Notes from the Studio

I’ve been busy in my temporary studio space for the few weeks. Renovations on my home studio are well underway, the fireplace has gone and new pale flooring has been fitted. Over the next couple of weeks, the wallpaper will be gone and I can start putting everything into the space, I can’t wait!

We’ve been continuing to explore our new surroundings and we went for an impromptu walk a couple of weeks ago after wondering what was down a road we pass regularly. We found ourselves in the woods by Falling Foss and the trees are inspiring a new set of Stitchscapes.

Stitchscapes started as something I could work on once in a while, an easy to pick up and put down project but they have become a popular workshop and great stash buster. I find them really relaxing and enjoyable to make and it’s great to be working on some inspired by my new surroundings.

I’ve also been working on some new workshop samples for Zoom and in person classes later in the year. I’ve stocked up on lots of materials for kits to send to people and for my own work. It was great to go to my local fabric shop when it reopened and actually colour match fabric and thread, I’ve missed that so much.

You can find out more about my practice and current projects by following me on Instagram and signing up to my monthly newsletter.

Tools of the Trade

I’m often asked about the best kind of embellishments to use in your projects, my work only uses a small amount of beads, buttons and sequins but they can really make a piece stand out so I thought I’d share some of my most commonly used products with you. There are so many suppliers locally and online that offer a brilliant range of embellishments.

Good to Know…

A high quality beading needle is essential for smaller seed and bugle beads, they are long and flexible to allow you to pick up beads easily. I use Prym bead needles which you can find in a good haberdashery or online.

Buttons

Like most makers and crafters, I have lots of buttons in my collection. They come from charity shops, Duttons for Buttons and donations from my students. There are so many shapes, colours and textures to choose from. I also love making covered buttons, using embroidery and different fabrics.

Don’t been afraid to think outside the box when sewing buttons on, you can go over the edge of the button and even add stitches like bullion knots to create a design on top of the button.

Seed Beads

I love adding a touch of sparkle and texture with seed beads, they come in so many colours and although they can be fiddly to work with the results are beautiful. I build up a mix of colours on my projects, combining these small beads with larger pearls to create interesting dimensions.

I use Bead Spider for lots of my beads, they have a great range of colours and types of bead.

Sequins

Sequins are a brilliant way to add larger areas of shimmer, I use them sparingly and I’m careful not to buy really cheap looking sequins as they can spoil the piece I’m working on. Cost isn’t always an indicator of quality; you can also pick up sequins in the craft section at the pound shop that look great.

Sequins can also be cut up, shaped and used in conjunction with beads. I like to layer them with small scraps of fabric and areas of stitch. You can also make your own sequins from materials like paper, they can be cut with a circle punch from a craft shop.

As sequins are a plastic, we need to think more responsibly about what we are buying, The Sustainable Sequin Company have a great shop which sells recycled plastic sequins in a range of colours and shapes.

Tip…

Remember, you can combine all these embellishments on your work, there are no rules so have fun and see what you can create.

***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. ***

PRODUCT IMAGES COURTESY OF GIRL AND A GLUE GUN AND THE SUSTAINABLE SEQUIN COMPANY

Prism Virtual Collaboration

I’ve been getting more involved with Prism Textiles since becoming a member last year. It’s great to meet the other artists and become part of the marketing team, helping to share the work of our members and promote textile art.

One of our new projects is a virtual collaboration, working on two pieces of cloth and using a variety of techniques each month. For the first month we had to choose three techniques from couching, slashing, darning and stem stitch. I decided to give slashing a miss, I’m not good at deliberately making a mess so that didn’t seem right like right technique for me.

Alongside creating our pieces, we are meeting on Zoom to chat about the work and catch up about our work. As a new member this has been a great way to connect with people. I’ll be hosting our next meet up in May which I’m really excited about.

For month two we have to choose two techniques from foiling, printing, line drawing, grids, insertion stitch and layering. I’ve been inspired by some empty shop windows, the layers of tape and the reflections of the buildings across the street. They also match the neutral colour palette I’ve been using.

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

Concept to Creation

I’m often asked about the inspiration behind my work and how I translate my photographs into textile pieces. There isn’t a simple answer because the inside of my mind is a strange place but I thought I would share some of my processes.

During my degree, we had a process to follow for each module. We would gather research materials for a visual diary, create drawings and mixed media pieces in a sketchbook, make samples and then use all this to work on a final piece. I know this process works for lots of people but I’ve discovered that my brain works differently.

I still love to research, this might be at a museum, gallery or archive and sometimes on a walk in the woods. My phone is my friend, I love taking pictures of the things I see like lichen and fungi, I can also edit the pictures on my phone and share them on social media. I’m not a sketcher so I go straight from images to fabric and thread.

When I’m looking at my research images, I go to my stash and pull out different fabrics and threads that have the same colour palette or texture. I look at the lines, shapes and textures in the image and think about how I will embroider them and what fabric will work best for that technique.

I’ve been stitching for over thirty years and I love to use different techniques from hand embroidery to patchwork. A newer addition to my skill library is digital embroidery, creating designs in Pfaff 6D software and stitching them out on my Pfaff Creative 3.0 embroidery machine.

I like to keep project books; they help me to gather images from my research and pieces I’ve made with some technical notes. This helps me to organise my thoughts and plan out the next stages of the project, especially when it’s for an exhibition.

Sometime a collection never gets past the development stage. I’m not a believer in mistakes but sometimes a piece doesn’t always say what I thought it would, especially when it’s around themes like mental health. It can be disappointing when something isn’t the way we’d hoped but each piece I make is a learning curve and teaches me something for next time.

Hand Embroidery Stitches

During embroidery classes, I’m often asked which embroidery stitch is my favourite. The answer is always back stitch because it’s practical and decorative, that doesn’t mean that I don’t use a variety of stitches in my work.

“You don’t need to know hundreds of stitches. But you need to use the ones you do know well!”

Constance Howard, textile art pioneer

I always tell my students that you don’t need to be a walking stitch glossary, if you learn between eight and ten stitches really well you can create lots of exciting embroideries. I’ve been embroidering for over thirty years and I know ten stitches really well, these are the stitches in use in my work and teach in some of my classes…

Running stitch, back stitch, stem stitch, chain stitch, blanket stitch, feather stitch, satin stitch, lazy daisy, French knots and seed stitch. Once you have learned the basics of these stitches you can start to experiment with different ways of using them, you can find out more in my blog post Stitches: New Approaches. You can purchase my instant access embroidery class in partnership with Workshop here, in this class I cover the basics of hand embroidery and guide you through each stitch.

I thought I’d share the stitches I’ve been using on my latest project to give you an idea of how to use the stitches that you have learned in a project.

Satin stitch has been used to create the trunk of this tree, I’ve used cotton perle thread to create this and all the stitching on this piece. The plants have been done using lazy daisy or detached chain stitch. I paired it with some simple lines of straight stitching. Finally, the bushes have been created using French knots, I worked lots of the really close together to create a dense texture, they also work well with spacing in between on a textured background fabric.

Notes from the Studio

I’ve been busy in the studio for the last few weeks, getting kits ready for my Artlink Creative Toolkits Project activities and teaching embroidery classes with Workshop. I have to admit that my own practice has taken a backseat and I’ve been feeling uninspired recently.

I’m excited that my studio refurbishment will be starting in the next couple of weeks, the first thing to go is my fireplace with a pretty useless gas fire. It will give me extra wall space and no drafts from the chimney. I have to strip all the wallpaper and paint the walls white ready for my new laminate flooring to be laid, I can’t wait to get rid of the bouncy carpet that makes everything wobble.

On Tuesday afternoons, I’ve been enjoying some time to catch up with people at Make Space, an online meet up for Arts and Minds members. We drink tea, chat and work on our own projects and it’s a great opportunity to share ideas and get inspired. I started a new Stitchscape this week, my first Scarborough inspired one.

I’ve also been reflecting on my previous work about family history and maps as part of some new pieces for an exhibition opportunity in the autumn. It’s been great sharing my map inspirations with a friend as part of her research too. You know I love a map, embroidered or otherwise.

After being accepted to Prism Textiles in 2020, I’ve joined the marketing team to help out with social media. For lots of inspiration you can visit their website and Instagram.

For regular updates about my practice and upcoming classes you can follow me on social media or sign up to my monthly newsletter.

Tools of the Trade

I’m often asked about the best type of stabilisers and interfacing to use for embroidery and appliqué so I thought I’d share some of my most commonly used products with you. There are so many suppliers locally and online that offer a brilliant range of stabilisers. I use Barnyarns for all of my stabilisers, they have a great selection and do bulk buy discounts for larger rolls.

Good to Know… As an artist, I don’t always need to know what type of product I’m using but I recommend that you make a note or keep a swatch so that I can get the same type again for a different piece of work.

Aquasol or Solufleece

There are a few different names and products that fall under this category of wash away fabric, I use them for my digitally embroidered projects. I prefer the type that feels more like a fabric than a sheet of plastic. I find this feels nicer and is easier to work with, I use two or three layers depending on how dense the embroidery will be.

Tip…This is supposed to be cold water soluble but I’ve found that it washes away much quicker with slightly warmer water, I use my mixer tap in the central position. To keep your embroidery flat when you wash away the fabric you can tack it to a polystyrene printing tile, this works well for very lacey designs.

Stitch n Tear

This is the backing that lots of people will be familiar with, if you have an embroidered top or hat you will see this backing on the inside of the fabric. I use this type of interfacing for my embroideries on wool fabric and just tear it away when the design is finished.

Tip…I like to trim away my excess threads before tearing away the backing, this makes it easier to tear away as there a fewer loose threads getting in the way.

Bondaweb

I use Bondaweb to stabilise fabrics and for appliqué in my own work and classes like visible mending. There are similar products on the market like Heat n Bond Lite that work really well too. This heat activated glue is great for sticking fabrics like cotton to build up an appliquéd picture or making a patch to cover a hole in jeans. I’ve also used it to stick two pieces of thinner fabric together when I’ve run out of iron on interfacing.

Tip…If the glue from Bondaweb gets on your iron, use a razor scraper to carefully clean the sole plate of the iron.

***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. ***

PRODUCT IMAGES COURTESY OF BARNYARNS

Lovely Lichens

One of my favourite inspirations at the moment is lichen, Scarborough has a wealth of lichen covered benches and trees that I photograph on my daily walk. In the studio, these photographs are translated into to mixed media pieces using Tyvek, latex, beads and thread. This collection of work is called miniature worlds.

And now for the science bit…

A lichen is not a single plant; it is a combination of a fungus and algae and/or cyanobacteria. Like all fungi, lichen requires carbon as a food source; this is provided by the algae and/or cyanobacteria, that are photosynthetic. Lichens love clean air too – in fact, their sensitivity to air pollution means they make great air quality indicators.

I love the different shades of yellow and green that you find in a single lichen, the texture of the fungi elements and how I can recreate these in fabric and thread. I’ve been letting the materials speak to me when creating these embroideries. Gathering my materials and embellishments and just starting with a few scraps of Tyvek and then adding beads and hand stitching where I think they will look the best. The pieces are growing organically, perfect for the lichen theme.

Next time you’re out for a walk, try and find some lichen on a wall, tree or even a bench. You can find out more about lichen from The British Lichen Society.

Inspiring Women

As Monday 8 March marks International Women’s Day, I wanted to share a few of my favourite women artists working with textiles. Textiles is often looked on as woman’s work and as a craft rather than a fine art form and women artists are often over looked in art history. We should be celebrating this wonderful medium and the artists who choose to work with fabric and thread.

Karina Thompson

Karina Thompson is a textile artist based in Birmingham, I first came across her work in 2014 when I was one of the exhibition invigilators on Cloth & Memory {2} at Salts Mill. Karina uses digital embroidery to create quilts and installations. I love the way Karina combines fabrics and is a digital embroidery champion.

Karina has been working within studio textiles for over 20 years. Through her links with VSM (UK) Ltd and Pfaff Sewing Machines she has been experimenting with digitally programmed stitch. This work is also an examination of the way that digital technology is used in the treatment and diagnosis of illness.

From left to right the above pieces are 1 Hours Production = 1.5 Miles = 15 Lengths, The Leperous Hands and The Leperous Skull.

Ruth Singer

Ruth Singer is a Leicester based artist and researcher; I first came across her work through Embroidery Magazine. I love the way she combines vintage textiles and hand stitch with personal and local history.

Ruth has been working as an artist-maker in textiles for 15 years. Prior to setting up her studio practice, she worked in museums for several years following an MA in Museum Studies before beginning her arts practice in 2005. Ruth combines her love of textiles and aims to bring the two together with creative projects inspired by heritage.

From left to right the above pieces are Criminal Quilts Shawl Detail, Heights and Criminal Quilts Collaboration Quilt

Lorina Bulwer

Lorina Bulwer was born in Beccles in 1838, she was placed in a workhouse at Great Yarmouth at the age of 55 and there she created several pieces of needlework which have been featured on the BBC. These pieces of work are long expressionist samplers which document her anger and indignation during that time in her life.

Lorina died in 1912 but there is a lot of writing about her online along with images of her work. One of her scrolls is housed at the Thackray Museum of Medicine where a sample has also been recreated and will be on display when the museum opens its doors again.

From left to right images of the scroll at The Thackray Museum of Medicine taken with their kind permission