Sunday, 5 November 2017

A touch of glamour




Well the shops have been pushing Christmas stuff since September, but it just doesn't feel right to be thinking about the festive season until after Bonfire Night so here goes......

Christmas stockings don't have to be trendy Scandi-style lumps, let's bring a little glamour into our lives with these fabulous, and might I say, well-heeled versions!

My December workshop will show you how to make a beautiful, fully lined stocking with fancy trims and embellishments.  Try a little hand-stitched doodle, some ribbon roses or machine embroidered flowers.  They are just big enough  to take a bottle of something fizzy or perhaps some tasty chocolates.  Make them for yourself or give away to friends, you decide!

The workshop will take place on Saturday 2nd December 10am- 4pm and costs £45 including all materials.  You will go home with a finished stocking and a copy of the pattern if you want to make a few more.  Places are limited so book early.




Thursday, 19 October 2017

Where have all the leaves gone?





Well we have survived the worst of tropical storm Ophelia but where have all the leaves gone?  Thankfully some of them made it onto my stitch sampler for this month.  Like the cherry blossom one earlier this year, this is a one-stitch challenge worked in that knottiest of stitches:  sorbello.

It's a great stitch for texture and working with lots of threads that have different weights and finishes gives real depth to the work.  I've been using up tapestry wools, thick cotton yarns, variegated threads and of course a little bit of sparkle!

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Dissolving Margins



This post has been a long time coming!  The title refers to this year's theme for Textilia 3 and all of us in the group have been wrestling with it for many months.  

I decided to base my work around my dear Auntie Jean, who sadly passed away last year.  I wanted to explore how dementia effected her in the last few years.  She was a fiercely independent lady who managed the family farm along with her brothers.  In clearing her house, I found plenty of old linens and some, like this tray cloth, that she might have embroidered herself.  I loved the rather rough and ready repairs on the drawn thread work border.

I plan to base the main body of work on the dahlias that she grew every year for as long as I can remember.  They are bright and bold and cheerful, but just recently she couldn't remember their name, referring to them as "those yellow flowers". 

As a way of getting out of my creative rut, I started to stitch a portrait of her.  I've tried to capture the hint of a smile and the mischievous twinkle in her eye.  I'm not sure if I've succeeded, but it has got me working again.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

What's in a name?


A summer diversion for my stitch story.  This week I took part in the Sew Near, Sew Far project at the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth, led by Lyn Setterington.

It was unfamiliar territory for me as I used knitting yarn to stitch my name onto coarse plastic netting, but the effect was bold and pleasing.  Lyn is hoping to collect signatures from local people and visitors alike on continuous pieces of plastic net.  The net will then be laid out on the Pennine landscape, forming the pen names of the Bronte sisters: Acton, Currer and Ellis Bell.

The new art work will go on display during the first half of October!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

A cloud dress for a princess


My final piece for the Travelling Book project!  Inspired by the story of Princess su su, as told by Suzanne Langston-Jones and fellow artists (see previous post), I have created a cloud dress from silk paper.

The shape of the dress is long and thin and would easily fit into the cracks in the castle walls.  The silk paper is semi-transparent and a lovely blue/grey colour - just the same as the sky.  I have stitched small circles in fine white cotton perle yarn to represent clouds.  Large blueish sequins have been attached in the style of shisha mirrors, a new skill for me and one that I think Princess su su would have approved of.  The story describes her dresses as reflecting the skies and the changing seasons and I think that mirrors would help this.  They are also a common feature of fairy stories, offering a means of seeing the past or future.

I have loved every book that I've worked on over the last 6 months.  It's been a joy to see how others have interpreted the same theme and a huge challenge to produce something new.  Now it's time to kick back and enjoy the summer.  Happy holidays!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Looking for inspiration






The final leg of the Travelling Book journey and the theme is Fairy Tales.  As you might expect with 5 very talented embroiderers' going before me, the task of finding some fresh inspiration is becoming more difficult.

Instead of looking at traditional fairy tales I have chosen to study something in the more recent past:   Artist, Suzanne Langston-Jones collaborated with Clare Phillips to create the story of Princess su su which was told through the work of Suzanne and ten invited artists.  The exhibition toured the country in 2002 and was covered by Embroidery Magazine that year (Volume 53).

Princess su su did not look like a 'real' princess - she did not have long blonde hair and blushing cheeks, a golden crown or a velvet gown.  Her hair was short and brown with bits of grey.  Although she lived in a castle quite hapily, it was not her castle.  The family who lived in the castle did not notice Princess su su because she lived in the wallpapers covering its tall rooms.

My friend Claire Hignett, first told me about Princess su su when I was researching stories for my HNC final show at Bradford College in 2009.  Claire came to my rescue again and has sent me copies of the show catalogue which took the form of a beautiful fan.


Saturday, 17 June 2017

All work and no play


Ok, so I've done lots of lovely embroidery but now is the time to kick back and enjoy myself with these slightly bonkers cacti!

Each year, my friend Chrissie and I have a little stall at our local Sue Ryder Hospice Garden Party. We make all sorts of things like aprons, cushions, lavender bags.... but this year Chrissie wanted to make cacti.  Very fashionable, very hipster, very good.  I got a bit carried away and rather than dinky little cacti with flowers, mine turned into a Mexican cartel with bushy eyebrows and moustaches! 

They make me smile and I hope they have the same effect on others.  Come and visit our stall at Manorlands Garden Party on Sunday 8th July.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Sowing the seeds of love


This Travelling Book challenge was a delight!  The theme is gardens but I chose to make an embroidered seed packet with seeds stitched in bullion knots on fine net.

The book is for Margaret, a longstanding member of the Embroiderers' Guild and responsible for inspiring, encouraging and supporting, countless new members over the last 25 years, including me!   I wanted to make something special to reflect her love of flowers and contemporary embroidery.  My seed packet was based on one used as a wedding favour which was inscribed with the phrase "commit random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty".  Funnily enough this same phrase was spoken by Margaret as she gave me a bunch of flowers for running a small errand.

It's a mixture of hand and machine embroidery but the sewing (sowing) instructions on the reverse were printed onto fine cotton and then stitched onto the final seed packet.

I hope she likes it!

Friday, 19 May 2017

Victoria Hall, Saltaire


I love Saltaire!  The fabulous Salt's Mill with its art and bookshops, Hockney pictures and sensational cafe.  Each year the UNESCO World Heritage site hosts an Art Trail in which art from new and established artists is displayed around the village, in houses, churches and other venues.

This year there was an open call for people to create postcards for display in the United Reformed Church.  The postcards will be sold for £5 each for the benefit of the Cellar Trust, a local charity which specialises in helping people recover from mental health illness.

I so enjoyed making my architecture pictures that I decided to recreate Saltaire's Victoria Hall in the same style.  Why not pop along and see if you can spot it?  The exhibition and Arts Trail is on from 27-29th May 2017.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Hidden Lives (part II)


Another month, another book - this time the subject is lace.  Five years ago, I researched the lives of Victorian social reformers, Josephine Butler, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon and Octavia Hill for an exhibition inspired by lace from the Gawthorpe Textiles collection.  This is a reproduction of the same piece.

It is a lady's cuff: machine embroidered net decorated with hand-made paper couronnes.  Hand cuffs to bind Victorian women, financially to their husbands, intellectually to the expectations of society and physically by a well-defined sense of duty.  With limited means of expression, I imagined a Victorian woman stitching I dream of escape and set me free, unobtrusively working the words into the decoration.  The key motif is reminiscent of a chaterlaine worn by a house-keeper (the only suitable job for a woman).  The paper couronnes are fashioned from old books, alluding to the power of the written word to change the status quo.

Just one stitch


I've been teaching my Haworth workshop class about the joy of using just one stitch.  This Japanese style cherry tree has been completed using Sorbello Stitch, an unusual knotted stitch in the shape of a square.  By varying the weight and nature of the yarn, you can create beautiful textures.  Most of the stitching was done using a viscose pearle yarn.  It was horrible to work with (twisting mercilessly into huge gnarls) but the resulting stitches look so like cherry blossom I had to keep going.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Renaissance - a pocket full of memories

Here is the next installment in the Skipton Embroiderers' Guild Travelling Book project.  The theme for this project was Renaissance and in particular the cloth of Italian Renaissance courtiers.

At around the same time that I was researching this theme, my daughter introduced me to a book:  Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory (Jones & Stallybrass 2001).  The book describes how clothes were passed from master to servant, friend to friend and lover to lover.  In this way, argue the authors, the memories associated with the material are transmitted.  I loved this idea of 'ghosts of owners past' and wanted to incorporate it in my piece.

Thinking about what kind of things might be passed on, and mindful that I could only reproduce a small item or fragment for the book, I remembered that pockets were detatchable items before the 17th Century.  Italian saccoccias (pockets) were beautifully decorated items.  I made my scale model saccoccia out of devore printed velvet and discharge printed silk because the two processes leave a kind of ghostly image - a memory of a previous owner.  The fabric was designed, dyed and printed by my daughter for her A-level art course which gave it particular significance to me.  I hand-stitched a motif from a 16th Century fragment of Italian silk velvet using gold coloured thread, another memory if you will.

Finally I wondered what one might keep in a pocket.  My inspiration came from the phrase 'born with a silver spoon in her mouth'.  Prior to the introduction of place settings, people carried their own spoon with them to table.  For land-owing classes this was often a silver spoon.  In Medieval times, such people were craftsmen or farmers who frequently had dirty hands.  Not wanting to be mistaken for a serf, the silver spoon became a mark of wealth and used as a passport or credit card might be used today.

I made a silver spoon using machine embroidery on disolvable fabric.  Once the plastic film had dissolved, I gently shaped the work into a curved bowl and rounded handle.

By way of explaining my work in the Travelling Book, used a paper-chain of ladies to illustrate the transmission of memories with the saccoccia.


Straight Stitch Architecture


After a few weeks of meticulous stitching I decided to give my Haworth Stitch Group a slightly different challenge; to create a picture sewn in straight lines.

I was inspired by a project from HoopLa magazine which showed a London cityscape, drawn with long single stitches and punctuated with small spots of coloured fabric.   Some of the group chose favourite cities and some chose this charming illustration of Dutch houses.  The pictures are postcard size and the pieces of fabric are teeny-tiny.  The 'drawing' was worked in thick top-stitch or button thread using elongated back-stitch.

I quiet like the discipline of straight black lines and can see other projects that might include this technique.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Spring Tweets



My Thursday sewing group has been busy working on some lovely garden birds using simple stitches and blending colours, but the project is quite intense and I've had a few latecomers that would like to do something similar but in half the time.

So here is my quick version:  I've used patches of fabric to provide the basic colour and then stitched over the top to add detail and texture.  The bird is worked on calico over a background of printed fabric.  Once the final outline has been worked in backstitch, the calico is cut away to reveal the main fabric.  All that's left to do is stitch some feet!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Domestic


Oh I'm so enjoying the Travelling Book project!  This month I have been given my friend Marjorie's book to work on.  She chose The Domestic - or Home as her theme and in her introduction she explores the construct of the perfect home.  Images of Milly Molly Mandy and Little Grey Rabbit are interspersed with poetry and prose about the home.  She says she has come to the realisation that for her, home is where she is surrounded by books, music and sewing paraphernalia.

My response to her theme is to create a sample piece called 'Blueprint'.  The Victorian architect Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-52) was my inspiration.  His design for his own perfect house with family at the centre has been stitched onto cotton organdie.  Quilted onto a piece of blanket using a template from wallpaper, also designed by Pugin.  A comfort blanket.  Trapped between the layers are talismen for protection - found objects: a curtain rinng and brass robin from my mother's stash; a button from Auntie Jean's sewing box; a broken earring - a sparkly object; a safety pin - always useful; a baking bean from my kitchen; a book fragment - Marjorie's refuge.

By way of explanation, I have created my own construct for the house.  The floor plan is pasted to the page but an illustration of the house and it's shadow cut from an old book make a 3D house with the wallpaper design offering another wall. 

'In pure architecture the smallest detail should have a meaning or serve a purpose'  AWN Pugin

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Developing sketchbooks


Oh the days have slipped by and I realise that I haven't posted for the whole of February!  I have been preparing for a sketchbook project, partly for Skipton Embroiderers' Guild and partly for myself.

As a member of the guild I have signed up to take part in a project known as Travelling books.  These little A5 sketchbooks are a great way of increasing (or perhaps unblocking) your creativity.  Working in a group of 5 or 6 people, you each decide on a different theme.  In the first few pages of your book you create a mood board showing your inspiration and ideas and then produce a small stitched piece (it can be just a sample or a completed work).  At the end of the first month you pass it to another member of the group so that they can add their own interpretation of your theme.  The books continue to pass around the group until you receive your own one back.  Hey presto!  You now have 5 completely different pieces of work based on your chosen subject and hopefully a few new ideas for what to try next.

The project has taken our branch by storm and we have 3 separate groups of 6 but quite a few new members were hesitant about taking part and I realised that they were unfamiliar with the concept of sketchbooks.

We all take hundreds of photos on our phones and cameras but translating these into a creative craft project is quite a daunting prospect.  I have devised a course to guide even the most reluctant artist through different ways of analysing pictures to transform them into a design to stitch.  Using my own theme of Water as a starting point, I've been busy manipulating photos, making collages and prints to show the techniques that I use.  

I'll be teaching the sketchbook project at Skipton Embroiderers' Guild for the next few months but I'm also running a day workshop at my studio in May.  

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Roses are green?


Roses are red, violets are blue, but who says we need to stick to these conventions?  I've been indulging in my new guilty pleasure, ribbon work embroidery.

I bought this gorgeous selection of ribbons from Patricia at Mulberry Silks.  They are the most lovely colours and perfect for this style of work.  I'd chosen green for leaves (obviously!) but found that it made beautiful roses, working well with the dusky purple and lilac.

I'll be teaching ribbon work embroidery at my studio on Saturday 4th March.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Flights of fantasy


Happy New Year!  A time of new beginnings and resolutions.  I find myself busy making lists and jotting down ideas for future projects, looking at my calendar and wondering if I can fit everything into the year. 

When I went back to college to study textile design the method of using sketchbooks to explore and develop ideas and designs was completely alien to me.  I had a picture in my head of what I wanted to create and then I made it - simple!  At first I paid lip-service to the sketchbook, leaving blank pages and then filling them in to suit the design I wanted.  I'm not confident with pencils, pens and paints and visual research was a chore but I found ways around this and gradually found my feet.  I realised that the process of studying shape and form made me think about how I could achieve the same in stitch and before I knew it I was designing for real. 

This method has made me more perceptive and taken my work in some unexpected directions.  The first piece I made for Skipton Embroiderers' Guild in October 2011 is a good example. 


From a Victorian collar found in the Rachel B Kay-Shuttleworth collection at Gawthorpe Hall, my doodlings took me to a key motif and made me think of a chatelaine.  Further research lead me to some of the great women reformers of the Victorian era:  Josephine Butler, Octavia Hill and Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon.




The 'keys' in my piece were coloured with inlaid fabrics of blues and reds to represent the blood, sweat and tears associated with reforming women's rights. The collar is constructed from silk organdie, a fabric that pops up time and again in my work.

I was starting to find my own voice!


Having said all of that the photo at the top of this post is a doodle, plain and simple.  Something to make me happy without any real thought or consideration towards design. It's needlefelt applique with fine DMC crewel wools (possibly out of production) which were a joy to stitch with!

Wishing you a happy and creative 2017!