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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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Another way of working round Embroiderers’ Block I suppose, is to do something that you fancy doing, so I’ve started a third design for the Kew Memory Journal, based on English Paper Pieced patchwork.

First of all I cut a rectangle of paper slightly smaller than the page of the book and divided it into a few smaller rectangles. One needed to be big enough to be the background for a vintage 1990 Kew Gardens stamp, and I fitted the rest around it.

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I usually cut the pieces out one by one so I don’t forget what order they go in and put them back into the design when they’re covered. Taking process photos also helps in case of disaster!

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Then the pieces need stitching together. I use ladder stitch because I like my stitching to be as invisible as possible.

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Once the pieces were all stitched together I gave them a quick iron to press the edges under so they would stay when I took the papers out, and then ladder stitched round the outside edge to attach it to a piece of pale green felt.

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This stabilises the edges, gives the whole thing a bit of body as I’ve used a variety of weights of fabric including some very fine silk and means I have a firmer background to attach it to the page.

I trimmed it next and carefully back stitched the stamp in place. The pink and blue tones in the stamp don’t quite work with the greens, but I had to remind myself that this is a memory journal and the Pagoda is part of it.

The memory it holds is of having lunch in a shady grove of trees near the Pagoda and then, as it was one of those two insanely hot days last July, we sat on a seat under the bottom tier and decided it was much too warm to go up all those steps!

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I like embroider on these types of patchwork pieces as I did with my 2012 Cornwall Holiday Journal (August 2012 in the ‘Recent Posts’ part of the sidebar if you’re interested) so I’m probably going to add a branch to the top right hand corner.

I’ve also made the middle of a flower on the buttonhole rings piece. The big ring is attached with french knots, the inner one with invisible stitches to pull it down inside and the centre is filled with a few french knots.

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Now I need to decide not only on the colour of the rings that will become the petals, but also whether to keep them as circles or stretch them into petal shapes.

 

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Onto the second side.

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The applique felt cloud shape echoes the concrete seats at the Cloud Bar with split stitch silk thread clouds on indigo dyed sheeting sky and seeding on the crinkled gold satin sand.

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I’ve used pulled thread work and specifically irregularly worked diamond stitch for ripples in the sand before and it’s one of my favourite styles to work so I decided to use it for the back ground to some beachcombed finds – seaweed, a tiny bit of drift wood and a shell with a very convenient hole already drilled into it.

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At the end of the walk was the lovely Anderby Beach Cafe and I used fabric paints to copy their clever logo onto a piece of fine cotton, turning it into a sort of receipt to remind me of the posh hot dog (local butcher’s sausage) and latte I had enjoyed for my lunch, partly obscured by an appliqued splodge of tomato sauce!

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I’ve also started another memory journal for a visit to Tattershall Castle last summer which is inspired by the bricks it’s made from.  The pelmet vilene base for this one has been covered in an appropriate fabric rather than being painted and it will have six slightly larger panels rather than the eight for Anderby Creek which will fold slightly differently.

DSCN7868I’m considering batik, canvaswork and reverse applique to record my memories of this visit.

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The Anderby Creek Accordion Journal is making slow but steady progress.

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I found some lovely pebble fabric which was exactly the right scale and have used that for the cover:

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And also hand quilted with my favourite sparkly Madeira thread around the pebbles for one of the pieces inside.

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Inspired by the concrete cloud shapes at the Cloud Bar, I’ve started to add split stitch clouds to some indigo dyed fabric…

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…which will then be overlaid by a felt cloud shape…

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…based on some of my photos of the Cloud Bar.

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The blackwork version of the North Sea Observatory has only had a few more stitches added to it as I try to work out patterns, but the book is slowly filling up.

 

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I really do need to get it finished before the year is up!

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One of the stitches that my Stitch Zone embroidery group wanted to explore was Palestrina Stitch; also known as Double Knot Stitch. Palestrina is a line stitch with regularly spaced knots, often looking like a line of beads. It’s reasonably challenging to work initially, but once you get the hang the overs and unders, it has a pleasing rhythm to it. Mary Thomas shows it worked left to right, but I find it much easier to work vertically downwards where gravity helps with the loops you need to work into.

I started off with by stitching a sampler, experimenting with a variety of different threads, different spacing between the knots and varying the length of the stitch through the fabric, which gives ‘legs’ either side of the knot.

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I like the chunky knots you get with the heavier perle threads but also was very pleased with the effect of finer threads, such as the very fine perle second from the left in the photo above.

Learning a stitch that gives you a knotted line is all very well, but I wanted to use it in ways that exploited the texture and shape of the stitch. My first experiment was using it to echo the texture of bark and I used a variegated perle-like silk thread to embroider a winter tree.

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The stitch worked really well for the bark and I’m curious as to what it would look like if I filled in the spaces between the lines of Palestrina with satin or split stitch in the same thread. Something else to experiment with in the future perhaps.

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I also wanted to try beading the stitch and that led me to working a more typical sea themed piece.

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I used two pieces of perle to make a really heavy line of knots and then a single piece of the same thread with random seed beads. The bead goes on first and then the knot is formed as normal into the stitch after it. I think you lose the knots to some extent, but it’s an interesting variant.  The feather stitch is to vary the textures and lighten the design.

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I also used it to stitch down a holed scallop shell and found it surprisingly easy to work. The stitch through the fabric serves to hold the shell down and then the knot is worked into the thread where it comes out of the hole, exactly as you would on a flat piece of fabric.

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It was great to do some experimenting to find just a couple of ways of developing this stitch and I’ll definitely keep it in my repertoire.

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As my middle one finally left home in the summer her bedroom, conveniently downstairs, is now vacant. After an industrial strength cleaning session (who says teenage boys are cleaner/tidier than girls?!) it is now a thing of beauty and I have been slowly moving my jewellery making stuff in. It is fantastic to now be able to leave my work where it is instead of being at the kitchen table and having to work around mealtimes, which is probably why I’m being more productive.

I cut and shaped a badly dented vintage bangle and drilled a couple of lovely nuggets of Seaham sea glass which I then combined to make these earrings:

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They’re available here in my Etsy shop, but I am sorely tempted to keep them for myself!

I’ve also combined some more sea washed china and vintage settings.

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Stamped a music design onto a piece of beachcombed clay pipe stem and added a vintage earring drop to make a pendant, available here.

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Inspired by the found objects piece I did for the Guild meeting last month I embroidered french knots and starburst jump rings onto a piece of painted fabric…

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…to make a new centrepiece for a vintage brooch.

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I found the most amazing tropical blue nugget of Seaham sea glass which perfectly fits a vintage silver brooch which you can find here.

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And another incredibly rare piece is this tiny pink sea glass heart, for which I have finally found the perfect match – a sterling silver heart pendant.

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Thanks to my new work space, I’m on a roll – just have to hope my middle one doesn’t want to come home to her old room too often…!

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I missed almost all of the June meeting with Gilli Theokritoff at Scunthorpe Embroiderers’ Guild as I was working that day, but I did make it through the door in time to lay my hands on the kit for the afternoon project which was stitching samples of hitomezashi sashiko, which are more like all over patterns than big designs. I didn’t manage to start the kit until I went down to London to visit my eldest a fortnight ago but it was perfect to stitch on the train.

The difference with Gilli’s method is that she has a piece of interfacing already marked out with a regular pattern of dots ironed onto the back of the fabric. You work from the wrong side and don’t have any marks on the front to get rid of.

The first sample starts as jujizashi (cross stitch). I used a variegated sashiko thread in lovely shades of blue.

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Then you add one set of diagonal lines.

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The second sample was kikkozashi, or tortoise stitch. This starts with a foundation of yokogushi, which are staggered vertical rows. The horizontal rows are formed by weaving the thread under the opposite stitches to give an effect like the plates of a tortoise’s shell.

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Finally I added some straight stitches in the middle of the ‘plates’.

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They are going to become book covers, so I’ve laced them over some squares of greyboard.

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And am probably going to line them with this gorgeous scrap of Japanese kimono fabric.

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Just need to decide on fabric or paper pages.

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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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