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?

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Too cute! - bunny ballerinas

Look! Tiny little stitched ballerina bunnies! Squeeeeee! Okay, these are almost too cute -  even for me, and I like cute things. I've no idea where they came from either. One morning I came downstairs for breakfast, and these little ladies were in my head demanding to be sketched. So, out came the sketchbook at the breakfast table, among the usual mix of toys and breakfast detritus.

My daughter does attend a dance class, though she's recently switched from ballet to Jazz. I also remember her getting a book from the library a few months ago about a rabbit who wanted to be a ballerina...what made all these different threads coalesce into a need to sketch bunny ballerinas one morning I have no idea. Sometimes however, you just need to go with the flow and follow what the muse insists you have to do.
Bunnies being stitched in the sunshine.
Middle bunny close up
I thought maybe others would like to stitch these up, so I've written up a little pattern, free to download as a .pdf HERE. The .pdf features a main pattern to stitch the three bunnies above, fitting in a 6 inch hoop when completed. I've also included larger version of the bunnies individually, each fitting in a 6 inch hoop. When I stitched the three above I deliberately used different stitches and approaches to vary the look. If you stitch these bunnies up, I'd love to see them!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

March - In the works

I was going to name this new semi-regular sum-up post 'in the hoop', but then I thought that would mean I was restricted to only featuring embroidery, so I thought I'd go for a different name. 

I love showing finished pieces on my blog and patterns ready to go, but of course, that's really the image of the beautiful swan gliding effortlessly on top of the water isn't it? We all know that the time between an idea and showing a pretty finished piece can be quite long, and involve a lot of work (the swan legs peddling furiously under the water!) If we all waited that long to post every time we might be waiting very long indeed! So here's a sneak peak at what March is all about for me in 2014.

The embroidery
These pieces are all in the works. A cute hedgehog carrying flowers, some ridiculously cute ballerina bunnies (I have no idea why they popped into my head one morning, but they just had to be stitched), and final pattern designs for my 'time for adventure pattern' (which you might remember from it's first appearance on my blog here - which oh my goodness was two years ago...better late than never right??).

The life around the making
This week we actually had sunshine! I don't mean a hint of shivery spring light, but sunshine enough that we spent several days in the garden and had to find where we'd packed away the outside tables and chairs. This couple of days of lovely weather meant lots of...
Outdoor playtime! Hurrah
Outdoor embroidery for goodness sakes!
Making food with the kitchen door open, light streaming in and listening to birds signing rather than the radio. We're not quite onto the eating outside yet, but for some reason the nice weather is encouraging more bread making and bread eating. 

How is March treating you?


Thursday, 6 March 2014

Loving the machine part 2 - giving it a home

So this week I thought maybe I should make some sort of gesture of friendship to my machine, extend the hand of partnership and do something just for him (yes, for some reason my machine is a 'him). Well, the first thing that popped into my head was of course to make him a little cover. Many of the wonderful blogs I read have featured the fantastic covers they have made for their machines, so I thought that would be a good place to start. After all, the plastic dust cover that often comes with your machine isn't the most gorgeous thing around is it?
"I just look a little...sad...Please love me..."
 I spent a while browsing the internet, looking for cover ideas to prompt me rather than a full pattern or tutorial - well, if you fancy making a cover for your machine, there is a fantastic wealth of great free patterns and tutes out there, offering different styles and approaches. Even a browse through Google Images will give you a wealth of ideas! After a brief browse, I decided I wanted a full cover rather than one with ties, and I thought pockets on the end would be a great way to keep the cables tidy when the machine was not in use. I also wanted to keep it simple, no lining or added fanciness. I mean, let's face it, me and the machine are not bosum buddies yet!

I had plenty of the medium weight bright IKEA fabric that I used on my daughters seat cover here, so I used this, some solid purple for the side pockets with light blue bias binding for the pocket top edges. Having the aforementioned sad little plastic dust cover was useful, as I based my measurements on it, adding a few centimetres to each as the dustcover was snug, and I wanted my pockets to have some give. Here's the finished cover - much cheerier!
"Hooray!...I am loved!"
Here is a shot of the end pockets, showing the power cable neatly stowed away, but easy to grab for its next use. Oh and in case you're wondering, yes, I label my plugs. It's to make sure I'm unplugging the right thing without following a tangled cable. You all do that...right? right???
So in summary, one of my first big tips for loving the machine is to give it a home, but in two senses. As I mentioned in my last post here, my machine now lives on my desk permanently. If you can keep your machine in plain sight ready to use, it really helps encourage to you use it. Even if its just thinking 'Hmmm...I could just mend that popped seam would take me like...two minutes!'. It makes a difference. And if a new cover makes you smile every time you see your machine, well then so much the better!