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Last week I was thinking about how the blogging world had changed since I started ten years ago. One of the features of blogging back in the day were Blog Awards. Sometimes they came with little images you could attach to the side bar to let people know that among your blogging peers you had been considered deserving of recognition and they usually came with a list of questions to answer to help people get to know you and your creative process better.

I remember being very excited when I was nominated for my first award and promptly set about answering the questions and passing on my nominations for further recipients. However, I quickly discovered that not everybody appreciated being nominated for an award and a couple of my nominees quite firmly put me in my place by saying they didn’t ‘do’ blog awards. I think some people considered them rather like a chain letter and not necessarily an indication of quality. I was just grateful that someone considered me worthy of notice.

Blog awards declined along with blogging, and I hadn’t thought about them for years until last week Amanda was awarded ‘Outstanding Blogger’ and chose me as one of the blogs to pass it on to. I was just as pleased and grateful as I was the first time round and very happy to take part.

In time honoured fashion, we start with the questions:

  1. What would my perfect holiday be? It would have to be Cornwall all the way. Beaches for beachcombing, swimming and wave jumping…

…castles

…and cottages.

2. Where is my favourite place to walk? Generally on a beach I suppose, but beaches are less for walking than for shuffling along, head down, looking for treasures. This past year we have walked more in our local area than ever before and so currently, my favourite place to walk is the Lincolnshire Wolds.

Just hilly enough to be interesting and challenging, with deserted medieval villages, hidden churches…

…and fabulous vistas, but close enough to home for an easy day trip.

3. What inspired me to start a blog? I was just finding my feet with my embroidery and I really wanted a place to document my journey. I liked the format, the ease of adding photos and also the feedback from other people out there on a similar wavelength – journaling with an audience.

4. What did I miss most during lockdowns? Other than my two oldest children who live in London and Birmingham respectively, the thing I missed most (and still do) was writing and stitching in my local coffee shops! I use a fabulous app called Coffitivity which gives the ambient noise of a coffee shop (proven to aid concentration) but nothing beats the real thing with the added extra of a proper latte…

5) What was the last book I read? ‘The King in the North: The Life and Times of Oswald of Northumbria’ by Max Adams. It was 99p on Kindle and I’m fascinated by the Dark Ages so I gave it a punt. After having read some shockingly written historical non-fiction kindle books recently, which seem to have been cobbled second hand from other people’s books on the same subject and one that gave quotes in French, Latin and Gaelic without glossing any of them, this book was a delight. It’s superbly researched, original, erudite without ever being dry and a damn good read.

So, bloggers to take up the Outstanding Blog Award, (should you so wish) are:

Debbidipity

VirtuoSew Adventures

A Stitch Or Nine

No pressure to do so – it’s just a bit of fun.

Happy Tenth Birthday to this blog! Please help yourself to a piece of virtual cake. :o)

I wrote my first post on May 2nd 2011 which also happened to be Bank Holiday Monday.

In 2011 blogging was massive in the creative community. It seemed that everyone from full time textile artists to complete beginners were sharing their art and creative processes and many of the blogs I followed were like fabulous magazines, full of gorgeous images and insights into all types of embroidery and textile art that were new and endlessly fascinating to me. People connected, made friendships, shared ideas and advice and I found I could join a whole world of people who loved stitch as much as I did.

However, blogs have waned massively in popularity since 2011. Probably half to three quarters of the bloggers I was following in 2011 have stopped blogging for one reason or another and I have to put my hand on my heart and say I don’t read blogs as regularly as I used to – like many of us I’m more likely to scroll through the same people’s Instagram feeds. But although we get the instant gratification of a pretty or interesting picture on Instagram, I still do value the time and space to explore creative practise that you get in a blog.

The rise of social media is understandable. It takes a moment to upload a photo from our phones onto Instagram, type a few words and hashtags and press send. The image is out there and it gets instant engagement. You can click a like on it in less than a second before you move onto the next piece of eye candy, or spend a few more putting a heart-eyes emoji or a brief comment. It has its place. Some quick feedback about a problem; affirmation that you have made something pretty or reassurance that other people are in the same position. Speed of response can be very useful.

On the other hand, blogs take time and effort. You need to compose your thoughts, create readable content and suitable images to go with it. Not everybody has the time or natural affinity with words to do that which makes the bloggers who are still plugging away out there very special and their posts a valuable resource.

Social media is a snack – like a bag of crisps. A blog is a meal. Words and ideas to digest. You have to take your time and work through the blogger’s thoughts and accompanying images and to continue the metaphor, like a meal, a good blog post leaves you feeling satisfied. Or it can be so delicious it leaves you hungry for more. More images, more explanation, more of an insight into a project. A very common comment to both give and receive is something along the lines of, “I can’t wait to see more of this project!”

So thank you to all the fellow bloggers who still follow and comment on my tiny corner of the internet. Thank you for letting me know I’m not just talking to myself and thank you for carrying on with your blogs and continuing to interest, engage and inspire me with your creativity.

Lastly, the watch case pendant is finished.

Rachel asked how I was going to attach a chain to the winder and luckily my plan worked! One of my biggest jump rings was just big enough to go round the stem of the winder and still have enough room to attach the silver plated chain to either side. It’s a bit askew here because I’d turned it round to photograph the back and it wasn’t sitting properly, but it give an idea of the way it’s constructed.

Available here in my Etsy shop.

I’ve been wanting to create some more watch case pendants for a while and last week I finally got round to hunting out the box they live in. I was also determined to do one at a time that I could actually finish, rather than planning all of them at once and overfacing myself.

I had a lovely little rounded piece of driftwood that I wanted to use for this one and teamed it with a pretty gold flecked batik cotton.

Seaweed first, in good old feather stitch and some overcasting with added cast on stitch picots to help hold the driftwood in place.

Then some maidenhair stitch and beading. Maidenhair stitch is a feather stitch variant where you stitch three loops gradually increasing in size on the same side before stitching three on the other side, rather than alternating as in ordinary feather stitch. It’s a new stitch to me and I really like the effect it gives, especially when you curve it like a plant stem.

Some more feather stitch and Palestrina stitch to give a different texture.

After one more swirl of Palestrina knots with a touch of purple, time to add the sea glass. The sea glass nuggets are held in place with a dab of superglue just to make sure they don’t go anywhere before I work the holding stitches over them.

Lastly I gathered the design over a piece of pelmet vilene before setting it into the watch case.

It just needs a silver plated chain attached (somehow…) and it’s a finish.

My not so little, little one turned 16 at the weekend and as I was completely out of inspiration for an original card, I used a pattern from the internet to cross stitch one of her favourite characters from Star Wars:

I was reminded how long it takes to cross stitch even a relatively small and simple design (best part of four hours for this one and I don’t think I was stitching particularly slowly) but it was worth it – she loved him.

With the reopening of non-essential shops this week, the Persian Chandelier and most other ongoing projects have been put aside and my stitching and making has been focussed on building up my jewellery stock.

First, a new sea glass necklace.

I started with a vintage rolled gold pendant which had lost its stone and found a sea glass piece that fitted it perfectly in my dwindling collection of Seaham multis – this one clear with a smudge of pink. Then I added a delicate rolled gold necklace and found some perfectly frosted pink and white glass beads to replace the existing beads which luckily match the sea glass piece perfectly.

It’s available here in my Etsy shop.

I’ve also been altering another fabric brooch from a job lot of junk jewellery. This one was simply a piece of woollen checked fabric needle felted onto a square of black wool with a random button and a brooch back sewn on. I removed the button and while going through my found object stash for the Mandala Brooches, I found what I think might have been part of a fishing fly and a hemispherical panel from a bracelet which both appealed.

I used my go-to variegated metallic Madeira thread to stitch both elements down and add stitches into the fabric around the main part of the fishing fly. It isn’t supposed to be anything in particular but I think it looks a little like a comet!

Sashiko stitching on tiny scraps of indigo dyed cotton with silk thread mounted in a vintage brooch setting have become another boro-style brooch.

I’m really pleased with the sashiko pattern on this one, especially as I did it by eye, and it really pulls the separate scraps of fabric into a whole.

It’s available in my Etsy shop here.

Lastly, some experimenting with knotted stitches in this sort of crewel work style sample. Portuguese Knotted Stem Stitch and French Knots on the left, German Knotted Buttonhole in the middle and middle right and Palestrina Stitch and Pistil Stitch top right. Chain Stitch and Four-Legged Knot bottom right and the stem is Coral Stitch and Satin Stitch.

Hopefully I can get back on track this week and I have high hopes of being able to stitch outside if the weather stays good!

I had a bit of an urge to make some upcycled jewellery pieces this week and was wondering what to do with these lovely but very simple brooches I found in a job lot of junk jewellery.

I have given brooches like these intricate beaded edgings in the past, but I wanted to do something different this time and I was inspired by Susan Lenz’s wonderful huge stitched mandalas to do something on a much more typically Alex scale! I had a very interesting scavenge through my many boxes of bits and pieces from beads and buttons to odd pieces of broken jewellery and found objects like the resistors on the left of the photo below. .

And after lots of arranging and changing and hunting in yet more boxes, I’ve come up with a couple of Mandala Brooches. Blue Mandala features resistors from old fashioned electronics, a pierced domed coin from an odd earring, and beads and jump rings from broken necklaces, stitched down with indigo dyed thread.

Green mandala features a metal heart which I wrapped with rayon thread a while ago as an experiment, copper coloured pressed metal shapes, large jump rings, seed beads and some stripy plastic beads from a broken necklace, stitched down with silk thread.

It was a fun project but not a quick one – choosing and finding all the different elements took easily as long as the actual stitching!

I also think I’ve finally finished the Bayeux Stitch mushroom. The last time I blogged about it was back in early February when I was pleased that I’d finally worked out what was wrong with the gills. But it wasn’t just the gills that were wrong and following a comment from Amanda, it was suddenly obvious and staring me in the face! The gills were wrong because the stalk needed to be inside the rolled back cap, going up to the centre! (This is what happens when you try and draw from memory and don’t use the real thing for reference…)

So a major unpicking happened and after some careful bodging so I didn’t have to undo the whole stalk, this is the final thing:

I hope. Unless it needs any more of the dreaded highlights…

As I suspected, finding the right white for the vertical glazing bars of the Temperate House was a pain. I ended up with a selection of white threads, ranging from good old Anchor stranded cotton to some fabulous Gloriana 12 strand silk called ‘Fresh Snow’ which is too perfectly white, silky soft and beautiful to use!

After standing in the sunny garden laying threads out alongside the ribbon and seeing how just one or two strands compared with the way the thread looked in the skein, I finally settled on a Dinky Dyes stranded silk in ‘Natural’.

I initially used back stitch rather than my go to split stitch as I wanted a stronger line but I wasn’t happy with the breaks between the stitches, so I whipped it to give more solidity.

The lines are similar rather than identical to the original, but when I referred back to the source photo, I realised how subtly the spacing and angles of the bars changed as their perspective to me altered. Had I drawn this from memory, all those lines would have been parallel and evenly spaced. It was a very useful lesson in observation.

I’ve also continued with the or nué acorn and started the coloured couching in single strands of stranded silk. Despite my initial concern that it was at an angle to the gold, I felt the first part of the cup worked well. It was only when I came to add the highlight that it started to get a bit challenging.

I wanted the highlight to curve round the cup, but working in straight lines makes that difficult, especially as this piece is so small. Not really knowing what else to do, I just carried on stitching to see if I could make it work out. By this point I had started the acorn, so things were ramping up on the difficulty scale, not least having four needles on the go at once.

I know I have the tendency to overcomplicate things, but I did think an acorn would be a relatively simple thing to stitch! Once I had sort of wrangled the highlight on the cup I realised I needed to add a lighter colour to the acorn. Unfortunately I think I should have introduced it at least a row previously…

It wasn’t working and I needed help to see where the shading was, so I added some lines to give me an idea of where the changes need to happen. Suddenly I feel more confident about it.

I think I will have to go back and unpick some of the darker green on the row or two above and add the mid green, but I’ve decided to continue and finish the design first and see how it looks. This is very much a first attempt at a new technique and it will do me good to not obsess about everything I do having to be perfect straight out of the box.

After having stitched the next section of ribbon for the glazing bars of the Temperate House at Kew down with stab stitches, it was clear that the original blanket stitches had to come out. Much better.

This has made it less bulky, so I decided to take Rachel’s (VirtuoSew Adventures) advice and run the bars right across the background.

Next I need some white thread for the thinner vertical bars, but there is white and white, as I found out a few years ago when I stitched a whitework piece and discovered that the threads I thought were identical under artificial light certainly were not in daylight! So I’m leaving the thread matching for a day with good natural light.

I’ve just added this sweet little upcycled sea glass brooch to my Etsy shop. It was one of those satisfying moments when after having trawled through a large pile of sea glass finding pieces that were almost but not quite right, I picked up this gorgeous green oval and it clicked into the vintage brass brooch setting like it had been made for it.

As if I didn’t have enough projects on the go, this week I’ve started a little or nué design of an acorn. I painted it onto some indigo dyed calico, left over from the Persian Chandelier piece with my Inktense sticks, which I love.

Then I started couching down the gold threads, using Pearsall’s ‘Gossamer’ thread. It’s so thin, it’s literally like stitching with spider’s web, so perfect for the job. It was a bit challenging to make the gold thread turn as tightly as possible at the ends , but so far, so good.

As I approached the edge of the acorn, I realised I hadn’t made things easy for myself. I was going to hit the acorn at an angle, rather than straight and this was going to potentially make it more difficult to get the shading right.

However, considering the amount of time it had already taken me to get this far with the gold, I have decided to keep on and see what happens. If nothing else, it will be an important lesson and remind me to do a bit more research before I blithely jump into a brand new technique!

I was very tempted to get straight into the fun bits of needle lace and crochet, but realistically it was more important to work out the background first to make sure all the little twiddly bits were to scale. I chose this photo:

because the lines of the Temperate House glazing form an interesting but not overpowering background. I turned it into greyscale as I did with the bollock purse from the Tattershall Journal so I could focus on the lines and patterns and then transferred the design onto a piece of indigo dyed cotton.

My white pen is obviously running out but as it’s one that develops over time, I can’t tell that at the point I’m tracing the design! At least there was enough of the design marked up for me to start stitching. I decided to use very fine ribbon for the thicker bars to contrast with whatever line stitch I choose for the thinner bars and have blanket stitched the first one down with fine sewing cotton.

Unfortunately further stitching was curtailed by two and a half days supply teaching followed by my first Covid jab and 24 hours lost to feeling rough from the after effects. Looking at it again, I like the width and solidity of the ribbon but I’m not sure about using blanket stitch to attach it. It looks a bit too raised and I’m wondering if I might try stitching the next one down with tiny stab stitches to keep the ribbon smoother.

I did manage to do a bit of playing with a sample of Hungarian Braided Chain Stitch at the weekend. I’d seen someone using it on Instagram and was rather taken with the result. Mary Corbet came up trumps as usual with an excellent tutorial which you can find here and this is the result of my experiments.

I’m really pleased with the weighty, corded effect it gives and the colour changes in the variegated perle thread.

I love stitches that looks as impressive as this one but are in fact very straightforward to work. Another new one for the repertoire!

As promised from last week, here is the second china pot fragment, this time filled with ribbon embroidery irises, which have worked out rather nicely. The flowers are lazy daisy stitches with a stitch threaded through the bottom of the chain to give the falling petals, the leaves are done with ribbon stitch and the stems are two rows of split stitch.

I ended up finishing it late at night and the only photos I have of the finished piece have huge shadows round the sides of the pot which look like stains! Anyway, it was done in time for Mothers’ Day and went down well.

I’ve been working away on a couple of upcycled pieces of jewellery. The first was a fairly easy conversion from a broken 1907 silver and hardstone shamrock brooch to a pendant. The c-shaped catch was in good condition and substantial enough that I could twist it round to create a hanging loop. There was very little left of the pin hinge so I was able to carefully saw the remains off and neaten up the scar.

With the addition of a jump ring and a silver chain it’s good for at least another hundred or so years.

Available here in my Etsy shop.

The second make was a bit more of a puzzle. A chunk of abstract fused silver with two holes and a short length of tube on the back.

I wondered if the tube was supposed to be a bale, but it was very narrow and you would have struggled to get anything but the finest chain through it. And a very fine chain would have been out of proportion to the chunky pendant. So I decided to use the top hole as the hanging point and removed the tube. That left me with what to do with the second hole. I couldn’t hang anything from it as it was too far up, so I went through my odd stud earrings to see if there was anything to inspire me. I found a couple of round studs with semi precious cabochons in silver settings which were attractive before a little frog stud tumbled out of the bag. I’m not sure why I tried him in place, but he somehow turned the abstract chunk of silver into a sort of stylised lily pad.

He just works perfectly!

Mr Frog is available here in my Etsy shop.

As our second Mothers’ Day under lockdown in the UK rolled around, it reminded me of the memory journal of my beach walk on Mothers’ Day 2019 which I finished on Mothers’ Day 2020.

And that in turn reminded me that I have two pieces still to do for my Kew memory journal from June 2019. The recent needlelace sampler was a half hearted attempt at testing out some ideas for a piece based on the magnificent Chihuly Persian Chandelier which hung in the middle of the Temperate House.

But I’ve decided that I need to stop faffing and get on with it, so this morning I assembled some delicious Mulberry Silks, my tiny antique crochet hooks and a piece of lovely indigo dyed calico.

Time to stop overthinking and see what happens…

I took a bit of a break from the ongoing long projects this week and have enjoyed learning and working a couple of new stitches. The first was a little canvaswork piece with a hearts theme. I do enjoy the odd spot of canvaswork and I immediately thought of Rhodes Stitch, worked as hearts. A quick Google showed me that you can work the hearts in a variety of sizes, although as they get bigger they do get bulkier. I found some yellow canvas and matched it with some daffodil yellow stranded silk and some variegated stranded silk in purples and golds that reminds me of pansies. The small yellow hearts were pretty straightforward, although having to fasten off after each heart because any carrying threads were visible was mildly irritating.

Then I added pansy coloured larger hearts to the middle. The bottom one was the fourth attempt.

  • Attempt  1 – too far up.
  • Attempt  2 – I miscounted the placement of the first stitch but didn’t realise until I tried to put the penultimate stitch in and there wasn’t enough room!
  • Attempt  3 – Stitched it perfectly – on the wrong side…
  • Attempt  4 – Count twice, stitch once. Check carefully which side is the right side. Finally, success!

The top heart went quicker but I was more careful with my counting this time. Then I tried out a new Rhodes Stitch version I’d come across while looking at the various sizes for the hearts – a Rhodes Stitch Butterfly. It’s a straightforward and very effective shape to stitch, but once again, careful counting is your friend. I decided to do two stitches for the body and I think that makes him nicely chunky.

The second new stitch was one I’ve had in mind to try for a while. I’d been asked to make a Mothers’ Day card for a friend and I was inspired by some cards online using sea glass fragments as pots with drawn plants. What if I used a piece of sea washed pottery as a pot and the woven feathered chain stitch I’d been wanting to try out to make a trailing plant? Feathered chain stitch first.

Then you fill in the loops with needleweaving, rather like making a picot but with only two threads. I definitely improved as I stitched these two stems – no guesses for noticing which leaf was my first one!

Moving onto the middle stems. The needlewoven leaves remind me of quaking grass.

After the final two stems, some French knots flower buds in silk ribbon and the pottery shard to check the scale. You can get a better idea of the size against my hand.

Lastly I filed a little off the bottom left hand corner to correct the shape and added a shadow in split stitch just to ground the pot.

Very pleased with the result. I used coton a broder and it has given the leaves a lovely sheen. I think a fine perle would work well too and a subtly variegated thread might look even better. I’m so pleased with it I’m just about to start something similar for my mum.

Stay tuned!

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