbidge’s Open Studio

I met PB years ago when I returned to Derbyshire after doing a textile degree at Winchester School of Art (1982-5). She was living and working from a 30’s semi in Nottinghamshire very much like the one I live in now and I would have loved to have done work experience with her. She was gracious enough to let me visit and give me some useful advice and I visited her again when she moved into a huge warehouse type studio in more central Nottingham.

Then she got married and moved to Berwickshire. I saw her occasionally at shows and events and occasionally asked her for advice for things I hadn’t yet encountered myself and for which she answered kindly and made helpful suggestions. Every year I saw advertisements for her open house, but I was shocked that it had taken over 20 years to get there. It was well worth the wait and really interesting to see all the hard work she and Charlie have done to turn a run down farm and outbuildings into many incredible work an exhibitions spaces. While I was grappling with juggling children, ministry support and my own work they’ve built an incredibly beautiful place. I made sure I went knowing I was not going to get jealous, after all we have walked very different paths, and thankfully I was just really impressed and very inspired. If you get a chance do go, do. We saw a few other interesting local artist exhibitions while we were there nearby. How I would love to own my own house and build a beautiful art complex though! We are currently going through discussions on whether we can stay for the second term of Alex’s Special Category ministry job here or if we need to move on again (not another house pleeeeeease)….

What else ?

  • Conference for Creators (of Origami) in Lyon, France in July, incredibly positive and interesting ideas and pooling of ideas on drawing diagrams, getting commissions, pricing, writing and anything else related to being a professional paper creator (or in my case fabric origamist). Only drawback was it was too hot and there was no fan or AC in the bedroom and really, really scary fully opening low level huge windows (I was on the 2nd floor) which if I had been a sleepwalker I would have been worried I would have fallen out of. Just standing near them in daylight made me feel vertigo-ish and I’m a very short person! Clearly the French do not have the same safety ideas as we do and since this was a young person’s hostile primarily – it was a bit shocking!
  • Festival of Quilts in August at the NEC in Birmingham. The only show I always  pay to do each year. Fantastic exhibitions and I teach several classes there so have to design several new classes with their kits. I never have time to exhibit work in the judged competitions these days and when I did, the only thing I ever got a prize for was a huge project I did with Park Walk, a school in Chelsea and Westminster, for which they won a sewing machine and I couldn’t even afford to go to the gala dinner to collect the prize! Anyway it’s fun teaching international classes and I get my Mum to myself for 5 days as she minds my stand when I’m off teaching and we catch up in the evenings. Sadly the teachers demonstration stands are in the low level area between halls with dreadful low sodium yellow lighting and nowhere near any daylight. This year I had been moved along a bit and the overhead shadows would have ruined my display if I hadn’t held out for better lighting. It’s always a crush to fit into 2m square, but lots of lovely encounters and a huge range of traders and displays to be inspired by and grateful students to inspire, keep me going back.
  • The British Origami Society’s 50th Anniversary conference in Stratford Upon Avon in early September. I’d pushed for a fabric origami strand since so many of us are now doing it and had hoped to invite some other artists to show work who aren’t considered origami artists. Origami means folding (ori) + paper (gami) so Wendy Lowes my coauthor on my folded book commission refers to it as orinuno (folding + fabric). Eventually we had a reasonable sized exhibition space within a huge display area and I was able to hang two of my bed sized pieces, which are too big for normal conferences and a range of the square, equilateral triangle, hexagon and diamond samples I am developing with a view to doing some new books. Experience of my first book publishers knocked my confidence massively when they refused to reprint it as a paperback (why oh why, do British publishers insist on doing hardbacks first?) then put a load of our work in another encyclopaedia by our editor without proper accreditation to us (I have legal advice from two organisations to say we are in the right, but it is too expensive to argue the case for low earning impoverished artists). Anyway I did a short presentation and taught my basic square windmill unit to a twilight class of just 7 women (others said they would have come if it had been earlier in the day or weekend but they had trains to catch or jobs to get home for and long journeys ahead) and a husband, who refused, twice, though I politely asked him, to make one (I assume he thinks sewing is for sissies – it’s not as we all know, loads of ordinary men and male artists sew now, and most go right to the top bypassing all those incredible women artists who’ve been beavering away for years unnoticed – don’t even talk to me about another star I encountered recently who had every woman of every age fawning and shrieking over him, but didn’t acknowledge any of the other exhibitors around him). Funny how it doesn’t work the opposite way in male orientated art forms! only in sports reporting are women rushed to the top and we all know why that is – eye candy and softer voices no doubt…

Enough of the latent feminist ranting – actually I call myself an equalist – I don’t like men or women being put ahead of one another unfairly or being paid unbalanced wages for similar jobs, but sadly there are still loads of glass ceilings I am encountering in the arts and crafts worlds.

So I had a very busy and inspiring but tiring summer and am glad to be home based for a while, catching up on admin, commissions and planning new projects. My studio is more conducive to working in now and I’m trying not to dwell on house moves (a pointless 5 houses for 3 jobs in 2 places already). Christmas is getting closer so my fair-trade activities are hotting up, nights are drawing in and it’s time to quilt more, watch Strictly, Victoria (though husband has given up as it’s becoming too much of a soap opera – I am starting to agree) and the Bake Off (mostly on iplayer catch up as we don’t have a TV and are often out or working on the original days).

Keep warm, keep sewing or doing your crafts and see you at a show or class next year!

Finally, Fairtrade Matters

And if you can, please sign this petition Sainsburies fake ‘fairtrade’ tea and protest outside their stores on Saturday 28th October (or in other ways – one idea is to buy their new ‘fairtrade’ own label tea and then return it for a refund because they have to log any returns and it will make a huge impact if lots of people do it) – because they have pulled out of the internationally recognised Fairtrade Mark accreditation on their own label teas. This is a really retrograde step. I have been working with others for 40 years to get food grown and sold to fair and safe standards with honest wages and pricing, so it’s devastating to discover they have pulled out of this standard. They aim to do their own version which basically, I think, turns the whole equation back to ‘Aid not Trade’ to subvert Christian Aids’ fantastic ‘Trade Not Aid’ slogan. The community investment premium (see the first point below) is to be held in London and only given to groups who have applied for it for their projects and been accepted – white middle-aged men making decisions for developing countries again instead of letting the communities empower themselves.

FT has 4 criteria –

  • fair pay for the goods, agreed in advanced, raised if prices go up and not lowered if prices go down, so, say with coffee farmers, they know what they can budget on in advance and don’t loose out in poor harvests. This includes a premium which goes to the community to use on hospitals, water projects, schools or a worship place – whatever the community needs and wants
  • good working conditions for the makers/growers and no child labour
  • good environmental conditions as far as not damaging the land and not using harmful chemicals (many products are organic but not licensed because of the huge costs for accreditation on small producers) I found out at a fantastic Fairtrade Foundation day on Saturday that only a small fraction of the coffee that is grown to FT standards is sold as such due to the lack of investment from would be purchasing companies! So sad surely the goal is that all food and craft work will eventually be sold at far prices and developing countries will be able to educate and train their citizens out of poverty (and incidentally from unneccessary poverty immigration)
  • quality improvement – Traidcraft for example invest in a lot of training  producers to be more efficient and better trained to grow crops or make quality crafts that are saleable in western markets

None of the other food labels or models – direct farming (all the artisan coffee shops buying from farmers without a middle seller but with no recognised authority checking the authenticity of the scheme) or labels like Rainforest Alliance and others which only focus on one or two of these criteria come anywhere near the FT standard. Sadly if Sainsburies don’t revert, and Cadburies new owners have also undermined the Standard, so others will want to set up poor substitutes and we will have undermined years of really good developments and prevent many more people from driving rather than just surviving.

Crazy, selfish world, we must all do what we can where we are to share the riches we have for the good of the world overall. Enough pontificating – another early morning. I need to get some sleep!

I promise a much shorter update next time and some colourful photos!

Well done if you’ve made it this far and thank you very much!



About Louise Mabbs

Textile artist living in the UK & voluntary Fairtrade rep
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2 Responses to Teaching updates – new Hove classes, a Sacred Maths Conference 21-22 October, London. Shows and work I’ve done & Sainsbury’s fake fairtrade…

  1. Sally Dungan says:

    I am an avid fan who had never actually seen your work in person. I live in California and am both a quilt collector and a not so great hand quilter. Your use of math is what drew me to your site!!! The colors are beautiful, but the geometries are magnificent! I find your work to be a great gift. Thank you for your posts.

    • Louise Mabbs says:

      Thank you Sally, for your kind comments. Maybe you might get to the Festival Of Quilts here sometime! As I’m unlikely to get to America again. I’m getting a new website done so hopefully I will have everything linked together better and so it will be easier to write updates a bit more!

      Keep up the handquilting – the pleasure is the most important part and the stitching improves the more you do it. My stitches are often smaller than I want them to be now because I want them to be seen – they’re part of my ‘handwriting’ so I have to consciously make them bigger sometimes!

      Now my second son has gone to uni and my eldest has a job in Newcastle. I am hoping to get my cheap version of a long arm frame up in my first son’s room, then I can do some of my free machine embroidery pieces done under better tension than with just a backing fabric on my domestic machine.

      Got a couple of commissions to finish and then I’m going to get back to some maths pieces so watch this space…

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