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

Dorothy Rowe

Sunday 25 August 2013

Going round in circles.

I can't remember if I mentioned that a few weeks ago we went down to Walford Mill to see their 'Going Full Circle' exhibition, but we did, and we enjoyed it very much, especially Jin Eui Kim's  ceramics. (And the salmon salad in the cafe.)

In my my bedtime reading I came across a brief mention of the old technique of sewing circles by fastening a drawing pin to the bed of the sewing machine with masking tape and pinning the fabric to it. So circles became my next repetition - concentric ones, that is.

I have played with the idea before, so on Friday I plunged in without much forethought. Big mistake, as you can see. Another opportunity for learning.

On the right, what happens when the drawing pin moves slightly. If life gives you non-circular circles, make spirals. I abandoned the drawing pin and sewed a presser foot's width away from the previous stitching, more or less. I had intended to change the stitch pattern on each circle, but obviously that wasn't going to happen, so it ended up a bit boring. I tried whipping the stitches, and adding a few beads -  O.K., it's still boring, but slightly less so.

On the left, what happens if you work wide satin stitch without a hoop or a stabiliser. You get distortion - interestingly, there's more on the straight of grain than on the bias. I quite like it, and it has possibilities - W. suggested a floppy hat brim. The centre is too wide, and I went a bit OTT with the beads.

So yesterday, with the benefit of hindsight, industrial quantities of stitch and tear, temporary spray adhesive and a walking foot, I started again.

First the silly ones. (There are always silly ones.) The one on the left was inspired by the bit of zapped Tyvek left over from something else. You may not be able to tell from the photo, but those two rings of embroidery meet up perfectly. (I'd like to say it was skill, but it wouldn't be true.) It looked like a rosette so I wanted to add ribbons, but the only ribbon I had was too wide, so it turned into prairie points.

The second one is several layers of metallic organza scraps. It was a response to wondering why fake chenille is always in straight(ish) lines. The answer is that the concave side of circular ones is reluctant to fluff up. However a bit of rough handling worked wonders.

Then on to some bigger ones. I love the one on the left -  it makes me think of wedding dresses, maybe because it is made of polyester satin. I used a twin needle for most of the circles, with some gold embroidery on the central disc of gold mesh, and in the too wide gap. (At that stage I hadn't worked out the solution to accurate positioning of the drawing pin. Tiger tape, if you want to know, attached to the machine bed in line with the needle.)  The star shell in the centre is because I'd marked the centre with washout pen and it didn't. (Yes, I know, always try it out first...)

Centres are a bit of a problem: the drawing pin can leave a hole and the inner circles end up relatively big because you can't get the drawing pin very close to the needle, especially using the walking foot. Hence the button in the middle of the brown one, which is gold thread on brown velvet.

Today, flushed with success, I got a bit over-confident. As part of my 'using up stuff I've bought and never used' initiative I tried Trapunto with soluble thread. Which was not as easy as the beautiful examples here might make it appear. Getting the positions of the soluble thread (on the wrong side) and the stabiliser (on the right side) was easy to get wrong, and removing the stabiliser, becasue it wasn't where it should be, removed some of the thread as well. So I had to reapply the stabiliser to repeat the stitching. Then I tried to add some machine embroidery to one but gave up when the thread starting breaking repeatedly. I can't show you these because they are drying after I washed out the soluble thread: that bit seems to have worked. Idon"t think I shall be repeating this any time soon - does anyone know any other use for soluble thread?

The best thing today was this. It finally dawned on me that the circles didn't have to be concentric. Working out how to do it was a little more difficult, A-level Maths or no (it was a long time ago!). I could draw what I wanted with a compass, but translating that to the drawing pin system took two goes. Fortunately I have a lot of plastic pockets and of these bits of bling. Yes, that's a plastic pocket - and it took maths to make sure the final circle wasn't bigger than the pocket.

Tomorrow it's grilon thread to be used up, so shrunk circles, concentric or tangential, or other arrangements yet to be decided.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

No more metal!

For a while, at least. I do have some bits of metal left, but no more of the nasty craft vilene I used for the pages, so it's time to move on, and find something else to do obsessively repetitively.

This is the front cover - the name plate was the first thing I did when I started playing around with metal, sewing it on the cover was the last thing.

The cover is layered felt, wire form and lace, with boring repetitious machine embroidery all over it. The tape is recycled - it says 'Montezuma's' on the other side.

The binding is from Keith Smith's 'Smith's Sewing Single Sheets', which I chose because all the books told me to bed the metal on nasty Vilene,which was too thick to fold. Smith says that a binding over tapes swells at the spine, and it does, although it doesn't look like it here - but not quite enough to accommodate all that lumpy metal. Still, I like a book whose contents are bursting out of the covers.

The instructions were to punch the holes for the binding half an inch in, but after I'd done so it dawned on me that, as the pages aren't paper, half that would have done. And I could have tried harder to get the stitches straight. The metallic thread wasn't really a sensible choice, but it looks good with the cover.

After all this experimentation, I've come to the conclusion that I like setting fire to annealing the copper or bronze to colour it, but I am not interested in painting or embossing it, as recommended by well known authors. (And aluminium melts... Ask me how I know.) 

And if I am going to use metal again, it will be wire mesh which I can stitch into or bead, I really enjoyed that, even if the edges were a bit scratchy. I liked the silly ones too, but the idea of lots of free machining round the edges of stamped or embossed bits had no appeal at all - now there's a surprise.

What next? Not sure. I've got several ideas, and a quiet day tomorrow, as Wensleydale has chauffering responsibilities. Watch this space.

Sunday 18 August 2013


but not as we know it.

Saturday 17 August 2013

Two more pages

and probably the last of my repetitive metalwork.

On the left, an experiment to find out if you can foil wire mesh with Bondaweb. Answer, yes you can, but it's patchy and it doesn't look like it would stand up to wear. On top of that is some beading, inspired by Sandy - although I didn't hang mine on a spring. (Good idea though, and I have got some springs...)

On the right, samples from some of my attempts to patinate copper and brass metal cloth, involving vinegar, heat and patinating fluid, but not all on the same piece. That might have been too exciting. 

I'm not completely sure which was which - the one at the top was definitely patinating fluid, and I think bottom left and the two in the centre were the gas cooker, which means the others were vinegar. Balsamic or malt didn't seem to make a difference, and the results were - let's say 'subtle'.

All I need to do now is make the cover. I have some ideas for that but this weekend is mostly devoted to a VI Birthday Party tomorrow, for which I have made 4 dozen muffins today, and will be making some sarnies tomorrow. Yes, the VHC is two!  

Wednesday 14 August 2013

Reaching the finish...

and starting afresh.

I've finished one small repetitious object - another 'metal' page, consisting of several tarnished curtain rings, some lurex thread and some foil, on my last bit of rather nice fake suede.

And one rather larger one - the subtitle-reading-knitting blanket, which ended up not quite big enough to cover me from head to toe, but close. The two cones are all the wool I had left over from the several cones and odd balls I started with. 

Wensleydale said if we had two, we wouldn't need to turn the heating on in the winter. (You can tell he's a Yorkshireman, can't you?)

However I do happen to have a few cones of green, and BBC4 is still showing Scandidrama - although rumour has it they have something Flemish lined up for us next. 

Why has this woman got some much Shetland wool? I hear you ask. Well, I used to have a knitting machine or three, but when I got rid of them I kept the wool, on the foolish assumption that I would hand knit some sweaters. In 4ply. Yeh, right. Using it four strands at a time, even to make blankets, is more my thing these days - and when it gets big enough it keeps you warm while you knit!

Sunday 11 August 2013

Moving on...

in the quest to use up - or at least try out - stuff I've bought and never used. This time I've moved from Evolon to metal.

My first, uninspiring attempt. The copper shim was coloured by a 48 hour soak in balsamic vinegar, but unfortunately the lovely blueish colouration washed off when I rinsed it. The shim tore when I tried to emboss it, and my carefully worked out design lined up in the planning stage but not when I sewed it down. (The space at the left is deliberate, as all these samples are going to be bound into a book.)

I did manage to emboss it in the end, by putting an Indian printing block on it and hitting the block with a hammer. Very satisfying after the previous frustration.

Number two is layers of mesh, white metal shim coloured with gold paint, and sheers, free machined with some difficulty and swearing, then cut back. I think the right edge of the mesh needs a trim...

I don't like it (the arrangement of the shim shapes doesn't fit in with the lines of the embroidery and I don't like the gold paint) but Wensleydale does. He suggested cutting through from the back under the mesh, which I would do if I hadn't written notes on the Vilene backing.

(Work in progress - it needs stitching down.) This one involved even more swearing, out of all proportion to its apparent simplicity. To return to a previous theme, I learned to use thickish wire, keep the weft and warp well spread out, and add the beads as you go along.

The background is deliberately crumpled to bring out the shadows.

This also needs stitching down. It was inspired by a one-line comment in Janet Edmonds' book 'Three Dimensional Embroidery', that you could do canvaswork stitches on wire mesh. Well, you can, but there is one difference between canvas and wire mesh - canvas has a square grid and mesh doesn't. I had intended to use the leaf stitch I used here but that has diagonal stitches and sorting out how to make them work on a diagonal grid was more effort than I was prepared to put in. 

I resorted to straight stitches, but then I had to decide whether to make them run this way, which makes for long, closely packed stitches, or at right angles (short and more spread out). 

However I like the result, and I can see myself going back to this idea later.

And the final, (also unfinished) and maddest piece. 'Metal' here is very loosely defined. Under all that hair is a charity shop bangle in a reddish metally sort of substance, there is yellowish metallly sort of stuff wrapped round the Indian thread - and there is a little bit of foil in the background. It was going to be copper, but the copper layer was patchy, so I added some blue, which adhered itself rather more heavily than I had intended. But I have read advice on 'how to knock back the shine' of foil once too often, and decided that the piece was going to be shiny, as well as hairy. 

I can't say I am likely to repeat this - for one thing I don't have any more bangles - but it's fun!

Wednesday 7 August 2013

Repetition, again.

After my less than exciting efforts last week, I've managed to come up with a few things I like. 

This is more Evolon, coloured with transfer paint on one side and metallic paint on the other, then soldered.  Still a learning opportunity - I attached it to the red fabric before I soldered it, and some of the gold paint was transferred to the fabric. It didn't look bad, but I decided to cover it with some of the worm-like strands of cheap purl I bought when I was doing City and Guilds, and never used. Yet more stashbusting!

For some reason it makes me think of military uniforms.

This is a photo I took at the  ducky goosey place on one of our twice weekly visits.

I used an app called Griditor on the photo, printed it on Evolon treated with Inkaid clear, which made it a little stiffer, chopped it up with the soldering iron, and sewed the bits down on somthing which feels a bit like leather but probably isn't. Oh, I had previusly treated the 'leather' with bonding powder and copper foil. I tried several experiments with foil today and this was the only one that worked, the others were - shall we say 'lacking in sublety'? Even another attempt with bonding powde, on Evolon in this case, came out much too heavy.

Another photo - this one was of a shelf of books, believe it or not. The app looks like Decim8 but might have been something I've got on Big Mac, I can't really remember.

It's backed with wadding and hand dyed cotton. I cut out some areas with the soldering iron and then machined it down. Quite a lot of machining has been going on for someone who professes not to like it, but you will notice that it is not free machining.

And finally, two old aquaintances revisited. I decided the soldered buttons could be improved, and fortunately the little metal template I bought from Art Vango on the assumption that it was meant to be used with a soldering iron had two petal shaped holes just the right distance apart...

The caterpillar like thing on the righ is the holes from the unsuccessful soldered holes in Lutradur experiment, just strung at random with red beads in between. It feels lovely and is very drapy. No idea how I could ever use such an idea, but a least the holes weren't wasted.

Speaking of caterpillars, the VHC and his big sister are due to descend on us tomorrow, so little in the way of needlework will be done until we return them to their doting parents - unless Babybel brings hers.

Friday 2 August 2013

What did I learn in school today?

Except that it wasn't in school, and it was several days. Why spoil a nice title for the sake of accuracy?

Lesson 1

I learned to love Evolon, from this technique from Judy Fairless's old WOW article. OK, the colours aren't wonderful, but I love the look of the little folded flaps.

That led to a bit more experimentation, and a lot more learning.

Lesson 2

I learned that my machine does not like sewing two layers of Evolon together, which led to the abandonment of one idea and the development of two more.

Lesson 3

I learned that not all velvet is cotton or silk, and therefore it is a good idea to test the backing fabric before soldering the Evolon. Synthetic velvet solders very nicely, till you meet the cotton backing. 

I do have plans for this one, by the way. Whether you ever see it again depends on how they work out.

Lesson 4

I learned that my clever idea to use the soldering iron to make fake chenille was not so clever after all, because the edges of the layers of fabric get sealed together. Obvious, really.

I did think about trying to separate them all, but I don't have the patience. So I switched from burn to slash in mid piece.

This was a positive experience, however. The burned half, on the right, is more rigid than the slashed half, possibly stiff enough for 3D pieces, and has quite an interesting texture. Plus the process broke up the not very interesting paper bag print quite nicely

Lesson 5

I learned that Fairless's suggestion for making Evolon + sheer 'buttons' is fun - I think Margaret Beal uses a similar process. However, these are too big, a bit boring, and not stiff enough.

Lesson 6, parts a, b & c

I'd read on line somewhere that you can colour Evolon with acid dyes, so I tried it once I'd found the dye (easy), some vinegar (harder, we only had wine vinegar but it needs using up) and my dye pan (hardest, until I remembered that I'd thrown out the enamel one without a lid because I'd bought a huge stainless steel one with two steamers and a lid in a charity shop).

The top piece is as it came out of the dye pot, the other was a further experiment with some microwave dyes. My supplementary learning was that the microwave dye is very  concentrated, so I ended up washing a lot of it out before nuking the fabric. In future I shall dilute it a bit before using. 

I also learned that it would have been a good idea to think more about the colours I used.

Lesson 7

My idea for using multiple layers of florists' wrap was not such a good one. Bigger holes? Fewer layers? Different colours. Don't bother anyway, the burnt paper original looked much better?

(If you don't mind, we won't talk about what I did with the holes from the one on the right - the worst bit of free machine lace in the world just got worse and worse the more I tried to rescue it. So Lesson 8 was to stop and fix tension problems, not just carry on regardless.)

I've still got a few  too many ideas to try with Evolon, but Babybel, the VHC and their entourage get back from France this weekend, so it will be back to work for granny and grandad next week.

And finally...

Lesson 9

It was worth trailing north through 30+ degree heat and traffic jams to go to Waddesdon Manor yesterday. I wanted to go when I found out about this, but when I found about this too, a visit became essential. 

Both exhibitions were great, the house is amazing, the blue badge car park looks like this, and the restaurant provided the nicest lunch we'd had since the salmon salad at Walford Mill.

All in all it was the best lesson I've had this week.