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.

Book review: Claire Wellesley-Smith – Slow Stitch

I’ve been looking forward to seeing this one, and I’m pleased to report that it’s been worth the wait. The book is in the usual 128 page hardcover Batsford format. Its full title is ‘Slow Stitch: mindful and contemplative textile art’. The quality of the images is uniformly excellent and the text is well-written and thoughtful. It’s divided into four sections: Slow, Materials and Techniques, Cross-cultural activity and Contemplative. It’s redolent of a particular philosophy and approach to the process of stitching and it’s worth reading carefully and, well, slowly.Slow stitch

The first section (‘Slow’) relates slow stitch to the Slow movement in general, and discusses the related issues of sustainability and use of resources. ‘Materials and techniques’ identifies sources of old and new materials. It also has a relatively brief section on dyeing using native plants. I expected there to be much more about natural dyeing in the book, but actually there are plenty of other sources of information about this and there’s no particular need to explain it in any greater detail here. ‘Cross-cultural activity’ looks at some relevant stitching traditions, including Kantha and Japanese boro. It also contains a good section on mending (both practice and philosophy) and on piecing and patching. Finally, ‘Contemplative’ is perhaps the most important section of the book in that it expounds the benefits of mindful practice, together with some practical suggestions for developing ideas. I especially like the idea of the stitch journal as a means of daily practice in stitching. I, too, feel that there’s something about stitching that helps in problem-solving, and with the flow of ideas. The process of stitching contributes to creativity and the flow of ideas.

It’s always interesting with these books to see the range of work that the author draws upon for illustration of ideas. Claire has included examples of the work of some of my favourite artists, for example, Judy Martin (if you don’t know about the Mantoulin Circle project, do follow the link and have a look), Roanna Wells, Mandy Pattullo and Christine Mauersberger, to name but a few. And above all, there are lots of examples of Claire’s own understated and calming stitched works. All are beautifully photographed. If you’re familiar with Claire’s website you will know how good at photography she is, and I expect these are her own photographs of her own work.

This is not a ‘how to’ book, although it does contain some guidance about using plants for dyeing and suggestions for e.g. stitching a square and producing kantha stitches. As much as anything, it’s a book about ideas and a particular approach to stitched textiles that I, for one, find very appealing.

Cochineal Dream 2

I said a few posts ago that I was going to continue with the same theme as previously, to develop and work on another cochineal-based piece. Working title: Cochineal Dream 2. Just to show that I’m getting on with things, and not spending my time just crocheting woolly animals, here’s a photo of Cochineal Dream 2 in its early stages.Cochineal Dream 2

I suppose the first thing to say about this is that it’s got less cochineal in it than the first piece. As you see, I’ve not used any cochineal threads yet. However, you can gather something about my intention from the Barbie pink piece of cotton scrim in the bottom left hand corner. There will be more pink and red in this – just not yet. I intend to make this darker in theme, with more distinct areas of darkness and light. As ever, I’m enjoying the process of putting this together and working on it very much. I’ll report back on progress. Part of my plan is that it should be very similar in shape and dimension to the first piece which was more or less square. I think I’ve mentioned previously on this blog that I’m endlessly fascinated with the square. The exploration of the Klee-style blocks embodies squares, and it seems appropriate to create whole pieces in my favourite shape. I’d like to do more on grids and squares, and maybe I will. Keep watching….

Cochineal Dream 1

I noted a couple of posts ago that I’d finished the stitching on my cochineal piece. However, this wasn’t quite an end to it as I needed to finish it off properly. I did this by padding the back with a layer of felt and then backing the piece with a medium-weight cotton (the medium-weight cotton is actually John Lewis curtain lining material which I find to be rather a useful resource for all sorts of things as well as for lining curtains). And here’s the finished article:Cochineal dream 1

You’ll see from the title of this post that I’ve actually named the piece. I thought ‘Cochineal Dream’ seemed right, and I added the ‘1’ because I felt motivated to create at least one more piece to make a mini-series. I keep having ideas about other things I can do with this particular approach to stitching, so I reckon I might as well continue with it for a bit longer. If I do make progress on this I will write more blogposts about it. I’ve read textile artists on the subject of working in a series; Lisa Call even has a course on it, and it seems to be generally regarded as a good thing to do. It seems to me it does make sense to be able to present, and to refer to, a coherent body of work, so I’m by no means averse to moving in this direction. But, at the same time, I have lots of other, different, ideas that I’d like to explore if only I had time. They can put that on my tombstone: ‘….. if only she’d had time….’.

I’ve been doing some more dyeing recently, and have been very absorbed in it. We’re having a few days of a kind of Indian summer at the moment, and this is a good time to be hanging cloths and threads out to dye. When I get it all organised, ironed and the threads untangled and wound I’ll no doubt write something more about it.


Basket purchase

Last month I made a basket purchase which has given me a great deal of pleasure in a low-key, subdued kind of way. I spent a few days in Devon on holiday, staying with a friend, and we went out, as we always do, to Totnes. It’s well worth a visit; there are lots of charming and often idiosyncratic shops, a couple of art galleries, a functioning and well-stocked artist supplies shop and so on. I found the basket below in one of the shops, for £12:

Basket of threadsIt’s about 45cm (18″) in diameter and I liked the look of it for keeping threads in during a project. Because it’s shallow you can really spread the threads out and it’s much superior in this respect to the little tin I normally use. These days I’m more parsimonious than I used to be, and also aware of the need to cut down on clutter and not add to it with indiscriminate purchases. In short, I try not to buy things. But I felt like making an exception in this case. I put in all my threads for the cochineal stitching project and have been enjoying the look of the basket. It sits in the corner of the living room looking both useful and ornamental. And really, you can’t ask more of an object than that. Well worth the twelve quid, I think.


Composition with cochineal

Sticking with the pink theme for the moment, I’ve been putting together a composition with cochineal. These sugary pinks can be a bit much, but I’ve set out to use the cochineal-dyed fabrics as a kind of creative constraint – what can I do with them? Can I create a successful and interesting composition?

Here’s where I’m at with it – see the photo. Using cochineal-dyed fabricsI started with a base of lightweight calico and then tried out some bits and pieces of fabric until I was happy with the result. The piece of white silk gauze on the top right hand side of the picture is something I picked up off the floor – it must have fallen out of a drawer. Serendipity? Or just too lazy to find a place for it.

There are some recycled fabrics in here. The luscious raspberry coloured piece off to the left is linen. Once upon a time I had an unlined, white, linen jacket which I loved to bits. And wore it until it was literally falling to bits and I had to consign it to history in its function as a garment. I cut out all the pieces I could from it and have used it to great effect for dyeing ever since. The striped fabric is leftover from a City & Guilds project. I made a draught-excluder out of a couple of old shirts I bought at a charity shop. This took ages as it was all kantha stitching but I was quite pleased with the result. Our house is well-insulated so we don’t actually need it, but my daughter has been making good use of it in her draughty maisonette in North London.

The other fabrics are scraps of new materials that I’ve dyed. Most of the stitching is going to be with commercial threads that I have lying about although there is a bit of cochineal-dyed thread I can use, and some bits and pieces from my logwood dyeing sessions. Below the fabric in the hoop is a glimpse of the drawing that I was describing the other day, where I’ve worked through some ideas and got used to the idea of the colour contrasts. I’ve lined up some scarlet threads and hope I’ll have the bottle to use them.

This is turning into a bit of a series – it’s the fifth piece I’ve worked on that uses the Paul Klee-inspired approach to stitching that I wrote about in a post last year. I’m still getting a lot out of it, so I think I’ll just carry on until I want to move on to something else. I don’t even particularly like satin stitch but I do like the effect of these little blocks. I’m working this one in a hoop which should help to keep it reasonably flat. The last one I worked on, which was quite a large piece, had a lightweight felt padding, so was more substantial and I worked it in the hand. As expected, it turned out quite irregular and textured, which was fine. But this time I wanted to achieve a slightly different effect. I’ll keep on working on this in odd minutes here and there and I’ll let you know how I get on. I’ve got a few train journeys over the next few days, and I expect I’ll be hauling this out to fill in some time as the train whizzes through England.

Blind hems

There’s been rather a lot of stitching going on here over the last couple of weeks, but unfortunately almost all of it has been devoted to making curtains. While this has its satisfactions, it’s not particularly creative. However, it makes a change from rubbing down paintwork or toiling away at weed removal in the garden which are the other two main activities I’ve been engaged on.

I thought I’d share with you today my discover of blind hemming on the sewing machine. I’m not sure I’ve discussed sewing machines previously on this blog, and this may be because I more generally use hand stitching. However, when doing my City & Guilds I decided to invest in a new machine. I bought a Bernina and have not regretted it for a moment. The adjective usually applied to Bernina machines is ‘trusty’, and I suppose that’s because they’re …. well… trusty. It really is good. It came with a range of detachable feet, some of which (e.g. zipper foot) are quite familiar to me. However, I’d never used the blind hem foot, having always previously done blind hemming of curtains by hand. Before I made the curtains I had a quick whizz through a few blogs dealing with the subject, and one of them (sorry, can’t remember which one) mentioned that blind hemming using a sewing machine really was easy, and that most machines come with a blind hemming foot.

So, I looked it up in my Bernina manual and there it was. And, moreover, there was the promised foot – number 5, for Bernina fans. Here’s a pic:Blind hemming for curtains

It’s much the same as an ordinary foot, but it has a sturdy metal guide that you place against the fold of the hem. It’s a bit complicated to explain, but basically, you do as it says in the manual.

It really is that easy. I couldn’t believe how quick and simple it was, and what a good result it produces. Who knew? Well, actually, probably everyone reading this blog knows all about it. But I am lost in wonder.

Off sick again

Paul Klee inspired pieceYes, I’ve been off sick again. What a nuisance. My last blog post was in March, just before I went on the life drawing course with Rachel Clark. I had a wonderful, action-packed, weekend and came home dog-tired on the Monday. By Wednesday I was starting to feel distinctly unwell, and by the weekend I knew I had a very nasty cold. Usually, when you get a cold you know you’re in for a few days of feeling grim at various levels, but that in another week or so you’ll be feeling fine again. But, this time, no…… I’ve had real flu before but this wasn’t real flu. It was like getting a series of cold viruses, one after another. Weeks went by, and I still felt awful. I didn’t start to feel well again for over a month. What made it worse was that it caused a flare-up of the jaw inflammation that I whinged about at length a while back. One way and another I’ve felt pretty sorry for myself rather a lot of the time for many months. Still, all things must pass and eventually it went away and now I’m back to as near normal as I get. It’s great to feel well again and to have enough energy to get on with things.

So, what have I been getting on with? A couple of months ago I started a whitework piece that built upon the Paul Klee-inspired work that I did last year. Reminder – at the top of the post – this is what the original piece looked like. Below the white version:Whitework - inspired by Paul Klee  I enjoyed putting the different fabrics together, and because I didn’t have colour to provide contrast, I had to do my best with texture. A useful addition was sinamay which provides some body and interest. Find out about sinamay here. It’s the woven stalks of the abaca tree, apparently. I found a roll of it on sale for five quid in the Manchester branch of Paperchase some time ago, and I’ve found it really quite remarkably useful. Worth a look, anyway. I also added a bit of lace which you can see on the right hand side.

I decided that I’d really like to develop this idea further, and that a good next step might be to do some drawing around the theme. I’ll discuss this and share images in the next post.

Incidentally, looking back over the 120 or so posts I’ve written since I started this blog, I can see that I’ve done a fair bit of whingeing about health issues. Apologies for that. I think I’ve had a rough couple of years…. Must do better….

Mountmellick whitework

So, Mountmellick whitework – a bit of a departure for me as I’ve not previously tried this technique. However, I have now crawled my way to the end of the second module of the Stitchbusiness Masterclass and it’s time to abandon colour for a while and to examine texture in some detail. Over the next few months I will be trying out some different whitework techniques and I’m looking forward to doing something a little different.

For this piece I used an abstracted leaf design that I created several months ago.Abstracted leaf design

I did not follow the design exactly but instead just tried to get the general idea across. You can see a photo of the finished piece below, and a close-up.Mountmellick whiteworkMountmellick whitework close-up

I’ve used satin stitch, stem stitch and French knots; this is quite a limited range of stitches and traditional Mountmellick embroidery uses many more. I think my next piece might be a stitch sampler where I try out some more of the stitches. In this piece I achieved a little extra variation by using different thicknesses of Mountmellick thread.

This is was fun to do. Because the thread is relatively thick the work grows quite quickly. I think I feel inclined to explore this design further, but perhaps with more contrast and variety.

I drew the design onto the cotton fabric using an HB pencil. The obvious drawback with this approach is that there’s quite a significant risk of the fabric getting grubby. I tried hard to keep it clean, but really it could do with a wash. Tracy A Franklin and Nicola Jarvis recommend drawing the design in a pale blue coloured pencil. I’ve found their comprehensive book on whitework to be very useful. I’ll try the pale blue pencil next time…

I’m away from my desktop computer today so am writing this on the iPad. I mentioned before that I found it quite easy to produce a post using the iPad. However, there is one problem that I’ve not yet resolved and that’s how to crop and otherwise manipulate photos. So the photos in this post are not exactly how I want them to be. Still, I hope you get the general idea…

Post updated 6th March 2015 – I really wasn’t happy with the photos in the original post, so I took some new photos with my proper camera to replace the iPad ones. I think it’s an improvement.


A larger piece using whip stitch

Whip stitch close upA couple of posts back I was talking about whip stitch, and said that I’d be working on a larger piece which I’d show you when it was finished. Well, amazingly (as my completion record hasn’t been too good recently) I’ve finished it and here it is. Below there’s a photo of the finished piece, and on the left there’s a close-up so you can see the stitching. I used a piece of lightweight felt as a base, then layered some shiny silk gauze on to, then stitched into it in wavy lines. Pretty easy to do and a pleasing effect. We did a long car journey a few days ago and when it was my turn to be the passenger I sat and sewed this piece. Makes a long journey seem shorter.

Incidentally, this is the first post I’ve written on the iPad. And I’ve used photos taken with the iPad. I don’t know why I harboured the suspicion that this would be a difficult thing to do… As with most iPad activities it’s amazingly easy and intuitive.

Whip stitch completed piece