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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A record of time passing, days spent and gone. Each little block the shape of a unique moment, preserved for ever.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The rest of it seems enormous, but it’s only about a metre square.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
And the front of the same day:
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.