Monday, 10 April 2017

A Cardigan for Cardigan

Last  month I made my usual visit to The Fashion & Embroidery Show at the NEC.  We are lucky living in Birmingham to be so near to the big sewing shows and festivals.  This one is one of my favourites as it showcases textile arts, embroidery, experimental stitching, knitting, mixed media and fashion design. Now as the title of this blog suggests, I do love a good cardigan so was delighted to come across this beauty.

The Aberteifi Cardigan was designed by artist Lisa Hellier whose idea was to bring together the townsfolk of Cardigan to create a huge 5 metre cardigan to celebrate 900 years of the town's heritage. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund over 300 people of all ages and walks of life in the local community knitted pieces to make up the cardigan.  The knitters had free reign to create their own patterns and shapes, meeting every Sunday and listening to talks about their town's history as they knitted. All in all the cardigan took 9 months to knit and a further 6 weeks to sew it all together. 

Lisa works as an illustrative map maker and graphic designer and designed the cardigan as a knitted map of the town of Cardigan and the coastline. This really was the mother of all cardigans.  Just one of the highlights at a fantastic show which is heaven to me and all who are interested in textiles.  More to follow about the show in my next blog.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Image Transfer - Do Try This at Home

So for me and  I suspect for a lot of other artists working with fabrics and textiles, the holy grail of techniques is image transfer. That is transferring images and text onto fabric in order to incorporate that piece of fabric into a quilt or stitched project.  The other week I had the pleasure of attending an image transfer workshop taught by well known textile artist and tutor Annette Emms

There are myriad ways to do image transfer and much has been written on the subject involving some really convoluted methods using nasty chemicals but what Annette has done is demystify the whole process by paring it down to a few key tried and tested techniques and all using items found around the house such as emulsion paint, cling film and a hot iron.  

As always after any workshop I attend I like to consolidate my learning in the comfort of my own home. In other words go home and have a go myself accompanied by a cheekly little glass of something chilled. So here are my results both in and out of the classroom. 

This image was transferred onto cotton calico using emulsion paint.  Haven't we all got photos like this of unidentified relatives that have been passed down through the generations from parents and grandparents?  I have a few that were passed down from my mother and I have no idea who they are and she didn't know either as by the side of one of the photos in an album she has written 'your guess is as good as mine'. Photos like these lend themselves perfectly to image transfer to give an  ephemeral quality.  

This method used gel medium.  It's one of my daughter sat gazing into a mirror in a restaurant while we were on holiday. One of my favourites of her. When using images like this in my work I am not looking to achieve that perfect facsimile of the original but more of a distressed look.

This method uses sellotape then stuck down onto cotton.

Sellotape combined with page from a vintage book.

Another using emulsion paint but this time transferred onto brown paper.

The iron-on T-shirt transfer method

And at the end of a very creative and productive day all my results are neatly collated along with copious notes into a little handmade notebook from Annette. Another successful workshop and Image Transfer demystified.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Clear Desk Policy

There is a saying that creative minds are rarely tidy. I agree with that to a certain extent and it would be great to have a large studio space where you can really let go and be as untidy as you want without always having to clear up after but when you are restricted to a small work area then I am afraid for me tidying is obligatory. I am by nature a tidy person (much to husband's annoyance) otherwise I feel suffocated by clutter which stops the creative juices flowing. Trouble is then once I have spent time tidying I have ran out of time to be creative. Anyhow I had been on the lookout for a perfect desk tidy to contain all my pens, pencils and general desk detritus and found it in a great antique shop Bishopgate Antiques in Bishy Road on a recent trip to York to visit my daughter at university there.

To be honest I seem to always be in tidy-up mode when in my sewing den, because although when I am not actually creating I still think I am doing something worthwhile. This has been a necessity in recent months as I had to somewhat reluctantly relinquish a quarter of my space to my other half who has invaded with his work desk so a big sort out was in order.  I find de-cluttering very liberating as it's freeing up space plus I always feel quite virtuous when taking my 'unwanteds' to the charity shop and hoying a few bits and pieces in the recycling. 

All the sorting meant I finally got to chop up all my felted jumpers (felted on purpose you understand, not because I  had the washing machine too hot) into neatly stacked and tied bundles ready to sew them into a throw. 

Why settle for one iron when you can have two.

Ikea solutions! And you can't beat a bit of Billy for books.

More Ikea storage for my Embroidery and Quilting Arts magazines and I knew those vintage bobbins would come in handy. 

My precious Rowan knitting magazine collection going right back to Issue 1. What I would save in a fire (as well as sewing machine and Mulberry Bag of course).  So enough sorted and thrown out for a while. Let the creative juices flow! 

Monday, 27 February 2017

The 20 Year Cardigan

So I have been thinking about all things vintage just lately after discovering a great blog by vintage aficionado Lynn Holland called One I Made Earlier Today. I have been into vintage for quite a while as I collect vintage textiles and table linen and also the odd item of vintage clothing especially vintage jackets as I have a particular penchant for jackets. Lynn has a great sense of style and snaps up the most amazing bargains that she wears with great aplomb but what I particularly liked was her recent post of a lovely pink lacy cardigan very much resembling a classic one my mum used to knit in several shades and this got me thinking of course about cardigans. 

I have a cardy in my wardrobe which took over 20 years to knit. It is a Fair Isle pattern which as any knitter knows is a real bugger to knit taking heaps of concentration to follow the pattern chart in order to know when to change colours, not to mention a magnifying glass, so you can't exactly knock off a few rows each evening while in front of the telly.  This is the chart rather like graph paper with one tiny square representing each stitch and knitted up with about 8 different coloured yarns with a different symbol for each colour. I felt like I had cracked the Enigma code once I had figured out the meaning of all the symbols and colours. It was all very mentally challenging and hard on the old eyesight.

During those 20 years I got married, moved house, had a daughter and tried to keep those plates known as work, child care and housework spinning, so the cardy got forgotten about and was swiftly relegated to the spare room aka the dumping ground as I was just too knackered to knit each evening after Emily was in bed. Then as she got a bit older and life seemed a little less hectic shall we say, I started to pick the cardy back up every now and then and knit a few rows. After all, having invested quite a bit of money in buying the wool in the first place, as you need to buy one ball of each colour used in the pattern plus the main colour (and we are talking Rowan here and 100% Lambswool!) it seemed such a shame to leave it all to the moths. I started taking my knitting on holiday to while away the time while marooned in a tent on a Cornish camp site sheltering from the rain.  Knitting and Fair Isle became hip again which gave me the incentive to finish it and in 2012 all the pieces were finally sewn up to become a complete cardigan.  I have to admit though to going off the purple shade a bit and also it was a bit on the short side as it was only waist length. I do wear it though occasionally and it is very snuggly in winter. Annoyingly too I ran out of the main colour to finish the button band and had to finish with one of the contrasting colours. No chance of getting any more of the wool after more than 20 years. Here is my well worn creased copy of the original pattern bought in 1990.


Back in the 80s I would knit up a new jumper or cardy every 2 or 3 weeks. Me and my friend Jayne would eagerly anticipate the latest issue of Woman and Woman's Own to check out the weekly knitting pattern then dash off to buy the wool from WH Smith (yes they used to have a large wool section believe it or not) or Rackhams, or the Phildar shop (a really lovely French brand of wool with shops all over the UK which to our loss all closed. At that time big fluffy mohair jumpers and cardies were de rigeur and the knitting departments and shops were always busy. Remember this was the time when there was a wool shop on every high street and they all offered to keep the wool on one side to stretch out the cost.  Bizarrely after Emily was born I never knitted her anything, not even a pair of bootees.  

I found these patterns on Ebay just like the ones me and Jayne used to knit.  It was the age of power dressing and sometimes we would sew in shoulder pads. 

This is the more sedate kind of lacy pattern my mum would knit. She may even have got the pattern out of the Woman's Weekly which was always good for knitting. Unfortunately women's magazines no longer feature knitting patterns these days. They feed us boring gossip about soap stars and D list celebrities and really who gives a monkeys about them?  Bring back the weekly knitting pattern that's what I say.   

And this is Lynn's lovely lacy cardigan.  Just like my mum's.  It's time to get out those pins and start knitting again. You can never have too many cardigans! 

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

1 Year of Stitches - A Heart for Valentine's Day

So a little stitching today to celebrate Valentine's Day and to show just how important stitch is in my life as well as my other half of course. Bless him!

A little bit of couching never did anyone any harm.  That's couching as in embroidery and not lying on the couch or being a couch potato. Happy Valentine's Day! xx

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

1 Year of Stitches - Mary Thomas's Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches

As some of you may know this year I have taken on the 1 Year of Stitch challenge, stitching each day in an embroidery hoop in order to help me improve my hand embroidery, which to be honest I have always shied away from because basically I don't know very many stitches. To my rescue then has come my 1948 vintage edition of Mary Thomas's Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches I bought off Ebay a few years ago.

First printed in 1934 the book pictures and describes over 300 embroidery stitches covering just about everything that can be done with a needle and thread. My idea is to plough through the book page by page, trying out every stitch in my embroidery hoop. Sounds simple enough but am I being a bit too ambitious here or maybe just naive? On reading through just the first few pages it strikes me that I really am a complete novice as embroidery is a minefield of techniques such as Applique, Patchwork, Darning, Quilting, Blackwork, Broderie Anglaise, Hardanger, Smocking and Tapestry to name but a few. 

The book is wonderfully illustrated throughout with the method clearly described but what I really love about the book is that sprinkled in amongst the stitches are these funny little caricatures, drawn by Margaret Agutter, amusing little vignettes to match the theme of some of the stitches like these shown below: 

To quote Mary Thomas, "Stitches are the 'scales and exercises' of embroidery."  So I guess I had better go and practice my scales.
she covers just about everything that can be done to fabric with a needle and thread, including Appliqué, Cutwork, Patchwork, Assisi cross stitch, Filet darning, Quilting, Blackwork, Hardanger embroidery, Smocking, Broderie Anglaise, Jacobean embroidery, and Tapestry. - See more at:

indeed, she covers just about everything that can be done to fabric with a needle and thread, including Appliqué, Cutwork, Patchwork, Assisi cross stitch, Filet darning, Quilting, Blackwork, Hardanger embroidery, Smocking, Broderie Anglaise, Jacobean embroidery, and Tapestry. - See more at:
she covers just about everything that can be done to fabric with a needle and thread, including Appliqué, Cutwork, Patchwork, Assisi cross stitch, Filet darning, Quilting, Blackwork, Hardanger embroidery, Smocking, Broderie Anglaise, Jacobean embroidery, and Tapestry. - See more at:

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

1 Year of Stitches - First Week

Well I thought as much. Hand embroidery is definitely not my strong point and I have ended up unpicking quite a lot of my first attempts. Getting into it a bit more now though and going for more of an organic doodle which am hoping will evolve over the coming weeks.

Stitches I have used so far are herringbone, split stitch and seed stitch which I realise is fast becoming my favourite simply because it is so easy. Tried doing a bit of a swirl with the split stitch and then infilled using seed stitch in a contrasting variegated blue thread.  I must stick at it though and what I am hoping will help me to improve is a great website I have discovered called sharon b's Pin Tangle, which focuses on contemporary hand embroidery and crazy quilting. On this site there is an amazing stitch dictionary of hand embroidery stitches with illustrated step by step tutorials. Way to go!!                          

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

1 Year of Stitches

Nothing like the start of a new year to kick start new ideas and projects that have been spinning round in my head into action. Trouble is I have also got lots of PhDs (Projects Half Done) that have been hanging around for far too long, piling up in the corner of my sewing den taking up valuable space. That coupled with the fact that my Other Half has invaded my girl space with his desk and PC resulting in me having to do a major sort out and de-clutter before I can even think about starting a new project. I am taking the 'does it spark joy?' approach to getting rid of the great unwanted which is quite liberating in a scary sort of way.  I have made Other Half aware of this philosophy in order he should  avoid getting in my way when he is sat at his desk lest I end up chucking him out with everything else if he doesn't spark joy in me. 

So all this brings me to 1 Year of Stitches which is a new project I am embarking on and which has got me really excited. The brainchild of Hannah Claire Somerville it is really more of a challenge than a project where the idea is to make at least one stitch every day for 365 days. The stitches will be on a piece of fabric stretched in an embroidery hoop and over the course of a year the hoop will fill up with lots of pattern, colour and stitches like the examples above. You can read more about it on Sara Barnes' blog Brown Paper Bag but basically here are the rules:

1. Make at least one stitch every day.  If for some reason you can't do this, it's OK but at least take a picture that day. 
2. Take a picture that shows your project.
3. Date your picture and write a sentence (or a few words) about the embroidery or your day.
4. Share online through social media or a blog - On Facebook and on Instagram post using #1yearofstitches and @1yearofstitches.  

Hannah has described the project as one of mindfulness and a personal map making exercise. For me I think it will be a great way of practicing my hand embroidery which I'm not that brilliant at while at the same time hopefully giving me the chance to spend a few contemplative moments in thought. I find that stitching like knitting can be a great way of occupying idle hands and getting the thought processes going or just escaping from everyday stress.  The other great thing of course about this project is that it takes up very little space and is extremely portable so I can keep it by me on the sofa to add a few stitches of an evening when watching TV, take it on holiday or stitch during my lunch break at work.   

Here are my first basic stitches. Not very inspiring I must admit but small steps to what will hopefully become a rich and colourful tapestry of stitches. Well that's the plan anyway. I may even take it to the pub and stitch whilst  having a pint.  Now there's a pleasant contemplative thought! 

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Goodbye to Christmas and A Christmas Rag Rug Wreath

I think once Christmas and New Year is out of the way I don't know of anyone who still likes to have their Christmas decorations lingering around the house. Once the last cracker has been pulled and the final bottle of prosecco drank on New Year's Eve, the last thing you want to see when you do finally surface on New Year's Day with a humdinger of a hangover are the Christmas Decorations. I know a lot of people don't wait for Twelfth Night or even New Year but whip them away as soon as the turkey curry has been served. We have two crates that we keep in the garage for Christmas decorations and every year have the usual Krypton Factor puzzle trying to fit them all back in those crates from whence they came and still get the lids shut.

So conversely what was I doing last night instead of taking all the decorations down and starting to pack them away?  I was up to the early hours making a Christmas wreath of course.  Back in October I attended a really great workshop given by local artist Bridget West on rag rugging and bought a kit (as you do) to make my own rag rug Christmas wreath. What a good idea I thought. I will have stacks of time to finish that in time for Christmas.  Well I did start it way back in November but it became another of my PhDs and remained unfinished all through Christmas. So I thought there is no way I am putting that away unfinished, plus I would only have to finish it next year when all the decorations come out again. Last thing I would want! So I stayed up late and caught up with 2 and a half omnibuses of The Archers while busy rugging. Above is the finished article, put up for just enough time to take a photo and now carefully crated away back in the garage ready for Christmas 2017. 

Footnote: One of the main Christmas decorations that starts looking a bit worse for wear very soon into the festive season, even before the turkey's out of the oven is the Christmas tree. Understandable though as in most cases it stands in a hot heated room usually next to a radiator and almost certainly without water. No wonder it has a tantrum and drops all its needles. The Christmas tree though in my book is the Headliner of Christmas decorations. Don't concentrate too much with festooning the house with too many support band decorations such as garlands, tinsel, flashing Santas, sagging Santa bottoms stuck out of chimneys and windows.  Less is more and we  always have a real one so this year plumped for a Scots Pine and I have to say and this is no exaggeration, it looked as good and fresh today as it had done when we first bought it five weeks ago. The only few needles that had dropped off it were from when my daughter first put the lights and baubles on it.  So Scots Pine again for us next year. We felt almost sad to see it go.