Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Teaching Tuesday - and breathe...

One of the most important - no, THE most important thing to remember about machine embroidery - is to BREATHE.

Maybe it would be a good idea to do a spot of meditation before picking up the calico - sit up straight, rest your eyes, gently place your hands on your uncrossed legs, shoulders down and breathe - and breathe out, fully and completely, and rest a while before you allow your lungs to fill again.

Now we will begin! What we are aiming for is the perfect combination of the machine speed (your foot on the pedal) and the line speed (how fast you move the fabric with your hands).

The problems start when your eyes look at the line, see it wandering about not looking like what you wanted it to look like, so then your brain starts to panic and says "oh no! I can't stop, the line is going everywhere and nowhere and I don't know what to do aaaaaaghgggghhhhh!". Breathe.

I highly recommend that before you start to stitch, have a definite idea of what you are going to do - wiggles? Your name? The dreaded vermicelli? It helps to draw it out in pencil on paper first.

I won't tell you exactly how to set your machine up for free machining, as there are lots of other resources out there that can help and all machines are different. Just remember to drop/cover the feed teeth, loosen the top tension by one notch, change the presser foot to an embroidery foot, and stabilise your fabric somehow - it should be stiff enough to stay completely flat when you start to stitch.

When you are ready:

  • Make sure you are holding the stabilised fabric or hoop (see last week) flat not tilted, and firmly and confidently - but not so tightly that your knuckles turn white. 
  • Start to stitch, remembering to hold your threads (see last week again). This is a bit of a juggling act with holding the fabric, but it's only for the first few stitches.
  • Start to run the machine at a moderate speed - not full speed flat out, and definitely not a crawl. Faster rather than slower, but not so fast that you panic and feel out of control (see above).
  • Move the fabric gently, confidently and smoothly. Not too fast, but keep it moving. Try not to jerk it about, and keep it flat.
You will know when you've got it right - it will feel smooth, controlled, and your stitches will neither be too big or too small.

Moving the fabric too fast, and/or stitching too slowly = stitches are too big.

The lines are jagged, and you will most likely bend and then break the needle. 

BUT watch out for the other extreme: stitching too fast and moving the fabric too slowly = stitches are too small.

The stitches all pile on top of each other, and you may start to pull up the bobbin thread (sometimes we want this to happen, but not today!) If you keep going like this, you will get hard and lumpy heaps of stitches and may end up breaking the thread. 

Unfortunately the only way to crack this one is to practice, as much as you can. 

You can breathe out now! Next Tuesday, where are all these lines going anyway?

Friday, 12 September 2014

First Five on Friday!

Yikes. Friday came round quicker than I thought...

1. Teaching prep
I finally got down to some work, and started my tried and tested method for planning my teaching year - shuffle lots of bits of paper around the table and hope they don't blow away. As usual I've lurched from having no ideas at all, to having far too many for the time available...

It's a hard task because I need to take into account the wishes of returning students (more heat dispersible, more textured stitching, how about some felt and paper-making? etc) with the needs of the beginners or less experienced. And I find that the more I start to nail my ideas down, the more pop into my head. Catching and containing my ideas into a 25 week teaching plan is a bit like trying to hold cooked spaghetti in my hands.

2. Sketchbooks
Also in preparation for my classes, I took delivery of this rather delicious pile of sketchbooks. Now there's a stack of blank pages Gina!

3. Mushroom
Sadly, one of our EG branch members (and ex-Chairman no less) died at the start of the summer, and friends and EG members have been helping the family to clear the house. An avid stitcher and beader, Fay definitely won the competition for "she with the most fabric at the end, wins" so at last week's committee meeting there was a bit of a fund-raising bun fight - with more at the meeting on Saturday. Despite my attempts to declutter and not buy any more STUFF, I confess a fair amount came home with me - including this beautiful darning mushroom.

How could anyone resist?

4. Food
In the name of research, I baked burnt some low-sugar biscuits this morning, using bananas as the sweetener. Hmm.

Hard to judge with the slightly charred edges, but I think they're lacking a certain something. Probably sugar. I'll try again, this time with choc chips not pecans. In other culinary news, I continue to knit my own yoghurt - with more success than with the biscuits.

5. Embroidery (finally!)
I have been inspired to make a bowl.

I should be finishing other things, but you know how it is once you get an idea? I wanted to try and make one using fabric, not water soluble and thread, but not wrapped and coiled, and not one of those folded quilted things with binding and ribbons at the corners, or a hexagonal sort of effort. I wanted it to be completely smooth and rounded.

This is my first attempt, just a small one because I wasn't sure my idea would work, but it is! I wouldn't go any smaller though, it's a pig to stitch as it gets caught under the machine. I need to work out what to do next as well. The outside is all one colour, pale blue, but I want a bit more texture and interest inside.

Onwards! Until Tuesday x

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

W is for what happened to Tuesday?

I'm trying to get myself sorted out (hmm, never said that before...). This blog is on my list of things to sort, as it's been a bit unloved and neglected over the past year.

I've toyed with the idea of doing Gina's Random Crap Monday posts, and I may yet. But for now I've settled on the ambitious target of two posts a week - a Teaching Tuesday and a Five on Friday.

On Teaching Tuesdays I will endeavour to share with you a tip or a technique for machine embroidery (mostly, but I may include other things).

And because I keep mental notes of all the different things that could make a blog post but never get round to posting any of them, it all ends up being sporadic and random. If I do a Five on Friday I can neatly parcel up all the other things I do in a week into one post. (I think a Work on Wednesday post might be pushing things, and I don't like the W word so let's move on!)

So, without further ado, the first Tuesday tip - on a Wednesday, and there are two of them...oh it's going so well....

At the moment I'm working on these little collages I started on holiday. I didn't get very far as it was too windy for collage, and to be honest I was quite happy just sitting in a chair with a glass of wine gazing into the middle distance for most of the time...


I use a paper tearaway stabiliser behind nearly everything I stitch. It works for me. It's cheap, it - er - tears away when you are finished, and it provides a rigid enough support to stitch without a hoop. And in my book that's a good thing. There are times for a hoop, but mostly I try to avoid it.

Always give yourself a generous border - to hold onto firmly, to avoid puckering, and to give yourself room for manoeuvre: 

And here we are with all the machine stitching complete (this is a different collage btw, but similar). You will notice that I have lots of trailing threads. 

Tidying thread ends

Some people pull up the bobbin thread when they start to stitch, some people stitch on the spot to anchor the starting threads. Some people fly by the seat of their pants and leave them all a-trailing. I'm a mix between lazy, fussy and paranoid, and I like to tie my thread ends off neatly on the reverse. 

Firstly, when I start to stitch, I always hold my threads (top and bottom, I don't pull the bobbin through). Sometimes, and if I can, I stitch over the first few stitches again and then trim away the starting threads. If I can't be bothered, or because the stitched line is too fine and doing this would create a blob of stitching, I leave all my threads until I've finished. As I have here:

This is the back. (I quite like the pic from the back, what do you think?). 

So then what do I do? First, what I don't do. I remember being mortified and embarrassed at a class years ago, because after stitching something, I then spent ages with a needle threading all those top threads through to the back to tie off. So don't do that.

What you do is this:

Pull gently on the bobbin thread. The top thread will pull through in a little loop:

and when you have pulled that through, you will have two threads which you can tie off and trim neatly

et voila:

Nice and tidy.

I will now add some little beads by hand, maybe a bit more hand stitching, and when I'm completely happy with everything (ha!) I'll carefully tear off the stabiliser. 

Job done.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Seaweed addict

As regular readers will know, every summer I spend three weeks in a tent by the sea in Brittany and love every moment of it. We all love it, even the whippet. Every day throughout the year, someone in the family will be thinking about it, talking about it or checking the webcam (apart from the whippet, that is). 

This is the view from the, er, viewpoint, at sunset:

Whenever there's a good sunset, people flock up there and take it in turns to snap it. But there are other places to see the sea and the sunset from the campsite:

and it is but a short walk down through the tents and caravans to the beach path, which leads to this endless stretch of lonely loveliness:

The sky, the expanse, the quiet, and - surprisingly - being able to see the horizon - is what I miss most when I come home. Well, and the salted caramel, artisan bread, swimming in the sea, clear air, seafood, sleeping on the ground, the absence of traffic noise...

(We didn't really notice until we came home that there's only one window in the whole house where you can see a natural horizon, not roofs or fences).

Each year I spend a lot of time doing this

trying to avoid being cut off by the tide 

and doing this with the Girl

I've always collected shells, and find it a very mindful and soothing occupation. I've got jars full of them back here now. 

I've also collected seaweed, and attempted to draw it, print with it and so on, as documented herehere and here. But this year I discovered the ultimate use for all that seaweed. Soap!

I've wanted to make soap for years, and have a book on the shelf already. I've obviously bought the tourist seaweed soaps and bath salts, but the chance to learn to make the stuff myself? With seaweed? Who could resist!

Tout en Français, naturally, so slightly terrifying. 

These bowls were just for showing us the different varieties that can be used, but we used dried seaweed for the soap. A third of us were sent into the kitchen to prepare the dried seaweed while the others prepared some fresh seaweed and greased the moulds. I was feeling hopelessly out of my depth, until our little group realised that nobody knew what we were supposed to be doing or had actually listened carefully to the instructions. Just like workshops at home! Luckily it was just to grind up dried seaweed in a coffee grinder, so we all  had a go.

I didn't really get the gist of what could be done with this little lot of ground up fresh seaweed, other than steeping it in olive oil and using it directly on the skin (or you could use the steeped oil for soap making?). We didn't use it on the workshop, but I brought a little pot of it home with me.

Having prepped the seaweed, then long discussions about which oil to use (we went with half olive oil, half rapeseed oil) and which essential oil to add, we finally got to business. 

Here is Florence doing her caustic soda bit:

and eventually, after we cooled the oil that some numpty had overheated, we mixed the soda with the oil and mixed. And mixed. Here it is reaching "trace" (exciting video!)

When it had traced, we added the ground up seaweeds, some green clay and sweet geranium essential oil. It really looked like soup at this point - the ladle didn't help:

The family had been very noble and eaten their way through a pack of vanilla cream pots to provide moulds for my soap, which I then stashed in a jam jar and kept in the boot of the car until we came home. It's now in the airing cupboard, with about another week to go until I can test it. Can't wait! 

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Don't even ask

Yes, we are back from holiday!

I think we've cleared the tidal wave of washing and assorted crap rubbish

We weren't quite sure what to do with these...

and to be honest, a 4kg courgette is going to be mostly string, fluff and seeds.

But the excitement of having my kitchen back (after three weeks of living in a tent) might have gone to my head.

 You see, on holiday I read a little book about traditional cooking and foods. 

 It mentioned doing things with cold porridge. Seemed like a frugal yet wholesome idea (hmm, rubbery...)

looking "good" so far...


At this stage, I laughed out loud even though I was alone in the kitchen.

Hmm, slightly more promising...but taking longer than anticipated to crisp up...

The troops were very dutiful, and they did try them - with honey (disgusting) and with golden syrup ("better").

To be honest, after the Girl ran upstairs clutching her mouth, Mr G and I scoffed the lot. She did enquire after them later in the day, but too late!

So, later there will be the usual photos of Brittany and seaweed and my new obsession, but I just had to get that off my chest. 

Thank you for reading; it's good to be back!

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Summer break

It's been one of those weeks - but aren't they all?

Flat out busy, which has been the story of this year. I'm very aware that this poor blog has been sadly neglected over the past few months. Blame a manic schedule, blame facebook - yes, do that anyway! Facebook is easier and quicker to update, but it's not the same, is it?

I didn't even get around to showing you my pictures from a day trip to Dungeness:

So I hereby promise that when I get back from doing a bit of this

and I'm feeling refreshed and revitalised, normal service will be resumed.

Have a good summer, everyone!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Loose ends

Before I launch head-long into Uckfield Art Trail prep, I need to finish off some loose ends from teaching. I have hand-outs and recipes to email to the Fairwarp crowd (what's more important, how to stitch something or the recipe for the break-time biscuits??) and I need to send photos of the C&G students' work to the Powers That Be so that the displays at school can be updated for the first time in three years.....

So without further ado, here is the wonderful work presented by my students for their C&G Level 2 Award in Machine Embroidery. 

Carole's samples:

and the finished green man:

Fiona's samples:

and her lantern:

(and yes, it did end up a bit bigger than Fiona expected!)

Then Judith's samples:

Judith's finished item was a wedding dress, and the wedding hasn't happened yet so I didn't take any photos! It isn't your standard white meringue dress, it is green, short and multilayered, like a fairy costume. The machine embroidery was the finishing touches, including a corsage and lacing down the back of the bodice. Beautiful!

Morag's samples:

and her finished item, a book about Peter and Paul:

And I LOVE her rationale for making this book! Forgive me Morag, but it's too good not to share...

And finally but by no means last, Vix's gloriously whimsical wall-hanging, featuring the classic childrens' fairy tales:

Can you spot all the fairy tales?

I realised too late that I didn't take photos of Vix's beautifully presented samples, but here is a collage of all the detail from her wall-hanging.

This is Once Upon a Time, and I'm told there's at least one sequel to come....Happily Ever After?! 

I don't know about happily ever after for the students, as they're coming back for more in September (gluttons for punishment) but I am so proud of them for what they have achieved in one year - exhausting, for everyone, but wow, it was worth it wasn't it?!


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