Catch up

Time to catch up a bit, I think, and bring my poor, neglected, blog up to date. I won’t attempt to do this all in one go as there’s too much water under the bridge.

Here’s a piece I finished the other day. If you have been a regular reader of this blog, you’ll see that it’s in a familiar idiom:

Latest piece

A family member asked me , quite some time ago, to make her a piece in this style. We spent some time selecting colours; she’s pretty keen on the turquoise/teal range, so this was a must. It’s a colour range I’ve not used much so it was interesting to me to see how it was going to work out. I used the sandy/yellow ochre range with a splash of a dark reddish brown for contrast. People seem to like the pieces in this style – when I put this on Instagram it got my best response yet. But I don’t want to get stuck in one style and it’s probably time to broaden my horizons. So, I’ve decided to get busy with sampling again, just doodling around to see what I can come up with. More on this another time when I will provide a further catch up.

It’s been a while…

Bit of an understatement there, really. It’s been about 20 months since I last posted anything. I’ve noticed that a lot of bloggers run out of steam after a while and it’s not too surprising. It’s a lot of effort to keep a blog going, especially when you have other things going on in your life.

The last message I posted here was in July 2017. That’s when we moved to live in North Northumberland in the UK. I was born and brought up in Northumberland, very near the coast, and I’ve had a hankering to get back to the place for many years now. And finally, I’ve done it. We live a few minutes walk from the North Sea, and can even see it from the upstairs windows of our house. In the other direction is the mainline railway station on the North/South route from London to Scotland. It’s all stunningly convenient and pleasant, and I’m now back living in a climate that suits me. (It rarely gets hot, usually there’s a cold wind from somewhere, and the rainfall is low – I just love it).

It’s been so long since I blogged that numerous WordPress and other software updates have taken place and I’ve had to download lots of things I don’t yet fully understand. So, I’m going to keep this simple and not try, yet, to upload any photographs or do anything else fancy that will crash the thing.

The other day I was thinking about the last few years, and realised that my recollection of events would be helped by reference to my blog. It’s a kind of diary, and that’s the most useful feature of it for me. I thought originally that it was a means of social media communication, but only on rare occasions has the communication ever been two-way. So I need to rethink my expectations around blogging. Best to think of it as a way of communicating with myself, and recording events and thoughts.

In my absence from the blog I have kept up regular posts on Instagram, so please have a look if you’re reading this and are interested. Instagram is, as a means of communication, preferable to blogging. It’s much less work and hassle and there’s a chance of almost immediate feedback in the form of ‘likes’ and quite often some comments. But I do like writing, so I think I should keep this blog going. As the events recorded in it become more distant over time, the blog becomes more valuable and more interesting to me.

More on dressmaking

A couple of posts ago I wrote about the dressmaking I’ve been attempting recently. This is a follow-up to that post. Where I left it (cliffhanger) was that I was about to start the blue linen version of the top that I first made in broderie anglaise. I’ve just finished it, and am reporting back to say I’m pretty pleased with the outcome. The blue linen, which is medium-weight, is more substantial than the broderie anglaise, and I think it works altogether better. I wouldn’t try this pattern in anything more heavyweight, though.

I’ve been reading a number of dressmaking blogs recently, and have discovered that there are some women out there who are brave enough to post photos of themselves wearing the garment. This has encouraged me to take the plunge. There’s nobody about at the moment to take a photograph of me, but I thought I might venture a selfie to give you some idea of the outcome. So, here it is – me in the bathroom mirror:Maker's Atelier top #2

What do I think about this? Well, I love the colour and I like the material very much. Because it’s linen, if you cast a sideways glance at it, it creases. Can’t be helped. It’s very comfortable and I’m pretty sure I’m actually going to wear this.

What next? When I was in London the other day, very briefly, I went to the Cloth House in Soho, a shop I’ve loved ever since I discovered it a few years ago. This was quite an effort for me, as I was lugging a suitcase, computer case and handbag around with me, and it was the day when they recorded the hottest temperature in England since 1976. And they’ve got the road up on Berwick Street outside the shop, so it was a struggle to get in there. But I’m glad I made the effort as I had a lovely time looking around and the staff very kindly let me stow my suitcase away in the back of the shop.

Well, I could have bought vast quantities of cloth, as there was so much there that I liked. But I restricted myself to two pieces, both Japanese cottons in different blues. There’s enough in each to make either a long top or a dress. I’m going to use this Maker’s Atelier pattern for one of them. I’m thinking about changing the neckline again, as I like a V neck and I think it should work with this pattern. And, obviously, if I make a dress I’ll be lengthening it. I won’t add any more length to the sleeves, as I think where I’ve got the pattern at the moment, just above the elbow, is fine.

I also bought a length of calico so that I can make another toile, and a card of some rather good vintage buttons. Oh, and a remnant of black cotton, which I might use to back my embroidered piece (see last post) if I ever get it finished. The assistant very kindly threw in the remnant as a gift, which is good policy of course, as it makes me more inclined to go back there. And indeed, to recommend it via my blog. The Cloth House is not super-cheap but the fabrics are beautiful and the range is very inspiring.

So, more on this in due course……

I’ve been…..

I’ve been…. doing a number of things. Lots of work, for one, but I’ve managed to keep going with stitching too. I’m currently working on a large sample piece, exploring squares (yet again). Here’s a photo of where I’m up to with it:Embroidery 27 6 17

I’m fairly sure I’ve blogged about the importance of constraints in the past. At the moment I’m constrained by what I’ve got available because most of my stitching materials are in storage. So, when I was planning this rather large sample piece, I was making do with the range of colours and materials I have available. Regular readers of this blog will recognise the square, pretty much my favourite shape, but in this case I’ve added in a few circles as well. This piece comprises 9 x 9 x 2 inch squares, so its overall size is 18″ x 18″. It’s made mostly out of squares of cotton, and a few squares of silk, left over from other things. The cotton is dress fabrics, batiks and a bit of quilting cotton in plain colours. It all goes together quite well, although it’s a bit bulky in places because I’ve left relatively large seam allowances. This is to take account of the silk, which tends to fray. But it’s quite easy to sew through.

You can’t see from this photo, but there is an attempt at a coherent design in this. I haven’t just stuck the colours together at random. If I get it finished (will I, won’t I? Don’t know) I’ll try to get it all into one photograph.

I’ve been posting regular updates on Instagram, and will continue to do this. So, if you don’t see any more on the blog about this, have a look on Instagram. I know I’ve said it before, but I’m enjoying Instagram.

Prism in Birmingham

Well, OK, I should have written something about Prism’s ‘Another View’  in Birmingham before now. And especially as it’s now weeks since the exhibition closed. I did my day of stewarding in the first week of the exhibition, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d had my dental implants done nine days earlier and, in retrospect, it would have been sensible to rest up for longer before I put in a full day at the exhibition. As it turned out the day I took my turn at stewarding was the first day I could have possibly managed to be on my feet for that length of time. We travelled up from Newton Abbot in Devon, where we stayed for several weeks in April and May, up to Birmingham the night before. I do like Birmingham, although I’m not well-acquainted with it. There is much of interest there, especially for anyone who is keen on the Industrial Revolution, gritty industrial architecture and shopping. Oh, and if you’re an aficionado of large, noisy roads that slice through a city centre making it difficult for pedestrians to get about, you’ll love the place. (I think the city was not well-served by developments in the 1960s).

The exhibition was at the RBSA (Royal Birmingham Society of Artists) which is a gem of a place in the Jewellery quarter just out of the city centre. RBSA gallery BirminghamThe building contains three floors, and the two upper floors were given over to the Prism exhibition. There was some excellent work in this year’s show, and it was very well exhibited in this beautiful space. I spent most of my time on the top floor as I was looking after the small shop. There was a steady stream of visitors during the morning, many of whom were regular visitors to RBSA, and who were not necessarily well-informed about textile art or Prism. The reaction to the exhibition was very positive and supportive indeed, and I enjoyed talking to the visitors.

A good thing about stewarding, as I discovered last year, is that, as well as talking to visitors, you also get to meet other Prism members. On this occasion I was stewarding with Ross Belton (see some of his images on Pinterest here) and Paulene Cattle, and I had an absorbing and interesting talk with both of them about all sorts of things.

So, in sum, a grand day out, even if I did feel utterly wiped out by it. With a bit of luck and good management I’ll have completed all the implant-related treatment by October, so should be in rather better shape for the Hoxton exhibition. Let’s hope….

Social media

So… social media….if you’ve read the last few entries, you’ll know that I’ve been somewhat absent from this blog lately. But, on the other hand, I have been fairly regular in posting photos on Instagram. (If you want to have a look at what I’ve been doing you can click on the Instagram icon on my home page). This is an ideal medium to use while you’re on the move as all you need is your phone and a minute or two to share a photograph. It requires no planning, minimal time and little thought. So, what’s not to like?

Well, nothing really, except that I can see that enthusiasm for Instagram could conceivably get out of hand. What’s gratifying about it is the feedback which is almost instantaneous in some cases. When you’ve spent some time working on something as labour-intensive as hand embroidery, it’s wonderfully affirming and validating to get somebody ‘liking’ what you’ve produced. It’s also very satisfying and interesting to see what the people you follow are up to, so that you can ‘like’ what they’ve been working on. It’s a kind of virtuous circle where you can keep up with work you like, whilst also receiving some recognition for your own. And yet….. I can see how it could easily become obsessive.

A few weeks ago, I read an interesting post on a blog that I follow. It was about Facebook, and the blogger detailed her concerns about her habit of looking far too frequently at Facebook for updates, and to receive validation of what she’d been doing. I found this very interesting and spent a bit of time constructing a suitable comment. But then, when I accessed the blog again, a couple of hours later, I found that the original post about Facebook had disappeared. The blogger must have thought better of it, and must have taken it down. I find this even more interesting. Perhaps it just felt too…. revealing? I won’t, of course, say who it was, but I found it interesting that even someone who is well-known in her field and who is a sober and thoughtful commentator, would feel the need for constant validation via Facebook. I had supposed that the gratification I get from Instagram would diminish over time if I got more followers and more ‘likes’ because it would all become very familiar. But what if it doesn’t? What if it becomes a bad habit? Clearly, I’m going to have to watch myself. And, perhaps, I need to avoid Facebook. I’ve been tempted from time to time to set up on Facebook, but have not done so, because I can see it would waste even more time that I haven’t got, for dubious benefits.

In the meantime, here is one of the photos I shared a while back on Instagram:Running stitch, colour




Dressmaking. Yes, it’s not quite the usual sort of thing I blog about. But it is closely related to the general themes of textile and stitch, so I reckon it’s probably OK. (And, actually, it is my blog and I can write about whatever I want!) But, if you’ve turned up in the expectation of reading something about embroidery, fear not – I’ll no doubt be back on message soon.

Back in November, when I went to K&S at Harrogate, I wrote a bit about the Maker’s Atelier and how impressed I’d been with the sample clothes on the stand. I bought two of the patterns, resolving to do something about them at some vague point in the future. Well, somewhat to my surprise I’ve reached that point and have produced my first garment. The pattern I used was the pleat detail dress and top – see pattern photograph.Pleat detail dress

I was very taken with the simplicity and neatness of the pattern.  I discussed its making up with Frances Tobin, the mastermind behind the Maker’s Atelier, at the K&S show. One of the aspects that concerned me was how well the pattern would scale up to a larger size. She was reassuring on this point, and suggested that I could alter the positioning of the pleat. On a larger size it could look awkward over the bust, so it might be preferable to place it further down.

I had decided that if I was going to make a serious attempt at dressmaking again I would have to spend time on fit and sizing. One of the things that’s put me off over the years is the sheer difficulty of scaling up patterns so that they will fit properly. So, I really went to town on the fit. Following the advice on the Maker’s Atelier website, and on numerous other blogs and websites, I decided I’d go the whole hog and make a toile (referred to in the USA as a ‘muslin’). I spent some time tweaking the pattern. Not only did I reposition the front pleat around 5 inches further down the dress, but I also altered the neckline to bring it down a bit. I have never done anything of the kind in my life, but I reckoned it couldn’t be that hard? Could it? Well, actually, it was OK, and especially once I was armed with the correct bit of kit, which is a French Curve for drawing the curvy bits. I also lengthened the top to tunic length so it would cover my bottom.

I cut the toile out of lightweight calico, which is a fabric I use a lot. Then made it up, which wasn’t a big deal as there are so few pattern pieces.  Then I tried it on, to discover that the garment was OK over the bust and shoulders, flappy around the neckline and a bit on the snug side round the hips. (I should say that I was working on the 16-18 size). I spent a lot of time getting the neckline right, but got there in the end. One of the challenges about changing a neckline is that you also have to change the neck facings. But after a couple of goes I got that right. Widening it out over the hips was very easy as this pattern falls in a straight line. And, while I was at it, I lengthened the sleeves a smidgeon.

I had bought two lengths of fabric to try out this pattern, and decided to go with the broderie anglaise first. This is a very lightweight cotton covered in machine embroidery which gives the surface quite a lumpy texture. I soon realised it was going to be quite challenging to work with as the machine needle tends to get to a bump and then veer off. Making the facings was not going to work in this fabric. But then I remembered that a few weeks ago the iron had gone through the very worn surface of one of our older pillowcases. I’d mended it with a bit of old sheeting, but same thing happened again next time it went in the wash. The 100% cotton white pillowcase was very worn in the middle but there was plenty of viable fabric round the outside, and it had become soft and pliable. It turned out to be just perfect for the facings.

A good thing about making the neck bigger was that I was able to dispense with putting in a zip in the back seam. The garment pulls over my head quite comfortably. Here’s what it looks like finished:Broderie anglaise pleat detail top The neckline fits perfectly, after much effort to get it right.Broderie anglaise pleat detail top neck c I’m very pleased with the finished item. It’s required much time and effort, especially considering it’s such a simple piece of clothing. However, I’ve now perfected my pattern to fit me, and will be able to make another one with the other piece of cloth (blue linen) that I’ve got earmarked.

One of the reasons this has been slow to do, apart from the work on fitting, is that I’ve been garnering and applying advice from a range of websites on how to produce home-made garments that don’t look home-made. Some of the advice I would follow in any case as this is what I learned when I was a child, e.g.

  • Always press seams carefully as you go
  • Apply staystitching around the neckline to prevent the fabric stretching out of shape
  • Baste any seam that’s likely to cause problems – e.g. in this case the attachment of the neck facings to the neckline
  • Finish off the raw edge of the facings.

Here are some of the other bits of advice I followed when making this:

  • Make a toile. Opinions vary about this around the internet, but I found it invaluable and would always now do this with a new pattern
  • Prewash the fabric, so that any shrinkage is taken care of before you start cutting into it. (Bingo! Brilliant! Why hadn’t I ever done this before?)
  • Use directional stitching, e.g. stitch up the two side seams in the same direction, from the bottom of the garment

One piece of advice I meant to follow was to use a new machine needle for each new project. I just forgot. And actually, it didn’t matter because the machine behaved perfectly throughout.

I also tried to improve the look of the garment by taking care over finishing off the hems. Back when I did more dressmaking, decades ago, I often found that my lack of expertise in hemming gave the game away and made the thing look hopelessly homemade. On this occasion I cut (using a cutting mat and rotary cutter) some straight-grain facings from my trusty pillowcase, and these were easy to apply. I did the actual hemming using the blindstitch hemming attachment. I’ve used this on curtains before, to good effect, and the technique worked well here too. These are probably the most professional-looking garment hems I’ve ever produced.

So, on the whole, a very positive experience, although it was very time-consuming. I wish I’d written down all the time I spent on this, but I estimate I must have put around 4 days’ worth of time into this simple garment. The broderie anglaise fabric I used is too fine and see-through, certainly for a person of my age and build. I can wear it with a white cotton vest top, which looks fine, but I’d have been better off starting with a slightly heavier and more opaque fabric.

Right, I’m going to cut out the blue linen version now. This should be really easy….







A surfeit of pincushions

Yes, I’m really starting to feel that I’ve produced a surfeit of pincushions. It’s partly due to circumstances. I’ve done so much travelling around in recent months and I’ve found it very convenient to keep these little pieces on the go. And they’re great for using up small pieces of cloth that are just too lovely/precious to throw away. I also find them very useful for experimenting with colour combinations, so they are fulfilling the functions of samples. However, you can have too much of a good thing, so I’ve stopped making them for the time being and will move on to something else. Here’s a picture of some I’ve completed recently:pincushions


Stitching activity of late

Having flogged and left the house (see last blogpost) in early March, we then went up to the Scottish borders for a few days, then pushed off to France for about three weeks. Many months ago, when I first found out about it, I had booked to go on a Matthew Harris mentoring workshop in April. And I was quite determined not to miss it. And I’m really glad I didn’t.

If you’re interested in stitching, and if you’ve read my blog previously, you will have heard of Matthew Harris. Here’s a link to his website. I have previously attended one of his mentoring workshops at Bobby Britnell’s in Shropshire and very helpful it was too. However, I was keen to also go to one of his workshops on his own premises in Stroud, because the number of students was even smaller than at Bobby’s. There were six of us altogether, three per studio and each of us had a large space of our own in which to work. I found it very useful to discuss my work and where I’m up to. Matthew is very good at encouraging ideas and suggesting possible directions to explore. For example, he suggested I have a look at the work of Shirley Craven, a textile designer of the 1960s. Very pertinent, very helpful. (Look her up on Google Images and you’ll get the idea).

What I specifically discussed during the two day workshop was the possibility of working on paper.  I wrote a brief blog post towards the end of March on the subject, and I’d been doing a bit of work on it (although not much because of the house move and toxic quantities of income-generating work).

I did some sketchbook work, developing a basic shape which I then used in several permutations. Here’s an image that made it as far as being painted and then stitched:Stitch on paper March April 2017

And here’s how I developed it at the mentoring workshop in Stroud:More developed idea stitching on paper

I cut out a template of my basic shape, and then experimented with overlaying it in various ways. I do like the effect.

I cut a similar design (gouache and coloured pencil on paper) into strips and rearranged them:Matthew Harris mentoring April 2017

I like this one, too, and I can see some scope for scaling it up. However, I’m going to have to wait for a while before I can engage on such activities. In the house we’re moving to (provided all goes well), there is quite a large studio at the bottom of the garden. It was a stable but was converted into an artist’s studio. Imagine how happy I am about that! It’s properly insulated and has a stove so I will be able to work there all year round. It’s well lit from above, and there is plenty of space in it for working on a fairly large scale. So, this red and white piece could be a candidate for the first large piece I make in my new studio…..



Well…! That was a long break from blogging. I do have some quite good reasons, though. We’re in the process of moving from Lancashire to Northumberland. It’s been, and continues to be, a frenetic process. The house sold in early March and we packed up and left, putting most of the stuff into storage. We will be moving into the new place within the next two or three months, but don’t yet have a date. In the meantime, we’ve been travelling around with a car containing the bare essentials for five or six months.

The nomadic sewing kit contains:

  • My sewing machine (couldn’t bear to be parted from my Bernina for that long)
  • Two large bags of art and stitching materials, full to bursting and spilling out

This lot occupies quite a lot of volume in the car (which is a pretty normal hatchback size). We’ve each got a couple of bags of clothes and personal items, and there are two large boxes of paperwork, both domestic and work-based (because I have to carry on working throughout this period). Computer equipment and lots of trailing leads. Then there are a few domestic items that were last minute (e.g. teapot and coffee pot, a sad little teaspoon on its ownio) and odds and ends that just somehow got left behind. A solitary plant which we couldn’t just abandon. Shoes. Sandals. Coats and jackets to cover the different seasons.

It’s been quite an upheaval, to put it mildly. I suppose it’s good for a person, to have everything thrown up in the air, and to still be waiting to see where the pieces fall a few months later. But, to be honest, I’ve found it much more difficult than I expected – and I wasn’t expecting it to be easy.

And just to make life that little bit more difficult, in the course of all this I’ve had my latest round of dental implants done. Most of the time since we moved we’ve been in either France or Scotland, but I had to go back to England for a couple of things, once of which was the dental implant op towards the end of April. And it’s taken me till now, early June, to feel more or less back to normal. We’re back in France, although I’ll be off to England again in a fortnight for work. And then after that it’s Spain for a few days….. I know this must sound really interesting and possibly even enviable, but really, I just want to move into the new place, sit down on the sofa and cuddle the cat (who is in long-term care at the cattery – I miss her lots) and not move for rather a long time. I rather enjoyed gadding about when I was young, but that was then and this is now.

So, I’ve got started with blogging again, I’ll have to have a bit of a retrospective catch-up over the next few entries. I have continued, somewhat surprisingly, to get some stitching done. I’ve had work exhibited at Ramster. I’ve been on another Matthew Harris course. I spent a day stewarding at the Prism exhibition in Birmingham. And although I haven’t kept up with social media to the extent of doing any blogging, I have been quite assiduous about keeping up with Instagram. I’ll write a bit more about all these things over the next couple of weeks.

One thought I’ll leave you with for now is about stuff. This move had been planned for some time but the transaction was getting so dauntingly difficult (this is in England where property transactions are more often than not a nightmare) that it looked as though it wasn’t going to happen. Once it did happen, it happened incredibly quickly and we had less than a week in which to organise a last-minute leaving party for friends and neighbours and get everything packed up to go into storage. Apart from the items I mentioned earlier, it’s all gone. Nearly three decades-worth of stuff. And what, if anything do I miss? Most of all I miss the cat, way out in front of anything else. Next, I miss certain items of art that we have bought over the years, although I have to say there are some items I’m quite indifferent about. I’d like to get back to having a really big table for artwork and stitching. And, er, well, that’s about it. It’s going to be interesting to unpack all this stuff, and to properly appraise whether or not we want to keep it.