sewn images

Wheal Coates Mine, Cornwall

One of my and my husbands favourite places to visit is St Agnes in Cornwall.  When I saw this photograph recently on one of the several Cornwall / St Agnes Instagram accounts I follow I knew I had to try and recreate it in free motion embroidery. 

I raided my stash of fabric and found a furnishing fabric sample book that had the perfect fabrics for the heather covered coastline and the sea.  I love using furnishing fabrics as they give such a wonderful variety of textures to the piece. 

I wanted quite a large picture so I printed the photo out at around A3 size and started playing about with my fabrics.  I used the photo as a guide for composition but was limited slightly by my fabric pieces, so the coastline looks a little different.  The building - which is a disused tin mine, one of many that stud the coast of Cornwall - was traced directly from the photograph to ensure it was accurate. 

I chose a cream coloured background fabric as I thought that would work well for the sandy areas of the coastline.  I started my stitching by just going around the edge of each applique piece with a dark thread (confession time - I thought I'd used black thread and only realised when I was almost finished that it was actually navy!) and then added some additional white stitching into the blues of the sea. 

I added more detail in varying shades of green and brown to pick out tuffy clumps of grass and the mine's brickwork.  At this stage I had no idea what I was going to do to finish the sky, as I didn't have any suitable fabrics for it. 

After talking it through with my husband I decided to try painting a sky, which sounded slightly nerve-wracking as it had the potential to ruin a piece that I was otherwise very happy with. 

I pulled out the few tubes of acrylic paint I bought ages ago and discovered a bottle of fabric medium among them that I didn't remember buying but was pleased I had.  I also cut myself a scrap piece of the fabric I'd used as the background to practice on. 

I found that the fabric medium didn't really seem to help but that I needed to add a lot - and I mean a LOT - of water to the paint.   I started off quite delicately and lightly, but in the end just went for it, reasoning I could always cut the painted fabric off and remount the rest on some other fabric if it all went wrong. 

The paint changed shade several times while it was drying and at one stage was quite a dreary greyish blue, but thankfully ended up quite vibrant.  I just have to get a frame for it now, I'm planning on mounting it so that the raw edges of the applique fabrics are exposed rather than hidden by the mount. 

I can't wait to get it framed and on the wall and then one day go and walk along that cliff path again!

Three ways to stitch writing

One of my favourite things to stitch with free motion embroidery is writing and there are several ways you can do this.

  • Completely free hand
  • Handwritten onto fabric and stitched
  • Written on paper and stitched through

I like to use each method for different things.  

Completely free hand stitching is useful for just a couple of words, maybe you want to sign a finished piece of work or add a number plate to a car you've embroidered.  

Free hand writing with a sewing machine isn't as hard as you think, I often get beginners in my classes to try writing their name as part of a warm up.  I find it easier to write quite small this way, but I have always enjoyed working quite small.  

This is what my freehand stitched writing looks like, my husband says it's neater than my handwriting!

And here's a video of me stitching part of it, courtesy of my husband.  As you can see, I have gone over the word twice, once forwards and then backwards to the starting point. 

The second method is to handwrite your wording onto your fabric and then stitch over what you've written.  This method is good for slightly longer amounts of text, or if you want something positioned accurately.  You can either write free hand onto your fabric or if you have a lightbox and your fabric is thin enough you can write or type onto paper and then use the lightbox to trace the writing onto you fabric.  

I use a Frixion pen and then remove the remaining ink with a hairdryer once I've finished, but please do make sure that you can completely remove the ink before you start writing all over your precious work!

This is a little hard to see, but you should just be able to make out my writing on the fabric.  You can see it better in the photo below, of the wording half stitched. 

And here it is finished, with the remaining ink blasted away with a hot hairdryer. 

The final method is to write your wording onto tissue paper, stitch through it and then remove the paper after you've finished.  This is good to use on dark fabrics (although I've used a light one here) or if you don't want to write onto your fabric. 

I use Burda pattern tracing tissue paper because it's something I always have to hand, but normal white gift wrapping tissue paper will work just as well. 

First write or print your text out and trace it onto a piece of tissue.  I've used a fancy font, it's one of my favourites. 

Pin your tracing in place on your fabric. 

Stitch over your traced writing, going over each area twice.  I start at the top of each letter, and then go back over in reverse back to my starting point. 

For letters such as t and the e in this font where you have a horizontal crossing a vertical, I stitch from top to bottom and then on the way back I do the horizontal part, so that the whole letter is sewn without stopping and repositioning the fabric.   Sometimes you can also stitch several letters without having to stop and reposition - it depends on the font you are using.  In this example I've stitched the L and O of love together and the E and W of sew. 

Once your stitching is complete, carefully peel away your tissue paper. 

Because the needle has perforated the tissue paper most of it should come away quite easily, but a pair of micro tweezers can help to remove stubborn bits trapped in the middle of letters. 

I got mine in the papercraft section of my local craft shop. 

Here's the finished piece. 

And finally, a comparison of each method:

As you can see there's not a huge difference between the completely freehand writing and the one that I wrote onto the fabric, although the written one is a little neater.  You could hand draw (or handwrite!) some really fancy writing, but if I'm doing that I prefer to trace it as in the third method. 

I hope you've found this useful.  Let me know if there's anything else you'd especially like me to cover and if you'd like to see any more videos.  

Highlights of 2019

It's that odd time between Christmas and New Year when even if you're unlucky enough to have to work as I am, hopefully it's not too busy.  I know if you work in retail then this must be one of the busiest times of the year, but thankfully I'm an office worker and today I've had a grand total of 3 emails to answer!  It was quiet on Monday and Tuesday as well, so I feel like I'm actually catching up a little bit. 

And as I seem to have my day job a little bit under control (today at least!) I thought I'd do a quick blog post about the highlights of my year, sewing wise. 

This year started off pretty well with this blog after I made the decision to focus on free motion embroidery rather than dressmaking.  Unfortunately as has happened before my day job became ridiculously busy and stressful and I ran out of brain power for blogging and my posts became even more eratic than previously.  I can't quite make the decision to give it up completely though. 

Anyway, on to my top three sewing highlights of the year.

In third place is the class I taught at the Knitting and Stitching show back in March, which you can read about here.  

Just before the class started!

It was slightly nerve-wracking having to take a huge suitcase full of kits on the train to Olympia, and I'm sure my fellow commuters didn't thank me for that!  The set up was a bit rushed, but once I'd settled in to the class I really enjoyed it and I got some great feedback on the kits I provided. 

In second place, something I haven't blogged about before.  Back in April I had an email out of the blue from Enfield Embroiderers Guild asking if I would like to visit them and give a talk about free motion embroidery.  As the date suggested wasn't until November I agreed, thinking I'd have loads and loads of time to work out what I wanted to say!  In reality I left most of my preparation until about a week before hand.  I was quite nervous as I'd been told to expect an audience of between 30 and 40 people, and it's a long time since I've had to speak in public to a group that size.  

On the day the group were lovely and welcoming and once I'd got started I found I thought of more and more things to say.  I talked about my sewing journey as a whole to begin with, then focussed in on free motion embroidery and what I love about it.  I was told afterwards that one of the things that resonated most with my audience was the dilemma of pursuing a career that follows your passion v. doing the day job and keeping what you love as a hobby.

Public speaking isn't something that I would normally put myself forward for, but I really enjoyed the experience and would definitely do it again. 

And finally, in 1st place has to be this...

The Little Book of Sewing by Karen Ball
Seeing my illustration on the cover of Karen Ball's The Little Book of Sewing. Seeing my name on the back and the book on the shelves in my local Waterstone's was pretty cool too!

You can read the interview that Karen did with my for her blog shortly after the book was released here

Again, this was something I had never done before, and had never even considered a possibility, but would love to do again. 

I wonder what new experiences 2020 will bring?

Should You Share Your Skills?

If you're a crafter of any description I'm sure at one time or another you've shared some of your skills with others, whether that's showing a friend how to do something or teaching a group of strangers in a formal class. 

You probably know I occasionally teach free motion embroidery and it's something I really enjoy.  I love passing my (mainly self taught) knowledge on to others and seeing their joy as they "get it". 

Me, about to teach a group of 12 people at the Knitting and Stitching show.

That's why I was particularly shocked recently when I came across an Instagram story by a gold work embroidery artist I've recently starting following saying that she'd been told on several occasions that either she shouldn't teach gold work at all, or if she did, she shouldn't teach people to do it properly. 

I rarely comment on the IG stories of people I don't know personally but this time I felt I had to and when I mentioned I couldn't believe she'd been told that, she said that it was a comment she'd received not once but several times.  She should teach people "poorly" or not show them everything, presumably so that they couldn't copy her work.  This particular person is a graduate of the London College of Fashion, so I seriously doubt that anyone taking a one day workshop with her would be able to copy her work,  but even so she said that she took pride in her teaching and wanted to pass on as much knowledge as she could.

I feel the same.  While I'm not a graduate of anywhere what I do know I want to pass on to participants in any class I teach as fully as possible.  I want them to know what I know, and love free motion embroidery as much as I love it.  

As an occasional attendee of a craft or art classes myself I would always trust the teacher to teach me well, and it would never occur to me (or wouldn't have until now) that information may purposely be given incorrectly or only in part.

And at the end of the day, if I teach them poorly it only reflects badly on me.  If they can't produce a piece of work they're pleased with because I've only told them part of my method then at the very least they're going to get disheartened and give up.   Or they'll think that it's my fault because I haven't taught them properly, or that actually I'm not very good at what I do.  

I also think the more you put into teaching a class, the more you can get out of it yourself.  I've made some lovely friends who I've initially met when they've come to one of my classes, and I'm sure that wouldn't have happened if I'd taught them poorly.  I've also learnt from people attending my classes, on more than one occasion a question a class participant has asked has prompted me to go away and experiment more myself. 

2 happy students!

As with so many things in life I think you get out of teaching what you put in, if you're not being open and honest with your students, then it's not going to be an enjoyable experience on either side. 

I'd love to know what you think.   Do you think a class tutor should show you everything she knows about the technique she's teaching, or should she keep some "secrets" to herself?