Notes from the Studio

I’ve been settling into a new work/life routine in my Scarborough home studio, creating work inspired by the shells and pebbles I’ve picked up on our daily walks. The move gave me a chance to look through all my materials and equipment from teaching and past projects. I have lots of Merino wool tops from felt making workshops over the last few years and I wanted to experiment with felting around objects, a technique I haven’t tried for years.

I love working with the fibres, wrapping them around pebbles from the beach and seeing how the mix of colours blends together. I decided to cut into the pieces I made and started felting them again, seeing the colours that had blended together in new ways and making smaller pieces to stitch into.

If you follow my work, you will know that circles are one of my favourite ways to display work. I stitched the felt pieces onto some grey boiled wool and started stitching beads around them using colours from the fragments of shell, ceramic and pebbles from North Bay Beach.

I’ve had so much fun making these pieces, they only measure three inches across so they don’t take hours to make. I’m looking forward to starting some new ones next week, inspired by some shells from South Bay Beach.

For regular updates about my practice you can follow me on social media @hmillsstyles or sign up to my monthly newsletter.

Hello 2021

So 2020 was one hell of a year! Living through a global pandemic has definitely been one of the biggest challenges of my life and 2021 is starting under the shadow of COVID-19. I wanted to start the new year with some reflection, looking back at the positives that happened to me last year and talking about what I would like to do as we move forward.

In early December, we achieved a dream we never thought would happen, we moved to our forever house by the sea. Moving to Scarborough was a huge change for both of us, leaving a city that we have lived in for many years. It’s been just over a month and we don’t have any regrets, I can see the sea from my bedroom and there are so many new places to explore.

I was lucky to be involved in some fantastic projects in 2020, this included a few firsts and some new ways of working on the more traditional community projects I’m so familiar with. I was commissioned by Woven in Kirklees to create a film about embroidery in lockdown, you can view the film here on my about page. Making the film was a challenge and an opportunity to share my inspirations and techniques with a new audience.

My first lockdown collaborative project was created with Arts and Minds Network, a Leeds based organisation I work with on a regular basis. I made 100 packs to post out to people within the local NHS trust. They included fabric and thread and some simple guidelines to help people create a quilt square around the idea of hope. You can find out more about the project here.

I was also accepted to Prism Textiles, a group of artists working with textiles who exhibit annually in the UK. I’m excited to be working on my first piece for this years exhibition, the theme is in search of possibilities. I’ve been researching some new pieces around the move and exploring the history of our house.

The next few months are going to be busy as I settle into my new studio and start planning my classes with Workshop and the next project for Artlink West Yorkshire. Zoom has been a wonderful tool that allows me to connect with people through creativity and share my passion for visual art. I’m looking forward to delivering my new sessions.

For regular updates about my practice, you can follow me on Instagram @hmillsstyles or sign up to my monthly newsletter.

Arts and Minds Hope Quilt

During the first few months of lock down, I was asked by Arts and Minds network to lead a collaborative project. Participants from within the trust were asked to create a square for a group quilt, the theme for the project was hope.

During COVID-19 we have all been hoping and dreaming about different things, like seeing our friends or family or visiting the seaside. Your quilt square can be anything you want it be when you think about hope.

Arts and Minds Network

I’ve worked on similar projects in collaboration with creatives like arthur+martha and A Quiet Word, bringing together people’s work to tell a story. Over a couple of month, I received squares from across Yorkshire that came together to make the Hope Quilt.

People created squares using hand embroidery, applique and fabric dyeing, each sharing how they felt about the COVID-19 pandemic, what they miss and sharing a message of hope and optimism. Lots of the squares were returned with notes about the work and feedback on the project.

Thank you so much for letting me be part of this uplifting project – I’ve really enjoyed it!

JW, Project Participant

Thank you for inviting me to join your project, I loved stitching this piece. During lock down I have missed being outdoors and in particular being beside the sea.

SH, Project Participant

We’re hoping to exhibit the quilt in 2021, where participants and the public can see the wonderful work that has gone into each square.

Notes from the Studio

It’s been a busy couple of weeks in the studio, not that I’m complaining! I’m lucky to have lots of teaching and community projects to work on at a time when the UK government is stupidly advising people in creative industries to retrain.

My biggest project has been the Arts and Minds Hope Quilt, a project which brings together embroidered squares created by people from around the NHS Trust. We chose the theme of hope, looking to the future and thinking about our ideas for change and positivity. It’s great to see all the square together, something I can’t share yet but watch this space.

Arts and Minds members have also contributed to a fantastic online exhibition called Change is Gonna Come which you can see here.

I’ve also been working on some new collaborations with Workshop in Headingley. I’ll be offering some instant access workshops in the coming weeks that cover how to do basic embroidery techniques and create some designs. I can’t wait to share them with you.

For regular updates about my practice you can find me on social media @hmillsstyles and subscribe to my monthly newsletter

Texture with Textiles

After getting lots of comments on a piece of work I posted on Instagram last week, I thought I would share some techniques for creating texture with fabric and thread. I used a variety of different threads and techniques in this miniature moss inspired embroidery so I thought I’d share a couple with you.

Simple Stitches

Lets start with the easiest way to create some texture, using tapestry wool and some simple stitches to create texture. If you don’t have any tapestry wool, you can use any type of wool like 4 ply or double knit.

I’ve used a size 22 chenille needle to do my stitching, you can find out more about needles in my latest Tools of the Trade post. I create the texture by doing lots of running stitches very close together, instead of pulling the stitches tightly, I leave a loop on the surface of my fabric. When I’ve filled the area with stitches, I use my embroidery scissors to cut the loops.

Gathered Ribbons

I enjoy working with really fine ribbons to create texture in my work, they are easy to stitch with and there are some fantastic ribbon embroidery books on the market too. If you don’t have any fine ribbon you can use strips of fabric instead.

I use a needle and matching sewing thread to do a line of running stitch down the centre of the ribbon, it doesn’t have to be very neat. I then gather the running stitch which draws the ribbon together to form a ruffle. Using the same thread, I stitch the ruffle to my background fabric.

Lots of my hand embroidery is experimental, I love to pick different threads and see what happens when I use them in different ways. I have a stitch journal that I stick different photos and samples in, it means I can make notes about what materials I’ve used to refer back to. Remember, embroidery can be anything you want it to be!

Tools of the Trade

I’m often asked about the best needle to use on your embroidery projects so I thought I would share some of the needles that I use in my work. My favourite brands of needle are by John James and Prym. If you’re going to spend a little bit extra on any type of equipment, my recommendation is that you buy good quality needles. Cheap needles are harder to thread and often break in the heat of your hand as you’re sewing.

Good to Know… Needle sizing might seem strange, the bigger the number, the smaller the needle size. For example, a size 20 chenille needle is finer than a size 24 chenille needle.

John James have a fantastic website where you find the right needle for your project. They also have a needle guide which you can download to find out what needles you already have in your stash. Everyone knows I love to organise so this was a fun Sunday afternoon project.

Hand Embroidery

For hand embroidery and in my embroidery workshop kits I use size 20 chenille needles. They have a larger eye and a sharp point which means they are easy to thread and don’t create holes in your fine fabrics. They are great for slightly thicker threads too like a DMC Cotton Perle.

People usually get a needle with a large eye like a tapestry or cross stitch, these needles are blunt and instead of separating the fibres of the fabric they can punch a hole in it. These needles are best for Aida and other canvasses where the holes are already in the weave.

General Sewing

For general sewing I like to use sharps, they are a short and sturdy needle which makes them ideal for tacking and sewing on buttons. They have a slightly bigger eye for a thicker thread like Gutermann Hand Quilting Cotton.

Top Tip: If you’re having trouble threading a needle, put a light background behind the eye of the needle like a piece of paper. This will help you to see the eye more clearly.

Unusual Threads/Fabrics

For my textured embroidery projects I use long darners, the extra length and larger eyes make them suitable for stitching with wool or other thick and coarse threads. I find them easier to pull through the fabric when it’s become dense with stitching. They are also easy to thread and hold when I’m sewing.

***Please note that this is just my personal observation on the products I use regularly, everyone has their favourites and I recommend trying lots of different types to find the best one for you.***

Needle Images courtesy of John James and John Lewis

Collaborations with Workshop

I’ve teamed up with Workshop, a sewing cafe local to me in Headingley to offer some Zoom workshops. I’ll be offering a range of embroidery classes that teach a range of traditional techniquesHow does it work? Prior to the session you will receive a kit in the post with some of the equipment and materials you will need. The other things you need are listed on the Workshop website through the post. Your kit will also contain the Meeting ID and Password for Zoom. Using these details, you can log in to the class at the start time.

Applique and Embroidery Sunday 15 November 10am

In this two hour workshop I will guide you through the basics of applique using fusible webbing to create a personalised embroidery hoop. This class is perfect for beginners or more experienced crafters who would like to learn a new skill.

You can book your place here

Introduction to Hand Embroidery Sunday 25 October 10am and Sunday 29 November 10am

In this two hour workshop I will guide you through some hand embroidery stitches including blanket stitch, chain stitch and stem stitch. Using these decorative stitches, you will create your own unique design. This class is perfect for beginners.

You can book your place here

Stitchscapes Fabric Collage Friday 20 November 6pm

In this two hour workshop I will guide you through the basics of fabric collage and hand embroidery to create your own fabric stitchscape hoop. This class is perfect for beginners or more experienced crafters who would like to learn a new skill.

You can book your place here

This weekend, I’ll be taking part in the Virtual Arts & Crafts Fair with Workshop. I’m selling a few limited edition embroidered pieces.

In a time which makes it difficult to visit physical craft fairs, we’ve gathered together a wonderful range of talented independent artists and makers to bring you our Virtual Craft Market. Launching on the 25th September and running until the 27th in celebration of our store’s 2nd birthday. 

When you order, we’ll send it through to the artist/maker who’ll despatch it direct. All prices include postage, however please pay attention to lead times as these may vary depending on if the product needs to be made from scratch.

With all purchases, a percentage will be donated to Leeds Women’s Aid.

There are some great pieces from Yorkshire based designers and makers, perfect for picking up an early Christmas present or a treat for yourself.

For regular updates about my practice you can follow me on social media or sign up to my newsletter.

Notes from the Studio

I’m working with Chapel FM on a new project so I’ve been busy packing kits ready to be delivered to the local community on Seacroft. It can be tricky to cut 150 skeins of embroidery thread into lengths for the embroidery kits so I came up with an easier way. Wrapping the threads around the legs of an Ikea stool allows me to get the 1m pieces I need for the envelopes. I just need an easier way to pick and knot them now!

I have to admit, I’ve been feeling a little bit uninspired about my own practice for the last few weeks. It can be tough when you’re working on new classes and spending time on Zoom in meetings. It was good to get back to using my Pfaff Creative 3.0 this week, creating a Converse embroidery for my sister.

I’ve been working on more hand embroidered items lately, forgetting how much fun it is to watch the design appear as my embroidery machine stitches out the design. Working with the 6D software allows me to create designs from drawings and photographs. I haven’t stitched this Converse image since 2018 when it was part of my exhibition Archive & Other Stories at Whitby Museum.

I’m hoping to find some time before the house move to create some more pieces of work so fingers crossed. For regular updates about my practice follow me on social media @hmillsstyles or sign up to my newsletter.

Body Image & Mind

I’m often asked about tackling challenging subject matters in my work, something I first tackled in 2016 with Going Sane: An Archive. I thought it would be great to share some of my work and inspiration that explores mental health and wellbeing, a subject that is personal to me.

This collection of work explored the reality of living with depression and anxiety through a series of embroideries, soft sculptures and text pieces. I wanted to share how I had felt at certain times in my life, talking about the loss of my Grandma in 2015 and my struggles with physical health.

I started thinking about this as a blog topic last weekend when I visited Body & Mind: Seen & Unseen at The National Centre for Craft & Design.

Body & Mind: Seen & Unseen brings together a group of thought-provoking and engaging works, across a range of media, which all, in different ways, look at what it means to be well.

The exhibition considers both visible health and those less visible aspects of well-being, through works exploring personal experience of health issues and pieces that examine our relationship to our bodies and the treatment of illness.

The exhibition featured work by Laura Youngson-Coll, Karina Thompson and Anna Dumitriu (pictured above). It was great to see hand and digital embroidery alongside jewellery and sculpture. The show was well curated and introduced me to some artists and processes I haven’t seem before.

In 2018, I began to explore my own struggles with emotional overeating and binge eating disorder in the collection Girls Who Eat Their Feelings. The work was exhibited in Leeds Central Library as part of the Love Arts Festival.

The inspiration for this collection was a list I compiled in 2017 of everything I ate and drank and my physical and mental health. AS I began to analyse the data, I saw trends in the days I was feeling low and the food I was eating. The exhibition showed a series of hand stitched graphs and 3D pieces in response to the data I collected.

I’m always overwhelmed by the responses to my work and exhibitions, sharing my experiences has helped people to realise that they’re not alone. Something that I’m passionate about as an artist who suffers from mental ill health. Growing up in a small village, I always felt alone and that nobody else felt the way I did. As an adult I’m not afraid to share my experiences with people to help them understand more about their own mental health.