Sunday 30 September 2007

Busy weekend

It's been a busy weekend so only a quick post this evening. Yesterday we had the first day of a two day doll making class in Baldock. The ladies were learning how to make heads and hands and then at the second day (in November) they will give them bodies. So at the moment they look a bit spooky... just disembodied heads! But they did really well and already "characters" are starting to emerge... one apparently is a drag queen (pink hair) and another is a witch (top right). I'm looking forward to seeing all their completed dolls and will post pictures of the results in November. I also started a new doll yesterday so now I've got two to finish... my granny and the new one. You will have to wait until they are finished to see them!

It was a bit of a late night as we had friends over for dinner, then we were up early for a day in Camden today with Jacob and his friend John. It's Jacob's birthday on Wednesday - I can't believe my "baby" will be 15 - so we went to buy some new clothes and shoes as he has recently discovered the goth scene. We've had a lovely time - the boys had great fun trying on all the different clothes, Jacob got a new coat and shoes and John bought a jacket, the sun shone and we had fabulous West African food off a market stall. A good time had by all!

Friday 28 September 2007

What if...

I recently had one of those "what if" moments. In the past I've dabbled with natural dyes and had quite a bit of success with onion skins which produce a fabulous range of yellows and golds through to deep brown. Whilst making spaghetti with red onions and sun dried tomatoes (Jamie Oliver recipe) for supper a few weeks ago I suddenly thought "What if I use red onion skins for dying... would they produce a range of reds?" So I have been religiously saving all my red onion skins for the past few weeks and today decided I had enough to make a dye bath. I stewed my onion skins, boiled my fabrics and threads in mordant (alum) and then dyed my fabric. And the result... the same fabulous range of gold that you get with white onion skins! At least now I know and I've got some lovely gold fabrics to add to my stash.

I also managed to get to my sewing machine this week. Tomorrow I'm teaching a doll making class called "Diva Dolls". I love to make dolls. It always fascinates me how their personality seems to emerge as they are made and it's so much fun adding all the little details that make them complete. However I don't like keeping them and find them just a little bit spooky... so mostly I make them to commission or for sale. So as I was down to only one doll at home I thought I ought to make at least one more to bring to the class. I usually make quite "glam" characters but this time I wanted to make a old glam character... a glamorous granny if you like, inspired by the poem by Jenny Joseph - "A Warning". And so here she is...

But she can't decide on the fabric for her dress... should it be the plaid... or the floral crimpelene?

While she decides I'm knitting her a purple cardigan. I promise I'll post a picture when she is fully dressed. And just in case Aileen should look in (my tutor for my first Opus module) I've not abandoned my assignments. Some more rubbings have been completed and several monoprints (which are drying) I'm actually finding it quite absorbing and quite difficult to leave and get on with other things... which is why no one can find any clean socks this week!

More of my cutting mat with a black crayon and a white candle.

Overlaid with tissue that also has a rubbing...

And finally someone bought us some humbugs this week and they looked so much like my rubbings of sticks I just couldn't resist!

Monday 24 September 2007


I've devoted a large part of today getting to grips with my first assignment of my first module with Opus which has involved taking lots of rubbings of different surfaces using wax crayons, oil pastels, markal paintsticks and candles . It's been so much fun and has felt like being back at playschool. It is wonderfully liberating to feel I've got permission to play... all day! So the following is a selection of today's efforts...

Lace and tree bark...

Corrugated card...

Print block made from garden sticks...

Above a print block made from coffee stirrers and garden ties and below one made from foam shapes...

And finally my favourite... a rubbing taken from my cutting mat, which was an accidental discovery but such a fabulous surface.

I'm starting to get withdrawal symptoms though and think I'll have to get my sewing machine out tomorrow! But for now I'd better get the dinner on before the family start complaining!

Thursday 20 September 2007

The only way to eat an elephant...

We had a full and busy day at our embroidery group (we still haven't decided on a name) yesterday - lots of playing and experimenting with different foils. I always prefer the subtle approach with foils rather than full on glitz, hence my very restrained sample below - a monoprint on spaced dyed fabric, free machined and lightly foiled.

We also prepared some fabric for rust dying with wire wool (finished results to be brought back next time) and looked at machine embroidery techniques with gold threads. We are continuing with the "rust and gold" theme next month which is just as well as I forgot my camera yesterday! One of the other things we are doing as a group is having a monthly challenge. The challenge for September was to use an item that we've had lurking in our workrooms unused! We all agreed we had plenty to choose from - those wonderful products we buy at shows and then can't remember what to do with them when we get them home. My product was "Irise Film." I made the following two ATCs using the film, layered, stiched, melted (a bit) and stitched a bit more - but I'm still not convinced I know what to do with it! Would love to know if anyone has used it and has some good ideas on what to do with it. Not sure I like it much either - bit too sparkly for me. The others were far more successful at using their products. I'll happily swap these two if anyone would like to trade (but will quite understand if no one wants them!!!)

I'm not sure how much more stitching will be posted here in the next few weeks - (not sure how much blogging will be going on either!) as I've started my first module with Opus and there seems to be so much to do! I have to keep reminding myself it is part time but at the moment it feels all consuming. There is lots to read, assignments to start, museums to visit, a journal to keep... all very exciting and I'm sure I'll get into a routine soon. I was reminded of the quotation from Lao Tsu - "A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." which is exactly what this feels like. A good friend came up with an alternative version to this... the only way to eat an elephant is one spoonful at a time. I'm not sure I liked the mental image but it made me laugh!

So today I took my single step ( a car journey, a bus journey and severals steps actually) and went to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and saw the Howard Hodgkin exhibition which finishes this weekend. I saw it when it opened and wasn't sure how I felt about the work but I took more time looking today and I really liked some of the pieces. The colours are so strong and vibrant and I love the way the paint is layered. The marks are also very direct and intense and I think it is quite exciting the way paint is taken out onto the frames.

This was one of my favourites. It's called "After Degas" but I have no idea why! It is a photograph of a postcard so the colours are a bit subdued. And then I came home and started some mark making in my sketchbook... so at last feel the journey has begun... or at least I've made a start on that elephant!

Tuesday 18 September 2007

Wonderful Work

Well I may not have done a lot of work last week but the others in the group certainly did, so as promised, a little taste of some of their wonderful sketchbook work. This was Judith's explorations of the shimmering effects of the sun on the sea.

Joan developed work from one of her drawings. Those colours just zing!

Sandy really took off experimenting with gummy silk fibres. These were strips woven through a piece of found netting. It's a really beautiful sample.

Pat explored line, inspired by the black and white photograph on the left in her sketchbook. I've included two photographs to show just how far she was starting to take this, in both hand and machine stitch.

Lynda was capturing a stormy sea with her vibrant Lutradur experiments.

And last but not least, Lesley was looking at rust patterns. It was difficult to know what to choose from Lesley's work because she experimented with so much, but I'm sure she'll be posting more pictures on her blog.

What is really exciting for me is that I'm going to continue working with this lovely group of ladies. They, along with three others, Lynn, Bernice and Ann have formed a new embroidery group which I will be tutoring. Having got to know them well during their City and Guilds over the last two years, I'm really looking forward to continuing with such fabulous, talented individuals. And our first meeting is tomorrow, so I expect I will be reporting back!

I nearly forgot to mention but while I was away a parcel with these wonderful goodies arrived from Julie. They are lovely, especially the little hand stitched summer garden ATC. I will treasure them so thank you Julie for your kindness and generosity. I'm now off to walk the dog, having been up since some ridiculous hour. I had to take Joe to work for 6am this morning (and for the rest of the week!) While we were in Amsterdam he managed to write off his (or rather Sam's) car. Fortunately he wasn't hurt. He has been driving Ben's car but that has failed its MOT and is waiting for a new part so meanwhile it's good ol' Mum to the rescue! Such are the pleasures of a parent!

Monday 17 September 2007

Home Again

We're back home from our week in France and finally seem to have caught up with the laundry and backlog of emails and post etc. It has been an interesting week looking at Sea Themes in many guises. After two days of leisurely driving to the west coast of France, with a stop in Tours, Stewart and I met up with the other six "embroiderers" at the beautiful home of Val Holmes. Our week started with a day visiting various ports and beaches. There was plenty of opportunity to sketch, beachcomb and take literally hundreds of photographs. Far too many to post here but these are a couple of my favourites - the sun shining through the fence onto the rippled sand.
and a lovely example of a rusted hull... perfect for my summer project on layers of rust!
And here we all are (well not me as I'm taking the photo!) sitting sketching the waves!
The day also included a fabulous lunch of locally harvested mussels. I'd never really enjoyed mussels before but these were superb... they did not all belong to me and Stewart!

Our second day was spent working in the studio which you can see here - very light and spacious.

Then late afternoon we made our way to La Rochelle for a visit to the Aquarium for more photos and sketching. As we entered the aquarium we walked through a tunnel of these jellyfish which were amazing. Just so beautiful and delicate.

Lots of really stunning fish with the most amazing colours and shapes.

But best of all was Napoleon... so ugly he was beautiful! He was huge and was the most amazing colour blue with fabulous patterns on his scales. Don't think I'm going to worry about cellulite any more!

Back in the studio over the next three days, we worked from our photographs and drawings interpreting the theme in textiles and embroidery. For some reason I struggled with this and didn't really do any embroidery or stitching. I played a lot with ideas but they are not something I feel I can develop now I'm home as the Opus degree starts... TODAY! But maybe I will return to my sketchbook another time. I did spend all of Wednesday reinterpreting one of my drawings on a larger scale and ended up with an A1 oil pastel drawing of ropes! I've never really tried oil pastels before but I loved using them.

The others did some lovely work over the week and I'll post pictures of that tomorrow. I should also mention we had some fabulous meals as both Val and her husband Claude are excellent cooks, and we sat eating and drinking until late every evening. At dinner on the last night, the others presented Stewart with a medal for being such a good sport all week - looking after us all at breakfast, getting our shopping while we were working and generally putting up with our all our girly gossiping and laughter all week. So here he is... my medallion man!

Friday 7 September 2007


I've been working on my Lutradur and Lace sample - adding quite a bit of both hand and machine stitching. I would like to add more so it's not finished yet but now I've got to pack away my sewing machine because tomorrow I'm off on holiday !

I'm very excited because together with my six City and Guilds students who finished this summer, I'm off to stay on the west coast of France for a week long embroidery class called "Sea Themes" with Val Holmes. Stewart is coming along too (brave man!) and we are taking a couple of days to drive down. When we are busy in the studio he will do a bit of exploring, relaxing and generally chilling and then we can meet up for dinner in the evening. We had to laugh when the booking form came back listing us as "Seven embroiderers and one person!" This is where we will be staying - doesn't it look wonderful!

I've also finished these which will be in the post this afternoon to a couple of new friends... There will be more ATCs from this fabric when I come back, which I will put up for trade/swap.

And finally, thank you to Lynda because this arrived in the post for me yesterday. It is beautiful and the photograph does not do justice to the colours. I feel very privilaged... gifts and a holiday!

I'll be back in a week or so hopefully with lots of pictures of what we've all been doing!

Wednesday 5 September 2007


Yesterday on the Fibre and Stitch Yahoo Group, I came across the term RAK or Random Acts of Kindness and I've been thinking a lot about this today. About how those small kind acts, whether they be words, actions or gifts, can make such a difference to our lives. I suppose it was on my mind because I have been overwhelmed by the response to this blog. Since I started it, just a few weeks ago, I have constantly been touched that you want to read it and will take the trouble to leave comments - always kind, generous and encouraging, each one seems to me to be a RAK. I do try to reply to each one individually but occasionally, for whatever reason an email won't send - so if I have not replied to you in person it is not because I don't appreciate you taking the time to leave me a comment. Each one is very much appreciated. Thank you.
I was also prompted to write about this because I experienced a small unkind comment yesterday (not on here) - that left me feeling quite upset and taken aback. It made me realise how easy it is to make an impact on someone's life either positive or negative. A colleague gave me some advice many years ago that I've never forgotten - before saying anything to someone else always ask yourself three questions about what you are about to say:
Is is true?
Is it kind?
Is is necessary?
If you can't answer at least two out of three with a yes (and preferably all three) then don't say it! It has always stood me in good stead and it is advice I've passed onto my children.
And finally on the same subject, I read this in "Love over Scotland" by Alexander McCall: " It's very easy... to increase the sum total of human happiness. By little acts. Small things. A word of encouragement. A gesture of love. So easy."
Of course I realise I'm preaching to the converted because you all are very good at those type of RAKs! Anyway, that is me off my soap box. It did make me think though if we could all do one little RAK every day wouldn't the world be a much happier and nicer place?

So while grocery shopping today I bought a bar of Green and Black's chocolate... a favourite in our house, for us all to share this evening... a RAK for the family! And it just happened to come with this little "taster" bar which I confess I had all for myself! I think we should be allowed to give ourselves RAKs too!

On a completely different subject - some more handstitching last night - I finished off this postcard which I will send to Myfanwy as a thank you for being a good friend at summer school. I'm hoping to work some more ATCs on this embellished background soon. It has been lovely to stitch onto the felt and I'm thoroughly enjoying exploring these stitches. I wish I had discovered the TAST group when it started.

Tuesday 4 September 2007

More ATCs

I finished another ATC last night - while I watched TV! I can never just sit and watch TV programmes and always need something to do with my hands - so usually I knit but last night I tried some hand stitching. Only sorbello stitch with a blanket stitch edging. ATCs seem a good size for trying out hand stitching as I'm not very fast. I worked it on the background of embellished yarn that I made on Sunday.

Then after I finished lots of lesson plans and notes on the computer today, I had time for a bit of machine stitching and I made this one - using the same background fabric.

I was interested to see how all three turned out so different, when they all started out with the same felted background. The embellished felt makes a lovely surface on which to stitch as it is soft but quite firm.

I would like to work on my Lutradur and lace sample now but the family want their dinner... how unreasonable!

Monday 3 September 2007

More time to play!

What a great weekend - all the family were busy with their own thing on Sunday too, leaving me with even more time to play. There is a new Yahoo group for subscribers to Fibre and Stitch and we've been issued with a challenge - to create a piece inspired by Carol McFee's article called "Lutrador and Lace". I couldn't resist! I think there is a danger sometimes of constantly trying new ideas, new techniques and new products and never really finishing anything or consolidating ideas. So in an attempt to at least stay within a theme I'm sticking to rust colours. The first layers of paint were all metallic acrylics - bronze, copper and gold. The back was painted with a metallic burnt umber.

Onto this I mixed a bronze acrylic with an irridescent medium to add some hidden sparkle.

Then I added layers of Dragon's breath ink followed by Iron Gall ink. The photographs make it look very purple which it is not! It actually looks quite a lot like distressed and aged metal. In fact, now I look at them the photos don't show a lot of difference from one stage to the next but they were quite different!

And finally it has been rubbed over with some treasure wax to highlight the raised areas. All it needs now is some stitching and I can post it on the challenge page for the group - If I ever work out how to do it!

I also played some more with my embellisher. When I was at Missenden Abbey summer schoool I was working in the room next to Myfanwy Hart (of Winifred Cottage) who was teaching a course called "A Week with the Embellisher" Her students made some beautiful things over the week and I can thoroughly recommend taking a course with her if you get a chance. We also struck up quite a friendship and spent some fun times in the evenings which was lovely. At the end of the week I came away with some fabulous goodies - like this Collinette yarn and promised I would have a play with them. And this is the result. Lengths of the yarn embellished down onto a background of felt. I intended it would be a bag but I had a lot of trouble keeping the whole thing flat so think I might have a change of plan. It needs some stitch and some more work on it yet.

I made a few smaller pieces too with a view to making some postcards and ATCs and this is the first ATC I finished. Favourite colours for me (note the distinct lack of rust!)

But this week it's back to work. Lots of planning, notes and sample making for September classes as we're going away next week and I need to have everthing sorted out before I go.