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Archive for the ‘Experimenting’ Category

I finally finished the couching on the shishas piece this week. The last time I blogged about it I’d got as far as here and thought it wouldn’t take much longer to complete.

That was three weeks ago and it’s been surprisingly slow progress for something that is straightforward and stitches up relatively quickly. Having started in the middle I decided to complete the top edge first, right up to where the lilac silk fabric stops.

The turquoise fabric had a flat back diamante attached and I decided to make it into a miniature shisha by making a buttonhole ring to go round it. The size (it’s about 4mm in diameter) was quite an issue as it meant I had to scale down the thickness of the thread and I have a nasty suspicion that I twisted the ring as it isn’t sitting straight in spite of the row of fly stitches I added round the edge to try and disguise any shortcomings!

Once I’d finished the top edge I continued to the bottom – it took quite a lot longer than I thought it was going to and by the time I reached the bottom edge I was heartily glad to see the back of it.

It is extremely tactile though – everyone who has seen it has got really touchy feely with it – and with all that heavy thread, in spite of it being only about 7 inches square, it weighs a ton!

In complete contrast to the loose, abstract style of the couching, I’ve also been working on my Brantwood wallpaper motif. I’m using an unlabelled single strand silk with a very subtle variegation.

The stems are either chain stitch (centre and far right and left) or split stitch (middle right). This is the point where I should say something about how the different stitch treatments are all about design choices, but the truth is that between stitching the far right spray and the middle right spray, I forgot what stitch I was using. So I rushed ahead with the second spray and it was only when I finished and looked at the stems more closely (and in daylight…) that it was obvious that I’d started in chain stitch, not split… It’s not really a problem, just slightly irritating that I didn’t check more carefully and I am certainly not taking it out.

This is as far as I’ve got at the moment. You can see the subtle changes in the colour of the thread and also that the satin stitch isn’t all going in the same direction…

Sod it: life’s too short.

It’s a design choice.

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Finally I can show a project that has been ongoing since I was asked in February to create an unusual ribbon embroidery workshop for Lincolnshire Textiles (formerly Lincoln branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild). The remit was for something ‘richly textured’ but after some heavy googling and falling down Pinterest rabbit holes, I was fed up of looking at flowers, lovely though some of them were, and completely lacking in inspiration. It wasn’t until I was working on one of my sea themed upcycled pendants a few weeks later that a germ of an underwater idea took root.

I did some doodling with some oddments of silk ribbon just to see what was possible. French knots are definitely textured but quite greedy on ribbon. However, I liked the idea of ruching up ribbon on the surface using French knots – perhaps working them in thread rather than ribbon.

The loose twisted ribbon stitches for the tentacles of the anemone worked well from the start, although I was less pleased with the satin stitch body.

What I had taken away from this doodling was that an underwater themed piece would definitely work. The anemone was a definite, if I could create a smoother body and I wanted to use the ruched ribbon for brain coral. Doodling take two. On the right, a shorter satin stitch body. Still not right as the ribbon gathers as it goes through the fabric, leaving rough top and bottom edges. On the left, an idea for surface couching inspired by something I saw on someone’s Instagram of a section of a Jenny Adin-Christie kit. I’ve no idea how the effect was worked, but it was a wide flat thread of some type folded in a zig zag pattern and after a bit of trial and error, I managed to get the ribbon to behave and couched it down to produce the smooth edges I was looking for as well as giving an interesting textured effect.

Time to finally draw the design and use the anemone body I’d just trialled to make a prototype.

Some feather stitch and threaded chain stitch seaweed gave the design a bit of balance and added more textural interest. This was enough to give me a finalised design which I finished stitching this week.

That’s the easy bit – instructions complete with diagrams next! Good job the workshop isn’t until September…

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With this month’s Move It On project safely put to bed, I’ve been able to think about other things, including a piece inspired partly by a recent trip to Withernsea beach which always turns up some interesting beachcombed treasures, and partly by some recent images that caught my attention on Pinterest of densely encrusted stitching around seashells.

I rediscovered a fabulous piece of silk matka which looks like a hessian sack but feels like velvet, some scraps of organza to add subtle shading to the background and some assorted shells and literally started to doodle in stitch.

I had an odd pony bead and I knew I wanted to cover it in stem stitch band like one I did for the North Cornwall Wallhanging. I used a much thicker thread for this one but it still has the sea urchin sort of look that I was looking for. The raised cup stitch that was so successful as poppies on the Harvest Wreath was a complete disaster here, so I filled them with seed beads and started to surround them with French knots to try and blend them in.

Next I added feather, threaded chain and Palestrina stitches over the strips of organza to hold them down and continued to build up the French knots and add some little mottled sandy coloured beads.

I love the depth and texture of the stitching.

More French knots interspersed with bullions and pearl beads. I liked the shaded effect on the needleweaving on the left from the variegated silk threads I was using so I added some more of those.

Finally finished. Well, in the end I had to tell myself to put down the needle and walk away. With this sort of free form stitching it’s so tempting to just add another dozen French knots or another seaweedy frond. The hardest thing is knowing when to stop!

I finished the Mothers’ Day card in good time too and am told it went down very well with the recipient. Despite my best efforts the the tea bags did shred a bit and the whole thing had to be restabilised by stuffing scraps of Bondaweb under the flapping areas and ironing carefully. You can see some spidery areas of glue but it’s less obvious in real life and was much better than having bits dropping off!

Next job is to decide on April’s Move It On Project and I’m torn between revisiting an existing project or starting a kit that’s been hanging around for a while and of course, also needs moving on.

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On Saturday I taught my first workshop to our new Independent Stitch Group: Scunthorpe Embroidery and Textile Association or SEATA, formerly known as the Scunthorpe Branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild. I had decided to teach my Scrappy Nine Patch Rings workshop (in the Workshops tab under Found Objects) based on this piece I stitched back in early 2019. The idea is to use up those tiny precious scraps which you can’t bear to throw away by layering them in strips and as frames/backgrounds to help showcase the different ways to attach the plastic/brass rings.

As well as the nine patch, which I finished as a mini quilt, I also spent most of last week making some individual samples to demonstrate some more ways of attaching the rings to the backgrounds. A scrap of dyed aida was the inspiration for this one and I created a blackwork style pattern for it which served to stitch down the ring in a rather attractive pattern that I hadn’t anticipated.

I was determined to use a grass printed offcut from the Dames’ cow dress for the next one and I had just the vintage trim to go with it. This ribbon trim dates from the 1970s when my mother allowed me half a yard of ribbon or lace if I was good on the occasional shopping trip instead of sweets. My childhood self would much rather have had sweets, but my adult self has made good use of the trims! It was pretty rather than practical, as when you cut it, the flowers all unravel, which is why so much of it still survives.

I added lazy daisy stitches and French knots in green to the trim to help attach it as well as lazy daisy daisies and kantha around the machine embroidered butterfly and hand dyed purple flannel. It’s backed on a piece of stormy lilac colour catcher

This one was purely about the combination of fabrics and I also wanted to try out the possibility of using bullion knots to hold down the ring. The answer to that is yes, the bullions work, but there is some trial and error involved in getting them the right length, so some of mine (bottom right) are a bit slack. And also because I used such a fine cotton, you have to look very closely to see that they actually are bullions and not just a thick corded thread, which rather defeats the aim of using them!

I played about with back stitch and herringbone to enhance the machine embroidered silk scrap and added metallic feather stitch to the crinkled hand dyed organza scrap.

The final sample was started so I had something to work on in the session, although I didn’t actually get to set needle to fabric until well into the afternoon. The printed central piece is another offcut of the medieval tiles print to stitch piece form February 2019 – I really am getting the most out of every scrap of that fabric – and I outlined it in back stitch before blanket stitching the ring on top. Seeding next.

Lastly, the final update on February’s Move It On Project, my Chihuly chandelier. Unfortunately because of the workshop preparation I wasn’t able to add any more stitching to it this week, but again, the aim of the project has succeeded. I wanted to see if I could make the design work and end up anything like the real thing and the answer to that is yes, using back stitched spiders webs and crocheted circles. I’ve not finished it, but I know what I need to do to complete it in the future. Now to decide what I’m going to choose for March’s entry into the Move It On Project.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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The poppies harvest wreath has moved on a little further and I’m a bit happier with the balance of the flowers, given that they are pretty random.

I also, in another variation of: ‘Things I’ve Found While Looking For Other Things’ came across some Tyvek this week, which has prompted a little bit of playing (and encouraged me to clear a few bits off the ironing pile while I had the iron out!). I used water soluble oil pastels on both pieces but left one as it was and added water to blend the other to see if there was any difference once I added heat.

In the end there was no difference in the way they behaved apart from the unblended one leaving smudges of oil pastel all over the baking parchment. Probably should have seen that one coming…

I preferred the way the bottom one crinkled up but thought the top one would be easier to stitch into – and it happens to be my comfort zone colours too. So I chose a section to experiment with:

The colours reminded me of some tiny offcuts I couldn’t bear to throw away from the felt I used here:

I thought they would work well with the colours of the Tyvek and provide a textural contrast. A scrap of viscose tubular ribbon ruched and held down with French knots gave me a starting point.

The larger scrap of felt was stitched down as invisibly as I could as there was already a lot going on in it, but I used a series of fly stitches to attach the smaller piece.

I quite like how the melted Tyvek looks and I didn’t want to cover any more of it up, so I added some lines of stem stitch just to follow some of the patterns in the Tyvek and anchor it to the felt.

What I really should have been doing was getting some more pieces of upcycled jewellery made. I need to do a complete stock change from gothic/Hallowe’en to something more Christmas party/presents in Arttopia in less than a week; a stock refresh along similar lines for the Bricktree Gallery in Caistor and then I’ve realised that it’s less than two weeks until my first Christmas Fair with two more following quickly after that!

I’ve made some upcycled pendants from some odd vintage earrings, the centre of a bracelet (the silver flower) and a selection of odd beads and charms and am working on some earrings using sections of broken bracelets.

All I really need are about another 8 hours in each day…!

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As you can see if you go to the In The Stitch Zone tab at the top of this page, we’re back!

The first session last week worked very well and it was lovely to see so many people returning after so long. The room is airy despite having no external windows and we were able to spread out quite well while we caught up and experimented with some Rhodes Stitch hearts and butterflies.

This week I’ve been playing with samples for our Hungarian Braided Chain Stitch workshop. It’s been a new stitch to me this year and I’ve utilised it in a number of different pieces and with a variety of different threads. I decided to try working it in a circle for the first two samples and use perle, which seems to have been the most successful type of thread and I find gives the best definition of the lovely braid effect.

First a very heavy vintage green perle. The braid was good, but I struggled to join the ends of the wreath and I really wasn’t happy with the messy join at the bottom.

It was giving me serious Christmas vibes at this point so I wondered what would happen if I added straight stitches around the inside and outside to make it look like fir branches.

Much more successful than I hoped and even better, it disguised the horrible join! Next tiny gold beads…

…and a bow.

The second wreath used a variegated lighter weight perle (8) that reminded me of autumn wheat fields.

The join isn’t quite as bad on this one but it’s still lumpy and I really need to think of a better way to manage it. As the braid starts with a vertical straight stitch, and continually needs a chain put into the working end to fill out the pattern, it’s quite tricky to join up.

At this point it suddenly occurred to me that if you extended the initial stitch, short sections might make rather effective bull rushes. I put the wreath aside and this happened:

So yes, they do! Back to the wreath.

The harvest colours made me think about wrapping it in poppies. I used split stitch for the stems and then another new stitch to me – Raised Cup Stitch – for the poppy heads with French knot middles.

I had been thinking about something along the line of Rosette or Oyster stitch for the flowers but I much prefer this more raised effect. The flowers are created by literally tying knots around a base formed from three stitches in a triangle as you can see on the right. They are very forgiving if you can’t quite see where to put the knots which suits me perfectly!

I may add some little stalks of wheat in among the poppies too but just a few so I don’t lose the braided effect of the wreath.

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I was very excited to receive my half of the art swap last week and as well as these fabulous prints…

…Nick also sent me some tie-dyed fabric and tote bags that he experimented with during lockdown. I love the prints but the tie-dye blew me away! These tote bags are beautifully patterned and the dye distribution is so even.

The fabric turned out to be three big pieces which are just stunning. In fact, so stunning that I don’t think there is any way I can bring myself to cut into them! The first two are on muslin, which is quite sheer and difficult to photograph.

This one is on something firmer like cotton sheeting. The detail is incredible!

If you’re on Instagram, this talented gentleman is @nick_knox_777 and well worth following.

I’ve been playing with an idea sparked off by a partly finished Victorian patchwork quilt I saw in an exhibition about fifteen years ago. It was an English paper pieced quilt and the papers were still in place. Although the antique silks and velvets of the patchwork front were gorgeous, I was much more interested in trying to read the fragments of unwanted cards and letters which had been cut up to make the papers. Those hidden snippets were tantalising.

As usual, I’m working very small, so I decided to use one text for all my papers – Viola’s speech (“I left no ring with her: what means this lady?”) from Twelfth Night, which is about her hidden identity.

I also chose to keep the text in the right order, again because everything was so small and once the fabric was stitched round the papers, much more of the text, already fragmentary, would be lost.

I used some ordinary light weight cotton muslin for the fabric – after all, in this piece the fabric is very much secondary to the papers! Now it’s all stitched together the text is reduced to the odd word or partial word.

Perfectly hidden, unless you know what it’s supposed to be.

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