Friday, February 1, 2008

'Unsuitable things'

Mr James was a stocky man, square of face and with a neat beard who taught me biology in my third year of secondary school. Or at least he stood by the blackboard and talked about biology whilst I squirmed on those uncomfortable , high wooden stools they put in labs and wished I was elsewhere. Biology was not my forte and I have not thought about Mr James since. Until that is I started to ponder my chocolate theme.
Almost at once I decided to do an applique interpretation of Quetzacoatl, the Mayan God who was said to have brough the cocoa bean to earth from heaven. I searched Google, found great images then, as if I was thirteen again my mind wandered and somehow I lost interest. Unable to shift from my preference for English Language as a subject I doodled a little spidergram of chocolate related words. Hot. Covered orange segments. Bitter. White. Teapot.
Teapot?

And suddenly I was thirteen again and Mr James was castigating something - his malfunctioning microscope, the ever leaking window, buck-toothed and buck-natured class member Chodder (never, ever known by his given name of Craig) - for being, in his favourite phrase, ' as usless as a chocolate teapot'. And thus was a quilt born.


Given its aetiology I thought that the quilt needed words. The Pillow Book of Sei Sonogon was at hand and I thought that she probably had a section about useless things. She didn't but she did have a piece about unsuitable things which was close enough. I retyped it then manipulated a photo of a Japanese teapot to make it melt. Stumped as how to combine the two via computer, I printed both, cut the teapot out, glued it over the words and scanned both onto fabric.
I then showed the quilt to my husband who looked blank. He had never heard of the phrase. But then he is Irish. Local humour and colloquialisms often pass him by. I showed a local friend. Blank. Chocolate I hinted. Penguin? She replied hesitantly.

Penguin?!
In fairness, in the UK we do have a chocolate biscuit called a Penguin. (A dirty lie, in fact - we have a chocolate flavoured biscuit. Not the same thing and why I never buy them.) But how do you get to that from a teapot? She pointed out the spout to me. Oh yeah. ( Although to me it looks more like a seal.) I thought about altering it but hey, art is for the viewer to interpret right? So I googled chocolate teapots. It is a perfectly legitimate phrase.

Mollified, and in homage to the simple elegance of tea ceremonies (or alternatively in homage to lack of imagination and laziness) I decided on simple framing. Japanese writing of course was a must. Only as I stood, rotary cutter in hand I realised that I didn't know which was was up. Being risk averse I decided not to gamble and risk being totally wrong. So the calligraphy fabric is used both ways up and I am happy with definately being only half wrong. Which is a lot less wrong than most of my biology homework used to be.

16 comments:

Diane said...

Oh, Helen, I love this. I've heard the "chocolate teapot" comment maybe once or twice -- I think in novels, not in real life. But I love it and love your story about how you came to this. You've illustrated this wonderfully.

Karen said...

You are so clever! I have not heard of the phrase, but it works beautifully.

Gerrie said...

I have never heard that saying! Love it.

Brenda said...

This left me quizzical at first as I seem to recall that chocolate teapot-like devices were used in the 17th and 18th centuries for pouring hot chocolate and these sound very useful indeed. But if the teapot were made of chocolate, then that would be a waste and a highly unsuitable use for chocolate. You've added a new phrase to my vocabulary and already your quilt is turning into a great talking point for this theme.

StegArt said...

Wonderful Helen. The phrase makes good sense, although I've not heard it before.

Terry said...

I've never heard the phrase either, but you've expressed the idea wonderfully.

Deborah said...

I loved every detail of your description right down to the tall stools in science class. The quilt is charming and sure to spur tons of discussion.

We have cookies like that in the US too -- Oreos. I can never detect a bit of chocolate and I'd choose a chocolate chip cookie over an Oreo every time.

twolimeleaves said...

What a fantastic saying! And your quilt is beautiful.

Kristin L said...

I love the tangent this quilt took you on. Thanks for introducing us to this amusing phrase too. :-)

Helen Conway said...

I have just found this site
http://www.plokta.com/plokta/issue23/teapot.htm
which actually has photos of how useful a chocolate teapot is!
I have to say though that Penguins and Oreos do not compare. Oreos do not have fake chocolate - the biscuit itself is supposed to be chocolate flavoured dough and I do like those. Perhpas because they are a treat here - you have to hunt for them. Penguins look like they are chocolate coated but its not real chcolate - a fake coating. Disappointing, although I'd take it over a slice of aubergine anyday!!

Françoise said...

I didn't know about "chocolate teapots" either!
You made a nice quilt out of this story.

Threadspider said...

I love the phrase and use it, and I love the quilt.It's perfect. And after reading your post, I could smell my old school the biology lab. again!

Nikki said...

I could think of uses for a chocolate teapot. They would just be more along the lines of the uses for a chocolate heart or bunny. I guess it would all depend on the quality of the chocolate.

I love how you incorporated so many unexpected things into your chocolate quilt. I would never have thought teapot or Japan, but in your loving hands they work beautifully.

Lisa Flowers Ross said...

I have been enjoying all your interpretations of the chocolate theme. I also played along and you can see my version on my blog (the Lisa Flowers Ross link on the right. Thanks for putting it there!).

jpsam said...

I wondered what happened to that nice teapot! Chocolate, of course!

joan

floozina said...

Well I have heard several expressions with similar meanings but this one is new. How about: useless as - 'a hip pocket in a singlet/vest' and 'ashtray on a motorbike'. There are more but I can't remember them at the moment.