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.
Same fabric, same threads, same person. Different circumstances perhaps. Different time.
This time it’s a book rather than a long scroll, and this year I’m using a different template or layout every month.
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?
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.
There have been some golden days.
Today was a very rainy day.
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.
There are some days that I’m glad to see the back of.
There I was, merrily stitching the passing of time, celebrating my mother’s birthday and generally looking forward to all the colours of autumn. Then the Queen died, plunging the country into ten days of national mourning.
I wouldn’t describe myself as a staunch royalist, but I felt it was important to mark these days on the journal. For one thing I wasn’t sure what national mourning was going to look like, so it was an opportunity to experience something I had never seen on that scale. I actually like the colourlessness of these days and the way they stand slightly apart from the rest. There was definitely something different about that time.
We were away in North Yorkshire for part of the mourning period. We walked a lot, and climbed a mountain, and enjoyed lots of peace and fresh air. We encountered American and European tourists wanting to know how we felt about the Queen and expressing their sympathy. I don’t normally feel any particular national sentiment, but it seemed as if everyone assumed that this was ‘our’ loss. It was really quite moving at times. There was a palpable sense of subdued sadness everywhere we went.
I stitched the day of the Queen’s death and the day of her funeral in black, and all the days between in shades of grey. They look a bit otherworldly now. It was a strange time.
The unworked part of the stitch journal is getting shorter and shorter, as is the year. The days are really hurtling past. I have made some big decisions, and the end of the year will be a turning point for me. Until then, it’s a matter of keeping calm and carrying on.
Up early this morning, before going to the day job in the office, to sit with the stitch journal for a few minutes to complete the last day of August.
I am starting to feel autumn in the air, and I can see the light starting to change. Summer is my least favourite time of year – too bright, too hot, too noisy – so I’m looking forward to a little more quiet and a bit more darkness. I think of darkness as restful, like a cosy blanket or a thick curtain, but I know a lot of people struggle with the shortening days.
We are lucky to have seasons in this part of the world, to move through the months and be able to see the continuing cycles of life, death, and rebirth. Many of the flowers in our garden are just seed heads now, but they contain a whole new cycle of life ready to begin again after the winter. I guess stitches are like seeds too. There is a pun here, right, about sewing and sowing but I think I’ll probably just leave that there.
I worry sometimes that the stitch journal will become too busy, too much of a maelstrom of colour and texture, but so far it seems to be still quite cohesive. The colours and textures need quite careful managing but the stitches themselves just seem to happen along and pop out of nowhere.
I’m already thinking about how I will structure next year’s stitch journal and I think it will be different from this year somehow. I may choose a coloured background rather than white. It’s still a way off, so there is time to think about it some more.
I hope no one’s bored with book covers yet. I’m making a cover for a 12” square sketchbook – though I expect it will be more of a notebook, really, with drawings. Somewhere I can jot down ideas and designs for Red Bubble.
I’ve always enjoyed seeing red and turquoise together. It started me thinking about the concept of clashing colours, and I’m not sure that I agree there is such a thing. In my experience, you can generally put any two or three colours together and they will sit side by side fairly happily. Red seems to go with pretty much anything; so does purple. I think there is the potential for a problem when you put too many different colours together, but even then you can generally tone them down by adding some black and white.
The main problem I’m having is trying to get an accurate photograph. If the red is right, the turquoise is wrong, and vice versa. Suffice to say the colours are richer and deeper in real life.
The design initially started with the red circle, which is a piece of shot silk from an old sari layered over a circle of felt. I was going for a fairly obvious red bubble, but then the little flowers popped up and it’s turned into a kind of moon flower arrangement. These things happen. I find the thing that grows organically in its own way is usually better than the thing I was aiming for. You just have to trust the process sometimes. The turquoise background is pieced together using strips from the edge of a hand-dyed vintage tablecloth. You can see the creases, which formed the edge of the cloth where the fabric had been doubled. They won’t iron out, and in any case I quite like these scars from a previous life.
And then I found a piece of really ugly fabric. I don’t often have dye disasters, but this poor thing was definitely one of them. Usually you can rescue a disaster by over-dyeing it, but I think this one has been over-dyed a few times and never looks any better.
But actually it looks ok here. It looks as if it has found its place in the world. Maybe ugliness is as much in the eye of the beholder as beauty. Maybe there is even no such thing as ugly. Beauty is, after all, one of many problematic cultural concepts that just excludes the non-conforming. It’s not exactly a match made in heaven, but then most of us can rub along ok with most people most of the time. Perfection is virtually unattainable. I will settle for OK on this occasion.
The back almost made itself. I already had the patchwork circle, pieced a while ago when I was gathering together some scraps of red print. These are mostly shiny/glitzy silk and satin, fabrics I wouldn’t ordinarily use much. But put them together, cheek by jowl, and they seem very happy.
I often think auditioning fabrics to see which of them looks good together is a bit like sending them on a blind date. Sometimes they instantly find true love, and sometimes they never want to see each other again and end up back in the drawer. Eventually there will be something for all of them, even if that turns out to be solitude. Some fabrics don’t need others; they do just fine on their own. Some need company. Sometimes which of them ends up together is more luck than judgement.
And that was July. I blinked and almost missed it. Just as well I had the stitch journal to keep me focused and present for at least some of it.
As always, it’s still made of mostly very simple stitches – running stitch, couching, blanket stitch, chain stitch, herringbone and fly. I’ve used a wide variety of threads, from very chunky perle no. 3 or 5 to very fine silk sewing thread. Some days are light as a feather, and some days really weigh you down.
Lots of summer colours in this month. Parts of July have been almost unbearable, it was so hot. The heat was suffocating.
Summer is my least favourite season but I have tried to find something to love about each day. I think that’s what keeps most people going. And that’s all the stitch journal is ever going to be, of course. Just a record of days passing, with needle and thread as witness.
Yesterday was World Embroidery Day (how do these things come about? Who decides?)
I turned yesterday’s block into a little embroidery sampler. It was that kind of day.
Tomorrow is 1st August, in the pagan calendar Lammas, which marks first harvest and the start of autumn. It may still feel like summer, but seasons and weather are not the same thing. Already I can see the light starting to change as nature prepares to move us from one season to the next. And there is space on the stitch journal to take another step forward into a new month.
I finished my painted/stitched version of Klee’s painting ‘Clarification’, which is part of the cover for a sketchbook. I’m fascinated by that solid line across the lower third, which also features in the original painting, and somehow ties the whole thing together.
I decided though that this is going to be the back cover, not the front, so there has been a bit of cutting and splicing.
I’ve kept the seam on the right side because I’m going to cover the spine area later so the raw edges will be covered. The sketchbook is a 12” square spiral bound one, so I didn’t want the raw edges on the back interfering with the wire spiral, and I didn’t want the bulk of a turned seam.
So now I’ve started on the front cover, which is based on Klee’s ‘Small Picture of Fir Trees‘ (1922). I did a sketchy collage just to understand the colours and shapes and used a view finder to isolate a square area.
I’m trying this one in layered sheers and semi-sheers, with a base of hand-dyed cotton organdie and bits of silk organza over the top. You can just see the outline drawing underneath.
I really like layering sheer fabrics. I used to use them a lot; less so these days but it’s maybe something I might revisit. I like the way they are solid and transparent at the same time.
The best bit is putting in some tacking stitches to get rid of the pins, which will be my next step. Then you can see much more clearly what you’re dealing with. Less hazardous too. I don’t know why, but I am always surprised by how sharp pins are. Makes me feel like I’m maybe not the sharpest pin in the box.
I had a few days off from the day job this week so at last had time to dye some fabric and thread. This has been on the to-do list for months.
Some for me, and some for you, eventually. There will be a shop update when I can get round to sorting these into groups.
While I was waiting for everything to dry, I made a cover for the little notebook I use for dye notes. I made the book many years ago, when I first started having a go at dyeing. I don’t record everything in it, as most of my dyeing is quite intuitive so colours are often not repeatable. There are other dyers out there producing set lines but I prefer the more individual approach.
I really like the colour test card. Accidental abstract art in action, I’m calling it.