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Sunflowers.

I think many of us are finding it difficult to carry on as normal in the face of the conflict in Ukraine at the moment. Moving on my stalled embroidery projects and creating upcycled jewellery and kits seems frivolous and almost thoughtless while so many people (not just in Ukraine; in every conflict zone in the world) are living in constant fear and wondering where the basics of food, water and shelter are coming from.

I didn’t even stitch this ribbon sunflower as a conscious response to the Ukrainian invasion. It was an alternative to my ribbon rose brooches for an upcoming workshop where there is an overlap of participants, some of whom stitched the ribbon roses in the early days of The Stitch Zone.

But when I finished it and laid it on the table to photograph, the blue and yellow that we are seeing everywhere at the moment sparked a memory of reading that the national flower of Ukraine is the sunflower. Wearing it is only a microscopic drop in the ocean but it shows my abhorrence of this and all wars and my admiration for the bravery of those who resist.

A good place to try and do something is here: https://www.dec.org.uk/appeal/ukraine-humanitarian-appeal

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Dressmaking Dread

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!!

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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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It only a took a couple of stitching sessions in the end but after six years Baby Leaf-Tailed Dragon is finally complete! When you last saw him back in February he looked like this:

I was struggling to stitch tiny neat split stitch circles along the line of his neck and in the end just gave up and let other projects come to the fore. But Baby L-T D was promised as a director’s gift for a show we did in 2019 and he really needed to be finished to be presented at a Memorial Concert in early November. Time to get stuck in.

I finished the circles on the neck first. They really highlight how uneven the wavy line is, but I don’t dislike the way they’ve ended up in pairs.

The his clawed and feathered feet. The feathery bits at the back remind me of the ‘feathers’ around the hooves of a shire horse. I did hope that I was getting better at the circles, but I’m not so sure about that, looking back at the photos.

And lastly the top section of his double tail. Highlight lines first and then more circles inside the trefoil leaves.

Finally, the veins on the large leaf and the last of the circles along the base of the tail to complete the stitching!

Then I removed him from the frame so I could see him in all his leafy glory for the very first time. I’m so pleased with him and a little bit sad that he’s going to go to someone else.

Now I need to sign and mount him – another job I tend to prevaricate about because I worry about getting it perfectly right…

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Making the pumpkin earrings and gothic rose pendant a couple of weeks ago led me to sort through what is probably more broken and unwanted vintage jewellery than any normal person should own and I ended up with a heap of beads, pendants, charms and other oddments and lots of ideas for some more gothic themed upcycled pieces.

A little bag of tiny red teardrop shaped beads suggested droplets of blood and with the addition of a couple of crucifixes, scraps of chain, and odd red and black beads and pendants I created a pair of charm earrings.

I had two more of the crucifixes and a couple of the little droplet beads left over to make another slightly shorter and less flamboyant pair.

I forgot to take a picture of the huge crazy earring which I split to make the following two pendants. Imagine the crescent moon hanging from the middle of the fish, a large coin in the middle of the moon and two smaller ones hanging from each tip. The whole thing was larger than my hand and very heavy.

So it seemed obvious to split this beast up! I lightened the look of the crescent moon by removing the central hanging loop and adding some grey mother of pearl moons with some vintage glass and haematite beads. I teamed it with an unusual industrial looking reclaimed chain.

I kept the fish pretty much as it was, just adding one of the smaller ‘coins’ to the middle and hanging it from a beaded choker I created from one strand of a fussy broken multi-strand necklace.

The last pendant started with this enamelled tag which appears to be a vintage 1 franc label.

I layered a flower-shaped piece of pressed brass and an oval enamelled rose on copper on the front of the tag, leaving the 1F still visible on the back and added a dark brass coloured reclaimed chain.

These are all destined for Arttopia when I do my shift next Saturday. I’m hoping they will do well as we head towards Hallowe’en. Hopefully more stitching next week.

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Growing

The garden is growing slowly and getting loads of attention on Instagram. As was suggested by a friend, it would make a lovely workshop. Definitely an idea for the future when we finally manage to get back to near normality. The lone courgette has been joined by four others. The lines of the stem stitch band really work well for the striped skins.

Then I added stems in whipped back stitch.

I’ve looked at endless pictures of courgette leaves on the internet and they all seem to be very different, from big flat heart shaped leaves to deeply divided lobed ones, so I’ve left them for the moment while I mull it over and moved onto a patch of picot leaves at the bottom in a slubby green silk. Not entirely sure what vegetable this is. It might just be a patch of docks and nettles!

I’ve also been experimenting with various types of herringbone stitch. It was a genius idea to work on this pinstriped offcut of fabric from an old shirt as it helped me to keep the stitches level and (relatively) even. Ordinary herringbone and closed herringbone in two different weights of thread.

Thanks to my good old Mary Thomas, I tried out threaded herringbone (far left) and tied herringbone (second and third from the right), which has coral knots worked over each intersection.

A nice little project while I was visiting my middle one for a couple of days.

And very excitingly, my Frister and Rossmann…

…now has a proper home. I was contacted last week by one of my sewing ladies to say that she was moving and down sizing and to ask if I knew anyone who would like her sewing machine table. I did. Me!

I absolutely love it and it’s fantastic to have a proper place to stitch instead of heaving my machine on and off the kitchen table. Thank you so much, Kim. It’s come to a very good home!

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Another one of those ‘While I was looking for…’ moments yielded a box containing a pile of scraps of embroidered chiffon from old saris which as usual I had fallen in love with, bought without any idea what I might do with them and consigned to a safe place in the cupboard whereupon I promptly forgot about them.

But with my upcycling head on it occurred to me that some of the motifs could be used to make jewellery components, perhaps gathered over rather ordinary looking vintage buttons. Time for some experimenting.

The chiffon is very filmy and in the end I found buttons too heavy, so I gathered the motifs over circles of felt and pelmet vilene at the front and just a circle of pelmet vilene at the back before ladder stitching them together. The super sheer black chiffon has a layer of black silk underneath which helps the motif stand out but the whole double layer was fiendishly slippery to stitch and get centred over the circles.

Not sure what to do with the black one yet, but I used some filigree sterling silver leaves from a broken vintage brooch and some silver beads to turn the purple discs into a pair of earrings.

I stitched all the elements together rather than running a headpin through the middle of the purple disc which made them a bit interesting to get to hang vertically but it’s kept them light.

I’ve also been slowly adding the tiny picots to this poinsettia in a single strand of silk thread called ‘Tart’s Knickers’!

I plan to set it into this lovely alpaca and abalone pendant in place of the missing black resin section so it spills over the edge of the setting.

I was going to do just one layer of petals but it looked too empty so I’ve ended up stitching the back layer on behind the first which is possibly not the easiest way but the picots are quite forgiving and move easily out of the way.

Three more to stitch!

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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.

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Leaves and trees

The stitching on the hoop initial is finished and will be made into a card for my middle one’s birthday as her name begins with a J.

It’s been a useful exercise in practicality – there is no way this would make a useful workshop as the stitches are far too small for anyone to make reasonable progress in a two hour session, although it could conceivably be a kit.

On the bright side though I have a hand stitched birthday card ready in good time for my middle one’s birthday!

I’ve also finished couching the outline of the Baby Leaf-tailed Dragon.

I didn’t think it had had much effect until I looked back at photos of him before I put the outline in.

And although I think my Bayeux Stitch edges are pretty neat, the couching really does finish it off very effectively. Split stitch details next, which is my least favourite bit. I always worry that it won’t look realistic.

I’ve made the experimental cross stitch/free embroidery tree stitching up into a brooch. It’s a bit of a double upcycle in that I’ve upcycled the oddment of cross stitching as well as the brooch. It was initially set with plastic pearl beads, about half of which were missing, so I removed the rest and reset the border with tiny amethyst coloured diamantes to echo the little purple flowers in the grass.

The stitching was gathered over a couple of pieces of pelmet vilene for strength.

Then I backed it with green felt and mounted it in the brooch frame.

It’s newly listed here in my Etsy shop.

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I find the days between Christmas and New Year are like being in limbo. After weeks of hard work getting the Christmas preparations to fall right, the following days seem somewhat of an anti climax. The radio stations still play Christmas music for a couple of days and you’re sitting on oddments of Christmas paper and trying to find space in the fridge for yet another plastic container of leftovers. So it wasn’t until yesterday that I found time to return to my workspace and get on with an upcycled pendant based on this damaged carved mother of pearl brooch that I’d started before Christmas.

I suspected that if I cleaned up the damage on the left and took out the matching filigree section on the other side that it would still work. After carefully taking the jewellers’ saw to it, I was happy with the result.

Next I stuck it onto a piece of gorgeous deep crimson silk velvet and added satin stitching along the main stems to give a bit of colour and also to help make sure it was properly attached to the fabric.

I gathered it up round a circle of pelmet vilene for strength and stability and made a plain circle for the back.

I stuck them back to back into a wide odd hoop earring with a lovely floral design on the edge which forms the frame for the pendant. I think I actually prefer the design without the filigree all the way round – it seems to make the flower stand out more.

It was good to feel like I’ve accomplished something.

My middle one, however, has accomplished a great deal this year. She started teaching herself to crochet when she left university in 2019 and was struggling to get a job. This year money has been very tight for her but she has, like many of us, had more time on her hands and the family has seen the benefit of that in her Christmas gifts. She somehow found the time to crochet a jumper for my mum, beanie hats for my dad and her brother, a beautiful lace shawl for her foster sister, a chenille cowl/snood for her little sister and this stunning lap blanket for me.

I can confirm it’s as cosy as it is beautiful.

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