Back to the Beginning

Embroidery? Well, yes, I learned to do it as a child. I had no choice. My Paternal Grandmother won prizes for her needlework. Her daughter, Aunty Megan, embroidered tablecloths and tray cloths and such like. On my Mother’s side of the family it was more utility sewing. Her Eldest sister, Nan taught crafts at a Teacher Training College but was more into weaving and bookbinding than sewing. However the next eldest, Buff, had trained as a Tailoress and by the time I was a child was teaching dressmaking at evening classes and looking after their father who was bedridden (by choice – but that is another story) and Peggy, the third daughter, who also still lived at home, made soft toys for the Sale of Work at the Church. So yes. I learned to sew and do embroidery.

There were three types of embroidery in my world. The one everyone did most of was to buy a pre-printed cloth, with or without the threads supplied as a kit, and follow the instructions. Painting by numbers with stranded cotton. A slight variant, mainly used for hankies, was to use iron on transfers to provide the outlines. The only creativity involved was choosing whether the flowers would be pink, blue or yellow.

The second was drawn thread work. Mum had done that at least once but the cloth was so precious it was never used. The third was cross stitch using either painted canvas (Does anyone else remember getting a Penelope kit for Christmas?) or working from a chart on Aida fabric. Painting by numbers again.

Mum had a set of books of traditional embroidery designs from various parts of Europe complete with traceable patterns but I never remember her using them. I have them still and I have never used them either!

I inherited more than enough embroidered cloths to have no incentive to make any more. And although I admired the skill that had gone into them and understood how many hours of work they represented I was never all that keen on them. I have, from time to time embroidered small items but again it has been ‘trace a pattern and colour it in’

In my teens I had an idea to create a picture with embroidery but it stayed as an idea and never got made. I just did not have the confidence to have a go and had a sneaky suspicion that asking for help would just cause problems. Then life got busy!

Over the last few years I have become aware that creating things from a pattern or kit is not the same as ‘being creative’. Not that there is anything wrong with following a pattern – the skill required can be considerable and the effect lovely. But I am ready to spread my wings and move up to ‘being creative’. I am exploring several ways to do that and one of them is to resurrect that idea of making pictures out of fabric and threads using techniques that come under the general heading of ’embroidery’. I want to have a go! Now I have cleared some wall space and am really enjoying having John’s pictures (and some of mine) up I want to create more but in different ways.

I started sketching some ideas but realised that my stitching skills are rusty and my repertoire of stitches limited. Then I came across the site Pintangle ( and Sharon’s Take a Stitch Tuesday series. So I went back to the beginning and am re-learning stitches I have known for years and lots of ways to elaborate them plus some which I have never tried before. Each ‘lesson’ I do on a square of fabric then glue it to a piece of file paper so I can write on what each stitch is called. Her instructions and pictures are wonderfully clear and her stitch dictionary is a revelation to me! From time to time she also posts about a stitch which is not part of the ‘course’ and I try those as well.

As with the boro bag and mat (read about them here I have learned that my straight lines are not very straight and my stitches not always as even as I would like! I have bought some of those pens which have ink that disappears with water and some fine Aida to practice with. I also now know that whilst I have stranded cotton in a range of colours and one hank of perle I need to buy some more interesting threads! Meanwhile I am learning, stretching myself and enjoying the different effects I can create. I can already see some possibilities for elements of the designs I have in mind. Watch this space – but please don’t hold your breath – these have been incubating for 55 years and don’t look like hatching just yet!

A Bit of a Challenge #7

Mild and moist, bit of sun. Good for growing. Jungle warfare. Jungle won!

7 Photos, 7 Haiku so the challenge is complete!

I have really enjoyed it – much more than I expected.

I discovered that my memory of how to take black and white photos was better than I thought it would be. Maybe the time I spent helping John develop images in his darkroom was time well spent for this project. This last picture was the hardest because lots of lush green does not lend itself to contrast! This and the shades of grey were the only two where I took several and discarded most once I had edited them to monochrome. It certainly made me look at the landscape differently and more carefully.

I was quite anxious about the Haiku. I occasionally had to write a poem in school and hated it. I don’t even like reading poetry much. I am of a scientific bent and like straight talking! Then I remembered a summer when I was in my mid teens and discovered limericks. I wrote a whole series about members of my extended family. They were playful, teasing, cheeky and picked on aspects of people’s character or appearance that stood out for me. I never shared them for fear of being told off as rude! I also enjoy playing with words and crafting a phrase. I decided to erase the word ‘poetry’ from the challenge and change it to ‘Write a 17 syllable sentence that sounds good’.

I had to use what I think of as ‘telegram speak’. (Not that I ever sent a telegram and the only time I received any was on my Wedding day! Do you remember that tradition? I suppose now the equivalent language is text speak or tweet speak but as I have no mobile signal here I don’t use texts and I don’t tweet either.) I had to eliminate any words which were not strictly necessary. That in itself was an interesting exercise. What would happen if I applied it to other parts of my life?

I used my dog walks to compose phrases, play with them, tweak them, try out combinations. Keeping track of the number of syllables proved too hard – not enough fingers and the ones I had were wrapped round leads! When I got home I could write down the likeliest groupings and add up their values then choose the best. I still have lots that had to be discarded on my notepad. I wonder what I will do with them?

The timing of the challenge also intrigued me. During lockdown I have had to use what I have rather than go shopping. I have had more time available than usual and I have done quite a lot but all within the limits of what I had in stock – whether cooking a meal or redecorating. It has made me realise how easy it is to get lazy – to just go out and buy one or order one online instead of being creative. I have saved a fortune in petrol money alone not going shopping! And have spent very little on ‘stuff’ even though I have been buying better quality food locally. How will it be now things are easing?

So lots of learning, lots to think about. Thank you for all your comments and for keeping me company.

A Bit of a Challenge #4

Low cloud scrapes the hills. Damp, Diflas, Dreech. Wet dogs, wet me. Copy cats. Copycat.

Diflas is the Welsh word for boring. When used to describe food it has connotations of bland and tasteless and for the weather it is usually translated as miserable. Dreech is used in Scotland to describe this grey, damp-with-unenthusiastic-rain, weather and again could be translated as miserable.

A Bit of a Challenge

Mrs Snail ( has lent me the brilliant book Wheesht by Kate Davies. It is a series of short essays on aspects of creativity challenging some of the common assumptions made about how it works. At the end of each chapter she sets a challenge or challenges to facilitate an exploration of the theme. In the chapter ‘within limits’ she suggests taking a black and white photo each day for a week and also writing a haiku (17 syllables is the only rule) on the weather or some other simple subject. I thought it would be interesting to share them as a short blog series – it will help me keep at it!

This morning I tried to set my phone to take monochrome pictures but failed to find a way. How things have changed! Of course I am old enough to remember when all photos were black and white unless the photographer then hand painted the prints. A roll of film had to be loaded into the camera; a process which had to be undertaken in the dark or with only a red lightbulb for illumination, or inside a bag made of blackout material. The advice was to practice the process with an empty film spool first in the light and then in the bag as it was easy to jam the spool or damage the camera or not thread the loose end of the film onto the second spool correctly and find it had not wound on. There were usually 36 shots on each spool. After taking one photo you had to wind the film on manually. If you forgot or failed to wind far enough the same piece was exposed twice and the pictures would be on top of each other. Since film and processing were relatively expensive it often took weeks or months to use all 36 exposures. Then out came the bag again and you hunted for the light-proof container the film had come in. More fumbling in the dark and the full spool was safely in the tube to be taken to the Chemist or posted off for processing. Another wait until the processed negatives and prints could be collected. Only then would you know if there was a telegraph pole growing out of Uncle Tom’s head or you had cut off someone’s legs. Too late if you had made a mistake!

So here, thanks to the magic of photo editing, is my first picture and first haiku.

Clouds scudding across the sky make light and shade dance on the tarmac ahead