Notes from the Studio

I’ve been enjoying a quiet week in the studio, organising my shelves and finding inspiration in my collection of books and materials. Focusing on small tasks is great for my mental health and it’s an opportunity to do those little jobs that are often overlooked.

In my post Tools of the Trade, I talked about the different type of embroidery hoops I use in my work. This included a link to a hoop binding tutorial and I’ve given my collection of wooden hoops a colouring makeover using all the bias binding I’ve collected over the years. I can’t wait to use them on some upcoming projects.

Last week I wrote about taking inspiration from Stitches: New Approaches, a book from my collection. I’ve decided to make a stitch experiments journal as a way of documenting ideas new and old. Each page have a sample and some notes which takes me back to my uni days and the technical files we created as part of our assessments.

I’ve really enjoyed the quiet days of hand stitching, working with simple straight stitches and a variety of threads. The different patterns and textures you can create by layering the stitches and using different colours for shading is fantastic.

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Stitches: New Approaches

Being at home in the studio every day feels a bit indulgent, I’m usually getting ready for my workshops and answering emails as well as working on my own pieces. Although I’ve been embroidering for over thirty years, I’m still learning and exploring new ideas.

As we’re indoors for the foreseeable future, I’ve been turning to the books in my studio for inspiration. I have to admit that I haven’t looked at some of them for years! Turns out that I was wrong and they are a great resource for helping me to explore new ideas and processes.

I remember meeting Jan Beaney when I was at university, working alongside Jean Littlejohn, they have been inspiring people for many years. I was given a book by Jan many years ago called Stitches: New Approaches. This amazing book looks at different embroidery stitches and how you can change them to create interesting patterns and textures.

This is a great exercise for everyone from experienced stitchers to people who are new to the world of embroidery. Working with one embroidery stitch, try a few different techniques to change it up. I chose that old favourite, blanket stitch.

Picture one uses a variety of threads to work the stitches in the traditional way. I used a crochet cotton, some tapestry wool and a fine ribbon like thread. Be careful when you’re using these thicker threads as they can be hard to pull through the fabric. I used a fairly open weave linen.

Picture two uses cotton perle threads to layer up a few rows of blanket stitch, this would also work if you made the stitches irregular and used different threads.

Picture three is a blanket stitched worked in a tapestry wool. I’ve then used a boucle yarn and a cotton perle thread to wrap parts of the stitches. This produces a really nice texture and adds weight to the stitches.

Picture one is worked very loosely using a four ply cotton thread, instead of pulling the stitches tightly I left the tension very loose. This would also work in different layers and with different threads.

Picture two is stitched very randomly using a cotton perle thread, blanket stitch is usually very uniform so it was great to work it in this way. This would add a really nice detail to stitched landscapes, creating texture for hills and even fences.

Picture three uses a cotton perle thread with beads added into the stitch. I used a small bead, working it in to the stitch when I came back up through the fabric. It’s tricky to get the beads to lay flat so it might need a bit of practice with different threads and beads.

I can’t recommend this activity enough, it’s a great way to explore embroidery stitches and try something new.

A Few of My Favourite Things

In these strange times I wanted to stay connected so my blog will continue as normal. I thought it would be great to share some of my favourite things with you. My craft stash is more important than ever as I’m spending lots of time in the studio. I’m lucky to have a studio at home so I stall have access to all my materials and equipment.

Thread Collection

I’ve built up a large selection of threads over the years, some of them were donated and some I’ve bought from suppliers like Barnyarns. I work with three main kinds of thread in my work and each one has a different use.

For digital embroidery I work with Madeira Rayon 40 thread. These fine threads come in huge range of colours and are strong enough to withstand the heavy layers of stitching. When the threads are used on wash away stabiliser the quality of them changes from silky smooth to matte and textured.

Vintage threads are some of my prized possessions, I have a large collection that includes donated items and charity shop finds. I use the different threads for hand embroidery and adding details to my digitally embroidered pieces.

Embroidery Machine

In 2015 I decided to invest in a Pfaff Creative 3.0 sewing and embroidery machine. After working with embroidery machines during my MA in textiles it was great to get this machine home. I use the machine alongside 6D, a Pfaff design programme that allows me to bring my photographs and drawings to life using thread. The machine is a workhorse and integral to my work.

Button Jars

My shelves are full of crafty treats but my button jars are really special to me. We all remember the button jar that we played with as children and some of my buttons belonged to my grandma. I’ve built up a huge collection through donations and charity shop finds over the years. To make things easier, I colour match them in a selection of jars.

Desk Space

I’m lucky to have a home studio that we created to make the best use of the space in the back bedroom. I have a large white desk from Ikea that sits in front of the window. I love watching the birds in the garden as I work although they can be a distraction. My two metre run of desk means that I can have lots of things on the go like my laptop and a couple of projects. The white background is great for flat-lays and all my photo shoots.

I’d love to see some of your favourite materials and your workspace so get in touch via email hayleymillsstyles@gmail.com or through social media, just click the links in the sidebar.

Tools of the Trade

I’m often asked about the best embroidery hoop to use for an embroidery project so I thought I would share some of the hoops that I use in my work. The hoop I use often depends on that fabric I’m working with (and what I remembered to take with me!). Here are the different types I have in my stash.

Good to Know… When using any embroidery hoop it should feel comfortable to hold in your hand. Sometimes it’s easier no to use a hoop, especially if the fabric is a heavier weight. Embroidery hoops all leave marks on your fabric. It’s best not to leave your fabric in the frame all the the time as these marks can be hard to remove.

Wooden Embroidery Hoops

These embroidery hoops are often made from beech and have a solid brass screw to tighten the hoop. I use this kind of hoop for most of my projects, it’s great for both cotton and wool fabrics. There are also bamboo alternatives that have a steel crew on them, be careful with the bamboo variety as some of the cheaper frames are warped and wont be a perfect circle.

To use the hoop, place the smaller circle on a flat surface with your fabric on top. Next place the outer hoop on top of the fabric and press down firmly. To make the fabric nice and taut, gently pull the edges until the surface is flat. You can check the fabric is ‘drum tight’ by flicking it with your finger, the fabric should make a popping noise as you do this.

To bind or not to bind? If your hoop has a very smooth surface you can bind the inside section with cotton bias binding or tape. This is also great if you have a slightly distorted bamboo hoop as it will help you to create more tension. There’s a great tutorial here.

Flexi Hoops

These plastic alternatives often feature a wood effect outer hoop and have a decorative hoop for hanging which makes them great for displaying finished work. You can also pick them up in a variety of bright colours.

As with the wooden hoop, place the smaller circle on a flat surface with your fabric on top. Next place the outer hoop on top of the fabric and press down firmly. These hoops are great for fabrics that are heavily printed or more delicate as they create tension easily without excessive pulling around. This type of hoop can distort if you leave a heavy fabric like wool or denim in them for too long so make sure you take the hoop off when you have finished sewing for the day.

Elbesee Easy Clip Roller Frames

These larger wooden frames are most commonly used for tapestry projects but I use them for large scale hand embroidery pieces. I find them quite heavy to hold in my hand so they can be coupled with an embroidery floor stand to make it easier to use.

To use the frame, remove the plastic clips and wrap your fabric around the wooden bar. Click the plastic clips into place to secure the fabric and repeat on the second wooden bar. Once the clips are secure, gently turn the bars so that the fabric is taut. Tighten the wing nuts to hold the wooden bars in place.

You can also get a version without the clips where you stitch the fabric to a piece of cotton tape on the frame. I use this frame with vintage fabrics as it gives a more even tension. You can also get a handy little tool called a ‘Twizzler’ to help you tighten the wing nuts.

***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.***

Notes from the Studio

Finding time in the studio each week is really important for me and my practice. Those days where I can focus on my new ideas without distraction have helped me to create some new samples and collate my research.

I’ve been reflecting on work inspired by my collection of vintage textiles and objects from my childhood home. Project books are an important part of my process, I use them to record my inspiration and make notes on samples. They are a record of my ideas and help me to develop my initial ideas

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with different fabrics, threads and techniques to create a series of small stitched work. It’s been fun to experiment with techniques like goldwork, using the purl like beads to create texture. I love the way that different threads and fabrics create texture as the light catches them. You can create interesting surfaces using a limited colour palette, something I love to do in a lot of my work.

For regular updates about my work you can follow me on social media, just click the icons in the side bar.

Cottonopolis

Last weekend we visited Manchester with some friends, a trip across the Pennines for vegan treats turned out to be a really inspiring day out. We did lots of walking around the city, finding inspiration at The Whitworth, The Holden Gallery and The Craft and Design Centre.

The Whitworth Art Gallery has always exhibited an array of textiles, they had a beautiful collection of pieces. I loved the textural embroidery by Madge Gill, where layers of hand embroidery create a beautiful surface. Raisa Kabir’s piece, It Must be Nice to Fall in Love uses hand dyed silk thread to create different surfaces and textures. Norma Starszakowna’s digital screen print Shadow on the Wall of Gaza was a highlight of the day. The subtle colours and patterns were really incredible.

At the Holden Gallery until the 27 March there’s a beautiful exhibition by Yelena Popova. The Scholar Stones Project includes painting, installation and tapestry and addresses the artists ongoing fascination with nuclear history and materiality. The exploration into nuclear heritage reflects on her autobiographical history, having grown up in Ozyorsk, Russia, a secret closed city, and the birthplace of the Soviet nuclear-weapons programme.

Manchester Craft and Design Centre is always an inspiring place to visit, grab a brew and shop. Until the 4 April you can see #MagicCarpet by artist and researcher Dr Kai Syng Tan. #MagicCarpet showcases a large-scale tapestry, digitally hand drawn and then woven by machine, threading together questions about the nature of making and the ways in which artists and scientists view neurodiversity.

Vessels of Memory

I’ve been developing some new work in the studio for the last few months inside vintage boxes. Vessels of memory is still in the early stages but I had my wonderful photographer Mat Dale take some photos of the pieces I’ve been creating.

The pieces I’ve made are inspired by family history, the silver cigarette box belonged to Uncle Frank who fought in the trenches at Arras during WWI. The collar box was inspired by my grandad and the loose collar from his dress shirt, the wreath sits inside a vintage leather collar box. The Tupperware box contains the ashes of my secrets which I burned a few weeks ago.

I also began to work on pieces inspired by my grandma, including some pincushions inside jewellery boxes. You can see more of my pincushions in my new portfolio page and for regular updates about my practice you can follow me on social media, just click the links in the sidebar.

Visible Mending Classes

I’m running a series of workshops on visible mending at the lovely Workshop in Headingley and at the inspiring Leeds City Museum as part of their exhibition Fast X Slow Fashion: Shopping for clothes in Leeds 1720 – 2020. Visible mending is a creative way to give clothes a new lease of life.

Old clothes aren’t worn out, they’re opportunities! 

https://visiblemending.com/pages/whys-it-got-to-be-visible

All the workshops are two hours long, and I will guide you through the basics of hand embroidery and applique which can be used to repair a garment or accessory with holes or ripped seams. Inspired by the Japanese technique of Boro, the practice of reworking and repairing textiles through piecing, patching and stitching.

All materials and equipment will be provided but you will need to bring an item of clothing or an accessory that you would like to mend.

The first class at Leeds City Museum will run on Thursday 27 February 13.00 to 15.00, tickets cost £16.76 and can booked through Eventbrite. There’s also a weekend class on Saturday 7 March 13.00 to 15.00, also £16.76 per person booked through Eventbrite.

My classes at Workshop are on Thursday 27 February 18.00 to 20.00 and Wednesday 22 April 18.00 to 20.00. Tickets cost £15.00 per person, you can book through the Workshop website.

#tutorlife

As we move towards spring, my teaching is starting to pick up. My Heydays felt landscapes course is well underway and my hand sewing classes at Workshop are selling out fast. A few years ago, I was asked how I became a tutor and the answer is; purely by accident!

In 2009, I set up a WI called Buns & Roses with a couple of friends. As we started to fill the programme with inspiring events, I was asked to pass on my skills in patchwork and fascinator making. It was great to share my textile knowledge with people and see what they created using a few basic materials.

I’ve been teaching on the Heydays programme at Leeds Playhouse since 2013, every Wednesday I work alongside other creative practitioners to deliver courses for over 55s. The classes run over a term which means that I get to spend time with my students developing their ideas in to finished pieces of work. My favourite classes have been Stitchscapes, using fabric collage to create a unique fabric view.

I started teaching workshops and short courses in the wonderful Drawing Room at Leeds Central Library a couple of years ago. This inspiring space has helped me to reach new audiences and pass on my creative skills.

As my practice has grown so has my teaching and I’ve been lucky enough to deliver workshops and talks across the North. Some of my recent highlights include working with the Arts Council Collection at Longside Gallery, meeting inspiring like-minded artists at Art Through Textiles and speaking at a event for International Day of Disabled Persons.

If you are interested in a workshop or talk for your WI or Embroiderers Guild, you can contact me here. Details of my classes at Workshop in Leeds can be found on their website.