Archives for November 2013

Out of the dyepot – madder

Out of the dyepot: madderA while ago I put various fabrics and threads into a new madder dyepot, took them out after a couple of days, then forgot to write a post about them. Here is a photo of the result.

The bright pinkish- red material is fine wool. Beneath it, the cotton is much paler and much less pink. The silk thread in the foreground has emerged from the pot as a relatively pale brown, whereas the cotton is pale mauve. It’s always interesting to me to see what comes out. Unpredictable….

I’ve been very busy with the day job over the last three or four weeks and it’s been hard to find any time at all for dyeing, sewing, drawing or just keeping up with blogposts. And now I have the RSI in my right hand which has slowed me up.  But I can still look at things. Today, Friday, I am in London and will be going to the Paul Klee exhibition. More on that next week.

Very slow stitch

As a result of working too hard at the day job I’ve developed a repetitive strain injury over the last 10 days or so. This is painful, and a nuisance. I’ve been to the physiotherapist this morning and am now wearing a splint to prevent my right thumb from bending. An important question, obviously, is whether or not I can do any stitching. Since I got home I’ve done a few things very slowly. I’ve lit the fire (a very slow process), and I’ve read a couple of chapters of a book (no faster or slower than usual). I ironed a couple of shirts, badly and slowly. And I’ve tried a bit of stitching in a hoop, stitching with my left hand and holding the hoop braced against me with the fingers of my right hand. This is not ideal, and every stitch takes a good long while, but it can be done so I will be able to continue with my current project.

This got me thinking about slow stitching. One of the advantages of hand stitching is that it is necessarily a slow and meditative process, and therefore a useful corrective to all the mad rushing about that passes for normal life. I’ve grown to appreciate it more and more as an oasis in my over-busy life. I was reminded of something I’d read on the internet a while back, and when I started searching I found references to ‘Slow Cloth’ as embodying a particular approach to making. Elaine Lipson named this concept and she has a Facebook page devoted to it, which is well worth a look. There’s a link there to a talk she gave at the Textile Society of America, which I’ve just read, and which makes a lot of sense to me. She talks about time, naturally, but also about the time taken to master skills. She says: ‘Slow Cloth aims for the mastery, fluency and depth that can only come from cultivating a relationship to making, and to textiles, over a lifetime, not jumping from one crafty workshop to the next that aim primarily to sell you a lot of supplies’. Well said, Elaine Lipson – mastery, fluency and depth.

Making things with your hands is so important. This injury has got me thinking about my hands and how precious they are, and how much an injury to them matters. But also, that this injury is an opportunity to stop and think about what I’m doing. If you read this, do follow the link and read Elaine Lipson’s paper.

And, finally, how did I type this? Well, slowly, of course.

New menu item: inspiration

I was busy yesterday sorting out my Picasa files of photographs, doing a bit of editing, deleting and generally having a tidy up. I’m thinking a lot about photographs at the moment for two reasons: first I’m setting up some pages for Pinterest and second, I’ve just bought a new digital SLR camera. No doubt I will post some more about both of these developments in due course.

For the moment, I thought the website might be a good place to collect some sources of inspiration which I’ve found particularly striking.

The first in the series – urban decay – went up on the website yesterday evening. I’ve plans to post some more as I continue to sort through my photos. All of the photos currently on the website and blog are taken with a Sony compact camera which I’ve had for many years. It’s served me very well but the quality of photograph is not really good enough, hence the purchase of the new DSLR. All I’ve got to do now is work my way through the 387 pages of the instruction manual and I will be good to go with the new camera. I’m currently up to about page 16 so this could be going to take some time…..

So far I’ve not used any of the photos in the urban decay series as direct sources of inspiration, although I’ve thought a lot about the beauty and texture of decay since I came back from Sicily.

Knitting and Stitching Show, Harrogate

This year I’ve been to two Knitting and Stitching Shows – Alexandra Palace in London and Harrogate. The people I went to Al Pal with were mostly interested in the K rather than the S, so I didn’t get to see nearly as much as I’d have liked of the stitch exhibitions. Also it was so overcrowded that it was hard to see anything at all at times.

So, on both counts, I thought a supplementary visit to the Harrogate show would be useful, and I went last Friday. I’m so glad I took the trouble to go as I had a lovely time. I went with my stitching chum Bren, who is also doing the Stitchbusiness Masterclass. We went our separate ways around the show, but met up for lunch and again to go home. This is an ideal way to go to a show, I think; you’re with a friend which is good, but free to go around on your own to spend as much or as little time as you like looking at things.

We got off to a cracking start and were in there ten minutes after opening time. Although it got busy it was nothing like the scrum of Al Pal, and it was much easier to wander about. I didn’t buy much – I’ve got enough stitching materials to last me several lifetimes – but I’m pleased with the odds and ends I did get. My main purpose was to look, especially at the exhibitions.

The outstanding experience of the whole day for me was the Dorothy Caldwell exhibition. I just loved it, and kept on going back to it for yet another look. This show is based upon her response to seeing two very different parts of the world: the Canadian Arctic and Australia. Although they’re geographically remote from each other these landscapes have some aspects in common too – they’re remote, rugged, colourful and bleak, or at least to an eye like mine used to the English countryside. There were some very large pieces in the show, but the ones I really wanted to take home with me were the smaller pieces, especially those featuring her interpretations of kantha stitching. Dorothy Caldwell

Many of the exhibitors discourage photographs and I can see why, but there wasn’t any indication at DC’s exhibition. So I asked DC herself for permission which she kindly gave me. What I forgot to do was to ask for her permission to put one of the photos on my blog (I’m new to this blogging lark and wasn’t thinking ahead). So I hope if she ever sees the photo in this post she will forgive me (or ask me to take it down which of course I would).

Of all the lovely pieces in this show, the one pictured here is the one that appealed most to me. The balance of colour, shape and stitch is exquisite. The photo really doesn’t get close to doing it justice. Partly this is because I took it on my rather old compact camera, but also I think it’s difficult for even the best photographer with the best possible camera to capture the impression given by a piece like this.

In summary, this was a beautiful exhibition and I’m so pleased to have seen it.

Vintage threads

I found these threads at an antiques place in Hebden Bridge. Lovely.Vintage Threads

Digression: knitting socks

Socks, wool, double-pointed needlesIt’s a digression because this is not intended to be a knitting blog. (Or, indeed, a sock blog). When I was a child I was taught how to knit socks but I don’t think I’ve knit a sock since turning 18, rather a long time ago. At the Knitting and Stitching show at Alexandra Palace, however, I found some lovely yarns crying out to be knitted into socks, and bought a ball of variegated black, grey and white and five double-pointed needles. Well, I’ve so enjoyed making these socks I thought I’d share the result:

I’ve found it very relaxing sitting around in the evening, with the cat on my knee, knitting round and round and round. The complicated bit is turning the heel, but it must be a thing you never forget once you know how to do it as I managed without too much trouble.

Knitting seems to be getting popular again. I went to K&S with three young women, all in their 20s, and all keen to knit. But I was struck by what an expensive hobby it’s become. Anyway, that’s it for the sock report. I mustn’t get distracted into too much knitting, as I have lots of stitching to do, but it really is a pleasant thing to do on a long winter evening while watching the telly.

Stitch project – Kindle cover

This is a post about how I made a new cover for my Kindle. The header photo on this blog and website is a close-up in bleached-out black and white of this embroidery. The finished object is in the colour photo below:Kindle cover - completed

The inspiration for making this came from the main material I used. I find that’s often the way. Seeing or handling material gives me ideas, or contributes to ideas that have been simmering away in the background. The material in this case was a bundle of silk sari strips – you’ve probably seen them – which are, I think, recycled material. Long strips are sewn together to make a continuous length of material which is then bundled up for sale. The colours are often very bright but what attracted me to this bundle was the relatively muted range of shades.

When I got the bundle home I carefully separated out all the individual lengths and ironed them. The next photo shows the range of colours I obtained from this one bundle- I pasted an example of each of the colours into my sketchbook:Sari Strips - samples

For my City & Guilds Diploma course I’d been studying the history of British embroidery, which turned out to be fascinating and one of the best aspects of the Diploma. I’d been very struck by the crazy patchwork made by ladies with scraps of silk in the nineteenth century. There are plenty of examples of images on the internet. It’s wild, it’s garish, but somehow it kind of works. Here’s a link to an example held at the Quilt Museum in York. Crazy patchwork together with the silk sari strips gave me the idea of producing a kind of linear crazy patchwork.

How I made this: I cut a ground fabric (a piece of black cotton satin that I bought as an offcut for very little from Greenfibres in Totnes) to the approximate size I needed for a Kindle cover. I’d made a paper pattern of the right size and used it to draw the Kindle cover onto the black cotton in white drawing pen. Then starting at one edge I machine-stitched a length of the pressed sari fabric onto it and pressed it so that the machine stitch didn’t show. Then I took my next strip and machine-stitched it onto the first strip, so that a reasonable amount of the first strip showed, then pressed the second strip, then moved on to the third.

Below is a photo of a small sample I made to be sure this method worked. The lines are quite wiggly, because the sari strips were of variable width. I thought this really wouldn’t matter too much once the piece was embroidered. Then on to the really enjoyable bit which was doing the stitching.Kindle cover - sampling

I used various stitches: feather stitch, fly stitch, French knots, couching, seeding, herringbone – whatever I felt like doing, in whatever colour and thread seemed appropriate. I loved doing the stitching. Once the piece was embroidered I then put a facing onto it in the same black cotton to form a smooth interior. I turned it out, slip stitched it and then hand-stitched the two sides to form the envelope for the Kindle cover. Then I attached the big mother-of-pearl button which was the single most expensive item in the piece at £3.50.

The final photo shows a close-up of the embroidery:Kindle cover close up

This project was really enjoyable and it used very inexpensive materials. Of course, it took ages to do, but we crazy patchworkers don’t mind that…..

If you have any questions about this project please leave a comment or contact me.

Building my website – part 1

I have to say straight away that I chose quite a difficult way of building my website. About a year ago I bought a book, ‘Blogging for Creatives’ by Robin Houghton which impressed me greatly.Blogging for Creatives - Robin Houghton

It’s a very attractive book and it seemed to a complete novice like me to offer a lot of really useful guidance. The author explains the most popular ways of establishing a blog, some of which sound really easy, like using Blogger or But another option is to have a self-hosted blog via (which is very different from, it seems). The big advantage of doing it the self-hosted way is that you can create your own website, as well as a blog.

I really wanted to have a website, with a blog embedded into it, rather than just a blog, so I thought that the self-hosting option might work best for me. I read around it on the internet and decided it was something I could just about manage if I put some time and effort into it. I’d describe myself as fairly computer-literate but I’m not an expert computer geek by any means.

First step was to get a webhost and buy a domain name (that’s the address). I compared various webhosts, and went for Vidahost which gets good reviews in the UK. This was fairly straightforward but I did need to contact them with a query almost straightaway. The reviews I’d read suggested they would respond quickly. I timed it and the response to my query came in 12 minutes and sorted me out, so well done Vidahost. This is one satisfied customer.

Next step was to install WordPress, which Vidahost organised for me, so no hassle there. Then I had to think about a theme, which provides the basic look of your website – although there are loads of options for creating your own design. There are many free themes but some people recommend going for a paid theme because you get a better product. I remembered reading something about this on the website of a quilter in Australia – Brenda Gael-Smith. Brenda not only produces lovely quilts, but also provides web design services, so she knows a thing or two about this website business. She recommends the Prose Theme by Genesis which has the huge advantage (for me at least) that you don’t have to write any code in order to tailor the theme for your own use. (I’m prepared to put a bit of effort in but I draw the line at writing code ). I read lots of information and reviews on the internet about the various options and eventually bit the bullet and bought a copy of Prose ($84.95 if you’re interested).

I’ll talk about the next steps in another post as I’ve already run on a bit….. If you want to ask me any questions about this, drop me an email or leave a comment, and I’d be glad to let you know more of the detail about the decisions I made




What to do with all this naturally-dyed fabric?

Yes, well, I have accumulated rather a lot of it. I’ve given some away to a couple of stitching friends, but I still have lots left. The problem is that dyeing fabric is, on the whole, a lot quicker than making things. The first natural dyeing I did was at a one-day workshop run by Claire Wellesley-Smith who blogs as Clarabella early in 2013. I took away some pieces of dyed fabric and was just thrilled to ribbons with them. The first thing I made was this pincushion:Pincushion made of naturally dyed fabrics

It’s a cube made of 1cm square fabric pieces, dyed with indigo, logwood, madder and something I forget that produced that rather attractive olive green. I made this using the English paper piecing method which was a bit fiddly but still nice to do.

I’m currently working on a quilting project using some of the naturally-dyed fabric that I’ve produced since I went to Claire’s workshop. I’ll blog about this project once I’ve finished it.

Acquiring a bodkin

BodkinI’ve been wanting a bodkin for quite some time, or at least I thought that was the name for the object I required to make holes in linen and cotton to produce broderie anglaise. Anyhow, I knew when I saw it that this is what I wanted. In essence, it’s a pointy thing with an ornamental handle, and I’ve placed it near a measuring tape so you can see how big it is. I found this at Ludlow (Shropshire)  Sunday market which I can recommend for anyone who likes old stuff and bric-à-brac. (On the whole I don’t, but I make an exception for old items of sewing equipment).

Mine for two pounds, which I thought was a very fair price, especially as they were asking 50p per bobbin for old Sylko bobbins (just the bobbin, no thread).

So, next time I do some broderie anglaise I will have the perfect tool. Which brings me back to the question of what it’s called. I looked up bodkins on Google Images and there are several tools there that don’t look like this one – they’re more like big tweezers for pulling elastic through waistbands, or alternatively big needles with eyes. However, looking further I can see the word has several different definitions, one of which is ‘A small, sharply pointed instrument for making holes in fabric or leather’. So that’s alright then. Whatever it’s called I’m very pleased with it.

PS That rather lovely raspberry-coloured background is a piece of recycled linen dyed with cochineal. I’ll be talking more about cochineal in a future post.