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I recently went on a really great workshop organised by Selvedge magazine.  It was called a ‘Craft Spa Day’ and was held in Bloomsbury.  Selvedge, by the way is a fantastic magazine.  It has the most glorious photos which I virtually want to eat, plus it has introductions to wonderful craftspersons and the story of all sorts of textiles and techniques.  It is a real treat.  The only problem is that it makes me want to get up and start doing something every time I read it, so I seldom finish reading it.   You can get it in WH Smith and arty bookshops, or you can subscribe.  If you don’t want to do that you can just look at the website which has glorious graphics.

Okay, so, the day was divided into two parts.  The first had two talks on sewing/craft and therapy.  Ruth Battersby Tooke gave a brilliant talk on Lorina Bulwer’s extraordinary textile letters:

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Bulwer was put in the Great Yarmouth workhouse by her family because she was, as we would now say, suffering from some sort of mental illness.  As Ruth pointed out, this sounds awful but it may have been an act of kindness.  She led an independent life and was not put in an asylum and it seems that her brother visited her regularly.  As part of her condition she wrote the most astounding letters to local dignitaries complaining about her lot and about her sister-in-law, whom she despised.  All the text is couched, and occasionally another panel comes to light.  It is now  in two massive pieces: one twelve feet long and the other fourteen.  Ruth used the pieces to talk about reading history through textiles, and also about the embroideries themselves.

The next speaker, Marie O’Mahoney, was talking about whizzy hightech textiles which was fine, but I sort of thought I’d heard it all before a bit.  Textiles to monitor our health, textiles to interact with our environment, that sort of thing.  The third speaker was due to be Betsan Corkhill, who had a family emergency and so could not attend.  She is the woman who has written about knitting as therapy.  I bought a copy of her book:

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I found it a bit terribly jolly, but it makes some very pertinent points about the therapeutic benefits of knitting and craft in general.  I presume there are also scholarly articles that she has written, but this would give you a good overview of the main arguments for knitting.  We should all knit for ten minutes a day, by the way.

In the afternoon we got to choose from a series of workshops on spinning, weaving, basketry and quilting.  I chose the quilting  I had a lovely calm afternoon stitching as the tutor, Abigail Booth, had already marked the cloth, all of which was dyed with tree-based dyes.  I finished my piece on the day which I think is important in a workshop, and because Abigail, who was really lovely, showed me a new way of finishing the edges which I adapted a tiny bit to give a frame.  My only problem was that I chose a pale turquoise thread to contrast with the nicely browned pastry colour of the cloth:

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Fine close up, but when I stood back it looked like I’d used one of the water soluble marking pens and hadn’t washed it out.  Hubris, of course, always gets its comeuppance.

 

 

 

 

 

Wreath Wraith

 

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I have been very busy recently and have let my blog slip.  I can only apologise.  There are plenty of posts coming up which I hope will go some way to make up for this.

I am starting with the pieces that I entered into the Bristol Quilters Exhibition earlier this month.  The first of these is Wreath Wraith.  I have no idea why I chose the word ‘wraith’, here; it should have been Wreath Wright, as in someone who makes wreaths.  But I think that I might have done so much of this that it made me feel like a wraith or a ghost.  My idea was to show how you could make Baltimore style wreaths part of a contemporary quilt.

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The appliqué here is all by hand, but the construction of the pieced elements is done on my IKEA sewing machine to show that you don’t need a fancy one to piece.  I had to fall back on the Bernina for the machine quilting, though.

I have blogged about making this piece before: (https://annjrippin.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/further-adventures-in-wreath-making/, )and so I thought I would say something about seeing the quilt in the show.

The first thing was my horror in seeing it hanging.  About as straight as a dog’s hind leg, as my mother would say.  The right-hand-side of this ripples gently and is probably about three inches shorter than the left.  Now, I put this down to rushing to finish it, and not hanging it up myself.  What a nightmare.  Note to self, try the measuring and using a set square the way they tell you to in quilting manuals.

The second thing was my ‘delight’ about being hung next to the totally glorious and perfect appliqué piece by the international championship winning quilter, Sandie Lush.

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Just stop for a minute and consider just how perfect this is.  Here is a detail:

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Not only is the appliqué of a standard to make you weep, but the hand quilting is perfection too.  Then look at mine:

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Just above entry level.  But Sandie is a lovely, gracious and kind woman.  She came up to me at the show and said, ‘I love your appliqué.  It’s really vibrant and lovely.  Mine looks dull and lifeless.’  It didn’t, of course, but very kind of her to say so.

Sandie has a great web page detailing her quilts and her activities.  When you see that, you will realise why I was so crimson of mien being placed next to her, and why she is such an inspiration to so many.  Her website is here http://www.sandielush.co.uk/

Further adventures in wreath-making

 

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This version of the wreath is a bit more unusual than the first two that appeared on the blog.  It’s made with Amy Butler fabric so it is much more contemporary-looking.  The substrate is a sample of furnishing fabric, which was great in one way: I didn’t need to put the piece in a hoop to do the chain stitch circle.  This would normally cause the fabric to gather and distort, but because this is such thick fabric it was fine.  The downside was that the fabric was like canvas and really quite difficult to get a thicker needle through which is a problem when using embroidery threads.  I used the reverse of the fabric again.

Now, this brings me to the biggest problem with number three.  And this is a real beginner’s error.  In fact, a beginner would have the sense not to make this mistake.  Samples almost always have a label on the reverse with the name of the print and the fibre composition and colourway and so on:

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The usual procedure is to put a hottish iron on the label and it peels off quickly and cleanly.  So I merrily assumed that would be the case here and went ahead and did the majority of the appliqué.  Sadly the label utterly refused to shift:

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I am not a perfectionist, but even I could see that this needed a fix.  The only thing I could think of was to make an appliqué to fit over the whole thing with a bit of space to spare as it was going to be difficult to stitch through the sticky label and the thick cotton.  In the end, I thought the only thing that would work would be a bird.  Fortunately this piece is quite large so there was scope to make a bird which wouldn’t look like an albatross had landed.

At this point I was a bit fed up and wanting a quick fix.  Fortunately, I found a print with a variety of splashy paisley shapes.  One of them was pointing in the right direction to cover the label and had a suitably stylised bird shape and had a print which suggested a wing so I wouldn’t have to stitch through the paper.
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I had to add another piece of fussy-cut fabric to make some sort of head, and then embroider a beak and eye in satin stitch:

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I found an acrylic gem which was the perfect size to make an eye while I was looking for something else, so I stitched that on.  Please don’t tell me that a bird this shape wouldn’t have this shaped beak.  I did my best.

In the end, I quite like the bird and I think it adds to the overall piece.   This wreath, I hope is going to be part of a larger piece of work.  It’s all very well making wreaths, but I need to show people what you can do with them other than making cushions.  I also like the problem-solving element of this.  And I offer it as an example to people I meet who seem to think I am an expert in this field.  My personal takeaway is: always test that the sticker comes off before you devote a fair bit of time to stitching on samples.

Another wreath

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I was a bit taken aback by how popular the last wreath was, so here’s another.  This is made in the same way.  The background is a sample of furnishing linen which I have had for ages but not wanted to cut up.  The circle is done in chain stitch with three strands of embroidery cotton.  This one has appliquéd berries and thorn stitch between the leaves.

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This one is quite so easy to read.  The previous one had a lighter background:

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I like the second one because it looks a bit vintage, as if the person who made it in the 19C didn’t quite know how it was going to fade and become less distinct.

These are so easy to do, though.  Brilliant for beginners because the appliqué leaves are a really simple shape.

Spring Wreath

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This is my latest piece of work.  It is quite a traditional piece of hand appliqué.  I started with a piece of printed furnishing fabric from a sample book, measuring roughly 18 inches (46 cm) square and drew a circle on it in pencil.  Then I went over that in chain stitch.  Had I made a bias tube and stitched that down, the result would have been better but I would still be doing it now.  Also the light line of the chain stitch, I think matches the delicacy of the finished piece.

The leaves were cut freehand from scraps of fabric.  The main fabric is a cheap Liberty knockoff, but the other two are very contemporary fabrics which I used with the reverse showing to knock back the brightness of the prints.  They were appliquéd using very traditional needle-turning.

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I finished it off with some big beads from a charity shop necklace I took to pieces over some tiny crocheted circles I had made one night when I was bored and only had a bit of yarn and a crochet hook to hand.

I am quite pleased with it, as it was fairly quick to make and it was a good day on the radio yesterday, and it cost pretty much nothing.  Plus it is quite spring-like.

I think I will mount it over a plain canvas box frame, otherwise it might be the start of a Baltimore album quilt and that way madness lies.

Alf Rehn’s shirt

 

Wednesday was the birthday of a Grate Frend (Molesworth) of mine, Alf Rehn.  Alf is the epitome of the modern European: divides his time between London, Copenhagen and Finland, speaks most modern languages, is sophisticated, suave and soigné.  He is on the international speaker circuit, writes books on innovation that get translated into umpteen languages, and is father of my godson.  So, a pertinent question is, what do you get him for his birthday.

Well, some months ago I was telling him about an artist whose work I really love, Elvis Robertson.  Robertson takes old cloths, mainly table linen, and embroiderers the stains on them.  This might sound a bit disgusting to some people, but I think the pieces are exquisite.  For some reason I find the reclamation of these damaged and discarded pieces of fabric really moving.  Here are a couple of pictures of what I mean:

His instagram account is definitely worth consulting too.  Alf said how much he would like a shirt with coffee stains embroidered on it.  I suddenly remembered this and thought it would be a good present for someone who had everything, and if he didn’t like it he could always cut it up for dusters.

I bought a white shirt with a front woven to look like a pintucked dress shirt and went into the studio on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  I started by printing some rings with a ceramic ramekin using Golden Fluid acrylics in raw sienna and bronze.  I then sprinkled some copper metallic powder over the wet paint.  This is the sample piece:

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Having got my confidence up, I stamped the paint on the shirt and left it to dry in the warm studio.

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I put it in an embroidery hoop and did satin stitch in ordinary brown stranded embroidery thread and added some tiny coffee coloured beads.  I decided to embroider just the button flap as a design feature.

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This is a shocking picture of the finished shirt:

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Fortunately, Alf loved it and has promised to send me some photos of him in it when he wears it, which he says he will do when he does one of his big strategy talks.  More news to follow then.

Maria, Hen Empress of all the Russias

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If you have been following my blog for a bit, you will know that every New Year’s Day I make a doll which either says something about the past year, or about the one coming up.  My rule is that it has to be completed from scratch in one day.  This year I knew that I wanted to do some work on Easter eggs, and Fabergé Easter eggs in particular, and so I decided to start work on that by making a Fabergé hen.  After all, you do need chickens to make eggs, the old – which came first, the chicken or the egg conundrum notwithstanding.

I started off by adapting a pattern from one of the Tilda craft books:

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I was rather pleased about this as these books are a regular impulse buy and I never actually use them.  The pattern had to be adapted as the chicken had bloomers on:

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I don’t really think that a Fabergé chicken would show her underwear, so I had to cut those out immediately.  I decided to make mine in felt for some reason which now escapes me, so I made the wings and stitched them on:

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I used a ready made motif from Aarti J and sequins from a bumper pack bought at Paperchase.  Paperchase and Tiger are a really good source of cheap sequins, but they do come in variety packs so you can’t be choosy.  Then I started to encrust the body with beads.  This is where the plan went awry.  It takes a while to encrust a felt chicken with jewels:

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So I broke my one day rule.  This seemed a reasonable sacrifice given what I wanted to achieve.  You can see that I used another Aarti J motif for the eyes.

The second snag came when I got round to the crown.  Because I have spent over thirty years in the educational company of a medieval historian I know that because she is an empress she needs an imperial crown, which is a closed crown.  A crown would be easy to make:

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A nice strip of gold fabric with some points joined into a ring.  But an imperial crown needs a bit more thought:

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Much fancier.  In the end, despite a lot of internet searching which resulted in instructions for making tiaras for Barbie on YouTube, I resorted to that old favourite: the pipe cleaner.  I pushed it through some gold tube knitting yarn that I bought at a knockdown price in Homescene, and cobbled it together with some very plastic-y bead braid and a button which had lost its shank which was lurking in my collection.  I have no idea where this bead came from, no recollection of buying it nor of my mother’s giving it to me:

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The beak is two separate quarters of giant sequins from a garland I bought in Habitat’s closing down sale stuck onto the felt underneath and the wattle is from the same garland but sewn on.  I am adding these provenance details because people often ask where I get my beads.  The large pearl beads come from a five pound bargain bag from Hobbycraft.

The whole crown affair is rather wobbly and what my native dialect would describe as makkled together, but it represents the outer reaches of my chicken jewellery-making skills.

I am quite happy with the finished article:

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Of course, Fabergé would have hated it.  It is cobbled together and it is too irregular for him.  He loved very fine craft skills and a neo-classical style, so this would have appalled him in its cheap materials and cobbled together making.  On the other hand, he loved novelties and small animal knick-knacks, so he might have given a half-smile.

Finally, she is called Maria because this was the name of the first Romanov empress for whom Fabergé made an Easter egg.

More on the Fabergé egg project later.

Field notes from Utopia

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A couple of months ago, I went on a fantastic weekend at Shore Cottage Studio.  I have blogged about this before, but, to recap, it is a gorgeous studio on the Dee Estuary which runs short courses on a variety of activities (textiles, glass making, photography, laser cutting, for example).  It is run by the family team of Sue, Laura and Kris.  This is the word cloud of their trip advisor feedback:

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Word clouds make patterns in which the largest words are the ones most frequently used.  I am very interested to see ‘love’ so prominent here.  I suspect it comes from comments such as ‘I love the Studio’, but I thought it was a place which just about ran on love.  That’s why this post is called ‘Field notes from Utopia’.  I felt loved the minute I walked through the door and that is a utopian feeling.  So this post is about my embroidery, but also a little bit about Utopia.  If you aren’t interested in Utopia, just skip to the pictures of the embroidery, which I hope you enjoy.

I am really interested in utopias because they are so contradictory.  One person’s Utopia is another person’s dystopia.  For example, in HG Wells’ The Time Machine we have the Eloi who seem to have the perfect peaceful, aesthetically beautiful life but who are actually so calm and refined that they are unable to achieve anything new or creative, plus their life depends on an underclass called the Morlocks, a dystopian troglodyte society who only come out at night, but who have the energy to do stuff and in the end to rise up against their oppressors.  One reading of the novel is that the Eloi represent a communist group, and, as we know from our own recent history, communism is seen as paradise by  some and oppression by others.  Utopia and dystopia again.  This was the plot of endless episodes of the first series of Star Trek.  Captain Kirk was always finding new civilisations which looked wonderful at first sight, but which were always inferior to Earth.  And tribes of cultural studies scholars have provided readings of this as code for the Cold War struggles in the US when Kirk and Spock and Uhuru were created.  I am also interested in utopian communities’ carrying within themselves the seeds of their own destruction (we are going in for political economy a bit today).  So, religious groups often go off into the wilderness to find a pure place where they can practise their beliefs without persecution or pollution.  The problem is that sooner or later differences of opinion arise, and no-one is quite pure enough to satisfy the demands of the leader so you get a split and another attempt at a utopian community elsewhere.  These sorts of communities can topple over into cults which often end disastrously, such as David Koresh and the Branch Davidian.  Finally, I am interested in the role of place in all this.  Very often utopians leave a place they consider toxic to go and set up a new purer place elsewhere.  Utopias always seem to be places of tension, reactions against, flights from, black and white situations where you are either right or wrong.  There is not much space for grey in Utopia.

Anyway, for me, Shore Cottage is a form of Utopia.  It is a place where I felt completely at home, loved and cared for, and able to develop my creativity.  I was there as part of a project looking at the anthropology of the Dee Estuary and to do a short ethnography (although really there is no such thing: ethnography done properly is an extended business).  Ethnographers make field notes and so my embroidery represents field notes in cloth.

I designed it to look like an artefact an ethnographer might take with them, so it rolls up:

The linen has a toile print of a river, which is the nearest that I could get to an estuary.  The tree rather appealed to me.

It unrolls to show several ‘leaves’ or panels:

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The piece uses the fabric and thread that I dyed on the weekend with Sue.  Some of them were left whole just to show the effects such as this microwaved tie dye:

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This is a really brilliant simple technique for hand dying cloth which I will use again. There is also a piece of overnight rust dyeing:

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Brilliant results overnight onto this piece of linen.  The marks were so beautiful that I didn’t want to mask them with stitching or embellishment.

I kept the stitching pretty simple on the rest of the panels:

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This is fern stitch with variegated thread onto a thick blanket-y wool that I dyed.

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This shows simple straight stitches arranged as seeding, vertical cross stitch and some running stitch.  I used the big black and white bead as a sort of sample, like you might get in a ethnographer’s collection of material.

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This is a variation on a theme.  I love these big disc beads.  They remind me of pumice or some other sort of lava.

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This is  a found piece of curtain fabric and the pom pom is part of it.  It is stitched down with layered fern stitch.

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This is also a tiny found sample of furnishing fabric.  I loved the indigo and white.  The white thread is quite thick and reminded me of sashiko.  I wish I could get my stitches that even.  I am not sure I quite like the uneven spacing of the mauve beads, but had I been making this in my tent by hurricane lamp in the nineteenth century, I might not have been able to get them straight, so I left them.

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Another bead and seeding combo.

I wanted to use these little wooden hands because of the importance of the hand made on this weekend:

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I got them from Artchix Studio, which is run by a lovely Canadian woman.  I have lots of things from her shop, but I have stopped using it because the postage is ruinously expensive and then there are charges on top when the parcel gets here.  Gorgeous, unusual, inspiring stuff but now very pricey.  That aside, these hands are lovely.  They are about two centimetres long.  I like the combination of the handmade and the manufactured.  They are all alike and symmetrical, and yet they have a real charm for me.

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The above is some knitting tape which I dyed and couched down and then stuffed with brown glass beads which I got from a Hobbycraft cheapo clearance bag.  I also recycled some embroidery I did a couple of years ago.  They maybe jump a bit, but I think they look slightly like sketches of landscapes that you get in ethnographer and explorer notebooks:

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This is another picture of part of the piece showing how the panels fit together:

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You can just about see in the top left-hand corner that there is a heart shape.  I found a stone on the Dee Estuary beach which had the suggestion of a heart on one side and I thought that this was emblematic of the Studio.  I was really pleased when Sue noticed that a heart had emerged from the hand dyeing on this swatch.  To the left of that, which you can see in the picture at the top, there is a piece of embroidery taken from a vintage tablecloth I bought from a textile fair last year.  This refers to the hand-embroidered vintage tablecloths that they used at the Studio and which I really enjoyed.

This has been a long post, so thanks to reading to the end if you did.

 

Joy in work: feathers

 

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Very occasionally I get to write one of these posts about when a piece of work just goes amazingly well.  This is one of those occasions.  It feels like I just turn up and provide the hands but the universe does the rest.

This small piece of work is part of a series I am making after my visit to the wonderful Shore Cottage Studio I have already mentioned.  I collected some inspirational pieces on the beach and then did some mark making and then dyed some fabric and thread, including making some pieces in the microwave using very ordinary dylon.  I have already blogged about using straight stitches on one piece, inspired by the striations on the beach pebbles.  This piece was inspired by the feathers I collected with Sue:

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I knew that I wanted to do something on feathers and I had bought a sizzix dye machine dye of the feather shape in preparation, but this morning I went to my work table and had completed the piece in about an hour.  It just fell together.  I found the background fabric which is a lovely piece of pure Scottish wool in my pile of samples bought by weight round the corner from me in a curtain maker’s shop, I found exactly the right sized piece of cotton bump to work as the padding, and I found the black Mettler quilting thread sitting on top of the tub of threads I use most often.  I threaded up the machine, got it ready for free machining and off I went.  I did make a sample, which I do more often now, but that went really well and I was off:

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I was a bit worried that I have made so many leaves over the years that I would do that rather than feathers, but it seemed to work.  The secret there was just to do it, not to think, just run the machine fast and get on with it:

 

The very dark and more navy blue pieces are bought fabric.  Mine is the more grey and less densely coloured pieces like the horizontal feather in the above pictures, but the bought fabric blended really well and allowed me to make a bigger piece.

I think you could argue that using the sizzix machine is cheating, but I think that the creativity bit comes in with how you use it, how you cut the fabric, and how you stitch it.  Plus it speeds up the process that you can experiment and do the what if? stage much more quickly.

I did hand cut some feathers as can be seen in the above sketchbook pages, but as the sizzix will cut bondaweb, I intend to use it and cut out the drudgery.  For information, I have the Bit Shot Sizzix Plus:

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I had it for Christmas last year and have really enjoyed using it.

But the point of the post is to record one of those small projects when everything goes really well and when it is a delight to make, and when I experience what Deming and William Morris describe as joy in work.  I don’t think we take enough time to enjoy what we have made with our hands.  I think we think it’s in some way conceited, but I really think we should.

 

Straight stitching

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Most embroiderers, myself included, have at least one book on their shelves called something like 101 Embroidery Stitches.  This is a bit like having all those programmes on an automatic washing machine: 80% of them are superfluous.  Most of my work uses a very small number of stitches: running, seeding, back stitch (whipped and otherwise), fly, herringbone, colonial knots.  But for a project that I have been doing for the last couple of weeks I decided that I would branch out a bit and try something new.

I wanted to do something with the lines and striations on some beach pebbles:

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I was also influenced by the spiky vegetation around the beach where I found the stones:

I wondered about lacing some herringbone or cretan stitch but in the end reached for the magnificent and ancient Constance Howard’s Book of Embroidery Stitches.  This is a real oldie but goody, black and white throughout but magnificently clear:

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It is now quite expensive on Amazon and the like, but there may well be copies in second-hand book shops and, if so, they really worth snapping up, particularly if, like me, you love seventies embroidery.  Plus Constance Howard apparently used food colouring to dye her hair, which makes her a style guru as well.

All that aside, I decided, unsurprisingly, to have a go at thorn stitch.  It is as prickly as its name suggests, but it is also really easy to do and you can use it in a lot of ways.  The basic stitch is:

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This is basically an asymmetric cross stitch over a base thread, which makes it very good for couching.

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This is a page from my sketchbook showing how I got to this point.  I had a go at it and found that I really enjoyed doing it.  Here are some dark photos of the end results (I experimented with a different form of lighting which didn’t really work):

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This is the basic stitch done in a fine perlé cotton.

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This is a thicker thread, but still a basic version of the stitch.  But then I decided to do some couching of a dyed knitting tape which I knotted randomly.  The couched knot approach is a brilliantly simple way to get a lot of texture into something, and this variation really did give me something organic:

 

I also used a mix of threads for the couching, some perlé and then some ordinary sewing thread.  After I had completed the pieces (which I will put up separately), I was so entranced by the possibilities of the stitch that I made a little sampler:

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I really enjoyed threading the beads onto the couched thread and then arranging and anchoring them with the thorn stitch over the top.  It’s a bit hard to make out but the sample second from the left has a wrapped or whipped couching thread, which also worked well.  The beads are from a charity shop necklace I took to pieces.

I used some other stitches to get a spiky effect.  I love fly stitch because it is easy and really versatile:

 

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It gives a softer effect, though, as it is a loop stitch not a stab stitch:

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Nice here in a very fine perlé thread.

And I used the stitch I learned at the Mandy Pattullo workshop that I went to, fern stitch, which is also pretty spiky:

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I have used this in other projects:

 

In this project I used it as a border:

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I started this project on a brilliant weekend with Sue Barnes at Shore Cottage Studio in Heswall.  I cannot recommend it highly enough and will post about it separately.