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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Machine Embroidery...

...or embroidery by machine?  I spent a large chunk of yesterday, and a lot of thread, stitching these, which will be made into bags or flowers or....whatever... It's pretty monotonous work, and I was reminded of a conversation I had with a friend, last week.  She said that she had bought an embroidery machine, with module, and had never really used it, because she realised that she didn't like setting up the machine to do something, and then walking away from it.  I had said, at the time, that I thought these machines were great if you wanted to make a large number of identical things, like embroidered sweatshirts, but otherwise, I really didn't get the point. Halfway through the stitching on the larger piece, though... I wasn't so sure.  Wouldn't it be better to programme a machine to stitch in circles, and just leave it to get on with it...?

Well, no.  Partly because the 'circles' I'm stitching here aren't really circles.  They vary in size and shape, and most of them wouldn't pass muster as a proper circle...  Many of them overlap.  It's what gives the fabric its charm.  And partly because I wouldn't hear the prompts the motor was giving me... that bit is thicker, so we're struggling a bit... and that meant, to me, that I needed more stitch in that area, to be sure that I had secured the bits and pieces underneath the cloth.  But mostly because if I left it to a machine, it would have no soul.  Throughout this stitching process, I'm constantly paying attention, making decisions, caring for the cloth, doing what it needs.  Machines don't have soul.  But the combination of machine plus maker produces magic. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Amazing What You Can Do...

... but you have to try.  Just thinking about it, won't do it, though a certain amount of thinking time is definitely desirable.  On Thursday, I wrote a post about the beginnings of a fascinator; you can read it here.  On Friday, I did what I said I would, and put more stitch onto the petals.  Today, though, I assembled what I think will be the final shape, though it's difficult to tell.  The photograph above is undeniably abysmal, but is the best I can do at the moment, partly because the fascinator doesn't have a base yet, so has to be held up, and partly because Robin is in bed with manflu (again...), and isn't around to take the photograph. 

The close up, above, is a bit better, and gives you an idea of what the additional stitch on the petals looks like.  I'm fairly happy with this piece, though I want to add some more of those beige feathers round the edges.  And then, it will just need to be added to its base.  I love doing this kind of thing, it's frivolous and fun... and will be a big part of Myrtle and Rose's output, to boot.

Friday, March 23, 2012


is a wonderful thing.  How do you like this wee clutch bag?  I made the fancy fabric, my friend and collaborator Clare Hedges made the bag (that's her, in her best cycling gear, modelling the bag).  Collaboration means that we do the bits we like best, and are good at.  We each play to our strengths...and that can only be good.  And the rule of synergy says that 1+1=3; in other words, our combined strengths are more, together, than they are as individual makers.  More of that lovely development I was talking about yesterday...  And given that there are three of us in this equation, with Jill Arnold also in the mix, I wonder what 1+1+1 equals... six, I think... Hmmm...

Of course, synergy applies in all sorts of situations.  Online, I'm hoping that synergy will work in a BIG way for my new blog, Spunbond Sensations!  I planned the blog as a being interactive; so 1+1+lots.... must equal Even More....  Please do have a look, and don't be afraid to contribute.  I'm looking for questions for Wondering Wednesday, and for images for Photo Friday.... please do get in touch.  And of course, if you're looking for a clutch bag, you know where to come!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Glitz and Glamour...

are much underrated, as I'm discovering as I learn to work with feathers, furbelows and frills...  This is a prototype silk paper and feather flower for a fascinator.  I love its exuberance.  I'm also grateful for having done a few floristry classes; there is a lot of similarities between hat making and floristry, when it comes down to it. and learning how to wire things properly has been a real bonus.  Now, I have to put this lot to one side, and contemplate it for a while... where will I add the beads (for there will be beads...)?  Are the colours appropriate?  Does the silk paper require more stitch (yes, probably).  Is the construction method right (no, not yet, but I know what to do about it).

Am I having fun?  Hell, yes!  And developing skills in one area, means that you automatically improve in all the others...competence is like a net; improve your handling of one type of material, and the whole of the net will shift, improving your handling of others, too...  And it encourages you to be open to  new things.  Go on, you know you want to try something new... what's stopping you?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sample Stitching

I've been a bit of a tart when it comes to thread, mixing and matching to suit myself.  A bit like a child in a sweetshop, I've bought a bit of this lovely lemon, a bit of that tantalising turquoise... ignoring the brand, except where I've had problems; one problem means no more thread from that manufacturer.  It isn't very forgiving, perhaps, but I don't want the hassle of complaining, too much time and effort.  I'd rather buy from manufacturers who won't give me problems.  But there's been so much fanfare about Aurifil over the last wee while, that I thought I ought to try it when I saw it for sale on Sunday at Chilford.  There wasn't a huge selection, as we were at show end, rather than show beginning, so none of my beloved variegated threads, but I did buy three spools...the three spools in the picture above, to be precise...  I couldn't resist the purple, and the other two seemed interesting, so that was that.  It was only when I got them home that I realised they don't really go with anything I'm working on at the moment...right colours, wrong shades.  An object lesson in thread buying, really. 

So I looked out a piece of very vintage linen which I had dyed, and started trying out the threads on that.  I had bought the heaviest of the threads available; I'm not a traditional quilter by any means (actually, I'm not a quilter at all, except in that I have a tendency to work in layers...more of that in another post, maybe).  I draw with my threads, and I like them to contrast well with what's on the cloth, and to be distinctive.  The thicker the better, really.  And here's what I made of them. 

Really, all I wanted to do was a bit of mark making, but as I made some circles to start with, echoing the circles on the cloth, I found myself looking at a cairn.  I was really impressed by the thread; no problems whatsoever with machine embroidery, even where things started getting denser.  In fact, there are four layers of stitch on the cairn area, as I tried to make up for only having three colours.  I wanted a shadow effect, but the purple by itself was too strong, so layers of the other colours were added to break it up.  It's not the best piece I've ever made in my life (it'll probably end up in the bin...), but it really did serve its purpose.  Now, of course, all that remains is to get more Aurifil...  watch this space.  I think it'll be ideal for the stitched photographs, just the right weight.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bertha Gets Busy...

...with a bit of help from me.  I'm starting to work towards an exhibition called 'Blossoming'; it's no surprise, then, that I'm making flower images.  This one is being printed out on canvas on Big Bertha, my Epson 7880.  At 24 inches, this is the widest I can print to, with no limit to the length.  This means that I can work reasonably big, but also generate a lot of small images simultaneously.  The ink is eye wateringly expensive, and as you can see, there are ten cartridges to replace...fortunately, they don't all run out at the same time.  I'm contemplating offering a printing service for textile artists; please email me if you are in the UK/Europe and might be interested, so that I can see if there is any demand. 

Up until now, Bertha has lived at the Gallery in Dereham; now, though, she lives at home with me.  It's good to be able to work when I feel like it, though she does take up rather a lot of room.  I think it's worth it, though.  Not being limited to A4 is great.  Every home should have one!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012


are wonderful things, so I thought I would show you some more of my collection.  These are chocolate brown Art Deco glass buttons (or that is what they were sold as...they certainly have an Art Deco look about them).  One of them is slightly chipped, but the rest are fine.  I love the way they curve and catch the light.  Delicious.  Almost tempting me to use them...but not quite. They are the only coloured glass in my collection, and were the most expensive.  The collection, such as it is, is still in its infancy, and I've been lucky enough to find inexpensive examples.  It's not about the money, though... you won't find me on Antiques Roadshow any time soon!

And thanks to Lizzie for recommending a book on buttons; I immediately ordered it, and it came yesterday.  Looking forward to learning more about buttons in general, and some of mine in particular. 

Monday, March 05, 2012

Health and Safety...

is everybody's favourite whipping boy.  Extensive European legislation has meant lots of work for lots of people.  I'm here to say, though, that you can't legislate against stupidity.  I stuck my arm in a Burco boiler and got it scalded for my trouble.  What was I thinking???  Not a lot, clearly.  I've been working a lot with boiling water, over the past week or so.  I've been acid dyeing and felting, both of which mean really hot water.  We forget how dangerous that is...until we have to stand in  front of the sink for an hour, repeatedly soaking one's arm in cold water.

I haven't had many injuries relating to textiles; however, the one rule I never break is wearing a mask when working with dry dye powder.  After working with dyes for three or so months, I was diagnosed with asthma.  I was using Dylon dyes, and it doesn't say to wear a mask.  I think it should.

Meanwhile, I have a basin full of  cold water next to my chair, which I can dip my arm in if and when it hurts.  Which at the moment is every five minutes or so... wish it would go away...  And was it worth it?  Won't know til I rinse out, wash and dry the cloth.  Let's hope so.  Meanwhile, off to Google scalds...

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Living Vintage...

...that's me, apparently.  I went to a vintage fair today with a couple of friends.  Held in a large church hall, it looked for all the world like the worlds' most expensive jumble sale.  There was the occasional a Frank Usher top, far too small for me but incredibly beautiful; if Robin had a Proper Job, I would have bought it...would love to collect beautiful clothes... sigh.  Mostly, though, it was stuff that was masquerading as vintage like a Primark top which could only have been a year or two old.  It does, however, make you realise that you are getting older... particularly when you recognise the clothes you used to wear, never mind those of your mother or your grandmother.  Etsy defines vintage as anything older than 20 years, which covers a multitude of sins. 

Vintage is really fashionable; everybody does it.  I find myself looking to earlier times for inspiration for Myrtle and Rose, things that are gentle, feminine, flattering, flowing.  I'm still not convinced by the vogue for using vintage imagery in art, though.  It has become ubiquitous, a whole Somerset Studio type style, using rubber stamps and copyright free imagery.  It started, I think, at least in part, because people were worried about copyright issues, and felt it was much better to take images from the past, that were out of copyright, rather than risk being pursued for breach of copyright from living artists.  It's a pity, I think, that people use this type of image instead of being inspired by their own work.  I think it shows a vast lack of confidence in our own abilities.

I guess I'm musing about this because I'm doing something I said I never would (yes, again...); using vintage inspirations.  But they are exactly that.  I'm not copying vintage clothes or hats or bags, just looking back at a gentler, less complicated time and making work that is mine, but with a different feel to it.  Not sure if I'm making any sense, here, but I dare say that's not unusual.  I'm happy to use vintage fabrics when I can find them; they dye better than contemporary fabrics, and are often of better quality.  In addition, they have a feeling of story behind them.  Interesting to repurpose them, to give them the amount of usage they were made for, albeit in a different way to what was originally intended. 

If I ever work out what my relationship to/with vintage is, I'll let you know.  Meanwhile, I'd love to hear what you think about this phenomenon... will it run and run?  I chatted to one of the stall holders, a woman around my own age (most of the stall holders were in their twenties, interestingly enough, which perhaps explains why so much of what was on offer did not seem to be vintage at all...).  She said that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find vintage clothing and jewellery, and it is becoming increasingly expensive, because it has become so fashionable.  But, she said, it won't go on for ever.  When it stops, prices will drop and things will flood back onto the market.    I'm tempted to think that it is one fashion that won't go away; the market for nostalgia is unlimited.  What do you think?