'If you make happiness your goal, then you're not going to get to it… The goal should be an interesting life."

Dorothy Rowe

Thursday 31 January 2008

Of course, I spoke too soon ...

and woke to a high wind and pouring rain. However the weather has improved and some sunshine this afternoon has brought out a few more cherry blossoms.

My daughter in law delivered the two Chinese embroideries for their photo shoot this morning. The pictures are not very good, I'm afraid - the flash reflected in the glass but the photos without flash were even worse.

The one on the left is the smaller of the two - about side plate size - and the crayfish are about dinner plate size. If you haven't seen embroideries like these before, they are double sided, with identical[reversed] work on the back. And the quality of the stitching is unbelievable.
So how did they end up living with Number 1 son? Some years ago he made several working visits to China, installing software in factories. One of the places he visited was Suzhou, which meant nothing to me at the time. [I now know that it is the home of one of the 'Four Reknowned Embroideries' of China.] When he left, he was presented with samples of the local work, which his mother has coveted ever since. They are the main reason I chose China as one of my three countries. I hope he will leave then to me in his will.

Wednesday 30 January 2008

Spring has officially arrived ...

when the cherry tree blooms at Cheese Mansions - and if you peer hard at this rather blurry photo you will see one sad little flower and lots of buds. It has been a lovely sunny day, too, as if to prove it.

It will probably snow tomorrow.

I did manage to finish my C&G books last night - almost. This is the one on Ukrainian embroidery. Of course it was only when I came to photograph it that I realised I had made a mistake in threading the cord, but the tassels were on and it was too late to change it. I am trying to kid myself that no-one will notice - apart from everyone I've told.

Having seen real Ukrainian embroidery at the Pitt Rivers I know this is far too coarse. I don't think Ukrainians used even-weave fabric either, although the piece I saw was so closely embroidered you couldn't tell. However, I enjoyed doing it, much more than the Palestinian cross stitch.

And this is the Chinese one - in case you hadn't guessed. I bottled out of attempting to emulate Chinese embroidery, satin stitch and its ilk not being one of my strong points, and used some brocade. Nor did I make the tassel. I think this one was a present from

Singapore, wasn't it? [This is a cunning test of how carefully the likely donors read my blog].

I know Singapore isn't in China, but it has a large Chinese population, according to my Singapore experts.

This one isn't quite finished - I have photographs to add of the other son's Chinese embroideries, which are coming for their photo shoot tomorrow. Why does a motor bike riding software engineer with a beer belly have Chinese embroideries? Tell you tomorrow.

Tuesday 29 January 2008

What I really meant to do today was ...

work on my manipulated fabric and textured surfaces - but first I thought I would just get on with part of my study of the embroidery of three foreign countries. [More C&G of course.]

It has taken me all day - and I haven't finished yet.

This is the cover of the first installment, Palestinian embroidery. [I did take a close up of the embroidery but my camera / Picasa seem to have eaten it.] The design came from a Palestinian website, and the colours from Sheila Weir's 'Embroidery from Palestine'. It is not my best embroidery - the fabric is very closely woven and the thread was thick because Palestinian cross stitch is apparently not supposed to look like a cross.

I had already done most of the cover, but it wasn't quite finished - putting in the lining took a big chunk of the morning.

Then I had to punch holes in the pages and the cover - and make the cord to fasten them all together,thread the cord through, and make the tassels for the ends. [Did I mention how much I like tassels?]

I decided I might as well get on with the other two sections, China and Ukraine. Ukraine was printed but not proof read, China wasn't printed. Half way through printing it the colour cartridge ran out. Half way through the reprint the black cartridge ran out. Then the proof reader in chief found a typo and an error in Ukraine - which of course affected the layout of subsequent pages ...

Of course I don't HAVE to get these finished for the next College session, I just want to. And I didn't HAVE to make fancy covers for them - I just wanted to.

Still - the covers and cords for Ukraine and China are finished - just a few holes to punch, and some tassels to make, of course. With any luck I will finish them tonight, especially as the proof reader in chief is out governing [local educational institution, not the country!]

Not sure when I'll get back to what I had intended to do though ...

Monday 28 January 2008

Manipulated fabric

The topic at last week's C&G class was manipulated fabric. We made some samples in class - in my case adding wire to fabric and trying fairly unsuccessfully to do free motion embroidery on velvet - but I had forgotten some of the stuff I needed and was feeling uninspired anyway.

It was only when I got home that I realised I didn't really understand what we were supposed to be doing!
I decided to make lots of small samples of anything I consider manipulated fabric - and as my Embellisher was out I started with that. These are the more successful samples. A couple are due to meet my heat gun later - which is always unpredictable. If I get time today I shall add some stitch.

The darker sample is a 'textured surface' which was the previous week's lesson.[Actually it is 'one I made earlier' and found when I pulled out my turquoise fabric for the manipulated samples.] I missed the lesson because I was ill and felt even less sure what I was doing, but thanks to the members of the Yahoo C&G group I now have lots of ideas.

I was going to post a picture of a crocus, taken on a lovely sunny day in Southsea yesterday, to prove to myself that Spring really is on its way. but the photo didn't come out and today is dreadful - cold and foggy.

We went to Southsea to see the Overlord embroidery. Another requirement of C&G is that we study the history of British embroidery [I wonder if overseas students have to do the same thing?] We had a very enjoyable college trip to Normandy about a year ago to see the Bayeux Tapestry - which isn't a tapestry and was probably made in England - so I decided it was time to see the 20th century equivalent.

I saw Overlord before some years ago but with teenage boys in tow I didn't get much of a chance to look at it. Fortunately their father [whom I ought to call Wensleydale] is much more interested in textiles and was very happy to spend an hour or so looking at the piece - it is over 80 metres long. [Half a dozen embroiderers can take even longer looking at the Bayeux tapestry, which is shorter...]

It is much better than I remembered - beautifully made of course, as you would expect an RSN piece to be, but the design is very clever, and it is quite moving to look at. Doesn't pull its punches. It doesn't have the humour that the Bayeux does, but that is not surprising.

It is well worth seeing. If you do go, though, don't be fooled by the claim on the website that they have a cafe - they don't, and even the coffee machine was out of order!
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Friday 25 January 2008

Joggles class Part 2

This is the second piece I have made for Sue’s class. Sue suggested we used pages from a book as one of the layers but I cannot bring myself to do anything to books except read them! So although I had bought a book specially in a charity shop I ended up using a supplement from a newspaper. It was on magic, which is why you can just see the beginning of ‘Houdini’. There are other words just visible under the paint.

I also didn’t have all the supplies needed, so instead of flower petals I used sequins and bits of sequin waste. I was worried they would shrivel up under the iron, but fortunately they didn’t. The ribbon is, as you might have guessed, left over from Christmas. I thought the stars went well with the magic theme.

If you are interested in Sue's work, visit

Thursday 24 January 2008

Joggles class

I am taking Sue Bleiweiss’s ‘Mixed Media Surfaces’ class at Joggles,


and this is my first effort. The scan doesn’t really do it justice – it’s quite subtle [especially for me]. I used gold and pale turquoise tissue paper, and then some sparkly watercolour paints from the Works – a knock off of sparkling H2Os, I think.

Curiously, when it dried, it looked more silver than gold so I have added silver acrylic and silver glitter glue.

There are another three parts to this lesson, and I hope to get another started this afternoon. This is one of those courses that makes you use all the supplies you bought on impulse and then didn’t quite know what to do with …

More Danglies

I just found this on Flickr


which makes my danglies look pretty pathetic.

Japanese, of course.

Wednesday 23 January 2008

Alice Kettle

Whenever I talk to quilters about making a metre long piece they laugh at me because, of course, they make much bigger pieces all the time. But last night we went to a talk by Alice Kettle about this:


which is at 16 metres by 3 is tad bigger than most quilts!

Alice is a local professional machine embroiderer who was commissioned to produce the hanging for the Winchester 'Discovery Centre' [a.k.a. the library]. She and her small team worked on it all last year in Winchester Guildhall, in public - not something I would fancy.

Last night she talked about her sources of inspiration generally, and specifically for this piece, which is full of local references.

She is a diffident but good speaker - she avoids 'artspeak' - and, as always, when someone talks about their work, you look at it with new eyes.

Alice is a real artist. I am ambivalent about the use of the word 'artist' when applied to artisans. I think it is often misused these days, especially applied to what a friend of mine calls 'crap crafts'. The misuse devalues both 'artist' and 'artisan'.

I am proud to call myself an artisan - but Alice is a real artist. She happens to have chosen to work with textiles because of the unique qualities they bring to her work. Her embroidery could have been a painting - it would probably have been much easier for her to produce a canvas that size if she hadn't had to wrestle it through a sewing machine - but all the surface qualities of a heavily embroidered textile would have been missing. It gleams, it has texture, it is tactile in a way no painting I have ever seen is.

Worth a visit if you can get there - and it is right next to the coffee shop ...

Tuesday 22 January 2008

Why should an embroiderer make books?

For each piece we make for C&G we have to write an action plan, keep a diary, show the design process and write an evaluation. Of course I could just shove all that in plastic pockets in a ring binder but where's the fun in that?

Some people work directly into a sketch book but I can't draw and my writing is illegible - so I have developed the habit of making my own books to put everything in.

This is the book for the Kandinsky wall hanging. The cover is yet another left-over [I dyed a lot more fabric and thread than I needed]. I spray mounted it to pelmet Vilene and then machine embroidered and lined it. I have used card in the past but you can't sew into it, so you have to lace the fabric over the covers which is lumpier and more work.

I inserted the pages and bound them all together with a sort of Japanese stab stitch in embroidery thread [more left overs].

This is a page from the book, showing some of my design ideas for the different pieces of the wall hanging and a section from the diary.

Monday 21 January 2008

Wall hanging

Thank you to the kind person who suggested I installed a counter - I am gobsmacked that so many people have been to look at my blog. They can't all have been family [I bet none of them were family, they get enough of my wittering face to face!]
I thought I would put up a picture of my last C&G piece, the wall hanging. For those not familiar with C&G, you are required to make 4 finished pieces, and for Part 2 they are a wall hanging, a gold work piece, a metre long piece and a 3D piece - I think, I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong.
So this is my wall hanging. It was inspired by a Kandinsky painting called 'Colour Study in Squares'. To give you an idea of scale, the larger discs are junk CDs and the smaller ones minidiscs. The minidiscs were kindly donated by my friend Anne, as that is one of many examples of modern technology that has passed me by.
Some of the left overs from the wall hanging were used for the danglies, but I still have a lot left. Perhaps a few more danglies are called for?

Sunday 20 January 2008

C&G - the next step

These are the beads I have made for my metre piece - they are about 1.5 cm long or less. Most of them are made of Tyvek - painted gold, machine embroidered, rolled and zapped with a heat gun.
The whitish ones are Kunin felt, embroidered and zapped. Unfortunately they haven't come out as well as the samples I did - they just went hard rather than hole-y - so I may try the soldering iron on them instead.
There are a few made from dampened rolled Sinamay, but I think they are not tough enough for what I want, so I will probably use the Tyvek ones. I usually like to have at least 3 different variations of things, but in this case I will probably end up with no more than two as I can't think of another variation. In any case I am getting rather bored with roiling tiny bits of textile round a kebab stick ...

Saturday 19 January 2008

Quality Control

My quality control inspector, Custard. has aroused some interest so here is another picture of her hard at work testing the sofa for comfort. She isn't just rolling over - this is her favourite sleeping position. I read somewhere that cats only sleep on their backs if they feel safe. If that is so she feels very safe in our house!

She does get a bit rattled when the grandbaby comes to visit with her dog - although Custard much prefers his Chappie to cat food.

Thursday 17 January 2008

What I saw out of the window this morning

I do not like winter - even here in the south where we rarely have any snow. I hate the long dark nights, even though, now I am retired, I don't have to go to work and come back from work in the dark.
Any sign of Spring, like these snowdrops, is welcomed with joy - even if they were blowing in the wind and sprinkled with raindrops.
I believe Spring is really on its way when our flowering cherry blooms. It is one of the biggest and earliest in the area, and it really cheers me up. I will try to remember to post a picture when it flowers.
i used to wonder why so many textile blogs were filled with pictures of flowers - but I think we are sharing the things that inspire us. With me, however, it is more likely to be pictures of trees ...

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Silly stuff

This week's task in my City and Guilds class was to make 'danglies' - trimmings to add to a larger piece of embroidery. Although I didn't feel very motivated in class, since then I have made quite a few. This is partly because they are the sort of thing you can make when you don't feel too brilliant - they are small and quick and if they don't work you can bin them without feeling you have wasted lots of time.

That is just a rationalisation. The real reason is that I love making silly little things like this. When we did tassels in Part 1 of C&G I made -er - well, I just counted them, and there are getting on for 50. The little ones on the twigs in a vase and the 29 in my portfolio. Makes the 19 danglies I've made [so far] look a bit thin...
I'm sorry the picture is a bit blurry - being 3D. they don't scan very well. I've made a few more since then...
Tomorrow I will have to buckle down and get on with my metre long piece - the one I was sewing leaves into plastic pockets for. I need to make 50 or so 'beads' from embroidered Kunin felt, rolled and zapped with a heat gun. The prospect is rather boring which is why I would rather make danglies.
Then I will put the leaves and the beads on pieces of raffia hung from a piece of driftwood. Then I need to work out how to hang up the driftwood ...

Sunday 13 January 2008

It's been a while ...

but nothing much has been happening that was worth posting about!

Things got a little more exciting when we went on a C&G college trip to the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford yesterday. I have never been before [although I have seen it on 'Morse'].

It is an amazing place - a warren of narrow passages between glass cases stuffed with ethnographic artifacts, many labelled in neat handwriting - how museums used to be. I think every colonial administrator with a connection to Oxford had left all the stuff s/he had collected to the place. There was really too much to take in, especially as I was coming down with a cold.

We went because this year our course work includes a study of the embroidery of three foreign countries. Unfortunately the countries I have chosen - China, Palestine and Ukraine - were underrepresented. I did find some beautiful Chinese embroidery and a small piece from Ukraine but nothing from Palestine [could have been there, I just didn't find it!]

Lots of inspiration for embroiderers, however, in the textiles and in other things, e.g. a collection of amulets against the evil eye. I think we will probably go again when I feel more with-it.

Thursday 3 January 2008

Slot books

There has been a discussion of slot books on the book-art Yahoo group since Carol of http://barnaclegoosepaperworks.blogspot.com/ posted a picture on her blog of a beautiful one she had made.

I am not a book making expert but I had been shown how to do this in the past and I have had another go at making one.

I used A4 copier paper, folded in half, but I think something stiffer or smaller might have been more successful.

There are two types of pages in the book which I have called ‘slit’ pages and ‘slot’ pages.

‘Slot’ pages have a slot cut along the fold, leaving 4 cm uncut at either end.

‘Slit’ pages have 4 cm slits cut at each end of the fold.

Now for the tricky bit. I folded the slit page, long side to long side, without creasing it, and slid it through the slot. I lined up the slits and the slot and gently opened out the slit paper.

I ended up with one piece of paper threaded through the other.

You build up the book by alternating the two types of page. Each slit page goes through two slot pages. I found this was easiest to do by threading the slit page through two slots at once.

In this picture you can see the second slot page [turquoise] behind the green one.

This may be clearer. The slot pages are the turquoise and green ones. The pink page has already been threaded through and straightened out. I am threading the grey page through slots in the turquoise and the green pages. To add another slit page I would thread it thought the green slot page and another slot page – and so on ad infinitum.

I think with enough pages and a bit of care you could thread the final slit page through the last and first slot pages and end up with a book with no front or back.

Here is quality control inspecting the finished product.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Wednesday 2 January 2008

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be

We spent yesterday afternoon with the other new grandparents, R & S, at King Alfred's Buses Running Day. Despite having lived in the area for nearly 20 years we had never been before, and we really enjoyed ourselves. There were dozens of buses offering free rides all round the city and the district, and hundreds of people, many [mostly men] with really serious looking cameras.

I took this with my little, unserious Canon: it is the bus which took us to Stockbridge and back.

This is what the bus was. It was rather an odd experience to travel on a 1965 Ipswich bus because in 1965 I was at school in Ipswich and may even have seen DPV 65D when she was in her prime.

Did it make me feel nostalgic? No. 'Nostalgia' implies a longing for what has gone and I have no wish to go back to my teens. To quote Maurice Chevalier, 'I'm glad I'm not young any more'. But it was an enjoyable reminder of another time, another place.