Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Creative Christmas at Spring Farm, Moorlinch

I find being creative in the run up to Christmas grounding and that it helps me to stay with the natural slowness of winter.  Living on the Somerset Levels with it's breathtaking landscape adds to this in spades.  Last week I took in this amazing sunset with a friend at Beer Wall just a few miles from home and it will undoubtedly lead to creativity in some shape or form.
I very often come back to the slowness of hand stitches in the winter and each year I find something new to work with my hands.  So far this winter I have started knitting a new scarf design with beautiful silk gimp that I purchased at the Silk Weaving Studio on Granville Island, Vancouver last month.  I'm really enjoying to create 'sea foam stitch' and loving making my creation using my beautiful new yarn bowl by Somerset woodturner David Appleby.
I also recently led an early Christmas Crafts weekend and had the great pleasure of hand stitching Christmas decorations with 20 lovely ladies from all over the UK.  Like me, many found it really relaxing to settle into hand stitching and these are just a few of the fabulous results they came up with using soft wool felt and my hand made metalic fabric.
With this rewarding experience in mind, I'm delighted to offer up a further Christmas decoration hand stitching opportunity on Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th December 2017.  My studio at Spring Farm, Moorlinch will be open for the weekend alongside creative neighbours, Anne Farmer, Jenny Graham and Silver Tree Crystal.
There's also a rare opportunity to blow your own glass bauble with Janey, Jez and Paul in Silver Tree Crystal.  New visitors to my studio this year have been amazed to find this talented trio making the most beautiful high end crystal glass and booking with them early will be essential to secure a place.
Time will tell what the weather will offer up for our Creative Christmas at Spring Farm.  With or without a seasonal snow sprinkling, I promise you that the Levels landscape will be dramatic and sparkling and that a very warm welcome will be offered to all.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

My Stitch Story

We all have stories to tell about their lives and how we have reached any point in time.  I am sure that the story behind my passion for stitch is quite usual for my generation and that many will relate to it.  Born into a hard working family in the North West of England, textiles were a precious commodity and most things to do with a needle were down to necessity rather than pleasure.  I consider myself very fortunate to have had this background, as it means that I will forever cherish all things textile and promote that others do likewise.  Many thanks to Sewing World Magazine for enabling me to tell a potted version of my stitch story in their December 2017 issue.  Long may my story continue.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Vibrant & Invigorating Vancouver

How often serendipity leads us to the most incredible places.  And so it was the day I made an inpromptu journey by the False Creek Ferry from Sunset Beach Vancouver to Granville Island.
A collection of old warehouses located beneath the Granville Street Bridge, I knew nothing beforehand of what Granville Island had to offer.  Then on finding this view soon after arrival, it was clear that the place I was about to explore was going to be creative and lots of fun.
I was also immediately struck by the immense warmth and friendliness from complete strangers and this was a constant on all my visits.  Indeed, it was my standing with a map looking confused that promoted a kindly passer by to stop and direct me to find my first textile find on Granville - the Silk Weaving Studio.
The silken loveliness I found on stepping inside my first Granville textile emporium was breath taking and it was a struggle to decide which direction to point my eyes towards first.
This sumptuous hand dyed Sanjo Silk yarn was one immediate draw and I felt a mild panic arise at the meare thought of having to chose just one colour.
My creative brain kicked in when I spotted this tactile silk paper - there must surely be a project I could bring to mind to use these.
It was a joy to see that this was also a working studio and that I was welcome to photograph products and equipment as much as I wanted - another display of Granville friendliness.
The working tools in the studio were many and I had to keep reminding myself that I had a baggage allowance to observe to get me back to the UK.
A descendant of silk weavers, it was impossible for me to leave without some silken treasures to take home and to work between my fingers.
And so my textile adventures on Granville continued with the continued help of those I met.  Chatting with knitting guru Marilyn Guille in a coffee shop, she took great delight in pointing me towards the textile haven - Maiwa.  Stepping into this store of exquisite Indian textiles I felt the love and care with which they were made ooze from every inch of floor space.  How to take it all in - another friendly Granville resident of course..
I listened to the moving story of how Maiwa has supported the production of the high quality textiles in Indian communities for over 30 years, the most exquisite I have ever seen first hand.  The booklet on this link gives the heart warming account told to me and this photo of Banjara embroidery shows the quality of hand work that my eyes feasted upon that day.
Owner Charlotte Kwon has travelled, researched and written extensively on the textile work of the Banjara, who continue to maintain a strong traditional culture in the face of pressures to conform to modern living in their communities across India.
Oh to travel and explore a culture where textiles are cherished and placed at the heart of living.  Made from organic and hand dyed cotton fabric and embroidered around wafer thing shisa mirrrors, I have yet to decide what I will use my newly acquired beautiful Banjara bag for - travel tickets for another textile adventure perhaps!
After more kindness being shown around the Maiwa workshop, I said my goodbyes at the Maiwa supply shop.  Here I found a wonderland of organically produced textiles and all manner or products to enable textile makers to do likewise.
This collections of organic and hand dyed fabrics was impossible to choose from and I am still amazed that I left the shop without a single metre
What called at me most loudly was the 'Natural Dyes' section, despite having very little dying experience of any kind.  All the same, with much appreciated help from knowledgeable assistant Liberty, I purchased pretty much everything I needed for my first natural dye experience back in Somerset.  Fingers crossed for that luggage allowance!
Inspiration on Granville came in all shapes and forms, including the public market with its staggering array of fresh produce and cooked food.  Intermingled were yet more talented artisans, working in all manner of innovative media.  I'm very conscious that this post gives credit to so few of the talented makers that Granville Island supports.
I am so grateful to the local people who made my trips to Granville Island so pleasurable and fun and who gave so generously of their time.  I can see why Granville is such a creative mecca and I highly recommend to any maker who visits Vancouver.
I found so many invigorating places in Vancouver, it is hard to pick out just a few.   The stupendous Stanley Park with the 9km sea wall walk was fabulous for walking and cycling and autumn was an amazing time of year to see this wonderful wooded park surrounded by water on three sides.
The aquarium at Stanley Park was mesmerising and gave a fabulous insight to the vibrant sea world around the Vancouver coast.
Then there was exhilarating tree top walks at Capilano with its 140m swinging suspension bridge over the Capilano river 70m beneath.  To quash my fear of heights and walk across this bridge twice awakened every sense in my body and I felt a huge achievement.
And a hour and short cable car ride later, I found myself in the wintery wonderland of Grouse Mountain, standing within feet of these orphaned grizzly bears.
By contrast, I equally loved spending time on Sunset Beach with it's many large logs - placed to enable a Vancouver passion for watching the sun go down.
One thing is for sure, you need plenty of time to visit Vancouver to enjoy all that it has to offer - my post has barely scratched the surface.  The vibrant and invigorating experiences to be found are many and they will likely leave a lasting impression, as they have with me.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Quick Stitch - Felted Book Cover

As much as I love using technology, there is something very special about holding a book in my hands.  Better still when the book has tactile qualities and I find wool and silk give me very pleasurable hand holding experience.  In need of something useful to do with my hand during Somerset Arts 2017, I decided to create some beautiful book covers for some functional hard back sketch books I purchased a few years ago.  These wool and silk covers were a real pleasure to create and they make for beautiful presents at any time of year.
My starting point was to create some felted fabric on the embellisher machine I have in my studio (a topic for a future post).  A piece of hand felted fabric would have been equally as good, or indeed any soft fabric.  To work out the amount of fabric required, I measured the height of my sketch book and then the width x 2 plus the spine - and added half an inch to both measurements.  My A5 sketch book was 6" in height and 10" around the front, spine and back, so my piece of fabric was 6.5" and 10.5".
Next I created two 'sleeves' to hold the book cover.  I opted to use pieces of silk backed with heavy weight iron-on vilene for durability.  I cut the sleeves the same height of the book at 6" and 2.5" wide and I and pressed a scant seam over on one long side on each piece.  The fold over seam can be finished with any form of decorative stitch.
I then lined applied a piece of bondaweb to the reverse of the main felted piece and pressed a piece of silk on top.  You could skip using the bondaweb, however, you will need to pin much heavily than I did when the sleeves are put in place on the left and right of the cover to avoid everything slipping around.
Then to neaten the edge of the book cover and to do this I used a wool twine that I love using called Twool.  Made in Devon, it is marketed as garden twine, however, I much prefer  save using this deliciously tactile 100% wool product in decorative ways.  Using an open toed foot and a zig zag stitch, I couched the Twool around the edge of the cover with a relatively open stitch.  /To ensure that I have caught all the fabric in, I then went round a second time.  I find that it's good to test the width of the zig zag first off, particularly when I use silk as it's so prone to fraying.
All that was left to do now was to slip my chosen sketch book in place by tucking in the front and back cover into the sleeves.  I find that by keeping to the measurements as above, the sleeve fits perfectly every time.
While I love to hold wool and silk, covers can be made for books by this method in pretty much any fabric.  In times past, I've created all kinds of fabric for covers, and often used felt as a economical way to line the book and make the sleeves.  The possibilities are endless I would love receive pictures of any book covers you make from this post.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Somerset Arts Weeks 2017

I'm sure that I said this time last year, that Somerset Arts Weeks decided upon in the depths of winter always seems a lifetime away.  Then suddenly in early August boxes of brochures land and it all becomes very real!  This years title of 'Prospect' has certainly generated some lively debate.  On a simplistic level, the prospect of meeting other people who enjoy looking at creativity in Somerset sounds excellent to me!

This year I'm taking part in Somerset Arts Weeks with artists Anne Farmer, Jenny Graham and David Graham who are co-located where my studio is at Spring Farm Arts.  Here we all are on a sunny Sunday morning this summer looking very fetching in our yellow attire!

Jenny, David and Anne have often exhibited their paintings and photography and Jenny has created this lovely flyer for us all this year.

We are venue 46 this year and our opening is on Saturday 23rd September at 11am.  I'm really looking forward to meeting visitors - we are open every day other than Mondays and Tuesdays.

Spring Farm is just off the A39 and the A361 and is very easy to find - do pop in to see us for a good old creative chat.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Starting to Free Machine Stitch

I've probably spent more hours free stitching than any other type of machine stitch.  Yet it is a sewing machine skill that I've come to later on and free stitching was far from a happy experience at the beginning.  I tell the story of how my very first attempt with an ailing machine and little information left me emotional and frustrated.  Thankfully, this really doesn't have to be the case, although new free stitchers do need to be prepared to put in plenty of practice.  Here's one of my early free stitch makes - from which I learnt heaps.
I'd like to say that I have a magic wand that will enable frustration free stitching in an instant.  Whilst sadly this isn't the case, I can offer up information that will save many of the frustrations that I had at the beginning.  And so I'll start with the subject of feet, 'darning feet' to be precise or as is now often called - 'free motion feet'.  They've actually been around for a long time and older machines were often supplied with them as a standard to darn fabric.  With newer machines you nearly always need to purchase them as extra and it's important to be sure of buying a branded make for your particular machine.  I've accumulated 3 styles over the years, all with springs and all have their uses.
Free stitching usually requires dropping the feed dogs on your machine - the teeth beneath the needle plate that normally guide the fabric.  Mechanical machines usually have a button that does this on one side or tucked away at the back.  Computerised machines will have a setting in the menus.  Occasionally old or budget machine don't have a way of dropping the feeds, however, this can be got around by covering the feeds with a plate if supplied and if not, an old credit card taped down over the needle plate usually works.
Then you absolutely need to put in the correct machine needle.  Even experienced stitchers find it hard to believe that a needle type makes a difference and yet it does, a huge difference.  My favoured needle for free stitching is a Topstitch 90/14 - made by many of the needle manufacturers.  The large eye allows thread to move smoothly at speed and the sharp point will penetrate the densest of fabrics.
The right type of thread is also very important and needs to be seen as an investment.  Using up beautiful old machine threads seems a wonderful idea for free machining, however, sadly they usually lead to very troublesome stitching, likewise with budget threads.  Personally I favour Gutermann and Madeira brands which both offer up cotton, silk, rayon and polyester machine threads in an immense array of colours and perform very well.
My next bit of advice is very simple, 'walk before you try to run'.  First attempts at free stitching will feel very odd at best - a bit like first steering a car.  I've found through teaching free stitching that it is really important to avoid overly controlling at the beginning - run a mile if free stitching your name is suggested.  I'm unusually bossy this and I strongly recommend that new stitchers complete a fun exercise and make something I call a thread bowl.  This requires two layers of water soluble fabric in a large hoop and then using pretty colours to meander around in any direction you fancy.
A bowl can be comfortably finished in a few hours - with several breaks which are really important.  Try to keep your shoulders relaxed too - mine can still start to get tight when I forget.  Once a good coverage of stitch has been achieved, all that is then needed to is to take the work out of the hoop, cut off the excess water soluble fabric and then leave to dry over a glass bowl.  The finished results look amazing every time and any inconsistency in stitching really doesn't matter.  Anyone who would like to try this will find more information on this thread bowl post.
After making a few delightful thread bowls you will feel much happier about tackling something requiring a bit more control.  Stitching pictures was my aim from a very early stage and as scary as it felt, I was determined to achieve this.  I realise that where I was looking to stitch precisely, I needed as much visibility as possible and I therefore favour my open toe foot out of the three darning feet that I have for detailed work. 
It also found that it is very important to stablise fabric which is being free stitched to avoid horrible gathers - unless this is part of the planned effect.  This can be done by keeping the fabric hooped while stitching, however, my own preference is to stablise the fabric beneath.  Where the free stitching is light then a couple of extra layers of fabric will suffice, or a product called 'Stitch & Tear' which can be removed after stitching.  I often free stitch pictures very densely and then I use a very heavy duty product called pelmet Vilene.  Traditionally used for creating curtain pelmets, this paper pulp product can still be purchased in good quality curtain shops.  It has one adhesive side which is perfect for securing the fabric I am stitching on.  I can then pretty much stitch it to death without any risk of gathers.
What is hardest to explain with free stitching is how to control the needle and co-ordinate with the foot pedal and in truth the only way to learn is to experience.  And on this point, stitching without a foot pedal, as is promoted for the latest machines, will always be very much harder as you have less control over the speed and you lose the use of a hand to start and stop the machine.  I love teaching others how easy free stitching can be to achieve and I find it very satisfying when my recommendations enable a fabulous free stitch result.  This lovely Cornish coastal scene by Lynda Whittle was the result of a few days practice - just brilliant.
Sadly I find that stitch is far too often seen as functional rather than creative and I am very much o a mission to challenge this.  I have a plan to set up a online free stitch picture gallery this autumn to show how a sewing machine needle is as valid as any other medium for creativity.  I am currently supporting lots of lovely work through to completion this summer so watch this space.  I will also be displaying work this autumn at my studio at Spring Farm for Somerset Arts Weeks 2017 - do pop in to say hello and see the terrific work of my fellow artists, Anne, Jenny and David.