Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Travelling Sketchbooks June - The Humble Running Stitch

So for June's sketchbook pages I have turned to the humble running stitch for inspiration or more precisely a bargain book I picked up (yet another book on stitch!) called Machine Embroidery: Stitch Techniques by Valerie Campbell-Harding and Pamela Watts. I followed a few of the exercises in the book based on running stitch which although the most basic of machine stitches can be overlooked as something more versatile. These then are my pages for June: 

I stitched lines of running stitch very very close together using a variety of metallic, rayon and variegated threads on artists canvas which is excellent for stitching on as it is thick enough to stitch into without the need to use a stabiliser underneath or an embroidery hoop. I must admit this exercise took ages and once started I felt I had to carry on although I was very pleased with the effect once it was finished, looking rather like a deckchair stripe I thought.

I love stitching onto paper so loved this exercise which used up torn painted paper combined with organza and then stitched to secure. Tearing paper rather than cutting with scissors always gives a more interesting and decorative effect and here the white torn edge forms a frame. I used Fabriano paper which is quite a thick artists' quality watercolour paper which comes in rolls. 

I keep a box of painted papers which can be anything from cut up failed paintings, old sketches, printing experiments or just messing about with paint and paper using various paint techniques using  watercolour, acrylic or inks. They will always come in handy to use in collage, sketchbook work or  to make greeting cards.  

Here I sandwiched threads and yarns of various thicknesses between sellophane then machine stitched random lines of running stitch to secure in place and cut an aperture placing the stitched piece behind it and then glueing to the page underneath to form a frame. 

I always like to give an explantion of my inspiration so again combining stitch with paper I have used cotton rag paper pressed with flower petals bought from Paperchase a favourite shop of mine for  hand made paper.  The humble running stitch really ain't that humble, the trick is how you use it! 

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Journeys # 6 - Blue Bird

For my latest Journeys rail ticket challenge I have used a stencil I got as a free gift from a sewing magazine.  There were quite a few included but the one that appealed to me most was of a bird which reminded me a lot of the logo used by the now defunct Blue Bird Toffee Company which used to be based here in the West Midlands. Blue Bird toffees (so named after the Blue Bird of Happiness from a 1908 play by Maurice Maeterlink) were a very popular brand of toffees around when I was a child which I absolutely adored. The factory was in Romsley about two miles south of Halesowen but on the tins the district was called Hunnington and I remember on numerous occasions when out for a ride in the car with my mum and dad we would drive past and I would always wish that we could pop in and look round to see how the toffee was made, just like in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.     The factory eventually closed down in 1998 when it was bought up by Needlers and moved to Hull. The vintage tins if you can get hold of them can be worth quite a lot of money. So here is my Blue Bird inspired Journey inspired by my child hood memories of those delicious toffees.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall

When I was a kid I would get very annoyed with the grown ups when they wished for rain for their gardens in a dry spell or a heatwave. "This will do the garden good" was a phrase I often heard from my mum and dad when they would look through the window at a downpour with relish. I thought they were bonkers.   Now I am a grown up myself of course with my own garden that is exactly what I have been thinking these last few days so today's showers have been very welcome. So who's bonkers now?  Out with my camera today then snapping between the showers. I always think the petals on the flowers look so attractive with a few raindrops on them.  Here is what is currently in bloom in my garden.

The majestic Clematis Jackmanii  - the blooms can be as big as tea plates.

 Campanula - a rockery favourite. 

 And another rockery favourite Dianthus

Another species of Geranium giving a good display of colour to the borders.  

I love this Cistus but I have to say though that sudden downpours and heavy showers although keeping the plants healthy don't do the blooms any favours. This Cistus was looking lovely here but the heavy rain has now knocked off most of the petals. The best kind of rain is soft steady rain which soaks right into the soil to get directly to the roots, neither destroying the blooms nor evaporating off  too quickly with the heat. 

The rain of course brings the slugs and snails out in force. I wonder they dare show their face in view of the fact they munched their way through my lettuces and courgettes. The temerity!

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Bloomin' Marvellous

When I was little living at home with my mum, dad and brother I loved our little garden at the back of the house. Dad mowed the lawn and cut the edges while Mum looked after the plants and did the weeding. If our next door neighbours happened to be in the garden too, cups of tea would be made (always tea even during a heat wave) and passed over the garden fence along with slices of home made cake followed by endless chatter.  For me the lawn was the main attraction just right for picnics with my dolls, making wigwams out of bamboo canes and an old blanket and then when I was older lying on that same old blanket for sun-bathing. The plants did not mean that much to me.  They were just the flowers around the edge of the lawn and I would get a telling off from my mum if I stepped into the border, usually to retrieve my ball.  Now I have a garden of my own I have inherited my mum's love of flowers and plants. 

Over the past few weeks I have taken photos of the flowers in bloom because one thing I did not realise until I had my own garden is that very few flowers last all summer long. The Laburnum tree above when it comes into flower looks such a picture but after about a couple of weeks at most the vivid yellow blooms starts to fade.  I try to capture the flowers when they are at their best before they start to fade so here are a few more:


The poppies are spectacular when they are in full bloom but sadly don't last long especially if there is a downpour of rain.

The rain is never kind either to this beautiful peony.

'Snow-in-Summer plant'  Ideal for rockeries.  

This is Vibernum, a shrub producing delicate pink almost white blossoms.

I love to encourage bees into the garden and bees certainly make a beeline for the Geranium 'Johnson's Blue'.

Geranium  'Wargrave Pink' is another Geranium that attracts bees into the garden and is also very easy to grow by dividing. Just cut back after flowering which encourages a second flush of flowers.

Digitalis, commonly known as Foxgloves are perennials that prolifically self-seed in the borders providing architecture and wonderful colour.  Perversely the whole plant is extremely poisonous including the roots and seeds. It is also known by the sinister names of Dead Man's Bells and Witches Fingers.

Not a plant generally grown for its attractive flowers but soon they will seed and grow into delicious raspberries. I definitely feel a Raspberry Cheesecake coming on..........

Can anyone identify this perennial?  I love the yellow flowers on this plant and I see it in so many gardens. It reminds me so much of my garden at home when I was little.   

Clematis Montana gives a glorious display of flowers in late spring but is another where the blooms only last for a short time. After the flowers drop it seems to go berserk growing stems that continually need to be woven into the exisitng stem structure. I swear it's like a beanstalk literally growing overnight. Lots of inspiration then for watercolours, sketching and stitch and hopefully more flowers to come into full bloom during the rest of the summer.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Journeys # 5 - Pear

Latest journey in the Rail Ticket challenge using a mixture of watercolour and lino printing.  Have got a lovely pear tree in our garden plus I think pears are easier to draw than apples. Less symmetrical.

I love lino printing but real lino is extremely hard to cut unless it's warmed first on a radiator or I sit on it.  Easy-cut lino is by far the easier option. Remember the clue is in the name! Also when using text in lino printing or any kind of printing for that matter - remember to reverse it!  I know to my cost.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Travelling Sketchbooks May - A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down

I have long been interested in tea bag art ever since coming across the work of artist Jennifer Collier who remakes household items from found & recycled papers, giving new life to items that would otherwise go unloved or thrown away. A few years back she visited my daughter's senior school and got them all making incredible things out of plastic carrier bags and cards using empty tea bags filled with collected items like old postage stamps and pressed flowers, then waxing them with melted candles. She now runs Unit Twelve in Staffordshire,  a contemporary craft and exhibition space running a varied programme of workshops one of which I was lucky enough to attend. An amazing place and well worth a visit to see how she has made dresses and shoes out of tea bags.   

So for May's Travelling Sketchbook I turned to recycling tea bags using a combination of stitch and print. We are not short of tea bags in our house as we regularly enjoy a nice cup of tea and a sit down and if we are feeling a bit peckish then a nice biscuit too (but more of that later). In tea bag art you can use the bags after dunking or straight from the box, all virginal and white.  I prefer to use them after enjoying the delights of a freshly brewed cup of tea, my favourite being Assam or Breakfast Tea although Yorkshire Tea is hard to beat.  I do enjoy my cuppa well brewed which is really the way it should be, three or four minutes being the optimum but I know some people who barely give the tea bag enough time to say hello to the cup before it's whipped out and chucked in the bin. Not a good flavour and a terrible waste of good tea. For that reason when I visit friends' houses and they ask that all important question of tea or coffee (or something stronger if your host is feeling particularly chipper) I err on the cautious side and plump for a nice cup of coffee instead, not wanting to appear rude if I had not guzzled their tea straight down or didn't get the chance to jettison it into the nearest pot plant.  

Anyway on to the matter in hand. Used tea bags take on a characterful antique and stained look that goes down so well in mixed-media art.  After said cup of char the squeezed tea bags are left to dry on a piece of kitchen towel then carefully cut open and the used tea emptied out. I iron them (essential) and they are ready then to do something creative with. Here I have stamped various designs using wooden stamping blocks, sewn them altogether then free-machine stitched over the designs. 

Here I have used a Tea Pig 'temple'.  I ask you!  Nothing so mundane as a tea bag for the Tea Pig band wagon. Rather expensive too in my opionion. 

Just so happens I have a little tea cup and saucer wooden stamp ideal for borders on pages. 

So back to the subject of a nice biscuit to accompany a nice cup of tea and a sit down. A favourite book of mine is funnily enough called 'A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down'.  Written by Nicey and Wifey it's a hilarious book about having a sit down, a biscuit and a nice cup of tea. As Nicey so nicely puts it in the book, a cup of tea without a biscuit is a missed opportunity.  Couldn't agree more and for me, as a bit of a treat and sugar lift I turn to Tunnock's Caramel Wafers. 

But you can't beat a good old classic like the Custard Cream or Chocolate Bourbon, ideal for dunking with the double thickness of biscuit and creamy middle. Always a bit of a shock if the biscuit you are dunking plops off into the depths of your cup of tea only for you to become reacquainted with it later when you are drinking the dregs of  your tea. A bit of a sludgy mess.

I added a little tea-potted history too about the origin of the tea bag taken from where else but 'A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down.'   Strangely enough it was first invented by the Americans.  Anyway all this blogging has given me a bit of a thirst so off for a nice cup of tea and a sit down accompanied by a 'Nice' biscuit.  Happy brewing and be  mindful to give the tea bag enough time to build a deep meaningful relationship with the cup before whisking it away. 

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Travelling Sketchbooks April - Alphonse Mucha

So my inspiration for my Travelling Sketchbook for April came from my recent visit to Prague in the Czech Republic. Known for its excellent beer, an ornate 9th century castle dominating the landscape and the most wonderful buildings and architecture dating as far back as medieval times, Prague was  home to Alphonse Mucha, a late 19th and early 20th Century Art Nouveau painter. His style of painting influenced an entire generation of painters, graphic artists, draughtsmen and designers and  in the minds of many, his work epitomises the Art Nouveau.

This is a watercolour I did of one of Mucha's distinctive designs.

Which led to this piece in stitch. 

I used layers of calico, wadding, even a kitchen towel which I had used to blot and clean up my paints. These were then covered with a layer of  muslin and I then machine embroidered the poppy design. 

Prague is one of the most beautiful and cultured cities in the world and the historical capital of Bohemia. With its many art galleries and museums to visit, the Mucha Museum is just one of them and not to be missed along with the Prague Beer Museum for its excellent beer of course!