Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Teaching Tuesday - owls, butterflies and teapots

Goodness, where does the time go. Right. No messing about. We've practiced our free machining, and now we're ready to stitch something slightly more interesting than wiggly lines.

How about a bit of applique? 

A while ago now, I forget when, I invented a sort of composite fabric (when I say I invented it, I probably didn't and lots of other people may have been doing this too, but I don't remember seeing it anywhere else).

You get a sheet of Bondaweb iron-on double-sided fusible stuff, pin it to your ironing board (it curls) with the rough gluey side up, and proceed to cover it with all sorts of fabric scraps - all those ridiculously small bits you keep in plastic pots because they're too nice to throw away...only me? Oh dear.

Make sure you overlap the pieces, you don't want gluey stuff getting onto your iron. I think this is Libby's piece:

When you are done, iron the whole lot - use baking parchment above and below for good measure (I've now written "baking parchment!" on the iron I take to class - we live in hope!)

Almost too good to cut up, Maggie!

Then you can draw whatever you will on the reverse papery side, 

cut it out, 

peel off the backing paper, and iron it in place onto your background. 
Here are some cut and ironed-on owls with vacant stares, ready for the next stage! 

I wouldn't use a hoop for this sort of thing, I use a paper stabiliser underneath my background fabric. Sort your machine for free machining as before, and start to stitch - a smidge inside the edge of the shape, rather than right on the edge. I use a black thread, but you don't have to. It does define the shape though. 

I stitch several times around each shape, and I try and stitch all the details - eyes, beak, ears, toes - in one go. So you need to work out how you are going to do this, without too many lines going across places you don't want them. You may need to stop and start again somewhere else.

When I explained this, Morag said that all her animals would be wearing spectacles...

So this is what we tried in class, all completely unique to each person - from the shape chosen, to the mix of fabrics.





Carole, again

A different Carole...who didn't actually use the Bondaweb fabric method, but jumped straight in and cut her fabrics separately - but we won't tell!!

What I love about doing this is the random mix of colours - you couldn't plan that.

Vix again. Superb!

NB My owl's eyes are made from white fabric with a Bondaweb backing, cut out with a hole punch before removing the paper (trés fiddly). The pupils will be black beads sewn on at the very end, by hand.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Five on Friday

Another very busy week, busy doing and learning lots of different things - but I can honestly say that this week has been "life changing". Apologies in advance, I'm a bit excitable this morning and using too many capital letters...

1. On Saturday, I took a workshop with Carole Waddle, "anything weaves". And so it does. These are her samples:

But this is mine. I didn't get very far (as is the way with workshops)

but I learnt all about HALF HITCHES and BUTTERFLIES. I had to shout that, as I'm so EXCITED about this! We warped up our frames and used a lot of half-hitch knots. Excellent, nothing ground breaking there. Until we started to talk about the weaving itself - and to stop your threads trailing, you can use a bobbin - not really like these beautiful ones I found in France at Easter, a bit more pointy:

And (this is the life changing bit) to stop your thread falling off the bobbin, you use - you guessed it - a half-hitch knot. The thread still unravels, but the knot keeps it from falling off. That is so clever!

Then we talked about what to do if you don't have any fancy schmancy bobbins - so apparently you can make thread butterflies. WHO KNEW?? Well, lots of people probably - every needlewoman and man out there but me, it seems. Not everyone on the course could actually do them, but they all knew about them. Apart from me.


When I stitch braids and cords on the machine, I can only do them in 3m lengths because I have to drape the thread around my shoulders and across the furniture - any longer, and I get in a huge muddle. NO MORE!

So now my loose threads in my thread basket are all going to be in little butterflies, and when I put a bobbin or loose spool of thread aside - something without a notch to anchor the thread - I'm going to put in a half-hitch and be very very smug.

2. I've been reading "59 Seconds: Think a little, change a lot" by Richard Wiseman (love that, when someone's name describes their occupation, in this case Professor) and I've just got to the bit about motivating children...and finally, I think I understand why my beautiful, talented daughter finds it such a struggle to get going a lot of the time, and  why we feel like banging our heads against the wall with frustration. We struggle to see any self-motivation for playing her musical instruments (even though she loves them), with homework, with so many things - and these are all things she enjoys and is good at...yes, yes, we've a teenager on our hands, but still. Something wasn't right.

According to the research, trying to motivate people by saying they are talented and clever, is a complete no-no. It leads to perfectionism, a lack of perseverance, an avoidance of challenge, and a feeling of hopelessness when something goes wrong. WHY DON'T THEY TELL PARENTS THIS STUFF? For 13 years, we've been doing it all WRONG!

You are supposed to praise EFFORT, as well as concentration and organisational skills. This leads to a willingness to face challenges, put in the hard work, a feeling of achievement with success and an ability to shrug off and rationalise more disappointing results. Gah!

3. I continue to stitch my teaching samples for the coming year, and I'm loving every minute.

I'm not working for the Local Authority any more, just me - so instead of sitting in front of a computer writing out pages of planning documents, I'm STITCHING my scheme of work! Hooray!

4. Our EG chairman gave me a marrow. Here it is, lurking ominously in the fridge:

I successfully dodged one after the committee meeting, but she got me in the end. Cake? Three of the darn things, baking right now.

I'm going to freeze a lot, but we'll be eating this for months. I've only used a third of the torpedo! There was no call for baked stuffed marrow this week, and we don't really eat that much chutney...

5. I've been very good so far this term. I've been using my pomodoro to get my work done, and I've been able to shut up my cupboard at the end of the day. So we go from this (see the whippet? Bin lorry outside...scary, but must look to check...no brain...)

to this:

No heaps of stuff on the end of the table! We've turned the table around, so I lost my corner for stacking stuff* - and I have to shut my desk cupboard so that the Girl can eat her dinner in her place at the table. My head feels so much clearer, because I start each day fresh, and don't work in the detritus of the day before. Ha! Let's see how long it lasts...

* confession: since drafting this post, there seems to be a bit of a mini heap at the far end of the table...it's started

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Teaching Tuesday - where are these lines going anyway?

In a previous life, I was a junior school teacher. One of the things I remember having to do on my PGCE, and subsequently inflicting on the children in my classes, was to talk about "travelling" in PE.

Basically, you get a load of children in a school hall, and ask them to "travel" across the room, or from one bench to another, or across a series of mats or obstacles. They then devise different methods of "travelling" (forward rolls, walking backwards, hopping etc) without bumping into anyone else. It's one of those things that you try to forget, but pops up again years later - when teaching machine embroidery, f'rinstance.

So, how are we going to travel across our calico (or whatever we're stitching on) today? Ideally you work this out before you start, or at least have some idea.

The sewing machine stitches a continuous line and with free machining, we have total control over where that line is going. But to be able to make it look like something, or outline a shape with many parts, you need to work out beforehand how you will travel across the fabric - i.e. how you will join up the different shapes and lines with your one continuous line.

The dreaded vermicelli is a line that needs thinking about - trying not to back yourself into a corner

Junior school teacher again - look at that handwriting practice...

Stars, hearts, and other little shapes all need to be joined somehow and somewhere. Sometimes you will need to double-back along your line - that's fine, and adds to the charm.

If you don't work out how you're going to travel before you start, this sort of thing happens:

Not sure where the deely boppers came from...

Next week, my new way of using up all those hoarded little scraps of fabric. Ahem:

Friday, 19 September 2014

Five on Friday

1. We had a cake crisis last weekend i.e. there wasn't any, so I invented a quick scoffable teatime cake:

I scaled down the lemon polenta cake recipe from here by only using one egg, and added blackberries instead of blueberries. I managed to get six cupcakes out of the mix, which cooked in about 25 minutes. Oh yes, I also picked my first kilo of blackberries - at last! 

2. The Girl succeeded in her audition for the South Downs Youth Orchestra, and so now Mr G and I have to find something to do for 2½ hours in Lewes, with all its wine bars and eateries, every Friday evening. Shucks, life is hard.

3. I had the notion to do an "imagery survey" of my house. Something to do with finding my visual language. I took an empty sketchbook (well, it was almost empty, so I ripped out the two pages of chicken sketches from 6 years ago) and wandered around the house drawing whatever caught my eye.

I tried to make a record of colours, as well as shapes and details.

Then I painted the pages.

I haven't finished yet! More another time.

4. I faced my sketchbook fear, and used some of my discoveries from my survey to draw a couple of pages, just off the top of my head, no planning:

I'm very pleased with them. I can see these becoming stitched panels, without any further ado. In fact, I said to Mr G "this is easy - why do I make it so hard for myself?" to which there was no answer...

5. I've started work on sampling ideas for the teaching year ahead. This half term we are concentrating on free machining. Hopefully we will progress smoothly from appliqued owls and such, to thread painting - which sounds terrifying to those who say they can't draw or paint, but I've found that if you just keep stitching like a mad woman, all will be well:

There's probably a little bit more to it than that, but let's not scare the troops before we've even started!

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.