Monday, 4 August 2014

Blog hop!

Well, this post has come a lot later than I intended! Not only has regular, crafty and blogging life been somewhat side-swiped by the arrival of Tiny Little Human no. 2, (a little boy born in late May) but two weeks ago my laptop rather suddenly refused to play ball, trapping this post and all my photos in limbo. To those few who were actually expecting this particular post a lot sooner (you know who you are), my apologies for the delay, but better late than never, right?

Anyway, back to the real theme behind this post - a bloghop! I was happy to be tagged in a blog hop by Cate at Bees Knees Industries. If you haven't already come across her work, I recommend popping over to her blog. Her illustration style is wonderfully quirky, and she turns many of her fab drawings into wonderful embroidery patterns. This particular blog hop involves nominating other bloggers to answer some questions about their creations, and then passing the questions on to others to answer. So, here we go with the bloghop questions..

1. What am I working on? 
I usually have a few things on the go at once, as I like variety and like having options depending on what I feel like working on. I mostly work with paint, pencils and thread. 

I'm currently working on a series of embroideries that are inspired by the many stories and comics that I have started to write or draw, but never developed further or finished. These embroideries are a way for me to pick out small yet important scenes from these unfinished stories , and complete them in minute stitchy detail as a way of enabling these stories to exist in some finished form. I was inspired to make this series of pieces after completing my wolfman picture - an image that was created without a story but which could suggest any number of situations or scenes to fit the mood of the piece.

The pictures below show the completed wolfman, and another three pieces in this series in various stages of completion. Watch this space for progress!

On the paper side of things I have a few paintings on the go, which I dip in and out of (such as the moon and badger picture below) , and I've also recently been delving into the world of papercutting  (see this post), and I have a few more ideas still in the design stage. 
Moon and badger - sketch transferred and currently getting the watercolour treatment
Papercutting practice
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? 
This is such a difficult question, but has been interesting to think about! I suppose since I follow my own muse and have my own illustration style, that that makes my work different. I'm very driven by character and story, and most of my pieces have a story or events behind them, or certainly the potential for interpretation beyond the image itself - I have written and drawn stories since I was small and probably always will - it's just the way I'm wired. 

My embroidery style is very illustrative and detailed, a little like painting with thread which I think makes it different, but it does mean it takes ages to complete each work!

3. Why do I write/create what I do? 
I have no idea! I have created and drawn for as long as I can remember - creating was a constant childhood companion, and its always been an intrinsic part of who I am. If I don't get regular creative time then I can start to feel a little (or a lot) out of sorts! I find it relaxing, re-energising and so very fulfilling. 

I am relatively new to embroidery, having only been working with thread for a few years, but I'm loving this new way of bringing my sketches and stories to life, and Iove losing myself in it's calm, measured movements of needle and thread.

My brain so full of ideas that I have to get out somehow, and the drawing and stitching helps!

4. How does your writing/creating process work?
Sometimes I have a very firm idea of what I want to create, especially if it links to a story that's been growing in my head. However, I frequently put pen to paper and just see what happens - it's exciting watching an idea come out of nowhere, though of course sometimes this approach doesn't always produce something worth developing.

Pretty much all my ideas start as a sketch or series of sketches in my sketchbook. For embroidery I usually use my lightbox to trace the sketch I like onto plain A4 printer paper, often repeating this process and adding new elements until I get a final design I like. I'll then use the lightbox again to transfer to my favoured calico before stitching. I try and choose colours and floss before hand but sometimes I'll just dive right in.

I also frequently look back at old sketchbooks and doodles to get ideas, or look through some of my own stories for inspiration. A large diet of books, comics, films and inspirational creative blogs also keep the creative juices flowing!

So, that's a bit about me, now on to my blog recommendation.

Asking for Trouble - A fellow maker based in Scotland, Marceline's blog Asking for Trouble highlights her illustrations and the wonderfully cute and cheery products she designs. I especially love how she incorporates her passions, such as Japanese culture/design and a love of astronomy, into her work. Go check her out -  I defy you not to lust after her many lovely creations!

So thanks Cate, for giving me some fab motivation for finding time to blog, and apologies for the long (yet surely understandable) delays in getting there!


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?