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…..


More linen on paper

Frankly, I don’t have a lot to show for the last few weeks. Since I last posted here I have both moved house and had an impossible quantity of work to do. This is a uniquely toxic combination in my experience. I couldn’t recommend it and will do my best to avoid it in future.

However, I did get another little sample done using linen thread on paper, and here it is:

Linen on paper

This uses the only bright colour (and it isn’t all that bright) in my linen thread collection. Either I buy more linen thread, or I mix in some cottons, and I’m inclined to go for the latter, as I like mixing materials.

The stitch here is wrapped chain stitch, which produces a nice effect, but takes ages. (Pleasing effects often do take ages, I’ve observed with some chagrin). What I like about the embroidery in paper is that it seems to sit on the surface, producing a distinctive texture.

So, will I do more? Answer: yes, probably. However, I think it might be a good idea if I spent a bit of time on more focused efforts to design, so I think I shall get cracking on some sketchbook work.

In the meantime, my need to be stitching something is satisfied by the production of more little pincushions. Pictures will probably follow.

By the by, my cochineal series did get exhibited at Ramster’s. Dee Thomas, another Prism member, was stewarding and kindly sent me a photo. They looked good, set out in a horizontal line, at what looked to be eye level.


I’ve been doodling with thread. I felt I needed a bit of a break from the small blocks of satin stitch which is all I seem to have done for ages. Not that I won’t return to it – I think there’s still some mileage in the Paul Klee-inspired work, but I want a change. My chosen stitch for doodling is couching and its variants. I picked up a piece of cloth a couple of days ago and worked with the threads I already had in my basket (emptied in there from the Ziplock bags after the cycling adventure). I worked on the big concentric circles at the bottom left of the photo first, then decided to see what would happen if I worked more circles over them. Then I added the four freestanding circles on the right hand side. Then I wondered what it would look like inside a square, so I worked one. Then I thought I might investigate what would happen if I put in a background behind the circles….. and so on until I felt I’d done enough on it. I just love working like this, seeing what will happen. Making samples is just fun, and it really doesn’t matter what the outcome is. They’re fairly quick to do and you can abandon them if you don’t like the way they’re going. If you do like a sample, you might just be inspired to create a larger piece, or even something that’s going to be important for your own development. Doodling with couching

It’s caught my imagination – which is one of the points of sampling, after all – and  today I’ve just started on a set of samples (in 2inch squares) on traditional linen. The intention is to explore different ways of filling in a small area with couching. I’m going to stick to the same very limited colour palette but I might extend the range of materials to wool yarn, ribbon, even beads. I always like the idea of beads but I think they’re difficult to use well. But in a sample, it just doesn’t matter! I’ll let you know how I get on.

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…

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.

Experimenting with whitework

Last week I was doing some more experimenting with whitework, and this time mostly on the sewing machine. Here’s the result of an experiment in ‘pulled’ work.Pulled work experiment with sinamay

I’ve placed it over a patterned gold and black paper for a bit of contrast. I set the machine to zig-zag and then stitched lines down and across the sinamay which is the base material. I’d intended to make a somewhat bigger piece but, frankly, it was a nightmare to work, so I scaled it back. Sinamay is a difficult material to use because of it being so brittle. The thread kept snapping and I had to rethread the machine several times just to produce this small piece. Nice effect, though, and worth a certain amount of trouble, I think. Sometimes it’s just fun to sit down and make something without much forethought, in order to see where it will lead. I’m a big fan of sampling as it gives you scope to be creative in a relatively small timescale, using a minimum of materials. I set out a few small bits and pieces of different materials and just got to work to see what I could make with them. With a piece like this, the effect is produced almost at random, once you’ve made the basic decision about materials. The sinamay distorted in unpredictable directions, so there was no real intent about it.

Yet another whitework sample on paper

Yes, folks, it’s yet another whitework sample on paper. I’m really rather taken with working on paper, although I should add that it’s more like card than paper as it’s quite a thick sheet from a watercolour pad. Another whitework sample on paper

I cut out some ovals, using a craftknife, and then tried to use a range of techniques to fill in the spaces. The red backing is more watercolour paper, painted using Derwent watersoluble pencil. The techniques are drawn from Tracy A Franklin and Nicola Jarvis’s book on whitework, which I like very much. This sample is based – very loosely – on Chapter 4 on Richlieu work and cutwork.

Whitework techniques do tend to be labour intensive and this one is no exception. I didn’t keep an exact note of how long it took me, but it’s not a quick process. I don’t have much interest in reproducing very detailed examples of old-style whitework, but the techniques (drawing threads, cutting holes and filling them up again, etc) are interesting and well worth trying out.

This is really just a fragmentary sample but I’ve used it as a basis for a somewhat more ambitious piece. I’ll get back to you on how I’m doing with that later in the week.


More whitework on paper

I’ve been doing some more whitework on paper. I based these images on sketchbook work that I did some time ago, thus reinforcing the view that nothing is really wasted. Having struggled with the thick rayon thread (see previous post earlier this week) on my first resolved piece, I decided to make life a bit easier by using a range of different threads. Some are easier to use than others, but they’re all easier than the rayon. Here’s the first sample I did:

Whitework on card

It’s got cotton and silk threads, as well as a bit of rayon. The creamier coloured threads have come out quite yellowy in the photograph, but they look much more neutral than they appear here. I put in lines of backstitch on the verticals but wasn’t completely convinced, once I’d finished, that they were necessary.

So, in the next sample, I left them out and I think it’s more successful:Whitework on paper

I’m still very pleased with the technique, overall, and may well do more of this. Perhaps I’ll introduce a bit of colour next time….

Whitework on paper

I decided to try a little bit of whitework on paper, as a development from the crazy patchwork I described in one of last week’s posts. This development arises naturally out of last week’s work, but also out of my interest in the work of Emily Barletta, whom I’ve mentioned previously. Quite a lot of her work is embroidery on stiff paper, and I like it very much so thought I’d have a go. It wouldn’t work on anything flimsy, so I tried using watercolour paper, which is ideal. I did a few very small samples on one piece of paper, and soon discovered that the best way to do it (for me, at least) is to sketch out the image on the back of the paper, and then punch holes at regular intervals on the lines of the image, using a large pin. I don’t know how Emily Barletta works, but this works for me. Having done a few basic samples, I then had a go at a more resolved piece, which looks like this:Whitework on paper

It is stitched entirely using a thick-ish rayon thread which is part of a collection of very old threads that I was given many years ago. It’s not easy stuff to work with because it snags on everything, including rough patches of skin on my finger ends (of which there are many). However, I persisted with it, and I’m really quite pleased with the result. Because it’s quite a thick thread it casts shadows, so it’s easy to ‘read’ even though it’s off-white thread on an off-white background. I am busy working on some other samples so will report on progress over the next few days.