What’s Your Style?

I wrote recently about stitching being like handwriting, so distinctive and impossible to copy. As I thought about this more, I thought about the most distinctive aspect of our handwriting—our signatures.

The idea is that our signatures are unique and, according to some people, reflections of our characters, who we are. But does that just apply to our handwriting?

I thought about some of the world’s best-known artists and how recognizable their styles are. I think I could recognize a Vermeer or a Van Gogh anywhere.

And I thought about the bloggers I read regularly—you folks. Honestly, I believe I could pick out who wrote what even if your names weren’t on your posts! Your styles are so distinctive!

What about the rest of the things you make? Your gardening? Your sewing? Your quilting? Even your cooking?

I bought a mixed lot of linens on eBay recently and got three items, among many others, I would swear are by the same hand—they have what, to me, is clearly a signature style.

The three pieces are a table runner, a storage pouch for a dressing table, and a “splasher,” a cloth designed to be hung over the bar on a washstand to keep water from splashing on the wall.

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A splasher would hang over a bar on a washstand, to protect the plaster walls.

Here’s what I think they tell me about the maker:

  • She loved color—bright, saturated colors. She didn’t adhere to a bunch of set rules about what colors “go together” but, rather, used what pleased her. Maybe she wasn’t one to follow fashion but had a strong sense of personal style.
  • She saw every blank piece of fabric as a canvas. She was looking for places to apply her skill and prettify her home. She actively liked embroidery, rather than doing it as a chore.
  • She was practical and wanted to make useful items. These three items all have a job of work to do, beyond being pretty. Even the table runner may have been designed for a specific table—the one in the sewing room. Look at those snazzy scissors added to each corner!

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  • She was patient and skilled and confident, and maybe a little vain about her ability. All three items have hems finished with buttonhole stitch, a time-consuming and fussy stitch. But she did it to perfection!

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  • She might’ve been rural or a little old-fashioned. The use of splasher cloths was really a late-nineteenth or early-20th century thing, when people had washstands and pitchers and bowls in bedrooms, rather than indoor plumbing. My guess is that these pieces were made later than that, probably 1930s or ‘40s.

I feel like I could recognize this woman’s work now if I came across a piece in a different setting. I feel like I know her a little and like her style!

I admit what I’m doing here is little more than a parlor game, speculating without ever being able to know whether I’m right or wrong.

But it also leads me to look at my own work over the years and wonder whether someone could say, “These things, these, were made by the same person.”

It’s harder to do with one’s own work, partly because I’m not just using the handwork itself but bringing in things I know to be true about myself.

I think my weaving so far shows that I am practical and value making things that have a function, the job of work to do. Of all I’ve made, probably 75% of it is dishtowels.

I like color, or think I should, but I am not confident. My weaving has a lot of neutral expanses with bands of color thrown in. Or I use a neutral and one color. It’s safe.

I like traditional style and am not adventurous. I choose straightforward, fairly easy patterns to weave and do variations of them rather than trying new things. I also use traditional natural fibers—no sparkly novelty yarn for me!

My quilting tells a similar story in some ways. Because I want what I make to be useful, I have, with one exception, only ever made bed-sized quilts.

I like traditional and tend to use the old-fashioned patchwork patterns that my grandmothers might’ve chosen.

I have issues with color. I am not confident choosing patterned fabrics and don’t really like them. I tend to make quilts with a few, limited, solid colors. It’s safe.

One thing that would connect a few of my recent quilts and would mark them as mine is the use of embroidered words. I don’t know if this makes my recent work more didactic and pointed or if it just means I like to take the time to ponder certain words. Or both . . .

In all my work, I see evidence of wanting it to be good quality but not necessarily perfect. I can see evidence that I subscribe to the notion that it’s good enough “if a man galloping by on a horse wouldn’t notice a mistake at 50 yards.”

I think I could take this further, to apply it to the writing I do and other things I make. Maybe even what I bake? Or the gardening I do? Actually, I suspect I could apply it to the clothes I wear and the way I decorate my house!

But I’m interested in your thoughts on the subject. Can you think of someone’s work that is instantly recognizable to you? What are the elements that give it away?

What about applying the idea to your own work? Are there elements that cut across the work you do? What would your work tell us about you?

Do you have a signature style?

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68 thoughts on “What’s Your Style?

  1. What a fascinating and thoughtful post. I love your new linens – those hems are amazing, let alone the beautiful main embroidery! I think you are right that we all have our distinctive ways and styles – a bit like a favourite perfume. After a while, one doesn’t notice as much. I can think of a couple of knitting designers whose work I would recognise. And of course there are artists whose paintings absolutely could not be by anyone else – Monet; Singer Sargent; even people like Edward Hopper and ceramicist Grayson Perry. Music too – Mozart, the Beatles….. There is something very satisfying about seeing or hearing something by someone one recognises and admires – a sense of familiarity and coming home.

  2. Good questions about signature style. I do think my quilts are generally recognizably mine, whether they are medallions or other. However I’m not sure I could define the style in a few words. Certainly I like clear value contrast and the defined lines it makes; however I’ve made a few quilts that don’t have strong contrast that read as mine, too. I prefer saturated color, but there are a few pastels in my past… I keep trying new color combinations, though I have a few old favorites. Do you think my quilts are recognizably mine? What elements are common? Someone who is more objective might be better at this game.

    • I’m sure, if I went back and looked at your oeuvre, I could come up with elements of your style. It’s an interesting undertaking and I think one would always find certain pieces that didn’t conform to the overall style. But that doesn’t negate the style–just showed the person had the curiosity to try different things, I guess.

  3. I think I’m pretty much all over the place. My handwriting has changed radically too since I was a young adult. I prefer not to ponder what that says about me, ROFL.

  4. Thanks for introducing me to the splasher, a heretofore unknown use of linen. I can see why you think those pieces were made by the same person. Do you think the seller might know? As to my style, it’s been all about color since my earliest quilts. Painstaking craftsmanship, not so much. That’s been a constant throughout my life. As a child my favorite Golden book was called “The Color Kittens.” It’s by Margaret Wise Brown.

    • As I read about old linens, I am amazed at the uses women came up with! How about lambrequins, which were decorated strips of fabric to go along the front of a shelf? I should contact the seller about the embroidery–it was a large lot and nothing else looked at all the same. She probably got it at an estate sale or auction.

  5. That splasher cloth is new to me, too! Practical and pretty.

    My flower beds are crowded and overflowing… sort of the English garden look. My home is filled with books, antique rugs, transferware and other items. You could call it crowded and overflowing as well.

    But lately I’ve been admiring gardens that have conifer borders, no flowers, just different shades and sizes of conifers. And I’ve also been attracted to more of a minimalist interior decor. It might be time to shake things up a bit around here.

  6. Hmmm…. interesting post. I agree that this lady had a signature on her handiwork. She so loved what she did.. I wonder with the satin stitch work if she also did that by machine. However she did it ,its lovely. I’m not overly picky on mistakes , and can never follow a pattern to a T… unless it is for someone else who wants it just like the pattern. Never buy kits for I like to play with my own fabric.. does that sound like a quiet independent person.😄

    • No, you can tell on the back of the pieces that the satin stitch is done by hand–and it’s amazing! Like you, I never buy kits and tend to combine patterns or come up with my own–I like the idea that that shows how independent we are!

  7. I’m loving your pondering’s put into words, as always! I too enjoy taking a closer look at hand writing. I recently took out an apple pie recipe card I’d written as a teenager in my grandmother’s kitchen, the card immediately took me back to that day baking pies with my grandmother. And the handwriting – looks amazing the same. Yes, I have some style changes, yet my daughters would definitely know it was written in my hand. A dear friend in her 80’s has a similar hand to my mother. Sometimes when she sends a note in the mail, I gasp, then realize the letter is from my friend. A young woman recently told me she did not know what her beloved’s handwriting looked like. They’ve dated for 2 years, and written daily texts, spent hundreds of hours together, but alas, no hand written notes. Somehow, I found this story very sad, and I sensed upon her realization, she did too.

    The three linen pieces are so fun and I love all you’ve considered about the embroiderier. My first thought was that perhaps she had only a limited amount of colors and thus used them boldly. Perhaps I thought this, as when I am weaving at home, I sometimes force myself to use what I have rather than purchase the color calling to me. When at Vavstuga – one has the full rainbow of colors to choose and play with. But at home, one must make the call to use what one has, change the pattern or pause and cough up some cash to purchase the color of one’s dreams.

    As to my own style…I tend to start a project very planned, practical (yes, most dish towels woven here too!) and color controlled. Once I know the project, have extra warp or allow myself to design on the loom as I weave, then I go bigger with color and/or pattern changes. My daughters say I should play with color more often, and this has been my goal for the past year. I’ve moved from natural linen and neutral colors to bright happy colors. The more I play with colors the happier I find myself. So….I guess I’ll continue to follow the advice of my daughters and play more often!

    • Your approach to weaving sounds so much like mine. Right now, I’m doing block twill towels, with a neutral warp. I’m starting with red weft, just red. As I weave through the 6-7 towels, I know I’ll start adding more weft colors and taking what seem to me to be chances. And maybe someday I’ll do the whole thing again with, gasp, warp stripes!!! And, regarding the colors possibilities at Vavstuga–I find that sort of paralyzing! TOO much choice!

  8. occasionally I look at my work, and think it all looks too much the same, boring! then try to work something different which is seldom successful. Guess I’m stuck with my “style”.

    When I was a child and fussing about something my mother would say “it will never be seen on a trotting horse” I could never understand why it would be on a horse??

    • I look at the bright variegated dyed warps that are popular now and feel my weaving is boring, too. But I would never, ever wear that bright stuff! Or decorate with it–it is so not my style. On the other hand, everything you make appeals to me! SO, if that’s boring, I’ll take boring!

  9. Another wonderful and thoughtful post Kerry! At first glance I wondered if the pieces you show were machine worked – then I realised that is her style.
    It’s pretty impressive!

    Handwriting is a dying art, such a shame for it is a direct link to a person you love. Some years back I decided to include my handwriting in my artwork, just so my daughters might have something…….. I like this latest thing about writing letters for the same reason.

    I agree it is hard to critique your own work. And I have absolutely no idea what my work says about me. I only ever see the bits that went wrong, should have been done differently etc. A lot of time has to go past before I can look at a piece objectively. Which probably says a lot about me 🙂

    While I in no way compare myself to those who create past and present in the world of Fine Art, I’ve also been quite surprised when told by a few folk that my work is recognisably mine. Colour makes me happy and I am extensively challenged to produce anything in a monochromatic or pastel scheme. But, then, it’s good to challenge yourself now and again isn’t it?

    • It is so evident that color makes you happy! And you are so comfortable with it! I think I could definitely pick your work out of a crowd–those winsome faces, with the large eyes.

  10. fascinating! It takes the wondering about who made this or used it to a whole new level. I will have to give some thought to what my work tells… I know it will tell that I like shiny things, and a bit of fancy – loads of beads and lace in my knitting.

  11. What an interesting query. I do like those linens–bold and colorful and skilled. As for recognizing others’ work…I mostly thought of music. There are certain guitarists and violinists I can recognize immediately and I can always tell if a classical violinist is the one playing a fiddle tune. I like color and I like it splashed liberally around, so most things I make have color. I, too want it to be good, but it doesn’t have to be perfect–especially if it’s going to be chewed on by a toddler; it just has to be sturdy. There are potters and painters I recognize and of course, someone like Chihuly–that glass is unmistakeable.

    • I’m not so good at recognizing music. Don is–it’s amazing! But he can’t recognize painters the way I can–I think I have a very visual orientation and his is much more auditory, like you.

  12. Ah, you are so good at making me think, Kerry! I know my feathers have a very distinctive look. A friend saw feathers on a cushion in a magazine and said that they had used one of mine. It was similar, but I knew it wasn’t my work. I was intrigued that she had such a strong sense of my style. As for colours, there are ones in my palette that I always gravitate too ~ purples, golden greens, dark burgundies, clear blues. I have to consciously include other colours.

    • And I never use purple! I wonder why . . . something else to ponder! I think your style is very much your own–I would need to go back and really look, in order to say what it is that sets it apart, but I know it’s distinctive!

  13. You have given me a lot of food for thought here. Not sure if I have a style but I’ll look at things more closely now. I know I worked hard to change my handwriting a few years ago. I found a book that said if you changed your handwriting, you could change your life. It worked. I tend to stay with basic colors as well as it allows for the ability to add color on top of the basic or base color. I’m curious now about the words you embroider on your quilts. I will have to try and see if I can find them here. Maybe I forgot when you posted them. Mind is a sieve. I have an acquaintance that did hand embroidered ornaments at Christmas and as soon as I saw them, I knew who had done them. I would love to do work as beautiful as hers. Love your vintage linens.

  14. Kerry such interesting and thought provoking posts you always have! The new linens are beautiful, such skillfull work. I know splashers from my youth but the were hung on special designed racks for tea towels, brushes etc, to hide them from view. You must have a gorgeous collection of kitchen linens by now. Do you buy to use or strictly for display?
    Style is fascinating and I certainly do recognize certain fashion and knit designers and of course painters and illustrators. It always fascinates me that people/artists can still come up with new ideas, new music, new art or give a twist on what’s already ‘out there’. I love it!! I care little for what is considered art or kitsch, both can move me. I love Eames’ designs and collect fifties kitsch planters at the same time.
    My artistic motto in life is a quote from a Dutch artist called Octaview:” Everything has been done before…but not by me!” So whether I knit a pattern of cook a recipe, I will give it knowing or unknowingly my own twist, fashion is certainly my own style in combining as I think suits me best. That is all useful, practical with a big dose of fun. My art has little useful purpose and it is liberating to spent so much time on it ;o) My drawings/art stays a work in progress to find/develop what defines me as an artist.
    Maybe, thinking of your desire to use more colors, you could do an ‘opposite from you’ project? Choose deliberately all colors you have never chosen before and make it as loud as possible and see what you make of that. I would looooove to see that! Xo Johanna

    • Leave it to the Dutch to know about splashers and all other tidy household items! Actually, I buy mostly to sell on Etsy. I keep the things I like best but mostly I clean things up and resell–the items I featured here are already listed for sale.

      I think your drawing has a very distinctive look and your home decorating, too–clean and understated, but with whimsy and a touch of humor! Maybe someday I’ll do as you suggest and choose colors I never use . . . purple, pink, anything sparkly (I’m cringing already!)

  15. Well, this post sparked some self-reflection, didn’t it? Oddly enough, I was thinking about this topic over the past few days. I am working on a kaleidoscope quilt and suddenly realized that it hilariously resembles an ashtray that I made in summer camp when I was 10 years old. (Making ashtrays for our parents dates me, doesn’t it?) The ashtrays were made of little tile pieces laid in grout in an ashtray-shaped metal base. On parents’ visiting day, the ashtrays were displayed, most with thoughtful, neat, organized patterns, with two or three tasteful colors. And then there was mine–no pattern at all, just a wild mosaic of every bright and lovely color and shape I could fit into the space.

    Apparently I haven’t changed much since then, because I love patterns and colors in quilts. I don’t care what colors are supposed to go together, if it pleases me, in it goes. Restraint is not my middle name. And I am afraid I am not very patient in precisely lining up seams. I try, but let your “man on a galloping horse” standard be my guide. If perfection was my goal, I wouldn’t enjoy quilting at all.

    I suspect my gardening, cooking, and home decorating are inflicted with the same approach. Matching rugs? No way.

    • I remember those ashtrays! Yours sounds exuberant and wonderful–and how nice that the camp counselors didn’t force you into the lock step of the others! As I was reading your comment, I went to look at your blog, to see if I could find photos of quilts–have you posted any? At least one reader would be most interested . . .

      • My ashtray was different, I will say that. I will post some kaleidoscope quilt pictures in a few weeks, when it is finished (or close). My last post had photos of the baby quilts I just made, which give some idea of my love of patterned fabrics (only the eyes and noses were solids). I especially loved the black and white background for the hedgehogs, which reminded me a bit of porcupine quills and went with some black and white themes favored by the babies’ mom (and newborns, apparently).

      • Of, of course–I saw those! And loved them! You pack so much into your posts it’s hard to keep track of it all. I’ll look forward to seeing more quilts!

  16. What a neat post, Kerry. You are on to something, for sure. I do think personality lends itself to one’s work. I’m much like you…I am practical by nature and most of the things I make have that influence. Knitting and felting ( for me) have a utilitarian nature, color not too extravagant, patterns on the straight forward side.I find this carries over to the clothes I wear. The same….practical, efficient, well made but not fancy, natural fibers. I really appreciate the work of others, especially the intricate and highly detailed work that I tend not to gravitate to and sometimes wish I were more adventurous. I know that most of the things I make will be worn ( and possibly worn hard) so structure and strength is important. I still have a simply knit brown sweater, one I made twenty years ago that ‘hangs’ just right, still feels like an old friend, is super warm, and I still get compliments on it. People have said to me, ” that sweater is just you”. I guess there are worse things than having your personality compared to an old brown sweater!

    • I know just the kind of sweater you’re talking about. I have one, I didn’t make it but bought it in Ireland about a million years ago. I love the way it looks and it, too, always gets compliments!

      Sometimes I wish I weren’t so practical. I’m a halfway decent silversmith and got a lot of pleasure from the process but, because I don’t wear jewelry and family and friends can only wear so much, I just stopped making anything–it seemed pointless. But, with weaving–there’s always a place for more dishtowels!

  17. Fascinating post. One thing I’d say about your work is that it is always high quality, whether you are writing, making dishtowels, or making chocolate. I bought someone else’s weaving on Etsy recently (placemats). It had a pattern and colors similar to your dishtowel, but it had a looser, more careless feeling. Would rather have placemats you made. … My common thread is collage. Over the years, I have liked putting random scraps together to make cards and random lines together to make a skit or play. When I was an editor, I never interviewed from a script. I had a general idea in mind but followed wherever random comments might lead. In the end, a structure emerges, a nice one with elements of surprise.

  18. I do enjoy your posts Kerry! The buttonhole stitch is just perfect on those linens; the woman who made them must have got such satisfaction from her art! I can’t talk about my style because I haven’t created anything for years, but when I think of my father, who was a cabinet-maker and joiner, he definitely did and I would always be able to recognise one of his pieces of furniture.

    • I’d love to read a blog post about your father’s furniture–have you written one? I’m sure you have a style–in the way you decorate your house, do your garden, choose clothes to wear–but you may be too close to see it!

      • Thank-you Kerry! I think I used to have a style but in recent years…well…um…er….
        I haven’t written about his furniture yet and I was speaking to Mum about all the things he made over the years. I want her to help me make a list of the major items and also all the places (mainly churches) where his work can be seen. It will be a really big project and I need to start soon!

  19. Interesting comments earlier about handwriting. I think the 20 year old me would recognise the writing of the – um – 60 something year old me, but would criticise the untidiness and greater illegibility of the older woman’s scrawl. I quite like my writing though, and it set me wondering about yours. I bet it’s rather graceful, and characterful too.

  20. I enjoyed your post, Kerry! Yes, I think we all do have some sort of signature style, no matter what it is. Our preferences and things we enjoy tend to come out in our creations. I know there are musicians I can pick out based on their style of playing. I think my own style is distinctive. Yes, the blogs are all written and presented in different styles. It makes reading them all the more enjoyable. 🙂

    • I’m not as good at picking out styles of music–I think my main “literacies” are verbal and visual. But I can recognize my favorites–like Pete Seeger–any day!

  21. Very interesting thoughts Kerry and some fascinating facts about the history of the pieces you bought. I can recognise my own writing ‘voice’ now and I also recognise others styles in writing and art, but I’d never thought of it in relation to other things, such as cooking and sewing. You’ve gathered so many thoughts about this person from the work they’ve created, this is one I want to ponder more.

    • Of course, I could be entirely wrong about the conclusions I reached! But it’s sort of a fun exercise and a habit I tend to fall into, thinking about the people behind the product.

  22. I was thinking about this. I think in the past, the era had a big influence in defining what women made. For example, embroidery from the 40s or 50s and crochet from the 70s is recognizable. Still, what one chooses from the available materials says a lot. These pieces do look like they were made by the same hand because of the nature of what the pieces will be used for. Very practical and homey.
    I don’t know about my style, but I most likely am drawn to certain colors or themes.

    • I’ve been reading about the redwork embroidery craze at the end of the 1800s/beginning of the 1900s–unbelievable how pervasive it was! And I wonder if, when people look back at this current era, if they’ll be amazed at the amount of knitting and crocheting that was going on!

  23. Dish towel and finger towel arrived. Beautiful. Must save for special occasions (rather than our usual dish towels which look like we clean the floor with them…) — Oscar

  24. Some beautiful work there, and I learned what a splasher was. 🙂 I am quite organized probably to the point of annoying an experienced talented quilter. My colors have to match, and things have to balance. My signature on the other hand is kind of nice because of all those years working on my cursive with the nuns. 🙂

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