Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Accidental Cow Whisperer

The cows keep escaping from their field, the land on the farm is a public freeway, so walkers and cyclists passing through are not very diligent about closing the gate behind them, and the cows are opportunists, though they mostly just linger outside my house. This causes mass panic as everyone on the farm gathers, whips in hand, trying to co-erce them back to their pasture.
I decided to show them how it's done, no whips, just trust. Fortunately, Simon had his phone to hand and captured it on video. You can see "my cow" getting a little kiss from me. I know nothing about cows, but they seem to like me. Apparently I am a natural cow woman, it doesn't sound very becoming does it? :)

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

An Embroiderers Ledger

I am taking part in Karen Ruane's class at the moment, and honestly it could not have come at a better time. If you are not familiar with Karen's work, I highly recommend you pay her blog a visit, she is stitching inspiration personified!

As mentioned previously, I received a bursary to study a 3 year course in Design and Embroidery, and I have really struggled so far with the design aspect of this course.
My creative approach to date has been somewhat haphazard, and completely unconscious. I look at lots of visually inspiring material online or in books and closely observe my surroundings, and by the time the cloth and thread comes out, an idea has formed in my head and I just make it.
For my course, I am required to evidence this creative process, and a more structured approach is quite difficult for me to grasp. There is a strong element of presentation required, and well, my higgledy piggledy drawings and process just doesn't cut it.

I do find it frustrating if I am honest. I have always been of the opinion that it is the end result that counts. Surely it is better to have a bulging portfolio of beautiful work that evidences the skill and creative flair of the student? Apparently not so when taking a course.

The internet is of course awash with inspiring examples of artistic process. None more so than Jude Hill over at Spirit Cloth. I find her approach a breath of fresh air, she writes so eloquently and profoundly about her process, what iffing here and there and asking poignant questions, this allows us to be witness to the evolutionary process of an idea or thought into something more, a cloth, a scrap of applique... It is fascinating insight into the working mind of an artist, but it is not entirely structured, however this is exactly why I like it. It's a freeform method of working, it's beautiful and natural and just entirely what I believe artistic process should be. I like how Jude starts with a small idea or question and then expands on it as she goes forward, there is often no grand plan, no detailed drawings of how the piece will look on completion, just an intuitive continuation, freedom to allow the piece to grow. I believe Jude calls this cloth whispering.

Studying a course does not allow this kind of freedom, I feel straight jacketed. Sometimes I may have a lightbulb moment, and I want to be free to dive in and start stitching, to capture the rays of light as they appear, the very idea that a piece conceived in such a way would not be acceptable is incredibly frustrating for me.
I guess I just have to go through this process, and I am sure I will be all the better for it (trusting abound), this is where I am at right now, and I have my arms and heart wide open, it's just hard...

So, I was excited to start Karen's class, I am hoping it will open up another method of working and give me some ideas of how to present my ideas and research in a more pleasing format, the first excercise did just that.

This is a colour study, we were asked to choose a print that inspired us and to do a colour study which will consequently inspire stitch. I chose an Angie Lewin print, don't you just love Angie Lewin?


And so I continue... it's all good fun.
I would love to hear your thoughts, have you taken a course before? Did you find the design process a struggle? or not?

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

In the wild...

The flowers are the prettiest, don't you think?







Saturday, 23 June 2012


I am putting together ideas for a very large cloth, in part for my course, but also just because.
I am not sure what the cloth will be called as yet... but I am thinking earth and it's elements. The Elemental cloth? I'll keep thinking about it.

Here are some water babes that may or may not make the final cut, I always did like drawing mermaids.


I have too many ideas, I am wondering how to make them all fit. For now, I am just going to keep going...

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Bundle Dyeing

I am really enjoying tinkering with dyes, it is truly an addictive past time, and SO easy! The garden, fields and woods at River Cottage provide plenty of suitable specimens with which to dye, so I seem to be constantly stuffing things into jars and marvelling at the results.

The most awesome thing about it all, is the joyous surprises. Of pulling a piece of fabric from it's dye bath and watching it's colour change radically on contact with air or water or even washing soda. It is truly exhilirating and the children are also intrigued and keen to take part.

My lack of utensils has meant I have been limited to solar dying in jars, so imagine my delight when I stumbled upon these...



These vintage aluminium jam pots were an absolute steal from my local carboot sale. They are the perfect size for larger pieces of fabrics and bundles. The nifty carry handles and shaped pourer work a treat.


Needless to say, I set to work immediately with my fabulous new dye pots.
I collected oak leaves and a little reddish fern type plant (I am a bit slack with plant names, as you can tell!) to eco print on to the fabric.


These were then placed on to mordanted linen and cotton, carefully rolled and tied into bundles, and then tossed into a pre-heated dye bath of red robin leaves (photinia).


Now, I have used red robin before... I have not found any mention of this plant being used for dying, so was intrigued to see what the results might be. Some weeks ago I stuffed some alum mordanted fabric into a jar with the reddish green leaves of red robin, and left it to cure. I was hoping for a red or orange hue, and was dissapointed to find that the water and leaves went a rather dull grey. When I removed the fabric, it was the same colour as my white bra's after Simon has helpfully washed them with his black socks, a hopeless dirty white.

Because I was unsure if red robin is poisonous or an irritant, I decided to wash it in washing powder (Fairy non Bio to be more precise), and to my absolute delight, when I plunged the bra grey fabric into the water, both the fabric and water turned such a vibrant shade of acid green that it looked almost radioactive!
It is THIS that excites me about natural dying, what a surprising treat. The fabric dried to a lovely pale lime green.

So, I was keen to use red robin again, into the dye pot it went, with the oak leaf bundles.


7 days later, the water and loose bits of fabric are a glorious deep orange. I am unsure if this is due to the addition of oak leaves or something else, it is certainly a very different (but pleasing) result, when compared with my red robin jar experiment.


The piece of fabric on top is an old bit of muslin which I tossed in with the bundles.
I am going to leave the whole thing to sit as long as I can bare. I must confess I have already unwrapped one bundle, and there were no leaf impressions, so I wrapped and tied it back up and popped it back in, this time I will wait more patiently.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A Skitchbook

I have been dragging my sewing paraphernalia around with me in various bags, pockets and what not, and it was less than ideal. Scraps tumbling out everywhere, needles stabbing me as I reach in my bag to find my phone, my wee scissors being lost or buried underneath masses of crap (the usual stuff to be found in a mothers handbag - soothers, wipes, half chewed biscuits, screwed up receipts and the odd tampon that threatens to launch itself, shamefully, at passers by as you dig around for change or something).

So, it was time to get organised. A needle book didn't quite cut it, they are too small to hold all my bits and bobs. I wanted something larger, that would hold needles, pins, thread, scissors, small pieces of fabric, scraps AND a place to tuck a smallish cloth or two that I could work on during the daily train rides.
I had two little woven clothes kicking around, a decadently soft felted wool scarf, scraps of felt and fabric... and so, a Stitchy Sketchbook was born, of sorts, a Skitchbook?


I stitched the woven cloths to the old wool scarf, lined the other side with more purple felt, whipstitched around the edges, attaching a scrappy tie, the back was made in much the same way...



Then I created a sandwich with another felt page, which I can attach scraps to, and my favourite part of all, my monster pocket!



The wee pocket holds the bulkier items that can't be pinned to the felt. Bobbins and a seam ripper, and a wee pair of scissors which are attached to the inside of the pocket, by a long scrap of fabric (no more lost scissors!). I love the monster pocket and how the scissor ribbon looks like a tongue when I pull the scissors out. It was completely accidental, this monster thing, I stitched around the pocket opening and decided it looked like a mouth, so added eyes, a happy accident, which delights me every time I get my skitchbook out.

The little stitched roll to hold needles in place was also an afterthought, works a treat...


All the layers were sandwiched together and bound on the left edge with thread, like a book. In hindsight, I wish I had added more layers, more pockets, and made it sligtly bigger, this one is about 6" square. So, I may make another.... next time I will take more pics and try and share a tutorial, should anyone be interested in making their own Skitchbook, complete with a monster pocket or two?

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Blueberry & Blackberry on Cloth


On cloth, fresh out of the Blackberry juice dye bath, mordanted with alum


Back into the blackberry juice

2 days later


This one was in Blueberry juice


A few shades of blue and eau de nil

Natural dying is SO exciting!

Friday, 15 June 2012



Little grey friend all fluffy and cute,

Scampers about in his little grey suit,

Gathering nuts and other tasty stuff,

hiding it away ready for when there's not enough.

Hanging upside down and doing all sorts of tricks,

Getting into feeders the birds' food he nicks,

Running amuck all over the place,

Such a loveable rogue, such a loveable face.

Some say he's a pest and should be got rid,

But not our friendly Squirrel heaven forbid,

He lives his own life and is entitled to that,

He just needs to watch out for the big neighbours cat.

We love to see him and all his grey mates,

They visit us daily and empty the plates,

We don't even mind if he scoffs the lot,

There's plenty more in the bird food pot.

How would it be if he stopped coming to feed,

We won't even mind that he has a little greed,

He's always welcome on our feeding tree,

There'll always be food for the birds and for he.

You keep on coming our fluffy little friend,

We'll make sure you don't meet with a nasty end,

And come the Spring when your family grows,

Bring them as well and we'll be glad it's us you chose.

- Author Unknown

Isn't he a darling? This is actually one of the babe's, one of three, who visit our bird table each day. They are young enough to be less shy than their mama. Our bird table sits right in front of our dining room window, so we have breakfast together, the squirrels and my family of 6, and dinner, and at weekends, lunch too!

Happy Weekending to you :)

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Ah sweet colour...

I am working on project for a large cloth, more about that later... in the meantime, I need to find larger pieces of fabric. I am used to making small things, so I don't often buy anything larger than a fat quarter, my scrappy stash just isn't cutting it, and seems to be made up of novelty prints (I am such a sucker for a print). I need big cloth and solid colours.

I am hoping to dye a couple of old sheets, but I am also very tempted by the shot cottons by Oakshott Fabrics, so I ordered a sample pack of all 83 colours, 83! It is SO hard to choose just a couple.



Whilst the sample pack is £12.50, you receive a £10 gift voucher to use on your next order, AND the samples are a very generous 2.5" x 5" in size, that's quite a lot of fabric! I couldn't resist snipping off a few wee pieces and stitching them down to one of my scrapplique cloths, to see how they stitch and fray.


The needle just glides through, and the fray is so pretty, I love shot cottons. Now I just need to choose, I am liking the blues and violets most of all. I think I will keep stitching with them a while, see which one's sing to me.

Oh, and I just found this. Glorious colour, good enough to eat, it made me drool on to my keyboard. Chawne is like a rainbow goddess, for sure.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Moo Beginnings

I've never really cared much for cows... that's to say, of all the livestock I would love to have (some day), cows never really featured much on my agenda.

Our garden backs on to open fields, being bang smack in the middle of a working farm means there are many cows, it's nice to see them from the windows, to hear their gentle moo's as I pass by, they seem nice, and gentle, but did not inspire much of a reaction from me, until...

Our landlord took down several large trees from the rear of our garden, I wouldn't normally condone such senseless tree slaying, but they were fast growing leylandi, ugly, and they blocked out sunlight and views, so they came down, and behold, the cows, can now lean right into our garden.



Something quite unexpected happenned.
The children like the cows a lot, this isn't so surprising. However, there is one cow, she looks different from the others, the same sweet Jersey eyes, but somehow different. They don't care much for treats, they don't like to be touched, but this cow, she is different.

She hangs around long after her friends had moved to the other side of the field, she bows her head low so I can tickle her ears, I like this, she has a little heart shaped tuft atop her head, it makes me smile....


I arrive home from work, and there she is, waiting....


Now, I can call her over, a quick whistle or deep moo, and she turns slowly, watches me for a while, then ambles over, slow, calm, patient...


She doesn't have a name, just a number... I toyed with the idea of naming her, but she isn't mine to name. I toyed with the idea of making her mine...
but what does a family do with 20 litres of milk a day? One can only drink so much milk, or eat so much cheese and cream, and she might get lonely. I even bought a book about keeping cows. The timing is all wrong, but it has opened up a new vista, one with cows in it, some day...

but for now, she's still here, I will miss her when she is gone.


Tuesday, 12 June 2012


It has been a little while, a nice break, a much needed rest, recharging batteries, trying to see the world with fresh eyes.

Having reviewed my blog archives, I notice I have never been a very consistent blogger, and I spent a long while wondering about why. I concluded I have been a little lost since we left France, the purpose of this blog became somewhat skewed, and too, people change, I have changed, and I guess I am not really sure what I want to say anymore, or what is the aim of this here blog.

When I was younger, and studying art, I was expect to record my design process via sketchbooks. I never did like that much, I had it in my head that sketchbooks needed to look a certain way, that one would open them up and ooh and ahh over the contents, I felt that my sketchbooks should impress upon the viewer my skill as an artist. The result of this was that I wasn't so good at maintaining sketchbooks, I would tear pages out because they didn't look right.

I realise now (seeing how many hundreds of posts I have never posted), that I have done a similar thing here, but I realise something else, much more liberating - I realise that the whole purpose of sketchbook is just to record, document, remember, it doesn't have to be perfect, and I guess this blog is the same.

I don't have to spend hours planning posts, editing photos, worrying about how it will be perceived or what not. I don't have to do much more than just be here, to record, document and remember.... and above else, to be true to ones self.

I was fortunate enough to receive a bursary (scholarship) to study design and embroidery, so I will be sharing my course progress here, amongst many things, whatever things, just stuff, just keep going... that's what I intend to do. Keep swimming...