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

Online course: intuitive daily stitching

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.

Online course via Teachable

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.

You can preview the introduction video here

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.

Teachable landing page
Learn to make something like this

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.

Here’s a bit of the demonstration sampler that I’ve used to show you the stitches. I finished the sampler after recording the course – I just show you the basics in real time. You should be able to recognise the stitches I’ve added.

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.

Selection of worksheets accompanying each stitch lesson

And after all that preliminary waffle, you can find the course here

I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think.

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.

Inventing stitches

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.

Blanket stitch tree with interlaced blanket stitch border

Here’s an interlaced/woven running stitch/blanket stitch combination, which looks best in two colours:

Sound on: Lovely Day, Bill Withers

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.

Interlaced blanket/running 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.

Time travelling

And a very warm welcome, firstly, to new subscribers – thank you so much for joining us here. If you’re looking for a quiet restful space, where nothing much happens except some hand stitching and gentle reflection, then you’re probably in the right place.

On the subject of which, I do enjoy my quiet Sunday mornings. At weekends my husband likes a long lie-in, and I don’t. I’m generally wide awake and out of bed the second I wake up, usually driven downstairs by hunger. I have the metabolism of a hamster and need frequent refuelling. Once the need for breakfast has been met, the rest of the morning is my own and I can stitch away in my workroom until lunch time. I call it a workroom – actually it’s the spare bedroom. Maybe I should go all Proper Artist and call it a studio.

Continuing on the Winter Time Traveller’s quilt

This quilt, originally a (Time) Traveller’s Blanket as part of an online class with Dijanne, has become a celebration of winter, my favourite season, and maybe it will be finished in time for next winter. It certainly isn’t anywhere near done at the moment. The top and back are hand-dyed silk noil, with some soft flannel (brushed cotton) as the middle layer.

This little tree is an experiment in making branches with blanket stitch and so far I like it. I’m using hand-dyed cotton perle size 12 thread, on a scrap of hand-dyed Swiss cotton fabric applied to the quilt top. I really like the way the woven dots in the fabric look like snow.

Little tree, in progress

The rest of it seems enormous, but it’s only about a metre square.

Very much still in progress; hand stitch on applied fabric scraps

I’ve added a layer of sheer fabric to some of the patches. This one is simple embroidered tree pictograms on hand-dyed silk organza, and then I’ve layered a piece of painted dotted tulle over the top. It’s impossible to photograph, but in real life the dots create little shadows on the organza beneath.

Painted tulle layered over embroidered silk organza

I always think this multi-layering is one of winter’s best gifts. It’s the season that most brings time to reflect, to look beneath the surface, to embrace the shadows, to see in the dark. To see through the dark too, because it doesn’t last long. It will be spring before we know it, and if you’re on the other side of the world it’s already summer. If that isn’t time travel, I don’t know what is.

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
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