Sunday, 24 May 2020

Corralling Ideas

As well as sketchbooks for, well, sketching, I have a collection of themed A4 spiral-bound sketchbooks that are more like "inspiration" books. There's a book for:
  • Inspiration from nature, landscape, science, ancient history (e.g. stone carvings) - you could call this Primary Sources, as there's nothing in here that has been interpreted by an artist.
  • Secondary sources of inspiration: pics of other artists' work, postcards, magazine clippings of imagery and patterns that I like e.g. ceramics, printed textiles
  • Instructions for textile projects: clippings from textile magazines showing various artists' techniques that might be useful for future reference
  • Information book: a scrap book (now into it's third volume) of anything that may be useful for future reference (such as how to plan a vegetable plot rotation, or how to make soap) to inspiring quotes and tidbits of random knowledge. 
  • Ideas book: a more portable A5 book (also in three volumes) where I noodle with ideas, sketching out how to make something. I also use a variety of smaller Moleskine journals and notebooks that go with me in my handbag or slip into a back pocket when I go for a walk.  
  • Artist cards bought at exhibitions (these overflow into a box, too!)
Here's a quick flip through some of my collection:

Music: Bossanova
Ilya Truhanov

See those artist cards at the end? If you're like me and have your own collection of cards that you can't bring yourself to send to other people (come on, I'm not alone am I?!) there's a really interesting exercise you can do with them - for another time. 

Every now and then, I try and clear the backlog of things that I've cut out to be stuck in the relevant book. Once I've finally cleared the backlog (!) my intention is to have ONE book and just put everything in that. We'll see!

Because I'm so behind, and some things have just been rammed in loosely to be stuck in at a later date, I can come across totally random and wonderful ideas that I'd completely forgotten about. 

Today I came across an idea for some reverse appliqué, and an idea for making embroidered felt cuffs. The felt cuff idea is at least 17 years ago, because I remember wearing a prototype to a particular family party when my daughter was two years old. 

It's almost like having a diary (something I've never stuck at). Every now and then, I come across something that that reminds me of what I was doing at the time, and how I was feeling. Today I came across a list that just made me hoot with laughter. I might (or might not) share it another time; it has fruity language!

On the one hand, maybe I don't need all these books. You could say if I haven't done something by now, then I never will. But then again, I feel inspired now just by having a leaf through. Never mind decluttering my sock drawer, I'm a lost cause for hoarding ideas! 

How do you keep track of all your ideas and inspirations? Do you manage to keep up with yourself, or are you always playing catch-up?! Let me know!

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Field Notes

Once again, I'm on a mission to discover exactly what it is I want to create and what it is I want to say. In fact, this whole blog, particularly the early days, is record of my attempts to do just that. After a few years, teaching took over, then producing work for Art Trail and other exhibitions, and I got caught up in the doing and demonstrating and trying to keep up with all the things I said yes to; I lost the time to reflect on what I actually want to do. So here we go again.

This week I've been paying attention to what I pay attention to...kinda circular! I've been out trespassing away, noticing what I notice. I've taken a lot of photos of weeds, and I've even sat in the middle of a field of them and sketched them.

I like the empty skies, the empty fields, the physical mass of the woods as viewed from the track approaching them. I like the sound and feel of the wind in the trees, the smell of the morning air, the airy spaciousness of it all, and the cloistered hush of the different spaces in the woods. There's one particular space, under the canopy of the tallest trees, that we've always called "the cathedral" because that's exactly what it feels like. Even the light's the same, dappled, as if through stained glass. 

field path under oak branches, looking towards the woods

But I'm also absolutely fascinated by the structure of dandelion and groundsel seedheads. Properly obsessed. I kicked myself for not having a camera with me the morning each fluffy seedhead was full of glassy droplets of dew. Also kicking myself for not starting a record of how the field is changing over the weeks. It's been abandoned, no agriculture, and it's fascinating to see how it's changing with no intervention. 

It's also very parched, because we've had no rain. It's almost desert-like. The old dried up corn stalks are like bleached bones or branches. 

There are some lovely tiny flowers, if you look closely. 
Scarlet pimpernels and speedwell. 

 I like them, but not as much as the dandelions and groundsel 
(the one I'm holding in the first photo).

For me to get as far as sketchbook pages, that's really something. Here's a little video I made.

Music: The Nest, Josh Woodward @

Friday, 8 May 2020

Swirls of Colour

Phew, thank goodness it's Friday. I've been stitching like a mad thing this week, and all the while videoing the proceedings. My room is a tip and I'm tired. But I think I'm nearly there!

I've been wittering on about sorting out an online course for so long now, but I think I'm within touching distance.

Yes, I still need to edit all the video and work out where and how I'm going to host the course, and recruit people to test it and then promote it and all of that, but for now - I'm pleased.

If you'd like to be one of the brave people to try it out, please let me know! You can sign up to my newsletter and tick the Swirls box to make sure you're on the list.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

If I'm the answer then it's a very bad question

Like so many up and down the land, those with sewing machines, I have been stitching scrubs for the NHS.

Initially I was given ten metres of black polycotton, which turned out to be double-width. After a bit of head-scratching about how to physically handle the volume of fabric and cut it in the most frugal manner on a very small table, I was able to cut out six sets.

Despite my other skills on the sewing machine, I'm not a dressmaker. For example, this is the sort of thing I've done before.

So if I'm the answer to the crisis gripping the nation and our health service, then it must be a very very bad question. We are not in a good place, folks.


When we first viewed our little house more than 21 years ago, we were early for our appointment so took a walk to the top of the cul-de-sac. We discovered that despite being only a 5 minute walk from the town centre and the railway station, from the top of the street there was an unbroken view all the way across fields and woodland to the hills of the South Downs. Sold.

There is a bypass around town, but it is hidden from view at the bottom of the hill beyond the farmland. We can often hear it but not see it.

Eight years ago, we discovered that all the farmland up to the bypass had been sold to developers, and the plan was for 1000 new homes to be built. 1000 homes that will eventually block the view completely. Our nearest patch of ancient woodland will be marooned like an island in the middle. There were the usual protests, environmental audits and so on, but it was a done deal. I wrote about it at the time, and stitched my own version of the plan.

They've started building the houses on the furthest edge, out of view for now, but people have even started moving in. The past year or so they've been digging the fields for drainage pipes and water pipes, but now the building has started the fields closest to us are empty once more. This is the first year the fields are completely uncultivated, and with no sheep or cows.

And then the lockdown started, and suddenly it seems that because people have been told they can only have an hour of exercise a day, they've all decided to take it in the same place, whether or not they were doing so before. It's become harder than ever before to maintain our distance from people, whereas before the lockdown we hardly met a soul, only our usual fellow dog-walkers.

One day, some people walking in front of us blatantly walked straight through a gap in the hedge into the abandoned field beyond. And so we followed them. And we haven't stopped since. We've discovered a whole new network of paths and loops, leading back into the woodland we usually walk in, by way of a "broken" fence (another walker must have accidentally cut through it with some wire cutters they just happened to have in their pocket, and accidentally moved the fence while they were at it).

It's so peaceful and fragrant in the woods.

So we've changed our longest dog walk time from the afternoon to early morning, and it's been utterly delightful. It's been a bit Pride and Prejudice, the sun rising over the dew-soaked fields, the skylark twittering away overhead. Even the bypass is mostly silent. Wonderful.

I'm particularly captivated by the little paths that wind their way through the trees and bluebells.

Over the years, the direction of the paths changes slightly. Sometimes it's to avoid a muddy patch in the winter (impossible eventually, when the woods become a quagmire) or sometimes to avoid a fallen tree. They evolve.

I love the archways and doorways between trees.

And I don't know whether it's because the air is so much cleaner and clearer than usual, but walking in the fields now, seeing little paths made by deer and rabbits, has reminded me vividly of being a child again, when time had no meaning and all I had to do was play.

I could spend all day in here.

I think I'm becoming a bit obsessed about paths and pathways. It might be my new thing.

Monday, 13 April 2020

Will you be in my gang?

At nearly 50 years old I never thought I'd be saying that. As a child I was a watcher from the sidelines, only getting involved when I felt safe. I had absolutely no ambition to be a leader myself!

Even now, I find it hard to talk about myself and my work, especially when there are so many talented people out there doing wonderful things. Being online and showing our work takes courage, as every time we potentially risk personal ridicule and rejection. This is a very primal fear, and as a species we generally avoid putting ourselves in such a situation.

I started my Facebook group Threadnoodlers as a chance for my "audience" (even that word makes me feel uncomfortable and exposed!) to have their chance to share, and inspire and be inspired by others - mostly to take the spotlight off me! I am absolutely not unique with what I can do with a sewing machine and a bit of fabric: we all have talents and skills and interests, they will not be the same, but they are equally valid and important.

I am no more talented because I have a Facebook page or a blog or Instagram; I just decided to do it one day a few years ago. I post sporadically, procrastinate nearly all the time, and have regular moments of feeling entirely inadequate. It's hard to let go of the fear about whether what I do is useful or interesting to anyone - but my job is just to do it, and give other people the opportunity to decide for themselves.

Similarly, creating a Facebook group is just something I decided to do one day, to allow other people to get involved and to share. It's not a place for me to be clever and for people to follow along, hanging on my every word; it's a place for everybody to get involved equally and share what they have to offer to others. We're all in this together, and we're all stuck at home so now seemed like the perfect time!

So please join us - pop along to my Facebook page, give me a like there, and join the group. There are three questions to answer when you sign up (they're not hard!) and please indicate that you agree to the rules (they are very obvious rules about playing nicely).

See you there - in my gang!

My own little gang: our family on our first "theme night" to liven up our evenings while we're in lockdown. No, I can't really explain this one...

Friday, 20 March 2020

Change and challenges

It's probably fair to say that these are interesting, and challenging times. 

Personally, things started to go a bit awry last week when this happened to my tyre on my way to do a talk:

And of course nobody has a spare tyre nowadays, we all have those silly inflation kits and there was no way that was going to fix this. So I needed rescuing and putting on a truck. This is the sort of thing I've always dreaded happening, so on a personal note it's good to know that I can cope and work it out, and not just fall apart in a helpless heap.

One new tyre later, I managed to get to Chichester for the second day of my visit, for a Swirls workshop. Unfortunately, Chichester Embroiderers' Guild had their own bad luck in that their regular venue had been flooded. Luckily, one of their members was able to secure an alternative room at very short notice so the show could go on.

my teaching sample

And despite being in quite a small room, with limited space, the work that everyone stitched was super.

As always with these workshops, I love how people's personality comes out in their colour choices, and the size they choose to work. A lot of the time they surprise themselves!

I "was" booked to teach this workshop quite a few times in the coming months, so I'd prepared a folder of samples showing the whole process. I tried to remember to video what I was doing as I was going along, and my initial intention was to produce another little book, with links to the videos as a bonus. But now a lot of the workshops are cancelled, I'm thinking I may finally get my act together and create a little online course. I'm not sure exactly how to go about this, so that's what's occupying me while I can't go out and do anything else!

When things are up and running again and life has returned to "normal", I will of course be teaching in person, but an online course might be a solution for now. If that is something you would be interested in, please make sure you've signed up to my newsletter to hear about it first (you'll also receive a link for a 15% discount in my Etsy shop when you sign up). 

For now, thank you for reading - and stay safe everyone xx

Friday, 31 January 2020


My threads, that is.

As promised in my last post, I'm going to let you into the secret that has TRANSFORMED how I work in my studio.

It's so simple, but it's fantastic. No apologies for the shouty caps-lock - I'm excited about this one!

So when I'm stitching something, I use lots of different threads. I swap between them often. There is no point putting the threads away mid-project. And sometimes I'm stitching more than one project at a time. So that's a lot of threads.

Traditionally, these threads are scattered all over my work surface. Sometimes I corral them all into a rather marvelous fabric bowl that I made a few years ago (thanks Di for showing me how):

BUT. When I finished a project, did I put the threads away? No, of course I didn't.

For years I used these double-sided thread storage boxes*. Fantastic to be able to sort threads into colour families in the different compartments, and you can get SO MUCH into one box! Except they have one major drawback - they're only fantastic if you actually PUT THE THREADS BACK IN!

Which I didn't. Because, let's face it, tidying is boring. But I like tidy, and having a mess on my desk each day was depressing, and made it hard for me to get started on new things, resulting in massive amounts of procrastination. And I tried all sorts of systems for making myself tidy up at the end of the day, but nothing worked. When I moved into my room and had new shelves with different dimensions, I had to dump the double-sided boxes and started using these boxes - but still with the dividers, and still organised by colour. Here they are on their shelf:

(you've got to admit, this is a riveting post so far!)

So I was noodling around on the interwebs, avoiding the task of filing all my sewing threads away, and I came across this lady. I did the test and it turns out I'm a "LadyBug" sort of organiser: I like things to look tidy on the surface, but underneath and in drawers and cupboards - woah, disaster area.

I need systems, I like systems, but they must be QUICK and EASY. According to the test results, I need a MACRO organising system - whereas my tendency has always been to devise complicated MICRO systems - the antithesis of quick and easy!!

I need tidying up my threads to be EASY. And sorting into little storage compartments is DIFFICULT because you need to make the threads fit into the spaces - and what if you have too much of one colour???!! etc etc.

So I've come up with this - and it bloomin' WORKS! Tidy threads, tidy desk.

All the cops and cones (i.e. ones without tops) in one box:

All the reels (i.e. ones with tops and bottoms):

All the "everyday" metallic in a basket:

I have kept two boxes with compartments, but to be honest, I forget they're there. I mostly use the top two boxes and the metallics.

Then the miscellaneous...

One box (still with its compartments) has "special" threads that I just stroke from time to time, plus my Indian rayons that I forget about and they only really work in the bobbin (they shred easily):

And this last compartment box has the ends of some threads a friend was selling cheaply yonks ago that I forget I have, some really cheapo metallics that I should either use up in the bobbin or chuck out, and some "spare" duplicate metallics (sometimes I forget to take a list when I go shopping at the shows...):

It always tickles me when people say to me "Oh, you must have masses of different threads"! No, not really! I have one desk drawer that holds my all-purpose polyester threads, bobbinfil, invisible thread (I'm always losing that one....) and some cheapo threads from the charity shop that I use in the bobbin - but this really is it!

So try it! Do the test, see what works for you. It might just revolutionise how you tidy up!

Why the pink boxes? Well the shelves where my threads live are on the sunny side of my studio (on summer afternoons), and I'm paranoid about UV damage - yes, it's a thing for threads - and putting thread boxes in drawers falls back into the DIFFICULT zone of tidying; they'd be a mess again! The pink boxes were the only coloured ones I could find (at Hobbycraft, if you're interested). 

* this is an affiliate link - I earn a few pennies from purchases made through this link

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

New Year New Decade New Desks...

As promised for those who are nosy, like me, and want to know what I've done with my desk and studio space and why.

And while I'm the first to admit that my absolute favourite way of procrastinating is to have a sort out, I promise you - this really needed to be done.

(This is a long post, so if you want the short version skip down to the bullet points!)

As you may remember if you've followed me for a while, I moved into my new studio four (four!) years ago. Nearly everything came from IKEA, not least because I could know in advance the precise dimensions of all the different bits of furniture and work out how to fit everything in! Ever since I was little, I've loved rearranging furniture and planning layouts.

Here is my empty room and all the boxes from my first IKEA haul four years ago:

And here is what it looked like after setting nearly everything up:

And since then, it's kind of worked, but also not really. Here's the other end of the finished space. Comfy chair for reading books from the little bookcase of arty books, big textile books on shelves on the RHS, two chests of drawers for fabric with a glass top for painting, and my ironing pad. The curtains hide the storage area under the stairs - a third of it is 2 metres deep but narrow; two thirds is just under a metre deep. There are three sturdy IKEA storage cube shelves on castors that fit in here, as well as two trolleys holding paint, dye, glue, printing tools etc.

So the rug was the first thing to go years ago. The whippet claimed it as his own, and it's now by the fire in the other room - and also not as white! Then the chair....I spent more time moving it out of the way so I could pull out the storage trolleys, rather than sitting in it. Bye bye. That went soon after.

Then that shelf holding my laptop. Took up way too much space. Had to go. I found a way to tuck my laptop and keyboard out of way completely, under my desk, but you can see how small the desk space actually is. And because I couldn't sit at one end (drawers underneath were too close to my knees, and then the dog discovered the radiator) things just got dumped on it. I kept clearing it, but it was an endless battle.

You can see the my sewing machine on the right hand side, and how little room I had for stitching. And when I got my big new sewing machine I started using the knee lifter all the time - so the little drawers had to move over, which reduced my available sitting space even further.

There was one small space in the middle of the long desk to do everything. And that's where the central supporting leg of the desk was, so there wasn't actually any leg room! I also had a naughty habit of stashing all sorts of things into the corner under the desk, where they never saw the light of day again.

One attempted fix was to find an extra table that could be tucked away under my bookshelves, which I did in the form of a second hand Ikea gateleg table that folded down to nothing. I used it when I did my big commission back in 2018.

But the problem was, even though it tucked away neatly under my shelves (one of which I had to cut in half to allow the space) the narrow top also became a dumping ground for stuff.

And a lot of the stuff that got dumped everywhere in my room wasn't my own stuff for creating and making new work, but teaching stuff - half-started/finished demonstration samples, folders, boxes of materials and so on.

It's was really starting to get on my nerves that in order to start anything for myself, I had to have a major clearing up session first.

Eventually it became easier not to do anything creative at all, but just do more admin - which I could do from the tiny portion of my desk where my laptop fitted. Even though I had no leg room. You may have also noticed if you've followed me for a while that there hasn't been a lot of creating going on, and it's actually made me feel pretty depressed, and my room set up was largely why. It felt very churlish to complain about the space not working for me, when the whole point of converting our garage (and creating fairly substantial bike storage issues) was to give me a room of my own, so I've struggled on. But I've got such a busy year coming up, and so many things I want to do as well as have to do, something had to give.

SO. Between Christmas and New Year, I took the time to trial what has been noodling around in my mind for a while now. First I had to clear all the surfaces. Then I had to haul out the dreaded baskets of stash under my desk. Then I had to get very serious about what I wanted or needed to keep, and what I could let go. That always feels good after the event, but is painful to do!

Remarkably all these baskets were stashed under my desk. 
You could say I have a thing for baskets...

Then I could start moving furniture (my favourite bit but it makes everyone else nervous: my husband hasn't ever let me forget about the time he came home from work and found a wardrobe stuck across the landing, because I had decided to have a bit of a sort out while he was out...)

Here's the old desk top in the new position but moved away from the wall, to show the difference another 20cm of desk depth would make. This is when I knew I was right to go through the hassle and expense of carrying on.

There was one frustrating moment after I had moved my fabric drawers down the room by 80cm that resulted in a Billy bookcase with no home and still too much stuff to put away, but after a bit of head scratching I came up with the brilliant solution of fitting it into my tardis-like storage space at the back of my room (the bit that is actually under our stairs) and VOILA a bookcase that can now be JUST for my teaching files, workshop bags and equipment. Fantastic stuff. You can just see it tucked away behind the curtain on the right hand side here (sorry for the funny angle!). That in turn created space on my other shelves, and so it went on, for several days.

Eventually I was at my second favourite moment, when I actually get to go to the land of blue and yellow and buy more flat packs!

Then the small matter of opening boxes and constructing, and finally, selling my surplus desk top and the old Ikea gateleg table - which I managed to do very quickly, and to lovely people who were happy to give them a new home.

And after that, everything slotted very neatly into place.

Unfortunately since I've been in, I haven't had a chance to use my new desks! I've been in school supervising exams, then travelling at the weekend for family things. I did use my new "admin" desk to do my tax return but I'm desperate to get to the "creating" desks. Today might be the day, as soon as I've posted this!

So here's a summary of why I had to do this, and what it achieved:

Old problems:
  • Desk is a dumping ground
  • No leg room
  • No usable space
  • Very hard to film space (under window, no clamping point for phone to video)
  • Desk not deep enough for large or multiple pieces of work
  • Have to tidy all stitching away in order to do admin.
  • Have to tidy the admin in order to do any stitching
  • No desk space for sketchbook/drawing/painting - the only painting space is on the glass top of my fabric drawers, which is even narrower than my desk at 48cm deep.
  • Teaching stuff encroaches on my own stuff, so I end up doing teaching prep not my own work as it's easier
  • Paint/mixed media materials are in storage space and have to be wheeled out to be used
  • Lots of books I haven't read
  • Can't easily reach the shelves by the window that hold my bead drawers
  • Too much stuff stowed away that I've forgotten what I have and why
  • Desky stuff like stationery has to share a set of drawers with sewing equipment and threads.
New solution:
  • 2.4 metres of usable desk space for creating ONLY - I don't have to clear it to use my laptop
  • Separate desk for admin/laptop - doesn't get in the way of creating
  • Deeper desk (80cm instead of 60cm) - much more usable space
  • Loads of leg room - not on a corner, deeper desk, no dog bed in the way
  • Desk is under shelves not window - can clamp phone for taking video of work
  • Teaching materials are separate from my materials - I can concentrate on my own work 
  • Stash is in storage trolley cubes and more accessible.
  • Paint/mixed media trolleys are in main room and more likely to be used
  • Embellisher fits on desk - more likely to be used
  • My books on creativity and art are right by my desk and more likely to be read
  • Bead storage drawers are easier to access
  • A4 printing paper, scrap paper, stationery etc have their own drawers
  • My big DSLR camera has it's own deep drawer, along with its accessories 
  • More drawers near my desk for hand embroidery threads - more likely to be used
  • Two large desks side by side give me separate zones for sewing/texiles and painting/drawing without having to tidy one away - I may actually do some of both now!
  • Having a chuck out of things I don't use or want to use any more feels GOOD!
  • Dog bed is still by my laptop desk, and by the radiator, and doesn't block anything. Hooray!
So many problems have been fixed, I'm slightly cross with myself that it's taken four years to work it out! But it's only by living in a space and working out how you actually use it, that you can see what isn't working and what would make it better.

Next time, I'll show you how I've sorted my machine embroidery threads. I did that before this big sort out and it's been what they call a "game changer". But right now, I'm off to use some of them!