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.

Shopping in Your Stash

Things are changing in the Mills-Styles household, we’re in the process of relocating to the Yorkshire Coast. It’s been our dream for a long as we’ve been married so we are really looking forward to our new house and living just a short walk from the sea.

If you are a regular reader you will know how much I love organising and packing so I’ve started already! It’s been a great chance to go shopping in my stash, looking at the materials I already have for inspiration. We’ve started to build a box wall in our bedroom, it’s made from my teaching stash which is usually hiding in the loft.

As my teaching is all online at the moment I’ve been using the materials to make kits, I’ve found loads of materials and equipment that have been stashed away so it’s saved me lots of money. The denim has been used in my visible mending kits, I didn’t realise how much I had in the large bag of fabric in the loft. I’ve also taken the opportunity to pass on some unwanted fabric to friends, I hate materials just lying around not being used.

I found this piece of rust dyed calico hiding in between some wool fabric, I don’t remember dyeing it but it was probably from 2018 and my exhibition Archive & Other Stories at Whitby Museum. I spent lots of time collecting rust fragments from the beach to hand dye fabrics for the exhibition. I’m now looking at ways to add dimension to the fabric with beads and wool threads.

I highly recommend looking through your stash, finding material that will inspire a new embroidery or piece of clothing. That embroidery kit you bought five years ago could be a perfect project for a autumn evening and you can find a new challenge in that pile of magazines under the table. Shopping in your stash saves money it’s great for the environment too.

You can find more pincushions in my portfolio and for regular updates about my practice follow me on social media @hmillsstyles or sign up to my newsletter.

Tools of the Trade

This month’s Tools of the Trade is a bit different, instead of looking at one specific type of equipment I’m giving you my best nine. There are some tools that are invaluable to my practice and tend to travel with me when I’m taking my work in progress in the car or on the train.

Good to Know… As you become a more experienced maker you will find tools and equipment that work well for you and your craft. The best needles for you might not be what people would recommend and this is okay as it works for you.

Quilting Clips

I bought my first bag of quilting clips on a whim, I wasn’t sure what I would use them for but they are now a handy tool to have around. I have the smaller size from Clover and Sewline and the jumbo Clover ones. I use them to hold together seams and binding when I’m hand sewing and for making mixed media work as they hold things securely when a pin isn’t an option.

Needle Roll

I was scrolling through Instagram when I saw a picture of a needle roll on the Textile Artist feed. I’d been using a handmade needle book for a few years but it was bulky and didn’t fit in my project box easily. I decided to make a needle roll using a piece of wool fabric and some fun cotton. It’s great for organising my needles by size and type, it’s compact and just rolls up when I’m done.

Top Tip: You can find a fantastic needle guide on the John James website. When printed at A4, the needles are actual size so you can find out what they are.

Embroidery Scissors

I love my curved embroidery scissors, they are great for trimming loose threads on my digital embroidery and unpicking stitches. They are great for getting right on the surface of the fabric and cutting away loose threads as the blades are sharp right to the end. These are my go to scissors for any hand or machine embroidery project.

Top Tip: Be careful when handling these scissors, the pointed blades can stab you if you leave them in the bottom of a box or bag.

Turning Tool

This simple looking piece of plastic was free with a quilting magazine many years ago. It’s great for turning through the corners of patchwork pincushions and any 3D work I’m making. It’s also used for creasing seams when you don’t have access to an iron.

Marking Pens

I’m often asked about the best way to transfer designs onto fabric ready to embroider, I use a variety of different pens for my work. The air erasable pen is my go to for speedy projects, it disappears at different rates depending on the fabric you use. I’m fairly new to the water erasable pen but they are great for projects that you pick up and put down for a week or so. Make sure you check that the pen will wash away by testing a small piece. I also use a fabric pencil with white leads for marking dark fabrics, the pencil rubs away easily.

Glue Pen

I’m a big fan of the Sewline glue pen, it’s really handy for temporary fixing of seams before you sew them and I use mine to secure paper hexagons to the fabric when I’m doing English paper piecing. The refills come in a variety of colours but dries clear. I use the fluorescent yellow as it’s easily visible on both light and dark fabrics.

Cotton Perle Thread

Cotton Perle No 8 thread is 100% cotton, it has a distinctive twist and a slight sheen which gives it a lovely finish. This thread doesn’t get fluffy easily and is suitable for many types of hand embroidery. The heavier weight of this thread will give your project a raised texture and great definition. I started using this thread when I was given a ball in a mixed bag of vintage threads. I love to use it to add texture to my hand embroidered pieces and recently I’ve been experimenting with the different colours to build up layers.

Hand Quilting Thread

Gutermann Hand Quilting thread is a fine but strong 40 weight cotton . The thread has a special waxed finish which gives it added strength and it’s not prone to tangling like some other threads. I use this thread for all my tacking and utility sewing because if it’s durability. It’s also great for adding details like beading to a project. I recently started using it to stitch the maps from my daily exercise too and it’s becoming my thread of choice for lots of projects.

Embroidery Hoops

Embroidery hoops come in different sizes and materials, I prefer the wooden type. 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.