Tuesday 27 November 2012

International Patchwork Pleasures

What do you do when you your passion is patchwork and you never have enough material on hand? Claudia Pfeil started her own shop, Quilt & Co (www.quilt-und-co.de* and also http://www.meinbildkalender.de/shop.cfm?sesid=&artid=17283) in Krefeld, Germany's Ritterstrasse. An Aladdin's Cave of fabrics, yarns and threads, the greatest delight were the glorious quilts on display in her workshop, next to the long armed quilting machines.

Whilst some of the pieces followed the traditional geometric patterns, you could see from the exhibition pieces that Claudia's artistic flair is with freely conceived works. The calendar images in the link above merely give a hint of the rich silks and glittering threads. the attached image is of a prize winning piece - catch up with her enthusiasm in her own words here http://www.quiltersrule.com/misc/claudiaPfeil.html.

A poster in the shop reminded us of Monday's visit to the German Textile Museum in Krefeld Linn (http://www.krefeld.de/textilmuseum). The current exhibition is 'European Art Quilts VII'  (http://www.europeanartquilt.com*). These were the winners of a competition by the European Art Quilt Foundation. Exhibitors came from 15 countries and presented 48 contemporary quilts. The exhibition runs till February 2013.

The pieces displayed a wide variety of styles and media that were incorporated into the quilts, from maps, text, to screen printing. Some of the examples can be seen here http://www.krefeld.de/C12574810047BA9C/html/811F1A8DF8B7DABBC1257884003903FB?Opendocument.

Louise Thomas and I visited The Manor at Hemingford Grey (http://www.greenknowe.co.uk), the former home of children's author Lucy Boston. Here we were privileged to take part in a special tour, showing the hand sewn, minutely detailed and precious quilts, sewn by Lucy Boston during the long winter nights. For those who cannot visit, they have been published in 'The Patchwork Quilts of Lucy Boston', by Diana Boston.

Louise Thomas is currently in Swansea and enthusiastically making patchwork cushions and other quilts as you can see from her blog http://louisespatchwork.blogspot.de.

We left Claudia Pfeil's shop after an enjoyable long conversation, with some fabric for Louise's next project.

*these sites use Flash and may not display on more recent Android or HTML 5 compliant devices, like Google Nexus

The large Camera Obscura at Mülheim - visit with Ulrich Heker

Camera Obscura in Mülheim
Ulrich Heker of Teeth'R'US invited us to visit Mülheim last week. With a shared interest in photography in addition to our DE-GB collaborations and publications, the large camera obscura with its associated museum was an ideal place for an outing. for the full slide show, visit: https://picasaweb.google.com/107595387761034666575/CameraObscuraInMulheim?authuser=0&feat=directlinkmore text

Taking the lift to the dome of the large converted water tower, we entered the darkened viewing room of the camera obscura. When the aperture 10m above us was opened, light was reflected off a 300mm mirror that could be rotated at the top of the dome, through a set of lenses with an aperture of about 140mm and projected to give an incredibly realistic view of the surroundings on a wide table.

In the weak winter sun, the scene was not as bright as at noon on a full summer's day, but when the mirror was rotated to view the nearby roads, the cars and buses seemed to be toys within touching distance.

Fortunately, I was armed with camera and tripod and was able to take a series of images, not just of the projections, but also of the amazed and interested spectators. Their faces glowed in the reflected light.

The winter sun was setting and over a period of half an hour came into projected view. We first followed it with a small screen until it reached the main projection table. Here, glowing in it's full glory, the disc of around 8cm diameter clearly showed two sunspots. Shining through the lower bands of the atmosphere, the disc also rippled with slight atmospheric disturbances, as if it were alive.

The principle of the camera obscura was known to Aristotle. As children we came across the portable version, the pinhole camera. David Hockney recently gave an excellent TV series on how Renaissance artists probably used the method for their incredible perspective and realistic paintings. However, large scale projections still have their own magic when you encounter them.

Coming down through the museum, we found the photographer Michael Schaaf (www.colloidon.de) preparing for a workshop with an old plate camera,using the wet colloidon principle. I picked up a very useful tip here: Use long exposures to photograph a portrait and you avoid the bane of any photographer's life, people blinking just as you take the picture. With a longer exposure ( a couple of seconds) blinking does not register. But your subject has to remain very still!

Ulrich Heker is himself an accomplished photographer (and has done nearly all the photos for the articles I translated for various dental magazines). So we naturally had an extended conversation with Michael Schaaf, which tested the patience of our companions.

If you are ever near Mülheim in Germany, make a point of visiting the Camera Obscura there. Other exmples worldwide can be found by following the links here http://www.camera-obscura-muelheim.de/cms/camera_obscura_weltweit1.html.

Designing the book cover for Harriet's Holiday

The accompanying slideshow gives a visual timeline of how the book cover for Ruth Leffler's children's book 'Harriet's Holiday'  was created. The process is expanded below.

(if you cannot see it below, please visit https://picasaweb.google.com/107595387761034666575/HarrietSHollidayTheEvolutionOfABookCover?authuser=0&feat=directlink)

I was chatting with the author, Ruth Leffler, at a meeting of the Huntingdonshire Business Network about her completed manuscript of her children's book, Harriet's Holiday. The main stumbling block was the completion of a book cover.

Ruth Leffler's vision was an image relating to a particular part of the book where Harriet, on holiday, climbs the stairs of an old Scottish house. She finds an old arched door that is partly open, revealing a child's bedroom. A friendly teddy bear rests on the bed, there is a sheepskin rug on the floor and the windows looked out over the nearby loch.

The imagery immediately fired my imagination and I begged to be given first opportunity to design the cover.

Back home, I began with some quick sketches of how the room might be arranged and, more importantly, where the door would be in relation to the room and the rest of the house. This was followed by where to place Harriet. The decision was to have her at the threshold, just about to enter and pushing open the door.

The book is itself magical, with Harriet entering pictures for adventures. Therefore, rather than having a normal perspective, I placed the reader higher up, looking down on Harriet and over her shoulder into the room.

This being a book cover, the image also needed relatively uncluttered areas for the title 'Harriet's Holiday' in large lettering at the top and 'Ruth Leffler' as the author's name at the bottom.

As the medium, I decided to use soft pastels. In the latter part of the slideshow
(if you cannot see it above, please visit https://picasaweb.google.com/107595387761034666575/HarrietSHollidayTheEvolutionOfABookCover?authuser=0&feat=directlink)
 you can see how the paper was planned out, the general outlines pencilled in and then completed in stages.

Ruth liked the final draft but found the halo around Harriet too distracting. This was therefore toned down usig photoediting as pastels themselved gave too wide a golden edge. It only remained to add the title 'Harriet's Holiday' and 'Ruth Leffler' in a suitable font and the cover was complete.

I'm pleased that Ruth liked the cover for Harriet's Holiday.

If you would like a gentle magical tale to read to your children, or a tale which your own inner child might delight in, Harriet's Holiday by Ruth Leffler is available for Kindle readers on Amazon at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Harriets-Holiday-ebook/dp/B009NUQEVC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1353974966&sr=8-1. Enjoy!

Thursday 15 November 2012

The future is closer than you think - Climate Change Adaptation

Guest blog by Jane Thomas

We don’t need to look far to see the health impacts the weather can have and how important it is to build in climate change resilience:

  • Hurricane Sandy claimed 121 lives, cut power to over 8 million homes and rendered the water supply for many unsafe to drink
  • The 2003 heat wave on the continent caused 35,000 extra deaths
  • The flooding in Gloucestershire in 2007 caught us out, when all four access roads to the town became impassable and, for the first time in its 100-year history, the Mythe Water Treatment Works flooded, resulting in the loss of tap water for 140,000 homes over a period of two weeks. 

I have always had an interest in climate change and sustainability, so on Wednesday I went along to a very well attended meeting of the East of England Climate Change Adaptation Network, representing Milton Contact Ltd.

The focus of the meeting was health and well-being, with contributions from the NHS sustainability team, NHS Bedfordshire, Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, Essex County Council, The Environment Agency and Defra.

These organisations have a responsibility to reduce their own impact on the climate in terms of carbon and energy use and to make plans to help keep us safe in extreme weather conditions.

They are also keen to encourage us all to share that responsibility: We can make changes to the way we go about our daily lives; we can make changes at work which not only save money, but can improve the health and perhaps the safety of the staff; or we can make plans to help us get through severe weather events unharmed and with minimal disruption to business continuity.

When we buy a house or set up a business here in the UK, we generally ensure that the roof is watertight and the windows exclude drafts when it’s cold, but open to allow the house to cool off when it’s hot. We fit heating to keep us warm and a clean, safe supply of drinking water is taken as given. We even take out a variety of insurance policies to help us out financially when things go wrong.

But are we ready for the changes that our weather may throw at us?

Some may think this is for future generations to worry about, but recent events indicate that we should be prepared.

We can all take steps now to be prepared and help protect ourselves, our homes and our businesses. It needn’t cost the earth and might even save us money.

We should not be complacent and believe this is for others to worry about. We can save energy – we can take the bus, walk or cycle occasionally – we can buy locally produced foods – and we can adapt to reduce the impact of extreme weather.

What will you do today to reduce the impacts on you and yours?

As a first step, I would encourage you to check the Environment Agency’s flood risk map to find out whether your home or business are at risk of flooding. 

Go to http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/floods/default.aspx and click on Flood Map.

A review paper in Nature estimated that in 2000 a global death toll of 150,000 was attributable to global warming. Jonathan A. Patz, D. Campbell-Lendrum, T. Holloway, et al., “Impact of regional climate change on human health,” Nature, 2005, vol. 438, pp. 310-317.

Follow Jane on Twitter @sustainmi

Investing time and money in a sustainable future

I had a meeting with the TSB in London, about the future for business in sustainable construction. What's more, they not only wanted to hear my opinions on problems to be tackled, they even offered a pot of 50m GBP I could tap into!

By now it should be apparent that I was not talking to a bank. My partner was the Technology Strategy Board, and I was not alone. Experts from a slew of construction interests, from business to research had come.

This was just one of a series of meetings, ably organised on behalf of the TSB throughout the UK by WECREATE.

The objective was to identify those stumbling blocks for businesses over the next five years active in the area of low impact buildings. My personal interest in participation came from work with architects active and expert in sustainable construction e.g. Tollé Green Architecture.

We were split into groups of three or four first, to brainstorm the key issues. This was followed by listing the top five barriers that prevented commercial progress in low impact construction. From these, TAB would identify where to provide support to overcome these barriers.

There were three problem areas and each group was given one to concentrate on:

1. Maximising existing stock
2. Zero carbon new build
3. Resilience to future climate

I found myself in a group tackling future climate (we had no choice).

A consistent theme, when chatting to other participants afterwards, was the need for clear communication and incentives. This should be working from the ground up.

In contrast to some of the northern European countries, sustainability issues are lower on the priority list of the UK population. Construction complies to the letter of regulations against the backdrop of a competitive market and striving to keep costs down, in a recession.

Changing attitudes with the public and in construction will ultimately provide the self motivated shift required for reasonable progress.

We were encouraged to tweet our identified issues and solutions under #lib201318. For the non-twitterati, four of our suggestions are repeated below:

1. App for people to easily calculate benefits of changes to their behaviour or buildings.

2. The need for an industry recognised prestigious prize to promote adoption of climate resilience.

3. Collection of real-time data from existing occupied buildings on performance.

4. Recognised standards for meeting resilience to future climate change.

In addition to having made some interesting new contacts, we left with the anticipation of the Technology Strategies Board future project-funding proposals.

What will the next 50m GBP go towards?

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Ash dieback, back to the future

Whilst we are reeling from the shock of finding ash dieback in the UK, European foresters have been fighting an ongoing battle to find practical solutions to this relatively new ash tree killer.

With new cases of ash dieback disease detected  on a daily basis in the UK, the more likely scenario is that the disease has been bubbling away for a couple of seasons – unnoticed until you deliberately look for symptoms.

Judging by the progress of the ash dieback in Europe, where it was first identified in the early nineties, the next three years will see a dramatic decline in our ash population. Whether this is by the disease itself or a frenzy of pre-emptive logging is another question.

How does it all start?

A microscopic fungal spore lands on an ash leaf and infects it. Fine fungal threads, called hyphae, grow through the leaf and into the stem. Blocking the plant vessels carrying water in the plant, they kill off the leaves, petioles and wood. They create the symptoms so aptly described in the ashtag app you can download here. This is the fungal disease known as Chalara fraxinea or ash dieback!

The infected dead leaves fall to the ground. Here, small white cup shaped fungal fruiting bodies appear on the leaf stems (petioles) - known as the fungus Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus. These produce the spores that infect the leaves of both diseased and still healthy ash trees nearby.

Octobertest in Bavaria

Can we save our ash trees? I found an interesting 2012 paper by a Bavarian group of forestry researchers who have been battling with this questions for the past four years. They looked at over 1000 ash trees in a spread of experimental plots throughout Bavaria. Read the paper by Heike Lenz and colleagues, here. (For those unfamiliar with German, here's my quick translation). Some key points below.

Finding supertrees?

Even after three years, exposed to heavily infected neighbours, about 6% of the Bavarian ash trees were healthy or only lightly infected. This phenomenon has been observed elsewhere too. Are the healthy trees just lucky or are they partially or even fully resistant? Unfortunately, we will be experiencing natural selection in ash in real time, in the woods of Bavaria and Britain.

Far above the fungal cloud

However, the level of healthy trees was lower by half in young stands. Could this be because the leaves on the older trees were higher above the ground, away from where the spores were being produced. Tantalisingly, the data for the effect of altitude was still unavailable, presumably in progress. Measurements did show that rain spread more spores in the air.

Stressed out or seeing the light

Early results from ground shading experiments in the field mirrored those in the lab. Spore formation appears to be promoted by light. So could we reduce the infection pressure due to spore formation by other factors too? Faster leaf decomposition, liming the soil, changes in nutrients and other stresses all need to be tested for their effects on spore formation and germination.


We can use existing research from EU foresters who are ahead of us in the disease curve. We are still going to see a dramatic population crash in the number of healthy ash trees over the next few years. However, unlike the Elms, which were all genetic clones of a Roman import, ash trees have a natural diversity. It looks as if tolerant or even resistant individuals will survive and, in the long run, we may get our ash stands back.