Tools of the Trade

I’m often asked about the materials and equipment that I can’t work without so I thought I would share my top nine that I use every week in the studio. Some of them are tools I’ve used for years and others are new editions to the studio.

Good to Know…

There are lots of suppliers online and each of them have different prices for materials and equipment. It’s worth doing some research and getting the best price for your budget. Not all materials and equipment need to be costly. I have threads from the pound shop that are just as good as the more expensive brands.

Cotton Perle Threads

Cotton Perle 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 in my Stitchscapes, building up layers and creating texture.

Table Clamp and Hoop

A few years ago, I was struggling with a neck and shoulder injury. Embroidering was really tough because of the way I sat to hold the hoop. When I started to feel my shoulder hurting again, I bought myself an Elbesee table clamp and hoop, it’s like a holiday for my shoulders.

I use the clamp when I’m sitting at my desk or on the sofa, it keeps both my hands free for stitching and I don’t get tired holding the hoop. You can get a universal hoop holder which works with your existing collection or they offer a range of hoops with the attachment built in which I prefer.

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.

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.

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. I was having real trouble with the pressure on it so I treated myself to a Prym Love 45mm rotary cutter this year. It has a safety blade which only cuts when you put pressure on it.

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.

Gutermann Hand Quilting Threads

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 are 50 colours to choose from on 200m spools and I was lucky enough to complete my collection a few years ago.

I use this thread for all my tacking and utility sewing because of it’s durability. It’s also great for adding details like beading to a project.

Fabric Glue Pen

I’m a big fan of the Sewline glue pen, it’s really handy for temporary fixing of seams before you sew them and I use mine to secure paper hexagons to the fabric when I’m doing English paper piecing. The refills come in a variety of colours but dries clear. I use the fluorescent yellow as it’s easily visible on both light and dark fabrics.

Recently, I’ve been using to hold fabric pieces in place on a Stitchscape before I start to stitch them down. It removes the need for so many pins as I always prick my fingers.

***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. ***

Prism Virtual Collaboration

I’ve been enjoying taking part in the Prism Textiles Virtual Collaboration this year. It’s great to meet the other artists each month on Zoom, sharing what we’ve made having a natter.

We started a new virtual collaboration, working on a piece of fabric 15cm wide. For the first month we had to choose three techniques from herringbone stitch, bleaching, working on the reverse, rusting, printing with a household object, bullion stitch, beading, folding and fly stitch.

I’ll be hosting our next meet up on Zoom where we will be showing how we have incorporated the second set of techniques. We have to choose three techniques from wrapping, collage, making holes, chain stitch, lace which can be found or handmade, gold leaf, tailor tacks, drawn thread work and English paper piecing.

I’m trying to stick to one technique that I know and two that I don’t use in my own work. It’s very challenging, especially in my minimalist style. I’m exploring my new ideas for the month two, it’s fun to work with the prompts and challenge myself more.

To find out more about Prism Textiles and see what the members have been working on you can follow them on Instagram.

Favourite Stitches

In my classes, I’m often asked what my favourite embroidery stitches are. I think it changes depending on what I’m making but I wanted to share some of my favourites that I always go back to. The best tip I can give you when learning a new stitch is to practice, some stitches are harder to grasp but you’ll get there.

Back Stitch

I think this has to be my favourite stitch; it can be decorative but it’s also practical. I use it for lots of my hand embroidered designs like route maps. I also outline applique with back stitch as I prefer it to the heavier weight blanket stitch.

Detached Chain Stitch

Sometimes called lazy daisy stitch, this looped stitch is great for adding texture to my Stitchscapes. I use it as a filling stitch for shrubs, to create texture for grass and as bold details for plants. I love they way it combines with small fabric scraps and builds up the surface of a piece of work.

Straight Stitches

This covers so many different stitches; I often just stitch random lines to create texture and experiment with different threads. I also categorise satin stitch as part of the straight stitch family even though I’m not very good at large areas of satin stitch, especially in complex shapes!

Stem Stitch

I have to be honest, five years ago I had no idea how to do stem stich. I just knew how it looked from my collection of vintage table cloths. I had to watch a YouTube video with my husband to learn the best way to do the stitch. I like to use it in my hand embroidered designs and it’s a popular stitch in my classes.

French Knots

Perhaps one of the most common problem stitches I come across in my classes, the French knot adds texture to a design. I will be truthful and say that I have a 4 out of 5 hit rate with mine. One always tends look a bit ragged but the best place to hide a sad looking French knot is next to lots of others. I’ve used lots of them in my Miniature Worlds pieces to make the lichen texture.

You can learn some hand embroidery stitches in my online instant access class with Workshop.

Notes from the Studio

It’s been a while since my last studio update, from my previous posts you will see that I’m back in my newly refurbished studio. It’s great to have my own space back and I’m enjoying having the room to work on bigger projects. I’ve been taking inspiration from my surroundings, our walks in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park and the Yorkshire Coast. I feel very lucky to live in such a fantastic location where I can feel so inspired.

I’ve been working a new stitchscape inspired by a walk around May Beck in the spring, As I started to develop the piece this week I decided to change to the scale and edge of the work. I usually make pieces that cover the fabric but I really like the raw edges and random shapes so I’m using them as a feature. The work has also been scaled up and I’m working in an 18-inch quilting hoop, I usually work on a smaller scale so this is a new challenge.

I’m replicating the details from the smaller piece, using different scraps of fabric and a mixture of DMC Cotton Perle threads. This gives the piece a great texture and I’ve stabilised the fabric with an iron on interfacing to make sure that it doesn’t pucker under the dense stitching.

On a recent trip to Fraisthorpe Beach, I collected some fragments of shell and driftwood. The beach had more shells than I’ve seen before, I could have brought them all back to the studio with me. It’s important to remember to wash anything you find on the beach, it can start to smell or bring unwanted wildlife with it, not that this has happed to me before!

I’ve been looking for inspiration for a new miniature worlds piece and one of the shells I found was just right. I thought it would be interesting to stitched the shell onto a piece of thick wool fabric, this took me a bit longer than I thought. I’m now adding beaded detail using a variety of seed beads in greys, silvers and whites. It’s a slow process and the shell is hard to stitch around so this piece might take a while.

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

Celebrate Exhibition

In 2020, I was invited to co-ordinate a community project in partnership with Craven District Council. The celebrate exhibition is now open in the newly refurbished Craven Museum in Skipton and I was invited to visit the exhibition gallery. It was amazing to visit a museum again, something I haven’t done since July 2020. The refurbished museum is well worth a visit and you can book your free ticket online.

The exhibition gallery was a wonderful space, the bunting looked fantastic on the wall surrounded by dioramas, hand embroidery and some beautiful wedding clothing. The most exciting part of any community project is seeing the work people have created coming together. Because of the pandemic I have had to change the way I run projects like this, missing my regular visits to village halls and replacing them with Zoom meet ups and postage for materials and work. I’ve been lucky to lead a few projects in this way since the first lockdown in 2020.

If you are interested in working with me on a community or collaborative project please get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.

Tools of the Trade

I’m often asked about the best kind of storage to use for your craft supplies so I thought I would share some storage from my newly refurbished studio. I have a lot of materials and equipment in the studio and I need to keep everything well organised so I can find it easily. I don’t want to waste my creative energy trying to find fabric and thread.

Good to Know…

If you take good care of your storage it will last for years. I regularly dust and wash my Really Useful Boxes to keep them looking great. You don’t have to spend lots of money on storage, you can repurpose old tins and boxes and give them a makeover with spray paint and paper to add personality to your workspace.

Workshop Materials and Equipment Storage

I have lots of materials and equipment for my online and face to face workshops and projects. Storing them can be tricky as they are sometimes bulky or oddly shaped. The bottom of my cupboard has solid doors so I can hide things that don’t look as nice like phone brackets and projectors.

I store things by type so I have boxes for scissors and embroidery hoops and I use a combination of Really Useful Boxes and craft storage boxes that usually come in standard paper sizes. They are great for keeping materials together and I can grab them easily when I need to pack my suitcase or make some kits. Even though they are clear I love to label them.

Fabric Storage

I’ve always organised my fabric by type, I find this works well for me as I know that I can grab the right materials for the job. I do also keep a mixed box of scraps that includes lots of different types of fabric for projects like Stitchscapes. My new studio has glass doored cupboards so I decided to show off my fabric collection as it’s not in direct sunlight so won’t fade easily or get too dusty. The folded fabric makes it easy to see what I need and get it from the stack.

Thread Storage

I decided to get some under desk drawers from Ikea for my reels of thread. This means I’m using the dead space under my long narrow desk and I can grab a drawer and select the right thread. I organise them by type and colour as I find this really helpful and satisfying.

For my six stranded embroidery threads, I use the traditional thread storage boxes and reusable plastic bobbins. I can spend hours winding thread and sorting them by colour. It’s my relaxation activity. I also label my drawers and boxes to make finding things really easy.

Label Maker

I love a label maker; I have a traditional Dymo machine that makes the embossed labels but I also have a Dymo Letratag electronic label maker. I use clear plastic labels and black text; it looks really sleek and professional on my shelves. I love labelling everything in my house from the kitchen to the garage.

Tip…

If you have sticky labels that are hard to peel off your boxes, use a piece of tissue or an old cloth and some Zippo lighter fluid. It gets sticky mess cleaned up easily from plastic and metal.

***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. ***

Studio Refurbishment

As you know, for the last few months I’ve been getting my new home studio refurbished. The old space had lots of patterned wallpaper, a pretty useless gas fire and some very ugly carpet. I’m excited to say that all the work is done and I’m back in studio instead of working in the open plan kitchen, living room and dining room space.

The wallpaper and beige have been painted brilliant white to reflect as much light as possible. I’ve mixed contemporary white furniture with vintage pieces like my bureau and coat stand. I have a much larger work table where I can pack materials and record videos. I gave my vintage chairs a makeover with some fabric from the old sofa. The smaller chair was made for me when I was around six years old. Thankfully I was a tall child and my adult bum still fits on the seat, my grandad had the sense to know I would keep it forever. I’m also in the same space as my plant babies.

The cupboards house all my workshop materials, books and chachki’s and most importantly, my fabric stash. What you see on these shelves is hours of folding and organising. It was hard work but so much fun. I can see exactly what fabric I have behind the glass doors and solid doors at the bottom of the cupboard hide the ugly boxes of equipment. I’ve always been a very tidy and organised artist which people tell me isn’t usually the case! For regular updates about what I’m working on in my new studio you can follow me on Instagram or sign up to my monthly newsletter

Quilt Inspiration

Quilts are something I have made for community projects like 365 Leeds Stories, The Seacroft Tapestry Project and the Arts and Minds Hope Quilt but I’ve never tackled one for my own work. I use techniques like English paper piecing and applique in my practice but something I’m hoping to tackle next is a pictorial art quilt.

On a recent trip to Hayburn Wyke, I was inspired by a picture of the cliff edge and thought it would make an interesting art quilt. What is an art quilt?

An art quilt is an original exploration of a concept or idea rather than the handing down of a “pattern”. It experiments with textile manipulation, color, texture and/or a diversity of mixed media. An Art Quilt often pushes quilt world boundaries. An Art Quilt should consist predominately of fiber or a fiber-like material with one or multiple layers which are held together with stitches or piercing of the layers.

The Art Quilt Association

Here are some samples from my 2019 visit to The Festival of Quilts at the NEC. From left to right: Aina Muze – Eternal Thread – Interchange of Centuries, India Flint – Cailleach and Karina Thompson – The Leperous Skull.

I’m looking forward to exploring different processes like dyeing, painting and applique to create the quilt. I’ve treated myself to a book about pictorial art quilts which talks you through the different stages of a quilt, even professional artists need to brush up on their skills.

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

Vintage Textiles

I received a lovely parcel this week from a former student, she’s been sorting through her mum’s house and wanted to pass on the textiles. I love working with vintage fabrics, they are usually a great quality and have interesting embroidered and printed features. This parcel didn’t disappoint!

There are lots of lovely white embroidered pieces including a pair of Mr and Mrs pillowcases and a set of bolster cases. I’d love to work into these using the existing embroidery and adding my own details. The back of the pillowcases is great for making my hand embroidered pincushions.

I don’t usually buy bright colours when I’m looking at vintage textiles, I have a box full of white and cream pieces like tray cloths and sheets. There was a lovely hand embroidered blue linen tray cloth in the parcel, the herring gull design seemed very appropriate for my new home. I’d love to use this for a coastal inspired piece of work.

Now the charity shops are open again I encourage you to have a look for some vintage textiles for your own stash. You can pick up some bargains and it’s more eco friendly than always buying new fabrics.