Linen on paper

I said in the last post that I’d say something about what I’m doing with my collection of linen threads. As regular readers may remember, I’ve been very impressed for a while by the work of Emily Barletta. She has produced quite a lot of very striking stitched work on paper. I experimented a bit with this last year when I was working on my whitework project. One of the images I produced at the time has been repinned a few times on Pinterest, so it seems to be quite appealing. Here it is as a reminder of what I was doing:Whitework on paper - resolved piece

This was actually a very complicated and time-consuming piece of work to do. But as an experimental sample it was very absorbing. So, the next stage, I felt, was to produce some more samples to see what I could do with the combination of linen and stiff paper. Here’s the first one that I tried:Linen on paper

I drew out the design, then used a needle to make holes in the stiff watercolour paper. Then it’s just a matter of filling in the holes with stitch – quite easy really once you’ve decided what to do. I was only moderately pleased by this one, but it was just an experiment and the intention behind sampling is just to see what happens if you do certain things, combine certain materials and so on. In this case, I drew the design on the back of the piece of paper, and punched the holes through from the back. I don’t think this is particularly satisfactory as it creates a slightly raised area around each hole.

So for the next sample, I punched the holes in from the front. I decided to keep it simple, but to try to create a textured surface. Here it is:Textured surface linen on paper

I deliberately photographed it at an angle to emphasise the surface texture. I really like the effect. The technique I’ve used is wrapping – just a simple running stitch but each stitch is then wrapped to create the texture.

Currently, I’m working on another sample, which I’ll put on the blog when I’ve finished. It also uses wrapping but this time of single chain stitches. More on this very soon!

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….



More pincushions

I’ve decided to produce more pincushions so I can put some of them into the Prism shop at the Birmingham exhibition to see if there’s any demand for them. If there is, then I’ll feel more confident about offering them via an Etsy shop (yet to be set up, but you never know – I may just get round to it one of these days). I had to think about how best to present them, and decided that they would look better presented in a box. Cue much searching around on the internet for suitable cardboard presentation boxes. I wanted black, 10cm x 10cm, and deep enough for the pincushion. In the end I couldn’t find black, but I did find a very nice off-white which come flat-packed. Yesterday I made them up and put the pincushions in. I may add some tissue paper, but this is how they’re looking at the moment:Pincushion, boxed

Nice, and a good fit. I’m pleased.

Previously, I’ve read artists accounts of how much time they spend on applying for exhibitions, boxing work up, dealing with the admin, and so on. I can attest to the truth of this. Some of the time it’s taking up at the moment is no doubt because of my inexperience, but still, it just does take a long time. When you still have a day job, this means even less precious time to spend on actually making. However, there is a certain satisfaction to be gained from doing these things properly.

As well as the finished pincushions, I decided I’d try offering them in kit form. Again, this is experimental. Now, this really has taken up a lot of time, as it’s required some careful thought and sourcing. But I’ve loved putting the kits together, and some aspects of it are quite creative. Here’s a photograph of part of the assembled kit: Pincushion kit

On the left is the base material of strips of silk and cotton appliquéd to a ground fabric of lightweight calico. The block of solid colour is the fabric for the base of the pincushion. Then there is a knot of threads (selecting these was the really fun bit), plus a couple of needles and two buttons from my collection. Also in the kit, although not visible on the picture, is an embroidery hoop (not sure about this, but thought I’d perhaps better put one in), a bag of polyester filling and three pages of instructions with colour illustrations. We’ll see whether anyone goes for it or not, but I think they would make nice presents for sewists in your life, and actually, they could be made up by someone with very little experience of sewing. I’ve produced seven of these so far. They’ve taken an age to put together, but I guess now I’ve got the hang of it, I could produce a few more if there’s any demand for them.

K&S Harrogate 2016

As usual, I went to the Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate this year. Got there on the first day of the show, the Thursday, and had a belting time. Fortunately, I was feeling quite energetic because the whole experience was exhausting. But I stuck it out for well over five hours, with only a cup of coffee to keep me fuelled.K&S logo

So, what was good? Actually, this year, I was most attracted by the dressmaking, and spent more time on that than anything else. On going into Hall A, I was immediately attracted by the Maker’s Atelier stand which I don’t recall having seen before. This is the brainchild of Frances Tobin, a fashion designer, who has set up in business designing dressmaking patterns. Each of her designs was available to inspect, made up in simple, high-quality, fabrics. I loved them, and so, by the looks of things, did lots of other women. Many of the visitors to this blog will know just how difficult it is to find simple and stylish clothes, especially when one is at a certain age and a less than ideal size. I spent some time talking to Frances and her assistant on the stand. The assistant was particularly inspiring as she was wearing a couple of the items that she had made recently, but, and here’s the thing, she had only started dressmaking about a year ago.

I bought two of the patterns and was directed to Rosenberg’s stand where a mighty scrum was taking place as many, many women all attempted to buy fabric at the same time. I’m not surprised – the quality of fabric seems to be excellent and the prices are unbelievable. Have a look at Rosenberg’s website here. There was a long wait but it was all very good-humoured and cheerful. A woman standing next to me told me that you have to get in at opening time, 10 sharp, in order to get to the front of the queue. I eventually managed to buy some lovely fine wool at £12 per metre, and I hope that I will find time in between all the working and the pincushioning etc to actually get something made.

What else did I buy? Well, not a vast amount, as I really have all that I need. I bought a few small pieces of silk and some sari strips from The Silk Route – I almost always buy something from them. And some plain Kona cottons in fat quarters to provide a sturdy backing to my pincushions. Other than that, not a lot. I spent some time looking at the exhibiting artists’ stands and was especially impressed by the work of Debbie Lyddon. I’d been aware of it previously, but hadn’t seen it in the flesh. The work in the show had been inspired by time spent at Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, and I thought it was genuinely evocative of the place (which I first visited a couple of years ago).

So, yes, all good. I’m pleased I went, and I’m looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with dressmaking. I did a lot of it in my youth but it was a lot easier back then when I was slim and a UK size 12 pattern would fit me without any alteration. Ho hum. Times have changed and so have I.

New blog visitors

Hello new blog visitors! It’s a bizarre feature of this blog that the less often I post, the more views I seem to get. I no longer look at the statistics every day. I used to do this when my website and blog were new, hoping that I might get at least one visitor each day (sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t). Nowadays, I get quite a lot, which is very pleasing, and which should encourage me to write more often. Note to self: must try harder.

When I do look at the stats I always drill down a little further to see where my visitors are located. And I’ve noticed recently a lot of new readers in Russia, and especially St Petersburg. Welcome new Russian visitors! I’ve never been to St Petersburg (indeed, when I was last in Russia it was still called Leningrad which gives you some idea of how long it’s been), but I’ve visited a number of other Russian cities, Ukrainian and Georgian cities (e.g Moscow, Kiev, Rostov and Tblisi). I like to think of us all across the world in England, Russia and many other places, busy stitching away (or drawing or dyeing or doing something similarly useful and important). It’s an uncertain world out there, and I think anything that brings us closer together should be encouraged. So, busy stitchers, keep plugging away at your non-trivial pursuits.


Here’s a pincushion I made a couple of weeks ago:Pincushion

I was looking for something to send my sister in New Zealand as a birthday present. The important characteristic of presents sent to NZ is that they should be lightweight (the cost of postage is staggering). Small is a bonus. She’s fond of stitching and I know she’s admired my heron embroidery scissors in the past, so I decided to send her a pair. Then I found some nice pearl-headed pins. Then it occurred to me that she might like a pincushion, and that this would be both small and lightweight. As I was short of time, I thought I’d have a look on Etsy. Well, I used up lots of time looking through apparently endless pages of pincushions, but couldn’t find one that I liked sufficiently. So, in the end, I made one, and that’s it, pictured above. It’s four inches square. The underside, that you can’t see here, is a gorgeous purple cotton that I found as a remnant in an organic cotton shop. The button on the underside is bigger than the cream-coloured button that you see in the picture. I so enjoyed making this little item that I immediately planned some more and have got cracking on them straight away. It’s a great way of using up very small pieces of fabric that I just can’t bear to throw away.

Yesterday I had to go to Newcastle on the train, a round trip of around 6 hours, so I had plenty of time available to stitch. I actually did a few other things – read the paper, had a somewhat lengthy snooze, stared out of the window at the fabulous Northumbrian countryside…. but I also managed to finish the stitching for another pincushion and after I’ve written this blogpost I think I’ll go and assemble it. One of the fun bits is selecting the buttons. I have built up quite a collection of buttons, but never know what to do with them – well, here’s a way of using them, if only two at a time.

I know I’ve been away from the blog for a while, but I have been posting occasional photos on Instagram. I think Instagram is rather a good thing, and hope I can keep to the discipline of posting something there, even if I can’t manage to do it here.

Oops, what a long time it’s been

Oops, what a long time it’s been since I blogged. The usual reason applies, i.e. too busy at work. However, I have been doing some work on my stitching, and you can see some samples of it if you have a look at my Instagram (use the link on the home page). I’m quite enthusiastic about Instagram because it’s so easy and quick to use compared with writing a blog post. However, I don’t intend to abandon my blog, as it’s the right place to write up longer and more complex experiences and ideas.

One of the things I’ve done in my several week absence from the blog is to produce a new website for my friend and fellow stitcher Brenda Burkitt. We’ve been talking about this for ages, and finally decided to get round to doing something about it. Brenda didn’t want a blog, just a good-looking and stylish website, so I didn’t see any need to set it up in WordPress which is geared towards a blog. I recommended, therefore, setting up a site using Squarespace because I’d heard from another textile artist that it’s really pretty simple to use. So, Brenda came along one day towards the end of June with lots of images of her work and we got cracking on working out how many pages she’d want, what kind of format she’d like for presenting the images, and so on. She had quite a lot of fun playing around with the text colours. This is one of the best bits of setting up your site. She chose, in the end, a deep and lovely purple which I think works very well. Have a look at her website here.

What about Squarespace then? Weeeellll, it’s definitely easier to set up than WordPress, but it wasn’t quite as straightforward as I’d hoped. The range of designs available is pretty good, and the style is generally nice and clean and bright. I didn’t find it completely intuitive, but having said that, there are lots of tutorials available and when you have a query it can be easily answered by simply putting the query into Google. I couldn’t (still can’t for that matter) work out how to make the image on the title page smaller so that you can see the whole page without scrolling down. Another drawback is that, currently, you can’t transfer your own domain name into Squarespace. So, if I wanted a Squarespace website (which I don’t – I’m happy with this one) I’d have to register a new domain name with them.

But if you’re looking to set up a website yourself, Squarespace is definitely worth a look. I spent the best part of a day with Brenda discussing images and styles for the site, then about 4 hours on my own working on it. I even managed to persuade Brenda that she should have a photograph of herself in the ‘About’ page. She was very reluctant but went along with it. I took a couple of dozen photos of her, and there was one that was the standout best so we used that. I’m very pleased with it, and was reminded of the advice a photography tutor gave me years ago when I did City & Guilds foundation photography. He said the professionals get good pictures just by the simple process of taking loads of them and then picking the best one out of maybe 100 images. I’ve followed that advice every since and found it invariably works.

Smaller pieces for sale

I wrote three posts not too long ago about making smaller pieces for sale. Before I went on my mammoth cycling trip I mounted six of them on large pieces of mountboard, enclosed a label, then wrapped the finished pieces in heavy duty florists’ cellophane. This entailed the purchase of new supplies:

  • Mountboard, obviously, but also some thinner card to tape onto the back of the pieces so that the underside of the embroidery is concealed
  • Double sided sticky tape, heavy duty so that the pieces won’t fall to bits
  • Cellophane

I did quite a bit of research on sourcing materials of the right quality. All these new supplies were quite costly, but I don’t want the presentation of these pieces to look cheap. Fortunately, I already had a mount cutter (which is what gives you the nice bevelled edge); I bought it several years ago on a whim, never knowing how useful it would turn out to be. Accurate measurement is, obviously, really important. I work with a centimetre ruler (not inches, even though when I was at school we still used imperial measurement only and it took me many years to come round to metric measurement) and I measure everything at least twice before I cut. Even with a fair bit of care, I did make the odd mistake, but I found that, as with all repetitive tasks, I got better at it the more I did.

After the cycling trip, I mounted four smaller pieces on some of the smaller offcuts of mountboard that I had left over. I’ve got plenty of mountboard left over for the next time I do this exercise. Here is one of the smaller pieces. all wrapped up: Smaller piece for sale

You’ll see that it really is quite small, but what I was aiming for was a range of items at different prices, so as to appeal (I hope) to as broad a group as possible. In total I have mounted 10 pieces and the price range is from £10 for the smallest pieces, up to a maximum of £40. These prices in no way reflect the massive amount of work involved – but see my earlier post on that topic…

I’m hoping that these will be sufficiently appealing to sell. Although, actually, I’m rather fond of some of them, so if they come winging their way back to me I might put one or two on my own walls.


So, yes, pricing. I knew I’d have to think about this sooner or later if I hoped to sell work. Not everyone wants to sell work, of course, and I’ve never tried until now. But the Prism exhibition provides exhibitors with the opportunity to sell pieces of work in the exhibition, plus items in the exhibition shop. So I’ve had to turn my attention to the important question of ‘how much?’ It’s actually not the first time I’ve considered pricing. I’m the author of an accountancy textbook for use in universities, and I decided when planning the content of the book, some fifteen years ago, that I would include a chapter on pricing. The chapter kicks off with an economist’s  supply/demand graph – which is helpful to illustrate the selling of, say, toothpaste in a competitive market, but doesn’t have any use for the sale of one-off items such as artwork. I then go on to consider the question of how producers decide on prices and then I have a quick waltz around (this is only an introductory textbook and pricing is far from being my speciality) two approaches that I think have some relevance for what I’m talking about here: market-based pricing and cost-based pricing.

Very broadly speaking:

  • Cost-based pricing fixes the price of a product by reference to the cost of supplying it.
  • Market-based pricing fixes the price of a product by reference to what the market will bear.

I’ve seen a couple of good attempts recently to apply cost-based pricing to one-off items produced as art, but then mediated by the market-based approach. For example, recently, Helen Conway produced a detailed blog post on the subject which is full of useful thoughts and descriptions of how she does it. She sets out four basic principles (good idea, this), for example: ‘Principle no 1: I am not dependent on selling my art but I still want to price it as if I were running a full time working studio’. If you want to read the others, jump over there to Helen’s blog and take a look. She explains it all very well. Helen then applies a formula:

(Cost + hourly wage) x gallery commission = starting point

‘What? An hourly wage?’ you may be thinking. But, yes, that’s a sensible approach, especially in the light of principle no 1 above. This treats what you do like a business; obviously, it’s not the only valid approach. You may be happy never to sell and  to go to the grave as an unsung genius, leaving a house full of valuable artworks that your legatees can flog and get rich on; if so this discussion is not of great relevance to you.

The cost and gallery commission elements of the formula are relatively easy – the commission is what it is, and you should have some idea of the cost of production if you’re going to adopt a business-like footing. If you take the unsung genius approach it really doesn’t matter what you do. Or don’t do. Helen has various good ideas about how to establish an hourly wage that values your time appropriately. Realistically, I know that many artists struggling to get by, feel that they are doing well if they generate the minimum wage from their activities. But, we can dream. Helen does not, as far as I can see, include any allowance for pension costs, but I think you would need this for completeness if you were following this approach. And especially if you were planning a life-time career as an artist. (Just an accountant-like thought).

Taking this rational approach, you add together all the costs of making your piece of art, then you add the total (hours spent x hourly wage), then add on the gallery’s commission, and reach a price. So then you go ahead and charge that, right? Well, no. Not so fast. As Helen says, this is a starting point only. Then, you have to think about the market for your product. Artwork is often unique (well, OK, unless you’re selling prints), and that being the case, you don’t, can’t, price it like toothpaste. A final quotation from Helen’s post before I go off on some thoughts of my own: ‘In the art world, it doesn’t work to say, these are my lifestyle needs/ wishes, I want a salary of $x to achieve that and so these are my prices, if the market does not support that price’. Quite so.

So, now, let’s think about this ‘market’ and what you’re actually aiming to sell. What do you buy when you buy a piece of art (assuming it’s not reproduced as a print or photograph) – let’s say a painting? Well, at a basic level you’re buying the object. Part of the price you pay covers the artist’s costs of canvas, stretchers, paints. But this most likely leaves a part of the price for the artist’s time. And what else? Oh, yes, the privilege of owning something that is unique, and of buying into the artist’s reputation. If you buy a Tracy Emin painting, say, only the most trivial element of the price will be accounted for by the cost of canvas etc. The extra that you pay over and above the relatively insignificant tangible elements, depends upon the artist’s reputation. In the act of buying you are simultaneously paying for her accumulated experience, reputation, the joy of owning something unique, and at the same time, you are helping marginally to boost that reputation by being a willing buyer in the market.

So where does that leave a new starter? Well, as a newbie, you don’t have any reputation. Nothing, nada, zilch. (I should say here that Helen Conway is not a new starter by any means: she was writing her blog post in the light of her forthcoming solo exhibition. She has sold work before, and has exhibited widely, so in her chosen field, she has acquired a reputation. By contrast with me, and possibly you). So what are you going to do? You’ve got a choice of approaches, which may, or may not, be encapsulated in one of the following:

  • Being meek: ‘my work isn’t worth anything much and so I should be thrilled to get twenty quid for it, disregarding the fact that it’s taken me 140 hours to make)’
  • Recovering cost at all costs: ‘that’s what it cost to produce, including an hourly wage rate that fairly reflects the value of my time, so that’s what I’m going to charge’
  • Comparison with the best: ‘my work is easily as good as X’s [established artist], so I’m going to charge the same’
  • The hobbyist: ‘I don’t actually need the money, so all that matters is the fact of selling. I’m not bothered about keeping detailed records or about comparisons with professional artists’

Well, where am I with this? I want to avoid the meek approach, as I’d like to think I value myself and what I do a little bit more highly than that. Recovering cost at all costs? To be honest, this is likely to be very difficult for anyone who produces something like hand embroidery – ‘it takes how long???’. Comparison with the best does have something to recommend it. You never know. Perhaps people will fall over themselves to buy my work and I will establish an overnight stellar reputation. But, then again, possibly not.

For me, I can see the appeal of what I’ve called the ‘hobbyist’ approach. I work hard as an accountant, and earn enough to support myself without being obliged to make any extra income from selling artwork. (The trade off, of course, is that I’m very pushed for time). But, on a broader level, is the ‘hobbyist’ approach fair? One reason why artists generally may not earn enough to keep even a modest lifestyle afloat, especially in a field dominated by hobbyists, is that too many people are taking either the meek or hobbyist approach and selling their work for crazy, tiny, prices and professional artists suffer in the comparison.

So, actually, for various reasons, I’m going to try to avoid all four approaches I set out in the bulleted list. One of my basic principles, then, is that I’m not going to sell for buttons a piece that I’ve spent many hours on. I want to value myself more highly than that. It still doesn’t get me to a figure. Cost of materials is not actually a big deal for my pieces that are going into the Prism exhibition. They measure, unframed, 20cm x 20cm so don’t require a lot of materials. But there are some quite significant other costs, e.g. the hanging fee, the commission (a modest 30% which I think is very reasonable, especially for an exhibition in London where I think commercial galleries would charge much more) and cost of framing. I think I do want the price to at least cover these, plus the cost of my going to spend a day in London to help with stewarding. That’s already accumulated quite a lot of cost. Where do market-based comparisons get me? Well, over the years I’ve bought a lot of art. I know artists, whose work I admire very much, who price their work at only modest amounts (in my view). Occasionally, I’ve been amazed that I don’t have to pay more for what I consider to be a very desirable piece.

And what’s the result of all these musings? I’m a complete unknown, I’ve lavished lots and lots of time on my pieces, I don’t want to be meek or to be a hobbyist. In the end I thought about setting a price of £300 per framed piece. Then, in a fit of appalled modesty (meek, meek), I reduced that to £250. So if I sell all three pieces, I make £750 gross, out of which comes the commission and various unavoidable costs like framing (which was £33 per piece – very reasonable indeed for a very good finish). I haven’t even started on how I priced the shop items – I might write another post on that.

So, what do you think? Any comments, views? If you sell work, how do you fix on a price? Do you recognise yourself as Meek Pricer, or a Hobbyist? Or none of the above?

Helmshore Mills Textile Museum

I meant to write about Helmshore Mills Textile Museum a while back, when we visited it in March. I have lived in Lancashire since I was a young woman and, to my shame, had never got round to visiting the museum. Some of you may know from personal experience how this happens. When I lived in central London I rarely stirred myself to visit galleries even though they were pretty much on the doorstep. These days, when it is much more difficult, I regularly go to great effort and expense to go to London.

The thing that goaded me into actually visiting Helmshore Mills was news of its imminent closure as a result of funding cuts. It was threatened with closure on 31st March 2016, so we decided one day to make the effort and just go before the opportunity disappeared, possibly forever. Well, it was enthralling and I’m so pleased I didn’t miss it. You can read about it here and here, or if you’re in the area you could go and see it as there’s now been a reprieve until September. Helmshore Mills was both a spinning and weaving mill, for both wool and cotton, at various points in its history, but latterly was a spinning mill until its closure in 1978. There is a big exhibition about the history and development of spinning and weaving and then you move upstairs to where the machines are still in place and are still working for demonstration purposes. Unfortunately, the day we went, the big spinning mule machine (see photo below) was not working, so we saw only part of the demonstration. Still, even the bit we did see helped me to understand the nature of the processes which were dirty, noisy and dangerous. The place was a death trap where people, including children in the earlier part of its history, could be crushed by machinery, lose fingers and limbs and inhale sufficient cotton lint to kill them from respiratory diseases. In order to keep the cotton sufficiently flexible the factory had to be kept humid and at a high temperature, so working conditions were distinctly unpleasant. Helmshore mill spinning mule

The machine in the picture is the spinning mule which was developed from Hargreaves’ spinning Jenny. The machine required constant attention from the workers to keep it clear of snags and problems. I won’t attempt to describe how it works – but have a look at the Wikipedia page if you’re interested, where there is a video of the machine in motion.

Having now got my act together to visit this outstanding museum I am most put out that it is quite likely to close because of lack of funding. This is a really significant part of our heritage. Indeed, given the spread of these machines around the world, it’s really a heritage site of international importance. I’ve signed a petition to try to keep it open. And I will be visiting the related Queen Street Museum in Burnley before the end of September closure date. Queen Street is the weaving museum and I’m sure it will be worth the trip.