Thursday, 12 September 2019

Back to school

Or not! This September marks the end of an era and the start of new adventures: my Girl is going to leave home to go to university! When I started this blog, she was only nine years old...

(with her great-grandmother, at my sister's wedding)

All through May and June we were both absorbed with exams: she was sitting them, I was invigilating. We were both slaves to the timetable and the alarm clock. Since then, she's been at home (or at orchestra or on tour with orchestra or on holiday) and our days have lacked routine or structure. Since our short holiday in France in August, I've started to try and claw back some sort of discipline. It's been hard, but I know that we have to get ourselves sorted out before Girl leaves. I'm a night owl, so without a routine I think I'm in danger of becoming nocturnal! She's received her uni timetable today, so that's been a bit of a kick for me to get myself sorted.

And whenever we return from camping in a tent and existing in shorts and T shirts, the return to a house with wardrobes and cupboards and furniture and stuff always prompts a massive declutter. Even though I do it every year, we still have far too much stuff. I've been very inspired by the idea of minimalist living, although I'm not sure I'm quite ready to go that far - I just like watching YouTube videos of Scandinavians living in their beautiful white houses with wonderful empty space, woolly blankets and pot plants that aren't desiccated from neglect like mine.

The other major change that will be upon us once Girl leaves, is our Saturdays. For ten years we've spent Saturdays taking it in turns to either do the orchestra/choir taxi service, or to stay behind and clean the house. Now our Saturdays will be free (if I'm not teaching...) we don't want to spend our weekends doing chores. I've tried various systems for getting the housework done in the past, and nothing has stuck. The most complicated system I ever found was the Fly Lady system, and I didn't even last a day - but that was before I found Diane in Denmark!

Via my noodling on YouTube, I came across Diane's videos. She uses the Fly Lady system, but the way she explains it suddenly makes so much sense. So far, I'm three weeks in and the house is (mostly) clean and staying clean. And the best thing is, I don't spend hours doing it. The second best thing is my YouTube feed is now suggesting all sorts of other cleaning/organising/hygge videos, so I'm wallowing in a bingefest of Scandi inspiration!

I've tweaked the system to suit me: for example, I've designated Thursday (today) as my "plan and play" day. I've just started a new Tai Chi class and (a) it starts early, so I have to set my alarm (good for getting back on schedule) (b) it's very close to one of my favourite places, Wakehurst Place. So after Tai Chi, I pop along to Wakehurst for a coffee and a walk. Lovely.

When my weekly class starts in a few weeks on a Wednesday, Thursday Tai Chi and coffee will be my reward for the next day! (The "plan" part is to sit down with Mr Gonecycling and plan the weekend and week ahead and decide what we want to eat etc.)

I'm also trying to implement my own version of the system in the studio. The key is to have morning and evening routines, and then a theme for each week in a month, and a theme for each day in a week. Let's just say it's a work in progress! I'm doing slightly better with my themed weeks than I am with my routines: I decided last week was newsletter, and this week is blog - so here I am!

The main thing I've learnt from Diane in Denmark, is to avoid the temptation to do everything at once - start simple and build the habit first - which is why the routines are so important. The first and most important thing you do is to "shine your sink". That way, even if wheels are falling off all over the place, your kitchen sink is shiny and clean and you feel at least some measure of control!

I've been trying to work out what the "shiny sink" equivalent is in my studio - is it to draw every day, no matter what? Or is it to stitch every day? What ONE thing can I do that will make me feel as if I'm on top of things? And it has to be very very easy to do...

It probably should be stitch, because that's what I do...but stitch means getting stuff out, and switching on the machine and so on. Whereas drawing/sketchbook is as easy as picking up a pen or pencil. Or is it the literal equivalent of shining my sink - tidying my desk? That's tricky! I still wouldn't be creating anything! I'd love to know what your ONE thing is, your "non-negotiable"? Let me know!

So far I've managed both the sketchbook and the stitch, but certainly not everyday. Here's what I've achieved so far:

Six little paintings based on a method suggested by artist Louise Fletcher

A little card

It's not a lot, but at least I've created! The card was a bonus from the painting - I saved the masking tape that I used to divide up my sketchbook page, et voila, new material to play with. I sealed it with acrylic wax, because I'd used charcoal on the paintings.

If like me you're fascinated by how other people organise their time, this is a great book: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work.*

So there's a couple more weeks when I can indulge myself in all this, but then I'm going to have to crack right on, new routines and timetables ready or not. I'm just trying to retain a sense of some calm and space for as long as I can before life gets hectic again!

(*this is an affiliate link, so if you buy I'll get about 2p for recommending it!)

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

The Great Outdoors and other adventures

Hello everyone,

Well I think I've defrosted! When Maggie Grey invited me to take part in the Brockenhurst Needlework Fiesta, I immediately thought "New Forest: Camping". What could go wrong?! When I decided to cancel the emergency back-up B&B, the weather was (admittedly unseasonably) warm. When I started to pack up my camping things ready for my weekend in the New Forest, there were yellow warning forecasts for strong wind from Storm Hannah!

I arrived in good time in the afternoon to set up the Green Cornet (as my husband calls it - it's actually called a Green Cone, not very original). The tipi hadn't been used since last summer, when we use it for an overnight tent on our first and last nights in Brittany, as the big tent is such a palaver to deal with. I'd forgotten that we'd detached all the little loops and toggles that connect the fly sheet to the inner, so first I had to do that. Then I had to tighten all the guys as much as possible. Then I unzipped the front ready to put my things in, and found that I'd forgotten to attach the central toggle that holds the inner up to the full height of the pole. So yes, I had to undo all the guys, take down the pole, attach the toggle, and tighten everything up again.

By the time I was all set inside and out, I was exhausted but it was time to go to the village hall to set up my stand. By then the adrenaline had kicked in, so I got everything set up remarkably easily, including the pieces of work on the wall which usually take ages to arrange, and I think it all looked quite good!

Back to the tipi for a glass of wine and some bolognese I'd brought from home, then time (and it did take time, thanks to the wind) to boil some water for a hot water bottle and tuck myself in for the night. And boy, was it windy! The wind dropped a little bit initially, but around 2am it started to build up. Luckily the tipi shape means the wind goes around, so the tent was solid and stable but it was a bit drafty. Half way through the night I threw one of the picnic blankets on the floor over me, on top of my other two blankets and wool duvet. I slept well after that, and woke to a beautiful sunny morning - if still a little breezy - and to see a large herd of deer gathered on the far side of the campsite in the morning sun.

View across the campsite towards my pitch

The first day of the show was wonderful - so many visitors, and a lot of interest in what I'm doing. I sold many creativity packs ( I love making them), my new book, and my cards. I'd taken some painted collage backgrounds that I started to stitch while people chatted to me, which was all going well until I thought someone had turned the lights out. Then I realised that no, it was my sewing machine. Again. I'd taken my middling machine, which until October was my main machine, and it's been in for repairs twice already this year to replace the power board. And I thought third time lucky. But as soon as the screen flickered, I knew it was a goner!

So the next day (after a much quieter night in the Green Cornet once the storm had passed) with the sewing machine packed away, I rearranged my stand but then didn't know what to do with myself. I ended up buying some gorgeous hand-dyed felt from 21st Century Yarns, and started to stitch something by hand, just to keep my hands busy!

Sunday brought even more visitors, more enquiries about workshops, more creativity packs, books and cards sold, and of course the New Forest is a wonderful place to visit - what could be better? So yes! I'm doing it all over again next year. And yes, I think I will camp again, and I've made a note to take a hat and gloves next time. And I'll be taking my newest Bernina - Old Faithful was declared properly dead on the Monday after I got back, and has been replaced with a New Shiny (wiping out my profits, but it had to be done). And because it takes the new bigger bobbins, like the other Bernina beast that lives on my desk, I spent a happy morning unwinding all the old silver bobbins (over 70!!) getting ready to pass them on to friends.

Because this was a Ramster year (the embroidery exhibition is every two years) I have been making cards since January to make sure I had enough for both Ramster and Brockenhurst. I've also taught five workshops, so it's a bit odd to stop now. That said, there's no rest for the wicked. I have another workshop next weekend, then a talk, a few more things later this year, and next year I'm in danger of running out of Saturdays. There are many, many things in the pipeline - so if you haven't signed up to my new newsletter, please do to stay in the loop of what I'm doing and where I'm going! Click here to join up.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, 15 March 2019

Philosophy in Five - on Friday

I've spent a lot of the last few weeks making cards - endless cards! I've made close to 100 handmade, stitched cards for sale at the Ramster embroidery exhibition taking place over the next two weeks, and also for my stand at Brockenhurst in April. I've been on a roll, making these little miniatures, as well as a few larger unframed pieces for the browsers.

So it's inevitable that having delivered my work to Ramster on Monday, I came a bit unstuck as to what to do next. It's not that there's nothing I should be doing, I've just lost the momentum of preparing for an imminent deadline.

At times like this, I tend to flit from one task to another, and all I can do is stick with it, keep doing, and eventually something will gather enough momentum to hold my attention for more than a day and then I'm off again.

So here's what I've been doing - and by writing them down, I realise that yeah, maybe they are more linked than random, and together I think they sum up my creative philosophy quite nicely:

1. Use what you have

In my general pottering about the studio, picking things up and putting them down again, I bought a new box of tissues. I was about to recycle the old box but I was struck by the patterns (it was no accident that I chose that brand and that box at the time). So I rummaged in my little heap of scraps for some things I could combine and had a little play. I'm not sure what happens next, but I think it'll involve punching stitching holes and using bright thread.

2. Just because something is broken and discarded doesn't mean it isn't beautiful

I've also been working my way through my growing collection of broken jewellery and beads - removing findings, cleaning up, cutting strings to get at the little lovelies. I've been starting to edge some of my embroideries with beads and dangles, and want to do more. I'll package up the surplus beads with fabrics (see below).

3. Second-hand fabric is nearly always more interesting than new

And I've been having a high old time, creating huge messes on the floor, cutting the selvedges and cuffs and collars off my stash of second-hand goodies.

I even save the little strips from folded cuffs and hems - perfect for cards and miniatures.

These fabrics will all find their way into my creations, and the surplus will go into more Creativity Packs. I made some packs a while ago (too long ago - I love doing it, so I don't know why I haven't done any more!) and they flew out of the Etsy shop - so these next packs will be for sale at Brockenhurst.

4. Buy one get one free - don't overlook the freebies - also known as Use Everything

Cutting up clothes yields buttons and trims, and I've now got a new cowl/scarf because I bought it for the lacy edge (now removed and stowed in the stash) and kept the rest! I'm wearing it today, and it's my new favourite thing.

Also, the scraps from cutting up every little bit will go back to the charity shop, because they can get money from selling rag. The best selvedges I will save and use - for tying boxes shut, tying bundles, making cords, or using in embroideries.

5. Colour is wonderful

I also took some time yesterday (OK, all day) to cut skeins of white cotton thread (from a massive cone I found in a charity shop years ago) and dye it. I dyed some cotton fabric at the same time, to mop up the excess dye. I am not an expert dyer, and I don't do it frequently enough to have a good system - which is why it takes so long! - but I'm loving the results. Again, these will be on my stand at Brockenhurst in some form or other - in my embroidery, in miniatures/cards, or for sale separately or in the Creativity Packs.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Gender, Justice and Security

Well there's an unusual title for you, not my usual thing.

In my last post I shared all my latest news, but there was one thing I left off the list - a project which has now gone live, so now I can share it!

I was approached by LSE (London School of Economics and Political Science) for permission to use an image of my work on an internal publication, and also a web page for a new research hub - and I was absolutely delighted to agree.

Coming from a family background where most people do "proper jobs", including a fair few who have worked or still work in academia themselves, including close friends of the family who have reached the top echelons, somehow this feels like a bit of validation for what I'm doing! And I'm honoured that the image is being used for such an important topic.

The announcement by LSE is here, and the research hub itself is here.

They wanted to use embroidery for the banner image, explaining that "embroidery is significant both because it is a traditionally female craft and also because development agencies often support women to learn textile skills as a way to earn money after conflict or displacement."

From the LSE announcement:

The UKRI GCRF Gender, Justice and Security Hub will work extensively with civil society groups, practitioners, governments and international organisations to advance gender justice and inclusive peace in developing developing an evidence-base around gender, justice and inclusive security in conflict-affected societies....the Hub will also connect with leading ambassadors for gender justice to turn research insights into ongoing actions that will improve lives.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Many things

Many things to tell you! I always tell myself "I'll write a blog post about that" and then time gets away from me again, and then another thing happens and I say "I'll add that to the blog post I was going to write about that other thing"...and so on.

Where to start?!


Just before Christmas I had a very exciting meeting with Becky Drinan from Dot to Dot Studio in East Hoathly, East Sussex. Becky is the dressmaking tutor who taught Jade the Girl with the Bright Red Hair, youngest ever participant and finalist in the 2016 BBC Great British Sewing Bee.

Anyway, back to Dot to Dot. We've agreed three dates for one-day machine embroidery workshops for this coming year, with yours truly teaching up to 8 people a little project in the Dot to Dot studio.

The first workshop is Saturday 13 April, making little books with appliqué covers and stitched cord fastenings.

These are great little book covers for using up all your snippets and oddments of fabric, practising free motion embroidery, and learning how to stitch a cord. Your little book could become a needlecase (easiest) or a cover for a handmade paper book, or a reusable slip cover (a little more involved - for the keen!).

The second workshop on 17 August is machine embroidered landscapes - again, using lots of scraps of fabrics and different threads and fibres to create either an imagined landscape, or maybe recreate a favourite place in stitch.

In the third workshop on 23 November we will be making embroidered Christmas baubles!

To book your place with Dot to Dot please click here.

Exhibition 1

In 2017 I exhibited at Ramster for the very first time, and I'm going to be there again this year. The show runs every day from 16 to 31 March, and is well worth a visit - two gorgeous old halls in a stately home, absolutely packed with embroidered textiles. Much of the work is for sale, and there are always hundreds of artist cards to choose from, unframed pieces of work, and other bits and bobs for sale.

I think I will enter my purple swirl

and my two little birdie pieces that I've been working on recently. Here's the first one (sorry the photo isn't great, I blame the lack of daylight!)

Exhibition 2

Maggie Grey has kindly invited me to take part in the Brockenhurst Needlework Fiesta in the New Forest on 27 and 28 April. I'll be exhibiting and selling work, as well as handmade cards and packs of goodies. I've never been to the Fiesta before, but I know it's a popular event - and I love the New Forest! The last time I was there we were camping at Easter, and our tent zip froze. While we were struggling with frozen fingers to escape into the frosty morning, we were taunted by the smell of sizzling bacon from all the cosy campervans and caravans. I've booked a B&B, but I am tempted to take my little tipi and won't be that cold, will it? It's nearly May! 

I've also given one talk already this year, and one workshop, with another three workshops and a talk to come - all before Ramster kicks off!

So at the moment I am VERY BUSY trying to make enough things for all these different things, and keep all the plates spinning! But busy is good, and it takes my mind off politics, albeit temporarily.


Back in November I did a couple of little questionnaires asking for your thoughts about what I'm up to, and also about the creative process. Thank you to everyone who took the time to take my little surveys - the results were really interesting to read and very encouraging!

The results of the creativity survey are being compiled into a project that I've had ticking over for a while now. I have a Big Idea about the creative process, in particular how to get "unstuck", and also how to make your work "better" (something that is also hard to define).

Personally, I get stuck all the time - and I'm a master procrastinator, so I have much experience in this area! Can you tell?!

As a tutor, I like to think that I help people to get the best out of their stitching when they come to one of my classes or a workshop. I've worked with many many people now, and I can usually tell where people need a little prod to produce really wonderful work.

The problem is, do I turn this project into a mini online course? A mini book? A longer course? A longer book?! Maybe I'll do them all. When I've got a moment.

Thank you for reading!