Archives for April 2014

The trouble with my thumb

A while back, before Christmas, I wrote a post about the trouble with my thumb. I thought at the time that it might be a repetitive stress injury and I had three sessions of physiotherapy for it. It improved somewhat but continued to be swollen and sore, and eventually I mentioned it to the GP (general practitioner = doctor for readers outside the UK) in early March when I went to see him about something else. He sent me off to get an X-ray of it, a very fast and efficient procedure, but when this came back it showed nothing unusual. The GP then referred me to the Musculoskeletal clinic – I know it’s different in other countries but here in the National Health Service system all referrals go through the GP . After a while I received a letter to tell me that I’d have to wait six to eight weeks for an appointment, so I wasn’t expecting anything to happen quickly. This is fair enough really – in the greater scheme of things my sore thumb isn’t much of a priority – and I didn’t mind waiting. But yesterday I got a phone call from the clinic to say that someone had cancelled an appointment and I could have it if I could get there for 3.15pm. So I did.

The doctor examined the thumb very carefully, and gave it as his opinion that the problem is arthritis. This didn’t surprise me too much as I’d started to suspect this might be the case. He gave me useful advice about exercises and ice treatment, and I went away happy that it wasn’t anything worse. However, it does look as though this is going to continue to be a problem and I’ll have to take care with it. I’m still toying with the idea of learning to sew, write and draw with my left hand. When the problem first occurred, last November, it took me about a fortnight to learn to use the computer mouse with my left hand and now this is the one I use automatically. Being ambidextrous in everything would be really useful, and it would help a lot to be able to rest any sore fingers and thumbs. But it’s an investment of time. I suspect it would take a lot more than a fortnight to learn all the very fine motor movements involved in stitching or drawing.

The go-to solution for arthritis in our household is cider vinegar. My husband suffered from severe and debilitating arthritis while still in his 30s, and tried all sorts of remedies, conventional, natural and, frankly,  bizarre. The one that really helped and which has kept arthritis at bay for him is a mixture of cider vinegar and honey. This remedy is not generally accepted in conventional medicine, but there’s plenty of anecdote to support its effectiveness. For example, Sir Ranulph Fiennes speaks highly of it. So I’ll give this a go. It’s supposed by its supporters to cure all sorts of things, and to help people lose weight. I’ve tried it at times to help with weight control and have to say I’ve not noticed much difference, but now I’ve got my very own case of arthritis to treat. Lucky me.

Does anyone reading have any experience of arthritis in their thumb that they’d like to share? If so, please leave a comment or drop me a line.

Was the Matthew Harris course good?

Was the Matthew Harris course good? Well, ‘good’ doesn’t seem to quite sum it up: maybe excellent, amazing, inspiring would be better descriptions. I felt exhausted by the end of the two days, because I’d been concentrating and thinking so hard. Reflecting on it since, I think it’s fair to say that the fundamental idea underpinning the course was about the importance of establishing constraints in design from the endless array of choices available. Matthew pointed out that, faced with choices, we tend to make the same ones, going in the same direction each time and that this can get rather predictable. He encouraged us to look in unexpected places for inspiration, and to use chance in determining the shapes, lines, colours, textures and forms that we developed. Now this really appealed to me because I’m very interested in numbers, probability and chance and I was ready and willing to seize the concept.

I won’t tell you any more about the mechanism of how we arrived at our random choices. As I said in my post the other day before I went on the course, I think it’s unfair to spill the beans about the detailed content when somebody has gone to the trouble of designing a course. But I will tell you a bit about the outcomes. Matthew emphasised from the beginning of the course that we should not expect to go away with a finished piece of work, and it’s true that hardly any of us did. What I think we all went away with, though, was a set of new ideas about constraints, and some specific design ideas, unique to each of us. Here are some photos of the work I came away with. During the end of the first day and the morning of the second day I developed some drawings that focused upon one of the shapes I’d selected, at random, for further work: Matthew Harris course

And below is a detail of the same drawing.Matthew Harris course

I did most of my drawings on Khadi rag paper using Derwent Inktense pencils. I bought half a dozen of these in an art shop in Corbridge a few months ago but haven’t really got the hang of using them until now. They are just lovely, and they work beautifully with the Khadi paper. I borrowed an Inktense block or two from the person sitting next to me (thank you Kit) just to experiment, and both pencils and blocks are excellent. I’ve asked for some of the blocks for a birthday present.

The next stage for me, was to keep the drawing media, but change the surface to lightweight calico. Here’s a photo of my design using red Inktense on calico. I was all for cutting up my first piece for samples, but Matthew advised me to produce three, and then decide which one I wanted to cut up. I produce three in different colours, and this all-red one is the one I decided to cut up.1-IMG_0685

And finally, I got into stitch right for the last hour or so of the course – see the fourth photo below. This was just doodling, really. I have other ideas to develop and several bits of calico to work on.

Matthew Harris course


Matthew is an excellent teacher and Bobby Britnell‘s studio is a beautiful location for a course. If he does another course there – and he seemed amendable to Bobby’s suggestion that he should do another one – I will hope to be one of the lucky ones who gets to go.

A bonus was the opportunity to see some of Matthew’s work close up, and to hear him talking about them, as he brought a few of his smaller pieces with him. These were lovely, and I almost bought one, but the one I really wanted went to someone else. He’s got an open studios event coming up, but it’s in Stroud which is some distance away and I won’t be able to make it. However, I shall keep this in mind and hope to acquire one of his pieces before too long.

Any downsides? Not really. The weather was rather vile, as expected. Bobby’s house and studio has lovely gardens but mostly we had to stay in and listen to the rain lashing down on the studio roof. But that’s a minor niggle. I can highly recommend the location, and Bobby runs a very full and interesting programme of courses. Do have a look at her programme if you’ve not seen it before.

Matthew Harris

I’m sure many of you know the work of Matthew Harris, an artist who works in textiles and paper. Matthew HarrisTomorrow and Saturday he’s running a course at Bobby Britnell‘s studio at Moor Hall  in Shropshire, and I’m one of the lucky ones who’s going. I booked this as soon as I found out about it last September, because I knew it would be a very popular event. I’ve previously been on one course at Bobby’s studio, which is a lovely space in a beautiful, and remote, location, and I’m very much looking forward to being back there. It’s about two and a half hours drive from here, so we’re setting off early tomorrow morning. Husband is coming with me, and will no doubt find plenty to do on his own while I’m on the course. We’ve booked a bed and breakfast for Friday and Saturday night, so will have Sunday as well, to e.g. have a walk. Unfortunately, the weather forecast for the next few days is not great, but we’ll just have to be British about it and put up with the rain.

The list of supplies to take along to the course is quite intriguing, and it looks as though it’s going to involve some deconstruction of a manufactured object. This afternoon I’ll enjoy pulling together suitable materials to take with me. I’m not quite sure what I’m hoping to get out of the course, but will go with an open mind and see what happens. I don’t attend a lot of courses; I think it’s over a year since I went on the last one… So I’m quite careful and selective about them. For one thing, it tends to be an expensive activity once you take into account travel and accommodation costs. For another, it takes up a day or two that you could spend getting on with your own projects at home. But it’s good to get out from time to time and meet other people who are interested in the same things as you are.

I’ll report back on how I found the course – at least in general terms. I think when somebody has gone to a lot of effort to plan a course they don’t want the participants to go away and spill the beans about what they’ve been doing all over the internet. But I’m sure I’ll be able to tell you something about it.

Thinking about soil strata

Well, as it happens, I was thinking about soil strata a couple of days ago, after watching a really interesting prog on telly (and there aren’t too many of them about). Chris Beardshaw (well-known British gardener for anyone reading this outside the UK, or anyone inside the UK who isn’t interested in gardening) spent a whole hour presenting on the subject of soil. One of the places he went to was in Scotland. There had recently been a landslip and the soil strata were laid bare. Soil strata, to my mind, are very beautiful and interesting. Here’s a photo I found on Google Search, just to show you what I mean:Soil strata

When I was doing my City & Guilds Diploma I got interested in roots for one of my projects. I washed off and drew various roots out of the garden, with a view to developing a stitched piece on the subject. In order to develop the background I read up about soil strata, and did some sampling. Here’s the finished piece I came up with:Roots - finished piece

The background is made with layers of wool tops, dry-felted using the attachment on my Bernina. The blobby bits at the bottom are offcuts of Margo Selby silks dry-felted into the wool – a very effective technique, I find. The thicker bits of root are wools, couched over with plain off-white stranded cotton, tapering down to couching over threads and, finally, stem stitch. Anyway, thought I’d share this with you, as I was thinking about it. I liked making this, and have contemplated working on a related series, but haven’t yet made any progress on it. One of these days, maybe…..


What I’m working on…

What I’m working on right now is an entry for the Carrefour Européen de Patchwork. Carrefour Européen de PatchworkThis is for their show which takes place on 18-21 September 2014, and the entry has to be in by around the end of June. I’ve been thinking about it for the last three or four weeks; I’ve done some drawing and sampling, and I’ve collected it all together in a sketchbook – just like you do for City & Guilds, so I guess I’ve really absorbed the work habits I acquired doing the Certificate and Diploma. Then last week I bought the materials – fabric from Whaley’s of Bradford and threads from the local sewing machine and craft shop, Hobkirk’s of Blackburn. I find it impressive that Hobkirk’s keep going; it can’t be easy these days. Their sewing machine range includes Brother, Pfaff and Husqvarna but not Bernina, so I had to buy my machine elsewhere, but I try to support them by buying threads there whenever possible.

Anyway, back to the Carrefour; I thought I might as well give this a go, although I found their chosen theme ‘Imagine’ a bit of a facer. However, I’ve been working on several ideas, and yesterday I got going on the making. It’s going to take me a while as there will be a lot of hand embroidery in it. Can I get it finished by the deadline? Well, watch this space and I’ll let you know. My supposition is that I won’t get it finished in time, but then I thought the same thing when I was working on my entry for Living Colour! last year. And I did manage to finish that with a couple of weeks to spare. We’ll see.

Whaley’s of Bradford

Just a quick note today about Whaley’s of Bradford and their impressive service. I’ve ordered fabric from them three times in all. There’s a huge choice, they’re happy to send samples and they deliver very quickly. Last week I received my latest consignment from them and was surprised to find two separate one-metre lengths of Andrea Wool Crepe fabric, where I’d ordered only one. It’s fabulous fabric and it takes dye beautifully (see other posts e.g. on onion skin dyeing). However, it is expensive which is why I’d ordered only one metre of it. I supposed there had been an error, but rather than sending the extra length back, I contacted Whaley’s and offered to pay for it. After a quick exchange of emails it turned out that one of the lengths was just short of a metre and, as they sell only in multiples of a metre, they wouldn’t be able to sell it. Therefore, they’d thrown it in as a freebie. This stuff is around £22 a metre, so that’s quite a freebie. Anyway, I was impressed and pleased, so I thought I’d tell you about it.

Beautiful day here today in Lancashire. Spring flowers looking fetching, the sky is blue (doesn’t happen often, so worthy of comment) and trees and hedges are coming in to bud with a gorgeous manifestation of spring green. It’s so lovely I thought I’d just mention it….

Smug post about knitting

I wrote a blog post on 17th February about the trouble I was having with my knitting… and said I’d write a smug post about it if I ever got it finished. Well, ta da! It is finished. If you recall, the item in question is a cowl, or snood, made out of Manos del Uruguay Lace, a beautiful yarn. The trouble was in casting on exactly the right number of stitches (v difficult), avoiding the Mobius strip problem I described in the earlier post, and avoiding mistakes in the pattern. It was just so difficult. Even once I’d cast on the correct 240 stitches and then got it straight, the pattern was so complicated and demanded so much attention that I ended up making lots of mistakes and having to take the knitting back to correct them. It’s a 20-line pattern, repeated 11 times, so there was plenty of scope, and I was still making errors right up until the last line. Still, I eventually got there. So here’s a photo of the finished object:Manos del Uruguay lace knitting

And another showing the pattern close up. It’s really pretty, but a massive pain in the neck.

Lace knitting close up

So, definitely no more knitting for the time being. I’ve had enough. I shall get back to what I should have been doing in the first place, which is stitching. More on that in due course.


A useful bit of kit

I haven’t talked much on this blog about equipment for sewing. For much of what I do, and probably for what you do, basic things like needle, thread and some cloth are pretty much the sum total of what you need. When I go to stitching shows these days I try to avoid buying a lot of stuff that I’ll just have to find space for. However, sometimes you do come across a useful bit of kit, and today’s blog post is about one such example: a plastic thing for holding your sewing machine bobbins. Here’s a photo:Plastic bobbin ring

It’s made out of a tough but flexible plastic. As you see, it’s simple; you just push the bobbins into the ring. The really clever aspects of the design are that the bobbins don’t fall out, and that the loose ends are secure and the bobbins don’t unravel all over the place. You can hold it upside down – the bobbins stay in place. You can drop it – the bobbins stay in place. You can roll it around the desk or the floor – the bobbins stay in place. You’re getting the idea: the bobbins don’t come out until you pull them out. Simple but brilliant.

I liked it so much I bought two. Here they are:Plastic bobbin holder

They’re available in red, blue or, as shown here, lavender. I bought mine from Barnyarns.

Good, eh? Incidentally, in case you’re wondering, I’m not on commission. I just like the product.



Disappearing photographs

I realised this morning that some of the photos have disappeared from my earlier blog posts. This is as a result of me being tidy; I decided a couple of days ago to spruce things up by deleting some of the older photos from my media files. I pruned away merrily to the point where there was very little left. However, it wasn’t till I looked at the actual published blog today that I noticed that some of the photos had disappeared. Some but, curiously, not all.

There have been quite a few visitors to my site over the last couple of days, so apologies to anyone who’s found the absence of photos baffling. I’m now hard at work reinstating them all…..

There’s another post scheduled for 12 noon today, so keep watching.


Living Colour! update

The Living Colour! exhibition will open on Thursday at its first venue, the Australasian Quilt Convention. Here’s a mosaic of the 32 exhibits:Living Colour!

Mine is 3rd from the left on the top row. Brenda Gael Smith, the curator of the travelling exhibition, has been super-busy arranging new venues. So far, it’s been confirmed that the exhibition will show in 11 different venues in Australia, New Zealand and the USA, but it looks as though there may be more to come. The current list of dates and locations is on the Living Colour! website. Also available is a print catalogue showing the exhibits in more detail – an online preview of the catalogue can also be found on  a different page of the website.

Needless to say, I’m very pleased that my work has been selected for this exhibition. I’m just sorry that I’m unlikely to see the exhibition, as all the venues are a long, long way away, especially for someone who dislikes air travel as much as I do. However, the catalogue looks like a high quality production, and it should give a good insight into the working techniques and methods used to produce the 32 exhibits.