The other side

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.

The other side of autumn

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.

Thread ends on show

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:

Bands of green running stitch

And the front of the same day:

Green day from the front

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.

Back of late summer
(Almost) the corresponding front

A little loopy

I thought I’d invented a pretty loop stitch the other day, but apparently it already exists.

Interlaced running stitch, discovered by accident

It’s basically pekinese stitch but with the thread looped around running stitches rather than back stitches.

The long cloth in the video and below has been in progress for a while, just somewhere to collect stray stitches and orphan fabric scraps when I remember to catch them.

Home for waifs and strays

Tree in a bird

Every so often our feather duster sheds one of its lovely ostrich plumes.

Every home should have one

I’m currently working on the traveller’s blanket and thought, like a womble, waste not want not and all that. A quick trim of the feather and it kind of looks a bit tree-ish doesn’t it?

Trimmed ostrich feather

In ordinary circumstances of course an ostrich is going to need a lot of help if it’s got any hope of getting into a tree, but here in my creative little world where (nearly) all things are possible, here we are:

Ostrich feather tree

Just adding to the story collection really.

Leaves worked with silk and cotton hand-dyed threads on hand-dyed cotton lawn

Doesn’t it just make your heart sing when something like this happens?

Ostrich feather tree with seed-stitched falling leaves

Just looking

The definition of good morning: a cup of hot black coffee, a cloth in progress, and a little collection of fabrics ready for their auditions.

Traveller’s blanket in progress

These are non-competitive auditions because they will all win in the end. I really like just looking at fabrics – although it’s never just looking, is it, because I have to pick them all up and touch them as well. It’s just seeing with hands, I suppose.

Fabrics that say Winter

The Traveller’s Blanket is turning into a short story collection. I’ve found it quite challenging to adopt someone else’s technique while making it look like my own work. Dijanne makes these cloths so beautifully and I didn’t want to produce an imitation. I imagine it’s a bit like doing a cover version of a very well-known song.

It’s a good opportunity to include some treasure, like this silk velvet, eco-dyed by Arlee

Eco-dyed silk velvet with couched silk bourette yarn on tea-dyed silk noil

And this beautiful eco-print from Jane Hunter

Fine silk, eco-printed, with hand stitch.
No straight/square edges happening here.

And then a few vignettes are happening here and there:

Traveller’s blanket, centre. Antique fine lawn cutwork embroidered panel
Hand-dyed vintage cutwork, more eco-prints by Jane Hunter

Now that a few fabrics have been applied, the cloth is stable enough to work on without support from the table. Eventually there will be some kind of quilting or seeding in between the motifs, but I think that point is still some way off. In the meantime it can carry on keeping my knees warm while I stitch in the evenings.

October

Another month on the stitch journal, recording the autumn days.

31 days of October

The weather is still unseasonably mild, which I find worrying. But weather is not the same as season, and the light is starting to change as we continue on our annual journey around the sun.

Days in October

31st October is Samhain in the pagan calendar and traditionally marks the start of winter. The days are so much shorter already but I enjoy the long dark nights. Just extra sewing time really; time to reflect and make plans.

November is stretching out ahead, its days already outlined.

November days ahead

I’m stitching on a vintage French metis (linen/cotton blend) bed sheet which had worn thin in places. I can see I will have to start the new month with some darning.

Threadbare days

Traveller’s blanket

I’ve finally made a start on my traveller’s blanket for the last ever class with Dijanne Cevaal. It took a while to think about the right foundation for this quilt, and in the end I decided on a piece of tea-dyed silk noil. Soft but textured, lightweight but warm. The back is hand-dyed silk noil, and the middle layer is brushed cotton (also known as cotton flannel).

A slight stumbling block in the thinking process for this quilt has been that traditionally these quilts have been all about travel and recording experiences, and I’m probably the world’s worst traveller. I’ve never ventured beyond the UK, never been on an aeroplane, and have never had a passport. I don’t even drive. I get seasick just watching boats on TV. What could I possibly have to say about travel?

And then I thought of course we’re all travelling constantly – through time, through life, through experiences. And so my blanket has ended up being about a journey through winter, my favourite season, which will be with us very soon. I’m thinking greys, dark blues, sludgy/grey greens, browns, whites.

I’m starting in the centre with this beautiful piece of antique embroidered cutwork, a mystery object. Does anyone know what this would have been, originally? It seems to be a discrete piece, and doesn’t look as if it’s ever been part of anything else – at first I thought cuff, but it’s not long enough, and there is no evidence of unpicked seams. It’s about 2.25” x 6”. Dressing table mat? Answers on a postcard please.

The beginning. A very pretty start.

I’m using a few fabrics expertly eco-printed by Jane Hunter together with some vintage and antique pieces that I’ve been saving for something special.

Collecting treasures – eco-printed silks by Jane Hunter, fragments from an antique silk christening dress, various vintage cottons and scraps

And in the blue and grey corner:

More eco-prints, new and old silk and cotton

This is going to be really enjoyable, I think.

Laying out and looking

The inner critic

Imposter Syndrome, inner critic, Captain Failure, whatever you call it – I feel as if I finally understand it, and this understanding has truly changed my life. It’s one of the many amazing things I’m learning from the incredible Stacie Bloomfield and her Leverage Your Art online course.

Having been beaten down countless times (for decades) by the inner critic’s ‘you’re not good enough’ mantra, I now understand it for what it is. It’s just a part of my brain that doesn’t like change and is frightened by risk-taking. It comes up with what it thinks are valid reasons to prevent my doing something that doesn’t feel safe.

In a real life-or-death situation that’s immensely useful, and the inner critic is actually your greatest protector if it tells you that you really shouldn’t jump out of a tenth floor window. The problem is that the inner critic can’t always tell the difference between a genuine life-threatening change and a personal challenge, so it tells you the same limiting things over and over again until you can no longer tell the difference either. It seems to me that you and the inner critic grow together and you just get used to not questioning its advice.

I’ve nearly finished the right-brain business plan, and am including the inner critic just so I don’t forget that sometimes it tells me things that may not be true.

The inner critic: actually my greatest protector who doesn’t like to admit that they are sometimes wrong

Underneath all of those life-limiting nonsense messages is the truth – that somewhere in there, a part of your brain is afraid that you will die if you change. You can’t grow if you don’t take occasional considered risks. It’s not natural to stand still or stay the same. Everything changes eventually.

So finally I’m recognising that messages like ‘you don’t deserve this’ and ‘this will never work’ are just really, really silly.

Heart of Soil sketchbook

Settle down with a cup of tea or something because there are lots of pictures today.

You might recall I enrolled on the Heart of Soil online workshop last month – you can see my earlier post about it here. I collected all the lessons into a little sketchbook, and it’s been a lot of fun to revisit some techniques I haven’t used for a while. I particularly liked the limited colour palette – just blues and yellows – and the pages in the resulting book are nicely coordinated.

Front cover with strip of hand dyed silk wrapped around
Front and back covers
String of Hearts class taught by Tiffany Sharpe
Bluebird of Peace class taught by Megan Quinlan (mine is a blue tit, since I think that’s the closest thing we have to a bluebird in the UK)
Buds class taught by Michelle Schratz

I went a bit off-piste with some of these and added some lines from a vintage poetry anthology to some of the pages, and I added a teabag pocket to this one too. I made a stencil from Tyvek for the background leaf and flower images.

The lines of poetry on the page below are from a Rupert Brooke poem, mixed up to create a found poem.

Pebbles and Peace classes taught by Leaca Young
Paper doll class (I adapted this one a fair bit just to get it on the page) taught by Kim Smith (@slaphappystudios on Instagram) and painted watercolour tubes class taught by Kelly Hoernig (@kellyhoernig.artist on Instagram)
Watercolour wildflower garden class taught by Tracey Wozniak
Watercolour/mixed media backgrounds and mark making class taught by DeeDee Catron
The one-page journal technique, shared by Kiala Givehand (@kialagives on Instagram) and a sunflower for Ukraine taught by Lorraine Bell (@lorraine_bell on Instagram)

Of course the sketchbook itself is based on the one-page sketchbook technique (you fold a single sheet of paper, cut it strategically and fold it into an eight-page booklet) but I thought it would be fun to make a tiny sketchbook to tuck inside the bigger one. The smaller version is made from a sheet of A4 paper; just me enjoying myself, really.

Collaged pages in mini-sketchbook with various marks and papers
Pages from mini-sketchbook, collaged and painted, with lines from a vintage poetry anthology

I thought it might be fun to include a little video run-through but then I noticed the colour of my hands and thought I ought to explain. I did some dyeing this morning and – I do it every time – forgot to put the gloves back on when rinsing. My hands are not normally purple, just in case anyone is worried.

A very happy collection of classes and I enjoyed them immensely. Next up, I’m doing the Traveller Blanket course with the lovely Dijanne Cevaal and am looking forward to that. Next year I hope to be teaching online classes myself, and I’ve figured that the best way to see what works is to sign up for a few myself. And of course there is always something new to learn.

September

What a month.

September on the stitch journal

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.

Grey for 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.

Stitch journal, September

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.

September, detail

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.

Early September

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.

October ahead

August

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.

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.

August, detail

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.

August, with a glimpse of September ahead
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