November 2020/2

Welcome to this second November post of Stitching News.

Several times over the years, I have been asked to help people log on to my blog. I answered one of these requests, last month, from a friend who had a new email address and wished to use it to receive the blog posts. I explained the Follow button procedure, and heard back from her again, very recently, (six weeks later). She had clicked on the “Follow” button, but had received no blog posts! I had written two since then. I have no idea how often this has happened to others in the past. Anyway, this week I have explored my site admin pages more fully and discovered that I could “invite” her, which I did using her new email address. I had a response the next day from a very happy friend who had responded to the invitation, and was now able to read the blogs she had missed! If you are aware of anyone who has, or has had a problem, or would like me to invite them this way, please do let me know, either by a direct message, or via a comment on the blog, then I can get back to you privately for any email details. Thank you!

Now, back to sewing: I would like to use this post to show you the idea behind the small stitched and patched denim strip that I left you with at the end of the last newsletter. I had started some stitched rows using a white thread along the strip, if you remember …

Above, the photo is a reminder of that starting point. When I had finished the stitching, it was obvious that the strip needed to be a little wider, so I added a 1″ wide strip of denim along the two long edges, and added more stitch to blend in with the others.

My original starting point was a long length of straight binding that I had cut several years ago, and unearthed when I was looking for some denim for another purpose. I had clearly made far too much of this binding, and had stored away the unused section. I have enough for the bases of the stitched “wraps” I intend to make for the five little books I have now assembled.

The process of creating the pages; When I decorated the paper, I had cut one large sheet of wall paper lining paper, and using a sponge brush I washed the front and the back with dilute ink, deliberately using a very light touch with the sponge brush. Where the brush missed areas, it left spaces showing the original colour of the paper. When it had dried, I used a dropper to drop undiluted ink onto the large sheet, and tilted the paper so that it could run and find its own direction. I repeated the same exercise on the other side, then left the whole paper to dry naturally. Next I measured and folded the paper into rows of equal depth, across the width of the paper, tearing them along the fold, against a ruler, creating a number of strips.

Then I tore each individual strip of paper in half, creating two sections. Each of the two sections was then folded in half. This created two single-fold pages. A “signature” is just a group of pages. In this case I wanted one signature to consist of three single-fold pages with one page inserted inside the other, the three folds nestling tightly together. These signatures are stitched at the spine to hold them securely together. The signatures are also linked together during the stitching process. Each finished book has two of these signatures, and therefore has 24 single face pages to work on. Now, hopefully you can understand how all the pages within this small collection of books are “of a kind”, throughout. Working like this even for one much larger book, is an easy and fairly instant way to give an overall start to your work, whatever the purpose of the book. There are many simple book binding instructions on line, if you are wanting more in depth information. It is addictive though, be warned!

It is great to be recycling the painted paper as well as the straight binding in such a useful way. I am highlighting the front page of each book by outlining the marks with a fine black drawing pen, as shown in the top photo, on the left.

It is easy to compare the difference of the front pages on these two examples on the left., the second one having no additional marking.

The emphasis created by the fine black line, really brings the irregular marks to the fore-ground, creating a sharp focus. The second of the examples will look quite different after it has had the same treatment.

Each book measure 3″ x 4.25″.

The wrap

I finished the stitching on the strip of applied patches and created another stitch line to each additional long edge. I also inserted a tiny red square, just because I could! I love it!

Next I lined the wrap with a hand dyed cotton fabric, using the “bagging” method. I wanted the hand stitching to go to the edge of the wrap, as it is so narrow. I felt that a traditional binding would add an “interruption”!

I inserted a ribbon when I lined the wrap, and then stitched a small button onto the wrap so that the ribbon can wind around the button to create a closure

Below, the photo shows the first two pages of my book filled with marks, made from very simple straight lines.

I have created several different effects, also recording thoughts and ideas that came to mind at the time. Perhaps they might be quilting/stitch ideas; ideas for abstract designs; or for repeat pattern. I like the idea of the shapes tumbling down in long rows, on the left hand page and can imagine making some printing blocks to extend this idea. I love the pattern making that is happening all over that first page. Before I started, I also decided to outline the marks already on the page. The white spaces add an energy and a focus to the page, which became evident as I was working across it! I think it is a definite plus.

As I have often reiterated, it is the “doing” that creates the ideas; one process, often suggesting the next process. I never have any idea how it is all going to turn out! That is the exciting bit. Often serendipity happens, and you cannot plan that!

Until next time; happy stitching!


November 2020/1

I had a lovely response to the last newsletter, thankyou so much. Many more readers getting in touch one way or another as to how they too have been completely out of their comfort range with feelings of creativity seemingly disappeared. I am pleased to say that at last I seem to have got over that hump, but am taking it slowly, with working just a little at a time, rather than long sessions at any task.

Several readers have asked if I could give some information on how I made the ladies in my bunting! I definitely will do, but it will need to be after I have completed the present Unit that I have been working on. Having now got back into my Distance Learning course after quite a break, I would like to concentrate on that at the present time.

Basically the technique of the ladies is just one of simple applique. Instead of applying the figure as part of a larger background piece of work, each lady is made on a background of the finished shape! But I will go into more detail as to how I worked on them, giving details of my order of work etc. I found some of my initial sketches, with a brief reminder of what I did! So I will make another as well, exactly the same process but maybe not a lady!! Thinking it through!

But first to more work on Unit 4.

I made another sample with holes in. I wanted to be pleased with this one and to enjoy making it, so I made a much simpler one than I showed you in the last newsletter, with a totally different fabric palette!

The layers of this “sandwich” from the top consist of a double layer of dyed scrim. (A single layer was not dense enough. I could see the fabric below through the loose weave). Below is a layer of a lightweight recycled blue patterned linen, and on the bottom I have ironed a medium weight Vilene to the wrong side of the linen. This was to give a little more stability to the sample.

Before layering it up, I used my fingers to manipulate the threads in the scrim, making a selection of holes. I secured the layers together with pins, and then started the stitching.

I then stitched a radiating pattern around each circle, catching the perimeter of the circle at the start of each line. I threaded the needle with two threads, an orange cotton thread and a bright lemon yellow embroidery viscose. I was pleased with the resultant vibrant colour. Finally I stitched an irregular, spiky border attaching the edge of the scrim to the linen background, which I trimmed to echo the edge of the scrim.

I have also been looking at edgings in this unit and my first sample shown in the photo below is an example of a fringed edging.

I cut a piece of card, the depth of the fringe I wanted and the width of the fabric to which it was going to be attached. I decided to wind two threads at the same time, around the card, and used a fine silky viscose and a thicker rayon thread. I wound them as one, then eased them off the card, keeping the order of loops, and I laid them across the centre of my fabric and then stitched across the the midline of the loops, anchoring them to the fabric.

I folded up the fabric, which was lying under the lower loops, up along the stitched midline. This exposed the lower loops. I then folded the top row of loops down to mix with them. It was certainly a fringe, but I felt it looked nothing until I stitched a few rows of automatic pattern above the fringe, in a very attractive variegated thread! That certainly gave it some life!

I then decided that I would attempt another fringed edging, this time with a very different type of “yarn” which would give a totally different quality of fringe!

Here you can see the hairy and rather coarse “string/yarn” that I decided to experiment with. I have had it for a few years, and had not known what I might use it for. As you can see it is very uneven. But it does have a certain attraction; the variation in what is happening along its length, as well as its bright mixture of colours!

I began by cutting another piece of card, deeper and wider, than my first. The fabric for this exercise was the central red in the photograph and it was in landscape rotation at this stage.

After I had wound the string very loosely around the card and stitched it down onto the fabric to secure all the loops, it just would not lie flat. It clearly had a mind of its own, and was not going to behave at all as I had wished! Not to be defeated having got this far, and because it wanted to stand on end, I tied it into three bunches, so that they looked a bit like pom poms; trimmed them slightly, and decided to turned them into a feature in the centre of a small panel. This was when I rotated the sample to portrait, I was not going to be thwarted!

I could then use another couple of different “edgings” that were discussed in the text of the Unit instructions, These were “layered”, and a binding!

I stitched three rows of decorative bright stitching either side of the pom poms. In preparation for the additional layered edgings, I placed the work onto a background fabric, with a layer of Vilene under it to give stability and a fabric backing underneath.

Then I measured and cut four of the pale blue strips, placed the raw edge of one of the strips over the raw edge of the central panel, at the top and the bottom attaching these with a zigzag stitch, and repeated this process with the two sides. The red spotty fabric was cut and attached in exactly the same way. On both of these layered borders I had two threads in the needle, one of which each time was a variegated thread. Finally the whole sample was completed with a bound edging.

I must admit I have never added borders this way before, but it was certainly quick, and effective and suitable for an item that would never be washed! I wasn’t going to let it beat me, but I don’t think I shall be using the hairy string again! However, I feel it is a very valid experimental sample, and as such am doubling it up to be one of my two extended samples, also required from this unit.

I have also been making cords

From left to right :

1. I have covered over a cut length of old black tights, using a wide zigzag stitch. I stretched the elasticated tights material as I stitched., but am delighted that it still has a little stretch left after completion.

2. I covered a length of dyed dishcloth cotton with a stitched free zigzag stitch (i.e. with the feed dog down), allowing the thread to “bunch” at intervals as I worked along it. I really like this effect.

3. This cord has a core made from a torn strip of dyed sari silk, hence the escaping cut silk thread ends.

4. Several lengths of a fine coloured string were wrapped with a zigzag stitch, leaving spaces to occasionally show the string. I am not thrilled with this attempt, but that is what “sampling is all about!” I won’t use this core again.

Many cords can all be sewn together to create a “fabric”. I have done this in the past, so didn’t make a sample on this occasion. It creates a very strong “fabric” which can be used for 3-D items as well as for 2-D purpose. Groups of linked cords could equally be used for decorative bag straps, or as embellishments on hangings etc.

As I have just explained, in this Unit we also had to complete more extended samples and below is my second. You can see that it is another “holey” one, but wholly different to my others!

This extended sample, incorporates several techniques, this time using free machine spiral patterns rather than one of my rather limited automatic patterns. I have finished the edge with a close small satin stitch. It reminded me of a piece of work I made many years ago, on which I used a satin stitch to finish the edge.

Some of you who have known me for a very long time may remember the little hanging shown below.

Because of the shape of this hanging, I knew I probably would not manage to do a very neat binding, on the “internal corners” at the bottom! I also felt that the piece of work was speaking for itself, and I was wanting a very inconspicuous way of neatening the edge. (I practised before committing myself). Interestingly enough, when I was looking for a suitable fabric on which to mount the whole piece, I ended up seeing this taffeta skirt lining in a remnant bin. I loved the colour with the rest of the work, and I also like the shiny contrast against the matt appearance of the fabric. So although I would never have considered it as a possibility, the colour sold it to me, and I felt it worked well!

This photo shows a close up of the satin stitched edge and the folded unit!

The small folded units in the panel are all made from hand dyed fabrics. Each one consists of two circles, hand stitched together with a tiny running stitch close to the edges. I left a small gap to turn through to the right side, and rolled the circumference of the circle between my fingers to make it accurate and flat. I closed the gap with a ladder stitch.

I laid the double circle on a flat surface and folded it in half, on the straight grain, and lightly finger-pressing the folded edge. I opened the unit and repeated the same action, by folding the opposite edges. This way I could see the centre of the circle. Then each edge was folded to the centre, checking that the edge of the fold was always on the straight grain of the fabric. Each edge was caught with a stitch in the centre point of the circle. I then manipulated the corner “ears” and flattened them as I wished! A perfect, portable little project for any busy mum who was transporting children to after- school activities, and having a wait in between! Many of us have had those experiences.

Finally, I have started a small strip of applied and stitched fabric, onto a lightweight strip of denim. This is the “second stage” of a collection of small books I have been working on recently. I have made the books, and stitched two signatures together for each, creating 5 little books. As you can see below, the piece is “work in progress” and next time I will show you the whole process. It makes me smile!!

Until next time, happy stitching, and stay safe.


October 2020/2

Very many thanks to those of you who have been in touch since I sent out the last news letter. It is so kind of you, and I have really appreciated the contacts and support. Many of you have been expressing exactly the same feelings I was describing. I am feeling better now and have been really trying to focus on stitching in small sessions rather than tackling anything big, and overwhelming, and that is giving me back some enjoyment and the incentive to continue.

First a photograph of the lovely nerines in one section of our garden.

These are a particularly pale pink, but they still add a welcome splash of colour at this time of year, particularly on very grey, dark days!

Most of the acers are over already, although the red one near the top left of the image still has many of its leaves. Others have already dropped, courtesy of the strong winds and heavy rain we have been experiencing recently!

The nerines have multiplied very nicely since they were first planted.

Today is Saturday 17th October; wet, cold and rather miserable so I have decided to get out several old projects, and combine them all into some lovely bunting! This will be cheerful to hang in the conservatory and will bring a smile to our faces! So, up to my sewing room to explore some of my stash of hidden memories!

First up are the five ladies which I felt inspired to make several years ago, after seeing a selection of Janine Pope’s superb work at the Bovey Tracey Contemporary Craft Festival! She had several little ladies, all the same, and their dresses had been made from part of a vintage hexagon quilt. I loved them! They made me smile, and I bought one. I was inspired to have a go, and my efforts are below. Some of you may have seen them before, a long time ago, but I think the time has come to give them an airing and in a totally different context! I have given them all names, as you will read below!

They each have their own characters and personalities. On the left Mavis is sporting a very nice waistcoat that she has made, with patch pockets to echo the colour of her skirt. She is feeling rather self conscious at having her photo taken! Her friend Enid next to her, made her long skirt adding a patchwork trim from the offcuts from her little blouse. She wanted to make a pocket to keep her mobile phone in, and embroidered a row of tiny cross stitches across the top of it. Amanda in the centre, is on her way for an interview and is wearing a smart co-ordinating outfit; grey tweed coat and black skirt, set off with a bright and cheerful cherry-red hat. Betty, to the right of Amanda decided to wear her new earrings and matching necklace today, and very smart she looks too! She is wearing a “spotty” outfit; a pale grey blouson top with large white spots on, and a contrasting bright red and black spotty skirt. Then last but definitely not least is Bertha, a good friend and support to the rest of the group. She is very proud of her patchwork dress, and was thrilled when she found buttons to match. She is glancing “sideways” at the group though, wondering if she should have dressed up a little more for the photograph, or at least taken off her apron! She is an absolute darling, and loved dearly by them all!

I had made some houses and pennants on other occasions with bunting in mind, but had never made enough of them for a string. So I have put most of those to good use now. Finally I have been collecting shells with holes in recently so they are hung in between each individual item; definitely adding a “little something” to it all! Hence the order along the bunting is: shell, lady, shell, house, shell, pennant, shell, lady etc. The houses and pennants, as you can see, are threaded onto the hanging tape then secured in position by a button. I made a loop of hand dyed thread for the shells to hang from, and have stitched the ends of the thread into the hanging tape, knotting them to keep them in position too.

Just in case you are wondering what is going on in the centre of the photo behind “Mavis”, we have a bird feeder post with a squirrel guard (an upside down old black plastic waste paper bin, which has worked very efficiently for ten years!) and long may it last yet!

The bunting reaches across the halfway point on both windows either side of these central ones. Photographing through a window, is not the easiest of shots to take, especially when the focus is on the inside of the window, but you can get the jist of it!

Perhaps one or two of you, reading this newsletter might be enthused to look out some of your hidden away artifacts and consider transforming them into a fresh project. I am already wondering what might be next for me!

Unit 4 of the embroidery course is beckoning, so for now I am going to focus on that and aim to make some progress!

I am just looking at exercise 1. and have stitched two samples so far.

The whole of Unit 4 and units 5 and 6 are based on stitching, as we have now completed the design elements of the course. The first exercises are based on “holes”. The very first, is specifically on buttonholes, and how they can be used in many guises to create embellished, decorative and intriguing results….not necessarily meant for buttons! It is many years since I used the buttonhole facility on my machine, and it has seemed very reluctant to respond to encouragement! However, this morning, (two days later!) I have realised that I had not set my machine properly. I have really been struggling and was once again checking everything through in a logical order, when I realised what the problems was! My concentration needs some more attention!! What a relief though; I stitched a perfect buttonhole very quickly; no serious problem after all!

As you can see from the photo to the left, there are two small samples; one showing a central square, set in a lateral oblong, and the one below a central diamond which is set in a longitudinal oblong! If you have never used button holes in this context, then read on!

In order to understand what I have done you need to visualise the “flaps” (which have been turned back to reveal the aperture) turned back down to cover the aperture again.

I drew a square on my fabric initially, for the sample at the top, and worked two buttonholes on opposite diagonals, across the square. I then cut them open, creating the flaps and “Bob’s” your uncle.

I repeated the exercises within a drawn oblong for the second sample, but this time created my buttonholes centrally top to bottom and side to side.

Stitching around the apertures created some decoration, and embellishment whilst also securing the flaps back in position. I then searched through my previously decorated papers, and placed chosen sections of one of them under the apertures These were secured in position by machine stitching the frame again. Finally I laid the two units onto a heavy weight piece of dyed ticking, finishing them with a narrow satin stitch. I used my Bernina 1/4″ foot for this. Clearly the room for using a zigzag stitch is VERY tight on this foot. So I checked it out first, very cautiously moving the fly wheel by hand, adjusting the width of the stitch as required. It does give a very dainty result, which doesn’t overpower what is going on within the sample! I use this neat small zigzag quite a lot in my work. I have to say I would never ever have thought of this decorative use of buttonholes myself! Anne has give many suggestions for ideas in her instructions.

My second sample with holes is shown to the left. I cut into large bubble wrap. removing some of the bubbles! I stitched freely across the holes, before laying the bubble wrap onto one of my painted papers. Sadly the range of blues and turquoises in the paper does not show to advantage in any way! A piece of felt is used as a stabilizer at the back of the sample, and I have cut bubbles from felt and paper to add to the surface of the bubble wrap.

I have shown a close up of the sample in the next photo. I am not too happy with the finished sample at all, because I feel I have “over-egged” it, making it too complex, and thus losing the detail. However, that is the value of stitching samples. They are always instructive, giving valuable information for any possible future piece. Another time I would have chosen a much more colourful paper under the plastic!

In the close up you can see the crisscross stitching that I stitched across some of the open holes in the bubble wrap initially.

I had enjoyed stitching on bubble wrap in an earlier unit, which is why I chose it this time, but another criticisms of the sample would be that I worked too much in a monotone. I introduced the yellow thread, half way through, and that has helped…

Anyway, onward and upward. I have lots more experimenting to do in this unit, so will show a little more next time.

There are also fringes and tassels, as well as more holes, I think! It is nice to be getting myself back into it.

I have started stitching another little central fold unit for my Eco book. This is one of my projects for the longer evenings, now that we have changed the clocks. I find it almost impossible to sit with my hands still, and just need something small and easily portable. This fits the criteria!

To the left is a photograph showing the little progress I have achieved with it over the last few evenings. I have stab stitched the outline using a medium dark grey thread. What I do from now on, will be much more subtle with softer colours and will hopefully emphasise the lemon yellow and the very soft grey hues. No initial planning; it will be what my head suggests!

Until next time, happy stitching!

October 2020/1

It is a few weeks since I published the last Stitching News. I will be quite honest with you, I seemed to have lost my creative self and any interest in stitching over the last few weeks. I am sure I am not alone in this. I am putting it down to the situation we are all in. With little firm structure to the week, I seem to have spent days and days floundering around achieving absolutely nothing stitching-wise! I am still amazed at how the days still absolutely whizz by!

I feel it is probably all the indecision; lack of ability to plan very much “just in case” scenario; being unable to make firm future plans and decisions, other than maybe one or two weeks in advance, and unwittingly it can become quite demoralising. The shorter days, and colder weather are a reminder that winter is not far away, and maybe that is having an effect too. I have never minded winter in the past, but somehow I feel that the pandemic has insidiously and subtly altered the way some of us are feeling.

Many times I have got my sewing projects out, mulled them over, prepared my machine, but just have not had the desire or the enthusiasm to connect brain, hands and fabric somehow! Then suddenly last week I had an urge to do some Eco dyeing. I got out my equipment, prepared the paper, and enjoyed the whole process. I was thrilled with some of the results, and immediately felt my enthusiasm returning.

The photos below show some of my results. I had done one batch; steamed them for an hour after which I turned all the electrics off, and went out for about three hours, leaving them in situ. On return I removed them from the steamer, cut the threads which had been securing them in small “parcels”. and opened them out! This is always the exciting time!! I was delighted at how well most of the prints had taken. There are examples of wild geranium and viburnum. I had not tried clematis before and was pleasantly surprised at the excellent result (front row of the first photo; second and third print from the right) and cranesbill never disappoints! My experience over the last five years or so of experimenting has clearly shown me how the prints carry on developing and becoming stronger, over many months!

The second batch included black currant leaves, blackberry, red oak, beech, rose of Sharon, and Susie’s hedge! I Have yet to discover what it is!!

This week I completed the hand stitching of a double eco print. The height of the “page, is 3″ and the measurement of each individual page is just over 2.25”

This will be the centre of a valley fold in the new llittle book I am making, which is an ongoing project.

The next process will be to stitch two individual prints which will then create the backs of these two prints. I particularly chose this as the centre spread, because I loved the soft grey on the one print, and the cinnamon colour of the other. This leaf was trapped between the fold, and the print of the back of a leaf is almost always different to the front of the leaf. I understand that this is due to the natural plant chemicals being different on the two faces.

At the beginning of September I had started to prepare a new collage, this time for my brother. Unwittingly I had forgotten his birthday, and one can be forgiven for that … however, I have no excuse whatsoever because he is my twin brother!!! Perhaps that is an indication of how my mind has been in an altered state!

I had looked at it many times, but with no spark there at all. But this week the eco printing seems to have kick started me and I was beginning to feel creative again and spent two lovely days changing my original fabrics, and ideas, and then once I put needle to the fabric, I was away.

The size of this collage is 4″ by 4.5″. I wanted it to represent his enjoyment of the natural world. So the imagery was important.

Westonbirt Arboretum is not far from where he lives and he has trained to be a Westonbirt guide. The training was temporarily halted by the virus, but he has been able to complete it very recently. Both “trees” in the collage are dried leaves onto which I have painted acrylic wax to the fronts and backs.

I dried them two or three years ago, and the acrylic wax has kept them supple. With care, and using fine needles I have been able to stitch them. I machine stitched the detail onto the large cotinus leaf, securing it in place on the collage with small French knots. The smaller one, is hand stitched in place, using a stab stitch which embellishes the surface.

There is a stream running at the bottom of his garden, and a kingfisher patrols the area, hence the inclusion of my little painted kingfisher! Two of the background fabrics are commercial prints but I have also included hand-dyed linen, painted teabag paper, and a synthetic shimmering sheer, which unfortunately does not show to its best advantage in this photograph. Hand dyed threads, and machine stitched flower heads finish the embellishment. These are all small scraps. I rarely throw away anything, and when hunting for snippets it is wonderful as well as time saving to have a ready made scrap bag collection!

A couple of weeks ago made a birthday card for Doreen; a delightful lady who was going to be celebrating her 90th birthday. She loves all aspects of nature, and the changing seasons, so I decided to stitch into some fallen autumn leaves I had recently collected. As they had already dried, I waxed them on both sides, and left them until the acrylic wax was dry.

I chose a background of very dilute soft blue and green painted cheese paper. As we all know, dried leaves can be very brittle, and although the wax gives a certain amount of protection I used a size 8 machine needle. Past experience has shown me that the finer the needle, the less likely the subject matter is to shatter!

I outline stitched the leaves first, to secured them in position, and then added the detail over the rest of the leaf surfaces. Well, this has been a rather leafy newsletter, but I hope it has been of some interest to you. Hopefully next time I shall have more to show you.

Until then, happy stitching!

Stitching News September 2020

I have not done very much sustained stitching over the last three or four weeks, so this is a short newsletter to keep in touch.

One of the things I have enjoyed is slowly stitching into some more of my Eco dyed leaves during the evenings, as I am gradually putting together another small book. These particular prints were made a year ago. Janine, a lovely friend who lives in Abu Dhabi, was in England this time last year and she came to stay with me for a few days in September. We had such fun experimenting and “playing” with our Eco printing.

At that time I developed and subsequently stitched a selection of the prints in a totally new direction, which I loved; link below, if you are interested, and you need to scroll down, once you have opened the link. They became a “matchbox book”, concertina folded so that it fits inside a matchbox. Mine has 24 pages, and is part of a group challenge, within Textile Plus, which will feature in our Thread of an idea Exhibition now rescheduled for November 2021 at The Poly, in Falmouth.

Just a reminder, that a taster of all the exhibitions that have been rescheduled due to Coronavirus is still open at The Poly, 24 Church Street, Falmouth, TR11 3EG until Friday 12th September 2020. So please do visit and support the Gallery if you are able. It may be sensible to ring to check opening times.

To return to the current book I am making, I also made a more traditional style zig-zag book around the same time, which I featured in the September Stitching news last year:

My new small book will be in the same style but crucially it has only 2 valley folds in total, each will have a single fold small page stitched in, so there is not as much work, but it is close and tiny work, very time consuming and emminently portable. It is great to have these small projects that need little space. I find them most enjoyable.

I really should take some “before and after” photos, while I am working on them but my mind doesn’t always connect with that process at the right time, i.e. before I start stitching! Next time perhaps!! I wonder how many times any of us have wished we had taken a photo of “before we started,”….. For me it’s “lots of times!”

I have uploaded a couple of photos of the stages of this new small book, as they are at the moment.

The photo to the left shows the Eco print totally finished, having been stitched and already attached to the front face of the book structure. (As you can see in the following photo, the stitching on the right-hand edge, wraps right around to the other side of that page).

The width of the main book structure is 2.75″ and the height is 3.75″. The cover of any book is usually slightly larger than the interior pages, so the pages of the first single fold unit are 2.25″ wide by 3″ high. You can see the unit lying in position in the second photo, below.

Here you can see single fold attachment lying in position. It will not be secured through to the back until all the stitching on the reverse sides of the attachment, as well as on the front faces is complete. It is unnecessarily awkward to work on the prints after insertion! The two stitched prints are both still in progress. I rarely make definite decisions on how or where to embellish them before I start, but rather prefer to allow those decisions to develop naturally as I go along.

The “outlining” stitch that I use throughout these little studies, is called “split stitch” and makes a fabulous continuous line of hand stitching. From what I read the majority of embroiderers tend to split the previous stitch by coming up through it with the needle, and splitting the thread. As I am using fine machine cotton thread (Aurifil 50wt) I prefer to go down through the previous stitch as I can see exactly where to spit the very fine thread.

I use a fine sharps needle so that I am not puncturing the paper with too big a hole! As always when I am stitching through paper, I make the next few holes before continuing, so that when I bring the needle back to the top of the work, I am not having to guess where to go! From the second photo you can imagine how this single fold will be attached with a simple pamphlet stitch through to the back of the main book structure.

In total there will be 16 little stitched studies contained in this small book. One on each of the main supporting structure pages, a total of 6, plus 8 from the two inserted pages. Many hours of work! The nights are drawing in and this project alongside my mini “Turvy panels” will take me through the winter, I suspect.

I completed another blue mini Turvy house panel a couple of weeks ago. Funnily enough I did not like it at all while I was quilting it. One of the fabrics just seemed a wrong choice, but as soon as I had put the house features on it completely altered! This has happened before, and I should have more faith in my initial decisions!

I have been stitching one of the panels on my first assignment project recently. The photograph shows work in progress.

I have using a mid grey thread for the darker free embroidery stitching

There are only two layers, no wadding but a heavy weight calico underneath the top fabric. I want it to have less depth than the kingfisher unit so that the actual heads and tails of the birds will then lie just proud.

Having completed the darker machine stitching, I have cut another layer of imagery, which I am appliqueing over it,using a white cotton thread in the bobbin and a shiny viscose thread in the needle, this time. I like the complexity and layers of the imagery which occurs with the second layer.

There will be two of these panels; one will be 3″ wide and the other 2″ wide. The kingfishers are almost complete, and will sit on a 1″ wide upright branch, between the two panels. They will give a burst of intense colour, sitting across their branch, and will sit just proud of these two side panels!

I must just mention the stitch ripper which is sitting at the side of the panel on my machine table. It is a Clover product, and one of my favourite tools. As you can see, it has a long narrow handle. I use it such a lot as an extra finger which can get really close up to the needle, without getting my fingers anywhere near the needle! It is fantastic for holding down raw edges when appliqueing, keeping thread ends out of the way, etc etc. I would feel lost without it!

Finally I have made another 4 masks.

We are clearly going to be using masks for a very long time!! All the masks I have made have three layers; the main fabric, lining fabric, with a layer of non-woven interlining between them. Every time I make one I make slight adjustments!

This time, when I was sewing in the nose clip I cut my strip of material (which encloses the plastic covered wire,) folded it in half lengthways and sewed it in place on the inside of the outer main fabric. First I sewed the long raw edges in position, then across the short end and up the long folded edge to the other open end. With the needle still in the work, I then slotted the wire into this now attached tube and finished sewing across the final open end. SO easy! Why I hadn’t thought this through before I don’t know! I had made life very difficult for myself in the past, by preparing the casing and enclosing the wire, then stitching the completed unit in place!!!

Finally, I would just like to say that I am going to have a rest from writing Stitching News during the September, so will look forward to posting again in about a month.

Until then, happy stitching.


Stitching News August 2020/2

Welcome to this new post of Stitching News. My focus this time is on collage.

I have been really busy getting further sampling on my assignment finished, then over the last few days I have had great fun using up some of the precious tiny scraps; as well as “not so tiny” eco prints, stitched sample snippets, unused hand made-prints, etc. that I have been looking at, in some cases just since lock down, but in other cases for several years!! I have a couple of boxes on my table overflowing with scraps that I don’t want to throw away.

I absolutely loved the collage exercises which was one of our tasks in the Colour Unit (Unit 2) of the Machine Embroidery Course.

I have never really done anything much in the way of collage, and the technique and method of choice was left entirely to us. I was hooked, and loved the essence of using colour to create exciting ideas using collections from the fabrics and painted papers we had been creating. The collages then were purely creating colour groups. I have extended my collage content now opening it up in a very different way.

In the collage on the left I have included paper; hand and machine stitch; Eco print, hand-made eraser prints on card. The list could be endless. I have found that the more I do, the more I understand the composition, colour and balance that suits me.

In this collage on the left, the two scraps with machine stitch were off-cuts from a piece of stitching where I was sorting out tensions and stitch pattern on my machine. It was lying around on my table,and caught my eye when I had added the right hand side of the collage with the pink printed flower head. I felt it gave some balance, in the colour to have it repeated a couple of times more.

Inevitably the maker is going to bring their individual style to the work. I have long loved combining hand stitch and machine stitch to my work. I have been Eco printing for several years now, and have a wealth of material to draw from there, and for as long as I can remember I have had a varied and immensely useful scrap bag of decorated papers; printed, inked, painted, textured, etc, and have dipped into them frequently in my work. The Embroidery Course design exercises have significantly stocked me up with a fresh supply!

Collages can be small or large, all fabric, mixed media, or some of both. They can include photos, found objects, paintings, prints, mark making, collections; ideas are endless. They could be pictoral, or abstract. Instagram and Pinterest will give you many ideas if you are interested in dabbling! for my work I haven’t followed anything other than my own nose, and those of you who have known me for many years, would look at these and probably say “that’s Di Wells”!!

If you haven’t attempted a collage before, but would like to have a go, here are a few suggestions that may help you to get started. Consider what finished size you would like to make. At the moment mine are 4″ square. For me this seems to be a nice size to work with. Mine are square, but you can obviously work with whatever shape and size works for you.

What are your interests? Maybe you love gardening…..lots of suggestions and imagery right outside your back door. You may well subscribe to a favourite magazine, if so study photographs that appeal to you, and look at their content, colour palette, change of scale, texture. If you can bear to, tear out imagery or ideas that you know you would use….if you can’t bear to tear it out, photocopy it. Those are just a couple of suggestions. Magazines could be to do with natural history, cooking, interiors, quilting.

We all have unfinished projects … if they are small, and you either know you won’t return to them, or you just really do not like them, consider whether something might be salvageable? That could be an excellent starting point.

The little eraser printed house just off centre in this second collage has been lying around in my sewing room for longer than I care to admit.

I began with this as my focus. I have then included part of a rejected (by me!) machine stitched sample in the top left corner, another scrap on the right when I was testing my stitch tension. I liked the leaves in this one, and felt that the Eco printed leaf I laid on last of al seemed to link to it. I also have some newspaper snippets from my “painting of papers” sessions. I always place some layers of newspaper on top of a plastic sheet protecting my work surface. This was directly underneath the range of different papers I was inking up. The bottom left hand corner shows two snippets, the red one with an arrow, and the other a flower, now turquoise! That particular newspaper page is a myriad of wonderful colours. I just tore out two small scraps. The golden pieces are recycled and over dyed colour catcher. I particularly like the change of scale and mix of hand stitch and machine stitch. The “tree” which overlays the top is an Eco print of a Pieris Forest Flame leaf cluster, one of many dozens of Eco prints in my collection! I have hand and machine stitched in areas and even added a little paper pieced triangle. As I am working I try to be aware of colour balance and tone.

Contrasts add energy. They could be: colour, texture; change of scale; space, machine and hand stitch, large and small, shiny and matt…..etc etc

I cut a 4 1/4″ square of “background to work onto. This might be a fabric or a supporting paper. Alternatively if that is too small for you to work with, cut a larger piece, turn it over to the back, and lightly draw a 4” square centrally. Thread a needle and using a contrasting coloured thread, make a running stitch along the drawn pencil lines of the square. Turn the fabric back over to the right side, and then work to the edges of the stitched lines. Allow a fraction of overlap, so that you can do a final trim with your rotary cutting equipment when the work is complete.

Those of you who did the Charity “Kantha house” workshop in September 2018 with me in the Big Barn at Cowslip Workshops will probably recognise the lino printed house, in the collage above. Those little houses have been really useful! The three collages above have been created for a specific purpose, and have certainly provided a most enjoyable and creative distraction for a few days recently.

Last year I bought a book called “Sketchbook Explorations for mixed-media and textile Artists” by Shelley Rhodes, published by Batsford. It is an exciting read, absolutely packed full of inspirational, creative advice and ideas for sketchbooks, techniques for collage, making marks and collections. Shelley Rhodes has a fantastic method and style of making collages as you can see from the brilliant book cover. The fascination is in the detail …

I have worked hard on more sampling for my first assignment, and my ideas and thoughts have consolidated now. Anne”s initial feedback was constructive and supportive and gave me the confidence to work further on my sampling. My latest samples have been accepted so I shall be moving that piece of work along during the next few weeks, as well as tackling Unit 4. So I have plenty to get my teeth into! I Have now picked up another small Turvy which has been pieced, and is at the hand quilting stage, prior to adding finer detail. (My evening project back again!)

Finally, you may remember that a couple of newsletters past I explained that Textile Plus, an exhibiting group of which I am a member, had to postpone our exhibition this year due to covid 19

It has now been rescheduled for November 8th-12th 2021. 

A taster of all the exhibitions that have been rescheduled, is now open at The Poly, 24 Church Street, Falmouth, TR11 3EG until Friday 12th September 2020. So please do visit and support the Gallery if you are able.

Until next time, happy stitching!


Stitching News August 2020/1

Good morning everyone. In this Stitching News, I start with further discussion on how I have been working through the preliminary work for my first assignment. For new readers, this is part of the Machine Embroidery Course that I started at the beginning of lock down. I am thoroughly enjoying it, and am constantly discovering all sorts of things about myself, as well as my very simple basic sewing machine. I often have “play” sessions and have a wonderful selection of painted, printed, textured papers I shall be able to dip into for years!!

I have also included an applique sample, and a stitched sample as well as my method of presentation for the work from Unit 3. I have other work in progress, nothing to do with the course and so like many of us, I always have something to hand! I have never been a “finish one project before starting another” kind of person, although I have every respect for those who like to work in that way.

My assignment! My second blog in June explained my initial thoughts about this project. If you would like to refer back to that click on the link. You will need to scroll down on the site.

Since then I have had a few weeks with ideas just being mulled over in my mind while I was working through the rest of the unit. Fresh ideas developed gradually which was exciting and inspired me to start sampling for this work. So I started afresh by going back to my sketch book where I had made those initial drawings, and I have actually removed a page from that sketch book, where I had sketched some of the original pieces of art work. I have stitched a little folded fabric edge to the left of the page, so that I can attach it to another page when I put all my ideas/sampling and work together in my book on this project.

The photo above is the page that I tore out of my old sketch book. I have now painted the drawings. referring back to the original source has clarified the detail in the original artefacts which has been really useful. I had already prepared some pages for my “project book” and this addition will have to be folded as it is a little too long.

On the back of the page I had drawn some different birds that I found on a photograph of a remnant of fabric. The birds were just outlined in a dark thread, so I have painted a couple of these, and am going to incorporate one of them into my hanging. Furthering my research as well as painting in the detail has been really helpful and has helped me to formulate my ideas. The piece of work will consist of three narrow hangings; the centre one will be bold and colourful and will feature three Kingfishers, (naive in their own ways).

The other two hangings, one on either side of the kingfishers, will be entirely free-machine stitched onto a fabric which is has a subtle monochromatic palette and will not detract from the vibrant centre! I have used this fabric in different guises already during this course, and I think it will be really suitable for this purpose. They will be narrow; one 2″ wide and the other 3″ wide. The centre colourful “tree trunk” measures 1″ wide, so the 1,2,3, series of measurements will work very well together! The monochromatic colours will not overpower the central panel, and the subject matter very nicely complements that of the central feature panel.

This is the stitched sample where I have tried out a range of the fabrics, and media I intend to use. I like the kingfisher although I don’t like the use of the cream scrim on the face; that area needs to be a smooth fabric.

I have used a heavy linen on the tree trunk in places, which works very nicely and I shall incorporate more of that and a little less of the scrim! I think it is going to be fun to work on, and I am looking forward to it. I can see in the photo now that I need to slightly tone down the acid green scrim… a little tea should do the job!

Below are another couple of samples from the last Unit. The first one is bonded applique, where I had to admit to Anne that I had to bend the rules slightly in order for my subject matter to work. She pointed out that if this had been a certified C&G course, the verifier would not have been too happy, but she said, as it isn’t…. flexibilty was allowed!!

Several years ago Jenny, a very longstanding lovely friend who lives in Gloucestershire gave me a delightful calendar one Christmas. It depicted some of Charley Harper’s bird drawings, I have been a fan, ever since!

I decided to use some sketches I drew at the time for my sample. I cut out the shapes from my chosen fabrics, and bonded them in position. …adding no further detail at the time.

For several days I considered the little piece of work before making any more progress on it. I felt it needed more, but wasn’t sure what! Playing around I laid some organza shapes over it, and this transformed it for me.

This is where I then transgressed, because I decided that a machine stitch around the edges of the organza shapes would be far too harsh, and totally detract from the other features I had yet to add, so I hand stitched them in position, which for me, in this context worked! (I have a lovely tutor and obviously expressed my concern to her about the hand stitching).

I then could just add the machine stitched leg and beak details, on top of the organza, finishing with a French knot for the eyes! It is a very simple sample, but on this occasion I felt “less is more”.

The second sample shown below is of Whip Stitch, a totally new machine embroidery technique for me. I knew it would involve changing my sewing machine thread tensions so I had completely procrastinated leaving it to the very end of the unit! However, it has been one of my favourite samples of the unit! Isn’t that often the way; like a dreaded visit to the dentist, it is often the thought, rather than the practicality!

So, whip stitch happens when the bottom thread comes up to the surface of the fabric. So, to start with it is necessary to tighten the top stitch tension (sometimes call the needle thread tension) and/or reduce the bobbin tension. There are also some variations to the basic stitch which I explain further on. Before I did anything else I made a very careful note of how the tension screw on my bobbin looked; ( I drew a diagram) and I also wrote down my top tension reading, also sometimes called the “needle thread” tension reading.

It is important to note that after I had completed all my whip stitch explorations I immediately put my thread tensions back to where they were before I started, and stitched a sample to assess the quality of my stitching.

My fabric for the sample was a hand dyed soft grey colour on which I dabbed a cotton wool bud dipped in bleach. I later added a little water colour paint to the areas, to remove the starkness of the bleach. After experimenting on a scrap of the same fabric I freely stitched, creating these individual flower heads, and noted that I really liked the little “on the spot” knots. I sewed with two or three different combinations of colours at the top and in the bobbin, as you can tell.

When I had finished stitching, I still felt more was needed so I added tiny clusters of bright red painted dots. It just finished it!

The variations that can happen: when you are stitching circles and curves the bottom thread comes up even more to the top due to the tightened top tension and this creates one of the variations called “feather stitch”. Another variation is called “cording” and this happens when you make several tiny stitches, almost on top of each other (free machining) and the bottom thread comes up virtually covering the top stitch. I was pleased that my sample demonstrated the various possibilities. The cording variation is how I made my tiny red stitched “knots” for want of another word! As always, Anne gives detailed explanations of how to prepare the machine and encouraged experimentation and exploration of the techniques, illustrating this with two or three of her own samples.

My finished choice of presentation for Unit 3 was a decision made rather late in the day. Although I had decided at the beginning of this machine embroidery course, that I was going to make a selection of books in which to present the samples from each unit, I changed my mind when I reached the end of Unit 3! It had taken me hours to make the cover for the Unit 2 book, which was to contain the concertina book. Even though it “killed two birds with one stone” and I really love it, it was very time consuming. I am still working on the book for Unit 1, so I needed something effective but much quicker for the Unit 3 samples.

So, here it is! It is a “bucket bag”. It holds all my samples, for which I have cut bespoke backings of mount board. These are a little longer than the samples which hang loosely on them, as I have punched holes in the tops of the boards, and tied the samples in place with hand dyed threads.

I made the bag from wallpaper lining paper. I painted onto both sides of the paper with the left over dye from the fabric dyeing exercise in the unit.

For the handles I made twisted cords from narrow cotton ribbon, (bought as a yarn, again), and I threaded the cords through punched holes and knotted on the inside of the bag.

I reinforced the top of the bag so that any extra stress would not be detrimental. The whole construction is very sturdy, and it stands unsupported too!

There was a lot of work to complete in this unit, and in these blogs I have just presented a few of my samples. I was delighted to be able to send everything in, the 23rd of July. I did take longer than originally intended for this body of work, but as with all adults, sometimes “the best laid plans……”

I have received Unit 4 now and have read it through. Once again there is a great deal to explore and experiment with. We have now completed all the design elements and exercises, and the introduction to Unit 4 says that stitching with allied techniques is the main feature of the second half of the course; i.e. Units 4,5 and 6. Unit 4 certainly looks exciting and full of interest! Our first assignment should be completed, along with the rest of Unit 4. Before I get started on it, I will do some more work on Turvy III

Until next time

Happy Stitching


Stitching News July 2020/2

Welcome to another July Newsletter. I have to say that the weeks pass so very quickly, and sometimes I feel that I have achieved very little, and at other times I look back and am surprised at what I have done! Life is still very upside down and I find it quite difficult at times to get myself organised! Today was a good start with two lovely loaves of bread baked. The dough was put together yesterday and had fermented for 18 hours! Wonderful flavour and texture!

In this Stitching news:

  1. I shall show you my finished stitched cover for the concertina book in which I mounted Unit two‘s samples
  2. I am prepared now with my some sewing/ quilting to keep my fingers busy in the evenings
  3. More progress with Unit 3, and a decision about presentation of this work!!
  4. Finally a lovely trip down memory lane, for those of you who remember life in the 1950s!

The finished bookcover measures 17.5″ by 10″.

I started with a layer of Brusho painted coffee filter paper which is brilliant orange and blended yellow. Behind that that is a hand dyed green fabric, which is the lining.

On the top of the orange filter paper I stitched a panel of Brusho painted cotton fabric, and various sizes of blue dyed fabric squares and oblongs from shirting fabrics. They were all stitched securely before adding a variety of strips of the orange filter paper, dyed fabrics, and ribbons, attached with automatic stitched patterns. Embellishments of couched threads etc have also added more interest to the surface. The edges are finished with a 1/8″ binding of the shirting fabric.

I bought the beautiful sheer ribbon in Venice about 14 years ago as a “knitting yarn”. When I saw it I knew it would be wonderful as an embellishment, and indeed it has been used many times in different guises. Here I doubled it and secured it at the back of the book cover, so that it doesn’t part company with it. It makes a very simple, but rather beautiful closure for the wraparound cover.

This cover has doubled up as one of eight “extended stitched samples” which are required to have been worked by the end of the 6 units in this Machine Embroidery Course. The book cover is an example of stitching with the feed dog up, producing line and texture.

In this Unit (3) we have to prepare four of the eight “extended samples” The second, of my four samples is shown below:

On the left of this photo is a partial photocopy of some collages I made of different scales of my drawing of the tree trunk: shown in the last Stitching News.

I used the photocopy as inspiration for this extended stitched sample.

This one is an example of free machine stitching producing line and texture. We have to produce two samples of this technique.

As I write this , ready to post shortly, I have completed 3 of the 4 needed from Unit 3!

Further samples I have worked on during this Unit are; bonded applique, layered and cutting back applique, and finally, whip stitch.

It is surprising how long all the samples take to stitch, because at the same time I am making decisions about the design; the suitability of my chosen ideas for the technique; and overall incorporating a range of fabrics. Colour is another very important factor within all the work. We are also utilising skills practised from all the units, and calling on the design work from previous work, or our own developments for the stitched samples.

Whip stitch is another totally new experience for me. Another time for adjusting tensions! I have found the Aurifil link I gave you in June Stitching News invaluable for reminding me about how to correct top and bottom stitch tensions on my machine. I have printed it off, as the information tends not to stick in my head these days, and I constantly need to refer back to reminders! I have posted the link again below, for those who may have missed it or (like me) knew they had read the information, but weren’t sure where! I shall be learning about the whip stitch today, as I practise!

So with the dyeing of fabrics, and the developing of ideas for the first assessment, there has been a lot to consider. Not to mention thinking about how to “present the work” That has not been far from the forefront of my mind. My decision is now made, and it is going to be in a simple Carrier Bag! which I shall, of course make! I have painted the paper, now! It is really necessary to complete all the work before making the presentation book/ bag/ folder etc etc. By then, you know the largest piece of work, and can therefore make sure that the size will comfortably accommodate the contents!

Initially I had decided to mount all my work in a range of books, but as I am still constructing Book 1, I have decided to change my mind from making 6 books, to making 3 books and 3 carrier bags, and ideally to have completed each presentation at the conclusion of each Unit.

My evening sewing projects have now been settled on! I actually do not want to sell my Turvy I, II, and III, original panels, which has been a disappointment to one or two people. So I am reproducing sections of each, in the same scale as the originals, and in the same overall colour schemes too.

This one on the left, is one such section of the original. They will be mounted and I shall sell these sections, when we finally manage to have our Textile Plus exhibition, “Thread of an idea” which has now been rescheduled for November 8th-12th, 2021. The little stitched panels measure 3″ by 5″ and are machine pieced and hand quilted.

A taster of all the exhibitions that have been rescheduled, is going to be on show at The Poly, 24 Church Street, Falmouth, TR11 3EG from Thursday 30th July to Friday 4th September 2020.

Jane who runs and organises The Poly has very kindly offered to show a selection of up to 7 pieces of work from each group and from the solo exhibitions, which were to have exhibited, but have asked to reschedule.

The exhibition will be in the Spring Gallery, on the dates above, and is called ‘Rescheduled’. She is curating it, making all the labelling and promoting the new dates for each of the exhibitions. It is a tremendous gesture on her part to launch the fresh opening of the Gallery. All galleries are struggling at this time, so if you are able to visit any craft exhibitions near you, it would be marvellous to support them. This exhibition will be physical and open to the public in line with their social distancing policies for reopening.

Finally today I just wanted to share a poem that my brother in law, sent my husband this week. It is absolutely nothing to do with sewing, but an old school friend of his had sent it to him, thinking he would really enjoy it. It really resonated with me, and I am sure it will with some of you too!

Back in the days of tanners and bobs, when Mothers had patience and Fathers had jobs. When football team families wore hand me down shoes, And T.V had only two channels to choose.

Back in the days of three penny bits, when schools employed nurses to search for your nits. When snowballs were harmless; ice slides were permitted and all of your jumpers were warm and hand knitted.

Back in the days of hot ginger beers, when children remained so for more than six years. When children respected what older folks said, and pot was a thing you kept under your bed.

Back in the days of Listen with Mother, when neighbours were friendly and talked to each other. When cars were so rare you could play in the street. When Doctors made house calls and Police walked the beat.

Back in the days of Milligan’s Goons, when butter was butter and songs all had tunes. It was dumplings for dinner and trifle for tea, and your annual break was a day by the sea.

Back in the days of Dixon’s Dock Green, Crackerjack pens and Lyons ice cream. When children could freely wear National Health glasses, and teachers all stood at the FRONT of their classes.

Back in the days of rocking and reeling, when mobiles were things that you hung from the ceiling. When woodwork and pottery got taught in schools, and everyone dreamed of a win on the pools.

Back in the days when I was a lad, I can’t help but smile for the fun that I had. Hopscotch and roller skates; snowballs to lob. Back in the days of tanners and bobs.”

Credit: Pat Fairless

I hope that has brought a smile to some of your faces! It certainly did to mine …. Until next time,

Happy Stitching


Stitching News July 2020/1

Welcome once again to this July post of Stitching News. Several new readers have joined us again in the last couple of weeks. I sincerely hope that you enjoy this first post of July. The summer is upon us, and Cornwall is getting busier, even before July 4th, when the extra relaxation of the rules since lock down begin. I must say we are staying put, and being very cautious about wandering amongst the visitors, although we would love to see our grandchildren and family.

In this post I am writing about:

  1. Make do and mend!
  2. Further progress in Unit 3 of the machine embroidery course which I started in March. So much to learn and practise, but my enjoyment continues.
  3. Progress on Turvy III

I have been meaning to buy a new ironing board cover for months!! Then there was lock-down and the cover had deteriorated to a point that was driving me to despair! So a couple of weeks ago I decided to mend it! I hasten to add that the deterioration is nothing to do with household ironing, but due to additional wear and tar from the constant small fiddly bits of ironing when I am stitching and pressing seams etc. I do this a zillion more times that I iron clothes!!

I had a large torn area near to the iron stand. For many years that has been the area that has always been vulnerable on my ironing boards. The badly worn patch with a large hole in it had been exposing the inner foam sheet for far too long! It always happens where the heel of the iron sits! Why have I never thought of mending ironing board covers in the past? It was a doddle!

I cut two large pieces of white cotton; one for underneath, and the other for the top. On the under fabric I had ironed a piece of Bondaweb the same size. It was placed with the Bondaweb uppermost. The top layer of white fabric, was placed over it, and the burnt very damaged area was sandwiched in between. I could see to match the placement! No hems, as I wanted it to lie as flat and smooth as possible. I then added a smaller patch for good measure. This is the blue one in the photo, which still well and truly covered the damaged area. Everything was stitched in place with a zig-zag stitch. I hasten to add that the area I have covered, is far larger than the damage! It just seemed sensible, while I had the cover off, to reinforce a larger area. This cover should last for a good while now, before being patched again, maybe several times! Boro comes to mind! However, these are “make do and mend times”… and strangely it has given me a great deal of satisfaction!

Unit 3 has been in my possession for a couple of weeks now, and I went straight to the end of it, when it arrived, and started on my planning etc for the first assignment, as you know from the last post! So I have now returned to the beginning with Exercise 1; a drawing exercise in the design element of the Unit.

This is about form and texture. We had to choose a “natural object” such as a shell, branch of wood, stone etc.” to draw, endeavouring within the drawing to create the 3-D nature of it, as well as the textures.

Then we had to isolate one area and reproduce this as a collage using a variety of papers and card to create the textures as well as possible. We had to disregard colour, and concentrate on the form and texture. I took the photo of this fabulous tree trunk, hosting a well established climber of another species, when I was abroad on holiday a couple of years ago.

It seemed a very good example to work with as you can see. Not a great deal of variety, but sufficient to think about!

Have I bitten off more than I can chew?

I must say that this was a huge challenge for me. I was well out of my comfort zone, but commonsense tells me that I need to challenge myself in order to progress. I lost my way a little as I was nearing the bottom, but I was pleased with the majority of the drawing, especially as I had not attempted anything quite like this before! I have always been a fan of the saying: “If you want to grow, push your limits” as my ex students can probably well recall!

I used an HB propelling pencil, and a 2B pencil for the drawing. Next I isolated an area and thought seriously about how I was going to produce the collage.

The brief in the Unit actually says “You are now going to interpret this in depth, using a wide range of papers to create a texture sample”.”Scrunch, pleat, fold, do anything which will create variety and raised areas”.

Anne has also given lots of ideas of what sort of papers we might use….indeed I have been using a wide range of different papers in both of the previous Units, so have become increasingly aware of their various qualities.

Observing my subject matter closely was the main “tool” required to do this exercise We were referred back to various parts of Units 1 and 2, during these exercises….building on skills already practised in the course so far.

It took me a long time to get going with The textured collage, and it certainly wasn’t my finest hour, but I gave it a shot! The background texture of the main tree trunk has worked well, and I think the whole collage relates back to the original photo!!

I have used screwed up brown paper, white card, smooth thick brown paper, torn off corrugated carboard, which I also used. I also used some recycled florists paper, and some Indian rag paper. I must admit that I have used some string as well.

PVA glue was used for attaching it all to an A4 piece of card.

Dyeing fabric was my next task in this Unit. This is one of my all time favourite activities, as those of you who know me, will be well aware of! As was going to use this opportunity to dye a specific range of colours, I actually didn’t use the method that Anne had suggested in the Unit. She gives lots of information on the process, but I needed some dyed fabric for a specific piece of work, so I chose a method I have used many times in the past.

I am actually very low on hand dyed fabric at the moment, so this has come at a very good time for me. I have used Procion and Dylon dyes for years. The latter are easily bought on the High Street and I do like the more muted colours I have to say. I do have quite a selection of Procion dyes too, but for this particular dyeing exercise I have used Jeans Blue Dylon dye, and I made up my orange colour with a Procion scarlet dye mixed with a little Procion golden yellow. Blue and orange are complementary colours and will give a lovely range of earthy colours. Any mix of complementary colours will do this. If I had chosen to do an exchange between two primary colours, the result would have produced bright, clear colours.

I haven’t dyed any fabric for at least two years, and as I am constantly dipping into my stash, it has become well and truly depleted. I prepared a household soda solution, and having machine washed all the fabrics that I wished to dye, in the washing machine to remove any factory dressing in them I took them from the washing machine and put them into the soda solution, soaing them thoroughly. The soda fixes the dye to the fabric. I have a set of measuring spoons, Marigold gloves, an old apron, a plastic jugs, recycled containers and disposable masks set aside (the latter for use when I am using dye powders) and purely dedicated for use when I am dyeing fabrics.

Below is the full selection of the fabrics that I dyed. As you can see I also soace dyed a few threads. Can never throw up an opportunity!

The exchange method of dyeing required me to put my measure of liquid dye into a poly bag, supported in my “dyeing” jug. Then I dropped a piece of soda-soaked fabric into the bag and I squeezed and manipulated the colour into the fabric, through the plastic bag. I pushed the coloured fabric firmly down to the bottom of the bag, twisted the neck of the bag just above the tight wet ball of fabric, so that no liquid could leak out, and I sat the bulk of the bag on its “tail” in an old washing up bowl. I worked through the order of adding dyes to each new bag (there are 9 steps in total, and therefore 9 polythene bags). Confining the wet dyed fabric in a small space helps to give textured pieces of dyed fabric. If you want flat dyed fabric, the fabric needs space within the bag, but even then you will probably have some marks. These are what makes the fabric so unique.

It is important to have a range of pale, mid tone and darker tones in a piece of work as this gives it its energy, and sometimes a little clash of colour works wonders too! You can see here that I have dyed some commercial fine stripe shirtings and checks. Because I often work in miniature, I love the scale of the woven stripes and checks. They work really well in tiny pieces!

So, when I had reached the 9th bag I went back to the first bag and added another piece of fabric to each bag, manipulating and squeezing the bags again, ensuring absorption of what dye was let in the bag into the fresh piece of fabric added. and I frequently added yet another fabric to the bags too.

I have found over the years, that doing this is the easiest way of producing a range of tones that all work so well together. The later addition of fabric, has given the first piece an opportunity to soak up as much of the dye as it can, resulting in a good strong colour. Subsequent additions get paler as they are added. Even if a fabric looks as though it has not changed at all, if you put it up against the original white, you will see a definite pale colour there. It is almost impossible to by really pale fabrics, so this method works fantastically well

Another bonus is that every bit of the dye solution is utilised in the bags. you don’t end up pouring unspent dye down the drain! I leave them soaking for at least 12 hours, before rinsing them until the water is clear. I always include a very hot rinse, followed by a cold one again, during this process. Then I give them a final hand wash with just a little Stergene in the water. I spin them in the washing machine to get rid of the excess water, then I iron them dry!! This is the exciting part when you can see all the subtle variations of colour and shading within each individual piece. They are always darker when they are wet, and while ironing them their true colours and the wonderful marks, and shading appear.

I hadn’t really achieved the “terracotta” range I was looking for after rinsing drying and ironing the initial dye run. Some of the fabrics were very brown, so I removed some of them, as well as the really vivid orange results. I soaked them thoroughly again in the soda solution, and over-dyed them with Procion magenta. This time I was delighted with the finished results. At the top of this photo, you may notice that I have also included some of the “unexpected grey/green results from the first batch of dyeing.

Some of these fabrics will now be used in the rest of Turvy III. I have given an explanantion of my choice of colours for this panel, which clearly illustrates my particula choice of colour for this session of dyeing!

I have given a great deal of thought to Turvy III, since my last Stitching News. Getting it out and reveiwing it a coupe of weeks ago, whetted my appetite for working on it again! I was also inspired by two friends, who are very talented textile artists to begin working on it sooner than later.

They don’t know each other, but during the last couple of weeks they had both independently told me that they had some hand sewing of hexagons on the go.

That really resonated with me and I thought that I might stitch Turvy III over papers. I am very fond of English piecing over paper templates. It is a great project to have as it is portable and easy to work with in the evenings. So I traced the top two rows onto freezer paper, ready to cut them up into templates, and I prepared and pieced the first couple of rows over a few evenings. My original design is here on the left.

I like to use freezer paper for my templates when working with small pieces, and fine fabric. The combination works well for me.

Here are the first two rows of paper piecing laid onto my master copy of the design. However, when I looked at them I could see that they were coming up a little larger. I understand that; it is due to the nature of folding the fabric over a template. But my main concern was that the technique was also looking very different to the other two panels, so after some consideration I decided to go back to machine piecing. The panels are in “series”…and as such I feel they should not look so different due to the technique!

Here is the fresh start of the piece now that I am machine piecing of the top three rows. I have completed three rows. you can see that I have drawn the straight grain of the fabric onto each template with a red crayon.

The row of templates will stay in place until the next row been sewn to this row. Only after the two are stitched together, will I take off the templates from the above row. The measurement of this piece, so far, is 8.5″ wide by 3.25″ in depth, (inclusive of seam allowances). I am much happier with the appearance now! I already have another plan for hand sewing in the evenings!

So, in both of the last two items I have discussed; the dyeing, and the piecing, it is evident that my initial efforts in both weren’t giving me what I was looking for. All the experimentation was invaluable, and I could make the changes I wanted with little fuss. The moral in all of this is not to “make do” with how things are going, if you feel uncomfortable, or disappointed with what is happening. Just have another go, and see if you can make it more to your satisfaction. Nothing is ever lost. Every part of the process is a learning curve for all of us; experienced sewers as well as beginners!

My colour palette for Turvy III is a muted palette of colours with a range of dark, medium and light tones, using the complementary colours of blue and orange. All the house roofs will be within the dark terracotta tones, with the body of the houses depicted within the warm medium and light tones. For the “background” I am using a range of soft blues, taupe and grey fabrics. Hence my colour choices for the dyeing exercise! I have an excellent range now for this and further work to compliment it.

So, onward and upward. I have plenty of Unit 3 work ahead of me. I wish you all well, with any projects that you are working on.

Until next time … Happy Stitching


Stitching News June 2020/2

Welcome to this edition of Stitching News; the weather has changed; lots of rain, and cold! The rain has really helped the garden and has been most welcome, but the cold has not been welcomed in the same way. We were so spoilt in May! I am hopeful for a return of warmer weather soon! I have been “finishing off” projects this last couple of weeks. It is a really good feeling!

In this Stitching News I am talking about:

  1. The issues I have had completing my dress.
  2. The house panels and further developments; also completed.
  3. My thoughts on my first assignment in the third unit of the machine embroidery course.

This week I finished my pinafore dress/ sleeveless dress, which I started last year! You may remember that it started life as a toile for the black linen dress I made last summer. I did have short sleeves in that one and I embellished it with hand embroidered lazy daisy flowers, using my own hand dyed threads.

I made the toile initially to check the size across the bust, as it was the first time I had used the pattern. It is the Merchant and Mills Trapeze dress pattern, a loose fitting pattern so there was not much else to “fit”! When I made the toile I didn’t bother to cut out the sleeves. I used a good quality mid weight white cotton fabric, and as I didn’t want to waste it, I over dyed it soon afterwards, deciding to alter the neckline and and turn it into a “pinafore dress”. Fortunately I dyed another short length of it at the same time, which was invaluable for the facings

I have added a feature decorative pocket. It is a “quiet” feature as I also over-dyed the striped fabric at the same time that I dyed the toile, so apart from its size, it blends in quite well!.

The intention at the time was to make a simple short sleeved blouse when I bought that remnant. However, I just could not get it out of the material so I have made use of it here, making a narrow bias trim for the hem on this dress, and the pocket!

I have had one or two challenges along the way with the construction, not least the process of the facings for the neck and sleeves, being sewn together into a yolk, and the very awkward way of sewing the sleeve facings to the dress, so that when you have finished there is a neat yolk-lined internal facing.

I couldn’t even begin to explain how the yolk facing works! It took some “fathoming out”. I rang Janet, a friend who I knew had made the Trapeze dress, to ask her advice, and it seems that what I had started to do was correct, even though it felt so bizarre! At the beginning of lock down Janet had made the same sleeveless dress, with the same method of facings, and she said to me; “just plough on Di … follow the instructions to the letter!” To be fair to the pattern, it does say “this may seem awkward”! I will hold my hands up and say that I would do it again as the finish is so good! I can’t say fairer than that, can I? I love the finished garment. It is so comfortable and easy to wear.

The two pieces immediately below are Turvy I, on the left, and Turvy II on the right I was devoid of any ideas for a title for them, and asked Rob for suggestions. “Turvy” he said, and the notion of Topsy- Turvy just made me smile, so I knew that was the choice for me!

… and this week I have finished them. I designed them a couple of years ago and made very good progress on their construction, and had even started the quilting. I had to finish the quilting, choose fabric for the bindings, and make hanging sleeves for the back. The panels are both the same size which is approximately A4; 8.5″ wide, by 11.75″ long. They are machine pieced and hand quilted.

The four panels to the left, are actually miniatures! I have enlarged the photos so that you can see the detail.

They each vary a little in size, but fall within 2.5″ wide, and 4″ long.

They are variations on the same theme, and illustrate that ideas can develop the more you work on them!

I often find it easier to work ideas out by photocopying in a reduced size and working on the smaller images.

I have over painted in some areas and enhanced or added small detail. I have overlaid thread lines and added stitch. My original intentions were to make them into cards, but as I calculated the time spent on them, if I was going to sell them, then they could not be sold at stitched card prices!

I would probably mount them and sell them unframed, allowing the buyer to make their own decisions according to their personal choice. Of course this all takes time and experimentation, which isn’t necessarily taken into account on top of the originality of the work, when work has been priced up., and I think that is particularly pertinent when the work is so small.

In the last week I have also been looking at a third panel in the Turvy series which I have already spent many hours developing. I have not yet put needle and fabric to use on it, because I could not decide on colour. However, looking at it again after a long break, I can see it more clearly, and ideas presented to me immediately! The work is A4 in size, again, and is thus Turvy III, in progress. Now that I am well ensconced on the Distance Learning course, any further progress on T III will have to be put on hold for a while longer!

In Unit 3 we are asked to consider our first assignment and send our ideas to Anne for her consideration and support and for her to give constructive feedback. There is a comprehensive list of items to choose from and clearly the skills we have learnt and have been practising should be used within the design and decoration of the chosen item.

I have set my own Brief:

To design and make a piece of Contemporary Wall Art taking the imagery of early Nasca Embroideries as my inspiration.

Five years ago, my son gave me a wonderful birthday present; a book on Early Peruvian Needlework. Some of the naive “embroidery” fascinated me immediately.

This and the next photo illustrate Hummingbirds. They really captured my imagination and made me smile!

I have nurtured ideas about this in my head for a long time, and now the obvious opportunity has arrived for me to develop those and create my piece of work! The original imagery is in fact knitted as you can see. The knitting also incorporates the “stick/branch” on which the bird is perched but I intend to use fabric and stitch to create my ideas. The branch will support the bird but will not be integral as in the knitted version!

I have been stitching British bird panels recently, having had a long fascination with our wonderful British birds, and I thoroughly enjoyed the process,and have used traditional techniques of applique.

This will be different and could take that study into a different and potentially exciting development.

I have started by sketching and painting some naive bird shapes and then I added a kingfisher to the page as well, as this will be my choice of bird to work with. The painting of the kingfisher on the page, is not “naive” at all, but having other options on the same page, and having painted one of them in the wonderful colours of the bird, I can see that it could work, so now I can look at further changes and options.

The bird will be mounted on a “stick” in a similar approach to the original inspiration. I intend to use two or three layers of pelmet Vilene for this which will be covered in various textures of small pieces of fabric, machine stitched in place. The piece will hang from this structure, but I have to think about whether I would like it to be round, or flat!

For the bird, I intend to make my own “fabric”, which I shall either dye or paint! Preliminary experimentation will determine technique, but I am thinking about using fabric and tissue paper.

Below are my initial drawings.

I have painted these initial drawings with Koh-I-Nor ink dyes. Colour is going to be an important design consideration in this work, as it was in the Peruvian textile world of many centuries ago.There is a lot of development still to consider; more drawings, lots of sampling and exploration. I wonder where it will lead to!

Within this unit we are also going to be dyeing fabric, and learning some new stitching techniques. Lots to contemplate! I wonder how far I shall get before I am in touch again!

Until next time, happy stitching …