Mixed Media Embroidery

I’ve been teaching a mixed media embroidery workshop for the last few years, using recycled materials and found objects to create textures and patterns. During lock down, many of our favourite suppliers are understandably closed so getting materials can be tricky. I wanted to share some ideas that you can use in your own work using unusual materials.

The pieces at the start of the post are made in a variety of ways with different materials, some of them were found in my garden, the centre image features plastic from a beach in Japan. I’m happy to have friends who go on holiday and bring me a bag full of weird rubbish!

In the first image, I created a background using plaster bandage on a calico background. When the plaster was dry, I used acrylic paint to blend then together. The background was then decorated with ribbon, threads and buttons.

The second image was created with a painted Bondaweb background, I used a wash of watercolour paint on the Bondaweb and when it was dry, I ironed it to a piece of cotton fabric. The texture is created with melted carrier bags, plastic tubing and a metal ring wrapped with blanket stitch. There are also sequins made from an old map and wallpaper scraps.

The third image was build around a rusty piece of metal I found in the garden. I stitched it to a piece of wool fabric and then added lots of beaded details and another metal ring wrapped with blanket stitch. Take care when handling rusty metal, you can wear rubber gloves and brush away any excess rust with a firm brush.

Rusty metal can also be used to dye fabric, I used this technique in some pieces from Archive & Other Stories. You can find a great tutorial on rust dyeing here on Quilting Daily.

It’s great to see how people are using different materials around the house to create new work. My talented friend Rowan Bridgwood has been using paper coffee filters as a fabric for her beautiful hand embroideries.

Great minds think alike, I’ve been saving the filters from my husbands Aeropress to use in my work.

Take a look around the house, garden and garage/shed for things that you can use in your work. Think about how you can wrap things in ribbon, thread or fabric. A small drill or carpenters awl can make holes in wood, metal and plastic so you can sew through it. Look at what patterns you can make using the materials. Try to let the materials guide you, look at how you can use them alongside your regular craft stash.

Here are a few images from my recent mixed media embroidery courses…

Studio Sale

I’ve been spending more time in the studio over the past few weeks so I’ve decided to have a spring clean and finally open a shop over on Big Cartel. I’m selling some pieces from my collection including tote bags, limited edition embroideries and some handmade pincushions with scissor charms.

I’m asking for your support during a time when my usual work isn’t happening. There are some affordable pieces in my shop that make excellent birthday presents. There are also postcards that you can send to cheer people up during lock down.

If you would like to commission a piece of embroidery you can get in touch here.

I’ll be adding more items to the shop as I get the chance to organise and photograph them. I’m only posting to the UK at the moment as I don’t want to make unnecessary journeys to the Post Office each week.

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

Notes from the Studio

I’ve been taking inspiration from my authorised perambulations over the last couple of weeks. We live in a busy suburb of Leeds and there’s been no shortage of street art along our routes. I’m drawn to the bright colours, patterns and drips of paint. They offer a wealth of inspiration for both hand and machine embroidery.

In the studio I’ve started work on a journal/sketchbook recording my inspiration and samples. These project books are a new part of my working process, they help me to gather everything in one place and I can easily refer to them as I work. I love putting these books together, adding images from my research, notes about the samples I’ve made and sketches for potential stitched pieces.

It’s been great to start working with my Pfaff Creative 3.0 embroidery machine, deconstructing the photographs I’ve taken in 6D, the design programme I use to create my embroidery files. I’ve started to experiment with satin stitch, rather than my usual PhotoStitch style. These dense stitched areas are now ready to embellish with hand embroidery and beading.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the pieces develop and finding more inspiration on our walks. To find out more about my work you can visit my Portfolio page and follow me on social media, just click the links in the sidebar.


I’ve been enjoying the sunshine through the studio window this week, dreaming about the beautiful places in Yorkshire that I want to visit later in the year. My talented friend Miriam Laville is a mixed media artist based in Leeds, her paintings capture the landscape of Yorkshire. From Roundhay Park to the Yorkshire Dales, Miriam’s bold use of colour and line lends itself to embroidery with ease.

I’ve been working on my machine embroidery for the last couple of weeks, building on the skills my friend Leigh Bowser taught me back in February. I dabbled in the technique during my degree, using my trusty Bernina 1008 but never really took to the process. I’ve only been able to use the lines for other techniques like applique and I wanted to use shading to add a different dimension to my work.

You can still make mistakes in your work no matter how much experience you have, and this piece had a couple of them. The satin fabric I had used for the deep brown was very distracting, it was standing out too much. I was also pretty heavy handed with the machine embroidery! I never recommend unpicking things, I always rework them by adding more fabric and different stitching.

The machine embroidery on this piece formed part of the background, helping to blend the fabrics and create a base for my hand embroidered details. I love looking through my thread boxes, selecting different colours and types to include in a piece of work.

Recently, I’ve been using my DMC Cotton Perle threads in a number 12 or 8 weight. They have a beautiful finish with a slight sheen so they stand out against the fabric and machine embroidery. I’ve chosen to use a few simple stitches, satin stitch, straight stitches and some detached chain stitch. These easy stitches give different effects, creating leaves, grasses and other shrubs.

I’m hoping to teach a Stitchscapes embroidery course in the autumn so watch this space for details. You can also find out more about my work by following me on social media, just click the icons in the sidebar.

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.

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

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.