Once again Columbus State University, the institution from which I retired almost six years ago now, has afforded me the opportunity to spend time in Oxford, England. I’ll be here for six months, serving as Site Director for Spencer House, CSU’s student residence in Oxford. I’ve been here in that capacity twice before, but for three months each of those other times. This will be my first six-monther in England, and I’m thrilled to be here. So is my husband, Fred Fussell, who's here with me.
One of the biggest challenges with leaving home for an extended period of time, obviously, is leaving my studio. I love my home studio, which is tricked out with supplies and equipment and tools that I’ve spent more than 50 years accumulating. It is not without some trepidation that I leave that fine space behind for six months.
During my previous two sojourns in Oxford I’ve tried to occupy myself with knitting, but knitting doesn’t do it for me. I just keep knitting and knitting and knitting, and I wind up going home with a suitcase full of eight-foot-long scarves that I don’t even like very much. (I’m not a very good knitter, truth be told.)
Oh, I did hand-quilt a whole, big quilt the last time I was here. And I’m proud of that – but I missed piecing – the construction, from scratch, of quilt tops – a process I’ve come to love.
My past experience, along with the fact that I’m going to be here for such a long spell this time, prompted me to give serious consideration to what I could do to kick my British quilting experience up a notch. What I decided to do was to set up a temporary, minimal studio, bringing from home the very barest of favorite tools, and adding a very few necessary ones after I got here. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Here’s what I brought with me:
You’ll note that my thimble, lined with moleskin which you cannot see, is front and center. So is my seam ripper – not that I couldn’t get one of those over here – but it fit into the container nicely. I also included a generic walking foot and a generic darning foot, which you probably can’t discern in the photo. I did not even bring a pair of scissors. No rotary cutter, no self-healing cutting mat. It was hard to leave those babies behind, I’m tellin’ ya!
I did find this pair of scissors in a drawer here in Spencer House, though – and they work just fine!
My next step was a sewing machine. I gave some consideration to dragging one of mine over here, but I despise having to keep up with tons of luggage, and I thought it made more sense to buy an inexpensive machine after I got here. So that’s what I did. On our second day here Fred and I found our way to a Hobbycraft store (their version, sorta, of Hobby Lobby) and bought a bottom-of-the-line beginner Singer for 79 British pounds. That’s about a hundred bucks. I’ve had very good luck with these el-cheapo Singers back home, having used one as my exclusive machine for many years, only two years ago amping up my game with a more expensive Juki. I still use my 15-year-old hundred-dollar Singer from time to time. Anyway, I bought the little Singer, walked and bussed it back here to Spencer House, set up, and got going.
Oh, you’ll note the fabrics on the table. I did bring a stash of hand-dyed fabrics from home – in my carry-on.
My hope – and my thinking behind all this, really – is that returning to my roots – returning to a simpler approach – working with the only tools my grandmother had – will be good for me. It’s taking some adjustment, but so far it’s working. I miss my rotary cutter and two big ol’ cutting mats. I miss my design wall. I miss my spray adhesive, my non-slip tabletops, my specially designed ironing surface, my set-in sewing machine tables … But I’m doing okay so far, I think. Here’s the first piece I’ve made, very much still a work-in-progress –
This piece was inspired, in part, by a painting Fred did before we left home --
Oh, one more thing I want to say about my studio here in England – This ill-fitting moo-cow ironing board cover and I are scheduled for a parting of the ways!