A new kind of madness

I was reading the introduction of an embroidery book yesterday morning which really spoke to my inner gardener, as much as my embroidery self.  The book,  Needlework Antique Flowers by Elizabeth Bradley is from the early 1990s and belonged to a former member of my Embroiderers Guild who sadly died earlier this year. I love ‘old’ embroidery books as they often have real instructions on all sorts of lost stitches and techniques.  This book is about woolwork which is essentially like tapestry by done with cross stitch instead of tent stitch.  Anyway, I digress, the thing that struck a chord with me was the following comment from the author:

“Modern gardeners and gardening writers seem to fall loosely into two schools.  The first are plantsmen whom I greatly admire.  They really know their charges, can remember their Latin names however often they change, and thoroughly understand what each plant needs to thrive.  Their gardens, although often beautifully designed and laid out, differ from others by their plants also growing perfectly, each well staked and with enough space around it so that it can grow properly and be seen to best advantage…..I as a gardener, fall into a second category that can only be described as the school of enthusiastic amateurs.  I love my plants and know most of their names but just will not make the time to really find out what is necessary to get best out each.”

The reason this struck a chord with me is I often like to think of myself as a plantsmen, although I recognise I am being a little presumptive. Some gardening friends seem to think I am very knowledgeable ad plants (if they read this blog they would know I can’t remember one name from one week to another) and I do research what conditions my plants need but I fail completely when it comes to showing my plants perfectly so they can be seen to the best advantage.

Maybe this passage was in my mind when I spent some time on Sunday morning tackling the big border.  What started out as a little dead-heading quickly become more involved and the large red opium poppy was dug up.  Its huge leaves have been smothering so many other plants and I have decided that it is just to substantial for the border, which I am trying to focus more on grasses, bulbs and grassland plants.  The poppy has been cut back hard and potted up ready to be planted out in the front garden, as part of the editing work that needs to take place.  The camassia foliage has added to the problem as the leaves are dense, sword like and long and when it rains are flattened down on new foliage from other plants which are trying to grow; so they too are being edited. The alliums suffered the most from the suffocating foliage and were growing almost horizontally with weird kinks in their stems. So……

…each allium ended up with its own stake – how mad is that!  I think this must surely be the way to madness.  The lesson I take away from this is to plant alliums amongst less dominating plants.

Whilst, I aspire to show each of my plants to their best advantage, because of my preference for well filled borders I don’t think I will ever grow my plants “with enough space around it so that it can grow properly” .


Learning to design textiles

I made a reference back at Christmas to an embroidery design course that I have been undertaking. Today, with snow stopping gardening and nothing horticultural to blog about I thought I would share some more of my other passion in life – embroidery and textile arts.

The course I completed at the end of last year was Level 1 Hand Embroidery – Moving On which is run by the Embroiderers’ Guild.  It is a distance learning course and has been such an eye opener to me.  Each unit has two parts: design and embroidery stitches.  The design units perplexed me to start with as I spent most of my time splashing black paint around, curling paper, weaving paper, collecting inspirational images from nature etc.  After a while pennies starting to drop and the design elements are intended to help you learn about putting together an image to stitch.

You learn about colours and how they work.  Having read countless garden design books and having always drawn and painted I thought I was quite good at contrasts and harmonious colours but doing the exercises on the course really helped me develop a better understanding.

End of unit design piece using fabric layering and embroidery

Having undertaken the design element of the unit you then move on to learning some new stitches or textile techniques.  These often build on the design work in the first half of the unit so the paper folding and weaving translates into fabric manipulation as seen in the slideshow above.  At the end of every two units you are required to undertake a piece of design work using the techniques you have learnt.

The Arum above was the design piece I created at the end of the cross-stitch section.  This section also included a lot of work on colour, exploring contrasts and tone so I wanted to incorporate those into my design.  The biggest lesson learnt was that trying to do berries in cross stitch is not the best idea.  And it is exactly those sorts of insights that you have to capture in your evaluation of your work which you then photograph and email to your tutor.

The tree above is another end of unit design piece which was quite a step forward for me.  I used the fabric layering technique which I had learnt in the unit (see slideshow) and then stitched leaves and apples on top as well as a variety of stitches to create the trunk.

My final piece of design work was to create an image from scratch bringing together everything I had learnt.  I had recently been to the Malvern Autumn show and I wanted to use some of the photographs from the vegetable show in my final piece.  I went through several complicated drawings, exploring techniques and composition (as seen in the onion drawing).  I finally set upon a simple composition which would allow me to use a variety of techniques.

I painted the fabric which was simple curtain lining.  I washed it with acrylic paints to give various tones which would complement the subject matter. The onion and squash were created using fabric layering with lots of appropriate coloured ribbons being built up and then covered with fine tulle. I then add stitches building up the layers. A similar approach was use for the tomatoes but with less stitching.  I went through various changes to the design while I created the piece all of which I had to document for my course.

In my final evaluation I had to calculate the cost of producing the piece, explore alternative fabrics and approaches and how I might present the work.

I have to admit I am incredibly proud of the final piece having never done anything like this before and I had signed up for Level 2 before I got the result of Level 1 – A Distinction!!  I’ve never done as well as this in anything in my life so I am over the moon.

Level 2 builds on what I learnt at Level 1 and already this year I have been printing on fabric and am about to do some stencilling once the paints arrive.

What I also love about this course is that I can incorporate my love of plants and wildlife into my work and what I have been learning about colour is helping me develop the garden borders.



French Dressing

Most readers will be aware that I have recently re-embraced my love of embroidery.  However, what you might not know if that deep down in side me I have a love of fashion, particularly historic garments.  So you can imagine how thrilled I was with an exhibition entitled French Dressing at the Fashion and Embroidery Show at the NEC. The garments are all created by Ollivier Henry.  Ollivier is an embroiderer, teacher and costume designer and along with Jean-Noel Lavesvre had created the exhibition.

This dress is inspired by a French Court dress of the 1750s, at the time of Louis XV.  Can you imagine having to steer that dress through doors!

Whilst these are modern designs the ‘dresses’ are still constructed in the same way with the separate bodice to the skirt.  I think the detail on the stomacher is stunning.

Another exquisite piece of embroidery and such a simple and effective colour palette.

This dress is based on French style’s of the 1630s – at the time of Charles I in England, just before the English Civil War. You could imagine Queen Henrietta Marie wearing something like this

Back to the 1745s and a French lady’s hunting costume – though I am baffled how you would ride a horse in this outfit, side-saddle or otherwise.


Again, exquisite embroidery and look at those stunning buttons.

Now we skip forward to 1805 and a ball gown. The embellishments are of a more simple design but the strong contrast between the black and the pink (which is slightly dark in real life) provides enough drama.

We now skip forward to the latter part of the eighteenth century, one of my favourite periods of fashion. In fact my wedding dress was very much of this style including with a bustle but nothing as wonderful as this one.








I love this one because of its relative simplicity – dating from 1885. I particularly like the floral swag running down the side of the bustle.

Reading through the programme I was stunned to discover that all the embroidery is done by hand – I had assumed a sewing machine had been used due to the quality and neatness of stitches over large areas. If you want to see how these works of art are created, and they are works of art – check out Ollivier’s website

A year of stitches: day 28-70

Back in January I shared a new project, called a Year in Stitches  and I thought it was time to do an update.

Essentially the idea is that you stitch each day adding to your piece of work. The project is being undertaken by a few thousand people around the world, who all post a picture every Sunday on the Facebook group of their progress to date. Some people are working on proper pictures, some have patterns, and some are more random like mine. Some have already completed one hoop but I am hoping to make the one hoop last all year.

I have released that I’m not very good at random and I need some structure. I decided early on that I would add a flower for each day in the garden or visiting a garden. Since my last post I have also decided to do one of the large circles for each month of the year and I have added two more Paisley fish, one of which is nearly completed.

I am enjoying the project and found it very frustrating when my shoulder and arm were in spasm and I couldn’t see for a couple of weeks. The project is making me think about colour and pattern which is good as I have only followed other people’s instructions before. This and another project I am working on have given me the confidence to sign up for an embroidery course to help me develop my skills both with stitches and design.

Whilst I am learning lots from the doing what I really like about this project is seeing what others are doing and getting inspiration from around the world.



A Year of Stitches – Days 1-26


Having stuck to one of my new year plans (not I’m not using the word resolution) for nearly a month I thought I would share it with you. The project isn’t called ‘1 Year of Stitches’ and the idea is that you do some embroidery every day and post your progress in social media. There are no rules. I am following  the approach taken by the originators of idea and just sewing whatever I feel like. I want to develop my more creative side, use my imagination etc as most of my sewing is done through kits. Others have worked out designs which they are doing a bit of each day. If you want to have a look at others check out #1yearofstitches or @1yearofstitches on instagram. If you are interested in taking part there is a Facebook page you can join.





Pandora’s Box Completed

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Whilst I am finding it challenging to write about the garden, just because I don’t have anything new to say, I am feeling very enthused about sewing so I wanted to share the project I finished late last night.

It’s called Pandora’s Box and the pattern is available free online from Blackwork Journey.  Why I loved this project is that it is broken down into 8 sections and Elizabeth, the lady behind it, published a section on the 1st of each month so you have plenty of time to complete four blocks.  Each section includes some pulled thread work, blackwork (although mine is red) and some Assisi, which is cross-stitch with edging and finally some cross-stitch.  It is easy, even for someone with little experience as me, to complete a block (square) in an evening and as you work through the project your confidence in these techniques grows.

The other wonderful thing about this project is that it is accompanied by a Facebook Group, which currently has 680 members from across the world.  As the project started there was a lot of discussion about fabric and threads, then as we completed a couple of sections we started to show our progress which prompted more discussion on colour choices.  Through the FB group is you couldn’t understand one of the instructions, although Elizabeth writes them so well and they are very clearly articulated in diagrams, you could ask for advice and within an hour or so you would have a response.

I am thrilled with the finished piece of work, I think it is the most satisfying thing I have stitched for a very long time.  I am planning on having it framed and I think it will go in the living room which has recently been redecorated with a red highlights in tartan curtains – trust me they look wonderful!

Elizabeth is now working on another project which she will start to publish later in the year, from memory I think it is November.

Note: if you are interested in following this project you need to look at the Freebies section on the Blackwork Journey website.

Block 4 completed – Pandora Box Project


I shared with you at the end of January that I had embarked on a new, yes another one, embroidery project – Pandora’s Box.

The project is supported by a Facebook group which is how I first came across it and on the first day of each month another block is released.  The block is essentially another row of 5 boxes.  I have spent the last month catching up so now I am ready for the next block to be released on the 1st March.  That will be the final row of boxes and then the following four months instructions will be to fill in longer boxes around the edges – I think.

I have really enjoyed the limited colour palette and how with a very small range of stitch – cross stitch and back stitch – you can create all sorts of effects.  My pull work (the all white squares) is improving as I get more assertive with pulling the threads.

To answer the inevitable question about what I plan to do with the finished project – I think I will have it framed and it might well go up in the spare bedroom which has a bit of a red theme in it.

While I wait for the next block to be released I shall go back to my oriental cross stitch project. So now you know why I haven’t been on social media much lately.


Pandora’s Box – An Embroidery Journey


My love of embroidery keeps growing and it has really stood me in good stead over the last month, providing a useful relaxation at the end of a long day at work.  The simple act of pushing the needle and thread through the material in a fairly regular fashion really helps my mind empty of other things and to create something pretty, or if I am lucky beautiful, as a result is an added bonus.  I blogged a few weeks ago about the cross stitch my sons gave me for Christmas which  I have really been enjoying and which is coming along nicely.   However, I follow a number of embroiders on Facebook and Twitter and a week or so ago one of them posted about Pandora’s Box , an on-line sew along which she had just started.

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A few questions were asked and links followed and I found myself on the Blackwork Journey website downloading the first set of instructions.

The project is essentially a sew along in nine parts which a new part being released each month.  I think it started in November so you can see I am somewhat behind but then so is Chris and others are joining all the time.  It doesn’t matter.  The project allows you to explore some new embroidery techniques which you might not have tried before, in this case Assisi, Blackwork and Pulled Thread Work.  I haven’t tried any of these before so was immediately interested but what really drew me in was the owl motif in the first row.


Sorry the photo is a little blurry.

I was quite nervous at first due about the framework which you can see in the top picture is a series of blocks and squares worked in four-sided stitch.  This stitch creates a sort  of ladder effect and you are meant to pull the threads tight to create the small holes at the corner of each square – I suspect I could be a little more robust.

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I have got one more square to complete on the first block and then I have two more rows (or blocks) to do before I am up to date. Saying that the fourth block comes out in February so I will be behind again.  However, all I have to do is go onto the Facebook group and see what others are up to and realise that lots of people are at the same stage as me and as I said it doesn’t matter.

I am completely loving Pandora’s Box.  The framework stitch is far easier than I expected and so satisfying and I love each little square, they are like little masterpieces in their own right.  In the next block I get to do a butterfly with a spider instead of the owl, which I am sure will be fun.

Tropical Stitching


I’ve mentioned from time to time my new past-time of embroidery and I mentioned a few posts ago that I was working on a cross stitch that my sons had bought me for Christmas.  I thought I would share with you my progress to date.  I’m fairly pleased although I might re-do the outline of the bird’s tail again but then I could be being a little fussy as this is but a small part of the overall design.


It should keep me quiet for some time.  Whilst I was intent this time last year on learning new embroidery techniques I find that of a weekday evening tackling something challenging with thread is not the best recipe for relaxing whereas cross-stitch is fairly simple. Also the cross stitch is building my confidence and sewing is becoming a habit in the evenings which is very relaxing and I find better than faffing around on the internet which I have wasted far too much of my life doing in recent years. As sewing starts to become a norm in my life and horticulture is becoming a less all consuming passion I am starting to feel more balanced which I think must be a good thing!

The title of the post refers to a small seasonal cross stitch I did last year which took me ages as I needed to get my eye in.