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

Dorothy Rowe

Saturday 27 September 2008

You win some, you lose some

I had a really good day today – till I got home!

I spent the day, with my friend A, at the long-anticipated Alice Kettle workshop on line. Alice is our local celebrity embroiderer, responsible for this – and, it turns out, a good teacher and generous sharer of time, expertise and materials.

We started the day with drawing [and coffee and biscuits …] I can’t draw – but Alice was very encouraging – and anyway, she told us, we were going to cut up the drawings later. We drew circles, our own faces as we touched them, and little pictures from the room around us. Then, as advertised, we cut them or tore them up and made collages with them, and some other ingredients.

This was mine – and it was the worst of the lot. Everyone else had been much freer – and that was a learning experience. Big and bold – and b***r whether it is 'realistic'.

Then we spent a little while looking at the ‘Object as Muse’ exhibition – my third visit. Did I mention this was taking place in the Discovery Centre – home of the embroidery mentioned above? So after looking at the exhibition we looked at the embroidery – even though I have heard Alice talk about it before, it was still worth hearing her talk about it again.

Then we began to stitch – hand stitching, which may be a surprise if, like me, you think of Alice as a machine embroiderer. She had brought along some of her samples of hand embroidery which were very inspirational – fascinating use of colour and scale. She recommended sitting in front of the TV with fabric and threads and just playing with simple stitches. So we did – inspired [or not, embroiderer’s choice] by our collages, and advised by Alice.

We didn’t have a TV so after lunch [sandwiches, coffee and cake, included in the cost], Alice talked us through some slides of her recent work. After tea and biccies we looked at the work some class members had brought along, and ended with a show and tell. We got a going home present of the book of the Discovery Centre embroidery.

This is my piece – which suffered from me trying to sew on the buttons while standing up looking at other people’s work. I think it will need a bit more work – but it is ‘only a sample’ Of course I always preferred making samples to making finished pieces in C&G…

And the bad bit? I got home to find we had had a letter informing us that someone had tried to use our credit card fraudulently. Again. It is the third time this year. The card companies have always picked it up and been very good about sorting it out but it means being without a card for a while - and it leaves an unpleasant feeling - not, perhaps, as bad as being burgled, but still an invasion of our lives. I find it difficult to explain how it makes me feel but I am sure if you have experienced it you will know what I mean.

Thursday 25 September 2008

We had a Wednesday wander ...

instead of a Tuesday trip. Mr and Mrs Cheddar wanted to see the border collie at the Hillier Gardens. Fortunately it stopped raining just as we went in and started again just as we left!

Unfortunately even well behaved footballing dogs are not allowed in, so Ronaldo the Wonderdog had to stay in the car. However looking at Ronaldo afterwards made me realise how well the artist, Mandy Flynn, had caught the look of a border collie. I was particularly struck by how she had represented the wonderful plumy tail, which looked incredibly soft, even though it was made of chicken wire. [This is the sculpture, by the way - I will try to get a photo of the real thing next time she visits!]

We also revisited the fish on a bicycle by Darren Greenow.

We think we have now been all the way round, and seen almost everything, including the catfish and the rocking horse by Tania Holland. I would love to get a horse for Babybel [although I don't think she would get the pun]. However £695 is a bit outside my budget.
There were also some wonderful metal plant forms by Anthony Sturgiss.

The leaves in the gardens are just beginning to turn, but I think they will be even better in about a week's time when we plan on revisiting with Babybel. I don't think she will appreciate the leaves - but she may like the animals!

Tuesday 23 September 2008

No Tuesday trip this week

After last week's gadding about we are having a quiet week to regain our strength before a spot of child minding next week.

I did go on one of the ‘Embroidery Now’/RSN course in Winchester at the weekend – ‘Goldwork Lettering’ with Flo Collingwood. It was a lovely day, both in content and in weather –
for the first time since I started going to these nearly a year ago we could actually sit in the garden to have our lunch.

This is my effort – I am not to happy with the lazy daisies so they will have to come out, but I think I may actual finish this one!

I have also been playing with my new book – having made a black & white book, this is a black and white vessel book – still working on the Tamsin van Essen theme. So far it is mostly paper but I do have lots of ideas for stitch. The book will not lie flat, even with the help of a ruler, which is why some of these photos are even odder than usual.

I think I blogged about this fabric very early on in my blogging career. It was printed with bubble wrap. I think it needs more stitch but I haven't decided what.

OK - black, white and gold. I can't draw - but I can doodle. Sort of. Although it looks like fabric it is hand made paper [bought, not made by me].

This is straight, really, honest. The pages of the book were not strong enough to cut big holes in so I decided to stick two pages together. And then I decided to put cellophane between them. Printed cellophane from Nid-noi.

This in inlaid felt, which looked a bit bare until I added the beads. It has a companion, black on white, which I scorched while pressing it. I was going to bin it but then I thought that van Essen's pots are not perfect, which is part of their message - and their appeal. So it has gone in the book - but not on the blog!

OK. Black, white, gold and red. Cut from a magazine photo.

And some late breaking news - just discovered on the V&A website:

design your own textile. Have fun.

Friday 19 September 2008

I'm still here

- just had a few days away. Last weekend we went to the Knitting and Stitching show in Birmingham – some excellent displays and retail opportunities. I thought the displays were an improvement on previous years: we particularly enjoined the Schiffli Project and Ruth Issett, and Beaney and Littlejohn’s exhibitions. And Raymond Honeyman. And the Art Bras – well, almost all of it really!

We had an afternoon off from Knitting and Stitching and went to Calke Abbey, which is a National Trust property. The Trust took it over in the 1980s in a fairly sorry state, and took the decision to repair it but do the minimum restoration. So the State rooms are imposing – and the private rooms are not. You can't take photos in the house but this corner of the stable yard gives you a flavour of the atmosphere.

The Harpur-Crewe family who owned the house for over 300 years were avid collectors - it’s not the place to go if you are phobic about stuffed birds - and never seemed to throw anything away. A prime example of the dictum that stash expands to fit the space available…

After Birmingham we went on the Welsh borders. Again. Although we spend most of our time in Wales we actually stay in Herefordshire, in one of our friends’
holiday lets

I don’t know if it was the weather, or the price of petrol, but everywhere seemed very quiet. We drove up the Elan Valley [we always drive up the Elan Valley] and for the first time in 30 years there was room to park so we could walk across the Craig Goch dam. The water was very still so the reflections were quite something.

So was the lichen. [Does anyone except an embroiderer photograph lichen?]

And you can see why Shelley loved the valley, although that was before the reservoirs.

The reservoirs provide water for Birmingham. Responsibility for servicing the computer systems which control the water lies in the hands of Cheese Major. Birmingham, you have been warned …

Another first was that after nearly 30 years of saying ‘We must go to Water-breaks-its-back’ – we did. You may have noticed this interesting name on the cover of my Welsh maps book. It is a waterfall – and given the sort of summer we have had, it seemed a good time to visit. Like everywhere else – it was deserted. And well worth going. Not the largest waterfall in the world, but very beautiful and very atmospheric, although the atmosphere was somewhat spoiled by a low level fly past by the RAF.

We met this gentleman - or lady, entomology isn't my strong point - on the path

We also went to Hay-on-Wye. [We always go to Hay-on-Wye.] If you don’t know Hay – it is home to dozens of second-hand book shops. Cheese heaven. I managed to get a copy of Constance Howard’s ‘Inspiration for Embroidery’, which I have been looking for for some time. I love old needlework books and have quite a collection now, ranging from the 1890s to the 1980s. Very useful when I was writing the magnum opus - probably one reason it was far too long...

While we were away I broke my specs - or rather I took them out of the case and the arm fell off. fortunately I had a spare pair with me. This morning I took them into Boots prepared to do battle, since I have only had then since June. They agreed to replace them without a quibble - turns out that this particular design has been withdrawn because of a design fault. The arms fall off.

Thursday 11 September 2008

As promised - but a day late -

a new book. And as a bonus for waiting - a second one.

A while ago I bought 'Book Arts - Beautiful Bindings for Handmade Books' by Mary Kaye Seckler, sight unseen, on the basis of a sample I found on the web. When it came I was disappointed because it seemed very prescriptive. When I looked at it again and got beyond the 'use this paper, this stamp. this ink pad and make it this size' - there are some interesting ideas. So these are my first two efforts from that book.

Here are the bits of the first one. Inspired by the little books I saw at the Odyssey exhibition, and my white book, this was going to be a brown book with tiny pieces of stitch in it. Then I glanced out of the window, saw the leaves beginning to turn - and it morphed. A lot of sticky leaf printing later, this is the result. It even has a title - the first time I have ever named a book.

The larger pieces of paper at the top in the first photo are not part of the book but my Yorkshire streak making me use up every splodge of paint. I made a monoprint using the leaves as a resist. The back of this is quite interesting too as I used the brayer I'd spread the paint with to press down the paper, and got a sort of leaf rubbing with the paint left on the brayer.
I made another monoprint with the leaves removed, and then squeezed a last few leaf prints onto some lightly gessoed paper -where I had wiped the gesso brush at the end of a previous session - do you see a theme here?

The second book grew from a reference to using map paper in Seckler's book - she calls her version 'Atlas' Secret'. I had an old road atlas rescued from the recycling pile, so instead of just the concertina spine being made of map paper - it all is. It was going to be random pages from the atlas but then it fell open at our favourite bit of mid-Wales - which ended up on the cover. Most of the inside pages are also of Wales but a few are the English side of the border and one tr two, due to the nature of atlas making, are East Anglia.

The binding needs a bit of adjustment and I think I may gesso some of the inside pages, decorate them, and then add some of our photos. We have been going to the area since Babybel's Daddy was a bun in my oven so we have several photos taken over the years ...

Tuesday 9 September 2008

Tuesday trip - and another pincushion, definitely the last, - probably

Our trip today was to the Queen Elizabeth Country Park, near Petersfield, for a textile exhibition by the group Odyssey:

Last year we went to their exhibition 'Layers of Meaning: from sketchbook to stitch' at Farnham Maltings and found it very exciting. A large space meant they could show some large and innovative pieces and - joy of joys - you could see and handle their sketchbooks!

Unfortunately I found the latest exhibition rather disappointing. The exhibition was in the cafe: although this had some advantages - you could enjoy the work and coffee and lemon drizzle cake at the same time - they were outweighed by the disadvantages. There was no room for big pieces, no sketchbooks, and you couldn't get up close and personal because there was always someone sitting under the piece you really wanted to look at.

The topic was 'Threading through Nature'. I have been to exhibitions inspired by nature before - and also found then a bit underwhelming. There were some interesting pieces - a series of green men [I am very fond of green men!] and some tiny hand made books, no more than 2 or 3 inches square, filled with drawings, photos and stitch. Unfortunately I neglected to write down the names of the artists, and of course I've forgotten them.

We also managed to get a walk in the park in the one dryish period, found a nice toddlers' playground for future use, and then retreated to the car for a picnic in the rain.

Since coming home I have completed another pincushion, and, inspired by the exhibition, started another book, of which more tomorrow. Maybe.

This is the pincushion. I realised while I was making the last one that if I used minidiscs [thanks. A. - thought of you in the park] I could make a wrist pincushion - so I did. The unattractive white bit is the elastic. I think this one will really have pins in it. i have no plans for any more - although I do have a lot of CDs left ...

Saturday 6 September 2008

I have been doing some real sewing -

making clothes. Not something I often do these days [and don’t ask me to sew on a button –unless it’s on an embroidery, of course.]

I decided to use a piece of well aged fabric to make a caftan/gallabeyah - since we went to Egypt and I bought a couple of gallabeyahs I usually change into one in the evening:

capped and shawled and no old corset, nice to be comfy, nice to be nice”.

My current ones are getting rather tatty so in the interests of economy and stash reduction I decided to make my own. I took the measurements from an old one and as it is essentially a rectangle of fabric with a hole in it – it is straightforward sewing. So straightforward I made two.

[I don't know where the padded hanger came from- not at all my usual style!]

I have not, of course, abandoned embroidery. This is my second needlecushion – looking like a miniature Millennium dome. You may be asking – why two? This one is made of looser weave fabrics and is for tapestry needles, which won’t go into the closely woven silk of the boob-like one.

You may also be thinking that I have an excessive number of needles – and you may well be right. When I collected them from their assorted needlebooks I realised just how many I have. There are some others – the beading needles are with the beads, the curved needles are with my book making stuff – and I have some John James needles in their nice new packaging in my ‘box for going on courses, which has everything I need in it, including a pair of specs, so I don’t forget anything’.

Speaking of courses – I am going on this:


Can’t wait.

I have also been doing some design work. You may have noticed the link to ‘Around the World in 20 Quilts’ in the side bar. [Thanks for having me ladies.] Every three months we are challenged to make a small quilt on a particular theme. Unfortunately I joined too late to participate in the first challenge, ‘Trees’ but given my liking for trees, I did already have a little quiltlet of trees. This is made from the leftovers of a larger quilt which is still unquilted.

This month’s challenge word is ‘stellar’. Not so immediately appealing as ‘trees’ but I Googled images and found, unsurprisingly, lots of images of space. There is also something called a stellar dendrite, which is a type of snowflake. That is quite an attractive idea – especially given my liking for kaleidoscopes – but so far I have only played around with the space theme.

These are some sketches from the Google images, in soluble crayon,


and after the application of water.

Of course, I did what I usually do, and scanned them. In colour, greyscale and black and white.

I use Picasa, and it is very slow to make multiple scans because you have to save them one at a time. I consulted Picasa ‘Help’ on the subject and it referred me, as it so often does, to the user group. One suggestion there was to use the scanning software of the printer rather than Picasa’s generic method – so I did.

Did it allow me to make multiple scans before saving? No. however I did discover that it will scan in inverted colours. So now I scan each image four times instead of three.

But you do get some interesting effects:

Original colours and inverted

Grey scale and black and white.

I hope this group will provide the impetus to get back to ‘proper’ designing which I have lost since finishing C&G. The finished quilt has to be A4 size so I will not be wrestling a double bed sized quilt through the sewing machine, which is what puts me off making more big quilts.
And if anyone knows how to do multiple scans in Picasa - and how to reduce picture size to something reasonable for the web - and can explain it in one syllable words - I would be very grateful to know!

Thursday 4 September 2008

It has been a funny week -

a rather stressful time on Sunday, and lots of interruptions to routine which have left me feeling very uncreative. Fortunately I had some odds and ends to finish off, including the pincushion – which has become a needlecushion. I have several needlebooks but find the needles usually fall out – I hope this will be safer.

And yes – I know what it looks like – not intentionally! I suppose it is rather pervy to have a boob full of needles. Wensleydale said it looked ‘defensive’ but those needles point in, not out!

I have completed the embroidery for the bag - almost - I think it need an extra row or two of cream along the left hand side. Now I have to find some fabric for the rest of the bag - which will probably call for a visit to Fabric Warehouse, although I may wait till I go to the Knitting and Stitching Show.

This is also finished - although as the recipient is doing some modelling later this month and will receive the clothes she models, I suppose she won’t want the things her granny knits or acquires from charity shops any more. [Only joking, Mrs Cheese Minor!]

I think all this procrastinating is because I don’t know what to do about this.

This started as a sample of a technique from Maggie Grey’s book ‘From Image to Stitch’. The original was a photo I took of autumn leaves, which I Hockneyised.

If you don’t know about the Hockneyiser [sorry – Hockneyizer – US spelling!]– it is great fun.


I used the ‘no frames’ version and ended up with this.

Then I printed it on to cheapo drawing paper and stuck the print on to Vilene Funtex – probably not a good idea as it gunged up the needle but I didn’t have any felt in the right colour.

Then it was machine embroidered, cut into strips, woven and painted – and it looked too good to be just a sample.

So – I found a piece of felt for the background and embellished it because it was a bit boring. Then I found a serendipitous piece of hand dye for the background to the background. [I don't know why this photo looks so blue - the other one is more accurate.]

And now I need to add some hand stitch and it is not telling me what it needs.

Anyone got any suggestions?