My Embroidery Journey

February is National Embroidery Month, although in my world, every month is National Embroidery Month. I wanted to share my embroidery journey with you, from where it all began to how I became a freelance artist and tutor.

I want to start with the most frequently asked question, when did I start embroidering?

I started embroidering over 35 years ago, my grandma was teaching me how to knit and it became very clear that it wasn’t the craft for me. In her sewing box she had a copy of 100 Stitches, the Anchor book. She passed the book to me and said I should try embroidery.

My grandma could sew her knitting together and repair clothes but she didn’t really embroider. I really enjoyed working with hand stitch, creating clothes for my Sindy dolls and doing some cross stitch.

Who or what inspired you to be a textile artist?

There are a few points on the map of my embroidery journey and they have all played a huge part in my life.

I remember visiting my Auntie Elsie and Uncle Philip with my grandparents, Elsie was an accomplished crafter. In the hobby room in their bungalow I spotted an amazing fabric collage of the village fete. It was so colourful and detailed and I couldn’t believe it was made entirely from fabric and thread.

At high school, I spent lots of time in the library looking at the art and craft books. They were selling some books from the 60s and 70s and I picked up a book called Creative Embroidery. It had pictures of these beautifully textured pieces of textile art and I was so inspired.

Doing my degree in textile crafts showed me that I didn’t have to create traditional textiles. I explored mixed media work with combined machine knit, felt making, screen print and embroidery. My degree show was an installation about urban decay, a far cry from the flowers and samplers I created in the 80s.

When did you become a freelance artist?

In December 2012, I realised that if I wanted to make art my full time career I would have commit to a freelance life. I’m lucky to have a husband who gave me his support, helping me to look for creative opportunities and studying for my MA in textiles at Manchester School of Art.

What sort of work do you do?

My working week is so varied, I spend time in the studio planning workshops and making samples. There’s also a lot of admin to do like accounts, responding to emails and writing handouts and workshop descriptions.

Teaching is a huge part of my work, running workshops in hand embroidery and textile art. I also get to work with different communities on projects like The Hope Quilt and Unfolding Origins. Storytelling is such a big part of my own work and I love working with children and adults to share stories using fabric and thread.

Where can I find out more about your work?

You can follow me on social media, I have Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I also have a monthly newsletter where I share my work, inspiration and upcoming workshops. In June this year, I’m opening my studio doors as part of North Yorkshire Open Studios. You can see my work and have a go at some different textile techniques.

Notes From the Studio

I’ve been so busy teaching that it seems like such a long time since I made some of my own work. It was exciting to get the photographs back for Broken Doll and Where is my Mind? Mat Dale really knows how to capture my work.

My biggest project this month has been a commission for a friends wedding, stitching into a vintage map of Leeds printed onto fabric. The piece features writing by Aliss and Ryan, marking the places in Leeds that tell the story of their relationship.

I used the tissue paper transfer method, stitching through the paper and tearing it away. I treated to myself to some Sizzix tweezers, they were perfect for picking out the smaller fragments of paper inside the delicate handwriting. They absolutely loved the commission so it was worth taking time to get everything right.

There are a few quiet weeks ahead so I’m excited to work on some new pieces that I will be exhibiting as part of North Yorkshire Open Studios in June.

New Classes in Leeds

I’m excited to be offering some hand stitching workshops inspired by exhibitions at Leeds Central Library and Leeds City Museum. Inspired by Breaking the News, join me at libraries across Leeds to learn how to cross stitch. Money Talks is the inspiration for my hand embroidered purse workshops at Leeds City Museum.

Positive Patchwork with Leeds Libraries

Wednesday 2 March 1.30pm to 3.30pm, Garforth Community Hub and Library

Wednesday 23 March 1pm to 3pm, Leeds Central Library

Wednesday 30 March 1.30pm to 3.30pm, Chapel Allerton Library

Join me for this two-hour cross stitch workshop I will guide you through the basics of cross stitch to create your own personal piece of embroidery. All materials and equipment will be provided and the workshop is suitable for beginners and people who have some embroidery experience.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or anxious by negative news stories from across the world. Take some time out and stitch your own positive headline, inspirational quote, or your own response to the news. 

Leeds Libraries

Click here for more information and to book tickets

Embroidered Purses with Leeds City Museum

Thursday 10 March 1pm to 3pm and Saturday 12 March 1pm to 3pm

Join me for this two hour hand embroidery class. I will guide you through the basics of hand embroidery to create a stitched design on a cotton pouch. You will learn decorative stitches like chain stitch, blanket stitch and French knots. All materials and equipment will be provided and the class is suitable for beginners and people with embroidery experience who would like to try something new.

This workshop is part of our programme of events for our exhibition Money Talks. The exhibition looks at the wide-ranging impact that money has had on people and how it shapes our perceptions. It raises questions around value and worth, tells stories from across the globe, and discusses more sensitive subjects including gambling and addiction.

Leeds Museums & Galleries

Click here for more information and to book tickets

How To…

I’ve been writing about my favourite tools in Tools of the Trade for the last couple of years so I thought I would start a new series called How To. In these posts I will share some techniques and tips for your textile projects and I’m starting off with one of the most popular follow up questions from my workshops.

How do I present my work in an embroidery hoop?

If you follow me on social media, you will have seen my workshop samples presented in embroidery hoops. It’s a great way to present a piece of work, you can add a piece of ribbon to hang the work and you can even put the finished hoop in a box frame. Here are some simple instructions for finishing your hoop…

Step One…

Make sure your design is centred in the embroidery hoop and tighten the clasp as much as you can, a screwdriver will help you with this. Cut the remaining fabric into a circle around the hoop, this doesn’t have to be perfect as you’ll be covering it up.

Step Two…

Using a strong thread like Gutermann Hand Quilting Thread, sew a tacking stitch around the edge of the circle. I’ve used a contrasting thread so you can see it, you will use a thread that matches your fabric.

Step Three…

Gently gather the fabric up like the edges of a shower cap and secure the thread with a couple of stitches on top of each other.

Step Four…

You can cover the back of the hoop with a circle of felt, Hobbycraft sell A4 sheets of self-adhesive felt which makes it really easy to attach. You can also stick down regular felt using all purpose glue like Bostick.

Step Five…

Finally, you can tie a ribbon around the clasp of the embroidery hoop. If you want to put the hoop into a box frame I would miss this step out.

Stitch Experiments

Since August last year I’ve been learning as well as teaching, attending classes with Jessica Grady and Lucy Martin. It’s been great to spend time exploring different embroidery techniques and it’s helping me in my own practice. Although I’ve been embroidering for over 35 years, there’s always something new to explore.

As part of my coaching with Eleanor Snare, I’ve been challenged to fill the stitch experiments book I started back in 2020. I started the book when I wrote a post a new approach to stitches. I’d forgotten about the book until we talked about creating a journal of techniques. It was great to see the different techniques I’d tried and my new challenge is to fill the book and make notes about how I could use the techniques in a piece of work.

Experimenting with stitch is really fun, you don’t need lots of embroidery experience either. You can try working simple stitches in a different way or in a different thread. You can find out more in my post Stitches: New Approaches.

Notes from the Studio

I have to admit, I haven’t been as productive as I wanted during my winter break but I’m spending time in the studio each week and creating new pieces. My stitch activity has been helping to inspire me at the start of the day and I’m working with the fantastic Eleanor Snare who challenges me in our bi-monthly coaching sessions.

I always said that I work best under pressure and I’ve been working towards the submission deadline for the Prism Textiles 2022 exhibition Untold. The deadline is much nearer than usual as our 2021 exhibition was delayed until October but I’ve enjoyed making the work.

For the theme of untold, I wanted to share my experiences of living with OCD, a condition which is still a joke to many people. When I explain the pattern of intrusive thoughts and the compulsions that I perform, people are shocked how much it affects my daily life. You can find more information about OCD on the Mind website. Please remember that comments like “I’m a little bit OCD” when describing how you like things to be neat can be triggering and undermine the struggle that people face every day.

Broken Doll and Where is My Mind? explore my struggles with compulsions and intrusive thoughts. They are both based around objects, creating textile pieces inside them which tell a story about OCD. I’ve worked with English Patchwork, hand stitch and digital embroidery to build these pieces.

For regular updates about my work you can follow me on Instagram or sign up to my monthly newsletter.

Hello 2022!

Last year seemed to fly by so quickly, it was our first full year of living in Scarborough and another year of Covid-19 restrictions and all the stress that brought along too. I’m back in the studio, getting ready for my upcoming workshops and exhibitions and looking forward to creating work to share with you.

Dates for your diary…

In April, Prism Textiles are exhibiting at The Art Pavilion, Mile End. The theme for this years exhibition is untold, I’m currently creating some pieces inspired by my lived experience of depression and OCD. The annual exhibition showcases the work of our amazing members who are all working with or inspired by textiles.

In June, I’m taking part in North Yorkshire Open Studios where people can visit my studio and find out more about the processes I use in my work. My doors will be open from 10am to 5pm on Saturday 4, Sunday 5, Saturday 11 and Sunday 12. I’ll be showcasing some new work, my inspiration and there will be some hands on activities to try.

Over the last 12 months, hand stitching has been my technique of choice and DMC Cotton Perle is my favourite thread. I got this beautiful limited edition box for Christmas and I wanted to use it as part of a new weekly exercise to help me start a day in the studio.

I’ve hooped up a piece of linen in my favourite 10 inch hoop and I’m adding something new every time I’m in the studio making work. This activity is helping me focus and start thinking creatively before I sit down to start on my pieces for that day. There are a few rules but nothing stressful…

  1. Don’t overthink it
  2. Don’t unpick anything
  3. Don’t spend too long on the task

The New Year can be a stressful time so make sure that you take time to do something that inspires and motivates you without having to do lots of things at once. Ruth Singer has written a lovely blog post about gentle goal setting which you can read here.

Tools of the Trade

It’s been a couple of months since my last Tools of the Trade blog post. One of the questions that comes up in my workshops is how to finish your work for presentation so I thought I would share some of the ways I present my work for exhibitions and workshops.

Tip… When deciding how to present your work, think about where and how it will be hung or stored. This will help you decide the best way to present it.

Embroidery Hoops

This is a very popular way to present your work. I use this method for my workshop samples and when I want to photograph work in progress for social media. Embroidery hoops are easy to find at your local craft shop or online and you can even paint them to add a splash of colour or blend in with your work.

I like to use the wooden hoops with brass screws by Elbesee, they are great quality and you can clean the screw with metal polish if it becomes tarnished. To finish the hoop, I cut the work into a circle and do a tacking stitch around the edge. I then gather the fabric up and secure in place with some stab stitches. You can cover the gathered fabric with some self-adhesive felt too.

Metal Rings

I really like presenting my work as a circle but I don’t always want a hoop as part of the design. On a shopping trip in Fred Aldous I found these plain metal rings which come in different sizes from 75mm to 500mm.

They give you the circular presentation and are light enough to get framed too. I use the same method as I would for finishing a hoop, cutting the work into a circle, gathering with tacking stitches and covering with a piece of matching fabric to hide all the messy edges.

Good to know… When using any metal products there is a chance it can rust. You can seal metal hoops or fastenings on an embroidery hoop with clear nail varnish.

Picture Frames

For exhibitions I always get my work professionally framed, I use Artco in Leeds. They have a great selection of frames and are able to frame all the weird and wonderful things I take them easily. My entire exhibition Archive & Other Stories in 2018 was framed by them. I like to stitch my work to good quality acid free mountboard before I take it to be framed. This ensures that the work is secure and ready to frame.

You can also buy great frames from high street shops like Wilko but be careful as the carboard mounts might not be acid free and can fade or turn yellow with time.

Freestanding

My work isn’t always framed, sometimes I leave work freestanding which means it’s easier to store and photograph. I’ve had work in exhibitions which is displayed in a cabinet or standing on a plinth. I’ve even displayed wall mounted work that isn’t framed which was a challenge to make sure it was secure.

You can also pick up display cases in vintage shops if you want to keep freestanding work on display and safe.

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

Unfolding Origins

My latest community project came to an end last month. It’s been great to get back to face to face workshops, working on Unfolding Origins with textile artist Lynn Setterington and Chrysalis Arts. I was asked to run a series of textile workshops with two Selby primary schools. Working from Lynn’s research we created banners that celebrate the 30th anniversary of Selby Toll Bridge becoming toll free.

Unfolding Origins aims to support the creation of new artworks inspired by North Yorkshire’s archival collections and to develop exciting new ways for the public to engage with this resource. The project is a collaboration between North Yorkshire County Record Office (NYCRO), Chrysalis Arts Development (CAD) and other partners including Selby District Council, Richmondshire District Council and ArtUK.

There are three artists is residence; Carolyn Thompson in Ryedale, Lynn Setterington in Selby and Nick Jordon and Jacob Cartwright are collaborating in Richmondshire. The artists began their research in October 2019 but unfortunately COVID-19 has led to a delay to our engagement programme and the exhibitions being postponed.

https://www.chrysalisarts.com/current/unfolding-origins

I grew up not far from Selby so I remember the local newspaper stories about the bridge and travelling via Selby to the coast in our Ford Granada for day trips. Lynn had collected research from the North Yorkshire County Record Office which we used to inspire our work.

Year six children from Barlby Bridge and Barwic Parade designed and created the banners, using felt, fabric pens and printed fabrics. We started from designs that the children created, bringing together elements from everyone’s work into the final pieces. Their skill and enthusiasm was so inspiring, and each school created something different.

The Barlby Bridge banner has lots of people, representing their walk to school across the bridge. They also created Selby landmarks like the Abbey, Market Cross and Town Hall. The children had a dedicated bridge team who planned and created the bridge at the bottom of the banner.

The Barwic Parade banner celebrates the nature along the River Ouse, with trees and flowers. They even added me to the banner walking along the river bank. I love the Selby sign and three swans, the Selby crest.

We’re hoping to bring the schools together in 2022 to see the work and celebrate.

Images courtesy of https://nycroblog.com/2020/09/10/selby-toll-bridge/, Chrysalis Arts and Jo Mills