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.





A small sewing project




It is cold and foggy today, not a day for gardening at all which is good as I need to rest my arm having strained some previously injured tendons a couple of weeks back when I was planted the sorbus in the front garden. I have had two weeks of pain, lots of painkillers, heat pads, and even ultra sound treatment and things are slowly healing. However, resting doesn’t mean just sitting as if I sit too long in an upright position my arm hurts – I need to keep it moving but not do any heavy lifting or daft manoeuvres as I would when I garden. Even embroidering in the evening causes pain at the moment which isn’t frustrating as I’m not very good at doing nothing.

Today I found myself with time on my hands. I thought about reading, more, but I was too restless for that. I needed to do something creative, something that would exercise my mind and to have something to show for my efforts. So I decided to tackle a job I have said I will do for a least a year and make a cover for  my ancient Elna sewing machine. I had thought about doing some sort of scrappy patchwork but when I found those two pieces of material in my fabric scraps I knew I wanted to do something simple.

Since last summer I have been slowly converting the spare room into a sewing room. It has been painted white and I have made some multi-coloured spotty curtains so the spotty fabric for the cover will fit in well. I want the room to be colourful and bold as opposed to having a sophisticated subtle colour palette.

Anyway, having done some measuring I cut a template out of some leftover wallpaper, cut out the material and in the matter of an hour had stitched it all together. I went for a very simple approach – two sides and one long strip over the top. The only tricky bit was stitching the corners but they worked out well.

I am pleased with the result but I am more pleased that I have just got on and tackled a project without a pattern or any instructions and making it up as I went along. One of my aspirations for this year is to gain some confidence in making my own clothes. I used to be confident about this in my late teens but for a whole host of reasons I worry about fitting the garments, whether the finished garment will suit me, and whether I will feel confident wearing it so I end up talking myself out of things. I love clothes and like having items that are just a little bit different so I need to get a grip and tackle this in the meantime at least my sewing machine will be tidy!

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.

Notes from the Garden – 26/3/2016

Euphorbia x pasteurii 'Phrampton Phatty'
Euphorbia x pasteurii ‘Phrampton Phatty’

It seems as though we are due another wet Easter but at least yesterday was a gloriously sunny day.   The media is full of Easter being the weekend when people start to engage with their gardens which always surprises me as I have been engaged with mine all winter; but I suppose I am in the minority.

Narcissus 'Geranium'
Narcissus ‘Geranium’

The daffodils and narcissus are really coming into their own now. I was surprised at the reaction to me showing you Narcissus ‘Rip Van Winkle’ last week as I thought it was quite a well known narcissus.  So I thought I would follow up with this week’s favourite Narcissus ‘Geranium’.  It is a beautiful strongly scented tazette narcissus with on average three flowers per stem.


Having spent the morning decorating it was a relief to get outside into the fresh air and make the most of the opportunity before the forecast rain came.  I have crowded my head with so many ideas and plans that it was a delight to just potter around the garden tidying up and weeding.  I found no less than 8 flower stems on the Epimedium ‘Egret’ ready to flower within the next week when the sun returns which is very exciting as there was only one flower stem last year.  Working my way through the border reminded me that the planting isn’t so bad and maybe coming up with grand plans during the winter isn’t the best idea!

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Despite the season seeming to settle down there are still some plants which have decided to flower early such as this Honesty – I think it is Lunaria ‘Corfu Blue’.  I’m a little vague as it’s a chance seedling which has decided to plant itself by the wood store but whatever it is its very welcome.


And now a little boosting but I was so thrilled to receive a mention in this week’s Women’s Weekly that I cannot help myself. So if you have found yourself here from reading the magazine then you are very welcome. Now with the weather looking set to stay wet for the rest of the weekend I think its time to go back to the sewing.

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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.


Things that make me happy

a delightful book of horticultural sewing inspiration


I have a weakness for books, for plants and gardens and for embroidery so to discover a book that brings all these together makes me very very happy indeed.


I came across a review of this book, The Embroidered Garden by Kazuko Aoki,  in the latest edition of Stitch magazine and of course it was too late to ask for it for Christmas so, well.. I just ordered it for myself as an early Christmas present and I am thrilled with it.

I think my embroidery style is quite traditional.  I see a lot of very contemporary embroidery, mainly machine embroidery, which doesn’t inspire me very often but there is something, to my mind, very special about some ‘simple’ traditional hand embroidery.  However, this book seems to move it just a little along the path towards modernity because if you look very carefully at the front cover you will see that the hatching at the base of the arrangement is actually tulle which has been applied.


I also love this project which is a modern take on the Victorian obsession with collecting and displaying butterflies but in this case no butterflies will be harmed in the process.  I think it would be fun to do this based on British butterflies and get it framed in a Victorian style frame and I love the butterfly brooch.

So I am a very happy bunny flicking through the pages and pondering what to have a go at first; in the meantime I must finish the cross stitch Christmas cards.


Careful – Weekly Photo Challenge

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This week’s  Daily Post’s  photo challenge theme is  “Careful.”  

‘Careful’ makes me think of small things.  We are careful with babies, small children, delicate ornaments for fear of injuring them.  “But what am I careful with I wondered” and more importantly I added “that I can illustrate with a photo”. Fiddly things come to mind, things I have to focus on – so sowing seeds and embroidery.  “Easy” I thought “I’ll take a photo of my current embroidery project”.

Foolish me, it’s not easy to take a photo of yourself sewing; not unless you have someone else to take the photo or you can set the camera up on a stand.  How do you focus the camera on your own hand when you have to hold the camera?  Impossible.  So I have ended up with a photograph of my embroidery without my hand doing careful sewing.  It is a careful occupation and the photograph was taken carefully – so I have doubly completed the challenge!