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 (www.pintangle.com) 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 https://goingbattyinwales.wordpress.com/2021/02/15/scrap-happy-february-2/) 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!

Scrap Happy October

Last winter I knitted quite a few pairs of socks and for each I bought a ball of yarn. But each pair uses less than a ball so I had a basket full of 4 ply yarn in various colours. It sat there looking at me reproachfully! But what to do with them?

The first chilly morning of the autumn came a week or two ago and when I put on my coat to walk the dogs after breakfast I decided it was time to get my gloves out. One pair was in holes and when we got back home the other was soaking wet because it had started to rain. I really need two pairs each winter so that I always have a dry pair. Inspiration!

The pattern I used last time was for DK yarn but looking through my books I found this one I bought second hand at a craft fair a few years ago.

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And in it a pattern for gloves in 4 ply with a fair isle pattern. It is such an old book the pictures are all in black and white!

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Unfortunately for me the pattern said to buy one ball of the background colour and one each of the pattern shades. Clearly it did not takes several balls of yarn to make one pair of gloves! But there I was with an unknown quantity of yarn in each left over ball and an unknown quantity required for the gloves. Hmmm!

Putting different balls side by side I decided to use some plain purple for the unpatterned parts and some self striping blue for the area where the fair isle should go. I rather like the result.

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I still had yarn left over on each ball and would probably have had enough of just one but I think the contrast works rather well. Now I just have to decide whether to make more gloves or find another use for the rest of the yarn. Mrs Snail’s granny squares look nice so maybe….

The Rules of Knitting

You may remember that a while ago I wrote a post about things I had been making, including 2 cushions. (If you missed it you can read it here) One was a present for my daughter and made of fabric, the other was knitted using some wool left over from another project. I noticed that I made the fabric one during the day and the knitted one in the evening whilst sitting with my feet up. Which sort of made sense – to cut out fabric on a big table or to sew on the machine I go into my studio over the utility room. To go up there after dark when it is colder took more effort than sitting in front of the fire.

But now spring has come, the evenings are light and the weather is warm and still I only do sewing in the day! Then I realised that I had inherited this pattern from my mother. The more I thought about it the more curious it seemed. It was only when I began to remember my childhood home that it all began to make sense.

My mother kept her hand powered singer sewing machine (so no integral light!) in the tiny ‘boxroom’ which had a fold out camp bed for visitors but was essentially used for storage. To use the machine she carried it down to the living room and used the dining table so it had to be put away in order to serve the evening meal. After that she would sit with my father and watch TV – and knit at the same time.

I also realised that, like many houses of that era, there were no table lamps, and certainly nothing like the flexible task lamps we have now. In fact, I now remember, there wasn’t even a standard lamp which she could have had by her chair. Each room had a central pendant light so that to do sewing involved moving a table so that the light fell on it (but never as bright a light as I would expect to have now) or positioning it in front of a window. Another reason for sewing in daylight. Knitting, of course, can be done with weaker light – at least if it is fairly simple. Hers always was rather ‘functional’! Endless plain jumpers in sensible colours.

Now my studio is well lit with strip lights down each side of the ceiling and a choice of task lights. I have a fan heater in there so that I can be warm whatever the outside temperature.

So Why? Oh Why? can I not sew in the evening or knit in the afternoon? But I feel ‘all wrong’ if I try!

If you are still bound by old, irrelevant rules I would love to hear about them. I would feel less stupid!

Scrappy Storage of Possible Scrap

A month or so ago I wrote a post about making things. (read it here if you missed it) and my good friend Mrs Snail suggested I join a group of crafty bloggers who post monthly about things made from scraps. It is all curated by Kate who blogs as Tall Tales from Chiconia. You can find her blog (here ) with links to all the other happy scrappers. So this is my first post specifically on using up rubbish creatively.

Every few years I get this strange urge to have a good clear-out, a massive de-clutter; and I withdraw from groups I no longer feel such a bond to making more time in my life. Then of course I acquire more stuff, get involved in new things until the next time! After a couple of limbering up exercises with my daughter helping me to purge the loft and the collection of slides my husband had taken (if I don’t recognise the person or place why keep them?) I started on the house.

Three walls of the sitting room were lined floor to ceiling with shelves of books and more overflowed into the spare room. An old parish chest had been full of them for ten years or so. I took down all the ones I thought I would never read again. There weren’t many left! Which made me lose my nerve. What if I was being too ruthless? Many were old and out of print so if I changed my mind they would not be easy to replace. I started to carry them up to the loft – filling up all the space we had cleared. But the piles started to wobble, putting them in boxes just gave me tottering piles of boxes instead!

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Then I had a brainwave. My friend Jeni and I had bought compost for our gardens in a large enough quantity for it to be delivered – on two pallets, which were still in the carport waiting for a use to be found for them. A quick check proved that a pallet was exactly the right size to fit into an alcove in my studio – perfect. Lurking in a shed was a stack of terracotta cylinders. They are made to stack as the inside of a chimney when a house is built. Why we bought them is lost in the mists of time but they have come in handy for a number of projects. Even so there were 8 left. 4 pairs lifted the pallet to just the point where the sloping ceiling meets the wall. Non-fiction went underneath with the stacks holding each other up, fiction and theology went on top (the juxtaposition was entirely subconscious I promise!)

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Problem solved! If they are still there in a couple of years time I will start taking them to the charity shops. Then I can either use the shelf for storing something else (the clutter will be building again by then I know) or dismantle it and use the pieces for something else entirely.