Our last Embroiderers’ Guild meeting was an all day affair, with a stitching workshop in the morning and a fascinating talk in the afternoon given by Hull Branch’s Alison Larkin on miniature embroidery.

In the morning she gave out kits she had made up for us to practise stitching a floral Jacobean-style motif  in a single thread of stranded cotton and tiny stitches. There were three colour choices and I went for green and yellow. By lunchtime I’d got as far as this:

Miniature embroidery 1

The half seed stitch and half Jacobean laid work/trellis stitch leaf is edged in whipped back stitch, as are the petals in the central flower with the french knot middle – you can see the back stitched foundation in the bottom petal. The stems are split stitch and the top flower has one petal edged in split stitch over which is worked satin stitch with the other petal being whipped back stitch again.

Miniature embroidery 2

The other leaf is half satin stitch over a split stitch edging and half outlined in whipped back stitch with split stitch veins.

Miniature embroidery 3

Unfortunately I had to leave promptly and it wasn’t until I got home that I realised I’d left with my embroidery still in one of Alison’s hoops! This meant I really had to get on and finish the stitching to post it back to her! Not that it was any hardship at all to work on such a lovely design.

Miniature embroidery 4

The simple straight stitches in the petals of the central flower and bud really bring them to life. The darker yellow daisy was only supposed to be a bud, but I’d stitched most of the petals before I checked the design and I liked it so decided to keep it as a full flower.

Miniature embroidery 5

Finished and with a penny to show the scale!

Miniature embroidery 6

Miniature embroidery 6

Miniature embroidery 7

I really enjoyed this little project. It was right up my street anyway as I love working small. :o)

Miniature embroidery 9

A great day – many thanks to Alison and her fellow members of the Hull branch.

My youngest, to my eternal shame, and unlike her older siblings, has never had what I call a ‘proper’ handmade/homemade birthday party. My excuse is that as a teacher, my workload now eats an astronomical amount of my time, compared to what it was when the other two were primary school age, and I simply could not spare the time to plan and prepare a party for her. Shocking really, that the demands of a job end up coming before your own child. :os

So after the Easter holiday I’m reducing my hours to 3 days a week. It’ll be ‘interesting’ financially, but for my own sanity and health it’s something I have to do, and one of the first benefits is that my little one, whose birthday is at the end of April, will have a handmade/homemade birthday party.

Together this week we planned and I made birthday invitations for her five best friends.

Party invites 1

It was so good to be doing something creative, and her face when she came downstairs the next morning to see them laid out on the table cloth like this, was a delight.

Party invites 2

I really enjoyed using up scraps of fabric and paper for the bunting,  fabric and cupcake.

Party invites 3

There are two different designs purely because I only had three white card blanks left and could only find three of the iridescent butterflies!

Party invites 4

The cupcakes were such fun to make.

I happened to go into a charity shop in Lincoln last summer and they had a mass of crafty stuff for sale – first time I’ve ever seen anything like that in a charity shop and I had to exercise extreme restraint to not buy pretty much the whole table full! The paper for the cupcakes came from a brand new pack of decorative papers which cost me the princely sum of 99p. The textured brown is perfect for the cake part.

Party invites 5

Then the cream colourway.

Party invites 6

The silver needle shows up better on the cream background.

Party invites 7

Lilacy-pink iridescent butterflies – very girly!

Party invites 8

I’m told they went down very well indeed. I’m already on with planning the crafty activities, games and the food for the party, which will be on a day when I’m not working. That sounds so good.


I was given a Moleskine notebook for Christmas and decided to use it as an ad hoc journal. I wrote a page in the local leisure centre cafe in January when I was waiting for my little one to finish her tennis lesson and decorated the facing page with some of my latte. A couple of months later I added a splash of Twinings Apple Crunch tea and then decided to use the string snipped off the teabag to cross stitch through the page.

Why? enquired my bemused husband. To echo my teenage middle one: just ’cause I can!

Teas and coffee! 1

Last week I had vivid pink Cranberry and raspberry tea and as I was finishing off a canvaswork brooch, I also had some offcuts of canvas. Not only could I add the colour to the page, I could use the teabag to dye the canvas and the string of the tea bag and then use one to stitch on the other!

Teas and coffee! 2

So there you have it: cushion stitch in fruit tea dyed tea bag string on a fragment of fruit tea dyed canvas with a pale lilac splodge of the same tea in the background.

Teas and coffee! 3

Just ’cause I can!!

Our last Embroiderers’ Guild meeting was a workshop looking at Traditional Canal Embroidery, led by one of our members. The English canal boatmen and their families led a nomadic existence and as a result, the children’s schooling was patchy. But one thing that teachers found they could do, with the girls at least, was set them to embroidering with odds and ends of threads on large squared tea towels. This lent itself to simple bold and very brightly coloured patterns often edged in chain stitch and with big back stitched spiders webs in the centre. These were often used as wide belts for the men.

We started working our own Canal Embroidery designs on big checked black white and grey gingham. First I outlined a set of nine squares in a slightly variegated red perle.

Canal embroidery 1

I forgot to put a hoop into my sewing kit, so keeping the tension through two layers of fabric was quite a challenge. Then I added a back stitched spiders web to the middle square. I’m not into bright random colours and I had a variegated black grey and purple perle that toned in with the gingham which I couldn’t resist.

Canal embroidery 2

Canal embroidery 3

What I really like is that Penny designed the piece to be made up into a coin purse, so once I’ve done the embroidery, it will become something, very much in that tradition of usefulness. No room on a narrow boat for anything that didn’t earn its keep!

In the wonderful haul of craft stuff I got last autumn I picked up some rollers for pricking holes in paper for stitching patterns and with a page in my altered book talking about the “richly embroidered and jewelled copes of the cathedral clergy” I had the perfect place to experiment with them.

Richly embroidered page 1

There are three different rollers: one gives a grid pattern of holes which can be used for a variety of stitches, as well as the cross stitch I used here, one gives the looped pattern and the third, little scallops.

Richly embroidered page 2

I used a bronzy green chainette, various stranded threads in different shades of pink with glittery filaments and a variegated green-blue stranded silk for the Pekingese stitch across the middle.

Richly embroidered page 3

Then, after the stitching, I used Stewart Gill paints to further bling up the page!

Richly embroidered page 4

Lovely metallic Byzantium paints  to highlight the key words and glitter medium in pale gold and sky blue.

Richly embroidered page 5

The completed page:

Richly embroidered page 6

And the full spread.

Richly embroidered page 7

There’s something very satisfying about stitching through paper and it’s a great place to use the sort of gorgeous threads I’ve been hoarding but unable to use because they really don’t like being pulled through fabric.

…is all I seem to have managed this half term.

I finally got round to giving the silk thread I had painted with silk paints a more thorough coat of yellow, going from this, with too many pale areas:

Silk thread dyeing 1

To this, dried, fixed and all neatly wound and ready for use:

Hand dyed yellow-green thread

I found a piece of tiny cross stitch knot garden work that I’d started at an Embroiderers’ Guild meeting ages ago and finished off the back stitch on that. I’m not sure what the count of the aida is, but each motif is about an inch square and is worked in a single strand of stranded silk.

Cross stitch knot garden

I also rediscovered a canvaswork brooch from a kit that I’d worked all apart from the edging last Easter. I didn’t like the sparkly black chainette the kit contained for the edging and so I substituted a thick soft silk in a very dark blue.

Canvas work brooch 1

I might well have rejected the chainette on the grounds that it would be difficult to sew with – the silk is a complete nightmare! You get one easy stitch (the first pass through the canvas) and then it snags, twists and knots on everything from the edges of the canvas to your fingers. No wonder I didn’t finish it at the time! But now I’m so close to a finish, I’m using very short lengths and using it as an exercise in patience and acceptance!

Canvas work brooch 2

I also found a strand of beachcombed rope from our last holiday which was too long to make it onto this: Beach debris 1

So I decided to let it star in its own piece of stitching, curled into a spiral and caged with feather stitch in sandy shades on a hand dyed piece of cotton in toning colours.

Reclaimed by the Sea 1

Beads and dangles are caught in the feather stitch like snagged debris.

Reclaimed by the Sea 2

The organic shape and natural colours of the feather stitch and the way it was partially hiding the rope strand, made me think of the way sea life grows on and around the waste we dump into it and led to the split stitch caption: reclaimed by the sea…..

Reclaimed by the Sea 3

Back to work tomorrow, but I’m hoping most of the children in my class will have completed the Artists’ Trading Card challenge I set them for half term homework.

I’m gutted that the arts are being slowly but surely squeezed from the primary curriculum in England. For the first time in my teaching career, there is no place for a weekly art lesson.  There literally isn’t. The mornings are completely given over to literacy and maths, and once you’ve allocated time in the afternoons to RE, Science, PE, IT and either Geography or History, there are two lessons left and DT, PSHCE, French, Music and Art are all fighting for those slots. Art and Music, the two subjects I’ve been responsible for all my working life, lose out every time. No, I take that back. The children we teach lose out every time.

In order to try and claw some time back for creativity, I’ve given each of my 7-9 yr olds an A5 sketchbook as an art journal and we try to spend the first few minutes in the morning around register etc. working in them. They have altered old book pages and stuck them in, layered shapes from the maths equipment, drawn on scribbled backgrounds with rubbers, extended fragments of pictures and torn pieces of paper to make fantastic beasts and landscapes, couched down anything they could get their hands on and zentangled with handwriting pens.

I would dearly love to encourage them to use messier media, but these are snatched moments and the journals need to be instantly packed away so as not to lose any time to the twin gods of literacy and numeracy. Towards the end of last week I was struggling for a new quick, clean and unusual activity. Then I happened to open up a post of Karen’s and see a little wrapped card of threads in one of her gorgeous little books. Brilliant – thank you Karen!!

I wrote some words on the board which I hoped would make the children think about colour choices. Words like: ocean, forest, desert, garden, fire, winter, summer etc. Then I got out all the coloured felt tips I could find and they covered the page with their chosen word in their chosen colours. Encouraging them to write boldly and clearly and as it’s pen, get it right first time.

Then they chose threads in their colour choices, and wrapped one or more strips of card to add to their graffiti-like backgrounds.

Wrapped threads - art journals 1

I don’t ‘correct’ or interfere, just observe what they do and their choices, and work in mine alongside them, so they can see that this is something we do together.

Wrapped threads - art journals 2

Wrapped threads - art journals 3

I love it when some of them sidle up and ask if they’re ‘allowed’ to do something slightly different, excitedly explaining their thought processes.

Wrapped threads - art journals 4

Before I can reply…

“Of course you are,” says another child,  in a lordly fashion. “Mrs Hall always says it’s our art journal, our rules.”

Wrapped threads - art journals 5

I praise one child’s memory, the other’s willingness to ask ‘What if?’ and break the ‘rules’ and they both return to their work glowing.

Wrapped threads - art journals 6

I enjoyed a few moments to play as well.

Wrapped threads - art journals 7

Wrapped threads - art journals 8

No planning; few rules; no shared success criteria.

Heaven help us: what would OFSTED say?


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