Saturday, 22 December 2012

Last gasp

Having survived beyond 11.11am yesterday, I think I'm about done in now...

This week I:

* sang until my lungs nearly burst at our choir's Christmas concert - but apparently we "nailed" the last note of "NOEL!!!" so it was worth it just for that!

* stuffed my face with sticky toffee cupcakes 

* made an enormous Christmas stocking that my nephew could probably sleep inside (although I've heard he doesn't sleep...)

* sang my heart out again at Church carols

* been overawed and stunned and brought to tears by the Girl and other students (and staff) at the school carol service

* made a shoal of you do...or as I do....

(pattern from this magazine)

* nobly walked the whippet throught the rain (well, most days...)

* had a haircut

* constructed a new wallet for Himself - to be finished this evening (?!) or at some time during the journey between here and wettest westest long as Himself keeps his eyes on the motorway and doesn't try and sneek a peek.  And yes, he will be driving - slipstitching bias binding and negotiating the M4 don't really mix well.

Here is the unfinished wallet, with its very plain outside:

And not so plain inside (excuse pics, taken after dark...)

* cleaned the house

* made plans and preparations for the great Gingerbread House barn-raising, to take place on Christmas Eve.  We decided against prefabricating the walls and roof as we didn't think they'd travel well and that the flaked almond roof tiles would probably fall off.  They do anyway, even without being transported.  So that's the first job for when we arrive at Mother's (well, after a cup of tea)

* Not stopped.  Until now.

So here's wishing everyone - (especially new followers!!) - a wonderful Christmas and I'll see you in the New Year!!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

'tis the season

to be busy...

but not as busy as previous years. 
What have I missed?  Why the blas√© attitude? Yes, I still have to make an enormous Christmas stocking for the youngest nephew, to match the one for his cousin made this time last year and yes I still have lots of presents to order or go find and yes I still have ideas for stitched presents noodling around in my head that I haven't even begun to bring into reality yet...

Maybe it's just because it's been a busy term, and now I've only got one class left to teach, I've wound down so much I've come to a standstill!

Either way, I haven't been doing what I should have been doing, I've been doing this:

cutting up lots of colour copies to make these:

signatures for a hand-made sketchbook:

with painted pages, copies (colour and b&w) and tracing paper.
Quite pleased with this frosty effect:

I'm working myself up to some major pieces of work (!  Sounds so grand!  If only I can pull it off!) for an exhibition next year.  So I'm not really procrastinating, I'm making a start. 

I've actually been attempting to make a start since about October, but don't tell anyone.

I've been using ideas from this book by Sandra Meech.  And it hasn't felt like procrastinating, as I haven't really enjoyed the process's been a bit painful, so I must be on to something...

And finally, talking of painful.  Got in a tantrum the other evening because I never have "time to do what I want to do" but then having carved out some time, of course I didn't know what it was that I wanted to do.  So in desperation I got out my boxes of rejects and offcuts, and made a collage.  Hmph. 

So there.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Bags of books

Having over-achieved last week, I have since spent a week trying to find my desk.  I think I did some time around Friday afternoon, but I seem to have lost it again...

Meanwhile, here is a selection of books from the classes this week.  There will be more finished this coming week, and some pics are on my phone and I have no idea how to retrieve them...techonology, eh?

Jane's autumnal notebook cover - complete with dangly stitched bead a la Emma

Ann's very precise little patchwork notebook cover, awaiting its bead on the end of the cord

Not content with the gorgeous November notebook cover below, Tricia whipped up a photo album cover for a friend (above)

Carole surpassed herself with this pale blue nigella (love in a mist) notebook cover, with three button/cord closure:

Look at those beads! 

And Kathy had very firm ideas on the design for her notebook cover right from the start:

And finally, Tricia's book made from recycled Indian cotton (thank you Oxfam!) - just waiting for its button and some beaded ends...

Stop press!  I've had a rummage in the Drawer of Doom and found a lead to connect my phone to the PC....

Jane's little stab-stitch book - using wallpaper samples (I thought I'd gone a bit mad in Homebase, helping myself to yards of wallpaper samples, but then Jane got her mitts on a huge stack of some altogether more classy samples from John Lewis...)

And last but not least, Caroline's finished sketchbook cover for her daughter.

Phew!  There are more, and were more, but some people are coy and hide things away before I can snap a photo.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Anti-ageing Amulet

How to run yourself ragged in under a week whilst making a Mightily Significant Birthday Gift in 10 easy steps

Step 1.
Go on a course with Libby Smith and be totally inspired by her Indian bags and tassels and Afghan amulets.

Step 2.
Despite only completing 1/8 of a hand-stitched and hand-beaded tassel (to go with the equally unfinished Indian spice bag begun last time Libby came to do a workshop) decide that very evening to make an "Afghan Amulet" for Mother's 70th Birthday - and present it to her at the Birthday Weekend.  In six days time. 

Nothing like a deadline.

Step 3.
Decide that the amulet will be inspired by Mother's many travels - including but not limited to Pakistan, India, Mongolia, China, Kenya, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Tibet, Australia (she's just returned from trekking in the Himalayas) and will symbolise in stitch all that she means to us, as her children and grandchildren - and her stepchild, as in my case she literally "stepped in" to be my mother when I was just five years old.
Step 4.
Spend a whole day dithering over which symbols to use for each person in her immediate family, and decide to use African Adinkra symbols.  Spend yet more time consulting with siblings and obtaining approval.
Step 5.
Gather all materials - African fabric (hoarded for years), cowrie shells (ditto), lots of beads - including previous presents from Mum of painted beads from Peru, and tiny African beads she bought from a Masai tribesman, Indian shisha mirrors (to deflect the evil eye), silk from an old blouse Mum passed on to me, Indian sari silk scraps, various and many embroidery threads...etc and so on.

Step 6.
Begin.  Just begin, just do it.  No time to think anymore, just get on with it!  And yes, hand-stitching is slow and hurts your fingers but stop whineing and just do it woman...

You'll notice from the light in some of the photos that a lot of work was done "after-hours".....

Step 7.
Stop to teach three machine embroidery classes, total of 8 hours not including prep and travel.

Step 8.
Finish at 4.32pm on the Friday you are supposed to be travelling to Dorset for the Birthday Weekend.  And remember, you are taking the evening meal, the Birthday Cake, the soup for Saturday lunch, some fizzy candles and you need to pack some clothes and the Child and the Husband, and dispose (temporarily) of the Dog.

Step 9.
Stand back and admire, briefly:

The finished amulet

The top - note crocodiles (adaptability), paddle (strength), adinkra circle (leadership), cocoa pod (hospitality) and tassels with five cowrie shells to represent Ma and her siblings...

Nine diamonds to represent children, spouses and offspring:
Brother: education and lifelong learning (he works for a University)
Brother's wife: excellence, authenticity, genuineness (she's a whizz at spreadsheets!)
Brother's son: fondness, love, parental discipline
Me: wisdom (?!), creativity
Mr G: independence, freedom (self-employed...nuff said)
The Girl: child of Heaven (I'm saying nothing....), guardianship
Sister: love, harmony, faithfulness (always)
Sister's husband: law, justice (he's a solicitor...)
Sister's son: love, safety, security

And of course, there are 70 beads on the three cords holding the diamonds and tassels.

Never mind the Four Hour Week, how about the Four Hour Tassel!  Not kidding!

Step 10.
Present to Ageing Mother.

I think she liked it.  She did wonder where to put it, and I think we've decided on a spot on the wall above the telephone. 

(Then the Girl piped up and said it would be useful, because it would be nice to look at if you were on the 'phone to someone boring...)

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Machine embroidery, tamed

At last, I remembered to take my camera to class last week.  So here are some quick pics of what we've been up to - all complete beginners (apart from Morag).

These are some of the finished pieces using quilting, couching and twin-needle action, courtesy of





and Sarah's practice piece...


and here is one of Vix's first attempts at free machining (I'm told this is a work-in-progress!)

and Morag stitched herself a colour wheel without being asked!

So yes, we are slowly taming the machine embroidery beast, helped along by the results of our little survey!

Thank you to everyone who took the time and trouble to complete the survey - it's really appreciated.  It was hugely interesting reading all the comments and suggestions, so a quick summary is in order:
  • 40% of you are OK with machine embroidery until things go wrong, then you get stuck
  • Nobody is problem-free - not even the "pros" for some of whom the problem is not knowing what to stitch.  Another problem I hear all the time: "is this stitching with teeth up or teeth down?"
  • The joint biggest problems (after "other") are threads breaking and shredding, and tension issues - who knows, maybe one problem is causing the other?!
In conclusion, I recommend we SNORTT in the face of machine embroidery problems (have to admit, the Girl helped me with this one....)

S  is for Stabilise

The fabric needs to be as firm or taut as you can make it for free-machining - with a hoop or stabiliser, or just naturally firm.  If it isn't you may have problems with skipped stitches, puckering fabric and so on.

N is for Needle

If in doubt - change the needle. 
You should always use a large-eye or topstitch needle for machine embroidery, and they say you should change it (a) when switching to metallic thread, or a different type of thread (the eye wears differently according to the thread) and (b) after about five hours of solid stitching.  If you change to a new needle with each new project, many of your current woes will never arise.  If like me you forget to do this (mostly because I jump from project to sample to project and don't work on one thing at a time) and you start to have problems with the thread shredding or skipping - change the needle.  Use a large (100/16) needle for metallic and delicate threads - it will make a bigger hole through the work so the thread won't get worn and shred so quickly.

O is for Oil (and clean)

You wouldn't believe the dust-bunnies I've seen emerge from behind the little bobbincase door...

If your machine is beginning to get noisy and rattly, then a jolly good clean-out and oil is in order.  Check the manual for how and where.  This will also remove loose threads and other gunk, and make stitching a whole lot smoother and easier.

R is for Rethread or Reroute thread

If the thread is snapping, then something is more than slightly amiss with your tension - most likely the thread has got caught or snagged up somewhere, probably around the spool pin.  Some very shiny threads are appalling at just falling off the reel.  A quick fix is to put the thread in a jar, old mug or plastic tub behind your machine, instead of on the spool holder.  Sometimes threads are particularly bouncy and can bounce out of the tension discs or the little catch just above the needle - so if you are having problems with tension, check this hasn't happened.  If in doubt, take the thread off and rethread everything - from scratch, not just the bit that goes through the needle....We had a horrendous case of skipped stitches in class the other day, and it turned out that the bobbin had been wound very loosely - sometimes this happens during winding and you won't notice it until you start to have problems stitching, so rethreading includes rewinding the bobbin if necessary as well.

T is for Tension

For the spool, a high number is tight - and a low number is loose.  Usually.  Always loosen it one notch from "normal" for free machining, and another notch for using metallic or delicate threads.  Loosening the top tension is kinder on delicate threads, and allows it to be drawn through the fabric a little so the bobbin thread will not show.  If you do want the bobbin to show, for example with whip stitch, then you need to tighten the tension - and use a stronger thread that won't snap under pressure!

Sometimes you can't avoid adjusting the bobbin tension, particularly if you want to have a go at cable stitch (using thicker threads in the bobbin - like Carol Naylor).  You just need to locate the tiny tension screw on the edge of the bobbin case, and the most important thing is to remember which way to turn it:


well, that and not dropping the tiny little screw onto the carpet...

and finally,

T is for Technique

While problems never disappear and threads will shred for anyone, needles will always break if you hit hard things (like beads, wire, fingers...) and machines will always need cleaning and oiling, a lot of problems will diminish with time and practice.  One of the biggest problems with free machining and one that can easily cause puckering and broken needles, is learning how to coordinate the speed of the machine with the speed you move your work.  Move too fast and you may break a needle; move too slow and you may have problems with thread build up and lumps and bumps.  And another easy one that I find is easily overlooked - and something that was mentioned a lot in the survey - don't forget to hold your threads when you start to stitch!  I think it is becoming easier to forget this, as a lot of the new machines let you get away with it - but with free machine embroidery you ALWAYS have to do this, as there is no pressure between the needle and the fabric holding the threads in place.

Finally, if you do find you have a major bird's nest under your work, you've forgotten to put the presser foot lever down.  Happens to us all.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Creativity Pod

I finished the small woolly object started last week - it is hereby named a Creativity Pod! 

I made it for Himself, for his birthday.

It opens up to reveal the pebbly treasure within:


the idea being that you then arrange the pebbles in whatever way you wish. 

It's a right-brain activity (as in right-brain thinking in pictures, left-brain thinking in words) and it's designed to (a) soothe a frazzled head that's been doing too much left-brain thinking, and (b) help with creative right-brain non-linear thinking...

I had the idea back in August when we were in Brittany, playing with pebbles on the beach...and reading this book when back at the tent.  She suggests doing something similar with coins, but I thought pebbles would be more tactile and meaningful!

This is the first of two explanations from my last few posts; the second explanation for the machine embroidery survey will be along in a day or so once I've analysed my results. The survey is still open (I can't work out how to close it....) so if you haven't taken part yet, please do!

Friday, 9 November 2012



....from the deepest darkest depths of the car storage bins under the floormats....(how long have we been back from holiday?)

Destined to become part of a Birthday Present for a Certain Poet...(and yes, he's a bit Uncertain about quite what his present is going to be...and nervous...)

On my way back from fetching felting wool to make the other part of the Birthday Present, from the Little House at the end of the garden, I found this forgotten treasure:

It came with a bonus earwig...

Meanwhile, the wool is slowly working itself into a receptacle for treasure:

(and yes, with the Birthday imminent, I'm supposed to be helping it along at the moment and not writing blog posts)

But I just had to show you this other treasure, that arrived in the post yesterday:

Just how wonderful is that?  I'm so lucky! 
Thank you Anne!

There was even bonus treasure, wrapped around the parcel:

Wonderful stuff!

And even more treasure in the afternoon, from my class:

from Ann and Tricia, working hard to perfect their organza flowers over half-term...

But of course, the biggest and best treasure of all is:

....also the naughtiest Whippet.

He's not allowed up the stairs, but this was Bonfire Night so exceptions were made....

Still naughty though!