Sunday, 29 December 2013

Revisiting Lace.

Over the past few weeks I've been trying to extend my working space, this has meant sorting through stuff that I haven't used in ages.  One of the more interesting things I rediscovered was my old lace pillow and a stash of bobbins.  I used to spend hours engrossed in lace making, I even took proper lessons at one point.  I'm not sure I'd want to set out on a table-mat or a hankie edging now, but I found I can still enjoy rustling up a few bookmarks.
Lace making is not a difficult process, it is very logical and quite therapeutic.  As with knitting, there are a limited number of stitches, but endless combinations.  A fully 'dressed' lace pillow can appear daunting, but no matter how many bobbins your pattern calls for you only ever move one pair at a time.

In other news, my little book for children seems to be selling quite well. 
If you'd like a copy and missed the details of how to download it, you'll find them HERE

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Autumn Colours

It's a very long time since I did any work with silk fibres, so I am pleased with the colours and texture that I managed to achieve on this bowl.  Leaves are staying on shrubs and trees so late this year that I still have these colours in my garden at the moment, but probably not for much longer.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Work in Progress

Skeleton leaves, gessoed and painted.

I came away from my last West Dean course with an absolute mountain of work in progress.  We were given so many new techniques to try that there just wasn't time to explore each one as much as any of us would have liked.  No matter, I've spent the weeks since happily playing with gesso, mod roc and spray plaster.
We stuck snippets of deconstructed fabrics on to board and gessoed over the top, we applied gesso directly on to the board and made marks in it, or embedded things in it, then we sprinkled stuff on the wet surface or let it dry and painted it with acrylics.

Partly sprinkled with sand and ash.

Our tutor had a great way of applying the paint in several washes with lots of sandpapering back after each one.  She also had some interesting warming up exercises, where we would be given an object and asked to sketch its essence. Weird, but fun!
I made a series of samples using crumpled up scrim, hessian with lots of threads pulled out and various plant parts.  Some are still waiting to be painted
Naturally, I soon wanted to get away from the flat surface of the board so I made a start on a vessel, using mod roc.

  I'm going to add some extra, scrunched up, bits to give it more texture and I've left some gaps in the plaster so that I can stitch into it after I take the balloon out.  It'll look good when its finished.  I just need to find a very sturdy needle.

In other news my first assignment for my present OU module was submitted yesterday and my story book went off to the printers today.  The publishers have produced files for Kindles too!

Sunday, 6 October 2013


I've been making a lot of these recently, and to be honest I'm not sure why, except that they are fun.  When I started I had some idea of joining them all together, but I'm not sure I want to do that now, I rather like them just as they are.  What do you think?

Anyway, to get back to the title of this blog-post ...
Friday was my most recent West Dean day and we were in the Orangery playing with the technique of sgraffito.  If you are as old as I am you will remember the scratch art cards that we used to buy as kids where you scratch away the black layer on top to reveal the colours underneath.  Our sgraffito day was a posh version of those cards, where we applied the colours of our choice using oil pastels and then covered the whole lot in black acrylic paint and left it to dry for a few minutes before scratching.

I made a lot of studys of leaves, flowers, twigs, feathers, etc, picked up in the West Dean gardens, but I think my favourite designs of the day are these few abstracts that I did late in the afternoon.

Next Friday I'm back to West Dean for a long weekend entitled 'Exciting Surfaces and Textures',which I believe will involve polyfilla, so I'm really looking forward to that.
Meanwhile I have an essay to write on the 'Constructions of Childhood' for the OU.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013


This week is all about books.

I've now been allocated a tutor for my OU module so it's time to catch up with the reading.  This is my first level three course and I'm expecting the assignments to be more demanding and therefore more time consuming.  However, many of the set texts hold good memories for me so I'm looking forward to revisiting them.  I chose children's literature because, as some of you know, my own story for kiddies is being published later this year.  The illustrations are being completed right now by a talented Italian lady.


My diploma course also has a written component.  It's not going to be all fun weekends, being creative and learning new techniques.  We have to bring our experiences together in a final essay so notes have to be made and other people's work referred to.  On the plus side, our student ID card allows us access to the beautiful old library at the college.  There are worse places to spend a few hours and if the effort of studying becomes too much the bar is just a few steps away.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Sunday Sunshine

My little patch of Rudbekia has been flowering for weeks now, giving sunshine even on the wettest days.  In fact quite a lot of yellow has crept into my garden this year, including the Argyranthemum that I've been using to practice colour mixing, for my sketch-book.

It's a plant I know as Jamaica Primrose and from new flower to faded bloom its petals pass through almost every shade of pale yellow and cream.  Quite a challenge to find the exact tone.  For me, acrylics are easier than watercolours.

I've decided that, in my newly acquired sketch book, 'drawings' should not be limited to pencil and paint.  (If I did that I'd never fill the beastly thing.) So I've been adding some 'fabric sketches' to the pages.  Continuing the theme of leaves and using odd scraps of organza, I've been playing with a different style of colour mixing.

  It's surprising how much the colours change when the fabrics are layered over each other.  I'm having fun with this and have not yet exhausted all the possibilities, so I'll probably be making a few more before I move on.

The 'paint and stitch on paper' that I mentioned last week is coming along quite well, but not yet ready to post.  I chose a lichen encrusted branch on my old quince tree as a suitable subject.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Day Two

While Saturday had been mostly black ink and charcoal, Sunday was all about colour.

We were given a selection of leaves, some naturally variegated and some beginning to show autumn colour and five tubes of paint, two yellow, two red and one blue.  The idea was first to sketch the leaves as accurately as possible and then to mix colours for painting our sketches without obscuring our drawn lines.

I cannot draw, I've never been able to draw, but my sense of colour is quite good so I did enjoy mixing the acrylic paints and keeping them transparent enough for my sketched lines to show through.

Next we did some collage work, quick responses to specific words, using only two colours of paper.

After lunch we were into the third dimension!  We were each issued with a lump of clay and asked to make sculptural responses to words generated by our tutor.  This was working against the clock and entirely on instinct as we were given only three or four minutes to complete each piece.  This, to me, was huge fun!  Sadly though, as we were working so quickly and the same clay was continually reused, there was no time to record the pieces I made.
Our final mini sculptural challenge was to represent how we were feeling right at that moment.  I made two pieces, one entitled 'Tired' and the other one 'Battered'.  This resulted in much group laughter and a commendation from the tutor for my honesty! 

Looking back I'm astonished at how much the tutors managed to fit in to our first weekend.  We now have a few days to write up our notes, sort out our heads and have a go at a few of the ideas that we have buzzing around.  I want to try a combination of paint and stitch on paper, maybe representing lichen on a branch or something similar.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Day One

All weekends at West Dean start on a Friday evening, with a meal, a chance to meet fellow students and a bit of preparation for the following morning's practical session.
The emphasis over the whole of the introductory weekend was very definitely on drawing.  Not my strong point, but I had fun trying to improve!  Saturday morning found us out in the grounds searching for bits of shrubbery to use as tools for drawing trees.  We'd been issued with black ink and a what I considered to be an unnecessarily large sheet of paper.

First choose your tree.

Some people drew a whole tree, or even a group of trees.  Others went for a more detailed approach, a particular branch or an interesting part of the trunk.  I decided on a couple of branches of a yew tree that were hanging over a laurel bush.  The branches were making attractive shapes and I found that the pointed end of a laurel leaf makes a surprisingly good 'nib' for drawing spikey yew leaves in black ink.

After lunch we were sent into one of the courtyards of the college to draw shadows.  This time we were armed with charcoal and another oversized sheet of paper.

The idea was to lay the paper on the ground and draw round the shadows that fell on the paper.  Then move to another area with different shadows and add them to our paper.  Then move again, so that we built up layers of shadows, some faint, some dark, some lacy, some bold and straight, all being cast over each other.  The finished drawing was full of interesting negative shapes and great fun to do.  Although my poor old knees were wishing I hadn't crawled quite so far under that middle bush! 

Fitted around these two major projects were smaller ones involving splashing lots of paint about, in response to some carefully structured words, working as a group to make a huge paper sculpture and using mixed media materials to give our individual interpretations of what it means to live a creative life.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

It's Finished

In the end it turned out more Echinacea than Helenium and the satin stitch gave way to straight stitch, but it was always going to be 'interpretation' rather than 'representation' and I rather like it!
The background colouring is done with fabric paints, the flowers are sketched in with a fine-nibbed fabric pen and the stranded threads are from a selection of autumn colours that I found in my stash.
You can tell I'm pleased with it because I've mounted it tidily in my samples book. Pieces I'm not happy with tend to end up stuck in a drawer somewhere.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Work on Wednesday

Course materials for my next OU module arrived today, earlier than I was expecting!  Gardening and stitching have been abandoned while I work through the list of what's been sent and what I have yet to buy.  EA300, Children's Literature, is my first Level 3 module.  As well as the course-books there are a dozen set books, most of which I've read, either in my youth or to my son when he was young.  The few that I didn't know I bought early on to give me time to read them before the module began and I have managed to do that, so I feel fairly well prepared.
Of course, when I enrolled on this module I didn't know that I was going to be given a place on the Visual Arts Diploma, but I've checked the OU assignment dates and I'm hopeful that the two courses will dove-tail fairly well, without too many clashes.  But maybe that's just my natural optimism!

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Sunbonnet Sue

A little bit of applique fun!

As some of you already know, on Monday I was given a place on a Foundation Diploma, which if all goes well, could be the gateway to a Visual Arts Degree in Textiles.  The Diploma could take as much as two years and the degree a further year on top of that so it's something I've had to consider very carefully.
The Diploma is essentially a part time course, so should fit fairly easily around my Open University studies, although there are bound to be clashes along the way when assignments are due.
There will be those who say I should sit back and enjoy my retirement - grow old gracefully, but the chance has come my way and I think I'd be wrong to waste it, although at the end of a long day at college I may feel differently!

Wednesday, 31 July 2013


 I've been playing with some ideas for applique flowers.  The sample above uses some odd scraps from a piece of fabric that I dyed a long time ago.  I found it again recently in a basket of abandoned patchwork bits.  The colours have faded nicely over time and I like them a lot better now. 
These samples will tie in with the field samples I posted in May.  Flowers were the other aspect of our local National Park area that I wanted to explore, so this will be the second half of that project.  A lot of chalk downland flowers are blue, just like its butterflies, so my old piece of fabric is a good starting point.

This sample has a bit more 'bling' about it.  Both fabrics are brightly coloured and shiny, but the effect is toned down a lot by adding a layer of organza to give what I believe is called shadow applique.
Both samples were made using good old bondaweb, I'm afraid my patience no longer extends to doing it the traditional way.

In other news, Open University Creative Writing results are now out.  I'm very pleased with my grade especially considering that I chose not to submit anything for one of the assignments.  My next module, Children's Literature, has a very long reading list so I've started to add the set books to my Kindle so that I can skip through the ones I don't yet know before the course starts in September.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Friday's Flower

My garden is packed with inspiration at the moment.  Firstly it's buzzing with insect life, loving the settled warm weather.  I can't remember a better year for butterflies.  We started early in the year with cheerful yellow Brimstones, always a good sign and the number of species has just kept growing.  Red Admiral and Peacock are easy to spot, but I'm even beginning to be able to differentiate between the various 'brown' ones like Gatekeeper and Wall.
Secondly there's an abundance of flowers, some newly opened, some already turning to seed.  We did a lot of replanting last autumn and the investment has really paid off.  Time now to use some of this floral inspiration in my stitching.  I'm going to start with this helenium.  For some unaccountable reason I'm drawn to use satin stitch.  I hate satin stitch.  I have a very bad record with satin stitch.  Nevertheless, I'm tempted.  This could end in tears!

Sunday, 21 July 2013


Cross stitch is something I rarely do these days, but I couldn't resist these.  I found the patterns in a very old magazine.  As anyone who stitches will know, no matter how many threads you have in your stash you never have quite the right shades for a new project, so I've improvised.  As you can see, I've turned them into something useful with plastic 'coaster kits', they'll look good on the garden table.

Monday, 15 July 2013

St Swithin's Day

St Swithin's Day if thou dost rain,
For forty days it will remain.

St Swithin's Day if thou be fair,
For forty days twill rain nae mare.

If the old rhyme about the 9th Century Bishop of Winchester is correct we are facing forty days without rain!!

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Silk Rods and Pearls

Just occasionally tidying up can be worthwhile.  I've been sorting through my stash and found a huge bag of undyed silk rods that I'd forgotten I had.  Enough to make something quite large. So I painted up some bondaweb, cut out some heavy duty vilene and set about splitting the rods into their layers.  There are various schools of thought about the best way to do this.  Some people say soak the rods first, others advocate ironing them lightly.  I find that with a little patience they split quite well if you just bend them back and forth for a while.
When I had sufficient split rods I made bondaweb sandwiches with them and the vilene.  Joined the four sides and the base with quilting thread for strength and trimmed the vessel with some strands from a broken pearl necklace.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Stitch Sample #2

Detached Buttonhole Stitch

My new favourite stitch.  Your first row is worked as normal for buttonhole.  Subsequent rows are worked into the 'bars' of previous rows so that the stitches don't connect with the fabric at all - hence detached.  Tension can be a little difficult at first but a rhythm soon develops and the stitches settle down.  My initial row is rather more widely spaced than I would normally like, but on a sample piece bigger stitches can sometimes be called for.

Same stitch worked around a calico core to give a three dimensional piece with added picots.  This is tiny (less than 4cm tall) because I made it to fit into a very small display bottle. 

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

I Knit Too!

I haven't made i-cords for years, but I was watching repeats of old detective programmes a few nights ago and needed something for my hands to do.  I had a set of double pointed needles and some scrap wool within reach, so I cast on five stitches and off I set.  I knitted the plain one first, making the cord long enough to add the knot before joining the ends.  In between programmes I ferreted out a bit of toy stuffing and a few beads.  I now have three summery bangles for absolutely free and just a few hours work.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Rhodys and Roses

Both have been in the garden for over thirty years and their names are lost in the mists of time.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Transfer Paints

I realised, when I saw the picture I'd taken of my workbench, that I hadn't told you about this sample. 
It was made by randomly applying transfer paints to paper, letting it dry, cutting the paper into strips, arranging the strips paint side down on some fabric and ironing the whole lot under baking parchment in the usual way.
What I hadn't realised until I peeled the strips back was that somewhere in the process some threads had come loose and taken up some of the paint, resulting in this 'happy accident'.  If I'd actually set out to achieve those delicate meandering lines I'd never have managed it.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Friday Flowers

A couple of pink flowers I forgot to mention last week, foxgloves and nectaroscordium.  Both beauties with their height and delicate colouring.
Foxgloves seed themselves about quite happily, but I grow a few white ones from saved seed every year to top up the pale colours.  We topped up the nectaroscordium last autumn too and I now have around fifty in my sunniest border.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Wednesday's Workbench

One or two of the blogs I regularly visit post photos of 'what's on their workbench' every Wednesday.  The work always looks so tidy and organized!  Mine, by contrast, is usually in a bit of a muddle, with samples and half-finished projects competing for space.  This is just part of my workspace, but it is the area I use most often.  To the left are small display shelves for recently finished work, to the right storage areas for stuff I might use in my next embroideries. Further down the room, on the opposite wall, under a window and next to the garden door, is a second workbench set aside for heat tools, paints etc.
Now that the rain has returned and my garden is too soggy to work on I may get round to sorting things out, but I seriously doubt I'll ever achieve anything close to tidy and organized!

Friday, 7 June 2013

Floral Friday

My garden goes through phases of colour, at the moment it's mostly the blues and purples of irises and alliums, with spashes of pink from persicaria and dianthus.  Waiting in the wings are the deep, moody reds of rhododendrons, paeonys and poppies.

In other news, I have submitted two pieces for publication in Ink Pantry Publishing's second anthology of work by Open University Creative Writing students.  It will be several weeks before I know if either of them have been accepted!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Stitch Sample

Single Thread Couching

You use just one strand of a six stranded embroidery thread.  Bring your thread up at the beginning of the line you want to work, take it down, and then back up at the end of the section and couch back to where you started.  As you can see I've used four colours, so I worked the sample in four sections.
Simple enough if the line is straight, but to work curves you have to guess how much thread to leave on the top of the fabric when you take your needle down at the end of a section.  Too little and the stitch becomes tight as you run out of 'slack' before you get back along the curve to your starting point.  Too much and your thread becomes too loose as you move back along it.
I learnt this stitch from James Hunting back in April and I've used it a lot since.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Sunny Sunday




Sitting in my garden, soaking up the sun and recovering from another week at West Dean.

This time it was a really intense, full week course of Creative Development.  A Textile Workshop with two tutors, one a tapestry weaver and one an experimental embroiderer. The idea was to integrate aspects of the work of both tutors.  I've never tried any sort of weaving before so the learning curve was steep.

We had four days of uninterupted studio time - incredibly concentrated work, but hugely enjoyable.  An opportunity to experiment and debate.  I came away with two 'works in progress' which I'm keen to continue with as they are both looking at ways of adding my hand stitching to an assemblage of warps and wefts. 

Friday, 24 May 2013

Another Sample.

Still on the theme of fields, but going a little more abstract this time.  It's a two layer piece.  Organza loosely embroidered with a single blackwork thread is laid over a charcoal sketch on textured paper.  It's difficult to see from the photo but the threads which lie above the organza make interesting shadows on the paper layer.  I'm pleased with the sample, but I'm not sure how easy it would be to scale it up to a larger piece.

In other news, my end of module assignment for the open university is now completed and ready to send.
There were times when I felt I'd never get this far, but A215 is now done and I've registered for my next module, starting in October.  This time I've chosen EA300, Children's Literature.