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.

Notes from the Studio

When you turn your hobby into a business it’s hard to find sewing that’s just for fun. Not a workshop sample, commission or exhibition piece. My go to fun activity is cross stitch, it’s portable, low on resources and there are so many amazing books. I picked up this book by Genevieve Brading a few years ago, it has some great patterns to follow and a puntastic title.

I’ve also been working on a new pincushion inspired by my upcoming move to the coast. The map is the area around my new house taken from a Google Maps screen capture. I traced the design on to a good quality tissue paper and glued it to the fabric with my Sewline glue pen. The stitching is done with Gutermann hand quilting thread.

Here’s a rare picture of me in my natural environment stitching away, I’m going to miss my studio but the new house has much more space so I’m looking forward to setting up my new workspace. The finished pincushion is made from the embroidered fabric circle wrapped around a stuffing ball. I was shown this technique by Ruth Singer in 2018 as part of a community project we collaborated on and they’ve become my favourite shape.

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.

Research & Development

It’s been five months since I went on a research trip, the world has changed so much and I’ve grown used to staying near home and taking inspiration from the streets and parks and woodland in and around Kirkstall. I been listening to the Very Serious Crafts Podcast in the studio last week and the hosts were talking about shopping in your stash which inspired me to start researching from my hard drive. It was great to look through the exhibitions I’ve visited and museum collections I’ve explored.

The Archive at Sunny Bank Mills has to be my most photographed location, I love exploring the shelves of fabric and books full of peg plans. I’ve previously created work inspired by my visits which was exhibited in the now demolished Finishing Room in 2017. Fragments: An Archive explored the text found in carbon copy books and on the Archive shelves.

Back in February we visited Sudbury Hall and the National Trust Museum of Childhood in Derbyshire. The museum has a wonderful collection of toys including dolls and their accessories. I started researching dolls as part of my exhibition Archive & Other Stories at Whitby Museum. I’ve wanted to make some more doll inspired pieces for a while now and these pictures are great starting point for developing some new ideas.

As part of my research for community and collaborative projects I visited Banner Culture, part of the British Textile Biennial in 2019. The exhibition was a wonderful collection of work made by different community groups and individual artists. Revisiting this research has given me some new ideas for large scale work and my upcoming community projects.

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

Inspiration from Nature

It’s been a busy couple of weeks in the studio getting things prepped for online workshops and delivering materials for Artlink Creative Toolkits so it’s been good to focus on a new piece of work. The work is part of the travelling books project at Skipton Embroiderers Guild, inspired by the theme of Barbara’s book on trees. It’s been great to use different techniques and colours to create the piece.

Machine wrapped cords are a technique I use occasionally, it’s a great way to create texture for a piece of work. You can use fabric to wrap around a piece of string or piping cord or roll a strip of fabric into a tube before stitching around them with the zig zag stitch on your sewing machine. The wrapped cords were then hand stitched onto a piece of wool fabric before adding some texture and detail with beads and hand embroidery.

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

Creative Toolkits

I’ve been working with the wonderful Artlink West Yorkshire since 2018 as part of their Moving on Project. When the country went into lockdown this year, Artlink decided to create a new way of working with our participants and the Creative Toolkits project was born.

Working with participants across Leeds, we are designing kits with instructional videos that use a variety of different materials and techniques to inspire people to create. I delivered my first two kits to Potternewton on Wednesday morning and I can’t wait to see what people will create.

My first two activities are based around the theme of science fiction, designing a planet using a paper plate as a background and then designing a character that might live on the planet. Storytelling is an important part of my practice and I wanted to include this in the project.

Each month, participants will be attending a Zoom session where will share stories about the work we have created. Showing the pieces to fellow participants. It’s great to be able to connect with people in this new way of working.

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

Notes from the Studio

It’s been a busy few weeks in the studio, designing and making kits for workshops and community projects. This means that my own practice has been a few snatched moments here and there between meetings and answering emails.

I have picked up some treats in the last few weeks which is inspiring my work. I’ve been using DMC Cotton Perle thread recently, it’s a thicker thread than I usually work with so it adds dimension to my Stitchscapes and it’s lovely to embroider with. I picked up a multi-buy of 30 balls of thread which arrived in these beautiful branded boxes. Needless to say, I have kept them to have on display in the studio.

100 Embroidery Stitches is a fond childhood memory, I was given the book by my grandma when she realised that knitting was not a skill I had inherited. I would spend hours looking through the pages at the stitches, practising them to hone my skills. This copy came to me all the way from France and I’m still inspired by it all these years later.

On Tuesday morning, I found a few quiet hours to sit watching a Poirot (David Suchet of course) and start working my way through the book one stitch at a time. It was lovely to find this moment of relaxation and just focus on one thing.

In other news, I finally finished the turquoise Stitchscape I’ve been working on for a few weeks. The piece is inspired by a painting that my friend Miriam made for me as a birthday present last year. It’s been great to work with different fabrics and threads to create bold colours and textures.

I decided to crop the piece and make it into a round as the proportions looked better, I also love the lines of stitch on the back of the piece which people don’t normally see!

For regular updates about my practice you can follow me on social media (click the links in the sidebar) or sign up to my monthly newsletter.