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Recently I have been coming across a lot of quilting related stuff. Maybe this is due to my making a (rather conceptually planned) quilt myself (as readers of this blog will know), which made me pay more attention to this, or maybe this is a genuine trend that has finally reached my conscious mind. For me quilting was all around for the last couple of months.

One of the things I find most fascinating about quilters (although really this is way before the quilting stage, so maybe I should better say ‘patchworkers’) is the ‘stash’. That mysterious assemblage of pieces of fabric that you compile while working on projects, carefully saved for the as-yet-unformed projects of the future. Stashes can give their owners a lot of joy, they are full of inspiration and potentially also memories. They can give you a great excuse to buy something gorgeous that is not for a current project, but sometimes you come across something just too good not to get, because you will sure be able to use it in the future for something. Your stash gives you an excuse for completely aspirational purchases – and dreams. (The most recent pieces in my stash were brought home from a trip to Japan, all small bits of vintage kimonos; they are gorgeous, but also very much unlike anything I usually work with – who knows what they will end up in?)

most recent purchases for my stash - pieces from old kimonos

most recent purchases for my stash – pieces from old kimonos

I have a number of ‘stashes’ when it comes to crafting materials (although most of them are not actually in stashes, but in boxes, or better they aspire to be in boxes and one day I will surely get round to organising them a bit better so that they actually are in boxes rather than occupying all sorts of surfaces in my flat, including – I am ashamed to say – the floor), some stashes relate to bookmaking and printing, some to sewing and knitting, some to painting. Some have been accumulated for the sole purpose of running workshops, these include a bit of everything even some random materials.

But of course there are also more metaphorical stashes you can find at work, even if you are not working as a quilter. A colleague of mine recently mentioned that she had started a file documenting her achievements so that she wouldn’t forget about them when it comes to putting together submissions for the next Research Excellent Framework (if you’re in UK Higher Education you will know what this means, if you are not consider yourself lucky).  What she is doing is building her stash. When I started thinking about my Learning and Teaching quilt, there were always some patches that represented what I had done, and some that represented ideas to pursue in future. I have recently had to put together a CV and was reminded of how much that is like laying out the pieces of material in a more traditional patchwork stash, thinking about here is what I have, these things go together, these might clash too much, these are too much alike to include all of them.

There is some satisfaction in knowing that it might feel like business as usual most days, but that actually the outcome of these oh-so-ordinary days could be likened to a piece of fabric that one day will help me tell a story by putting a lot of them together. And I find it so much easier of thinking of what I do as little patches of fabric than of lines in the bullet point list of a CV. The great thing about thinking about your career this way is that you can also see what is missing – where do you need a link? where do you need something more colourful and bold? So it becomes a tool for planning, nt just a tool for looking back.

I wonder whether this would be a good way to encourage students to think about postgraduate study?

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So, after all the embroidery going on over the last week or so, I declared enough was enough and got out the sewing machine to finally quilt the patchwork.

Quilting the Patchwork

Quilting the Patchwork

As with all design processes I have ever undertaken, it was a good thing that a deadline was looming: the portfolio for HEA accreditation needed to be handed in at Staffordshire University yesterday. And while I had been going back and forth in my head about whether to actually hand in the quilt as part of it or not, I thought it would be nice to have the option. The actual quilting transformed this piece of work, making it look much more ‘finished’ (although it took way longer than I expected it to, I’m glad I did it on a non-work day, because I wouldn’t have been able to complete it in just one evening).

But what about the portfolio? While all the embroidery was going on, I was also busy writing my annotations and sorting out my references. And during a chat with a colleague of mine about the portfolio, he commented on how conversational my writing was and said that on reading the first bits he thought I was going down the interview route. Now, I am ashamed to admit, but this hadn’t really occured to me. It should have, as I do a lot of work with genre writing (lots of cream embroidery on my patchwork), but my initial plan had been to get all the information down (conversationally as I find that easy as a first draft) and thenn ‘academic it up’ with making it more formal. However, if the whole point of the portofolio was to represent my practice, then using a slightly alternative genre made sense.

The finished patchwork side of the quilt

The finished patchwork side of the quilt

So, inspired by the quilt itself,  I set about rewriting the whole thing, turning it into an interview with myself, trying to explain the quilt concept, why there was only going to be one side of it (for now), and trying to guess the questions that might come up while viewing this piece – and answering them. Of course that made me end up with a combination of the annotations and the reflective commentary (which might have gone slightly beyond the word count), but I think I ended up explaining the concept, how it relates to my portfolio of work, and how it is not only reflective practice in action, but also reflecting my practice.

When the time for the decision came, I decided to go with the quilt and interview, rather than just the ‘normal’ portfolio and annotation. And the HEA bag I had from the Storyville conference in May was just the perfect size…

It's in the bag

It’s in the bag

The work on the quilt as such is not finished. I am working on the other side – a map that locates my different practices in relation to each other – and am doing more embroidery on that. And I keep updating my Post-it Patchwork, as this has become a valuable working document that helps me plan future projects.

current state of embroidery on the 'map' side

current state of embroidery on the ‘map’ side

As to how the portfolio was received, I will let you know once I know more…

I have finished the ‘virtual’ patchworking and am working on fabric now – thanks to the lovely technicians at Staffordshire University who printed my file onto a quite substantial cotton.

The Patchwork printed onto fabric

The Patchwork printed onto fabric

The patches are all colour coded – so one purple is for the Tactile Academia stuff, blue for the Writing in Creative practice workshops, black for publications, grey for publications in the works, white for very early publication plans, green for teaching activities, red for administrative/uni stuff, orange for important outside influences and yellow for ‘old’ stuff, i.e. my PhD and things before that. And I am really pleased with how this turned out.

However, to add a bit more interest, I have decided that before I attempt the actual quilting, I am going to add some (very basic) embroidery, picking out the odd word or illustration. The way I choose these colours are based on the content – so really it is another layer of colour coding. I started with the content relating to the Tactile Academia booklets, mainly because there I already had colours picked out: blue for The Fishscale of Academicness, red for The Winning Hand of Independence, yellow for The Button Connection, cream for The Dress-up Doll of Formality (and all sorts of ways of playing with written genre), dark green for The Butterfly Challenge and light green for The Land- and Seascape of Academic Practice. Actually this last one I thought was very complex and deserved two colours really, so I used the light green for the islands as well as anything connected to object-based learning and introduced a pink for the ‘shallow’ waters – and anything connected with the ‘off-loading’ practices of craft (the pink inspired by the Pairings Project, which really should have been more magenta, but I decided to stick with the colours liberated from my grandmothers sewing box rather than buying new ones). You can find a very light blue representing The Underwater Iceberg (a book in  preparation), and orange representing my work on blogging (inspired by the colours of the blog on that which is now defunct).

Since then I have also added dark blue for the work with collage and reflective bookmaking, purple for the overall tactile academia ideas, a light brown for genre that is not written and olive for experiential learning (although I don’t seem to have a picture of that – oops!). I will post soon about the actual quilting of it…

And, just as with the whole process of putting this together, this work has allowed me time to reflect and analyse my work. I have been able to see how the things I do interconnect with each other – and how long I have already been on this journey of ‘Tactile Academia’ without knowing it. This has been particularly useful as I have also been in the process of putting together the portfolio for the accreditation to Senior Fellow of the HEA . Taking the time to work on the quilt has allowed me to see a lot of things more clearly – and it has given me an example with which I can visually and conceptually explain what I do in a learning and teaching context.

As you know if you are following this blog regularly (or by checking out the ‘Quilt’ category if you don’t), one of the projects that I am currently working on is an alternative presentation of my CV/expertise/Learning and Teaching development in form of a patchwork quilt.

After an initial surge of working on it, this had gone through a more fallow period while I was dealing with other stuff, but over the summer I had set aside some more time to work on it. (Although it turned out that I had less time than I thought I would have. Isn’t that always the case?) However, I am happy to report that I not only updated my post-it version to reflect what had happened in the last few months (a great feeling of replacing some dark green post-its that show plans with some other coloured post-its which show things that have actually happened; and then adding more dark green ones!), but also set aside the August bank holiday weekend to do some ‘virtual quilting’. So I made a concerted effort to dig out the information I needed and put it together.

But how to visually ‘code’ this information? The transfer from post-its to representational ‘patch’ actually proved trickier than I had expected. Initially I had thought about finding as many photographic images as possible to represent my patches. But putting them together (virtually with the help of Powerpoint) made the whole thing incredibly busy – and ironically at the same time less interesting.

For a while I got excited by the tactile opportunities a physical patchwork would bring and started thinking about different fabrics, playing with textures. And while that would have worked very well for selected patches, I realised that they would have been only very few, so few they would have been distracting.

In the end I went back to thinking about the post-its. The post-its work as the ‘working version’ because they fit together easily (being all the same size and square) and exactly because they have very little visual information on them: they have black writing or basic sketches on them, while the background is a base colour from a very limited palette. That’s what makes the post-it version easy to read; so that is what I needed in the more elaborate (hopefully to be fabric one day) version as well.

I therefore decided to keep that aesthetic by using bits of text or simple drawings to go on the patches. Most of them set at a +/- 45 degree angle, these squares literally cut out of existing documents give a hint of their content, but also have a clean appearance with a stripey look as opposed to the clutter of visual information photographs would have provided. This also allowed me to set apart external inspirations and influences by again cutting squares from textual/published material, but not setting them at an angle.

In putting together these patches over a couple of evenings, I realised that most of my material can be drawn from a textual base – published articles, abstracts or words on slides, handouts and written notes, although there was also the opportunity to include the odd line drawing. I decided to set apart the ‘future plans’ / ‘in progress’ category by using sketches and hand-written rather than typed text.

By now I was working on Photoshop (a very slow process as I am not a graphic designer and have a very old and limited version of it – it was free, I shouldn’t complain) and it was time to come up with some ‘rules’ for the colour coding. I had decided quite early on to use negative images for externally published papers or events, the white text on black reminding me of so many black cotton conference bags with white logos I have collected. Initially I had thoughts that they would mostly represent logos, but then I realised that where exactly I had been was less important than that it was external and the content. (The ‘where’ could always be taken care of in a separate patch of the UK/world with little beads representing the places papers and workshops were delivered… there’s an idea to follow up on one day!)

So: talks at external conferences and published papers would be white text on a black background. In contrast the papers that are not quite there (written and submitted abstracts, for example, or ideas) I would leave black on white.

The rest of the patches would be coloured like post-its, with the help of the opacity function in Photoshop.

The Writing in Creative Practice workshops, mostly external events funded by the HEA, were very important in the development as a learning and teaching professional, as I was (co)organising most of them, presented my own research and networked with other interested parties. A major staff development activity. I decided to give each of them a separate patch rather than just doing one to represent all of them. As a colour I decided to go for HEA blue-ish.

For the Tactile Academia related things I am going with a purple/lavender colour inspired by this blog, while also being reminiscent of the different Tactile Academia booklets, which are printed black on different colours.

Other colours I needed were for Teaching Activities, External Inspirations/Influences, Responsibilities at university (often linked to admin type work) and important ideas that went back to my PhD research. After I spent a fun weekend playing around with different patches and colours I had come up with this:

a version of my coloured patchwork

a version of my coloured patchwork

I am going to slightly change this – and some patches are still missing – but I have to say I am quite happy with this as a rough version of the patchwork side of my quilt.

Now I just have to make some headway on the other side as well… and get it printed onto fabric… and actually quilt it…

I experienced the Making the Textual Visual workshop at De Montford University on the 4th July as a wonderful sharing of ideas and coming together of different disciplines.

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my butterfly name tag

Julia and Kaye not only had put together some lovely bright green bags for us, but also collected a lot of interesting and stimulating materials for collaging and to begin with making name badges. I found a lovely image of an embroidered butterfly, which not only reminded me of the Butterfly Challenge analogy I use with my students, but also of the idea of the quilt that I want to properly tackle this summer, so obviously I had to use that as my name badge!

 

Julia and Kaye then started the day – and it was a very full house, I understand there was a very long waiting list of people who didn’t get in – talking about new ways of seeing and how they engage their students in contextual research as well as library skills. I particularly loved the new approach to re-framing, based on Pat Francis’ contextual circles idea this idea uses an image, like a postcard, in the middle of a poster (flipchart paper) and then gets students to work outwards filling ‘frames’ with answers to the W questions – what is is? who made it? where was it made? how was it made? etc. until they come to the all important why? and get to design a frame that surrounds their investigation. Julia described the success they have had with using this to get students from the descriptive to the analytical. Very inspirational indeed.

Lisa Clughen then talked about writing as a social act – how important the conversations are, within your writing, about your writing, because really they are conversations about your thinking! She also gave us some examples of how she uses visuals to illustrate writing ‘problems’ to her students. My favourite of these was using the image of a cutlery drawer to get students to think about structure – a cutlery drawer is at its most effective when there are clear spaces designated for the knives, forks and spoons, just like as writing makes the most sense when the ideas that are linked are presented together and not in a jumble. I love this really simple idea of visualising structure… especially because most if not all students will be familiar with the concept of a cuterly drawer and also the annoying thing that sometimes happens if utensils are added that are an odd shape – haven’t we all needed to wriggle the potato masher so that we could open the drawer again? Well, in a way a writing problem can be just like that, and sometimes it just needs a little bit attention (the wriggle) to get it to fit the overall structure, so that we can close the drawer smoothly again!

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our group’s visualisation of the different levels of critical thinking in Jenny’s exercises

Jenny Moon then introduced one of her exercises to deepen critical thinking. We were transfered to a mountain walk through reading different forms of report about an incident, and had fun in group discussions figuring out how those reports differed, again reflecting on the descriptive to the analytical. Our table also started talking about mountains as a metaphor/analogy as a whole, and we ended up discussing Wainwright’s graphic descriptions of his walks, which seemed inevitable, but I wonder whether this happened at one of the other tables…

My own session was a brief talk about my use of post-its to organise reflection as a patchwork (as discussed on this blog under the ‘quilt’ tag). When agreeing to do this session I had hoped that this project would be much further along and that I could have brought a finished piece, but maybe the nature of it being in progress actually helped bring across the point… and a personal development mapping like this is, of course, never really finished. I was very aware that I hadn’t really looked at it for quite some time, and that it urgently needs updating before I continue working on it. However, it was nice to see how many of my dark green pieces, which I use to denote future plans, will need to be changed in colour, because I have achieved or at least further developed them! I got some great feedback and hope that I have inspired some of the attendees to start their own post-it patchwork as a tool for their personal reflection, maybe towards the HEA fellowship application. (And if you are one of these people, this blog wants to hear from you!) I will also try to write this up soon!

Through clever planning we then still had some time to do some making! So the tables made some posters using the strategies learned – and then shared what they thought had been most memorable. Here the collaging/reflective note-taking was mentioned a number of times and the (re)frames made a number of appearances, too.

Overall a very memorable and enjoyable day. Kaye and Julia have been talking about having more events, to which I can only say: yes, please!

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help! this is my cutlery drawer at the moment… not much structure at all!

P.S. on a slightly worrying note I have taken a new look at my own cutlery drawer. On my list of things to do since I moved into my new flat (almost four years ago) was making a cutlery tidy out of old tea towels. Suffice to say this hasn’t happened yet… is this rather unstructured way of keeping my cutlery indicative of the chaos my research/life feels in at the moment?

 

Here something that found its way into my inbox… (Yes, I’m also speaking, please don’t let that turn you off…)

You are cordially invited to

 Making the textual visual”: Engaging visual learners with text.

northants collage 3.jpg

 Thursday 4th July 2013

Kimberlin Library, De Montfort University

 

“Making the textual visual” offers Academics, Librarians and Learning Developers an opportunity to share experience and practice. A look at ways of enabling visual and kinaesthetic learners to transcend the text barrier; engaging with text driven disciplines and skills in a visual and tactile way. The day offers the chance to:

  • Experience visual and kinaesthetic learning techniques
  • Hear about the student response and experience of such techniques,
  • Consider the theoretical underpinning to this type of learning,
  • Engage with Critical thinking activities
  • Explore visually enabled reflection
  • Group work to encourage putting these methods into practice
  • A chance to network across disciplines, professions and institutions.

 A day to consider the visual, kinaesthetic, multi-modal, reflective and more cerebral aspects of learning and engagement in a “freed up” expressive working space

This event is free of charge, refreshments and lunch are included.

Interested in attending ? Please book your place through this eventbrite link

 Places are limited,  a waiting list will be in operation.

Any queries , please contact Kaye Towlson (kbt@dmu.ac.uk). Please see Prog textual visual LLS logo for details of the full programme

Recently I have been thinking a lot about the Higher Education Academy (HEA) accreditation, which is aligned to the UK Professional Standards Framework. This has become more and more important in the Higher Education climate in the UK, so much so that universities (my own included) are now setting targets as to how many of their staff need to be accredited by what time.

I think this is a really good idea and although I already am a Fellow of the HEA, I am curious whether I could ‘upgrade’ to Senior Fellow. So I have volunteered to support this within my award group, with the goal to get everybody who is interested together in putting together a portfolio for whichever level is most appropriate. (We don’t have to go directly to the HEA, as Staffordshire University offers a ‘Route by Portfolio’ as professional development accredited by the HEA.)

As part of this, I have been thinking about this idea of a portfolio, and alternative presentations, particularly during some conversations with Carolyn Bew, the discipline lead for art and design, where we were wondering how much of this needs to be writing-based (which, of course, can be a problem for art and design based professionals, some of which don’t have much confidence in their writing abilities). And we were thinking that it would be nice to develop a slightly ‘different’ type of portfolio as an example of a more visual approach to the whole thing.

I’m quite interested in alternative ways of presentations anyway (and I have talked about some of them on this blog), and when one of the participants of one of my workshops gave me a paper on patchwork writing, I began thinking about the direction of a quilt.

I think a portfolio has the wrong connotations – for me having had two so far in my professional life, one concerned with graphics, one full of theatre designs – a portfolio, to me, shows finished work. A patchwork, or a quilt, links the separate pieces through thread, and it can be presented as very much unfinished, representing the on-going journey of a teaching professional.

So I was thinking of this ‘Accreditation Quilt’, and actually started designing it – what bits to put in, how to colour code it, but it didn’t really take of. Don’t get me wrong, I think it was a nice idea, but it wasn’t quite there.

And then I realised that I was going about it the wrong way. What I was trying to do was trying to find a different way of representing the information in the prescribed portfolio. Why was I doing that? To stand out? To have a bit of fun? To make a point? None of them brilliant reasons for doing this.

A couple of days later I was filling in a form as preparation for my yearly appraisal – and I really struggled with the form. I am doing so many separate things, some of which are somehow connected, I found it really hard to condense them all into bullet points that would make not only sense to somebody else, but maybe most importantly to make sense to me, to allow me to see the patterns and figure out what I want to work on more in future. And I was thinking that I need to find a better way of organising this information… what have I achieved, what didn’t quite work, what do I want to achieve in future?

Suddenly I was thinking of the quilt again. but not quite the ‘Accreditation Quilt’ I had had in mind previously, but one with individual pieces that represented critical incidents from my learning and teaching career, something unfinished, with sketched out pieces for future work, representing ideas. Putting this together could help me work out the information needed for my appraisal. Which is the common theme of my previous alternative presentations – designing them always helped me work out something or internalise information or knowledge. They were never that much about externalisation and/or appearance. (Which is probably why most of them remain unfinished – for now.)

So I decided to design a quilt. And while I might be able to use it for the accreditation to Senior Fellow of the HEA, that’s not really why I’m doing it. I’m doing it because I want to be able to visualise where I’ve been and where I want to go. I want to reflect on this not just with a bullet point on an appraisal form (because that’s what we have to do for the university), I want to see whether there are patterns and directions. I want to develop an overview that at the moment I don’t think I have, because I’m focusing on too many bits right now.

And funnily enough I also already have a good name for it, two terms that were typing mistakes I liked so much I put them on post-its on my desk for the right opportunity to use them: Indivisual Evaludation. It will be representing my individual journey  in a visual way, and it will allow me to evaluate that journey, taking as its starting point a chronology provided by dates. And I’m sticking with the quilt idea. While it may ‘only’ be a paper mock-up for now, one day I might actually make a real one. (That already gives me one of my ‘future’ pieces – an exhibition of the quilt and other tactile academia artefacts.)

Anyway, coming to this blog soon: news of the development of my very own Indivisual Evaludation Quilt. I probably won’t blog about every little piece of detail (I don’t want to bore you with my meandering career), but I will try to keep you abreast of some examples and how the shape, etc. evolves.

Why not join me in this endeavour, and we can form a virtual (or perhaps real) quilting circle!