machine embroidery doodles

I was amazed to find that it was quarter past four. The day passed at the sewing machine, testing out some of the ideas I had before I went to sleep last night… how to achieve a machined line that has life and energy… how to work the needle to construct the flat, tapestry-like cloth that I’m after.

It’s important to me at this stage just to doodle, not to design, not to worry about colour too much, just use threads from the box in front of me, simple shapes, think about texture and surface.

There’s a pleasing malleable softness to today’s experiments that the photo doesn’t convey…


Simple and beautiful. Sometimes in summer I miss the stripped bareness of the winter landscape, the clarity of vision, the way things hidden come into view.

Thanks to everyone for sharing on Flickr: 1. urchins, 2. Crochet white garland… Kitchen decor ! Blogged…, 3. floral silk, 4. wing of a record bird, 5. Linen bundle, 6. Brooch, 7. 12th of June , 8. treasured, 9. mushroom flower


Today I've been doing some machine embroidery sampling. When I last took embroidery seriously, about twenty years ago, I became very interested in achieving a flat, tapestry-like, pictorial effect. For some time I was convinced I was in the wrong discipline and wished I had studied woven textiles instead, like Lynne Curran, whose work I deeply admired. I even got into trouble for producing my first year project on the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries, because it wasn't a 'proper' embroidery technique.

In the end I adopted needlepoint as my chosen method of working, and the piece in the photo above is from that era, one of the few pieces I still like. Much of the work I produced at that time seems to me now very stilted in design and lacking subtlety of colour.

However beautiful needlepoint is, though, like all hand embroidery techniques, it's slooooowww. I found that my ideas were developing and moving faster than I could implement them with needle and thread, and several never got finished at all, like this piece for an ecclesiastical embroidery competition.

The obvious solution of course was machine embroidery, and this was the eventual direction I took for my degree show (no photos of this period to show you as they are all on slides and I don't have a scanner). At this time, that is, the late 1980s, people like Alice Kettle and Jane Poulton were producing wonderful flat textile pieces using the machine in different ways, but despite churning out quite a volume of work, I was never really happy with it.

I have always struggled with the process of using machinery in my work other than as a practical necessity. As I have documented many times before, I love handstitch. I love the rhythm, the way your thoughts get sewn into the piece, the way time passes. When I decided to start embroidering again a couple of years ago, it was to handstitch that I turned.

But there is still the problem of how to produce enough work so that the creative energy can continue to flow. Handstitch doesn't allow this to happen for me, but painting and drawing doesn't satisfy my need for fabric and thread. So I have decided to begin again with machine embroidery, to see what it can do for me and whether I can get it to do what I want. I'm following the guidelines I set myself in this post earlier in the year.

All I'm doing at the moment is working with simple shapes and blocks of colour, looking at textures and tensions, embellishments and edges. Documenting what I'm doing and pushing through some of my misconceptions and prejudices. Beginning again. It's been an enjoyable afternoon.

little blog awards

Now then, things are getting pretty darn exciting around here because with your help, I could win... yes... an egg cosy!

Along with just about everyone else, I've been nominated for the Dorset Cereals Little Blog Awards, although rather embarrassingly I've only got one vote, and that was me voting for myself...

Realistically I fear I'm not really in with a chance of the egg cosy, considering the opposition, but hey, as we get older we lower our sights, and I'd be happy with double figures, which seems achievable, with a bit of luck...

Would you vote for me?

All you have to do is click here and then click vote. I know because I've already done it :-)

just to say...

...we are popping off to the south Lakes for the weekend, one of my favourite parts of the world.

I had meant to write a 'proper' post this week but Grandma Duties got the better of me and now I am frazzled and definitely need forty-eight hours soaking up some fells and lakes and big (probably rainy) skies.

So, back soon. Have a happy weekend.

weekend inspiration

A few lovely links for you this Saturday: beautiful fabrics, stunning photos, gorgeous ideas, paper, words, colours, so much inspiration. And if like me you love to read interviews with other artists, this one is for you.

Enjoy clicking, and enjoy your weekend whatever you are doing. I am reading Keri Smith's book Living out Loud and hopefully getting out in the fresh air later.

how do we see?

"In a world where visual information can reach our eyes at the touch of a button, the ability to be truly mesmerised can become thin, as well as our capacity to be truly astonished by it."

Nigel Hurlstone, Programme Leader of the BA(Hons) Embroidery course at Manchester School of Art*, in his introduction to the degree show catalogue.

I often wonder about this. Am I taking the trouble to view things through my own eyes, with my own perspective? Do I pursue the truthfulness of what things mean to me and only to me?

"As teachers of art and design, we encourage our students to see for themselves, and not to be dependent on the vision of others to drive personal expression."

In seeking true originality I need to return to the disciplines I learnt at art school, to fathom out what my own response is, to produce something that comes from the heart of who I am. This is something I feel more and more serious about recently. It is all too easy to experience a sort of vicarious creativity through the alluringly beautiful open windows of artists' blogs and Flickr. After a while a numbness forms.

What are your experiences of this? What do you do to ensure you stay true to your own vision? I would love to hear.

Photos are from York Gate garden near Leeds which we visited today, along with an indulgent trip to Betty's in Ilkley and a lazy sprawl on the grass watching a game of village cricket in the sunshine. Red Kites soaring in the sky. Lovely summer Sunday.

*(This is the course I graduated from twenty-one years ago.)

slightly in love with...

...this shepherd's hut belonging to a well-known author and tv presenter* who lives near the place where we stayed in Sussex. Isn't it beautiful? Don't tell anyone, but I am slightly in love with her husband too, or at least, with how he appears on tv and with his writing. I've obviously reached a certain age... it'll be hot flushes next.

Anyway, speaking of heat, it was on the hottest day of our holiday and possibly the whole year that we decided to visit all six of the wonderfully quirky Brightling Follies, erected by John 'Mad Jack' Fuller, squire of Brightling, politician and great supporter of the arts and sciences, in the early nineteenth century. I am married to a man who loves a good folly, so armed with a map and guide, we set off to find them all.

The first was the 'Sugar Loaf', supposedly built rather hastily as the result of a wager made by Mad Jack that he could see the spire of Dallington church from his land.

It had a little entrance doorway, and inside was a fireplace and the signs of a second storey where someone had once lived.

Next was the circular tower, hidden away in a little secret wood full of nettles and chestnut horses. It is believed to have been built so that Jack could view the ongoing restoration work on Bodiam Castle, which he had bought.

Some people were keen enough to climb to the top on a rickety ladder...

Next, a splendid observatory on the top of a hill.

And a classical temple in the middle of Brightling Park.

The Brightling Needle is 65 feet high and thought to have been built to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo.

John 'Mad Jack' Fuller (1757-1834) is buried in this beautiful stone pyramid tucked away in the furthest corner of Brightling churchyard, now beautifully adorned with the self-sown daisy flowers of Erigeron Karvinskianus and full of mystery and intrigue, perhaps just as he would have hoped.

*If you can't guess who I'm on about, here's the shepherd's hut in a more familiar pose...

more stories from sussex

This little felt needlecase was hidden away in the drawer at the lovely cottage we stayed at in Sussex last week. I loved it straightaway and wondered who had made it and when, and for whom? Long ago, when we all had less money and handmade was taken for granted, a needlecase was the go-to present for aunts, mothers and grandmothers. I would love to know who might have unwrapped this carefully worked labour of love on Christmas Day.

Anyway, the second half of our holiday followed much the same pattern as the first: more walks, more cream teas, and more beautiful gardens...

This lovely meadow and sweet smelling herb garden was at Clinton Lodge, where there was an amazing swimming pool garden surrounded by roses. It was such a hot day, I had a desperate longing to jump in, but luckily an embarrassing scene was avoided by the discovery of something else to be silly on...

Clinton Lodge garden is the sort of place where you find an antique wooden triptych in the loggia-style changing rooms. Rather a difference from our local pool.

I have no photos, as you were not allowed to take any, but one of the most interesting places we visited was Charleston Farmhouse, home of most of the Bloomsbury Group at one time or another. It is quite an ordinary and lovely farmhouse in the rolling hills of the South Downs, but is a truly extraordinary place. There is art everywhere, most famously the exuberant and colourful work of Vanessa Bell which decorates doors, walls, floors, fireplaces and furniture, but also beautiful paintings by Duncan Grant and others, and Quentin Bell's strange limbless stone figures in the garden. Like most of us I had seen many articles and photos of this unique place, but as is so often the case, a photograph cannot tell the whole picture. Some of the decorative work seems unsophisticated to the modern eye, yet overall the effect is amazing and somehow works. It is a craftsperson's delight: everywhere there are rugs, embroidery, fabric designs, ceramics and paintings. And it is full of life, full of stories. I realised perhaps for the first time how unconventional, brave and truly modern this group of people were.

Another interesting house we visited was Bateman's, the home of Rudyard Kipling. As I am so childish, it nearly killed me not to ask for 'an exceedingly good cake' at the cafe. Again, no internal photography allowed, but I sneaked this shot out of the window, hoping it wouldn't count.

As we left Batemans, there was quite a commotion going on in the car park. It was all about this:

Look carefully (click to enlarge) and you will see a large swarm of beautiful, healthy bees, busy protecting their precious queen high up in an oak tree as they look for somewhere new to set up home. As bees are under such terrible threat in Britain and indeed much of the world these days, I was thrilled to see them and cheered them on.

Hopefully they will now be settled down nicely in one of these. We were pleased to spot this one at a pretty little NGS garden called Town Place, where Rory proudly clocked up his sixth - and penultimate - cream tea of the holiday.

There are still a few more holiday tales to tell, but I will save them for another day. I've been inspired to make some more Mouse Bags and work on some packaging for my Pincushions, so more news soon.