Saturday, 1 September 2012

New embroidery: Moon deer

I was so engrossed in stitching up this crazy creature that I completely failed to take a single 'in progress' shot. From the moment I used my light box to transfer this image from my sketchbook onto some calico I barely seemed to stop stitching. Even the poor old wolfman took a backseat as I was again waiting for some more thread to finish him. Sometimes, it seems that embroidery can be quite demanding!
I've just been letting creatures appear in my sketchbook lately, letting my pencil just go where it wants to, and that's how the' moon deer' above appeared. Here's some of the sketches that I've been working on lately.
Moon Deer original sketch - you can see I was thinking of a more realistic background at the time
This chap had a 'magicy' feel when I drew him. Needs more work though!
Cute family pic of forest beasts
There's definitely a theme running through the latest batch, a slightly creepy otherworldliness that I quite like. I had originally intended to get back into some serious drawing, and actually work some of these up as full ink drawings, but the first one somehow demanded to be transferred onto fabric and be stitched. I had no plans as to how I was going to stitch this up, and I didn't really stop to think about colours, stitches, effects or anything before I started. Now normally, this isn't an approach I'd recommend. It's probably not very wise to invest a lot of time fill-stitching a large-ish embroidery that may all turn out not as expected, but I'm a believer that no embroidery can ever turn out truly wrong. There is always something to learn from every piece. I very happy with the way this one turned out though. Once I'd started I decided to stick to a very limited pale palette, and the bulk of the deer creature itself is done using split stitch which creatures a nice, flat fur look. 
Split stitch gives a nice, unbroken look to lines and fur, but still provides texture
The grey threads also give the creature a  bit of a sheen which you probably can't see in my pics, but it's quite a nice effect. About halfway through stitching the deer I had a bit of a crisis of confidence, and wondered whether I should have started this piece on a dark fabric so it would stand out. However, I'm now very glad with the choice I made. The limited palette adds to the feel of the piece, and means you have to get up nice and close to have a good look! Obviously I added quite a few french knots, but I haven't yet added them up to add them to the french knot counter! Now this piece is finished, I plan to try and mount it on an A4 canvas which I haven't tried before. I want to find different ways of finishing pieces other than using hoops. Does anyone have any other suggestions?
I posted the finished pictures of this piece onto the &Stitches Flickr pool as I usually do when I finished it last week, and was thrilled on Thursday night when I saw they'd featured me on their site and Facebook page! Thanks so much &Stitches! If you haven't already come across this site, I'd recommend a look - they publish a wonderful e-zine periodically which is full of excellent articles and patterns.


Saturday, 25 August 2012

The downside of good intentions

Way back in January I wrote a lovely long post about the cushions I was going to design and finish to go along with the giraffe, monster and fox ones I'd already completed. My target was to complete seven this year. Surely seven cushions in a year is no big target? Surely? Well, I've managed to complete...absolutely none...and its almost the end of August. I have done a little design work and cutting, but none of this has resulted in an actual, completed cushion. I really do want to do more cushions - I did enjoy making the three I completed, and I still feel excited about the why haven't I done more? Again, I'm afraid it mostly comes down to hand versus machine. I can handstitch on the train, and pretty much anywhere, so embroidery has been progressing a lot. Machine sewing I can only really do in the evenings, and I'm just too tired or tied up in housework! It's a lousy excuse but there it is. Oh and while the Olympics were on I did absolutely nothing but watch them all the time! I have been using my machine on my Thursday evening local Stitch class to catch up on some 'works in progress', so hopefully once that reconvenes after the summer break I can start forwarding some cushions. Let me show you a new design I have for them at least. I was sketching some dogs and this little sketch of a springer spaniel is just crying out to become a 'be excited' cushion.
I have made progress in some areas I have blogged about though. I complained in this post in April that I felt a little guilty that I hadn't really made a lot of things for my daughter. Well, a few weeks ago I had a sneaky day off and I spent pretty much the whole day busting out something for her, and it felt good. It all started with a new book that I got for Christmas, the lovely 'Make your own toys' by Sue Havens. 
I've looked at it a few times, but as I was flicking through it lazily one day I suddenly had a favourite project. It's called 'Lazy kitty', and is an adorable patchwork floppy cat! Here's a pic from the book of how the finished item should look. Note that my daughter and I looked at this page so much that it's already been ripped and adorned with a sticker!
It looked fairly simple, and after consultation with my daughter we established that she would very much like a lazy kitty, but she wanted a happy one, not a grumpy one (grumpy is how she interprets the cat at the back in this photo, whereas I think he is just a little sad :).

The pattern is not like the other few soft toys I have made. I'm used to sewing legs and tails and things onto a body by inserting the leg into a body seam and then sewing up that seam, capturing the leg. For most of the patterns in this book, each limb or part is made separately and then hand sewn on. This really appealed to me as I do spend most of my crafting time with hands and needle and thread, and it was a new technique to learn. Although I loved the patchwork look of the example cats in the book, I wanted a simpler look so I chose a single fabric for the body, head, legs and tail, and an accent fabric for the belly and inside the ears, and here's how he turned out!
So perky!
Such an eager face, ready for play
I'd bought the main fabric, Lotta Jansdotter's 'Aneta Ironwood', a while ago just because I loved it, and for this project I thought it looked a little like scruffy fur. I even took the time to make sure the 'fur' ran the right way for each piece! I used a pink/red patchwork lookalike fabric for the accents, and added real soft toy eyes on a circle of felt. I made sure to stitch a happy face! And how was the cat accepted?... She LOVES it! He has been named Mogtog paws, and he is snuggled into bed every night. How long he'll be the favourite toy I don't know, but it does give me a warm glow to see her carrying a toy I MADE under her arm along the road. I can see how this could become quite addictive! I WOULD like to make her a  seatpad for her little desk  chair...but I'm making no promises this time :)


Sunday, 15 July 2012

Holidays and updates

Things have been rather quiet around here lately! Mostly due to a mix of holidays (exciting), and lack of crafting (not so exciting), but I'm back on the embroidery so never fear! Here's a little summary of the last month at The Awkward Niche.

We spent several days in the first week of our holidays in a lovely wooden wigwam on the banks of the beautiful Loch Tay. Not a lot of stitching or drawing was done except for one sketch which I'll feature later, but I took a few snaps of the very inspiring views, and generally just enjoyed thinking about neither work nor crafting very much. 
Our lovely wooden wigwam!
I drank as many hot chocolates as I could find!

The view from below the wigwams, featuring daughter.
Loch Tay beach at Kenmore, though apparently wellies are much more exciting than views!
I did make a lovely purchase when I was out though. If you are in the Highland Perthshire area and you love books and tea, I would heartily recommend a visit to The Watermill, a lovely bookshop/cafe/art gallery in Aberfeldy, all wrapped up in a  wonderful converted mill. We usually manage to make it here about once a year, so I always treat myself to a guilt-free book when we visit. They have a small crafty section, and this year I treated myself to the book on the left.
Books...lovely books!
I really fancy learning print-making, and although there are a number of courses in my area, I like the fact that this book teaches you printing techniques that you can then easily do at home, with a minimum of easy to find materials. Maybe if I try out some of the projects in this I'll enrol in a printing course. I also recently ordered the book on the right in the picture, in a bid to improve my photography. I only have a fairly old compact camera, and I don't really have plans to get anything bigger at the moment, so I need to get the best out of it. I think I was expecting this book to be smallish, but it's actually quite thick and full of excellent details. I've had a quick read through but need to spend some time really digesting it. I'd really like to improve my photos as I feel that sometimes they are quite poor (especially the shots of my poor wolfman!) so hopefully you might notice some improvements soon.

Back to the sketching I did get done on hols. I sat down with paper and pen one day and knocked up this cute little fella.

I liked this little fella a lot. I thought I would do the sleeping rabbit and tree in embroidery and then add appliquéd felt leaves and/or flowers. I liked it so much I started working it up when I got home and I ended up with this...
I stuck to just the leaves as I felt maybe the flowers would be too much. I did add some little french knot flowers in the grass though, I just couldn't resist. I was quite good and kept a note of most of my colour choices, stitches and thread numbers, so I hope to work this up into a full pattern when I have some time. I think he looks pretty relaxed, don't you?


Saturday, 9 June 2012

Playing with patterns

I haven't been getting a lot of sewing done the last couple of weeks, mostly just working away on my wolfman, but I thought I'd spare you the now traditional update pictures of him today! However, I have been doing quite a lot of sketching in my embroidery sketchbook, and I have quite a few patterns and designs that I'm in the process of working up. Most require a bit more work and some sewing development to get them just right, but I have a few, simple cute little patterns that just seemed to go straight down onto the page with little effort. Isn't it weird how that happens sometimes? You can spend hours trying to get a certain drawing just right with no success, but then I turn the page and bust out some cute little animals. Really I shouldn't complain, as any design work that goes right is fab, but it does seem that the creative urge is so difficult to direct sometimes!

Anyway, I was so pleased with my new patterns, that I thought I would quickly whip one up as a free pattern for you all to enjoy! The pattern is called 'wuff', and features two cute little doggies. One who is barking away, and the other...well, I think he's more the strong silent type, don't you?
You can download a pdf of the pattern on Googledocs here.

This is my first actual pattern, and though I have a lot to learn about cleaning up the black and white linework, I think this is not too bad as a first attempt. Any problems with the download or the pattern itself, let me know, I'm keen to learn and improve! I'm still stitching up my first go at this pattern, but I couldn't wait until that was finished and photographed to share this with you all. The pdf pattern should fit just nicely in a 6 inch hoop. I'm using three threads on mine but possibly two would be better. I'm also planning to use chain stitch for the large lettering, see how it goes!

If you do download this pattern, I'd love to see what you you make from it! I've started a new Flickr group  for things made from my patterns (though I know this is just the first, I hope this will encourage me to make more!). So if you do sew up these doggies I'd love to see them here.



{nifty button}

Monday, 21 May 2012

Three bags full

One of the great perks of meeting and making friends with other crafty folk is that you can pass on to each other things you no longer need. Well, you can imagine my delight these last few weeks when I received not one, not two, but three free bags of goodies from friends! 
Tangly but tempting
Firstly, I received a large bag of mixed, tangled threads from work. Museums with a mixed collection often have machine and hand thread to repair costume collections, make fabric supports and protective covers. Our conservator found a 'lump' of tangled thread that we had no use for, so I volunteered to give it a new home, assuming it was a tangle of machine thread that I *might* be able to find a use for. I was later surprised to learn that some of it is cotton perle thread! I've really only been doing embroidery for a fairly short time, and though I'm aware that there are other thread types besides 6-stranded cotton, I've been deliberately keeping that knowledge behind a little locked door in my head marked 'not yet!'. There are so many styles, techniques and fabric and thread you can use in embroidery, that if I didn't deliberately stick to a small section of it while I learn, I'd be completely overwhelmed. Does anyone else ever get that feeling? Still, free thread that comes to me is always welcome! It's interesting to see a thread with a round profile, and I think I might even use some of it to add some loose hairs to my wolfman's head. Oh dear, not doing very well on the 'not yet' front am I?

Secondly, my friend Bea who volunteers with us at the museum (and is a mean embroiderer and member of the local branch of the embroiderer's guild) gave me this wonderful bag of fabric scraps. Some of them are actually quite huge! I've already earmarked some for bunting that I have a plan for...I can't wait to dig in and sort them all out!
My brain whirls with ideas when I look at this little lot!
Lastly, but by no means least, Lorna from my local Stitch group gave me a big bag of unwanted embroidery thread! My stitch group is great, we meet every Thursday night for a couple of hours, and much knitting and sewing gets done. Lorna is a fantastic knitter, and was so kind to offer me her thread! I haven't dug into this yet, I'll wait until I have time to sit on a comfy chair with a cup of tea. I do the same with magazines, I don't really read them until I have time to sit down with a cup of tea. It makes the whole experience so much more enjoyable don't you think?
Om nom nom!
Embroidery WIP update
I mentioned my wolfman above, so I can't really sign off without an update. Work continues on him, but rather annoyingly I've ran out of the grey-brown that is his main fur colour and I have no note of the number! Luckily, Bea has a colour chart so I gave her a scrap of thread away to try and match up. I tried one of my local shops but no joy. Also, although these updates don't show it, I've started work on his little vest - in a lovely bright blue which contrasts nicely with the natural tones of his fur. It is quite nice to get a break from fur every so often, though I'm looking forward to getting back to it.
His head is pretty much complete, with just some extra 'loose' hairs to be added on top.
When I ran out of the grey-brown to finish his arm I moved on to the feet. I decided to stitch his paw pads in a dark brown colour. I first outlined the areas, then started in the middle and slowly circled out to the edges. This created a lovely raised effect in the middle, giving his pawpads a bit of depth, and a different look and feel to the fur.
Hoping to have his top blocked in for the next update, and maybe have some more grey-brown thread!


Thursday, 3 May 2012

Counting those stitches...

I've been thinking over this last week how I'm gradually learning more and more about embroidery. New stitches, new techniques, new hints and tips. I am loving this process so much, and taking it at my own pace lets me play and explore, and not rush things too much. However, to inject a bit of fun and to try and keep tabs on my progress, I'm going to add a couple of stitch counters to my blog. One just for fun, one to act as a bit of a reminder on my progress.

The first counter is going to be for french knots. In my very limited experience, many people new to french knots seem to react in this way to them
1. French knots are scary and intimidating. I've tried them a couple of times but they either don't work right or disappear! argggh!!
2. I see. I can do them! Hurrah! Mystery solved!
3. Proceed to add french knots to every project...all the time.

Certainly, this is the way it has progressed with me. So, I'm going to keep tabs on all the french knots I have done ON FINISHED PROJECTS. Just for fun, because it tickles my fancy. I wonder how many I will reach? I'll go count up my current total and add the counter with my next post.

The second counter, will be a stitch counter. I know that the number of stitches you know or do, do not necessarily a good embroiderer make, and I will never shoehorn a new stitch in where it isn't needed, but I do enjoy looking for that perfect stitch to fit that idea I have in my head. This counter will act as a very rough progress chart for my descent into full embroidery obsession. Oh, and like the good like scientist I am, I had better quote my sources. I will count stitches in FINISHED PROJECTS that feature in 'The Embroidery Stitch Bible' by Betty Barden, printed by Search press. It will be interesting seeing that number slowly grow!

Back to actual embroidery, I've started a new project. I wanted to start something big, something that I could work on gradually when I finished other, smaller projects. I decided to head back to the sketchbooks, and I selected this image, on page one of a book a number of years old.
I've always liked this image, and the one line explanation at the bottom "He looked back once, and then he was gone". I like the fact that that is all there is. It's a portrayal of a moment. Which moment exactly I don't know, and I kind of like not knowing. Do you know what I mean? It's like a film that ends with possibilities rather that a fully detailed ending. I quite like those films.

Anyway, I decided to transfer the image full size, A4, and work on that. Since I transferred the lines, it feels like I've never put it down and I'm loving it!
Head almost done, but lots of added colour and definition to go!
I'm going for a full-filled realistic fur look, so the final feel will be less cartoony. I really need to get a few other things prepped for stitching, but for now, the strange, enigmatic wolf-guy will be keeping me busy :)

See you next time for geeky stitch-counter fun!


Monday, 23 April 2012

Charity shopping

I had a day off work today, so I booked in a charity shop visit with Rachael from Sew Ray Me. I've never really looked in a lot of charity shops before, but I'd heard so many stories on other blogs of other people's fantastic finds so it seemed like it was worth a shot! Rachael and I travelled to a local town, and we must have looked in 7 or 8 shops with varying success. I was mostly in the hunt for buttons, and luckily the shops didn't let me down!
Yummy buttons, and yummy prices!
Gratuitous button close-up!
I like shiny ones
I could have had lots more but I mostly restricted myself to buying bigger ones that I wanted to make more cuffs with, and also some smaller ones that I just couldn't resist. I got 64 buttons in total, for the princely sum of £6.50. Not a bad haul! I also got a few lovely blue/grey napkins, originally from Habitat that didn't look as though they had been used at all. I'm thinking I might try and embroider something on them...not sure what yet though! 

100% cotton, they have a lovely feel to them.

 Of course, it was the little 'uns who really did the best out of charity shop trawl. Izzy got loads of new books and a jigsaw. 

She is a huge fan of Wall-E and loves the wonderfully illustrated version I found today. It looks like it'll be the bedtime book for the next week or so! Rachael also got some fabric bits and pieces, so keep an eye on her blog for details!

I've actually finished a couple of little projects this week too! I was so excited about the fabric cuff that I made last week that I decided to try out an embroidered version. I roughly drew some flowers on some fabric grabbed from the stash and embroidered from there, and finished it up today. I really like it!
This button came from today's charity shop trawl! It's metal with what looks like blue enamel on top.
I'm really glad I finally found a use for this medium-weight pink fabric.
I also finished my tea-drinking dragon this week. I'm quite happy with him, but it's the first time I've really embroidered onto patterned fabric and it was a little scary, even if the pattern is simple polka dots. Still, I really like the outcome, even though I still can't get the colours of this to photograph right!
Well everyone drinks tea, right? RIGHT??
Here's the original sketch of the dragons head, in amongst some other strange things!
Perhaps more embroidered cuffs next week?


Sunday, 15 April 2012

Prolific week

To start with, I meant to report on my little giveaway mid-week but too much of my time has been taken up with sewing and stitching! WOW...I don't say that very often. Anyway, congratulations to Carly who won the giveaway! Lorna, I'm sending you a little something too to thank you for entering :) I'll message you both to get your details, and soon some little treats will be winging their way to you!

As my title suggests, I have actually got quite a lot done this week! On the embroidery front, an unexpected lunch trip to my local sewing shop meant I could pick up the blue thread I was needing to finish Big Stompy Fox, so here he is in all his knotty finished glory!
As soon as I finished that I flipped through my sketchbooks to find something else to inspire me. I found a sketch of a dragon head I liked, worked it up in my 'hoops' sketchpad, and a dragon drinking a cup of tea was born. Well, everyone likes tea right??? Sorry for the poor image, I just remembered to take this early evening as the light was starting to fade.
I do like his slightly concerned expression. Still have a bit of work to do to finish him, and possibly add some wording. Current thinking is either a line about dragons and tea, or a speech bubble with the following 'Destroy village...check, defeat knight...yep, buy milk....ah dang'. We'll see how it develops.

I also spent some time re-tidying my sewing space, which received a big tidy up feature in this post. Due to lack of use and a lot of dumping, it had become quite a mess again. Nothing too major, but quite a few piles had formed which needed sorted. In a few hours the desk was tidy, a fabric wash was on and I was at a bit of a loose end. So, I actually finished one of my works in progress! I was sick of looking at that little toy bed blanket I'd been meaning to finish for Izzy, so I grabbed it and it was done in about ten minutes! Disregarding the two rips I'd managed to inflict, I double folded the backing over to the front and simply topstitched it down. It's nasty, nasty, sewing, and it doesn't look pretty, but it got the job done. It fits the bed nicely and Izzy actually loves it, and uses it as a little lap blanket. Of course this use makes me think that I really should make her a full quilt, but I'll put aside that terrifying thought for now.
I even got the measurements right, it hangs just where I wanted it to. Hurrah!
Horrid stitching, but stitching COMPLETE
While tidying my stash, I came across some lovely medium weight fabric that I'd picked up on my last trip to Ikea. Over the last couple of days I'd been toying with the idea of making fabric cuffs or bracelets, so I cut out some of this fabric and just started sewing. Now, I have to say this 'grab it and sew' approach pretty much never works for me. I rush, I forget a crucial step or I just don't spend enough time on the design and I end up with a half-sewn ruined thing. This time however, I think the idea was simple enough that it actually worked first time and I created this neat little cuff with a button fastening. 
I can see a collection of these coming on...
The heavier fabric gives it a nice springy shape
The heavier fabric makes the double thickness sit well, and the shiny button adds a nice touch. I've been wearing it today and already my mind is full of embroidered cuffs...As this crazy space!!!


{nifty button}

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The girl insists...

We had some sun this morning so we were able to enjoy a little bit of hunting for some treats out in the garden. Lucky we did as the wind and rain appeared with force in the afternoon!
We collected quite a lot of Easter art supplies
Of course she also found just a little bit of chocolate...
It seemed appropriate to have a piccie of my little girl at the start of this blog as I've been thinking about my girl and sewing quite a lot lately. I feel like I should be sewing and making lovely embroidered things for Isobel all the time only...well...I haven't really made her that many things at all. Don't get me wrong, I have made her some things, and I think about things I could make for her all the time, it's just...they don't often get completed. I'm not entirely sure why this is, but I can have a pretty good guess. Most of my available crafting time takes place on my train journeys, which really only lends itself to hand sewing: plus, my current passion (as you just might have noticed), is for embroidery, and in developing my own patterns. So I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm using my precious crafting time selfishly...for me. I've been thinking about this quite a lot lately, even feeling a little guilt about it, but you know what? I think that's just fine. We all only have so many hours in the day, and my sewing time is my me time, so I'm going to try and focus on the enjoyment I get from the process for a while, and not stress too much about what I actually produce.

However, that's not to say that my two passions of sewing and my little girl don't sometimes collide. We have been trying to add some more art and things to Izzy's room as she likes to spend more time there, so I thought surely the best thing to do is to combine my current passion and a desire to provide lovely handmade things for my daughter? Well luckily that's just what I've been able to do over the last week. I've been so inspired by pics I've seen of people showing a number of embroidery hoops all displayed together, that that's what I want to do for Izzy. I finally have two hoops completed for her, and almost ready to go on her wall. A little bit of ironing, snipping and some glueing and they are done!

This is the 'Big Stompy Fox' fox design that I showed you all the sketch for in this post. I deliberately choose colours I wouldn't normally go for when I started work on it, to take me out of my comfort zone. I must admit that once I'd stitched for a while I wasn't sure about the yellow and lilac, but after I added a couple of satin stitched flowers and lots of lots of french knots (they can save almost anything) it seemed to come together.The only annoying thing is that I ran out of the blue I used on the fox so I'll need to haul a scrap of thread into a shop to match and buy one skein to finish the tail and hindfoot *SIGH*.
I love the texture the knots and satin stitch brought into the design
She's also going to get the Priscilla Pirate from here and I'm hoping to finish another hoop for her this week so I have a nice group of three hoops to display on her wall. The other good thing about hoop embroidery art is I can replace the images with more appropriate ones as she gets older. Once I finish the designs for my Priscilla Pirate story hoops and I have all three together she can have those. I'm still working on the second one with the squid, and currently it's looking like I may switch to an octopus. I'm having a cephalopod quandry!

The girl is starting to take an interest in my sewing as well. She's old enough now to know that 'mummy is sewing', and that needles are sharp, and sometime she even brings me little bits of fabric I may have left lying around saying 'Mummy...I brought your sewing. You better tidy it with your sewing' while waggling an admonishing toddler finger at me (there is nothing more amusing, and nothing you have to take more seriously than being admonished by a toddler). sometimes when she sees me trying to grab a moment or two to sew she wants to do sewing herself. I bought her one of those packs of sewing cards, and she does enjoy doing this for a while. I can't wait until I can show her the real thing! I'd rather wait a few more years before I let her loose on my stash though!
It's not so much fun to tidy up though!