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It’s been a bit of a miracle but we’re successfully out the other side of panto week.

How we didn’t have an outbreak of Covid in the cast and/or crew I really don’t know, but it’s all done and dusted for another year – well apart from the four massive bags of washing that are currently dominating my hall.

The cow print dress was a huge success and I actually remembered to get a photo of our dame wearing it over a hooped petticoat. As you can see, he’s a big girl!

I spent most of the Saturday get-in darning a j-cloth…

The cleaning costume I made for the Dame in Puss in Boots in 2015 has a gingham skirt decorated with rosettes made from gathered j-cloths and pan scrubbers.

But it wasn’t until I got it into theatre that I discovered that one of the rosettes had suffered a bit over the last seven years in storage. As the j-cloths have faded a bit I couldn’t easily replace it, so I had to go for the mending option.

Luckily it turned out really well and not only lasted the week, but I think if I make sure it’s stored properly this time, could easily do another panto.

There is usually some mending to do as the show goes on but this one was quite mending heavy. One character had a major failure of all the seams on her trousers – the costume was so old the thread had simply worn out so I spent most of the opening night frantically hand stitching all the seams every time she came off stage. Then it turned out that the Velcro I’d used for the back of the cow print dress was either ancient or very poor quality, as after three performances, all the edges started to disintegrate so I had to restitch all the stitching to hold it down and blanket stitch it all the way round to contain the fraying edges.

So unlike 2020, when I had the opportunity to do plenty of my own embroidery, I did very little this time. But I have chosen and made a start on my January 2022 Project – my print to stitch Medieval tiles pieces. I created the printed fabric at a workshop with Jan Dowson in February 2019 and started the stitching on it in October 2020, so compared with some of my other projects it is a relative newcomer!

This is as it stands at the start of its session. Two of the six ’tiles’ have completed spiral kantha stitching and I’d ground to a halt on the third as I’d run out of thread. As usual I have absolutely no idea what it was, beyond stranded cotton, and as I’m trying very hard to work within what I already have, I hunted out a couple of possible replacements and discovered in the process that I am very short of tan/orangey-brown threads.

The printing and the hand dyed fabric both vary in colour so I am trying not to mind too much that the new thread is a bit darker.

I’m also not that taken with the spiral kantha – it feels like there is too much of the motif in the way for it to work well. Also, there isn’t enough of the new thread for me to be able to stitch spirals round the last three ’tiles’ so at the moment I’m thinking I might go with a completely different thread to tone with the slightly darker prints and go back to simple seeding.

I honestly don’t know why I find making costumes is such an issue, but it is. I can muddle through pretty much anything else that I only half know how to do – metalworking, ceramics, cooking, preserving, even making Errol for Guards Guards in October 2012 didn’t affect me like this.

I’ve been constantly putting this last job for the Jack and the Beanstalk costume off until with the show next week, I finally had no choice. I really don’t know why I’ve been dreading it so much. I’ve made this pattern successfully before (Dick Whittington in January 2019); I made two much more complicated 1910s evening dresses for Blackadder in October 2018 and I’ve got my mum at the end of the phone who is a very competent dressmaker. Time to face down the anxiety and pick up the scissors.

I’d chosen a two contrasting prints for this dress – a cow print and a grass print to fit in with the whole Dame Durden’s Dairy vibe.

Unfortunately because I’d ordered them online, the cow print was very much flimsier than I expected, and semi-see through, which meant that I had to use the grass print for the bodice. I also ended up fully lining the bodice with the cow fabric by cutting the bodice out twice and stitching everything through two layers instead of one.

I have no idea if I did it right, but I know Dame’s dresses have to be robust (and I don’t have an overlocker to finish off seams) and I didn’t want to have tickly seams at the neckline…

…and an opening at the back that couldn’t withstand yanking the velcro open for a quick change.

Oh and just to make everything more of a worry, this pattern only goes up to a size 22, and I need it to fit a size 24+ 6’2″ bloke, so I’ve just cut everything loads bigger than the pattern and hoped. Sleeves in the cow print. They are supposed to be gathered at the top, so after putting in two rows of hand stitched gathers because my machine won’t do that, I ended up taking most of them out as due to my cutting, the sleeve is almost the same size as the armhole.

Then the skirt. It’s very full as it goes over a hoop and needs gathering the whole way round, which again, done by hand, took ages, both to gather and then to even out along the waistband before I stitched it down.

Then it was everything crossed until I tried it on our dame. It fitted! Well, not exactly couture, but well enough to look good on stage. That meant I could finish the back fastenings, hem it, reinforce the skirt opening and elasticate the sleeves before adding a grass print pocket to one of our existing pinafores…

…and making a matching mob cap.

Done! Thank goodness for that. And I really, really am NOT costuming next year’s panto!!

After a very grey and wet Christmas period it was great to finally get out for a bit of a leg stretch yesterday along the beach at Withernsea. Since I first went last September to see the Pebble of the Day exhibition at the lighthouse, it’s become a firm favourite for a seaside walk and beachcomb. I love the massive variety of pebbles you find on the beach due to the underlying boulder clay and I was lucky enough to find a few fossils. I especially love the little one in the middle which looks like it has a set of tiny teeth!

I always seem to find really big chunks of sea glass at Withernsea. The slab of safety glass is an unusually large inch and a half by an inch and there are at least two other pieces of a similar size.

I also found a few nice pieces of beach china, of which at least two will be perfect for china pots for woven feathered chain stitch plants.

I’ve also been thinking about the direction I want to go in 2022 and I’ve decided that I’m going to focus on unfinished projects; revisiting them to see if there is anything to be gained by moving forward. So my idea is to pick one project a month and focus on it around other things that need doing. At the end of the month I’ll hopefully know whether it’s worth continuing with or not, rather than setting myself a potentially unrealistic goal of finishing it. A finish is a bonus but even if that hasn’t happened, I should have moved it on.

There are some very tempting projects in my box: buttonhole rings, Blackwell House of Arts and Crafts sycamore keys and some Casalguidi work…

…embroidered book covers and crazy patchwork…

…and a few kits from various places.

But first, it’s panto costume time (oh yes it is…) and the big item I’ve been putting off. This:

…needs to become Dame Durden’s opening dress for Scunthorpe Little Theatre Club’s 2022 panto Jack and the Beanstalk. Opening on the 11th January – hopefully, Covid cases and restrictions permitting. Time to bite the bullet and set scissors to fabric.

It’s been a lovely Christmas with all the children together for a couple of days. Now the older two have gone back to their respective homes, it feels more like normality and I’ve started to think less about producing the next meal for the hungry hordes and more about the New Year and where I want to take my stitching.

I’ve largely managed to free myself from the need to finish everything I start, but as well as the unfinished pieces that have served their purpose, whether that’s, “What happens if…” or, ” Given it my best shot but I still really don’t like it…” I still have partly worked projects that I would like to complete. So my focus this coming year is to work with what I have, start new things when it’s appropriate, but be more mindful about moving on the stuff that is still ongoing. In this spirit, here is the Bluework bowl I started in March 2012, which scarily makes it almost a decade old. The last time I posted about it (which was also the last time I actually worked on it) was July 2018 when it looked like this:

Not a lot left to do really, apart from finishing off the cherry blossom and thinking what to put in the final section. The biggest problem with the cherry blossom was finding the thread, or at last a close match, for the branches, but it looks like I’ve either already had that problem or deliberately used slightly different shades to give the impression of depth and shading. I extended the branch into the space above and scattered it with cherry blossom in French knots – a few too many in hindsight as the space looks crammed. I think I’ll probably take them out and restitch the crowded section when I get better light for the unpicking.

I ran through lots of ideas for the last section before settling on a recent favourite – woven feathered chain stitch in what I think is a very softly spun silk. It made the weaving a bit interesting as even with a canvas needle it was almost impossible not to keep piercing the foundation stitches but the sheen on the woven leaves is lovely.

I finished it with woven spiders’ web wheels for flowers in a darker blue Gloriana silk. Apologies for the awful photos but it’s impossible to get decent photographs at the moment – even when it’s light the weather has been so horrible over the last few days that photos outside are nearly as bad as those inside.

So after almost ten years, it’s finished. Well sort of. I’ve already decided to re stitch the cramped cherry blossoms and there are some sections where I’m wondering if it’s a bit too busy and others where perhaps its not busy enough.

Perhaps I’ll keep it on the in progress pile but I certainly will try and get some better photos of it.

School term is finished for the year, as is ‘In The Stitch Zone’, my lovely weekly stitching group. As today is the last guaranteed posting day before Christmas, things are quiet in my Etsy shop and the bricks and mortar stockists of my jewellery.

So there has been Christmas cooking – this is Chinese spiced beef which I make every year. I use a kilo of uncut shin which is slow cooked in a broth of soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, garlic, ginger, whole peppercorns, coriander seeds, cinnamon sticks and star anise. After about five hours I put it into a close fitting plastic container and press it under cans of tinned tomatoes in the fridge, like I would a tongue. It comes out as a dark, tender aromatic block which you can slice thinly and have in sandwiches or as part of the buffet lunches we love this time of year and the cooking liquor makes incredible stock for soup. I wish the photo had smell attached!

I’m also marzipanning my Christmas cakes today – quite a lot later than I did last year. They were made just after October half term and as we have no sherry in the house but somehow have ended up with an abundance of mead, they have been well fed with mead this year. The smell as I opened the box was pretty potent!

Lastly, the Christmas puddings which were made back in November to a recipe that has come down through my mum’s side of the family and we believe came from the Radio Times just after the war. It has a lot of grated carrot to reduce the sugar content and a mountain of breadcrumbs instead of flour and is always moist, light and delicious. I’m not sorry that none of the children like it (more for us!), although it does mean that sadly the family recipe won’t be passed on.

Quite a bit of supply work in the last week has meant limited stitching again, although I do have a little piece of Bayeux stitch embroidery to show. It’s a miniature version of one of the buildings in the Bayeux Tapestry – this one is part of Harold’s palace and famously has Halley’s Comet over the top.

I thought the open sections were interesting and a nice comparison to the heavier areas of Bayeux stitch. I’m not entirely sure how they have been worked, but I used blanket stitch.

As I was working very small I also decided not to include the two coloured section under the turrets. I had a bit of an experiment but the thickness of the wool on such a small scale, even though it is fine crewel wool, would have made it far too clunky.

A ‘thumb-for-scale’ photo.

As ever at this time of year I hope that all the jobs will get done soon and I can finally spend some quality time stitching. Wishing all of you the best Christmas you can have in these continuing very testing times. Take care and stay safe.

It’s been a very busy and full-on weekend at Normanby Hall Christmas Market, my last one of the season!

It was somewhat of a mixed bag but I did sell a few of my stitched pieces. They take so long to sell that I do feel quite lost when they actually go! One of the first sales on Saturday was this underwater themed locket:

I also sold the midsummer garden brooch I stitched back in January:

And this beaded brooch I made back in 2018 which was originally an enamelled 1980s earring:

It was far too cold to stitch on Saturday but Sunday was warmer and quieter and I got a little bit of another Bayeux Stitch project done, but not much. It’s also quite gloomy inside the stall at this time of year which doesn’t help stitch placement!

However, I have finished the jelly fish. Thank you all so much for your input. Everything is helpful because it gives me a wider menu of things to consider, and it’s useful to have ideas of what I don’t want as well as ideas of what I do! Anyway, here is the result:

I realised last week that the first row of bugle beads under the bell weren’t stitched down, and that it would potentially be possible to slide something underneath. After communing with my gold work supplies box, I found a piece of textured silver kid leather, cut it into shape and carefully worked it under the beads. It was big enough to push down under the edge of the row of grey seed beads and then I put some tiny stab stitches into place all the way round to stop it moving.

It’s exactly what I wanted and not only is it a finish (apart from lacing it over a slip of cardboard) but it’s meant I could clear the very large pile of bead tubes and silver goldwork threads from my work area too.

With stock drops and Christmas markets upcoming, the stitching has been pretty limited at the moment, but I did finish my example for the workshop I taught on Woven Feathered Chain Stitch at The Stitch Zone last week. I’ve used this stitch before to create plants in pots made from bits of beach pottery…

…and I thought it would be a nice little single session project. Variegated thread works really well to give the variations in the leaves and different weights of thread alter the look of the leaves as well.

After having used silk ribbon French knots and tiny woven spiders’ web stitches for the flowers in the two examples above, I decided to go for simple straight stitches into a central hole to create the flowers on this one – thumb for scale!

I’ve also been trying to tidy up and complete projects, including the beaded jelly fish I started back in August. The last time I posted on its very slow progress in October, it looked like this:

However, a bit of a push has added a couple more rows to the inside of the bell…

…before starting on the fun bit of the tentacles. The source inspiration picture had loads of layers of tentacles which appeared to be loose, but I decided to couch mine down.

Each one is caught down with a tiny stitch in between the seed and bugle beads using the Nymo I’ve been using to thread the lengths of beads. It’s a very pale blue, so is pretty much invisible.

I feel like I’ve made quite a lot of progress towards a finish for this piece in a relatively short space of time. I’m going to add some partial rows on either side of the tentacles to fill in the gaps, although I’m now not sure whether I should have filled the bell in first before I started on the tentacles. At the moment you can see the base fabric through the top layer of clear beads, but on the other hand, it would have made it tricky and possibly quite bulky to start the tentacles over the top of a layer of beads. And I suppose they could have looked like they were sitting on the top instead of coming out from inside the bell as they do here, so I think I’ve answered my own question.

Sequins would have worked though… The new question is, do I really want to unpick all those tentacles to add something behind?!

The other day I wondered to myself, as you do; what if I worked Raised Stem Stitch Band in a spiral? I think this came from something I’d seen on Instagram but when I went looking I couldn’t find anything so it was time to experiment. I’m sure there are probably a handful of tutorials on YouTube but it was good to work something out independently. I started with a sketched spiral and a thick bundle of grey perle a little longer than the spiral to give me room to plunge and finish off the ends.

I used the same grey perle to couch the bundle down.

So far, so good. The thread was rather wavy from having been in a plait for donkey’s years but the couching controlled it effectively. At this point I was quite surprised at how easily and neatly it formed the spiral and even plunging all the ends in the centre wasn’t as difficult as I expected.

For the stem stitch, I chose a Stef Francis coton a broder thread in subtly variegated shades of orange.

I love the way stem band works up and the slightly corded coton a broder gives a beautiful texture to the stitches.

I was pleased with the coverage of the grey as well, having remembered a bit too late that the padding sometimes can show through, and the way the edges of the spiral have become three-dimensional.

It started out as a ‘what if’ experiment but now there was only one way to go… Meet Dylan the Psychedelic Snail.

His body is outlined in back stitch which was the foundation for his Corded Brussels stitch needlelace body in this fabulous rainbow thread.

Couched down green chenille gave him a bit of grass to slither over and his antennae are short lines of split stitch topped with French knots.

He’s adorable, even if I do say so myself, and a really nice project on which to practise some fairly straightforward stumpwork and needle lace stitches so I’ve added him to the workshops I offer – just click on the Workshops tab at the top to see the full list.

Successes!

Just finished the weekend’s Artisan Christmas Market at the Collection in Lincoln and I’m delighted to say that it was very successful, not just in terms of selling, but more importantly affirming that people are interested in both what I make and my ethos and there is definitely a market out there for unique upcycled jewellery. I had become quite demoralised with the lack of sales online and in the two galleries that stock my work and this has been a real boost.

I sold so many pairs of earrings on the Saturday that I came home and made some more to take on the Sunday, including some studs based on some vintage self-cover buttons that I unearthed in time honoured fashion while looking for something else! I had flattened out some quite flimsy bead caps and thought that two layered over each other looked like a snowflake, so while I stood behind the stall on the Saturday I stitched them onto some scraps of ultramarine blue silk dupion.

When I got home I finished off the button parts, removed the loops and added sterling silver posts and butterflies.

As I have dozens of these bead caps and another four buttons, I decided to make another pair, this time layering green chiffon from a scrap of an old sari over a piece of red silk satin.

However, the third pair is still in the planning stage and it will be different. After having made two very similar pairs, boredom set in – I really do have the attention span of a goldfish!

I decided not to add the diamantes to the mandala pendant. I laced it over a circle of felt and a circle of pelmet vilene and made a plain version of the back. At the moment I’m wondering whether to give it a beaded edge (beaded blanket stitch or a fringed edge) or leave it plain.

However, I think the prevaricating about how to finish the edging is a bit of displacement activity to mask the real issue. As you can see against my hand, it’s quite a statement piece (translation: probably a bit too big) and I’m having serious doubt about whether anyone would actually want to wear it as a pendant. I was planning to make some bag charms/key rings and I was wondering whether it would be more commercial if I did something similar with this. At the moment I could see it with a chunky tassel hanging from a bureau key or a cupboard door knob more than I could a pendant. Any thoughts?

It’s officially upon us – I did my first Christmas Fair in a nearby village last Saturday and although it was not the most successful I’ve ever had, I at least am well on with my preparation for my long postponed Christmas Artisan Market at The Collection in Lincoln this coming weekend:

All the jewellery I showed last week has either gone into Arttopia in Cleethorpes or the lovely Bricktree Gallery in Caistor so I’ll be making some more new pieces this week, including a trial of a new stitched mandala jewellery idea. I upcycled a couple of simple fabric covered round brooches a while ago by stitching found objects onto them and I was very happy with the results. In fact, the green one has already sold.

However, I’ve been wondering if brooches are less commercial than other types of jewellery and so I decided to make a pendant in the same style. I started by layering some rings from a broken necklace, a snowflake shaped spacer and a silver bead.

Then I added some heart shaped beads and electrical components. I love that the tops of the resistors are hollow, like a long cylindrical bead, so I can stitch them down securely.

The washers from another broken necklace with lots of silver thread and my hand for scale – it’s about 2 inches in diameter, so on the slightly bigger side for a pendant but hopefully not too big. I’m wondering whether to add some diamantes but not sure whether that would be too much.

I’m considering offering this as a kit, complete with a chain, hoop, marked out fabric and set of components. Do you think it would sell, or is it a bit too weird and wonderful?

I’m also working on turning this mess, which was probably once a bib necklace, into something wearable.

I chose the smallest chunk of the broken bib for my first pendant and looking at the one remaining large faux pearl cabochon, I decided to stick to the same shape to fill the empty settings. I thought felt would be the best for filling a biggish space but not adding too much weight, so I made a wet felted ball which I cut into two pieces. It’s very much down to guesswork to end up with the right size ball when there is so much shrinkage but luck was with me and it’s a good fit. This fleece has white silk fibres combed through it and I love the marbled effect it gives the felt.

Now I’m stalled, wondering whether to bead and/or embroider into the felt or whether to let it speak for itself. Any thoughts?

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