January

For a month that usually seems to drag its heels, January has shot past in a blur this year. This is a sign of getting older, right?

When I started the second stitch journal, I was slightly concerned that it would turn out more or less the same as the first one and that there would be no real value in doing it again.

But what do you know? It looks quite different from last year’s. At least, it looks different to me.

January 2023 daily stitching

Same fabric, same threads, same person. Different circumstances perhaps. Different time.

January, detail

This time it’s a book rather than a long scroll, and this year I’m using a different template or layout every month.

January, detail

There are signs of spring outside in the garden, and the light is starting to change. Winter will be packing its bags and moving on. There is a pun here about seeing the back of winter and showing the back of January’s stitching. Of course I wouldn’t fall into that trap, would I?

Seeing the back of winter

Week one: intuitive stitching

Another year begins, and along with it another round of daily stitching. Let’s see where this year takes us.

The last 5 days in stitch

I know a lot of people find January very difficult (here in the northern hemisphere, that is) because it’s long and cold and still dark, but I like it. January is generally quiet, after the hectic days of Christmas and New Year, and not much happens – and that suits me just fine. I’ve kept the colour palette here fairly wintery and subdued but will begin to introduce some spring colours next month.

January 1st to 7th

It’s really interesting to look at what you’ve stitched, and to reflect on what meaning you find there. When your mind is still but your hands are busy, a kind of magical insight emerges and you end up producing a pattern in which you can access your intuitive knowledge. We all know things without realising it, and sometimes it can be difficult to silence the chattering mind enough to see that knowledge. So far I see home, which is where I work now and my safe place, a light radiating peace and joy, a mountain to climb (good job I like climbing mountains) and I see paths leading to unknown places. As I continue to work on putting together an online course, I can see that my stitching absolutely reflects where I am.

Some days I prefer the back, which shows you how you got there:

The other side

I’ve been utterly delighted to see emerging stitch journals and hand embroidery from talented stitchers sharing their work in my private Facebook group. It’s becoming a lovely, thoughtful community of hand stitchers, of all abilities, connecting with and supporting each other, learning from each other, and generously sharing knowledge. If you’re working on your own daily stitching and you’d like to join, you will need to answer three simple questions and agree to some basic group rules. There are no right/wrong answers to the questions, but I do need to know a little bit about you before I can approve your request. This just helps everyone (including me) feel safe. If you’re in, you can be sure that you’re among friends.

The beginning

Of course I’m doing it again.

Preparing a strip of vintage linen/cotton bed sheet

I’m using the same fabric as last year: vintage metis (linen/cotton blend) bed sheet, about 13” wide by about 100” long. I’ve hemmed the long edges, just by turning an inch or so under, giving a finished width of about 11”. I’ve given it a quick dip in some tea just to knock back the whiteness, which gives me the option to use white thread some days.

This year I’m using a slightly different format. Instead of one long continuous scroll, I’ll fold the strip concertina-style to form twelve separate pages so that the finished thing will look like a book.

In book form

I’m trying different templates this year too, just to see how it looks. Some pages will be circles, some will be rows or columns, some blocks will have spaces between. Haven’t quite thought this through, but the process is supposed to be intuitive, so I don’t want to over-plan.

Trying different layouts for each month

I’ve begun with some very simple stitches. I’ve marked out this month’s grid but haven’t yet completed the outlines – I may do that as I go along, I’ll see how it goes. There are no rules.

A blue beginning
The back, showing the hemmed edge

From today I am no longer employed, so this marks the start of a new way of life for me and an adventure. I’m looking forward to having more time this year to focus on my own work, to set up some online classes, dye more thread and fabrics, create some embroidery patterns and templates – and maybe a few more things besides.

Lines

I’ve been very happy to know that so many people are planning to start their own daily stitch practice. I find it very restorative to reserve a few minutes a day for some quiet time with fabric and thread. Just a few stitches, just to see what happens.

I also like seeing time mapped out like this. A calendar has the same function, of course, but somehow this has more impact for me.

January

Here’s to all new beginnings.

The end of a beginning

365 days.

Long cloth recording a long year

It measures 10” x 95”

Impossible to photograph effectively

950 square inches of hand embroidery.

Wrapped around a large industrial wooden bobbin

A record of time passing, days spent and gone. Each little block the shape of a unique moment, preserved for ever.

Summer days

It isn’t important to me that I remember what each day meant, or what happened when. It’s more meaningful overall as a visual record of time. The bigger picture. A piece of my life.

Last winter

A few of you are starting stitch journals of your own in 2023, and an enormous thank you if you’ve purchased and downloaded my template (here). I’ve created a Facebook group, Stitching Life Community, for hand-stitchers to chat, connect, share progress and best tips for hand-stitching. Type the group name into the Facebook search bar and you should find it. It’s a private group, so you need to apply for membership by answering a few (easy) questions. I’d love to see you there and follow your progress.

Sound on!

Vintage cloth, December days

Over halfway through December, and heading towards the darkest days of the year here in the UK.

Darker days

I’ve learned such a lot through making this stitch journal. I no longer think of it as a journal though; it’s become more a collection of daily stitch meditations. I will certainly make something similar next year, though probably not exactly this design. If you want to try something like this, you can download a PDF with templates and notes here.

At least once a week someone asks me what the foundation fabric is. It’s this, a vintage French bed sheet, cotton/linen blend (sometimes called metis):

French vintage cotton/linen blend bed sheet

I will stitch on this fabric again next year. I probably have enough fabric here for another four daily stitch scrolls, if I stick to the long/thin format. I find it an easy shape to work on because you can roll up the ends as you go along, which keeps it fairly compact.

The sheet holds a few memories of its previous life, one of which is a hand-stitched seam down the centre. I’ve assumed that this was a sign that it had worn well enough for a previous owner to have turned it, because parts of the sheet I’ve been stitching on (a strip torn from the outer edge) had worn very thin. Turning is where you extend the life of an old sheet, which tends to wear most in the middle where you’ve been lying on it, by cutting it down the centre and then swapping the edges – so you then sew the original outer edges together, creating a central seam and letting the worn parts become the new outer edges. Someone from the past has hand-sewn this seam down the middle:

Hand-stitched central seam

BUT there is also a darn on the outer edge, which is clearly a selvedge – so, given that the sheet appears to have been turned, but the new outer edges are selvedges (and not hemmed raw edges) I’m deducing that the fabric was possibly hand-woven on a home loom because it’s taken two widths to make one sheet. Hand looms created fabric with narrower widths than the big commercial looms, so the only way to create wider fabrics was to stitch narrower lengths together.

Vintage bed sheet with original darning

The sheet has been hemmed with impossibly tiny, regular stitches. I had assumed that this was machined, but I’ve unpicked a tiny bit and it’s just one single thread so has clearly been done by hand. It’s a very good quality fabric so will have been stitched and mended carefully.

Tiny stitches on a hand-stitched hem

The only thing I’ve been occasionally dissatisfied with this year is that the fabric is white. Sometimes I have wanted to stitch with white thread, and it just doesn’t show up well enough. The rule that I made for myself was no painting or dyeing, no added fabric or applique, just thread on a foundation. I don’t want to dye or paint it, because then I’d have to predetermine the colour, and I think that would create more limitations. I may, however, give it a very quick dip in some weak tea, just to knock back the whiteness but not enough to colour it too much.

I’m looking forward to revealing the whole thing at the end of the month. Yikes, that’s a week on Saturday! Hope you’re looking forward to seeing it too. In the meantime have a wonderful, peaceful festive season, and thank you for your friendship and support during 2022.

Little tree

Is your Christmas tree up yet?

Ceramic tree on our hearth. Tree from Emily Grace Ceramics

Ours doesn’t go up until the day before the winter solstice. This is because husband and I both have birthdays before Christmas, and it can’t be Christmas until after the birthdays. That’s the rule, and a completely arbitrary illogical one it is too. Strictly speaking, it isn’t Christmas until Noddy from Slade shouts ‘It’s CHRIIIISTMAAAS’ and neither of us has heard that yet this year.

Until it’s time to haul our thirty-year-old tree out of the loft, I will make do with embroidered ones. The traveller’s blanket has a little Christmas tree panel, made with herringbone stitch and cotton perle threads:

‘Little tree, little silent Christmas tree… who found you in the green forest and were you very sorry to come away?’ – e.e.cummings, ‘little tree’

And one for the stitch journal:

Little tree

November

Where does the time go?

November on the stitch journal

A few moments of each day are here, of course, memorialised in thread.

A few days
November days

There was some chain stitch that became a crossroads.

Crossroads with roundabout

One month to go, and this year will be sewn up. I can see the end of the cloth.

December days, waiting for transformation

The other side

A few people have asked to see the back of the stitch journal.

I hardly ever stitch on just one layer of fabric, being a bit of a quilter at heart, and I wondered at the start of the year how robust a single layer of stitched fabric would be. Surprisingly robust, is the answer. The layer of thread, through added stitch, becomes integral to the fabric, and the resulting cloth feels almost like a thin quilt.

I also wondered how difficult it would be to maintain even tension on a single layer without using a frame or hoop. Likewise, it’s been surprisingly easy. Some of the circular stitches have ended up with a little raised bump in the centre, because my tension was a bit off, but some days are like that and I don’t mind the imperfections.

The other side of autumn

You can see some of the thread ends, but I tend to weave most of them in, and I tend to bury most of the ends in the whipped running stitch borders.

Thread ends on show

There are some minor snarl-ups and accidental knots on the back, but that doesn’t matter to me. Most of us carry knots and tangles in the side we don’t show to the world, and I like the honesty of having all the ends visible. As every maths teacher says, ‘show your working’ and the back of the cloth traces the paths I’ve taken more clearly than the more orderly front. If this had been a two-layered cloth, I would have buried all the thread ends neatly between the layers and none of this would have been visible.

Some days I actually prefer the back, as with this green day in the centre:

Bands of green running stitch

And the front of the same day:

Green day from the front

Most of my stitches are very simple variations on running stitch so the back often doesn’t look that much different from the front, apart from being slightly untidier. Tidy can be over-rated, I think, and we all have a mess hidden in the cupboard that no one is allowed to look in.

I don’t mind referring to the other side as ‘the back’ but I won’t call it ‘the wrong side’. The front couldn’t exist without the back, and vice versa. Neither of them is right or wrong. I think of each side as a self and shadow self, where one helps to illuminate and complete the other. Two sides of the same cloth, of course.

Back of late summer
(Almost) the corresponding front

October

Another month on the stitch journal, recording the autumn days.

31 days of October

The weather is still unseasonably mild, which I find worrying. But weather is not the same as season, and the light is starting to change as we continue on our annual journey around the sun.

Days in October

31st October is Samhain in the pagan calendar and traditionally marks the start of winter. The days are so much shorter already but I enjoy the long dark nights. Just extra sewing time really; time to reflect and make plans.

November is stretching out ahead, its days already outlined.

November days ahead

I’m stitching on a vintage French metis (linen/cotton blend) bed sheet which had worn thin in places. I can see I will have to start the new month with some darning.

Threadbare days

A good evening

On work days I settle down with the stitch journal in the evenings. I don’t mind the dark nights at all – actually I prefer night to be dark. I don’t get on well with the endlessly light summer evenings at all.

Box of threads and some cloth. What could be better?

There have been some golden days.

Hand dyed silk thread, autumn gold.

Today was a very rainy day.

A long day of rain. Hand dyed silk thread in grey/lilac

The purple day in between is rows of blanket stitch, also in silk thread.

Sometimes I like to look at the other side of the stitch journal. I really like the fact that this is just one piece of cloth, no lining or backing, so everything is visible: the good, the bad, the ugly, and all the loose ends.

The other side

There are some days that I’m glad to see the back of.

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