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.

Simple Stitching

One of the most common worries about embroidery is that you need to be a walking. talking stitch glossary, I hope this isn’t true as I would have my embroidery badge taken away! My advice to people in my classes is this, learn a few stitches really well and you can learn how to use them in your projects in different ways. For more inspiration you can visit my post on Stitches: New Approaches.

Today I’d like to focus on straight stitches, just using straight lines to create different patterns and textures. There a re a few different stitches that could fall under this category like satin stitch, long and short stitch and seed stitch but there is so much freedom to experiment.

The first image shows a variety of straight stitches on a scrap of boiled wool fabric, I used a variety of new and vintage threads to create different textures. It’s great when the threads catch the light differently when you’ve layered them up.

The second images shows straight stitches on calico fabric using a DMC cotton Perle thread. I drew circles on the fabric with a Pilot Frixion Pen. I experimented with different ways to fill and shade the circles, varying the length of the stitches.

The third image is inspired by my graffiti photographs, I used back stitch, satin stitch and seed stitch to create the different textures. I’ve always found satin stitch a bit tricky but you can use the padded satin stitch technique to give you a solid base to stitch over the top of. Remember not to use really long stitches as they can become a bit baggy although you can experiment with this too.

Always remember that embroidery is fun and there are no hard and fast rules, experiment with different ideas. You can make notes in a stitch journal about the different techniques you’ve tried so you can replicate the stitches.

Favourite Make

Every artist, maker and crafter has a favourite make so I thought I would share the thing I love to make the most, pincushions. The first piece of patchwork I learned to make was an English Paper Pieced hexagon pincushion from a book my mother in law lent me many years ago. Since then hexagons have been my favourite shape for EPP.

In 2018, I worked alongside textile artist Ruth Singer as part of her Emotional Repair exhibition at Gawthorpe Hall. I ran a series of community workshops in Burnley making pincushions and mini quilts and Ruth showed me how to make a pebble style of pincushion using a circle of fabric gathered around a ball of stuffing which I’ve been making ever since.

I love making pincushions as they’re mainly a hand stitching project and extremely portable. You can work on them in a cafe, on the train and at the British Super Bikes. They’re also a great way to use up small pieces of fabric when you use techniques like EPP or crazy patchwork.

Pincushions have been included in some of my exhibitions like Girls Who Eat Their Feelings and Archive & Other Stories and you can see some more of my pincushions in my portfolio.

For regular updates about my practice you can follow me on social media, just follow the links in the sidebar. You can also subscribe to my monthly newsletter.

Stitching for Wellbeing

Since 2012 I’ve been lucky to teach as part of some incredible community projects in Leeds and Manchester. These projects were aimed at helping people to use creativity as a way of improving their mental health and wellbeing. My own work tells stories about my life using fabric and thread, using the traditional craft of embroidery to make stitched drawings and fabric sculptures. My mental health is often the story behind the work and I’ve created pieces that talk about depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Mental health and wellbeing is something I’m really passionate about, and I want to help other people learn a new craft and find a happy place where they can create something from a few simple materials. Wellbeing is a word that we hear so much, especially as we’re experiencing a global pandemic that affects us all in different ways. For me, wellbeing means taking some time to help ourselves feel better, slowing down for a while to make something with our hands, read a book or listen to some music. The act of making helps me to focus and feel calm.

My first community project took place in Manchester in 2012, working with arthur+martha and two homeless charities in the city. Lois Blackburn and Philip Davenport (arthur+martha) have a lot of experience working with different groups of people including older hospital patients, holocaust survivors and young children.

The Warm & the Cold gave me the chance to work with professional artists and use my skills to help other people tell a story about their life. The project outline was to work with homeless people to create a group quilt inspired by the Ted Hughes poem of the same name. We worked in two venues in Manchester, the Big Issue offices and the Booth Centre.

From the first meet up, I was humbled by how friendly the people were. They shared stories about their lives and shared a joke or two with us over a cuppa. I made friendship bracelets with people and helped them learn how to embroider using simple stitches onto a piece of denim fabric. The project was a wonderful way to bring together people stories and from the small pieces of denim we made a quilt that was exhibited in The Holden Gallery at Manchester Metropolitan University.

After the Warm and the Cold, I went on to work on different community projects in Leeds like 365 Leeds Stories, a collaboration with Matthew Bellwood and Alison Andrews. This project brought stories from older Leeds residents to life using hand embroidery and old maps printed on to fabric.

In 2018, Arts & Minds awarded The Yorkshire Centre for Eating Disorders at Seacroft Hospital a creative grant to allow them to work with a professional artist. I worked with the staff and patients to help them develop creative skills using textiles. The workshops lead to a piece of work to display in the reception area of the ward. The grant was also used to buy sewing equipment so that staff and patients could continue to work with the skills they had learned.

It was great to see how the patients and staff worked together on the project, supporting each other at the sessions and during the week. People grew in confidence as the weeks progressed and this came together to create a piece of work called the Positive Patchwork. Using their recovery as a starting point we created a banner which gave out positive messages of hope for the ward.

“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”

Jo Taylor, Occupational Therapist at Connect

In March of 2018, I was invited to visit the House of Lords with Linda Boyles to talk about the Creative Health report from 2017. The report is about how the arts can help keep us well, help our recovery and support longer lives.

“It is time to recognise the powerful contribution the arts can make to health and wellbeing. There are now many examples and much evidence of the beneficial impact they can have.”

Creative Health Report, 2017

I have been continuing to work on community projects that help inspire people and benefit their wellbeing. My latest project has been in partnership with the Thackray Museum of Medicine and Getaway Girls, an organisation based in Harehills who work with young women from different backgrounds including young mums, women with low self-esteem and women seeking asylum.

“Getaway Girls empowers young women to build confidence and resilience, develop new skills and take positive risks in an environment which offers co-operation and support.”

Stitching for Wellbeing was inspired by the Lorina Bulwer Scroll, a piece of hand embroidery made by a woman living in a Great Yarmouth workhouse in around 1893. The scroll is a very long hand-stitched letter that talks about people Lorina knew alongside current events of the time, interwoven are her thoughts and outlook on a world that had deemed her insane.

Lorina Bulwer has been the inspiration for the project and each week I visited the young women from different groups at Getaway Girls with Museum staff members, Charlotte and Leah. Taking with us a handmade sample of the scroll, we sat around the table, sharing food and stories as we stitched onto a fabric. People shared stories about their mental health, friends and children as I showed them how to stitch.

Even if you have never embroidered before, I recommend picking up a needle and thread and having a go. There are some great resources on YouTube and Pinterest to inspire you and you can check out my past posts for some ideas on how to make your stitching a bit different.

Notes from the Studio

As our future remains uncertain I’m relying more than ever on my work to keep me grounded and give me something to focus on. This week I’ve been busy in the studio working on some pieces inspired by maps.

I’ve been creating some new pieces for my online shop inspired by my recent patchwork with paper workshop for Arts & Minds. They use vintage maps and hand embroidery to create colour. pattern and texture. I love stitching into paper, it’s easy to do by hand and on your sewing machine. Take care when using your machine and use a separate needle for stitching paper.

I’ve been working some of my six stranded embroidery threads and No. 12 Cotton Perle to cover plastic rings with blanket stitch. I first learned this technique at an Embroiderers Guild meeting, it was the only part of Dorset Button making that stuck inside my head!

You can find out more about using unusual materials in my previous Mixed Media Embroidery blog post. Take a look in your recycling and root around in the shed to find some fun bits and pieces to experiment with.

I’ve also been putting the finishing touches to my Strava Map series, recording the routes I followed on my daily walks. The maps are hand stitched on vintage fabrics from my collection. I love how the motifs on the fabric look like a cartouche from a historical map.

To find out more about my work you can follow me on social media, just follow the links in the sidebar.

Tools of the Trade

I’m often asked about the best type of thread to use for different projects so I thought I would share some of the threads that I use in my work. The thread I use often depends on that fabric I’m working with (and what I remembered to take with me!). Here are a few of the different types I have in my stash.

Good to Know… When using any thread it’s good to know what type of finish you want on the work, for example a thicker thread can produce really nice texture. You can also experiment with different types of thread to see how they will look against your chosen fabric. When you’re buying threads, where possible you should look at a single strand of the thread against your fabric, this is the best way to colour match as the whole reel looks different.

Gutermann Hand Quilting Thread

I came across this 100% cotton thread a few years ago, I was looking for a thicker thread for some of my hand stitched projects. 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. There a 50 colours to choose from on 200m spools and last year I was lucky enough to complete my collection!

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.

DMC Cotton Perle

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. This comes in 80m balls and there are so many colours to choose from.

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.

DMC Stranded Cotton Embroidery Thread

DMC Stranded Cotton is made from long staple cotton which is mercerised twice to give the thread a lovely sheen. It’s made up of 6 strands which you can divide into different thicknesses depending on the finish you want for your project. It comes in huge variety of colours too.

I use this thread for my cross stitch and hand embroidery samples for my classes as the finish is great and I can get lots of different colours. Take care when separating the threads as it can get twisted if you cut off a really long piece. I tend to use it lengths of around 30cm.

Anything Goes

I’e recommended some of the big brands of thread because I stitch every day but you can find a huge variety of threads in shops like The Works and from your local charity shop. Be bold and experiment with the threads you find to see what type of line they create and how you can use them in your projects.

If you want to wash the piece you’re making I do recommend getting the thread wet first to see if it’s colour fast, I’ve been burned by this a few times. Take car when storing vintage threads too, if they’ve been kept in a messy environment they may contaminate your other threads.

***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.***

Thread images courtesy of Bramble Patch and DMC