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.

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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.”

https://getawaygirls.co.uk/

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

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.

Stitchscapes

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.