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.

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! 

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

This is a sampler for Year of Stitches, inspired by Dawn Thorne’s book, Transparency in Textiles. (The fact that it didn’t work is my fault, not hers!) She suggests layering strips of sheer fabric and joining them with running stitch, which I did. I mounted them on Aquabond first, which made it easier to manage. So for so good. 

Then I decided to add some prints on acetate, which meant washing out the Aquabond before I started, because water and prints on acetate don’t mix. This was not such a good idea. The base fabric distorted when I washed it, the acetates were slippery and difficult to sew, and the thinner areas tended to go into holes which distorted the stitching. I should have stuck with Ms Thorne’s suggestion of adding appliquéd sheers. 

Still, it was a learning experience.

The best thing I’ve done all week was this, which was a quicky for Make Something Every Day. The prompt was to use coffee in some form. I had some coffee stained paper, so as I’ve been playing around with ideas inspired by hawthorn blossom, and have a flower shaped punch, I decided to punch out some coffee coloured flowers, stick them on some paper, and call it done. (OK, they’re not much like hawthorn flowers, but I was cutting corners.) 

But then I found this bit of stencilled paper that’s been hanging around for years, and the whole thing got a bit more elaborate. If I have still got the stencil, there might be an embroidery in it…

Samplers, samples and experiments.

I’m really enjoying this Year of Stitches sampler. I’m much more process than product driven, so I like this sort of piece, where I just get started and follow the ideas that come up as I’m working. It doesn’t always work – it didn’t for the first Year of Stitches sampler, but I’ve realised that it works better if I put down some guidelines when I start, though I am very likely to change my mind later. This one started with wave-like lines across the fabric, but as you can see, they morphed into leaves and petals.

Unfortunately, the Frixion pen I used to draw the lines has left marks on the fabric so it’s a good job I’m not so worried about the product. I’ve had it happen before on coloured paper, but not on fabric. This is hand-dyed with Procion, so maybe Frixion and Procion don’t get on – I know Procion is supposed to discharge with bleach.

The experiments didn’t work. I’ve had some alcohol inks for ages, and never done much with them, so I decided to have a play. They worked OK on various bits of plastic, spread with some felt in a bulldog clip, but I wasn’t wildly excited by the results. I read somewhere that you can drip them into water and marble them, so I gave it a go. 

The results were so awful I didn’t even take photos. I think the ink set as soon as it hit the water. The white just went into clumps,   and the other colours  were reluctant to marble. I did dip sheets of plastic into the mess and some ink was picked up, but as it dried it just flaked off. So I put the results down to experience and in the bin.

The knitted samples aren’t very exciting either. I’ve found when I make my SKO’s that I tend to use the same few base patterns and some of them don’t  lie flat.


So I’m working my way through Nicky Epstein’s ‘Knitting in Circles’. I shan’t try all 100, because:

a) some have seams and I refuse to sew up seams;

b) some of them, like the really lacy ones, are probably unsuitable – although it might be interesting to try one or two;

c) I shall get bored. 

The icord knitting hasn’t gone away. I currently have 4 on the go. The 7 metre blue one is in the process of being coiled into a bowl/basket, but the process is hard on my arthritic hands, so it proceeds slowly. The yellow one has been sewn into a loopy thing (in both senses of the word) and is awaiting the addition of beads and French knots. The shorter blue one will be wired, unless a better idea comes to me. And I have a brown one on the needles, which is progressing slowly for icord. In theory if I slip stitches at regular intervals it should become kinky – although there is no sign of it doing so yet. The problem is that, to ensure the slip stitches come in the right places, I have to chant ‘1 2 3 slip’ as I knit – there are 3 stitches so this means that the slip stitch moves one stitch over each row. Should be easy? It isn’t. It’s a bit like meditating in that my mind wanders, and I find myself just counting ‘1 2 3’. Which does not work.

The openness photographs have fallen by the wayside a bit, but I hope to find a few more before I move on the next topic in the middle of the week. There is this one, though. Guess which book this is?