Linen thread

I’m very attracted by linen thread. Over the last year or two I’ve built up quite a collection. I got them all out the other day and put them in my useful shallow basket:Linen thread collection

At the bottom right is some of the thread I bought from Namolio at a show. This is lovely, but comes in quite a limited range of colours. On the left is a little stash of vintage Swedish linen thread which I got at the Linladan stall at K&S in Harrogate in 2015. (Click on the links to get to the Namolio and Linladan websites).These are beautiful threads, although pretty expensive. As usual, when I buy something quite expensive I’m wary about using it. Which is a ridiculous attitude if you spend half a second thinking about it. The only thing that could possibly justify the expense, surely, is actually using the materials. Well, it’s illogical, but I think it’s quite a common attitude. There’s a feeling that you’re under pressure to produce something really good, and it would be wasteful to just experiment and maybe produce something you’re not satisfied with. Understandable, maybe, but it’s an attitude that needs resisting.

At the time I pulled back from buying a whole box of Linladan thread – at £38 per box, it seemed a bit much. But look at this example here and you’ll see why I was tempted…Linladen thread box

Isn’t it lovely? Now that I’ve got my actual threads together I see that they’re mostly in rather sombre hues, and there’s very little contrast. Either I shell out on this box of threads, or I use some cotton or silk when I want a bit of colour contrast. I think for the moment I’m content to do the latter.

And what am I going to do with these threads, I hear you ask? Well, more on that next time….

 

 

Excellent present

It seems (and is) rather a long time since Christmas, but I thought I’d just tell you about an excellent present I received. My son and his girlfriend have been spending quite a lot of their spare time recently producing mosaics. They’re both really into it, and it’s a lovely, creative, activity that they enjoy working on together. On Christmas Day they gave each of us (husband, me and daughter) an identically sized package to open, which turned out to be a very well-executed mosaic. It’s such a pleasure to be given something that’s been made by the givers, and the more so in this case, because the mosaic theme, colours etc. had been carefully selected for each of us. And in each case, the mosaic expressed something about the character and interests of the person to whom it was given. Very clever.

Here’s mine:1-IMG_0395

Those readers who are familiar with my work and tastes will realise that this piece ticks a lot of boxes for me. For one thing, it’s square, and I dearly love a square. The choice of colours and the regular gradation within a strict format are also likely to appeal to me. So, well done them. It’s also a great pleasure to see your children being creative. Like me, my children have chosen careers in the professions/business, but of course, like me, they can make the most of their spare time to do other things.

This piece of mosaic is framed and stands on my desk so I see it while I work. What a pleasure!

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.

 

More pincushions

After making one pincushion (see previous post) I was seized with the notion of making a few more. I’m currently busy with some work that I intend to submit to the 2017 Prism exhibitions (this is not a typo – there are two exhibitions, one in London and one in Birmingham in 2017). In this work I’m exploring some ideas in black, white and my favourite chromatic greys. It’s very absorbing but it’s not what you’d call colourful. So, embroidering some pincushion bases in a riot of colours makes a lovely change from the more sombre colours. I’ve prepared several of these pieces. The one pictured below was finished this morning:Pincushion base

It looks a bit of a mess, but will look much better when it’s made up into the finished article. I prepared eight of these in advance and took them away on a recent trip,  and I’ve spent some very contented hours stitching them. Before I left I stuffed some threads into Ziploc bags, divided into eight colour groups. Choosing the thread colours has been a lot of fun. With something like this you can try out mad colour combinations just to see if they work. Having said that I’ve stuck, broadly, to complementary colour theory. So in the piece above there are yellow/purple and red/green complementaries. Most of the scraps of fabric here are silk. They include (second from right) a little strip of Margo Selby woven silk, which I just love. I got a small remnant bag from her shop a few years ago and much of that small amount is now gone. Wonder if I can get some more?

Here’s a close up of the stitching. Pincushion close up to show stitchingI just use whatever stitch comes into my head at the start of a line. So liberating.

 

Winchester Cathedral

I can’t believe I didn’t know about the fabulous floor tiles at Winchester Cathdral. Nobody ever mentioned it. Can’t think why not.Floor tile Winchester Cathedral

Over the years I’ve been to many cathedrals and churches around England, but had never been to Winchester until last month. You have to pay to get in, but that’s fair enough as it must cost a fortune to keep these ancient buildings going. I was very impressed by the building and by the modest memorial marking the resting place of Jane Austen. But it was the floor tiles that I liked most. I’m sure you can see why, especially if you know of my penchant for grids and repetitive pattern.

Ive been out and about a lot over the last two or three months, entirely within England, and to some places I’ve rarely, or never, visited. Perhaps I’ll write some more about this. Although, there again, I might very well not, as my shortage of time is likely to continue into the middle distance. So, more to come…. perhaps.

Embroidery on a bike

Well, it’s not actually embroidery on a bike – that would be silly. To be more precise, this is about carrying the materials for embroidery on a bike. Husband and I have recently completed a very long bike ride indeed, from Worcester in England to Prades near Perpignan in the South of France where we often go on holiday. This was a mad enterprise, really, especially for a person like myself unused to great feats of physical exertion. I didn’t tell very many people about it before we left, because I was by no means certain that I would finish it, or even get very far. But, much to my surprise, I did finish it. Woo hoo.

I was riding a hybrid bike (hybrid, that is, between road bike and mountain bike) which is useful if you’re covering varied types of terrain as we were. It’s not the lightest bike on earth and nor is it a particularly expensive bike. I was carrying two Ortlieb pannier bags attached to a rear pannier rack. These had to contain everything I’d need for four to six weeks cycling. We were staying in chambres d’hotes and bed and breakfast places along the way so didn’t need to carry camping equipment as some brave long-distance cyclists do. But the bags did have to contain useful stuff like spare tyres, inner tubes, pump and basic toolkit as well as clothing sufficient to cover a range of scenarios (keeping the rain off, keeping us warm, having something halfway decent to wear for dinner, spare cycling clothes, maps, iPad, chargers etc). This was all carefully thought out and planned for before the trip, to try to keep the weight down to a minimum.

Some stats – we covered just short of 2,000 kilometres in 31 days. This included a couple of days off, so our average rate of progress per day was around 67km, with some wide variations (the longest distance covered in a day was 97km). The weather was very poor for much of the trip. The English section was made very difficult by strong winds which were almost always against us. And it was perishing cold for much of the trip in both England and France. I’d taken my three season cycling gloves along because I supposed there would be a few days when I might need them; in the event I used them almost every day.

I don’t like to undertake any trip without something to sew, and I put a lot of thought into this beforehand. Think about it for a moment: what would you take if the weight was a big issue?

And what did I actually take? Well, I took two pieces of lightweight calico, each measuring about 18 inches square. I tacked some other lightweight materials to them in places – little oddments of linen, silk, cotton etc. A 6 inch hoop. A small square of felt with half a dozen needles of different sizes. And then threads. I decided to stick with five main colour groups – yellows and browns, pale greens, greys, whites and pinks, intended to coordinate or contrast with the appliqued materials. I put these thread groups into five small ziplock bags, packaged inside a rather larger ziplock bag. Another larger ziplock bag contained the hoop and appliqued calico, the felt with needles and my small embroidery scissors. And that was it. I weighed it all and it came to less than 1lb (450grams) and I felt that I was prepared and willing to carry this amount of extra weight so as to be sure of having something to stitch when time allowed. Here is the yellow and brown selection in its ziplock bag:Yello threads in ziplock bag

And the photograph below shows the selection of threads laid out on a table:Yellow threads spread out

How much did I do? Well, en route, I was just exhausted for the first week or so and would just fall asleep at the first possible opportunity. However, as the trip went on I did find some spare minutes every now and then, and on the rest days I managed to put in a couple of hours or so. Once we arrived at our destination I had determined that I was going to spend a lot of time stitching, and I did. Was there anything I really wanted that I hadn’t taken with me? Well, actually, no. I’d planned this carefully, and in any case, it’s always helpful to have a few constraints in materials supplies. I’m so pleased I took the materials with me – I wouldn’t have liked to go for almost six weeks in total without having something to stitch.

So, you see, it can be done. If any of you are inclined to take a lengthy cycle ride or any other type of endeavour where your baggage is severely limited, rest assured that you can get some stitching done…  Has anyone else done anything like this? Drop me a line or a comment if you have.

And another small piece completed…

As previously noted I’ve been working on smaller pieces. Here’s another in the series:

Another small piece

I’ve divided the space in this one with a vertical line in medium-toned bluish grey. This breaks up the composition a little and gives it some direction. As to the colour choices, I’ve worked without too much planning, hoping to see where the piece would take me. I do tend to find that the introduction of some pink and/or red livens things up and helps to bring the other colours alive. I wonder if any other colour could serve the same purpose?

I feel it’s important to avoid getting stuck in a rut. At the same time, I feel a need to continue to explore colour in this way. I’ve made a sample piece using the same fragmented stitching but working in lines of colour. The light isn’t good enough to take a photo at the moment, but I’ll try to remember to add a photo as and when I can.

I seem to be getting a lot of new viewers of my blog these days. Welcome to all! And please note that I do love to get the occasional comment, so feel free…

Prism at Hoxton

Prism at Hoxton Arches, the next exhibition, takes place in early June 2016. Here’s the poster for it:blocks_image_1_1

If you’re in London at the time or can make the trip, please do try to get along to it. I submitted three pieces for consideration (Cochineal Dream #1, #2 and #3) and they have been accepted, I’m very happy to say. This is not quite my first time exhibiting (there was the piece I did for Brenda Gael Smith’s touring exhibition, Living Colour) but it will be the first time I’ve had any work on show in the UK. I’ll write a bit more next time about how I’m going about preparing for the exhibition.

 

Never apologise, never explain

Yes, it’s been a while. But I’m not apologising for that. I’ve got a life, like everybody else, and it does get in the way. I’ve found the best way for me, personally, to approach blogging is to treat it as an on-going diary which will be a bit sporadic when I’m otherwise occupied. There’s really no point in creating a burden for myself in the form of self-imposed pressure to write a blog post twice a week. So I’m not going to. I’m not apologising but if I write about what I’ve been up to, it is inevitably, a kind of explanation. Mostly, during the month of March it’s been work, sheer hard graft with several trips away and some long hours put in on keeping the wolf from the door. But I have been doing quite a lot of stitching in the interstices (I love that word) and I’ll show some of it on the blog over the next week or two. In the meantime, here’s a picture of one of my thread boxes. Thread box white and creamI think I’ve written in the past how useful I find the cheap wooden drawers from IKEA. I keep commercial stranded cotton in small plastic boxes, and my own dyed threads are in the dyed thread drawer. Everything else goes into these sets of wooden drawers, sorted and classified by colour. They are small enough to be manageable, but large enough to contain what I’ve got. When I want threads of a particular colour I can spill the contents of a drawer onto the desk and rummage about to select things. And tidying up them up afterwards doesn’t take very long. It satisfies my orderly accountant’s mind to have things filed away and tidy.

This is, obviously, the white and cream thread box. It’s somewhat depleted at the moment because I’ve been using neutrals a lot. Those of you who follow this blog may have read my posts in late January and February about whitework. I loved doing so much work around the theme of white but I must say that since then I’ve been enjoying getting back to colour. More on that soon.

 

Inventing ghostwork

This week I’ve been inventing ghostwork. At least, I think I’ve been inventing it – apologies to anyone who got there first.

So, what is it? Regular readers will know that I’ve been obsessing over whitework recently, and have been playing around making whitework samples. I decided to turn the thing on its head and to start with a coloured fabric, then reduce it back to plain white as much as possible. I took a piece of African batik (purchased as part of a range of fabrics from the excellent African Fabric Shop) and cut a small piece. I then tried to remove most of the colour from it using DeColourant spray. This had very little effect, so then I tried DeColourant* paste. This still wasn’t working particularly well, even after prolonged steam ironing, so I put some household bleach into a plastic tray and immersed the piece of batik for well over 24 hours. After this time the dark areas of fabric were still dark, but the bright green had faded to either white or a pale pink. I then free-machine embroidered all over it using off-white Madeira rayon thread. The effect is to produce a ghostly image of the batik, much dispelled by the bleach and the white embroidery. The photograph shows, on the left hand side, a piece of the original batik, and in most of the picture on the right hand side, the bleached out ghostwork version. I’m really rather taken with it.Bleached out batik - whitework

I also tried bleaching another piece of African batik cotton which I’d covered with coloured embroidery. I immersed this in pure bleach for about three days and I have to tell you that the DMC embroidery cotton holds its colour really well even in the face of this attack on it. Some of the colours turned a bit paler, but that’s it. Very impressive performance. The background fabric was definitely fading after three days in the bleach, though. So, not wholly successful if the whole point was to remove colour. Well, I then rinsed it out and decided to put it through a washing machine cycle with a lot of towels. Then I was going to photograph it and show it on this blogpost as an illustration of how well DMC cottons hold their colour. However, I proceeded to unload the washing machine and then to hang the towels up, but there was no sign of the little experimental piece of cotton. Where oh where has it gone? I examined the washing machine drum, but the piece of cotton seems to have just disappeared. This is truly weird. Although, it could be akin to the sock conundrum which you’re probably familiar with. When you pair the clean socks, there’s almost always one left over. Where is its mate? Gone to join the other spare socks in some forgotten corner of the universe, perhaps.

* DeColourant spray and paste: I’ve not had outstanding results with these products. I think if you’re expecting them to remove colour completely you’re probably in for a disappointment. However, I have not used them a great deal, and others may have had more success. Has anybody tried them? Have you got any helpful comments/tips/suggestions about their use? There’s a similar Jacquard product that I’ve not tried. These pastes/sprays are pretty expensive, offputtingly so for the casual experimenter. Household bleach, on the other hand, is cheap.