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.

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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!

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Tools of the Trade

I’m often asked about the best tools for cutting fabric and thread for different projects so I thought I would share some of the tools that I use in my work. So I don’t repeat myself I’ve broken them down into a category rather than individual items as I have over 50 pairs of scissors!

Good to Know… When using any cutting equipment it’s good to get something that feels comfortable in your hands, especially if you’re doing a lot of cutting for a big project. I struggle with grip after I broke my right wrist a few years ago so I need my tools to be lightweight and easy to hold.

Curved Embroidery Scissors

I treated myself to some curved embroidery scissors a few years ago after working with cheap and cheerful nail scissors from the pound shop. I was struggling to cut away the threads on my digitally embroidered pieces, this is big part of the process too.

I saw another embroiderer using some curved scissors and I thought I’d give them a try. 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.

Large Fabric Scissors

I’ve had my large fabric scissors for many years, I bought them in a shop that hasn’t been in business since the 1990s, they were a considered purchase for me at the time at £25.00! They have a comfortable handle with soft grip inside which means that I can hold them easily and my hand doesn’t hurt, I struggle with metal handled scissors as they are less forgiving.

I use them to roughly cut fabrics and interfacing for my projects and when a neat edge is required I use my quilting ruler and heat erasable pen to mark a cut line.

Top Tip: Don’t use your fabric scissors to cut threads as this can damage the blades in the place where you cut frequently.

Fred Aldous have a great selection of fabric and embroidery scissors at reasonable prices.

45mm Rotary Cutter

I picked up a rotary cutter about 8 years ago from Dunelm, it’s just a generic unbranded model with replaceable blades that I buy from Barnyarns. To release the blade you pull in the grey clip, to retract you push the grey button.

It’s lightweight and comfortable to use and you can change the blade when it gets too blunt to cut your fabric. I use mine in conjunction with my quilting rulers and cutting mat to get straight lines for patchwork and trimming work ready to frame and mount.

Top Tip: Remember to to retract the blade when you have finished cutting as you can often catch it with your hand and get a nasty cut, especially with a fresh blade.

***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.***

Quilting & Community

Since we began lockdown just over 100 days ago, I’ve noticed the wonderful resurgence of projects like group quilts. It’s great to see how people are working together virtually and by post to create new work that comes together in the form of a digital or physical quilt.

I’m no stranger to collaborating in this way, having worked on some amazing projects in Leeds and Manchester. My first project of this kind was working with arthur+martha, the collaborative duo of Lois Blackburn and Philip Davenport. The Warm and the Cold worked with vendors at The Big Issue offices and patrons of The Booth Centre, sharing stories of warmth and cold.

Using quotes from our sessions we began to work on a collection of denim patches, recycled from jeans Lois had collected. Brightly coloured thread traced hand written phrases which came together in form of a Log Cabin quilt.

In 2018, I worked with The Yorkshire Centre for Eating Disorders, sharing skills with patients and staff to produce a collaborative piece called The Positive Patchwork.

The Positive Patchwork aims to spread messages of hope and optimism for the future, and to motivate us all to sustain positive changes in our lives. Patients and staff alike have learnt new skills such as embroidery, cross stitch, machine sewing and applique which they have been able to continue in their own time.

The process of making the banner itself allowed patients and staff to work together in a sociable and relaxed environment in order to improve confidence and mood. Everyone who was involved feels a real sense of achievement and pride in what we have made together.

I’ve worked alongside Matthew Bellwood and Alison Andrews from A Quiet Word on several projects in Leeds, most recently on The Seacroft Tapestry. Working with families, older people and primary school children we created a series of embroideries that came together as a quilt.

I’m excited to be working on some new collaborations in the next few weeks too.

If you fancy taking part in a quilt project here a few you can take a look at…

A Necklace of Stars – arthur+martha

19cm2 – Mimosa Ricketts

Stitch in Time – Envisage Arts CIC

Travelling Books

I joined Skipton Embroiderers Guild in 2018 after giving a talk about my practice. Everyone was so welcoming and I’d been thinking of joining a branch for a while so it was the perfect choice for me. Alongside the monthly meetings (global pandemics aside) we have different protects to get involved in and travelling books is one of my favourites.

My first book was inspired by maps, a recurring theme in my practice from projects like The Grief Series and 365 Leeds Stories. I wanted to share some of my inspiration and create something different so I hand stitched the route from Google Maps from my home to Skipton.

Once you’ve completed the first few pages of the book, including a short introduction to the theme, it’s passed on to the next person in your group. Each person creates a stitched response to theme and passes it on to the next person. It’s exciting to see what people create and how they interpret the theme.

I’m now on my second group, taking inspiration from the different themes chosen by my fellow members. My current book is The Selfie so I’m creating a piece of work that I’m well known for, my Converse selfies on Instagram.

The work above from left to right is by Margaret Creek, Sally McGonigle and Sue Ingles. The centre image below is by Claire Ketteman.

I’m excited to pass this book and and get started on the next theme, I’ve got trees, Gwynedd and windows to inspire me. My new book is inspired by Stitching for Wellbeing, a project with the Thackray Museum of Medicine.

If you’ve thought about becoming an Embroiderers Guild member you can find out more on their website. I’ve been lucky to attend lots of branches as a speaker and I’ve been a member at the Yorkshire branch in Leeds too. They’re a great way to meet fellow textile enthusiasts and get inspired.

Notes from the Studio

My world has changed in the last couple of weeks, I’m working on commissions, online classes and community projects which means there’s less time for stitching. I’m still making time each week to work on my studio practice, taking inspiration from the things I see on daily walks.

We’re lucky to live near so much green space, with lots of woodland around to explore. I found this fallen tree on the edges of a busy park a few weeks ago. I loved the colours and textures on the tree and the bracket fungus. They lend themselves to pincushions and a series of textural embroideries so I’m looking forward to working on some samples.

I decided to treat myself to some new fabrics and I came across the amazing Scruffy Dog Eco on Etsy. Her fabrics are all hand dyed using plant matter and this cotton assortment is perfect for my fungi inspired pieces.

In 2019 at The Festival of Quilts, I was inspired by the work of India Flint and her exhibition Incomplete Journeys. India’s use of natural materials is wonderful and it’s inspired me for this collection of work.

To find out more about my practice you can follow me on social media, just click the links in the sidebar. You can also subscribe to my newsletter.