Daily paint doodles have produced these little pictograms, influenced by prehistoric art and the images found on rocks and in caves everywhere in the ancient world:
Prehistoric art is something I’ve always found really interesting. Not so much the figurative drawings of the various beasts fleeing from human hunters, but more the abstract mark-making and simple patterns. They seem to crop up everywhere from the same kind of time. Shapes like circles, spirals, wavy lines, squares, short lines – basic marks. These are the marks I make most often in my sketchbooks too, and a lot of the shapes will translate very effectively from pen to needle and thread.
I’ve prepared a few long cloths, about 10” x 40-ish”, for adding timeless marks with thread. Just to see where it goes. I’m using linen or cotton as the backing fabric, and brushed cotton in place of batting. The top layers are strips of hand-dyed silk, cotton, and linen.
I’m beginning with circular blanket stitch on hand-dyed textured silk fabric and looking forward to following the thread.
Fragments of antique cotton, silk, and lace, hand-stitched to tea-dyed vintage linen and cotton.
It only named itself this afternoon. The past is always present. We carry it with us wherever we go. I guess that’s what memory is.
And these fragments from the past are still present too. Clothing and accessories made by hands long dead and yet still here. Their voices still speak to us, and the sheer beauty of their work still moves us.
The fragment of MJ’s monogrammed chemise became a pocket for some vintage needles.
New stitches on old cloth, layering new memories over old ones
It hangs from some tea-dyed silk ribbon, which may or may not be strong enough – the cloth is heavier than it looks.
A short view of the other side:
There are lots of frayed and ragged edges. Time made visible. The marks made by a quilter’s needle are still visible in this fragile cotton:
We all have some – the precious, fragile treasures that are taken out from time to time, admired, and then carefully laid back in their box. Relics from another age, fragments of a life long ago laid aside. Somehow they stay with us, surviving war, flood, and other catastrophes.
They’re far too lovely to live in a box, but that’s probably the best place for them, long term. I’ve chosen a few very fragile, ragged fragments and I’m in the process of stitching them to a long, layered cloth made from pieces of vintage linen and cotton.
I’ve had these beautiful lace fabrics for many years, and somehow it just seems time for them to be out in the world again. The vintage embroidered monogram below had been glued to a paper label by its manufacturer, and is gradually coming away. The paper is very fragile, but I want to stitch the whole piece to this cloth so I’ve stabilised the paper by brushing acrylic medium on the back and then sticking it to some antique cotton bobbinet. I don’t know if this will hold, but it feels a lot more robust than it did.
The very fine cotton cutwork trim on the section below has been hand-embroidered, and was once part of a petticoat. The monogrammed silk fragment is from a chemise, also hand-stitched.
The tiny pintucks in this silk are from a christening dress. Looking at the quality of the machine stitches, I think it’s probably been sewn on a manual treadle machine.
And the nineteenth-century fragment below, impossibly fine, is from a tippet, a cross between a shawl and a scarf, worn around the neck or shoulders. The fabric is thinner than tissue paper.
The embroidery stitches are tiny, and I think it’s been done by hand. If you look at the back, it lacks the rigid regularity that machine work has.
Inevitably, as I’m stitching, I’m thinking about the women who made and wore these fabrics. It seems strange to think of them as dead, when what they left behind is so alive and has such presence. There is a kind of sadness, a touch of the Miss Havisham, perhaps, about this piece; but there’s also an immense strength and a palpable sense of survival. How something can be so insubstantial, so easily torn, so translucent, and yet still so strong and beautiful, amazes me every time.
I made a start on translating some of my recent watercolour doodles into stitch.
I’ve applied some tiny fragments (mostly about an inch or two) of hand-dyed silk, cotton, and linen to a strip of hand-woven (not by me!) cotton cloth, stitched them down around the edges, and then embroidered each one to illustrate the coming of Spring.
It’s a lovely opportunity to find a use for the very tiny precious fragments that we all seem to end up collecting. I’ve added bits of vintage lace motifs and a metal charm, and a flat white bead. Each fragment ended up as a tiny collage expressing hope and new life.
It measures about 4” x 17.5” and hangs from a piece of hand-dyed thick cotton boucle. After a couple of hectic months in my new occupation, it feels really good to be restarting my own work.
There’s nothing like a well-stocked shop, and at present I have nothing like a well-stocked shop. If you did manage to get your hands on some of the latest batch of hand-dyed thread – thank you so much, it’s on its way. If you didn’t, don’t worry – there will be more.
So now I need to start all over again. It takes a long time to hand wind every skein in preparation for dyeing. I wondered if a yarn swift would help to make the process a bit more efficient. They’re designed for hanks of thicker knitting yarns, and I was sceptical about whether it would work for finer embroidery thread, but so far I’m impressed. In the photo below there’s a textured yarn skein in progress, but it also works perfectly well for threads.
For the next batch I’m going to try dyeing larger skeins initially, and then wind them into smaller skeins after dyeing. I’m still trying to figure out what works best here, both for me and for everyone else. I’m not sure that I will continue with so many different textured yarns indefinitely and will probably instead start to focus on just embroidery threads after current stocks run out. I might make an exception for silk boucle, which is one of my favourite textured yarns.
Also I’m not sure that I’m going to do the big announcement thing when threads are ready. While I’m really grateful that there is so much demand, selling everything in a matter of hours is exhausting. Ideally I’d like to keep the shop stocked at all times, so I will add threads as they become available. If you’re interested in buying thread, please bookmark the shop products page here and keep checking regularly. It will be at least a couple of weeks before there are any more, but I’ll be working on it in the meantime.
In other news, March has begun, and the theme for this month is windows.
You can see that I skim off a few of the threads for my own use. Dyer’s perks, I call it. They’re just skein ends and seconds really. The purple cotton slub has a few white bits in it where the dye didn’t quite find all the yarn. This does happen with thicker yarns, and you can easily cover the white bits with couching stitches.
The first two days are based on images seen through windows. The cherry blossom, along with so many other signs of spring, seems very early this year. The wheel is turning and time carries the colours of spring and the changing light.
Interesting how different the dynamic is when stitching round shapes as opposed to straight-edged ones.
I like the space around the shapes, but I also like the full page of January. Just another way of seeing, I suppose, where neither is better nor worse than the other.
Spring is growing louder here in this part of the northern hemisphere. It amazes me every year how life just comes back so easily, how nature wakes up after her winter snooze and immediately picks up the thread again. Spring is maybe just the other side of winter.
I’m aiming to use a different template for each month this year, just to see how that works. February is pebble-shaped ‘spots of time’, a phrase from Wordsworth’s long poem The Prelude.
From Wordsworth’s text:
‘There are in our existence spots of time, That with distinct pre-eminence retain A renovating virtue, whence… …our minds Are nourished and invisibly repaired’
William Wordsworth, The Prelude (1850), Book 12, ll.208-15
Spots of time in this context are visual representations of time and memory, a spotlight on a few moments of life, that can hold peace and bring renovation. Time, experience and memory are really all we have. That’s our life. With the passing of time, experience becomes memory.
A few stitches on a cloth is a few footsteps on a path. We may not know how long the path is or where it goes, but along the way there will be these little dots of peace and joy.
I really like the fact that this is one single layer, and that the back is accessible. I’m not so sure how that will work when the whole thing is folded concertina-style into a book, when the back will then be hidden under the folds.
The cloth is starting to soften very nicely. It’s just like getting to know a new friend.
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?
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
Another year begins, and along with it another round of daily stitching. Let’s see where this year takes us.
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.
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:
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.