A few people have asked how I’ve made this year’s long strip of daily stitching into a book. If you do an internet search for concertina-style books you will see that it’s quite an easy technique to adapt for cloth.
This is the process I’m using for turning my daily stitching, on a long strip of vintage bed sheet, into a cloth book.
You will need to make some sort of cover for your book, which will consist of a front cover, a spine, and a back cover – this can be all one piece, as mine is, or you can piece fabrics together so that the spine is a different colour. The cover needs to be a tiny bit bigger (a few millimetres, or a quarter of an inch or so) than your stitch journal pages.
To determine the width of the spine, you will need to fold your stitch journal cloth strip, concertina-style, back and forth, into as many pages as you want to have, and then measure the height of your folded stack. The diagram below shows roughly how the construction will work.
The height of the folded stack will tell you how wide the spine of the cover needs to be. The spine of my cover is about an inch wide. The first and last pages will be stitched to the inside front and back covers, the valley folds will be stitched to the spine of the cover, and the mountain folds will form the outer edges of the double-sided pages.
Once your cover is constructed, you can start to stitch your completed pages down. It’s possible to stitch all the pages down right away, but I prefer to wait until they’re finished because once they’re attached to the spine, you won’t be able to get at them so easily.
You can mark the inside of the spine, dividing it into six (this is the number of times you will attach a valley fold) so that you have guidelines for where to stitch the page down. You will basically be sewing every other page to the cover. A running stitch is fine, but you could also backstitch.
I use perle 12 cotton thread for stitching the pages to the spine, but any good strong sewing thread would be fine. Here’s the process in action:
I mentioned last week that I struggle to get enough sleep in the summer because of the increased amount of light. It doesn’t get properly dark again until August in this part of the world. Night time in June and July is just perpetual twilight, and I need night to be dark. Prolonged lack of sleep makes me as cranky, irritable, and plain exhausted as anyone else, so I thought I’d try a sleep mask as suggested in a comment. I ended up with this:
It was actually quite effective, if a bit weird-looking.
BUT I don’t like it. Textiley people are often very particular about the texture and quality of fabrics, and I just don’t like the feel of this. It’s made from some sort of polyester-neoprene-type stretchy fabric, and the synthetic foam padding on the face side has a very strong smell that washing and airing outside hasn’t eliminated. The strap is also quite cumbersome and the slider clip thing gets stuck in your hair.
So while the principle worked ok, I wondered if I could make something that would be any nicer. I drew round the mask and adjusted the shape slightly, and made a pattern for the padded bit that fits over your eyes. I wanted to make it in a nicer fabric and chose some silk twill in a very dark midnight blue, with silk wadding for the padded bits. Incidentally, this table top ironing board is fabulous – it has little legs that fold out so it stands about 3″ high and the board is about half the size of a normal ironing board – it’s really useful (and no, I’m not on commission or in collaboration with ironing board companies! I found it in the supermarket while doing the weekly food shop. Imagine my excitement).
I used felt as a base on the front and back for stability and structure, and also for blocking out light. Woven fabric will always let some light in through its weave. I figured out a way of attaching the padding – I just stitched it down around all the edges to hold it in place so it didn’t shift around.
When I had the two halves constructed I could attach some elastic (no clips!) to the side edges. I just backstitched up and down the short edge so that the elastic is attached securely.
And then it was just a matter of stitching the two sides together, with the elastic in between, which I did just by oversewing with wrong sides together. You could use narrow bias binding for a neater edge, I guess, or you could sew them right sides together and leave an opening to turn through. This way was good enough for me.
Finally I added a more decorative top stitch in a contrasting thread around the edges. And there, after a couple of hours or so, is a nice silk sleep mask – very lightweight, very comfortable, no plastic or polyester, no weird smell – and it delivered a pretty good night’s sleep too.
If you want to make one too, I’ve added a free PDF pattern download here:
Well, here we are. After a good few weeks of hard labour and a very steep learning curve, it’s about as good as it’s going to be, and I think I’m ready to let it out into the world. Thank you for your patience while it was under construction.
The course is all pre-recorded, with no live element – so there’s no rush to sign up and no requirement to be available at set times. You can access the material as often as you want, whenever is convenient for you.
The course is aimed primarily at beginners, so it may be helpful if you’re just starting out with some hand stitching, or some daily stitching. If you’re already stitching quite confidently, there probably won’t be much there that you don’t already know. You can watch the introduction without committing to a purchase, and that will give you an overview of the course content.
Briefly, section 1 is about choosing suitable fabrics, needles and threads; section 2 focuses on a selection of easy hand embroidery stitches and various ways in which you can adapt them; and section 3 has some general information on how to approach hand stitching as a mindful, meditative practice.
The course is quite informal in style and has me going ‘er’ and ‘um’ a bit, even with a script, but nothing is ever going to be perfect. I’ve tried to present it as if we’re in the same room, learning together.
If you don’t already have a Teachable login, you’ll need to create one (it’s free) in order to access the course.
The price of the course is in GBP, because I’m in the UK. If you’re not in the UK, you can use any online currency converter to see the equivalent amount for you. The secure online checkout system will automatically convert the price to your local currency.
Please try and remember this converted amount so that you recognise it when it appears on your bank statement later. If you don’t recognise the amount and flag it as fraud with your bank by mistake, that can cause extra work and expense for me. Thank you.
And after all that preliminary waffle, you can find the course here
If you do a lot of hand stitching, you can’t help inventing new stitch variations occasionally. There are lots of variations on basic stitches, and many ways to combine one basic stitch with another.
Here’s an interlaced/woven running stitch/blanket stitch combination, which looks best in two colours:
You need to work a row of running stitch first, keeping the stitch and space between stitches as even as you can. Then you can work a blanket stitch into the gap, using a different colour, and weave through the running stitch to start the next blanket stitch.
A simple enough idea, and easy to stitch. It probably needs a better name though, combining blanket and running. Blanning stitch. Runket stitch. Oh dear me, no. Suggestions on a postcard please.
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.
I don’t know what’s happened on Instagram but suddenly I am inundated with lovely messages and many questions about the stitch journal. Where did everyone come from? I will try and answer everyone but in the meantime I thought a post covering the most frequently asked questions might be helpful.
I should point out that I did not invent the concept of the stitch journal. Claire Wellesley-Smith writes about it here, and you can read more about it in her book Slow Stitch. I decided, at the end of last year, that I would like to try a stitch journal myself. For me, it’s somewhere to place a few stitches every day, a contemplative practice to mark the passing of time, and an opportunity to reflect on anything that might have happened that day. I try not to be too literal with it – I prefer a series of abstract marks that suggest a feeling or thought – but sometimes a pictorial image just happens.
Here are some of the questions I’ve been getting, from those who might be thinking of keeping a stitch journal but don’t necessarily know where to start. The answers are not definitive, this is just how I’ve gone about it:
(1) What are you stitching on?
Several years ago, I was lucky enough to find a vintage/antique French metis sheet and I had been saving it for something special. Metis is a cotton/linen blend (I think linen warp and cotton weft) and has a lovely hand. The cotton gives it softness, and the linen gives it strength. It seemed the perfect ground for recording the passing of days, stitching the present onto the past – because most of us are a product of our experience. You don’t have to find vintage linen; any medium weight cotton or linen would be fine. Denim or canvas are probably too heavy and tough to stitch comfortably; something like a medium weight calico (this is a UK term, I think calico is referred to as muslin in the US) should be fine. My advice would be to avoid anything shiny, slippery or too textured.
(2) How big is it?
I tore a strip from the length of the sheet which is about about 10″ wide (this includes a narrow hem down both long sides, to stop the edges fraying too much). The length is about 7 or 8 feet. If you are working with modern fabric, you can piece shorter lengths together to make it wider or longer. You can make it any shape or size, whatever is most practical for you.
(3) Are you stitching on more than one layer?
No, I am stitching on a single layer, just the sheet. If you are using a lighter-weight fabric then you might want to back it or line it. I wanted the back of the stitches to show. I think there is a very moving sense of honesty in the other side of hand embroidery and for the purposes of this piece I didn’t want to hide anything.
(4) Do you use a hoop or frame?
I rarely use a hoop or frame; I prefer to hold the work in my hands. If you are a novice embroiderer, you might find an embroidery hoop helpful as it will keep your tension more even and help to prevent puckering. I’ve been sewing by hand for a long time now and generally have a fairly good sense of tension. Having said that, I do pop the work in a hoop if I need both hands – French knots, for instance, are easier in a hoop. There are lots of online tutorials on how to use a hoop and how to work various stitches.
(5) What kind of thread/needle do you use?
I use a variety of thread – stranded cotton embroidery floss (the only type I will use is DMC – cheaper embroidery floss shreds very easily and doesn’t have the same texture), fine cotton embroidery thread, fine crochet cotton (you can often find this in charity shops; it dyes beautifully) and fine perle-type thread in silk and cotton. I dye most of my threads myself with procion reactive dye. I like variegated and space-dyed threads because of the unpredictable colour variation. I choose a needle to fit the thread – embroidery needles, crewel needles, and standard sharps/quilting needles are all fine. Your thread should pass through the eye comfortably but not too loosely.
(6) How do you decide where to stitch?
I designed a block template for each month when I first started the journal. The template is about 10″ wide by about 8″ deep, divided into 30 or 31 blocks to give one block per day for each month. I’ve designed the template so that the blocks tesselate slightly because I wanted the days to follow each other in a logical order, but also to fit together without any space between. Days don’t have space between each other; time just goes on forever without any gaps. I’ve also made the blocks different sizes because some days feel longer than others. Of course you can make your own template, and you can make the blocks any size and shape you want. You might want a space around your days – entirely up to you.
If a month has only 30 days, I don’t use the first division between 1 and 2. I stitch the days in the order they are numbered, because I want each day to follow the next and to share a border. February is slightly different, of course, so you can choose which blocks to miss out/merge together.
Every month I trace the template onto the next section of sheeting, directly below the preceding month, and stitch the outline with basic running stitch. I have chosen a different colour for each month. I usually work a whipped stitch around the border of each block every day as I complete another section.
(7) Do you plan what you’re going to stitch?
There is no plan at all, this is completely intuitive. I choose a colour, thread a needle, place a stitch, and see where it goes. There are some completed blocks on the journal that I don’t like, but then there are some days I haven’t liked too so I feel this is a fair reflection of life, warts and all. I’m not trying to make a beautiful thing; I’m trying to make an honest record of time passing. Occasionally if something wonderful is happening in the garden (for instance, one of my favourite plants is flowering) then I might stitch an approximate pictogram that represents it. I generally allow between 10 and 30 minutes per day, depending on other commitments. Mostly the blocks are abstract shapes and lines, which I find more meaningful. Again, it’s all very personal, so you can plan as much or as little as you like, and you can make it as figurative or as abstract as you prefer.
(8) What are you going to do with it?
This strikes me as a slightly strange question. A stitch journal, as I understand it, is a bit like a visual diary. If you keep a written diary or journal, then it exists as a record of moments in your life. You don’t necessarily ‘do’ anything with it when it’s finished, nor does it have a functional purpose as an object other than being a reference point on which to fix your experience. This piece, when it’s finished at the end of the year, will be a completed object, not functional but with its own purpose as a visual witness of time passing. I have a previous post here where I think about how I will store the finished thing.
I hope that this has been useful. If you’re thinking of starting a stitch journal yourself (or any form of daily stitch practice) then you can do it any way you want to, in whatever way best fits your life. You’re welcome to use or adapt my template if you want to; if you’re posting your work online or on social media, please do credit my design. You can start any time you want to, you don’t have to wait until the 1st of January – that’s just an arbitrary date that we have culturally decided is the beginning of another year. Any new beginning starts with a moment, and that moment can be now.