Thursday, 8 May 2014

Papercut playing

Back in February I mentioned that I bought Emily Hogarth's wonderful book on papercutting. I've had it for a while now, and though I've been determined to try my hand at papercutting since I got it, I'd just never really made the time! Well, over the last couple of weeks  I've deliberately sat with my sketchbook and tried to come up with some papercutting ideas. I've always quite liked working with silhouettes, but trying to put together lots of elements in a way that would cut easily wasn't as straightforward as I'd thought! Still it's been a learning process, and I've certainly had fun with it.

The first sketch that I liked the look of was one of an Irish setter, which I thought would make a lovely Christmas present (I know, I know, it's May and I mentioned the 'C' word!) for my in-laws. I did a quick tester to get used to using the knife and scissor combo, and to see how my sketches would translate before working up a more complex version on nicer paper.
Tester cut - simplified design but loving the effect!
Added some complexity and fancier paper - I think it looks almost classy!
Next I decided to go for something a bit more complex based on a few cat and plant sketches I'd worked up from my sketchbook. As usual I dived straight in at the deep end rather than giving myself time to get used to a new technique, but after a bit of time and maybe some cursing, I managed to finish my 'wild cat' papercut as well.

Original sketch on the right - cutting in progress on the reverse on the left 
Completed grumpy cat! I like his attitude
I'm very pleased with how they turned out overall, though they certainly do require a lot of patience. The drawing and designing is definitely the more fun part for me, the cutting not so much - though you can get into sort of a cutting zone when you are working. Eternal vigilance is essential though, as one slip of the blade and you suddenly have a three-legged cat or something (I may be speaking from experience here). Now just to carefully glue them down onto the backing paper and get them ready to frame.

Lessons were certainly learned in this foray into a new craft.The main lesson I learned, even though it was made very clear in the book, was that I need a very sharp cutting blade. I just picked up my nearest craft knife to have a go at the first dog attempt (goodness knows how long that blade has been in the knife), and it did made things difficult and resulted in a few rips. Oh and of course a self-healing cutting mat is ESSENTIAL. Still, I wanted to at least see if I enjoyed the process and the results before trying some fresh blades, and boy does it make a big difference! 

Have you tried papercutting before, and how do you like it? I'd love to hear from you if you have any top tips to share!


Friday, 2 May 2014

Blocking the wolfman

Unfinished projects, UFO's, WIPs - whatever you want to call them, we all have them don't we? For me, I usually manage to complete the actual stitching part of the project without problems - it's the finishing of the project that usually stumps me, at least for a while. I think for me it's that I've poured out my creativity into the stitching, and the thought of preparing that piece to go in a hoop or a frame or as part of a cushion etc., for some reason just doesn't seem to be as exciting. It's a poor excuse, but there you go!

For finishing some pieces, I must admit that there is an element of fear involved. My biggest and favourite piece of embroidery, my wolfman, is currently languishing in that unfinished pile. I really want to finish this piece and frame it, but since I completed it last year I've been afraid of well...ruining it if I'm honest! However, I was determined to finally get this piece finished and displayed on my wall. The timing seemed perfect, as right about when I made the decision to finally complete this piece, what should appear but an excellent tutorial on 'Blocking your embroidery' with Jessica from Paperstitch on the excellent '& Stitches' blog. If you haven't seen this post, it's definitely worth a read, and inspired me to fight my fear and have a go!
Before picture - pretty wrinkly huh? Let's see what we can do about that
I used an old cork board which luckily I had hanging around. It took almost all of my available pins, but I duly pinned out the piece and misted it with water with my handy water spray that I often use for ironing. After this I put the piece away on a flat surface and tried to stop checking it every five minutes! I actually repeated the process too. Once dry, I took out each pin a line at a time, tightened the piece and sprayed it again to try and maximise the results.
Ah handy little water spray from a 99p shop!
Well, I don't think it got out every wrinkle, but it certainly looks better than it did before. It's those tricky little bits between the different sections of embroidery which seem difficult to entirely erase! Still, at least I feel that I have more confidence in this method than I have before! 
The After picture - looking much better!

Next steps

Lacing and framing! Both scary steps that I haven't tried before, but doing the blocking has given me a shove to get this piece completed. How about you? How do you finish your pieces? Hoop, frame, or something else? Have you blocked, laced and framed, and if so, do you have any top tips?


There has recently been some great discussion on this very topic "Finishing a piece… what's your favourite method?" over on Weave. What's Weave? Well, if you love cross stitch, hand embroidery, machine embroidery or the like, you'd do well to get yourself signed up for Weave, a wonderful new online social network for us crazy stitchers started by Mr X Stitch. You can find it by following the link here.  I'm on there as The Awkward Niche, and would love to see you there!


Friday, 25 April 2014

April - In the Works

Wow,  getting on to the end of April already! I always stop suddenly one day in April every year and think...where has the year gone so far? I can't believe that we've been in our new house for almost six months now! Sometimes it feels like we don't have a lot to show for it, but we've been doing bits and pieces, and we've been pretty busy otherwise too. The weather has been lovely the last few days so we've been enjoying lots of garden time and getting used to things we've never had to do before, such as mowing the lawn. Exciting!

So, this is an 'In the Works' post, and boy do I have a lot of things going on! Here's what is in my current work pile for this week.
1. Moon badger colour sketch: I like this coloured sketch that grew out of the little badger picture I posted at the end of my 'sketchbook' post. I've been thinking about whether it should be a stitched project or a painted one, and I'm pretty sure I've settled on developing it as a painting. So, just to transfer my sketch over to some watercolour paper and get started. I haven't done a lot of painting so far this year, so it will be good to have a project on the go that I can dip in and out of.
2. Noticeboard: I wanted a bigger noticeboard in my kitchen and I wanted it to be colourful, so I bought a large one and covered it in fabric. It's not up on the wall yet as I want to finish the edges with something, but not sure what.
3. 'Manse' embroidery: Almost complete, this is the second piece in a new theme I'm developing. More to follow in a later post about this one! Manse is the characters name in case you were wondering!
4. 'Dust Devil' embroidery: As above, another new piece in my new theme. Loving doing this one, and working on it at every opportunity. Again, Dust Devil is the name of the character. More on this when it's finished!
5. Hedgehog embroidery: Still working on this one which has stalled a little. Must try harder!
6. Bed is best embroidery: New cutie embroidery that I might even put up on my own bedroom wall. Just the fur to do on this, hurrah fur time!
Oh and I am working away on something else this month. Well actually, I've been working away on it for the last eight months, but have just never gotten around to mentioning it on here! Here's a picture of the bulk of the washing that has been out in the garden the last few weeks. Can you guess what I've been working on yet?
Here's a clue, these clothes are far too small for me, the husbandbot and the four year old!
Yep, baby number two is due in less than four weeks, which I guess could technically mean anytime! I'm hoping to manage to still get some crafting and blogging time, but if I go quiet you'll know the reason why! And no, the pink items on the washing line don't mean anything significant. We don't know what we are having, I've just been washing all of my daughters old clothes in readiness, as most of her newborn things were neutral as she was also a surprise package. So, May is looking to be very busy and exciting indeed!

What about you? What do you have 'In the Works' for April?


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Have embroidery, will travel

These last two weeks have been so busy - what with fulltime childcare in the Easter holidays, and having to pretty much abandon my crafting room to prep for some plumbing work taking place this week - that any stitching time has been snatched either late at night or briefly and out on the go. Although I do all my project planning, photography and writing in the two and a half hours each morning my four year old attends playgroup, I tend to do most of my stitching while out and about. I have my local 'STITCH' group every Thursday for two hours, which is when I do the bulk of my weekly stitching. I also take my stitching along to many of my daughter's activities, so while she's bobbing along to Zumba I have a fine hour of stitching to work on in another room. Beats heading back home for half an hour to do housework!
Because I may want to grab my embroidery to take with me at any time, I keep all of my current embroidery projects in a rigid A4 plastic box that I picked up from a standard stationary shop. I copied this idea from an excellent embroidery friend of mine Bea, who used the same type of travel storage. This box is fairly rugged and solid, and protects the work inside, and fits in my usual A4 satchel-type handbag.
Ready to go!
The great thing about keeping all my current work in this box is that  I can just grab it and go - everything is kept neat and safe, meaning that everything I need to get on with those projects are all gathered in one place. When it's very full, I use large rubber bands just to make sure it stays shut.

The contents of the box are usually as follows:
  • Scissors - large for snipping fabric, small embroidery scissors for thread. Note though that my lovely small embroidery scissors I featured in this blog here when I bought them aren't in the picture. They haven't turned up since the house move, but they must be somewhere!
  • Needle book - I use my own handmade needlebook that has plenty of room for needles and pins, bits and bobs of fabric  etc. in here, and the small scissors.
  • Current projects - my box can just about fit two 15cm hooped projects, or one 20cm hooped project, and that's usually enough to keep in there for heading out for short periods or a holiday.
  • Ziploc bag of floss - and some on a pretty pink horse thread holder for those projects that are a bit more 'ad hoc'.
  • Fabric pen - for those last minute pattern additions!
Surprisingly spacious!
I must warn you however - maintenance of this travel pack is essential! Usually after a few weeks work the box needs a clear out. No matter how much I try and keep it tidy, there is always a moment when I just have to stuff the thing back in my bag at a moments notice and loose threads are just thrown in. Keep doing this and everything becomes a bit of a tangled mess. See the picture below - only two weeks use after the last clearout!
How do the threads do that? One time, before I started a regular clear out, I couldn't even open or remove my needle book from the box, it was like some kind of thread ivy had grown around the book and attached it to the box, slowly taking over everything. I had to use scissors and put lots of potentially usable bits of thread in the bin that day.

The ziploc bag also needs to be cleared out, and skeins no longer being used should be put back where they belong. To make this process easier I use a small 'thread to be filed' box, where I can stuff these partly-used skeins until I have time to return them to the appropriate colour box, or wind them onto cardboard bobbins for my bobbin box. Also, I often forget to 'de-hoop' my projects, which of course you should always do rather than leave your projects in hoops for days (maybe even weeks - ooops), which is one downside of the 'travel pack'.

So, I'm hoping that my craft room will be back in use next week, after the new pipework gets boxed in, and I might even get some paint on the walls! Here's a picture of how it looks now with all the furniture crammed into one corner *sad face*.
To make up for the sad looking craft room, at least I'm been taking my photos here this week in the sunshine. Kinda makes up for the disruption a little.
Maybe lunch outside today?

Wednesday, 26 March 2014


I love sketchbooks.

I love the feel of them, the thickness of the paper, the possibilities of all those blank pages.
Current book open at the last used page - ballerina bunnies!
Although I have a general passion for stationary in general, sketchbooks for me are extra special - even when they are not necessarily pretty things in themselves. For me, they have to be A4, square bound, contain nice thick cartridge paper, and be black. I don't know why I became fussy about the colour and the dimensions (especially when I love my stationary bright and bold), I think I just like the look of them together on the shelf. Seeing all that work past and the blank pages and books yet to be filled (I usually keep a new book waiting patiently to take over when one is filled) is quite inspirational.
My small row of sketchbooks at the very left of the picture
Here are 16 years worth of mine. I know the timescale is accurate, because the first one in this sequence is dated 1998. Wow, that would have been my last year at university studying zoology. That seems a long, long time ago! It seems like that's not many books to cover such a long time period, but some took years to be filled, others only a few months.

I also went through large periods of rarely using them at all, especially when I was working as a natural history curator full time, mostly I think because my job was quite creative, there seemed to be little creativity left when I was at home. I still drew though, obsessively. In between filling sketchbooks I likely just doodled on any scrap bits of paper that came to hand (especially at work, I was forever doodling idly at work, not that I wasn't working, I can just doodle and work at the same time. Especially when working on tricky Excel formula or pivot tables, that always seemed to require doodling). So, I also have a large box file full of random doodles that seemed worth saving. Here's a picture of it bulging full of scraps. What exciting ideas might be lurking within?
The boxfile of random stuff
Although my sketchbooks are openly displayed on a shelf in my crafting room,  I'm also quite shy about them. I would never feel comfortable with someone taking one down from the shelf and flicking through it, not even the husbandbot! I guess it's to do with that outpouring of creativity; it feels quite private, quite personal, until it's distilled into a format I feel I can share, like a completed painting or embroidery. However, here's a sneak peak of a few pages that I feel brave enough sharing with the world!
Of course, spot the predominance of animals :)
I've mentioned a few times in the course of this blog that most of my sketches and doodles sat unused for a long time. An untapped resource. In the last few years though, through getting back into producing art, and paintings and now embroidery, I finally feel that some of these sketches and doodles are finally beginning to breathe, and have a life of their own. Now I use my sketchbooks almost every day.

For me, I use them for the following:

  • To jump start creativity. When I'm stuck, a flick through a sketchbook reminds me that I can draw, and can create. That usually fires me up.
  • To get ideas. Over the last few months, flicking through my sketchbooks has given me quite a few jumping off points for new paintings or embroidery! One little rushed sketch from years ago might just have something about it that sparks off new thoughts in my brain, resulting in a new, finished piece.
  • Letting the creative part of my brain flow. With embroidery and painting, I know what I am doing before I start. In my sketchbook, I let myself be free. Just grab a pencil and see what happens. Sometimes nothing, but other times you can really surprise yourself! Just put pencil to paper and don't think, just draw!
  •  Idea development. Sometimes I have an idea for something, but it needs work. I often use my sketchbook to work ideas up from something simple, to a finished idea. It's nice looking back on that process sometimes!
  • Forcing the issue - in opposition to the above idea, sometimes I find it useful to force myself to do a certain thing. If I want to develop some new embroidery hoop art, I'll actually fill a few pages in my sketchbook with hoop outlines, with text headers to fill in such as 'title, 'idea', 'thoughts' etc. These can really work as development tools that make me think.
So yeah, I love my sketchbooks. Oh looky, there's one right now, open at a blank page, with a pencil just sitting there...I wonder what will pop into my head. Oh hello little badger!

What about you? Do you keep sketchbooks? If you do, how do you use yours?