The end of September already. October tomorrow. It really will be Christmas before we know it. No use getting ahead of ourselves here though.
I think the hag stones thing turned out OK in the end. Berries, apples, or pears would have worked equally well.
I think of the little unstitched space in each shape as a tiny bit of welcome silence. The world always seems very noisy to me.
Our house has recently gone up for sale, and we are looking for quiet. Not remote, as I don’t drive and I need a good post office within walking distance. But some quiet would be nice.
It still surprises me how much thinking time and reflection time there is in daily stitching. There is nothing to do except focus on needle and thread while you let the thoughts come and go.
The entire page has turned out to be a visual record of our decision to look for a new home. Not in any literal or figurative sense, but I can see weighings-up, imaginings, letting gos, and looking aheads. There is a kind of loss as well as a potential gain, because every beginning is preceded by an end, and every end is followed by a beginning. It’s just one continuous line really.
Next month (sing along if you know it) – the falling leaves… drift by the window… those autumn leaves… of red and gold…
I’ve been having a go at designing next year’s stitch journal template. A bit early to be thinking about that, I know, but the way this year is speeding by I thought it best to make a start.
It will be slightly different from the last two years, in that next year’s daily stitching will be a big square (ish) rather than a long strip. I’ve designed it across twelve pieces of A4 paper that all have to fit together to make the whole thing, so it’s a reasonably complex task that is still very much in progress. I’m imagining that it’s a map of the coming year, in the form of an aerial view of fields.
I *think* it will work. I have yet to print it, to try cutting and re-assembling the separate pieces for myself, but once I’ve done that I’ll aim to make the template available before the end of the year.
As I was looking at all twelve pages glued together to make the 36″ square, I found myself imagining how it would look in fabric as patchwork.
These things often start out as idle wonderings but sometimes they gather momentum while you’re looking the other way and before you know it, you’re cutting out tiny bits of green fabric and the thing has begun.
The thing about English paper piecing (piecing fabric over paper) is that you can do it with any tessellating shapes, however irregular they might be, and I had a whole tableful of tessellating shapes waiting to be something.
I took a photo of the master template and added colour on Procreate, a digital drawing app. I envisage this as fields through the seasons, so the outer edges will be greys and browns, while the central area will be more vibrant greens and golds. That’s the plan so far, but the best thing to know about plans is that they can change completely at any moment.
I used to do a lot of patchwork, and it’s still one of my favourite things. I love the way it holds the connections between fabrics, time, and memory. I can identify every fabric here as the old friend each of them is – some from clothes that wore out; some from an old bed sheet that became a dust sheet and was later torn up and dyed; some vintage fabrics, found and dyed.
What started out as a map for next year has gone sideways into a whole new adventure.
It will still be a stitch journal template as well, but what fun to make two different things out of the same design.
I’m often asked whether I can guarantee that my hand-dyed threads are colourfast.
The short answer is: no, I can’t. Domestic dyeing is different from commercial dyeing and the results can never be guaranteed.
The longer answer is: with due caution they probably are, if you’re careful – by which I mean (obviously, I hope) no boil washing and no bleach. A gentlewarmhand wash will *probably* be fine, but no promises.
I dye my threads with Procion fibre-reactive dye, and after dyeing I wash them in the machine, on a mixed load setting, at 30 degrees with regular laundry detergent. I don’t use Synthrapol, and I don’t use a hot wash. Silk threads are delicate, and agitating them at temperatures over 30 degrees could be damaging. I set the machine to do an extra rinse after the standard mixed load wash.
Incidentally, people sometimes express disappointment that the threads aren’t dyed ‘naturally’. The reason I use Procion over natural dyeing is that Procion is quick, easy, reliable, and doesn’t require additional energy resources, as in simmering or steaming, to set the colour. I don’t own a microwave, and at today’s gas and electric prices, I’m not willing to simmer/steam several pans of thread for an hour each time – as well as the environmental impact of using additional energy for heating. All dyeing takes energy and resources, as does all textile production, but if I can keep the energy use to a minimum I’d prefer that. Many people do great things with natural dyes; I’m afraid I’m not one of them.
Anyway: back to the Procion, and I did a little experiment of my own.
I made two (awfully rough) stitched samples with various silk and cotton threads, all hand-dyed with Procion, on white brushed cotton. I soaked the lower sample (in the above photo) in hand-hot water with regular laundry detergent for half an hour, and then rinsed it in hot water. I can’t see any noticeable colour escape. I don’t know whether water quality affects colourfastness – the water in our area is very hard indeed. Soft water might make a difference.
And exactly the same process above, with this DMC cotton floss. I’ve listed a few of these in the shop, just to see how they go – as usual, unique and unrepeatable colours, but I’ll hope to make some more soon. Ish.
I did expect some trouble with the magenta sections of this space-dyed thread (above), but no – not as far as I can tell. Red and magenta are notorious for leaching colour, and which of us has never accidentally dyed a load of washing pink because of an errant red sock?
So there we are. I still don’t guarantee colourfastness, and if you really need to wash something that is stitched with my hand-dyed thread, then I would advise testing it first. Mostly my threads are intended for purely decorative work, which will rarely, if ever, need washing.
And if you have washed anything that I’ve supplied, I’d be interested to know how that went.
It’s taken some getting used to, thinking of myself as a business. It’s bothered me for a while that my single-skein hand-dyed threads don’t carry any branding at all, just a hand-written label. Nothing wrong with hand-written labels, of course; I like the personal touch.
I’d already printed my own thread wraps for the thread collections, which I think look ok.
But there’s nothing on the individual skeins to say they’re mine.
So I had a look online and designed some custom labels, and I’m really pleased with them. These are from Avery UK:
Existing threads (everything currently in the shop) have already been labelled the old-fashioned way, but the new labels will be on my next batch of threads later this month or early next month. Avery can supply biodegradable and recycled paper labels, which I’d rather have where possible.
It won’t save any time, as I’ll still have to punch the circles and write on each label individually – in fact it might take a bit longer because now I have to try and get a sticker in the centre of the circle – but I think they might look a bit better.
I also have labels for packaging threads:
Always a slightly strange experience to see your own name printed on something…
Genuinely don’t know where August went. I say this every month, I know. Every day seems to pass in a blur.
I had some reservations about this template, but it’s turned out to be my favourite so far this year.
There were lots of options for how to stitch the radiating segments but generally my preference is for keeping things simple. Running stitch is restful to work, and can look really effective.
I was thinking about first harvest for this month – that’s grain – and running stitches/small isolated stitches look like seeds, from which all things grow. And seeds are the culmination of a plant’s annual work too, so an end and a new beginning all at once.
The back, as always, is a kind of map. Or a mirror, perhaps. Beginnings and loose ends, which is what life is made of.
Next month – well, we’ll see how it turns out. The template was designed to indicate second harvest – that’s fruit – berries, apples, etc – but somehow I’ve made it look like hagstones.
I like hagstones. To me they are magical. Let’s see how they turn out. There’s no real plan, and no right or wrong. Just days, waiting to be filled.
When I left the day job eight months ago, I thought I’d have loads more time to create. Hooray, I thought, at last I get to be a full-time artist. All that extra time for stitching and drawing and designing and sketchbook work…
The reality isn’t quite as I expected. I have a lot of tasks to complete, sometimes simultaneously, before I can get anywhere near anything I want to do for myself. This definitely isn’t a complaint. I love being my own boss, and I love the freedom that gives me. I also enjoy working, and I like to be busy.
It’s a good job because at the moment there is So. Much. To. Do.
There is a little heap of fabric scraps to sort into packs for the shop:
And then there’s the thread mountain. Newly-dyed threads that need sorting, photographing and listing:
And thread taster sets, which take days to assemble:
Everything takes twice as long as I think it will – I am optimistic by nature – but all of it is more pleasure than work. And dyeing is a kind of artistry too, I guess. So is curating fabrics and threads, and also creating any kind of online course. Interesting how the universe interprets and delivers your dreams into reality. It’s better than anything I could have anticipated.
I will take a break when all of this is done. But in the meantime, thank you for keeping me busy.
It’s been a hectic few weeks, and another very steep learning curve, but my new online course is out now. All lessons are pre-recorded, so you can learn in your own time and at your own pace, and you get lifetime access once you’ve enrolled. You can watch the introductory video and read the notes for free.
In this course you learn how to paint your own fabrics – I show you some basic techniques and then away you go:
You learn to plan and develop your ideas in a sketchbook using some easy drawing, painting and collage techniques:
And you learn to layer and stitch fabrics to a foundation to create a unique little landscape. I show you how to stitch distant trees and hedges, how to add a sense of perspective to your picture plane, how to add buildings, structures, fences, and paths, and finally how to add foreground details using some simple hand embroidery stitches:
The videos are very informal and are intended to look as if you’re in the room with me. Occasionally I dither about whether to move a scrap of fabric or paper up or down by a few millimetres, but feel free to fast-forward through the less engaging bits – and my video-editing skills are minimal, as you will see. However, I think it’s probably as good as it’s going to get, and I think it’s good enough for you to learn the skills I’m setting out to share.
I think there’s somewhere over three hours of video in total, and each lesson has written notes beneath the video section, so you’ll need to scroll down each lesson to see all the information. There aren’t any subtitles for this course, but the written notes and the video together should be enough for you to understand what to do.
I’ve also made up some little fabric packs in the shop here (undyed fabrics for you to paint yourself) and here (hand-dyed sheer, semi-sheer, and textured fabric scraps for layering).
I think the customary way to introduce a new thing like this is for me to say something like, ‘I’m super-excited to share details of my new online course…’
The reality is that middle-aged British people rarely get super-excited about anything, and frankly it feels terrifying, rather than exciting, to put this much of myself out there. But – well – feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Every day a new adventure, and every day a little braver.
I’m enjoying these templates for 2023, which you can find here. I didn’t think there was enough green on the page so I added some impromptu leaves here and there.
All threads are equal, but some threads are more equal than others, (with apologies to George Orwell). Thicker threads can look a little out of scale at this size, and I much prefer the motifs that have been stitched with finer threads – probably perle 12 and finer.
The very simple fly stitch flower below reminds me a bit of a snowflake. Summer is always followed by autumn and winter, and winter is always followed by spring and summer. The wheel is constantly turning, and time doesn’t stand still.
I think of these pages as self portraits. The other side is the face we don’t generally show to the world.
I’ve felt a hint of autumn in the air some mornings already, in this part of the UK, and the light is starting to change. The traditional pagan calendar sees autumn beginning tomorrow, with first harvest. My August template is meant to be a kind of geometric cornucopia, loosely based on the shape of traditional corn dollies that are plaited and woven at the end of the season and kept to ensure a fruitful harvest the following year. I’m looking forward to a more autumnal colour palette.
We found three leftover ears of wheat by the side of a farmer’s field while out walking a few years ago. The harvest had already been gathered, and these were lying on the ground. I plaited the stalks (very inexpertly, as you can see) and we hang it on the hearth at this time of year as a wish for fruitful endeavours.
And on that note, wishing you a happy and fruitful Monday 🙂
Recently I rediscovered some work from a couple of years ago, from the pre-blog 100 Days of Winter series (all the pictures are buried on Instagram if you can be bothered to go back that far. 2019/20 I think it was). I sold some, gave some away, and still have a few left, which I’ve started reworking.
I’m in the process of writing/creating an online course showing how to make these, and spent an engaging hour or so this morning experimenting with colouring some fabric scraps.
I’ve used watercolour, acrylic ink, and Dye-na-Flow fabric paints. An additional extra was accidentally creating some collage paper by using painted paper as a drop sheet.
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: