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We went away for a week to the Lake District not long after the Alice Fox workshop. The work I’d done with papers and found objects really whetted my appetite to get back to some found object work of my own as part of the journal I usually make to hold the memories of our time away.

At the end of the first day I wandered along the edges of Langdale Beck while the children splashed about in the already low water levels (and this was in May, before the long hot June and July we’ve had in the UK.) I was delighted to find this crumpled piece of metal with holes already nicely placed for stitches in close shades of green silk.

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It went very well with a thickish piece of beautifully textured hand made paper with inclusions of leaves and stems.

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On a visit to Stott Park Bobbin Mill I was fascinated by the offcuts of wood thrown out by the different machines in the process of turning chunks of wood into bobbins. The initial machines created a basic bobbin shape from the blanks, shaving off pieces a few millimetres thick. So I picked up a few bits and made them into my own bobbins!

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The next process shaved the rough bobbin down to the proper shape, throwing out endless translucent ribbons of wood which piled up around us on the floor. I definitely needed some of that! Different woods behaved differently. The one towards the top split pretty much wherever I tried to fold it, whereas the paler one was more like paper, holding at least some of its bends and folds without splitting. I want to add some more needle weaving to vary the widths of the holding stitches and some ‘chips’ in a needlepoint ribbon to the background.

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Playing with a printed National Trust logo from a paper bag and some scraps of hand made paper.

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Later in the week we visited Honister Slate Mine and I picked up a few slate chips from the car park. I painted some more of the hand made paper with watercolour to echo the colour of the slate and just had a bit of a play.

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I’m really pleased with the way the paper echoes the texture of the rock.

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Free cross stitch in various silk threads to echo the rhododendrons of Stagshaw Gardens. This one just needs finishing.

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And at the end of the holiday, a quick beachcomb on the shores of Coniston Water revealed this lovely fragment of verdigrised copper which I mounted on two pieces of paper left over from my Alice Fox work.

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I really enjoyed finding objects I could stitch into and around and the relatively quick way many of them came together. And of course, the memories they have captured. Slightly different to some of my other holiday journals, but I like to be different!

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For me, this blog is a place to express and explore my creativity and so I rarely talk about the other parts of my life, but those of you who have been around for a while will have probably worked out that I am, or was, a primary school teacher by trade. That was until just over three years ago when I was moved into the school’s Nurture Room to work one to one with a child who was unable to access classroom teaching due to some very complex needs. At the same time, the school’s Learning Mentor went off sick (and never returned) and I found myself covering her role.

I loved it. I managed a small team and for the first time found myself outside the toxic culture of the primary classroom, where nothing you do is ever good enough. I liaised with outside agencies and support services on behalf of our vulnerable children and families and designed and ran programmes to support children with a whole range of behavioural, emotional, social and mental health problems. It was the most interesting, creative and rewarding period of my entire working life.

Then last year the academy provider decided that the school would be better served by me returning to the classroom. When the current Y6 cohort, which contained some of our most challenging children, left there would (apparently) be no need for my role and the work I was doing three days a week would be covered by other members of staff (it hasn’t…). Bullshit. It was really just about saving money.

It broke my heart. I never even made it as far as the first day of term and spent eight months off work with stress and depression until I took redundancy in April. It was the biggest finish of my life, shutting the door on a nearly thirty year career.

I’m nowhere near retirement, so I need to turn my finish into some new beginnings and now I find myself like a child in a sweet shop, not knowing what to choose as there are so many things I love doing that could become potential careers.

I want to get back to writing. I have a second book of short stories ready to go, a novel I’m about a quarter of the way through, a panto script on the boil and an idea for a book about effective behaviour management techniques.

I also desperately want to carry on doing the sort of nurture/behaviour management stuff I was doing when I was working, perhaps as a consultancy. My behaviour management methods really work and I would love to be able to train and advise teachers, schools and teacher training courses.

And then there are all my creative things. I’m working on a couple of pieces of upcycled furniture at the moment which I am really excited about, as well as all my embroidery and my upcycled and original jewellery. I still love the mechanics of teaching and I’ve really enjoyed the workshops I’ve run at Scunthorpe Embroiderers’ Guild.

It’s like trying to choose off an amazing menu. Each time I think I’ve settled on one path, I think about the others and get really excited about them and change my mind. So I’m not choosing. I’m going to try and work on all of them and see how and where that goes.

I’ve started working as a Primary Behaviour and Social-Emotional Support Specialist with some initial pro bono work for a friend to get my name out there and have updated my LinkedIn profile accordingly. It’s reminded me how much I relish the problem solving and enabling children in crisis to find strategies to help them.

I’ve also started offering textile/embroidery workshops and have already had a few enquiries, which is encouraging. I even designed a flyer to help with publicity so if you’re interested then please get in contact. I can do full days, half days and evenings and am happy to travel (in the UK).

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And then there is always Etsy, eBay, car boot sales and I’m hoping to find some markets and fairs to attend. I’m dipping my toe this Saturday when Scunthorpe branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild have our 21st birthday exhibition. Some very long time readers might recognise the embroidery on the poster – my North Cornwall Wallhanging!

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I’m having a stall with a range of beachcombed and original jewellery and also a selection of my upcycled jewellery which has been embroidered or is textile-based in some way. I’ve read reams of stuff on how to have a successful hand made stall and have everything crossed. It will be fun!

 

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Several years ago when I was doing my silversmithing course, I had an idea about creating a piece where I ‘mended’ a piece of denim with a ‘patch’ of impressed brass. I impressed some brass with a piece of fabric to give it a woven texture, but got no further. Some time later I was revisiting my sketch book from the course and cut out a ‘patch’ which I then drilled all round the edge to take the stitches. Once polished, it stalled yet again.

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However, last week I found the perfect piece of denim  – an off cut from a pair of jeans – and with a square of apple wood from my Dad’s shed, the project was back on again.

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I cut a section of the denim with one of the iconic seams running through it and frayed the edges. Next I chose some bright red perle thread to stitch the ‘patch’ on. It took less time to stitch the patch down than it had to drill just one of the holes with my bow drill!

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Mounted onto the apple wood square…

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… and made into an unusual brooch which I’ve listed here.

Some more progress on the bluework too. From this:

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To this:

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I’ve finished the eyelets at the bottom and completed the leaves and stems on the floral fragment on the right. The leaves and stems are in split stitch, a favourite of mine for filling areas.

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I found an image on the internet of a flower where the petals had been created from long blanket stitches and then the top loops of the blanket stitches had been blanket stitched into to give a frilly sort of raised edge, so I thought I’d have a go at that for my next section.

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It’s an interesting method, but slightly untidy for my liking! I think I’m going to seed stitch the background so they don’t stand out quite as much.

And in other news, I have just got the silk fabric to add to my linen and wool and I should soon be able to start investigating how to get ‘crocus coloured’ fabric for the start of my Dorian Gray project.

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My 2018 Project

No stitching to see yet, but I thought the background might be interesting.

Last year I decided that I really ought to read Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. It confirmed my opinion that Wilde’s prose can often be turgid and overly sentimental, which is so much at odds with the brilliance of his plays and the fun of the opening part of ‘The Canterville Ghost’ (that becomes mushily sentimental at the end too). But what really caught my eye was a long descriptive part of the novel where Gray, revelling in his youth and ability to do anything, it seems and get away with it, becomes a collector. Among the areas he becomes obsessed with, is textiles.

“Then he turned his attention to embroideries and to the tapestries that performed the office of frescoes in the chill rooms of the northern nations of Europe. As he investigated the subject—and he always had an extraordinary faculty of becoming absolutely absorbed for the moment in whatever he took up—he was almost saddened by the reflection of the ruin that time brought on beautiful and wonderful things. He, at any rate, had escaped that. Summer followed summer, and the yellow jonquils bloomed and died many times, and nights of horror repeated the story of their shame, but he was unchanged. No winter marred his face or stained his flowerlike bloom. How different it was with material things!” 

“The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde

The decay of the textiles is a useful contrast to his own lack of decay, but Wilde then goes on to detail the most sumptuous list of embroideries and fabrics and I just wanted to see them.

Where was the great crocus-coloured robe, on which the gods fought against the giants, that had been worked by brown girls for the pleasure of Athena?

Where the huge velarium that Nero had stretched across the Colosseum at Rome, that Titan sail of purple on which was represented the starry sky, and Apollo driving a chariot drawn by white, gilt-reined steeds?

He longed to see the curious table-napkins wrought for the Priest of the Sun, on which were displayed all the dainties and viands that could be wanted for a feast;

The mortuary cloth of King Chilperic, with its three hundred golden bees;

The fantastic robes that excited the indignation of the Bishop of Pontus and were figured with “lions, panthers, bears, dogs, forests, rocks, hunters—all, in fact, that a painter can copy from nature”;

The coat that Charles of Orleans once wore, on the sleeves of which were embroidered the verses of a song beginning “Madame, je suis tout joyeux,” the musical accompaniment of the words being wrought in gold thread, and each note, of square shape in those days, formed with four pearls.

The room that was prepared at the palace at Rheims for the use of Queen Joan of Burgundy and was decorated with “thirteen hundred and twenty-one parrots, made in broidery, and blazoned with the king’s arms, and five hundred and sixty-one butterflies, whose wings were similarly ornamented with the arms of the queen, the whole worked in gold.”

Catherine de Medici had a mourning-bed of black velvet powdered with crescents and suns. Its curtains were of damask, with leafy wreaths and garlands, figured upon a gold and silver ground, and fringed along the edges with broideries of pearls, and it stood in a room hung with rows of the queen’s devices in cut black velvet upon cloth of silver.

The state bed of Sobieski, King of Poland, was made of Smyrna gold brocade embroidered in turquoises with verses from the Koran. Its supports were of silver gilt, beautifully chased, and profusely set with enamelled and jewelled medallions. It had been taken from the Turkish camp before Vienna, and the standard of Mohammed had stood beneath the tremulous gilt of its canopy.

For a whole year, he sought to accumulate the most exquisite specimens that he could find of textile and embroidered work, getting the dainty Delhi muslins, finely wrought with gold-thread palmates and stitched over with iridescent beetles’ wings;

The Dacca gauzes, that from their transparency are known in the East as “woven air,” and “running water,” and “evening dew”;

Strange figured cloths from Java;

Elaborate yellow Chinese hangings;

Books bound in tawny satins or fair blue silks and wrought with fleurs-de-lis, birds and images;

Veils of lacis worked in Hungary point;

Sicilian brocades and stiff Spanish velvets;

Georgian work, with its gilt coins,

And Japanese foukousas, with their green-toned golds and their marvellously plumaged birds.

He possessed a gorgeous cope of crimson silk and gold-thread damask, figured with a repeating pattern of golden pomegranates set in six-petalled formal blossoms, beyond which on either side was the pineapple device wrought in seed-pearls. The orphreys were divided into panels representing scenes from the life of the Virgin, and the coronation of the Virgin was figured in coloured silks upon the hood. This was Italian work of the fifteenth century.

Another cope was of green velvet, embroidered with heart-shaped groups of acanthus-leaves, from which spread long-stemmed white blossoms, the details of which were picked out with silver thread and coloured crystals. The morse bore a seraph’s head in gold-thread raised work. The orphreys were woven in a diaper of red and gold silk, and were starred with medallions of many saints and martyrs, among whom was St. Sebastian.

He had chasubles, also, of amber-coloured silk, and blue silk and gold brocade, and yellow silk damask and cloth of gold, figured with representations of the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ, and embroidered with lions and peacocks and other emblems;

Dalmatics of white satin and pink silk damask, decorated with tulips and dolphins and fleurs-de-lis;

Altar frontals of crimson velvet and blue linen and many corporals, chalice-veils, and sudaria. 

“The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde

What if…there was a book containing the research on these beautiful things?

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Gray’s catalogue, showcasing the remaining, fragile scraps of the textiles described?

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A mixture of his own words…

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…and my research and stitching? I’m starting at the top of the list with “the great crocus-coloured robe, on which the gods fought against the giants.” I’m researching ancient dyeing and fabrics, have ordered quantities of saffron, dyer’s safflower and turmeric to dye some samples and am looking at gods and giants on Greek vases. It will be a long, slow project but I’m already very excited.

 

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Upcycling again. First of all, bringing vintage and modern ribbons and laces, old plastic bracelets and broken brooches together to create my version of a bracelet I saw in a shop window some years ago.

This is Blue Skies. I wrapped the bracelet in some fantastic shibori dyed ribbon for a start. Then I gathered up a length of vintage lace and vintage satin ribbon which I layered to make a rosette. Lastly I finished it off with a centrepiece of a broken vintage brooch.

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This one: Edelweiss, is made the same way but in a burgundy and cream colourway to match the vintage carved bone edelweiss brooch in the centre.

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Lastly, Green Gingham.  Another niggling idea out of my system!

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I rescued this lovely wooden veneered modern card index from being chucked out about 10 years ago and ever since then have been trying to think of something useful I could do with it. The arrival of another box of impossible to resist jewellery from eBay finally made my mind up and its fate as yet another jewellery box was confirmed. I took out the odd cards, metal pin and wooden dividers to get to this:

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Then I cut some very thick card to make a solid base for each drawer.

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And used the lovely heavy weight dark blue velvet on the left of the picture to cover the card bases. I’m afraid I didn’t lace it, I glued it. (Hangs head in shame.)

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But my measuring was spot on – they fitted with the perfect amount of snuggness.

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And are already a bit fuller than I hoped.

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My name is Alex and I have a serious jewellery habit!

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Our upcoming show at Scunthorpe Little Theatre Club is an adaptation of Pinocchio in September and I said I would help with the costumes. My first task was to turn a floppy black felt hat which was styled like a classic musketeer’s hat into one for a carabinieri. The director provided me with a picture from the internet and I made a start.

First I had to unstitch all the ostrich feather plumes and steam the hat to get it back to a neutral shape. It had a nasty hole near the crown but I managed to mend that by needle-felting some black fleece into and around the hole. Then I could stitch both the back and the front of the brim to the crown and make start on the rosette.

The rosette on the front was created from lengths of red, white and blue grosgrain ribbon which I stitched onto individual card circles and then layered together.

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Yes, I know the colour of the inner ring is wrong – in my defence, it wasn’t a close up shot and it looked like blue to me! And having finished it before I realised my mistake, I was not taking something which is only a stage costume for a minor character to bits, so it will have to stay (and annoy me for not having checked my facts before I started…).

The flaming grenade in the middle is made from a picture of one of the cap badges which I stuck onto card and then added layers of gesso to give the impression of something more 3D before finishing it off with silver sharpie. Behind it I used an oddment of silver braid which was a brilliant last minute find at the point where I thought I was going to have to layer several other ribbons and braids together and use the silver sharpie again to get something similar.

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I was able to cut up and lash together two of the original ostrich feathers to make the plume, which is nowhere near as fluffy as the real thing, but again, will be close enough on stage.

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The director was delighted and the guy who will be playing the role was even more pleased that it was a good fit!

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Not sure I’m cut out for making stage costumes. I think I’m too much of a stickler for nailing the sort of detail that you just don’t see on stage. I’m pleased enough with it though, and very pleased that I managed to do it all from stuff I already had!

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The holiday journal is finished and just waiting for me to add some extra papers, pockets etc. to the inside.

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Doing blanket stitch so close together took longer than I bargained but I like the effect.

Then I moved onto another one of my samples for my upcoming Embroiderers’ Guild workshop later in the year. Grey on grey felt embroidered in pale blues.

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Fly stitched edge, straight stitches in a radiating pattern and french knots:

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Feather stitch edging with a chain stitch spiral:

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And I’ve turned what I think might have been a vintage money clip into an upcycled sea glass pendant. First of all I sawed off the long bit of the clip following the lines of the design at the bottom.

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Then I pierced and cut out the middle section with a very fine saw, again following the edges of the design, and leaving three tabs to attach the sea glass to.

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A lot of fiddly filing happened next, to really shape the central section and tidy up the tabs before I could set it with a lovely piece of deep turquoise sea glass.

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I love using the piercing saw and the fiddlier the design, the better. I really need to get back to making some more of my original jewellery…

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