Page 3 – not like the Sun page 3!

This is the third page of my sample book. I’m much happier with it than page 2. I thought I’d finished with straight stitches, but when I realised that pulled thread embroidery is essentially straight stitches, I added some experiments with those. Some were more successful than others – pulled stitches don’t really work with chunky wool – but that’s the point of sampling.

The other reason that I prefer these samples to page 2, is that I like the colours. I discovered recently that Mondrian didn’t like green. I don’t dislike it, but I’m not wild about the particular shade I used on page 2, especially with brown.

The final section, bottom right, is mainly for fun, but perhaps being more relaxed led to more interesting ideas?

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Page Two

of the four (so far) pages of my sample book. Still straight stitch. 

Things I learned:

1. If you are using a thick or awkward thread, like  bouclé or chenille, use a bigger needle than you think you need. You need a big hole to get the thread through without shredding it.

2. Being determined to use something, (like that ribbon in the final sample) is a bad thing. Someone once said to me, if I design isn’t working, take the thing you like best out. They were right. 

3. Making stitches over a pencil is fun, and the results seem more resilient than I thought they would be. Mind you, I wouldn’t do it on clothing.

4. Linen stays crumpled, no matter how often you press it.

5. I went off this colour scheme pretty quickly. But sampling is still fun.

Life goes on…

and if anything, our family problems are getting a little bit better. Progress was made at the end of last week, and that was good. However it will be a long time before everything is sorted out, and that’s depressing. The end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end. We’re hoping for ‘all over by Christmas’ but I think it’s more likely to be Easter.

Rather than sitting around and brooding, I decided to post some thoughts about what I’m doing on here, more for my own benefit than for you, dear reader, assuming you exist. 

It was the middle of June when I first posted about the Sue Stone inspired samples I’d started.  Stone suggests you make rules for yourself , starting with selecting a few simple stitches to explore. I started with straight stitches – or what James Hunting, in Hand Stitch Perspectives, calls ‘the generic stitch of entry and exit of a needle through cloth’ – what must have been the ur-stitch of all sewing and embroidery stitches. 

Two months on and I think I have finally come to the end of my exploration of the ur-stitch, for now, at least – although I thought that last weekend, until I came up  with some more. As Stone suggests, I’ve mounted the samples to make a ‘book’, although the pages are currently bound with safety pins. I have made 36 samples in groups of 4, and 4 ‘resolved’  pieces – small experiments using the ideas from the samples. Each sample is 5cm x 5cm, the resolved pieces 10 x10.

The image at the top of the page shows the first page. I started by exploring vertical stitches, followed by diagonal, curving and random. (I didn’t bother with horizontal, on the grounds that they are just vertical stitches turned sideways.) As you can see I varied the threads I used, and the size and spacing of the stitches. I made some of them encroach. I didn’t layer them much in this first set, though I did later. And I had a wonderful time.

My favourites are the giant ones in hand dyed tape, despite the nasty colours, because of their sheer size. I also like the uneven rows of not-quite-satin-stitch, so much so that I used it in the resolved trees piece. I dislike the overlapping green squares, malformed and clumsy – and its three neighbours. I think the patterns they make are too dominant for my taste.

What have I learned so far?

1. Embroidery stops me brooding. This is good.

2. Keep it small, keep it simple. This is stress free and keeps me motivated. And it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work, I can learn from it. 

3. Keep good notes. I haven’t always, and few of these early efforts needed many notes, but with some of the later ones  I had to write down what I’d done or I’d never remember. Stone records details like type of thread and shade number, which I haven’t done because I’m using stash and I don’t have that information in most cases. If I had a definite end in mind I would. Probably.

4. Following on from that, this is an excellent way to bust stash. The samples and book pages have already used up three large pieces of ‘wherever did that come from?’ fabric, and lots of oddments of thread that I didn’t have enough of to make anything else.

5. Including the resolved pieces in the mix makes me think about design as well. I’ve tried to build daily drawing and design work into the schedule but it hasn’t always worked. Partly lack of time, due to having two young children on holiday from school, coming here for half the week. Partly lack of energy, due to having two young children on holiday from school, coming here for half the week. Partly due to fear and lack of motivation. But I have done some – the small size helps.

5. It’s a good excuse to sit down with embroidery books and steal find ideas. I collect old Batsford embroidery books and I’ve been enjoying going through them again – and buying a few more. 

I’ve had enough of straight stitch for now, but I want to keep on and I’m looking forward to running stitch. (Oh, the excitement!)

Still here, still knitting.

Even if it’s only socks.

I’m also still plugging on with the Year of Stitches as well, combining it with Sue Stone style sampling. I find her methodical approach calm, unchallenging but motivating, which is therapeutic in my current circumstances.


The Tour de France ends today, which means more time and less adrenaline. On the other hand it is time for holiday grandparenting, which means less time and more adrenaline – although it should be concentrated into just 3 days a week.

Sometimes life gets in the way of art.

We’re going through a difficult time, with a family member doing their best to make life as difficult as possible. I am still creating, but tending to take the easy option, as I don’t have the brain space for anything complex.

And my other excuse is that it is Tour de France time, and that always demands a lot of attention – and takes my mind off other things.

Normal service will be resumed a.s.a.p.

Still sampling.

But embroidery this time, not knitting. I watched some videos (now taken down) from textileartist.org  about the sampling methods used by Sue Stone, and although the presentation of the videos reminded me a bit of those self help books that include a few ideas padded out with lots and lots and lots of repetition, I did like her approach to embroidery. Which is, to select a few simple stitches, impose some simple limitations on the way you work, and explore all the variations you can think of. Stone suggests you work on a small scale – 5 cm squares drawn on fabric. As my previous attempt to explore button hole stitch ended up as a sprawling monster I was thoroughly bored with, this had a certain appeal.
Slightly influenced by Stone’s choices, I made a list of the stitches I seem to use the most – straight, running, couching, and French knots, and added needle weaving because I like it. I decided to limit my first experiments to horizontal rows of vertical stitches, so they are not running stitches, although there is a danger that they could become satin stitch. These are the first 4: I have several more ideas.
The videos emphasised that samples are just samples, and that they are meant to be used to inspire real work. I know the danger of ending up only making samples (from bitter experience), so I have told myself that after every ten or twelve I must try to make something with the ideas. At the moment I have no idea what, but hopefully something will come. Meanwhile I am just enjoying the graphic nature of the mark making.
As I’ve finished the last year of stitches sample, I’ve replaced it with these samples. I’m aiming to do one little square a day, more if I get carried away! 

Thinking about frames.

A while ago I read a comment in one of the blogs I follow, that the majority of the textiles, in an exhibition the writer had visited, were not framed, but just ‘pinned to the wall’. This resonated with me because I have always had reservations about framing textile pieces. Partly because it’s expensive and I’m a cheapskate, but more because I think framing rarely does textiles justice. Apart from the problem of reflections, so often the box and the glazing disguise and obscure the tactility and 3D-ness of the textiles. I quite like the technique of attaching them to a box frame, but then you are restricted by the sizes of box frames which are available.

This morning we visited one our favourite galleries with rather nice coffee shops attached. The exhibition included several felt pieces, most of which were framed. Although reflections weren’t a problem in this gallery, I still thought that the few which weren’t framed looked more interesting: the haptic appeal of the felt was more evident, and those pieces didn’t seem confined, as the framed ones did.

I also remembered a tutorial discussion, about framing textiles, with a (non textile) tutor at university. I didn’t take much notice of it at the time, because if you are making giant gloves, you don’t even consider framing them. But one of the questions he raised was whether people who work in textiles frame their work because, traditionally, pictures are framed – and pictures are, in some people’s minds, ‘real art’. So by framing a textile piece we may be trying to position it in the that context.

Thinking back, none of my colleagues in the textile group at university did frame their degree show work – and I don’t think any of the painters did either. And in the gallery this morning, I think the only work which was framed, apart from the textiles, were prints of water colours by Prince Charles, and drawings by Queen Victoria. Make of that what you will. 

So now I’m thinking about revisiting my ‘Year of Stitches’ pieces, and considering what I might need to do to them if they were to be displayed ‘pinned to the wall’ – assuming I found a gallery which would let me do that!