Dear Diary

Last year I bought a diary, to help me plan my newly self-employed activities for the year. I had great hopes for it. I planned to write down all the weird and wonderful national days, like National Kazoo Day and Inane Answering Message Day (28th and 30th January respectively, if you’re interested) or World Three-Legged Zombie Day (ok, that one’s yet to be confirmed).

birdie gets to work

I intended to plan and schedule blog posts, dyeing days, shop updates, accounts days, and lots of other things besides. It was a great plan.

Here’s a fairly typical diary page from this year:

blank. Of course I will recycle and reuse the paper.

It’s not that I have nothing to do.

It’s that I have So. Much. To. Do that I haven’t got time to write anything in the diary. I did fairly hit the ground running in January, and it’s been pretty much non-stop ever since, but it’s mostly reactive activity rather than planned activity. Fire-fighting is exhausting, and I see now that I do really need to set aside some time to plan things better. I’ve been so busy this year that I haven’t found the time (and if I’ve had the time then I haven’t had the energy) to make the art that I thought would be possible.

Next year I really must make time to use the diary for effective planning and scheduling, because all work and no play is no good for anyone. There are Skillshare classes I want to take. I want to become more proficient with Procreate. There are all kinds of messy mixed media avenues I want to explore. I want to make sketchbooks and draw more. I will schedule and ring-fence play times. All play and no work is no good either, of course. I will also schedule strategic planning meetings with myself and maybe even a weekly team meeting (can you be a team of one?) It’s a good plan. Let’s see if any of that works.

So I’ve bought another diary and next year I will try again. I will only use it for planning, not for writing my life story as it unfolds. It will be a purely administrative tool, holding and measuring time, and will let me see how I can use my time better.

All of the above has been a very lengthy – and probably very dull – prologue to the real content of this post. As you may know, I like to make covers for books. Just because. Making a slip cover for a book is quite quick and easy – you just need something long enough to wrap around the book and under the front/back covers and something an inch or so wider on each long side.

I placed a few scraps on a foundation cloth. The ragged vintage lace down the spine was exactly the length I needed. I always think if something fits exactly without needing to be cut or shaped, then it was probably meant to be there. The lines are fairly straight, but the photo is a bit crooked.

Diary cover

A little hand stitch here and there and it was soon done.

diary front cover (eco dyed leaf fabric from Jane Hunter Textiles)

I stencilled 2024 onto a piece of painted card and attached it by over-laying a scrap of sheer tulle that has little dots on it and just stitched around the edge:

diary front cover in progress

Once the stitching on the front, back, and spine is complete, you can turn the long edges down so that the height of the cover is about 1/4″ longer than the height of the book. I just tack the hem down with tiny stitches on the surface because you won’t really see the wrong side.

For the wrap-around edges, I usually just try the book cover on the book, wrong side outwards, folding the long sides around book and then closing the book to make sure it’s not too tight. I can then mark the outer edge with a pin and oversew along the top and bottom edges to create the slip case for the front and back covers. There are lots of other ways to do this. I’m sure there will be many tutorials online for making book covers like this one.

stitching the slip case

Turn everything right side out again and the book just slips nicely into the cover.

half in, half out
all in

I like it.

front cover
back cover

And there we are, fit for the future. I can see next year coming and I’ll be ready for it.


On branding

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:

hand-dyed thread labels

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…

Letting go

My social media break so far is very productive. I have more time and rather more energy already. I’ve been able to take a little step back and review some past work, which I’ve listed in my shop here.

I had a few 4″ textile collages left over from my 100 days of winter venture a couple of years ago, which I’ve turned into square greetings cards.

textile art cards

I’ve also uncovered some work from 2020-21, one of which is called Letting Go. I don’t have any particular attachment to my completed work, since most of the enjoyment is in the making of it. Also I don’t have much storage space and I will very quickly run out of room if I hang on to too much. I prefer to let the cloths fly out into the world and find themselves a new home; it feels as if that keeps the energy moving.

older works now available

And the rest of this week will be painting. Alas, this kind of painting:

not the kind of painting I really want to be doing, but necessary

In the middle

I don’t feel very productive at the moment. It’s not really a question of being stuck, since I think I know where I’m going next in terms of creating a new series of art work. Nor is it a matter of not knowing where to start, because I think I know that too. It isn’t lack of energy or motivation either as I have plenty of both. It isn’t even the unrest and terrible conflict out there in the world, I don’t think. I wonder if it is to do with the season. We have just passed the spring equinox, where day and night are perfectly balanced, and I wonder if the temporary desire to stand still, to look and think for a while, is an expression of that pivotal moment of poise, standing between two halves. I see a lot of people calling this the first day of spring, but in fact the equinox is the mid-point of spring, since it falls exactly halfway between the midsummer and midwinter solstices.

Despite the hesitation in starting something big, I do like to keep busy and I usually find myself in the middle of something. At the moment it’s a useful thing as well as a decorative thing – and it’s interesting that I feel the need to make the distinction between useful and decorative. It’s that old establishment-driven art/craft chestnut, isn’t it, where art is purely decorative and craft is useful. I like to think textiles work confounds that over-simplified distinction.

Anyway, here I am, finally getting to the point after a bit of waffle and introspection. I’ve started making a cover for the stitch journal, which will be a cylindrical bag. I’ve made a start by layering strips of ribbon and tape onto a piece of hand-dyed cotton sheet.

cover for the stitch journal in progress

The strips of silk are from a hank of white sari ribbon that I dyed and ironed flat. I’ve turned the edges under by about 1/8″ and attached them with very simple straight stitches. I will probably go back and add more hand-stitching. It’s an intuitive process, and I will know when it’s had enough.

strips of hand-dyed silk sari ribbon, ironed flat
hand-dyed silk ribbon ready for couching

When all the vertical lines have been attached, I will add this horizontal band of silk expertly and beautifully eco-printed by Jane Hunter:

strip of eco-printed silk by Jane Hunter Textiles – see link in text above

This will keep me busy, while I think about where I’m going next. I find the mind ticks over nicely while the hands are engaged in some quiet stitching.

Small distractions

I need to do something with the scraps box, which fills up all on its own. This is mainly because of my zero waste policy, where no scrap is too small to be discarded. Fabric takes time and resources for its manufacture and isn’t supposed to be disposable.

the scraps box is overflowing again

The only new fabric I buy these days is silk, because old silk is often too fragile to be useful. Decorative, yes, but not useable in a meaningful way. I only buy a small amount, less than a metre, once a year. The rest of my fabrics are cut up from clothes or sheets, or they are bits of vintage linens that I dye myself. I genuinely don’t know where all the scraps come from. I don’t even like calling them scraps, because they are all treasure really.

What tends to happen when I notice the scraps box overflowing is that I stop what I’m doing and try to ‘do something’ with the scraps. If I reflect on that, I can see that I end up making something because I need to use ‘X’, which distracts me from making the thing I really want to make. There’s nothing wrong with thinking ‘what can I make with X’ but if it’s not the thing I need to make, then it becomes a source of mental clutter because I fret about having something and not using it. It’s also a source of anxiety because it prevents me getting near the thing I really need to do. If the stitch journal has taught me anything so far, it is only reinforcing how quickly time passes, and how little of it there seems to be.

unknown object in progress, layering treasures from the scraps box

I am collecting and layering treasures from the scraps box, and in itself that is quite enjoyable, but this isn’t really what I want to be doing right now. I’ve been working on a series I’m calling ‘Survivors’, made from layered bits of ragged, frayed antique fabrics and lace. For various reasons (and the sampler book was a major distraction that lasted a few months) I can’t get to it without climbing over about a million other things in progress. It is getting to the point where I can’t think straight. I also have a lot of fabric that is waiting to be dyed, and nowhere to put it because all the space is full.

At some point I want to give up the day job altogether and see if I can support myself as a maker. Even writing the sentence sends my cautious brain into terrified meltdown. I remember what it was like to have no regular income, and it wasn’t fun.

more scraps, mostly thin strips and frayed edges

I guess the obvious answer is to go through my collection and let go of the things I am unlikely to use. I am hanging on to various types of fabric that I don’t or probably won’t use, because it’s possible that one day I might run workshops and some of these bits would be interesting in a mixed media or experimental setting. I’m starting to feel that ‘one day’ and ‘might’ aren’t that helpful and I just need to live in the present and do what I need to do now, because there is only one of me and I only have one pair of hands. I don’t have the storage space for everything, and I need a lot less than I think I do.

What with the day job taking up most of my working week, this will take a while to work through. But I think there may be a shop update looming in a couple of weeks or so.

A place of my own

I am still settling myself here. If you’ve been with me a while you will recall that I abandoned my blog nearly ten years ago to go wandering in the wilds of academia. During that time I did a PhD, taught some undergraduates at university, and then fell sideways into a job providing admin support for postgraduate research students. I am still doing the day job for three days a week. It pays the bills but my heart is still here among the tangled threads and bits of old quilt.

I’ve been spending my two free days a week focusing on my textile and mixed media work, and posting it on Instagram fairly regularly over the last few years. What frustrates me a little about Instagram (and social media in general, from the little of it I engage with) is that the pace is very, very fast.

Quite often I want to say more about the work I post on Instagram, but it feels as if there isn’t the time or the space there to slow down enough. It seems to be all about likes and views and follows. If you put more than one photo on a post, they get stacked up so that you have to swipe through them, and there isn’t any sensible way of writing about each picture at length unless you do it in separate posts. The whole thing seems to be designed for scrolling at speed. Maybe I am getting older and slower, but increasingly I want a quiet, calm space that is mine, where visitors can drop by if they want to and be still for a while.

I figured the best thing to do would be to come back here, where I have my own space, where I can be as slow as I like and say as much as I want to about a single image. I have started a fairly lengthy adventure making a nineteenth-century-style sampler book and I will have a lot to say about that. I still can’t use my hand for sewing so I probably have a couple of weeks to set this up the way I want it. It’s kind of exciting, in a quiet slow sort of way.

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