One of those strange conundrums – the older I get, the slower I become, but the faster time passes. That makes a net loss multiplied by two, according to my flawed logic.
There is no rush, of course, and everything takes as long as it takes. There just never seems to be enough time to do all the things I want to do.
So I am still on paper and got distracted by noticing I was running low on collage paper, so had to stop and paint some more. Actually this is one of my favourite activities. I use inks, paints and mark-making tools of various kinds to liven up old book pages, envelopes, junk mail etc. Loosening up and splashing some colour around makes for a very happy (slightly messy) afternoon.
The sketchbooks I made for the shop last week disappeared in about an hour, so I’ve made a few more – these are the last of them, for now at least.
And finally, in what’s turning out to be more of a news roundup than any kind of meaningful post, I’m really happy to have had my work featured by My Modern Met. You can read the article here.
I’ve had a few enquiries recently about the templates that I’m using for my 2023 Intuitive Daily Stitching, and I’m in the process of gathering together some grids and motifs into a new PDF.
My linen/cotton cloth is too thick to trace directly from a paper template, so I’ve had to find alternative ways to transfer the lines and marks. I usually use a window as a light box, taping template and cloth to the glass while I transfer the shapes with a pen. I also wondered about using this iron-on transfer pen, which I’ve had for a few months and hadn’t got round to trying.
I tried it on this leaf template – (I’m planning to use this one in October – nice idea, yes? – I’m seeing red and gold falling leaves). Unaccountably, I really didn’t expect the pen to work at all. But look! I did a little squeal. I used the pen to trace around the shape on the blank side (the back of the paper template – if you print on thin paper you can just see the print on the other side of the page), placed the drawing over a scrap of linen and touched an iron (on silk setting) to the paper, and hey presto. Instant, and very easy.
The pen says it’s permanent, which I’m assuming means it won’t wash off, and that of course means that I will need to cover the lines with a stitched outline. But since I usually do that anyway, that’s no great problem.
Isn’t it great when a gadget works as it should? Tell me what time/labour-saving sewing tool you like to use.
Approaching the end of my first month as a self-employed artist, there is a lot to reflect on. Briefly, I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard, and also I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. ‘Work’ means something different now. Primary goal for next month is to get better at managing my work/life balance, which is difficult when work and life have essentially become the same thing.
‘Work’ means this, among other things:
It also means wearing a variety of different hats from one minute to the next. Some of the jobs I’ve done so far this month are Sales Manager, Marketing Manager, Accountant, Goods Inwards Manager, Customer Service Manager, International Relations Manager, Tech Support Assistant, Logistics Manager, teacher, photographer, copy writer, proof reader, film director, video editor, sound engineer, dyer, content creator, and researcher. Haven’t had time to do any actual art yet.
But it’s a glorious feeling to wake up every morning filled with excitement for the working day ahead.
There will be thread in the shop soon (ish) – when I can get all of these skeins wound and sorted:
Here’s my Heath Robinson style skein twister. It’s a tiny hand drill I used to use years ago when I made miniatures, with a bent paper clip where the drill bit should be. The board is thick foam with a pencil stuck in it, clamped to a stool so it doesn’t move. I should probably patent it.
I think some of the Teachable teething problems have been resolved now, and so far people seem to be enjoying the online course – I’ve been assured by several students that it isn’t only for beginners, which makes me very happy.
I’ll let you know when threads are available – it will take as long as it takes, but probably (I hope) some time this week. The shop will be temporarily closed while I list the threads, but it should only be down for a day or two. I aim to have threads in the shop every month from now on, if I can. The first batch will be UK post only, just until Royal Mail gets through the backlog of delays caused by strike action in December and the cyber attack earlier this month. From next month I hope to return to international shipping.
Imposter Syndrome, inner critic, Captain Failure, whatever you call it – I feel as if I finally understand it, and this understanding has truly changed my life. It’s one of the many amazing things I’m learning from the incredible Stacie Bloomfield and her Leverage Your Art online course.
Having been beaten down countless times (for decades) by the inner critic’s ‘you’re not good enough’ mantra, I now understand it for what it is. It’s just a part of my brain that doesn’t like change and is frightened by risk-taking. It comes up with what it thinks are valid reasons to prevent my doing something that doesn’t feel safe.
In a real life-or-death situation that’s immensely useful, and the inner critic is actually your greatest protector if it tells you that you really shouldn’t jump out of a tenth floor window. The problem is that the inner critic can’t always tell the difference between a genuine life-threatening change and a personal challenge, so it tells you the same limiting things over and over again until you can no longer tell the difference either. It seems to me that you and the inner critic grow together and you just get used to not questioning its advice.
I’ve nearly finished the right-brain business plan, and am including the inner critic just so I don’t forget that sometimes it tells me things that may not be true.
Underneath all of those life-limiting nonsense messages is the truth – that somewhere in there, a part of your brain is afraid that you will die if you change. You can’t grow if you don’t take occasional considered risks. It’s not natural to stand still or stay the same. Everything changes eventually.
So finally I’m recognising that messages like ‘you don’t deserve this’ and ‘this will never work’ are just really, really silly.
A few people have asked about how I store my embroidery threads, so I thought a brief tour of my collection might be helpful.
I use a wide variety of threads, from very chunky cotton yarns (mostly for couching) to very fine silks, and pretty much everything in between. I will write a post some time about the various weights of thread that you can get and what you can use them for. For now I’m focusing on how to organise thread. This jumble of blue threads doesn’t look very organised, I know. I guess all things are relative.
When I dye threads, I dye them in skeins. They look really pretty in skeins, but I find them difficult to use like that because they very soon get horribly tangled, especially if you keep them all in the same box. I find the only way I can make them useable is to wind them somehow. I went through a phase a while ago of winding threads from skeins into little balls, but these also get tangled quite quickly.
I used to use sections of plastic drinking straw for winding threads from skeins after dyeing, which works quite well if you cut a little snip in the ends to anchor the thread before you start winding. The straws were left over from the olden days before we knew how damaging they are, and I figured it was better to use (and re-use) them than to let them end up in landfill.
Some of my threads are still on straws, but these days I tend to use little squares of regular 80gsm copy paper, about 3” square, and roll them up.
Again you need to snip the end of the paper tube so that the thread has somewhere to anchor itself to stop it unravelling. I find you don’t need to glue the roll of paper; the thread keeps it rolled quite securely.
I find it quite therapeutic to wind threads from skeins onto tubes, but it can take a long time depending on how fine the thread is.
The only time I use the commercial card bobbins (the kind that you can buy from embroidery shops) is for winding DMC stranded embroidery floss. I don’t like these card bobbins much because when you get to the end of the skein the thread ends up with permanent creases from being wrapped round the flat edges of card. I find there is no other sensible way of storing these though – I can’t see colours clearly enough with them piled up in skeins, and you need to label them in case you need to buy that particular colour again.
So there’s a little tour through my threads. I know lots of people who use sticks and twigs, and the old-fashioned wooden clothes pegs, to store thread. They look lovely, but I imagine would be bulky in large numbers. So – how do you store your threads? Let me know if you have any good tips.
Thank you everyone who recommended Tulip and Bohin needles. I tried some, and I like both – on balance I prefer the Bohin, just because they’re more like what I’m used to. I like the little glass test tubes that the Tulip needles come in though.
I started with the Tulip sashiko needle. It’s enormous! It was like sewing with a harpoon. It sews well though and is a good choice for this thick cotton thread.
I also tried the Tulip silk needles, which are meant to be fine enough to glide through silk. I’m afraid it didn’t, really, even after a swipe with the emery. I tried this one on a scrap of fine silk sari ribbon covered with a bit of silk organza, using my finest silk thread (I think it’s Coats fine silk but can’t read the small print on the tiny label. My ageing eyesight frustrates me no end).
I also used a fine hand-dyed silk thread in shades of purple. I used the Tulip silk needle for one half and a Bohin embroidery needle for the other. I don’t think you can tell which is which, but the Bohin was easier to use.
I guess the moral here is that a good needle is a good needle, whatever that turns out to be for you. It’s useful to try a few different types just to see how they work.
I’m often asked what kind of needles I use, and what size. If you’re new to hand sewing, needles can be a minefield as there are various brands and different sizes within each type. I wondered if it might be helpful if I gather some thoughts, and needles, together this morning.
My favourite needles are made by John James, who have been manufacturing needles since 1840. In my view their needles were better before they developed the association with Entaco, who appear to be overseeing the manufacturing, but they are still good quality needles. You can read about the history of the company here. I am not on commission, by the way – I just like a good needle. What I especially like about this company is that they do a downloadable needle catalogue, showing each needle at its actual size – you can see that here.
The needles I use most often are embroidery needles, and quilting needles. You can buy embroidery needles in a range of sizes; in the picture below you can see sizes 3 to 10 (the higher the number, the smaller the needle). Embroidery needles are sometimes sold as crewel needles – they are more or less the same thing. They have a fine, pointed body with an elongated oval eye which is ideal for stranded cotton (other threads are available – I generally use this kind of needle for my hand-dyed silk and cotton threads). The size of needle you need depends on the type of thread you’re using as well as the kind of fabric you’re sewing on, and the kind of stitch you’re doing. If in doubt, go for matching the needle to the thread. Your thread should go through the eye of the needle comfortably without too much effort. If your thread rolls around in the eye or falls out, you probably need a smaller needle; if it feels too tight (you can sometimes hear it when this happens, and you will feel some resistance when you pull the thread through), then you probably need a larger size. I don’t take much notice of what the size is called, I just use whatever feels right for the thread.
Quilting needles (often sold as Betweens) are shorter, stronger, and more flexible than embroidery needles. They are designed to pass easily through all three (or more) layers of a quilt, and to enable you to make small, fairly regular quilting stitches to hold the layers together. I often use these for general sewing as well because I like the shorter length. I use mainly size 10 and 11, and I like the Big Eye variety because my eyesight isn’t what it was. These needles also allow me to quilt with thicker threads.
For utility hand sewing (sewing seams, piecing patchwork, etc – anything that needs regular cotton sewing thread, the kind that you would use in a machine) I use sharps. These also come in a range of sizes, and probably the easiest way to buy them is in an assorted set so you can choose the best needle for the job. Sharps are flexible, but not as strong as quilting or betweens, which makes them prone to breaking more easily. I generally use size 11 for sewing most lightweight fabrics together (quilters cotton fabric and lighter), and size 7 if I’m sewing thicker fabrics like medium to heavyweight linen.
Probably the easiest way to see which needles you like, if you’re a complete beginner, is to buy a set of assorted needles and try them all on various fabrics with different kinds of thread.
I am very bad at looking after my needles, which is why all these packs look so new. I’ve had to replace most of my needles recently because I leave them out, stuck in pincushions (like birdie), where they pick up dust and moisture from the atmosphere which turns them rusty in the end. They also become blunt over time. I thought it was probably time I made myself a needle case.
I’ve used a bitty background that I made a while ago – layered scraps covered with a sheer, with hand stitching across the surface. I’ve backed it with some hand-dyed cotton fabric, added a button and a buttonhole bar, and that was a very nice Sunday morning’s productive stitching.
So there we are: a very quick gallop through some needles for hand-stitching, which I hope has been useful.
Many people these days tend to refer to hand-stitching as slow-stitching (though they’re not necessarily the same thing, as I understand it) and most of us are all about taking time out and slowing down. Needles in the past were valued for their ability to enable hand stitchers to sew more quickly. How times change.
Focusing on the Big Plan is taking most of my time and energy at the moment, but it’s utterly absorbing and much more immersive than I had expected. At the moment it feels like a good use of my time. I’m seeing things more clearly as a result of taking the time to work on these visual representations of where I go next on the journey, and it’s so much more effective than writing words in a box with a biro. It turns out I had completely underestimated the power of creative journalling.
The concertina sketchbook turns out to be perfect for this (it’s the Seawhite Octopus sketchbook, with eight 4-page foldouts). I’ve never used one extensively before, and I’m really liking the format. Ideas can spread across the page, ideas and pages unfolding together. I think the subconscious mind enjoys these metaphors.
A little digression here: it’s also a really fun way to explore some mixed media techniques. I made my own acrylic ink spray.
You can buy ink sprays, of course, but most of them are not colourfast when dry. I wanted something that would allow for using watercolour over the top without it rediluting. There is nothing complicated about this – it’s just a fine mist spray bottle with one part acrylic ink and three parts water. You could probably dilute it more or less according to your needs. Of course I’m now making a mental note to try this on fabric as well – I’m fairly confident (or maybe just hopeful) that it will work.
The Right Brain Business Plan has a section called ‘painting your business landscape’. I grew up by the seaside on the east coast of the UK and this page has ended up looking a bit like the cliff top walks I used to enjoy as a teenager. I remember the feeling of freedom, the wildness of the wind blowing in from the sea, and the sense of space and perspective you get from a high vantage point. Interesting how your mind shows you these meaningful images once you turn your attention away from the left brain and all its fretting.
I’ve been asking myself this question most of my life:
I guess it’s about identifying the values that you want to live by. Life is short, and living my best life is becoming more important the older I get.
This is definitely giving me time for reflection, and the format makes it really easy to connect ideas and see the bigger picture. Sometimes on paper is the most useful place to be.
I’ve been trying to write a business plan, because I know I will need one if I ever get to give up the day job, but haven’t made much progress.
It’s all boxes and straight lines and charts and columns. I have no idea what to write. I don’t even understand some of the questions. Key findings from desk research, marketing strategy, financial forecasts… how are you supposed to know all that when you haven’t started yet?
And then I found this:
I’ve had it in my hands for about three hours and already it has changed my life. It comes with a handy checklist:
I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself, but there we are. It’s much easier to think ‘what’s wrong with me?’ rather than ‘what is it about this format that isn’t working for me?’ My left-brained husband wouldn’t dream of hanging a picture without a spirit level. I would bang a nail in and eyeball it. It wouldn’t bother me if it wasn’t even straight.
Almost every sentence in the first chapter has me jumping up and down in my chair. This particularly:
“The challenge is when left-brain thinking comes too early in the visioning and planning process and kills the party with its questioning, judgement, and need for every single piece of the puzzle to make absolute sense before taking that first step. This limits your thinking: good ideas are quashed before they’ve even had a chance to form.”
So now I know a business plan can be pictures and colours and shapes, there is nothing stopping me and I find I know exactly what I want and where I’m wanting to go.
The Business Plan book says ‘let it unfold’. I’ve had this accordion-style sketch book since Christmas and have been waiting for it to tell me what it wants. Of course, all this time it’s just been waiting for me.
I’ve gone from constantly putting it off because it’s dull to actually wanting to get started on it.