Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Signs of spring

There have been one of two mild days around here recently. So much so that the tree in my new garden (some sort of ornamental cherry perhaps? - I'm no good with fancy garden species!) actually started to blossom at the end of January. Woah there, little too early don't ya think? End of January? Really? Well, now we're into late February and the tree is almost in full swing with its spring finery. 

I've been noticing a few other spring-like behaviours in the birds as well so far this month. There's nothing quite like being scolded by a blackbird for daring to venture down into your own garden to retrieve the washing you put out there only this morning. I've always loved the boldness of the male blackbirds. With their perky tails, serious attitude and strident calls as they let you know in no uncertain terms, that you are actually in their territory thank-you-very-much. The image of these cheeky blackbirds stuck in my mind so much, I flipped back through my latest sketchbook, knowing I had a blackbird sketch that could perhaps be turned into an embroidery. As soon as I saw the sketch my needle fingers started to twitch, and here's the result.

I like his serious expression, though it does perhaps border very slightly on grumpy! Well, it must be annoying when all these people keep walking in and out of the territory you are trying to defend mustn't it?
Extreme close-up! Bird body mostly split stitch with some stain stitch in the smaller areas.
Determined to do this the right way, I spent a good bit of time working up the sketch, and developing a border pattern that I liked. Here's a few pictures of how the design process went - I even practised my border stitches on a separate piece of fabric, determined to find a finish I liked before adding them to my final piece. The bottom picture is a re-post of one of my recent Aberfeldy holiday pictures, showing the sewing in progress (I actually finalised the border pattern in my sketchbook when I was on holiday).
Original sketchbook sketch
Idea being developed...
Border design in sketchbook
Working on the border and the lettering
Blackbird in progress on holiday, with hot choc and cake of course!
I like the way this fella came out, and I carefully noted every stitch type and colour used, with the plan that I will work this up into a full pattern. Here's to spring!

Jules x

Friday, 21 February 2014

Loving the machine

I suppose if I have one new years crafting resolution at all, it's that I want to become better at using my sewing machine. I find hand embroidery relatively easy and satisfying. I feel really in control when I stitch with needle and thread, even when I have absolutely no plan as to what stitch comes next, where it should go and what colour it should be. For some reason, this process causes me no stress, and is instead immensely relaxing and satisfying (barring the odd knot and tangle of course).

However, my relationship with my sewing machine is a little more...complex and fraught. I place no blame on my machine here. In pretty much most situations it has performed well and done exactly what I have asked of it. Every broken needle and angry seam-ripping event I blame entirely on myself. I think I just don't have much patience for it - which is weird considering I think nothing of spending hours on one little area of embroidery! This year however, I vow to repair our fractious relationship, and take this partnership to new heights. I have a whole new house to sew for after all!

I confidently started the year by setting my machine up in my new crafting space, ready to be used...and you know what? I HAVE BEEN USING IT! So far this year I have completed several small projects for around the house, here are three that are already in use.
Shopping bag repair

This old shopping bag (for a wonderful local organic farm cafe and shop) has been very useful, but over the years the handles had started to crack and fray. A linen blend napkin picked up at a charity shop soon sorted that out! I even made the handles longer than previously so I could use the bag over my shoulder. It is now in regular use again, whenever I need to nip to the shop.
Draught excluder

Having just moved into a big old house, there were of course, draughts to plug.
I didn't try a fancy pattern, I just sewed up a sausage shape with a loop handle for hanging, and stuffed it firmly with toy stuffing I already had. Now it lies here, and has been very useful, stopping the cold Scottish winter air from getting into the hall.

Child's seat cover

This was a biggy for me. My four-year old has a small ex-school wooden chair. It's a lovely thing, but I've been promising her I would make her a little comfy chair cover for months. I had already purchased and cut the foam, and so buoyed by my small successes above, I went for it. I didn't have a pattern to follow, but I have similar pads on my kitchen chairs, so accurate measuring was really all I needed. I even added sewn-in cute ribbon ties which you can see below. 

I was so chuffed I had completed this, with no mistakes, and that it actually looked good, that I instantly summoned the child and the husbandbot to survey my handywork and demanded praise. 

To me, this was a really challenging piece. It was the first time I had sewed one piece of fabric to another in a curve, which took a lot of careful pinning, and slow, thoughtful stitching. Now I've proved to myself I can do it, I feel like all of the other projects in my many crafting books are no longer 'too tricky', and might actually be achievable. As I always knew, the key to getting better at the machine is practice, and the more I sew, the more I want to sew. I'm already hungrily stalking the house looking for more machine projects that need doing!

Do any of you have similar feelings towards their sewing machines? If you do, feel free to join me in 'loving the machine in 2014'
Machine now in a permanent place on my desk, ready to leap into action!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Finish-Along completed!

Sometimes a little encouragement or a swift kick (or a deadline), are just what I need to get on with something. Joining the &Stitches Finish-Along has certainly worked wonders for my poor little white bear embroidery, which I found languishing at the bottom of my project bag from last year.  Well, this last week I finished him and I am really pleased with the results. Sometimes a little distance from a project can certainly be a good thing, as all the decisions that I just couldn't seem to make about this little fella simply seemed easier after a break. So here he is, all finished and hooped up.
 I decided to keep him as a hooped piece, and so went for a circular edging motif around the scene. I used feather stitch to create an organic plant feel, adding little french knots 'seed heads' or 'buds'. The finished stitching for this part seemed a little too flat, so I used the same green thread I used for the feather stitch and wrapped it around the main stem of the stitch, leaving the shoots as they were. I didn't need the wrapping (or whipping) to be wonderfully even; I was using the same colour and I thought any uneven section would just make it seem more like a plant. I love the finished effect and I think it'll probably appear in some future embroideries as well.
Feather stitch with whipped main stem
The water had also given me a lot of trouble. Last year I bought some blue glitter thread to help me with the water, but I never used it as it seemed too much, too glittery for the palette of the piece. I also contemplated getting some satin or silk thread to add lustre to the water. In the end, I stuck to my usual Anchor cottons and when I finally made myself stop sewing (does anyone else have that problem sometimes? Knowing when to stop?), I was happy that it looked like water, and I felt that it was obvious enough that the bear was looking at, and reaching out to touch his reflection. Phew! Completed!
So, thank you &Stitches for giving me that proverbial kick to finish this little guy. I'm much more fond of him than I ever was, and he has inspired me to start several new pieces!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

'Bonie lassie, will ye go to the birks of Aberfeldy' (Robert Burns)

Nothing beats those start of the year blues better than a little holiday to look forward to! We spent the last week in the gorgeous Aberfeldy area of Perthshire. We're big fans of this area of the country, and try and get here at least once a year to enjoy the fantastic walking and cycling, and of course visit our favourite cake and lunch haunts!
The weather was much as to be expected for late January in Scotland, but we got outdoors as much as we could despite the frequent snow and rain, and when the skies were clear the landscape and hills were fantastic.
Looking down the road that goes up to the Ben Lawers car park. This is where we wisely turned around and headed back down again!
View down to Loch Tay. The little pond here was partially frozen over.
The sheep coped with the cold much better than we did!
View across Loch Tay on a less snowy day
Lovely walk back down from Acharn waterfall.
We always find ourselves at The Courtyard in Kenmore for at least tea and cakes, oh and the great views up Loch Tay valley of course! and oh boy this time I had the best flapjack I think I've ever had in my life! It tasted partly like a traditional flapjack, partly like a mince pie, and was also full of tasty nuts and seeds. I solemnly declared it King of all flapjacks (the hot chocolate was quite nice too!) 
Om nom
Also in this picture you'll see the new embroidery I've been working on. I got quite a lot stitched on holiday, but it still has a ways to go and will feature here when it's done! The reason I started a new piece is that I finished my Finish-Along bear! I just need to get some nice pics and he will feature here next week.

I also managed to make a few crafty related purchases while on holiday. If you ever go to Aberfeldy a visit to the amazing independent bookshop The Watermill is a must. Great selection of books (oh and cakes too). I even blogged about it a couple of years ago here! Buying books and eating cakes will never get old, especially not in such lovely surroundings.
Lovely new print and crafty book purchases
As usual, I treated myself to a guilt-free book, and this time I bought Emily Hogarth's 'The Crafter's Guide to Papercutting'. I'm always on the lookout for new crafts to try, and though I'm not sure if I have the patience for paper cutting, I'd love to give it a go as I've always admired Emily's work. In fact, I only discovered and bought this book after we'd already purchased one of her prints from the Watermill's gallery! We've been looking for new art to fill the high walls in the living room in our new house, and both myself and my husband instantly loved this. The theme of 'My heart's in the Highlands' also sits well with us, as we love this area so much!

Crockery heaven
I also purchased these two plates from the lovely homewares shop next door, and was even more chuffed to get them for half price in the sale! I've admired these designs for a while and couldn't resist snapping them up. As if there were a paper-cutting theme to my holiday purchases, these plate designs are by Rob Ryan, another well known paper cutter artist! I've informed the husbandbot that these plates are to be kept for bringing out biscuits and cakes to visitors, but no doubt they'll be found lying around with toast crumbs on in short order.

Alas, the week was soon over and we were back home, but as we've only been in our new house for three months, we were all looking forward to getting home, and our desire for DIY has been refreshed by the break. Next, the exciting work of choosing and buying a shed.