Wednesday, 17 December 2014

What the Elves left behind....

Teeny tiny shoes that may have been made by Elves.

Stitched onto cotton organdie, embellished with free machine embroidery using lustrous viscose thread and metallic beads. The shoes were carefully assembled with tiny blanket stitches.

Oh the joy of a new sewing machine!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

In stitches

You wouldn't believe how happy this simple star makes me!  Not the star itself, not the fact that we are in the season of advent but the act of doing embroidery with my new sewing machine is just a joy!

For those of you who know me, I have been vascillating over a new machine for years.  I have been put off by the endless choice and complicated functions of new machines and concerned that I would loose control of the creative process.  My old trusty workhorse was repaired in the summer but when it came back it was unable to do free embroidery.  I didn't feel too disloyal when I started to look at new alternatives.  

My quest took me to the Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate and with the support of my friend Melanie I plucked up the courage to go to the stands selling sewing machines.  I was horrified to watch machines churning out computer designed patterns with no human input.  What was the fun (or creativity) in that?  Thankfully the staff on the Janome stand were extremely helpful and in next-to-no-time I was sat in front of their new DKS-100 machine.  Decision made, my new machine was delivered last week, albeit delayed by the thick fog and by the weekend I was happy stitching.

Simple patterns using variegated viscose thread was impossible on my old machine.  I'm buzzing with all the ideas for new things to try..... happy sewing.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

How do you like your potatoes?

I'm running from one project to another at the moment with little time to prepare. Luckily I've done this before but not as a taught workshop and I need to make sure that I've got all the right equipment to hand.

It's a simple concept of potato printing but I've been inspired by the work of Julia Burns who creates the most stunning wildlife prints.  Cutting potatoes is no mean feat but once you've got some good knives and a sense of what is achievable you can get some great results.  

I made the echinacea flower in two stages: a cut with two petals that I printed in a rough semi-circle (don't worry about overprints) and then an oval shape for the centre that had been textured by piercing holes with a kitchen skewer.  All very low-tech but the results are great.

Why not take a look at Julia Burns' website Red Hen Originals and see all her lovely work (pheasants are my favourites!)

Sunday, 12 October 2014


My little girl is all grown up and has started her new life in Cambridge!

I have sent her with some home comforts including this quilt with a few of her favourite things. Too many to squeeze into a photo but they include Yorkshire tea, a dormouse and some teacups to remind her of her sisters, cocktail glasses, cake and right in the middle, a yawning cat.

Here is our last view of her as she walked back into the college last week....

Thursday, 11 September 2014

End of the line

My poor sewing machine is on it's last legs.  I worked it too hard earlier in the summer and it broke.  Happily it has been fixed, but now it will only sew in straight lines - no more free embroidery for me!  Which leaves me with a bit of a problem. I really need to buy a new machine but I'm in the middle of making a quilt for my daughter to take to University in October and I haven't time to shop for such a difficult item right now.

 I have managed to coax a little bit of appliqué out of the poor machine and here is the result.  I'll let you see the finished quilt in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Inspiration on a plate

Who would have thought that the remains of a lazy lunch in the sunshine could provide such a rich source of inspiration?  A mezze dish of green beans and tomatoes left beautiful pools of oil on my plate - I just had to draw it......

..... and then turn it into stitch.

The colour palette was dictated by some wool that I was given for the Embroiderers' Guild regional Chairman's challenge.  The result is a contemporary crewel work design which will form part of a patchwork of squares submitted by Skipton Embroiderers' Guild.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Viewing practice

Last week (although it seems a million miles away now I'm on holiday) I did a mini workshop led by Claire Hignett.  It was a back to basics lesson in drawing, but in particular, learning how to switch off your mind and draw what you see.  For me, the warm up exercises were the most telling.  We were asked to sign our name and then produce a mirror image. Easy!  I'm a chemist, I spent a great deal of time studying the shape of chemicals and working out lines of symmetry.  The trouble is that when you are so familiar with a shape, like your signature, you fail to see what is really there and see what you know is there. I fell into the trap and produced a copy rather than the required mirror image. Lesson learned.

At the end of the 2 hour session I had begun to re-evaluate my drawing skills.  It taught me not to worry to much about what I thought it should look like, but make good use of what I had achieved.  The outcome was a simple stitched motif that would happily embellish some piece of fabric.

To learn more about Claire's workshops, see her website

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Bags of character

Just before we all go off on our Summer holidays my sewing friends and I got together for a whole day of stitching, eating cake and of course, talking.  We were inspired to make these lovely little bags that we found in Hoop-la magazine designed by Hiromi Widerquist.

We backed some pretty patchwork fabric with fusible interfacing and using the pattern as a guide, worked simple running stitches.  The technique is a contemporary version of Japanese Sashiko used to embellish and strengthen fabric.  

Mine is the green bag (of course!) and it's perfect for holidays. 

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Yellow fever

Yellow is the colour of the moment and certainly the colour of Yorkshire!  I have been busy making bunting with my lovely friends to celebrate the arrival of Le Tour de France.  Thirty metres of bright flags decorated with tiny bikes will adorn a toilet block close to our favourite walking place. See if you can spot them on the TV coverage!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Burning ambition

Last week I took time out to play with some new materials and techniques at a workshop organised by Grassington Embroiderers' Guild.

Corrine Young, our tutor for the day, started her second career as a textile artist after completing a degree in Textile Design at Bradford College as a mature student (a similar path to my own).  Her degree show included delicate Paper Moon flowers made by machine embroidery on handmade linen paper.  

Corrine is a generous teacher, not just with her advice and guidance, but she had also made all the sheets of linen paper that we used in the workshop.  The paper was delicately tinted with soft colours.  I chose a blue/grey palette and then worked stitching in duck egg blue (left-over from the goose grass scarf in case you're wondering).  I left both the linen yarn spines and the top stitching threads to give a loose, slightly messy effect.  The flowers still looked a bit rigid but Corrine suggested burning small holes   by using a glowing joss stick.  The effect was transformational (and a pyromaniacs dream!)

I haven't quite finished - the flowers need to be stitched onto a background with perhaps a few beads at the centre.  But this could take some time given my current "Do list" so here is my almost finished version.  I'm off to write my talk for Grassington Festival now!  

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Rabbit catcher

Meet Binks the rabbit catcher!  He's small and has almost perfectly symmetrical markings. He found us on a snowy Boxing Day two years ago and hasn't left since.  He loves the dog but the feeling is not reciprocated - cats have claws and teeth and a dog's nose is a sensitive instrument! 

Binks (or rather this picture of him) is going to St Gemma's hospice in Leeds for their Secret Art Project.  It's a great idea to raise money and they are aiming to reach £100,000.  The designs will be listed on eBay along with some others created by celebrities.  Everyone's name will be listed but who has created each piece will remain a secret.  I'm hoping that someone will like him enough to buy him.  St Gemma's provides fantastic care for people with terminal illnesses and 100% of the proceeds go directly to caring for patients.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Goose grass

Goose grass?  Yes, the sticky weed that clogs up borders and scrambles over walls.  But apart from being a bit of a thug in the garden it's actually a very pretty little plant with delicate whorls of leaves and tiny white flowers that become sticky seed balls in the late summer.

I've been making a scarf as a birthday present for my friend Louise.  I thought this would remind her of summer walks with her dogs.  I have printed a tangled motif of goose grass on silk viscose georgette and then applied devore paste to reveal a border of blades of grass.  The patterns were cut in paper and screen printed with a bit of kitchen chemistry.  I should make more time for printing!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Nature Table

What better way to announce that Spring has finally arrived than a nature table!  This collection of snaps was taken on an early morning walk at Hardcastle Craggs.  The bright sappy greens and delicate flowers just make my heart sing.  :)

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Tea time

Those who know me also know how much I love tea, especially Yorkshire Tea.  It seemed only fitting that my contribution to the Skipton and Grassington Embroiderers' Guilds, StArt in the Dales project should reflect this passion.

My 10cm square is machine appliqué on linen using scraps of patchwork cotton (I never throw any fabric away!).  I chose to hand stitch the lettering - it took ages because it the uneven weave was difficult to work with.  I unpicked it a gazillion times and it's still a bit wobbly but maybe people will find it endearing. 

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A bit of fun

Continuing my last blog post here are two more ideas for simple stitched pictures.

It uses the ever-so-versatile Bondaweb appliqué technique with some simple stitches in bright contrasting colours.  Both projects will be available at free workshops on Saturday 5th and 12th April at Craven Museum and Gallery, Skipton, 10:00-12:30.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Simple stitches

I've been trying to devise a simple, fun and quick example for a forthcoming workshop.  It has to be easy enough for beginners yet flexible enough that with a few tweaks it could challenge a more competent learner.  Oh and completed within around an hour.  Not too much to ask then....

Using a basic outline of a sheep (well this workshop will take place in the Yorkshire Dales) I worked spirals in different stitches, a kind of sampler if you will.  It's a bit busy so I repeated the process using just a running stitch and variegated thread.  This was easier but the lighter colours of the thread were lost on the pale background.

I took them to my sewing group this afternoon for some critical appraisal and after discussion, both designs found favour, but we decided they needed to be scaled up so they would be less fiddley to stitch.  

The workshops will be held on 5 and 12 April at Craven Museum and Gallery at Skipton Town Hall as part of the Skipton Embroiderers' Guild exhibition.  They are free and open to all ages and will run from 10:00-12:30. 

Monday, 3 March 2014

Laughing with the lapwings

The return of the lapwings heralds the start of spring for me.  These crazy birds spend their days practising ariel acrobatics over the fields, showing their delight with a chorus of whoops and whistles accompanied by the rhythmic beating of their wings.  It's quite show and always brings a smile to my face.

I tried drawing with biro this week.  It requires rather more detail and care than I usually invest in my work but it works well for this study because the fine lines mimic the combs of the feathers.  The downside is that the monochrome palette hides the glorious rainbow of colours that are found on their wings: iridescent blue, purple, green and red.  

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Little treats

An unexpected treat of a night away gave me just enough leisure time for a quick sketch.  This was the view from my window at the Black Swan Hotel in Helmsley.  I settled myself in a lovely deep window seat and watched as the market square cleared on a rather drizzly Monday afternoon.  

Lucky me, I had a hot bath and a nice glass of something cold to look forward to!  

Monday, 3 February 2014


Two bunches of daffodils appeared on Saturday - tight green buds with a promise of Spring.  By Monday, the warmth of the house had coaxed them to bloom, bringing some much-needed cheer.

I found some oil pastels on the table and decided to give them a go. I soon discovered that I needed to be much more confident with my mark making and that layers of colour had to be built up slowly.  I was definitely out of my comfort zone!  The most surprising thing was the transformative power of grey in this mix.  It added shade and definition to the yellow blooms and toned-down the vibrant green stems.

But when I moved my sketch book to the window in order to photograph my work something very strange happened.  The drawing came to life - the flowers had real depth and a luminosity that was unforeseen.  

Monday, 27 January 2014

Instant gardening

In these dark days of January we all need a bit of colour to lift our spirits.  Last weekend I set out to transform the front of my house with a bit of instant gardening.  I didn't want primulas with their flat flowers and gaudy colours and it seemed that I was too early for narcissi and little daffodils.  Eventually I found what I was looking for: miniature cyclamen and a tray of small variegated shrubs.

Cyclamen are not my favourite house plant but outside they bring an elegance and restraint that other bedding plants don't offer.  I like the way that the petals bend back I themselves - like a piece of origami.   I wrapped the plastic pots in a make-shift hessian planter and put them on the window ledges.  Hey presto!

My picture is pen and water colour.  I'm liking the splattered look at the moment and it reflects my view of the instant garden through rain patterned windows.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Costume drama

A last minute panic phone call from a friend has meant that any other thoughts of artistic endeavour have been put aside this week.  A pantomime costume had to be made by Tuesday and the lady who had started the project had been taken ill - would I be able to finish it?  

I realised the enormity of the task when on Monday afternoon, I eventually assembled all the pieces that had been cut out and partially constructed.  Even with a pattern to follow, it was slow progress as my predecessor had made alterations and modifications.  I have to confess that whilst I'd made garments before, I'd never actually fitted a collar!

In the event, it all went fairly smoothly, the coat was assembled by 9pm and the final hand-finished details completed by 11am the next day just in the nick of time for the opening night.

Making the costume has prompted me to think about my own work and plans to extend my portfolio of Victorian inspired garments.  I'm going to start researching corsets and see where that leads me.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

New Year, new challenge

Like all New Year resolutions, we rarely stick to them for very long, so I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself for completing my 50:50 project to do 50 new things in 2013.  I enjoyed the discipline of writing a blog post each week and I'm certain that it made me more creative and spontaneous. The down-side was that many of the pieces were one-offs and didn't result in a more thorough work.

Inspired by a trip to the Musee d'Orsay last week and a chance to see up-close-and-personal the work of the great French Impressionists, I was moved to work on my technical drawing skills.  I've invested in some lovely soft drawing pencils in shades of brown which seem so much less threatening than graphite.  Here is a sketch of the wonderful station clock that presides over the Musee d'Orsay.

I'm also hoping to do some more detailed pieces over several weeks, resulting in a more considered body of work.