Social Sewing

As a freelance artist, I’m often spending my time in the studio, embroidering and planning new workshops. I work from home so this means that I’m usually on my own watching Netflix and talking to myself.

I teach at Heydays, part of the Creative Engagement programme at Leeds Playhouse and I was chatting to my class about isolation. This isn’t something that only affects older people, there are lots of people who are spending their free time alone.

Crafty socials are popping up across the country and they’re a great way to combat social isolation. I set up MCR Sew Social in 2019 with fellow artist Louisa Hammond. We wanted to meet like minded makers with a passion for all things textile. I’ve really enjoyed planning and attending our events, meeting new people and eating some lovely cake!

Manchester Sew Social meet on the third Thursday of the month at Foundation Coffee House on Whitworth Street.

Closer to home, I’ve been attending the Crafty Socials and Stitchers Meet Ups at Workshop in Headingley, Leeds. Aliss runs a fantastic cafe and creative space that offers a range of crafty workshops and amazing food.

The Crafty Socials are every other Thursday from 5.30pm to 8.00pm. Bring along your own projects to work on and meet some amazing people who love to make. No need to book.

The Stitchers Meet Up is on the first Sunday of the month, you can book your free place through the Workshop website.

I’m also looking forward to attending my first Sew & Swear at Ground Up Coffee + Company in Leeds Corn Exchange in a couple of weeks.

I can’t recommend joining a local meet up enough, they’ve helped me to get more social and I’ve made some great friends. If you’re nervous about attending an event for the first time, organisers are really welcoming and make you feel at home.

Notes from the Studio

I’ve been busy in the studio since my winter break, getting my work organised to be photographed in a few weeks. The new year is always a time to reflect so I’ve enjoyed looking back at my old collections of work and taking inspiration from them. I’m also happy to note that my embroidery skills have improved in just a few short years since I made some of the pieces.

This week I’ve been focusing on some new found object inspired pieces as part of Ferrous Metals. The colour palette for these pieces is a departure from my neutral comfort zone, using my photographs and pieces of metal as the starting point.

Working with some heavy wool fabric, digitally embroidered drawings and 3D elements, the work is formed around metal rings which you can find in Fred Aldous.

My collection of found metals is always growing, I found some more pieces at Skinningrove beach on Sunday. These metal fragments can be worked into embroidered designs as a 3D embellishment or used to dye fabrics and embroidered drawings. I’m looking forward to creating some new pieces from this research.

For regular updates about my projects you can follow me on social media, just click the links in the sidebar.

Tools of the Trade

I’m often asked about the best way to transfer designs onto fabric ready to embroider so I thought I would share some of the marking tools that I use in my work. The tools 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 marking tools, you should always test a piece of the fabric first to check if it’s suitable for the project you are working on.

Air Erasable Pens

I’ve been using air erasable pens for many years, in particular the Barnyarns Magic Pen. They are great for drawing out designs onto fabric ready for embroidery. Some of the pens have a finer nib so you can do some really detailed lines. They come in a range of colours depending on the brand, you can even get a white pen for dark fabrics. I found that the pen for dark fabrics is hard to see at first as it gradually turns white.

This type of pen fades differently depending on the fabric. I’ve found that on vintage fabrics it doesn’t last as long, especially if the work is in direct sunlight for a long time. If you are finding it takes too long to fade, you can dab the marks off with a damp cloth. Ironing will sometime bring the pen lines out of the fabric and can make them permanent so make sure they have fully faded before ironing the piece.

Fabric Marking Pencils

I picked up a fabric pencil on a trip to Barnyarns as I was looking for a way to have a design last longer than the air erasable pens I was used to. I picked up a Sewline mechanical pencil which comes with graphite and white refills and a built in rubber to remove the lines.

The pencil is really great for marking the fabric and stays in place if you’re coming back to a piece of work. I haven’t successfully removed the lines with the rubber supplied but I did find that a damp cloth took the marks away easily.

Water Erasable Pens

After finding the air erasable was disappearing too quickly, I bought the water erasable version by Prym. This pen has a thicker nib so I found smaller details harder to draw, especially fine handwriting. I found it was great for pieces that I was working on over a few days as it stays in place. Remember not to iron the fabric as this can heatset the pen.

Once your design is complete, you can use a damp cloth to remove the lines. I’ve found this easy to do but on very pale fabrics there is sometimes a residue which takes a bit more water to remove.

Heat Erasable Pens

Newer to the fabric marking tools is the heat erasable pen, the most popular is the Pilot Frixion which comes in a range of colours. I was late to the party with this product, so many of my friends have been using them for dressmaking and embroidery projects. I picked up a bargain pack in Tesco and you an find them online really easily.

I’ve used them for drawing embroidery designs which need to stick around for a longer project. You can remove them with the heat of a dry iron or a hairdryer. I’ve mostly had a positive experience although on a vintage piece of cotton I noticed a ghost image appeared after ironing the design away.

***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.***

New Classes at Workshop

I’ll be running some hand stitching classes at Workshop. in Headingley over the next few months. These classes offer a range of skills from hand embroidery to English patchwork and all the materials and equipment will be provided.

Hand Embroidery, Sunday 9 February 11.00 to 15.00 & Saturday 25 April 10.00 to 12.00, £25.00

In this two-hour workshop, I will guide you through some simple hand embroidery stitches including blanket stitch, feather stitch and stem stitch. Using these decorative stitches, you will create a unique design. You can book your tickets here.

Visible Mending, Thursday 27 February 18.00 to 20.00, £15.00

In this two-hour workshop, 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. You can book your tickets here.

Creative Upcycling, Thursday 27 February 18.00 to 20.00, £15.00

Learn the traditional craft of hand embroidery and applique, I will guide you through the basics of hand embroidery and applique where you will learn how to add some exciting details to an unloved item of clothing. You will learn how do applique using fusible webbing and a variety of stitches including back stitch, chain stitch and blanket stitch. You can book your tickets here.

Applique & Hand Embroidery, Saturday 29 February 15.00 to 17.00, £25.00

In this two-hour, I will guide you through the basics of fusible web applique which you can use to embellish your own tote bag or create a personalised embroidery hoop.

If you want to make the tote bag option, you’ll need to bring your own, however you can always make your own in the beginners sewing class. If you prefer the embroidery hoop option, all the materials are provided to make your own personalised hoop. You can book your tickets here.

English Patchwork Accessories, Sunday 8 March, 14.00 to 17.00, £25.00

In this three-hour workshop, you will learn the traditional craft of English Paper Piecing to create your own unique hand stitched scissor charm and pin cushion. I will guide you through the basics of patchwork, using cotton fabric to create your accessories using hand stitch. You can book your tickets here.

Hello 2020!

So a new decade is here and I’m entering as a forty year old artist with a new outlook on life (and a new pair of glasses for close up embroidery work). The last ten years have been full of amazing community projects, collaborations and solo exhibitions. I’ve worked alongside some talented artists, performers and helped some inspiring people to find their creative voice.

In 2019, I had some coaching from the very talented Eleanor Snare, that gave me a new, confident mindset. I’m now all celebrating my achievements. Here are a few of my proudest moments from the last decade in no particular order:

  • Taking the decision to go freelance (I’m now in my 8th year)
  • Getting my masters in textiles from Manchester School of Art
  • Buying a new house with space for a great little studio in the back bedroom
  • Setting up MCR Sew Social with Louisa Hammond
  • Three solo exhibitions exploring mental health and my childhood
  • My first articles in Be Creative with Workbox magazine
  • Working on Outing the Past and It’s for You celebrating the LGBTQ+ community
  • Working with A Quiet Word on the Seacroft Tapestry Project and 365 Leeds Stories
  • Working with Getaway Girls on Stitching for Wellbeing

As I look forward to the new year, I have lots of exciting new projects to focus on. Flock North is a collaborative project with visual artist Louise Atkinson which looks at textile production and migration in the north. The project research has already taken us to some exciting exhibitions and you can read more about them on our blog.

For the last few months of 2019 I was feeling pretty uninspired, I’ve never hidden my mental health struggles and how they can affect my work but I was struggling to motivate myself. I’ve now set myself some designated studio days each week where I focus on my own practice without the distraction of emails and workshop planning.

So many artist friends have had a similar feeling about how to balance their teaching life and studio time. It’s time to reclaim our time in the studio to make our own work. I’ll be sharing my work in progress on social media and through regular notes from the studio blog posts.

I wonder what the next ten years of my creative journey has in store for me. I can’t wait to find out!