Stitching News October 2019

Welcome to the October Stitching News blog.

A warm welcome to new readers who have signed up for the newsletter over the last three months. Hopefully you will find that there is something for everyone in the newsletters. I do hope you enjoy them. Autumn has very definitely arrived and there has been so much rain that the ground is really sodden! Working in the garden has been a very muddy affair, and we have had to pick our moments! Often I have just resigned myself to “having to stitch instead”!

In this October Blog, I am talking about;

  • paper bags!
  • A new stitched panel for Christmas
  • A new hand made folded book (mentioned but not discussed last month)
  • Avocados!

Many people make their own hand made paper bags. It has always been a great source of delight to me when I have been handed my purchase in a “hand made” paper bag. It has invariably been abroad, particularly India and Africa.

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A couple of weeks ago I was given a bag made from a sheet of musical manuscript (a score) at a local craft fair. I loved it! I went home and folded my version of bags from magazine pages. Subsequently I have bought wooden pegs of various sizes to hold the tops closed!

The photo above shows a selection of sizes. Once I started it became quite compulsive!    I  intend to use them for putting Christmas presents in whenever possible! I have used a Pritt stick rather than Sellotape, avoiding plastic. Many Christmas wrapping papers contain plastics in various guises so I am trying to be as Eco friendly as possible. These fill that brief beautifully. I am also going to experiment with making the back of the paper bag taller. This will allow it to be folded over to the front, making the contents more secure.

Christmas Robin; I have had great fun this month creating a new applique panel featuring a robin.  This will be this year’s Christmas card. The size of the finished panel is 7″ x 6″.

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The background is hand dyed as are the majority of the other fabrics. I have used three fabrics in the red breast of which one is  commercial as is the batik fabric I have used for the “tree” trunks.

Robins are frequent daily visitors. in our garden, they have learned how to perch on the bird feeders which makes it easy to observe them. I had read and subsequently noticed that they are a very olive brown colour. I had some pale hand dyed browns, but nothing remotely olive brown, so using Koh-I-Nor paints I mixed an olive brown, and painted a small area onto a couple of light brown dyed fabrics in my stash.  When they had dried I could see that the colour was far better than anything I had, and with adding in some black threads at the end of the tail, I was pleased with the end result. I have quilted the background of the panel in straight lines, varying between machine stitching and hand stitching;  the latter using hand dyed threads from my stock. I really like the mix of textures and added interest that these choices give.

I have also been totally absorbed in making a concertina folded book, which contains  twenty two little stitched studies. These papers have all been “extra” delights resulting from my Eco dyeing. I have had similar results many times over the years, but have never really paid much attention to them. Recently I have been quite captivated by them.

Last month I posted a few glimpses of the book and contents that I had made after Eco dyeing plants from our garden. This new zigzag presentation is totally different, as it will hang vertically.

When I Eco dye the leaves, they are sandwiched between pieces of paper. I wrap theses “parcels” with cotton string which holds all the layers together. The string also acts as a resist to the colours coming through from the plants, and weights etc. This results in different grids on the outer paper where the string directly touches it; by definition these papers are at the top and bottom of the little parcels.

I use old fashioned iron 2 lb weights on top of the parcels to press the paper surfaces as closely together as possible. The weights are made from cast iron. The iron can also add colour and marks to the papers. Finally the marks within the steamer also create more patterns and grids on the papers where they are in contact with the steamer “shelf”.  I have used standard machine sewing threads when stitching into the majority of the pages and the stitching throughout has been by hand.

Of the two steamers that I use one is a very old electric steamer that my friend Phyl was discarding. She had used it regularly for many years but it had become really discoloured. It was still totally safe to use, but not at all aesthetically pleasing any more. So when I asked her, she was very happy to give it to me to for Eco dyeing and was delighted it could still be useful. The “shelf” that the steamer contents sit on is a plastic grid. The other steamer is stainless steel with holes in the floor of the steaming pan.  A lovely muted palette of colours was obtained on the papers during the steaming which I love. All in all I have had great fun of thinking of different approaches of stitching into the papers.

Unfortunately this project is incredibly difficult to photograph as a completed book. Each stitched page is 4″ long by  2.5″ wide, so you can imagine that the entire  folded book is very long, and therefore showing detail is completely lost. So I have just photograph  a limited number.

DSC01685 (2)Here are two groups of three pages which, for ease, I shall number 1 to 6 from the top. They  illustrate some of the wide selection of patterns I have been working into to create these little stitch studies.

They were all created when I was Eco printing leaves, and in the main were the top and bottom pages of the little parcels of paper which enclosed the leaves in the steamers. Within the book I have also included 3 or 4 pages which include printed leaves, or a section of a leaf….to link the processes.

Page 1. This paper was the bottom layer of one of the parcels, and as such was touching the string. I have stitched along these lines with fine black thread.  The paper was also in contact with the electric steamer shelf.  The latter has a fine “brick pattern” plastic grid which I have stitched in a matt gold thread.

Page 2. has a piece of rosemary Eco printed on the page, and was also pressed against the “bricky” shelf. The stitching has resulted in a rather Japanese feel.


Page 3. I have amalgamated two printed pages  highlighting the black/  grey  palette. I have used black and copper coloured threads to link it up with other pages. Seed stitches, and cross stitches occur within the group of papers, several times.






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Page 4. is another page created from two printed papers. Both had prints from the 2 lb weights. Limited stitch in black thread echoes the black shades  deposited by the iron.

The soft browns, are wonderful, and soften the colour palette.






Page 5, was sitting on the stainless steel steamer pan which has perforated holes in it. I have stitched long straight stitches across some of the holes but it is still possible to see faint ones at the right hand edge of the paper. The seed stitches pick up the beautiful copper colour on the paper.





Page 6. Finally, I have used the fine cotton “string”,  which wrapped the parcels, to stitch on some of the papers,

I have used this thread in several of the stitched studies. The contrasts between the fine machine thread, and the string, is interesting. A third iron weight which I picked up in a junk shop, has a ring handle, and is a totally different size and shape to the other 2 lb weights. It is tall and has a smaller base. It also has a hole in its base creating a change in scale of circles on some pages.

This page, and several others, seem to have an industrial quality to them.



I didn’t plan any of the stitching before starting on each piece. It happened quite organically according to the marks.

Throughout the folded book the design elements of line, repetition and pattern, colour, texture and form are repeated; the 3-D element resulting from the folded zigzag presentation.

“Aren’t you going to save the avocado skins?” came the throw-away comment from a friend. Georgina, an avid quilter, and long term friend was staying with her husband for a few days and went on to tell me about an article she had read about dyeing fabric with avocado skins and stones. Unusually for plant dyeing, avocados don’t need any mordant.

I have never done any “natural dyeing”; using plants and vegetables to dye fabric. Having said that, I grew up in an environment of natural dyeing, as my mother was a skilled natural dyer. We had a Rayburn coal fired heater and oven in the kitchen, and there were often hand dyed hanks of spun wool first boiling in saucepans followed by drying after they had been immersed in her “concoctions” as I thought of them. At that time, I had no interest whatsoever!!

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I gathered some more skins from other friends over the next few days, and had a go! I could not find much information on the internet in my brief search, so just had to have a sensible guess! I read that you need to remove any green flesh still inside the skin, and really wipe the stones clean. I had 5 skins and stones.


Avocado water gives various shades of pale pink to different fabrics when they are boiled with avocado.

A while ago I was given four old pillow cases which had wine coloured floral sprays printed onto a white background. Unfortunately the original pure white, had taken on a grey hue from use. It was hoped that I might be able to recycle them, but the colour didn’t lift my spirit at all, shall we say. So, I felt I had nothing to lose by boiling one with the skins and stones.

I cut up the skins into small pieces. (the larger piece of skin you can see in the photo above, was noticed and cut into small pieces).  It all went into a saucepan with hot water and I added half of the pillow case to the solution with two pieces of Indian Rag Paper and a skein of  white cotton thread to see what their uptake might be too.  It all simmered for an hour, at which point I added the 5 avocado stones then left it all to simmer for a further hour. I then took it off the heat, and left it to steep until the following morning when I washed everything in a warm water with a touch of Stergene in it. I rinsed it all gently, then left it to dry.

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This photograph shows the results, alongside samples of the fabric, paper and thread before they were dyed! Very subtle but I love it. It is a sort of rose pink or pale taupe.








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Using the same dye stock, flesh and stones, I repeated the action, to the letter with the remaining half of the pillow case. The photo below show the results.The largest amount of the pillow case, which is sitting underneath the other two pieces is the result of the second dye, in the same dye stock. The white is the original, and across the bottom right corner, is a piece of the first dyed cloth.

I am delighted with the second dyed result, and almost tempted to try a third dye!!  I feel the dye stock could still yield enough to give a soft colour to the front of another pillow case.

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I have been doing a little stitching into the fabric….It has a very tight close weave, so I thought it would be difficult. However, my needle just glided through it when I did a little embroidery on it as a single layer. I felt as though I was stitching into a beautiful quality fabric. It was a dream to stitch…and I wondered about its origins.

I have placed  a thin cotton wadding as a second layer, and am quilting now. It is more difficult this time! The pale thread is the one I dyed in the pot, and the dark wine coloured thread is a silk that I dyed a while ago. I haven’t added a third layer, as I am going to be making draw string bags, which will be lined.


Happy stitching!