A whole lot of pincushions

Regular readers will have observed that I’ve not been posting much recently. I’ve been too busy a) working and b) making pincushions to have much time for anything else. I’ve just finished a pile of 8, as shown in the first photograph. Pincushion towerEach pincushion is 4 inches square (approximately 10cm square) and each has a button top and bottom. It’s been a great opportunity to explore my button box which otherwise doesn’t get touched very often. I’ve put a small button on the embroidered side of each pincushion and a larger feature button on the plain side. Here’s a plain side to illustrate:Plain side of pincushion with feature button

And finally, here’s a close up of one of the recent additions. Close up of pincushionWhy so many, and what am I going to do with them? Well, there are many because I’ve simply enjoyed making them very much. And what will I do with them? Sell them, I hope. If my work goes into the next Prism exhibition I’d like to put some items into the shop. And I keep returning to the idea of opening an Etsy shop and these little items would be ideal. I may even get round to it someday.


Making smaller work for sale

Recently, I’ve been putting in a lot of time on making smaller works for sale. I hope to be able to offer these for the shop at the forthcoming Prism exhibition. I’ve also been thinking about setting up an Etsy shop at some point, although I’m not ready to do this yet. If and when I do it I will, of course, provide a link on this website.

I decided that, as I was on a roll with the Klee-themed pieces, I would produce some mini-versions to offer for sale. So far, I’ve produced six and I’ve loved making them. A couple of posts ago I mentioned how much I’d enjoyed the whitework I was doing in the early part of the year, but also that I was glad to get back to colour. These pieces are the result of my engagement with colour. I’ve thought about the application of colour theory a lot since I started doing them but also I’ve just been enjoying placing colours together to see what works. I thought at one stage that my principal interest would always be line, but of late I find I’m drawn time and time again to the sheer joy of putting colours alongside each other. Here’s an example of what I’ve been working on:Brief Dream series

I hope you can see from this how much I’ve liked working with colour. The red and pink juxtaposition is what I was exploring in the Cochineal Dream pieces, and here I’ve added some more elements to this basic idea, including the bright yellow and ochre. Sometimes these odd combinations seem to work.

More on this another time.









It may be a reaction against all that cochineal that I’ve been using recently, but I found I felt very much like concentrating on white for a while. I’ve been away from home for a few days, with just a limited range of materials. I’ve got a box full of various white fabrics: silk, linen, gauze, calico, silk velvet. And a box of threads (see photo). And a small box of lace, which I love. Years ago, when my children were very small and I was at home most of the time with them, I used to get time off on a Monday evening to go to a lace-making class. And then, at intervals during the week, I’d find time to make a tiny bit of lace. But it’s very time-consuming making bobbin lace, and once I started full-time work I really didn’t have any spare time for it. However, it’s left me with a diminishing legacy of hand-made lace which I use occasionally in projects. It’s lovely to incorporate materials with which you have a very close connection. And there are few connections closer than a thing of beauty which you’ve made yourself using only fine thread. Threads for whitework

I’ve probably mentioned before that I’m interested in the crazy patchwork that was in vogue in Victorian times. Rather garish, some of it, but an interesting example of the whole being greater than the sum of the very tiny parts. I thought it would be interesting to strip all the colour out of this style of work and to produce a piece using only white or off-white materials. Without colour, the only scope for interest is texture and the minimal contrast provided by the neutrals. You’ll see that I perhaps didn’t quite manage this: the neutral linen comes out looking surprisingly dark in contrast to the white, and I used the silvery pale grey silk gauze folded in four, so it too looks quite dark. But mostly it’s white. In the bottom of my tin of white and off-white threads I found a few beads and a washer or two so I’ve incorporated them as well. This was not a particularly taxing piece to do. I put very little thought into composition (it’s crazy patchwork, after all), and just added embellishments as they occurred to me. But I did enjoy it making it very much. Whitework - crazy patchwork - detailWhitework - crazy patchwork

Cochineal Dream 3

Well, it’s really taken me rather a long time to get round to writing a post about the completed Cochineal Dream 3. It was completed before Christmas. When last you saw it, it looked like this – i.e. very raw and basic in its early stages:Putting together Cochineal Dream 3

The finished version looks like this:Cochineal Dream 3

I’m pleased with it, although I must say that I was also pleased to complete it and feel that I could give cochineal a rest for the time being. This dense stitching really does take some time and working at the rate I do means that I have to live with a piece for a long time. I like the effect of the three pieces together and I’d like to exhibit them as a group. I did offer them for an exhibition but was turned down. I wasn’t especially surprised as the exhibition was seeking somewhat larger pieces than these, and didn’t feel particularly disappointed. However, I will look for other possible outlets as I think they are worth exhibiting. I haven’t had them framed yet, but I know what I want and will probably sort that out in the near future. I was going to take them to a framer just before Christmas, but then the flooding happened in the north-west of England and getting about became difficult and even dangerous in places so I decided not to risk it. The moment passed and has not yet recurred.

I’m a little uncertain about what to embark on next as a project, and am having a good think and working on samples and ideas. Something that isn’t pink seems the most promising direction at the moment…..

Starting out

This post is about starting out on my third cochineal piece, just to show you how I actually get these pieces out of my head and into reality. First, I cut a piece of lightweight calico. This has to be sufficiently large so that I can comfortably use a small hoop. Then I gather together a selection of likely-looking fabrics. In this series the fabrics have mostly been those I’ve dyed with cochineal or logwood (for a bit of contrast), but I feel these are my pieces so I can include what I want. For example, in each of the three pieces, I’ve included a piece of silk gauze as an overlay for part of the piece. The reason for this is that I like a very small amount of low-level bling – nothing vulgar or showy – just a small hint of something glitzy in the background.

I lay out my fabrics on the work surface and have a think about them, trying out various combinations. I give the pieces a quick iron, if necessary. Everything is ironed before it’s put away in my storage system but it’s amazing how creased fabrics can get just sitting by themselves in a drawer. Once I’m happy with the combinations and placing of the pieces I pin them out on the lightweight calico ground. That’s the point I’ve got to in this photograph:Putting together Cochineal Dream 3

The very bright pink piece is a leftover piece of silk (bought from The Silk Route some while ago and partially used on a City & Guilds project) which I’ve been wanting to use. It’s not dyed by me, unlike most of the other pieces, but I wanted it there so I’ve used it. The slightly duller pink on the right is lightweight cotton lawn, and the stripy bit in the middle is one of the last fragments of recycled men’s shirt that I have. I rather like using this. The pale pink at the bottom is another piece of cotton lawn, from when the cochineal dye bath was pretty much on its last legs. Similarly, the very pale grey up at the top left is the product of the 8th or 9th immersion in the logwood dye bath (cochineal and logwood dyes are expensive but they both go a very long way). Barely visible, also up on the top left, is a square of silvery silk gauze and a piece of pale grey muslin. I measure a rough square and mark around its perimeter with pins, and that’s pretty much it. Ready to go.

While I’m assembling all this, I’m asking myself about thread colours. My intention here is to make a lighter, brighter, piece, so there will be quite a lot of whites, creams and pale pinks and greys. I’m using the same thread basket as previously. I probably won’t use the darker colours in it, but they will be there if I need them. The next stage in the process is to get rid of the pins by basting. If there’s a pin in a work I will draw blood with it, so it’s important to see them off as soon as possible. These pins, incidentally, are quilting pins, so longer than the usual dressmaker’s pins. I find the quilting pins very useful for appliqué work, as they anchor the fabrics more securely. I do as little basting as I can get away with (because it’s a tedious part of the process), but it’s important to put enough basting stitches in place to hold the fabrics securely.

When I’m putting these appliqués together I’m thinking about harmony and composition, but I don’t agonise over these elements. If I’ve got an odd-shaped piece of fabric (as in the case of the darker pink cotton lawn on the right, which was an offcut from something else) I’ll just use it if I feel like it. Not very scientific, is it? Or very artistic, either. Still, these are my choices, and I’ve become more confident about making them over the last two or three years. I’m less bothered than I used to be about things going wrong. If they do, they do. Laid back or what?

Update on the cochineal project

Cochineal Dream 2I thought it was time for an update on the cochineal project. I exerted myself a bit last week, and finished the second in my ‘Cochineal Dream’ series. I even pulled myself together sufficiently to line it and finish it properly, and here it is (with the first piece underneath it):

As intended, it’s darker than the first piece, but the theme is still definitely cochineal. Here are a couple of close-ups:Cochineal Dream 2 close upCochineal Dream 2 close up

I’m currently pondering whether to make a third or not. I’m happy to continue in this vein, and I do think a group of three similar things is more satisfying and altogether better than a group of two… but perhaps I should be heading off in another direction. I’ve got lots of ideas, but insufficient time…. we’ll see.


Something different

I haven’t made as much progress as I would have liked with my whitework sampler, so I decided to show you something different today. Sample in arpillera styleThis is a sample in the ‘cuadro’ style which I produced for my C&G Diploma. There’s a requirement for the Diploma to study the embroidery of three countries, and to produce a sample in the appropriate style for each country study. I loved doing these, as indeed I loved most aspects of the Diploma. My countries were Afghanistan, Japan and Peru, and the ‘cuadro’ sample belongs to the last of these.

‘Cuadro’ means picture in Spanish. In a modern Peruvian context, this is the word used to describe a relatively new form of embroidery which has a political purpose. These pictures are also known as ‘arpilleras’. This style of embroidery appears to have started in Chile, as a form of political protest and solidarity under the aegis of the Catholic Church. It was a medium that women could use to express their anguish over their disappeared relatives. This style of embroidery uses patchwork and three-dimensional padding to show scenes of modern life, often with a political message. The testaments embodied in these cuadros became economically and politically useful because they could be used as consciousness-raising medium exported to rich and influential countries and also as a means of making money.

Pictures in this style are produced in Peru in shantytown workshops surrounding the capital city, Lima. The pictures are exported by Catholic nuns as a means of providing a living for poor families.

Although the messages conveyed by the cuadros are often overtly political it is also quite common for them to depict contented scenes of everyday life. I chose such a scene for my sample, and I loved doing it. I used tiny scraps of material that would otherwise perhaps have been thrown away and I spent some time and effort getting the composition right. I’m not sure I’ll ever produce another one, but when I see this sample, I remember how contented and absorbed I was in making it.

You can read more about arpilleras in this essay by Marjorie Agosin.

Forgetting how to do things: shisha mirrors

I was working on a little felt appliqué sample the other day, which I’d decided to embellish with beads and mirrors. I like shisha mirrors. I hardly ever use them, but I felt quite confident that I could apply them easily. That is, until I tried to do it. I threaded the needle, put some foundation stitches in to hold the mirror down and then…. well, then I got stuck. I watched a video tutorial on applying mirrors by Laura Kemshall in the DMTV series that she produces with Linda Kemshall (very good; you have to pay an annual subscription but you get a new video almost every week and it’s worth it). Unfortunately, although I understood what Laura was doing in the video, I couldn’t quite manage to copy the technique. So then I tried a website that shows, with still pictures, how to apply the mirrors. I had a bit more success with that, but I’ve ended up applying five mirrors and they all look different. Oh well, perhaps it’s age…. Here’s a photo of the mirror element and another close up of some beading from the same sample. Felt appliqué sample with shisha mirrorsFelt appliqué sample

More on Contemporary Appliqué

A few days ago I wrote that I’d ordered a copy of Contemporary Appliqué, the new book by Julia Triston and Rachel Lombard. Here’s a photo I found on Julia’s Facebook page showing her and the book:Julia Triston and Contemporary Appliqué

Well, the book promptly arrived (thank you Speedy Hen – very good service) and I’ve been reading it over the last few days. I wasn’t actually sure what to expect with this book – would it be a review of contemporary appliqué styles and methods – or a ‘how to’ book? It turns out to be both of those things, and somewhat more in that it also contains, in Part 1,  a very absorbing survey of historical and cultural perspectives on appliqué. Obviously, the book is restricted in size to the usual Batsford 128 page format, so there can’t be a vast amount of detail in the contexts part. However, there’s enough to make it clear that appliqué has a long history and is very diverse in its cultural contexts. Parts 2 (Design Skills) and 3 (Appliqué: the Basics) contain the ‘how to’ elements of the book. I found the section on how to transfer designs particularly useful and practical, and it contained some ideas that are unfamiliar, to me at least (e.g. soap and net method of transfer). The final part of the book, From Tradition to Innovation, is the longest; it contains loads of ideas about contemporary applications of appliqué techniques.

There is a lot of information in this book, and the text is clearly written. But I think it’s really great strength is the quality and range of the images that illustrate the text. These have obviously been chosen with a great deal of care to demonstrate a huge range of appliqué techniques. Although, of course, the authors use their own work to illustrate certain points, the book is not particularly skewed towards them or towards any other individual makers, or indeed towards a particular style or approach. This is a real strength in a book that aims to ‘take a fresh look at the world of appliqué and surface ornament’ (as it says inside the front cover).

So, in conclusion (because I must depart for a visit to the dentist) if you’re interested in appliqué techniques, this is well worth a look.