Monday, 26 January 2015


I'm being a bit slow with the blogging, for which apologies! Without further ado, here are some pics of class work from last week.

First up, we have been busy making collages with sari silks, foils, and any other glisteny sparkly textured bits we could lay our mitts on:







This last piece of work belongs to Rosa, our newest student, who was a bit taken aback when we started the session with "how to heat copper tiles over a gas hob". For some reason she came along expecting to stitch?!

Anyway, we put the copper to one side and made a start on her first strippy collage. The idea being to investigate all the automatic patterns our machines will do, to warm up both machine and our own creative muscles, practise using transfer foils, and create a background for further embellishment.*

And those who were itching to stitch on metal started a simple sampler with feed dog up/normal presser foot, and feed dog down/free machining. Here are some in progress:





These are all stitched with 0.002" copper shim on felt - you must use a thick-ish background to absorb the sharp pointy bits of copper created when the needle penetrates the metal (but it doesn't have to be felt). This also protects your machine bed from scratches.

Fiona laid some organza on top of her tiles before stitching then blasted it with a heat gun - so effective!

*for transfer foils in large quantities at reasonable rates I am selling them on Facebook at Frugal Foil - if you are not on Facebook but would like some, just email me. Plug over!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Choosing to work

Someone recently commented on Facebook that they'd love to learn more about my process. I do find this amusing, as to be brutally honest my "process" up to now has been

1 start something with noble ambitions
2 procrastinate for ages (sometimes months)
3 rustle up something at the last minute that is not related in any way with what I started in the first place.

Which is why I have so many stashes of "work in progress". Here is just one:

But armed with my new word - Choice - I have chosen to

a) book, then ring fence "work" time in my diary (in pencil, but it's a start)
b) decide which WIPs I actually want to do still, and chuck the others (gasp)
c) actually choose one of them and do it! 

So now I can proudly present "my process"

First, choose what to do. I chose this watercolour spiral today.

Second, add a stitch'n'tear backing and choose a thread

Third, stitch by machine and wonder what to do next

Four, tip out a shamefully tangled collection of threads and set to

Five, fight - really fight - the urge to do something, anything else eg make curtains, sort recipes, declutter another cupboard...

Six, audition various additions - including a washer found on the doorstep and a twig circle made last summer.

(not brill lighting, but it still gets dark so early in the afternoon)

Not finished yet, but I'm very chuffed so far - not least because I actually stuck at something!

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Word of the year 2015: Choice


New Year, time to rethink so many things. It's only when I stop that I realise how I haven't - stopped, that is - for so long. Literally. It's a rare thing for us to sit on the sofa, Girl locks herself in her lair most evenings, we never watch TV (especially since all the Montalbanos are repeats and I don't like the current Wallander). But now I've stopped I wonder what on earth takes up so much of my time. I'll probably remember, suddenly, when term starts on Tuesday.

My haul from K&S, virtually untouched.

This year I want to have a stab at consciously choosing how to spend my time, and to make sure I choose things that are meaningful for me. For example, I want to choose to stitch. And paint and print. Because I just haven't. I don't really know why (apart from the usual practical reasons, the Grand Plan being very much on my mind still but it now involves architects :0 ). I stitch things for class, and I managed some work for Art Trail, but for me? Nada. I feel I've let myself down. (I still haven't used my gelli plate, acquired in October. I did try the lucet...)

I am aware that instead of choosing, I end up doing things that are mindless, easy or just because to actively choose the alternative would be slightly difficult or uncomfortable in some way, or will end up disappointing someone, letting them down: last year both Mr G and I ended up being on committees, baffling for two people who much prefer to work alone and are very suspicious of any team activity...yes, I'm looking at you Mrs B. Himself has managed to shed his responsibility, so I'm just picking my moment. Just sayin'.

Bunting, made for community art group.

And I know I spend too long footling on this iThing, so that will have to be curbed. Strangely though, I haven't kept up with my blog reading, so despite being online so much I do feel out of touch with everything going on out there in textileblogland. And we are going to bed so late now we're practically nocturnal. Gosh, next week will be a shock! We'll have to wind back the bodyclock at least three hours!

Not sure what the whippet will make of early mornings sans duvet-time...

I'll let keep you posted on how I get on! Do you have a word for 2015?

I saw this idea on facebook, courtesy of Jane laFazio and Christine Kane, and it resonated. I used Christine's free tool to work out my word, and I think I'm happy with it. Not what I was expecting but not as immediately mindblowing as she made out it would be. 

Thursday, 11 December 2014

For the love of sprouts

A bit of a bonus blog today! Not the ultimate flapjack, more the ultimate sprout...

I'm on a mission to convert all sprout-haters with this dish, which we've enjoyed (hugely) for lunch this week. It's so good, we had it twice!

1. Get over-excited in the vegetable aisle and grab a very large bag of Brussels sprouts. I had 750g here, and that fed two of us twice - serves four, indeed!

2. Make sure you have enough cold, cooked rice for however many you are feeding. I use brown basmati and use a handful dry per person. Add cold water to a thumbnail's depth, slap a lid on, bring to a boil then simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave to steam, for at least 10 minutes. Either eat straight away or cool quickly and store in the fridge.

2. Gently cook a little tub of pancetta cubes in a large non-stick pan or wok until they release their own fat. When the fat is melted, add a small, chopped onion and soften it in the fat. If you are after a vegetarian option, you could cook a chopped red pepper with the onion, in a tablespoon or so of olive oil until they are lightly caramelised.

3. While the pancetta and onion are doing their thing (or before you start if you are hyper-organised) trim off the outer leaves then shred the sprouts really finely; I use a big, sharp knife to do this but I suppose you could use a food processor (a knife is slower but easier to clean!)

4. Add a teaspoon or so of frozen chopped red chilli, or a pinch of chilli flakes, or one small finely chopped red chilli to the pan, cook for a few minutes, then add the sprouts.

5. Turn up the heat and keep everything moving about so it cooks but doesn't burn. You can add a tablespoon of oil (olive oil or coconut) or a knob of butter if it looks a bit dry. Keep cooking until the sprouts are cooked, no longer squeaky raw, but not too charred.

6. Add the grated zest of half or a whole lemon (for two or four people, respectively) then add the rice and keep stirring and flipping until it is heated through.

7. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and a twist of black pepper, then take off the heat and quickly stir through grated Parmesan - 15g for two people, 30g for four. Serve immediately and enjoy!

I defy anyone to hate sprouts after eating them this way. I can't abide soggy boiled sprouts, but I could eat them like this every day.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Teaching Tuesday: Grand Designs and Endless Vistas

If you recall, last week we were stitching imaginary landscapes with lots of lovely textured stitching. This week, I can reveal what we've been working towards!

We started off by playing a quick game of landscape consequences. I trialed the idea at home, with Mr Gonecycling and the Girl, and to be honest while it was helpful in establishing that it could work as a fun exercise to generate ideas for landscapes, the ideas that came out of it from the pair of them were VERY disturbing. Girl drew a giant standing on top of a hill shouting "World domination!" and Mr G drew some bleak blank-windowed concrete bunkers and observation towers surrounded by razor wire...

The ladies in class created altogether more pleasing and bucolic landscapes and vistas:

although where the penguins came from we're not sure (look closely...)

The grand plan for all of this was to attempt a series of "endless landscapes". There was an article about this in Stitches magazine (no 78 Aug/Sept 2012) and I even managed to hunt down a set of cards. There are 24 cards altogether, and they say that they can be arranged in 1,686,553,615,927,922,354,187,720 combinations "including the permutations that only use 23 cards, 22 cards and so on". I haven't tried this nor counted them.

So we took our trusty template (much simplified from the Stitches article), had a "discussion" about whether I'd drawn the lines in the right place (!) and set about blocking out the colours and shapes of our landscapes. We started to stitch from the sky then coming forwards ie the furthest hills were stitched first, as the details in the foreground need to be appliqued and stitched over the background.

Here is how we started off:

These are my fabrics, roughly positioned - I love this arrangement but stupidly didn't take the backing paper off my Bondaweb rectangle before I started to play, so I had to move them all in order to fuse them in place...doh!

As you can see, the template is very simple. We decided that as long as the horizons matched up at either edge, all would be well. We added a few extra lines between the horizon and the first landscape line, as it was pointed out that features of a landscape are further together when further away...We also decided against an urban landscape, as the softer contours of a natural landscape are "easier" to stitch :) Oh yes, one final decision - the time of day to be roughly midday, so we wouldn't end up with random sunsets or sunrises or three suns!

And here is where we have got to by the end of term:


Morag, again...






I think you'll agree, they look stunning! More than anything, we are all amazed that my Grand Designs have worked and they all match up (there were doubts that we would pull it off...) and I think we can conclude that we have achieved! Hooray.

Some of the above are not quite finished, and there are others still to be completed. However, we had a bit of a "do" for our last Wednesday class ie we didn't have one - when I went to collect the key for the village hall, the "key lady" had gone out for the evening! So no class, and no stitching, but a nice cup of tea at Christine's house. Needless to say we are in a new venue from January!*

* details of all classes are on my website. If you are local to Uckfield and would like to join us - we'd love to have you!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Teaching Tuesday - texture!

Phew, what a couple of weeks. Last I looked it was half-term - what happened?!

Without further ado (and there has been much ado around here - but that's for another post) here is some much-promised texture - and there's a lot of it, so take notes!

(if you think you've seen this before, that's because I posted the pic in October when I finished it!)

This piece is stitched with standard free motion machine embroidery, no funny business, and the texture is purely from the textured threads and fibres that I have couched down. The orange leaves are stitched by hand, but everything else is machine stitch. Just shows what you can do with a stash of thick and hairy threads and wools! 

Teaching point 1: when you couch down hairy things that are likely to get caught up in the foot, use a cocktail stick NOT your fingers to hold it down, and maybe stitch backwards so the prongs of your embroidery foot don't get caught up in the fibres.

Teaching point 2: automatic/programmed patterned stitches such as the blind hemming stitch are brilliant for couching - they hold things down,  but don't knock back the texture. Obviously, you wouldn't free motion stitch this - raise those teeth back up again and put the normal presser foot back on.

One of my favourite bits is the hedgerow in the middle - I rediscovered free-motion sideways zigzag and it was just perfect for adding this line of sticky twiggyness.

3. Sideways zigzag: set your machine for free motion stitching as usual, but instead of running stitch, select zigzag - with a nice wide zig (or zag!). You also need a very firm fabric base or fabric in a tight hoop for this one. When you stitch, remember you are still in control of the direction of the stitch, but the needle will be jumping from left to right. Move the fabric gently from left to right, so the lines go sideways and not up and down. Be very careful not to move the fabric too fast, as the large sideways movement makes it more likely that you will bend the needle (and then it will inevitably hit the needleplate and break).

Di demonstrates the effect beautifully here:

and you can see how (a) it can be used for colour mixing, (b) how much the fabric puckers - it really does need to be drum tight.

Right! Next!

You may also have seen this picture before, on my Facebook page. This is stitched almost entirely UPSIDE DOWN. Carol Naylor is an absolute superstar at this, and one of my textile heroes! 

This is called cable stitch. To do it, you wind a thick, smooth thread onto your bobbin, and then adjust (loosen) the bobbin tension to allow the thread to flow smoothly. I will say no more, other than all machines are different, but some are better than others than this...cough Bernina cough...

Perle threads are brilliant, as are crochet cottons and stranded cottons. Just nothing knobbly or too thick. The above piece features rainbow sock wool, and let's just say that I was pushing it to get away with that...And don't forget that you will be stitching upside down, so you need to mark where you want the thick cable stitch to be - so you do this by roughly stitching the outline of the various shapes first, before turning the fabric over. 

Here's what the troops have been doing with cable stitch practice:

(the green  thread)

(the blue thread)

(the pink thread)

And finally for today, we have also been playing with whip stitch and feather stitch. No thick threads here, normal sewing threads. To stitch these:

4. Whip stitch: tighten the top tension on your machine, and stitch (free motion) really fast! If you are lucky the bobbin thread will pull up through the fabric and "whip" over the top thread to create a raised line. You may need to loosen the bobbin thread a tad to get it to whip up, but you may get away with it. Again, all  machines are different...

5. Feather stitch: Exactly the same, but try and get even more thread to whip up (you will almost certainly have to loosen the bobbin now) and work in circular and wiggly movements - as you turn the corner or go round in circles, the top thread pulls itself into a tight circle, and creates a ring of lovely feathery bits with the bobbin thread.

just look at that bush on the left, fantastic feathering! And those whip stitch crop lines...

And the grey line of feather stitch, below the blue...

There are many, many more photos of other works in progress that I could show you - but I'll save them for next week when I can reveal what we've been working towards. Yes, it involves landscapes, and yes, it was ambitious, but I think we might have pulled it off! Fingers crossed!


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