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?

David, Adam and Madonna

Gosh, so long since my last post once again!  I was determined that once I'd changed my blog to focus on free motion embroidery I would post more regularly.  I didn't imagine my day job would suddenly become even busier than it has been and that when I finished work for the day all I'd want to do was flop in front of the television. 

I've been working on bits and pieces here and there and now have a total of three free motion embroidered portrait kits for sale in my Etsy shop.  Currently you can choose from David Bowie:


and today I've added Adam Ant:

The kits contain pretty much everything you need to stitch the portrait from backing fabric, to templates, all the applique fabrics (which in most cases are Liberty tana lawn) and a hints and tips card as well as full instructions. 

They come packaged in a kraft card box and I have to say I got great feedback on them when I used them for a workshop at the Knitting and Stitching show. 

I plan on adding more portrait kits to the shop as time goes on, so let me know if there's anyone you'd love to stitch and I'll see what I can do!

I'm also planning on adding a small range of mini kits, which will be perfect if you've never tried free motion embroidery before and just want a little taster.

Fashionable Lady - 3D Free Motion Embroidery Tutorial

At long last I have a new tutorial for you!  This is a favourite design of mine, and was originally featured as part of a tutorial for a tote bag that was featured in Love Sewing magazine some time ago. 

Today I'm just going to show you how to create the stylish lady and her fabulous three dimensional frock, then you can decide if you would like to place her on a tote bag or maybe frame her. 

You will need:
  • Medium weight plain fabric for the embroidery base (approx. 10 x 12 inches).
  • Small piece of floral cotton fabric for dress (approx. 8 inches square). 
  • Small piece of hessian for hat (3 to 4 inches square). 
  • A few inches of narrow lace. 
  • Iron on interfacing (approx. 8 x 10 inches to back your embroidery, plus a small piece approx. 4 inches square). 
  • Small piece of Bondaweb (approx. 8 inches square).
  • Black thread. 
  • White tissue paper/thin tracing paper. 

Start by downloading the templates from this link.

Following the manufacturers instructions, apply the iron on interfacing to the back of the plain fabric you will be appliqueing and embroidering onto.  Put this to one side until you're ready to use it. 

Trace the bodice template onto the reverse of a piece of the printed fabric and the hat template onto the reverse of the piece of hessian. 

Trace the skirt template onto a piece of iron on interfacing and cut out.  Press the interfacing piece onto the wrong side of a piece of printed fabric.  Cut out, leaving a ½” border around the sides and bottom of the skirt piece.  Press the border to the wrong side, and sew a line of stitching along the “hem” of the skirt piece.  Set aside.  

Dress and hat pieces prepared with Bondaweb and interfacing.

Following the manufacturer’s instructions, apply Bondaweb to the reverse of the bodice and hat pieces, peel off the backing paper and cut out.  Set aside. 

Trace the solid lines on the figure template onto a piece of tissue paper.  Make a light pencil mark where the top of the hat will come.  Pin your tracing onto the right side of one of the plain backing fabric, making sure the figure is positioned centrally.  

The traced template pinned in place for stitching. 

Thread your sewing machine with black thread, lower your feed dogs and put the darning foot on the machine.  Using free motion embroidery stitch over the tracing, going over the lines twice.  At the start and end of each line, stitch up and down on the spot a few times, snip the thread and pull the front thread through to the reverse to secure.  

This blog post might be helpful if you need a refresher on how to do free motion embroidery. 

Stitching complete, tissue paper still in place. 

Once all the lines have been stitched, carefully tear away the tissue paper.  You may find a pair of tweezers helpful in removing small pieces caught between stitches.  

Stitching complete, tissue paper carefully removed. 

Using the dotted lines on the figure template as a guide, position the bodice and hat pieces and press in place with an iron. Stitch around the edge of the hat and bodice piece.  

Hat and bodice pieces ironed on and stitched. 

Pin the sides of the skirt in place, then loosely pleat the excess at the waist and pin down.  

Skirt piece pinned in place. 

Stitch down each side of the skirt and across the waist.  Do not stitch the skirt hem. 

Glue or hand sew a small piece of ribbon or braid on the hat as a band, and around the waist of the skirt. 

You can use this lovely lady as an embellishment on a tote bag or she looks equally as special mounted in a box type frame. 

Giveaway Winner

Happy Easter everyone, I hope you are enjoying the weekend.  In the UK we have gorgeous weather at the moment, which is almost unheard of for an Easter weekend.  I'm very torn though, because part of me wants to stay inside and sew, and the other part of me thinks I should be sitting in the garden making the most of the weather!

I had some lovely comments on my last post to win a copy of The Little Book of Sewing, where I asked you to tell me what your favourite thing about sewing is.  So many mentioned the positive benefits on your mental health, which is certainly high on my list of my favourite things about this wonderful hobby / craft / way of life.

I used a random number generator to pick my winner.

The winner is Amber Elayne, who said:

I love a few things about sewing: well-fitted clothes with practical tweaks that are customized to suit my work and personal lives, as well as individualized gifts for friends and family.

Drop me an email with your address Amber Elayne and I'll get your prize in the post to you.

The Little Book of Sewing

If you're on Instagram then you may well have seen posts popping up in your feed this week about The Little Book of Sewing which was published yesterday. 

Written by the brilliant Karen from Did You Make That, it is - as it says in the title - a little book about sewing.  But as much about why you should sew as how to sew.  There are plenty of hints and tips throughout it's pages, but Karen also focusses on the fact that sewing is good for you with chapter titles such as Self-Love, Mental Health and Kindness.

What you may not know is that the cover was designed and stitched by me!  Karen herself only found out a few weeks ago when I emailed her to thank her for choosing my design.  She thought it would be fun to interview me about the cover design for her blog, and you can read the interview here

Pop over to Karen's blog if you'd like to find out how I designed and stitched the cover, and what my initial thoughts were when the publisher contacted me. 

If you'd like your own copy of The Little Book of Sewing, you are in luck because I have one to give away.  The publishers kindly sent me two copies and as I haven't done a giveaway for ages I thought I'd do just that.  Just comment below telling me what you love most about sewing to be in with a chance of winning.  The giveaway will be open until Sunday 14th April, and a winner will be chosen randomly shortly after that date.   

Meet the Maker

If you're on Instagram you've probably seen the #marchmeetthemaker that lots of creative people have been involved in this month.  I started doing it, posting a picture for each of the daily prompts... and lasted less than a week!

If I'm honest, I'm not that great with photo challenges and that type of thing and often fail to complete them but I really wanted to do this one.  Unfortunately my day job has been crazily busy recently - even more so than normal - and I've had little time to think of anything other than fire risk assessments.  I've even been dreaming about them!

So what I thought I'd do would be to do my own version of Meet the Maker with a bit of an "about me" blog post.  I've gained a few new followers over the past couple of months and I thought it might be good to tell you a bit about me. 

I'm Sam, as you probably will have gathered from my blog name if you didn't already know.  By day I work for a housing association as a fire risk surveyor, doing exciting stuff like inspecting fire escape routes and fire doors and writing reports. It's a job I never imagined myself doing to be honest and some days I'm not quite sure exactly how I came to be doing it.

Outside work I love all kinds of creative pursuits but sewing, and more often than not, free motion embroidery is my favourite.  I've been sewing for as long as I can remember and have made everything from soft toys to wedding dresses.

However my favourite thing to make is free motion embroidered portraits. I started doing them a couple of years ago with a series of David Bowie portraits and have a constantly growing list of other people to stitch.  My ultimate aim for a purely personal project is to stitch David Bowie in every one of his distinctive looks.  The next one I'm planning is the Goblin King from the film Labyrinth.

I love using quality fabrics in my work, with the exception of the black fabric used in the jumpsuit of the third portrait in the above line up, all the applique fabrics are either Liberty print cotton or small amounts of silk dupion.

I teach free motion embroidery at a couple of local sewing shops and recently taught a free motion embroidered portraits class at the Knitting and Stitching show, which went better than I could ever have hoped for.  You can read about that here.

Following that experience I'm currently working on some new portraits with a view to selling kits similar to those that we used during the workshop.  I'm working on images of Prince, Boy George and Adam Ant at the moment, with more to be added as time allows.

I still love making clothes when I have the time and my next dressmaking project will be a Spring coat using the Trend Patterns Drop Shoulder Coat pattern and some jade green cotton moleskin I bought recently.  I'm hoping to start working on that in the next few days and am trying to be good and make a toile before I jump in and cut my good fabric. 

I will also have some news about an exciting project I played a small part in soon, so watch this space!


Iconic Fun Portraits at the Knitting and Stitching Show

Yesterday I had the pleasure of teaching a workshop at the Knitting and Stitching show for the first time. I was contacted towards the end of last year by Wendy Gardiner who organises all the workshops to ask if I'd be interested in teaching free motion embroidered portraits and after a bit of emailing backwards and forwards we settled on this workshop, offering a choice of David Bowie or Madonna.

This was the sight that greeted me when I arrived at the workshop area at the show early yesterday morning, confirmation that my workshop had already sold out.  That was great, but it meant I'd have 12 people to teach, double my normal class size.   

Sold out! Eeek!!

My class wasn't until the afternoon, so me and the friend I'd dragged along to help me (thank you again Jo!) spent the morning shopping and chatting to exhibitors.  I spent my money on three patterns from Trend Patterns, some gorgeous hand dyed embroidery threads from Paintbox Threads and 3 metres of chocolate brown linen for a Spring/Summer dress.

I'd spent the last few weeks putting together kits for the workshop, which were transported there in a rather large suitcase.  I don't think my fellow commuters on the train were that impressed by the amount of room it took up!  I'd decided to make 12 kits in each design, just in case my class sold out (it did) and just in case everyone chose the same one (11 of them chose David Bowie).

Not a great photo, but kits piled up ready to be packed into the case.
I wanted to make the kits really nice (I've been on workshops at events like this before where the kits were awful and actually put me off wanting to do the workshop I'd already paid for), so I chose Liberty print fabrics for the applique and packaged them up as nicely as I could, including templates, instructions and of course all the fabrics.

Part of the kit, without fabric, as I don't think I'd cut it all when I took this photo.

I've been so busy with my real job recently that I hadn't really had much time to think about the workshop other than preparing everything I needed to take with me, but when it came time to get started yesterday I was really nervous.  The previous workshop in my teaching area had over-run slightly, so it was a bit frantic setting up and I also had to contend with a noisy upcycling challenge taking place in the open area behind me.

This was me right before the workshop started, begging my friend to take the photo quickly so I could get going!
Once I got going though I was fine.  As I mentioned above, 11 out of the 12 participants chose to stitch David Bowie, so I was very relieved I had taken the decision to make 12 kits of each design.

I had a great group to teach, everyone was really enthusiastic and kept telling me how much they loved what they were learning.  Some people got on quietly and others chatted to their neighbours as they worked.

And the kits went down a treat, everyone loved them and asked if I sold them elsewhere and if I did any other designs.  That's something I had been thinking about - I was certainly going to put the "leftovers" in my Etsy shop - so I'm now in the process of deciding who to add to my little collection.  Once I've decided I can start stitching, and photographing, and writing instructions, then finally listing them for sale.

If there's anyone famous you'd love to have a kit to stitch, please let me know in the comments below.  I can't promise to make everyone, but if there are a few names that come up a few times it's a distinct possibility I'll stitch them and turn them into a kit.

So free motion embroidery is great, but...

... what can I do with it?

OK, so you've tried your hand at free motion embroidery and you love it.  You want to do more, in fact you want to free motion embroider the hell out of everything you can lay your hands on.

Well that's how I felt after my first experience of free motion embroidery anyway, and I'm sure I'm not the only one to feel that way!

But what if you want to do more than just embroider pictures of teacups and saucers for friends and family, until they (and you) are sick of the sight of them?

Here are a few other ways I've used free motion embroidery in my projects.

Having always been rubbish at drawing people, I discovered a love of stitching them and now one of my favourite ways of using free motion embroidery is doing portraits.  I tend to do famous people, below is 80's heart throb John Taylor from Duran Duran, but you could do a family members portrait as a unique gift.

I've made several cushions using free motion embroidery - in fact I teach free motion embroidered cushion workshops.  This is one of my favourites:

Clothing and accessories can both be embellished with free motion embroidery as well.

You could practice your skills in miniature and make a badge or brooch.  I used a large self covered button for this Ziggy Stardust one.  (The pink haired lady with glasses is by Jennifer Jackson Dolls.

And a tiny touch of free motion embroidery is all that's required to make my Cheeky Face make up pouch that was featured in Love Sewing magazine a few months ago.

Going into a bit more detail again, here's a portrait of Debbie Harry (can you tell I like 80's pop stars?) on a denim tote bag.

And finally to round things off, a sweatshirt embellished with free motion embroidery.

The only thing to watch out for if you're putting free motion embroidery on items that will go through the washing machine is that the raw edges of the fabric will fray to a certain extent.  However I made this almost three years ago and it still looks good, the frayed edges actually give it a bit more individuality I think.

I hope this short run through some of my previous projects have given you a few ideas on how you can use free motion embroidery yourself. 

If you have any other suggestions, I'd love to know.

60's Lady Free Motion Embroidery Tutorial

As promised I have another tutorial for this week.  This one builds on the hot air balloon from a few weeks ago by showing you how I stitch areas of detail where there is no applique fabric to guide me.

You will need:
Backing fabric to embroider and applique onto
Medium weight iron on interfacing
Applique fabrics (I used scraps of Liberty print silk)
A small piece of Bondaweb
Greaseproof paper
Thin tracing paper or tissue paper
Good quality black sewing thread

Start by setting your sewing machine up for free motion embroidery by lowering the feed dogs and changing to a darning foot.  Thread the machine up with black thread and a matching bobbin.

I used this image to create my embroidery, which I found on Pinterest.

Start by tracing your chosen image onto a sheet of thin tracing paper or tissue paper.  It needs to be thin because you're going to stitch through it later.

Once the image is traced, cut the dress and clutch bag out from your original print out.  Keep the tracing intact.  Select the fabrics you want to use for the two pieces and apply Bondaweb to the back.  Remember to place some greaseproof paper between your iron and the Bondaweb and fabric to protect the iron from the excess glue!

Peel your fabrics off the Bondaweb backing, and draw around the templates you have cut out.  I always draw on the back of my fabric with the template face down.  This way you avoid pen marks on the right side of your fabric.

Use a couple of pins to secure your tissue paper tracing to your backing fabric and carefully position your cut out applique pieces on the backing fabric using your tracing as a guide.

Press with a hot iron to activate the glue and stick the applique pieces down.  Now you are ready to stitch.

Start by stitching the traced lines in the areas where there is no fabric - on this image, the head, arms and legs.  Go over each line twice for a more solid look and stitch up and down on the spot a few times at the start and end.   At this stage you don't need to stitch the areas where there is fabric to guide you.

Once you have completed these sections you can remove the tracing.  Do this by carefully pulling the paper away.  Tear slowly and hold the paper close to the stitches to prevent putting too much pressure on them.  Most areas should come away quite easily as your stitching will have perforated the paper.  Stubborn pieces of paper can be eased away with a stitch unpicker or a pair of needle nosed craft tweezers.

You can now stitch around the dress and bag and add extra detail into the hair, or fill the shoes in should you wish.

This technique can be used anywhere you need to add some detail that can't be guided by the edge of your fabric.  It works well for text as well as "drawn" areas and is particularly useful if you need something to be very precise.

Free Motion Embroidery Artists I Admire

There are many different styles of free motion embroidery.  The beauty of the skill is that once you've learned the basics you can do so many different things with it.  I thought it would be fun to share with you some of my favourite free motion embroidery / textile artists so you see some the different styles in a bit more detail.

Firstly has to be Katie Essam.  It was seeing Katie's work at a local craft fair a few years ago that brought free motion embroidery to my attention. As well as selling her gorgeous work she was advertising workshops and I immediately decided I wanted one as a birthday present.  You can read about my experience on the workshop in this blog post.

Katie describes herself as a mixed media textile artist, inspired by everyday beauty.  She combines freehand machine embroidery, appliqué, paint, crochet and more to create her original textile pieces.

Her pieces are bright, colourful and full of texture and detail. 

You can find Katie's website here. She has also written a brilliant book "Layered and Stitched Pictures", which I highly recommend.

Next I'd like to introduce you to Emma Giacalone, a textile artist I discovered through Instagram.  Emma's work is simply beautiful, incredibly detailed and often focuses on positivity and inspiring messages. 

Her food pictures take familiar, often iconic packaging and give it a quirky twist and "Finding Inspiration" maps do the same for the good old A-Z road atlas.

You can find Emma's website here, and her Instagram here.

Amanda Stinton is another Instagram find - it's where I get my creative fix from these days.  Amanda's lovely work is another take on free motion embroidery, which is almost collage like in the way she layers fabrics - sometimes overlapping tiny pieces - and thread to create colourful and highly textured pictures.  She uses coloured threads to great effect and creates shading as you would with different coloured paints.

You can find Amanda on Instagram here.

Finally for today is Ali from Hawkins and Hill, yet another Instagram find!  I think I found Ali through the gorgeous clutch bags she makes, which often feature some form of free motion embroidery.  The pieces of her work I've chosen to share feature a vintage sewing pattern envelope stitched from fabric, and an old school music cassette tape stitched from vinyl, proving once again that it's possible to use a wide variety of materials in your work. 

I love the way Ali has 'coloured in' the pattern envelope design with thread, rather than using fabric applique.

Ali's Instagram is here, and you can find her Etsy shop here

I hope you've enjoyed my little trip around the world of free motion embroidery today.  There are plenty more artists out there creating in lots of different styles, so hopefully I'll do another one of these posts later in the year. 

In the mean time, I'd love to know which one of the artists I've featured today is your favourite and why.

Next week I'll be back with a new tutorial for you.    

* all of the above images are shared with the artists permission.