Tag Archive | freehand machine embroidery


June means ‘ get over yourself and get on’ or ‘Help! it’s mother’s birthday!’.

P1180069P1180069 (2)Fun to do, Multi coloured layers of spirals in top of blue, and then variegated green on the leaves.

In response to the second – I ‘ve been playing with simplified and stylised flower forms – this is her card, loosely based on hollyhocks. Couldn’t deny the need for bright with the leaf stitch round the edge. Pink and yellow always makes me think of fruit salad chewy sweets from my childhood, but the Mother likes bright.

The stones progress, and to counter balance all of that ethereal stitching  this has been developing –P1180033

It is based on sunlight light through trees, not quite done – the bottom section isn’t quite strong enough yet.  May be a bit of quilting?  Not as defined as I want yet, the rich blue swallows colour as soon as tones get similiar. There is deep red, purple, deep navy, brown and green in those shadows! But it is all stitch….   a lot of stitch, but I like the areas left open in contrst to the density of the light.  Must remember that I don’t want to do needle painting.


New Toys!

More like tools than toys really.  The choices of thread colour, thickness and quality are a major part of the vocabulary I use to build an image.

In the last creative spurt I have cleaned out a lot of thread, especially the nice, useful, basic colours and some of the fancies. I decided it was splurge time so went for a coordinated set to try out with….  I have not dealt with this brand before, nor have I seen it in my usual suppliers but was feeling brave, so,  thanks to the magic of the internet, these new babies came knocking, courtesy of Wonderfil ( and Mr Paypal).

First impressions – ooooh.  Shiny. Thin. Pretty. Want to stroke them……P1170407

The main local competition is Sulky/Gutermann Rayon ( can buy from local shops((big tick)) or Madeira Rayon, outlet in Ripon (20 odd miles away, boo) or online.  All claim to be 40wt and Rayon, and all want me to use them for machine embroidery.

dancing detail 3

The blue/green is Sulky, the green across it is W’fil. Spot the difference.


Visually the Wonderfil looks finer and with a less noticeable twist. The colours and lustre are soft, less strident than the remnants of Sulky and Madeira that I have left. Worked out to about £1.40 per 100m, but the really big question is how would the machine take to it? How would it sew? becomes expensive if it is not used.

dancing detail

The white is Madeira, the others are cotton or polyester. The pale olive is W’fil.


The new-ish machine (Probably Malcolm) has been getting a crash course in don’t be fussy and shut up and get on with it approaches to stitching and is bearing up very well under the onslaught. Swapped the new stuff in, threaded it and stitched, no adjustments, no frills or favour. Sewed brilliantly. Considering it was Moon thread on the bobbin it took to the machine very well. I have had trouble with the Madeira 30wt  fraying on the needle in the past ( should really buy specialist needles but….)  but while this looked and felt just as soft, it has behaved with perfect manners. Even switched to bobbinfil without any hassles. This is my kind of sewing. Plug it in and go, no temperament, no fiddle.  The piece was a reworking of the Dancing Trees, so multiple rough, uneven layers of fabric, enough to test the stitch consistency of any set up.

dancing new season

See how the delicate lines merge in?


Concerns – It does sew very fine – I guess the 150ms won’t cover a huge amount of ground.  The sheen can be a distraction, the colour doesn’t work in the same way as a matt thread would and tends to show up  much lighter and not as rich in tone when in a rugby scrum of a mix. I do like it though and will certainly make use of the set. May be I should take a look at the rest of the threads Wonderfil do –  something a little thicker for the bigger pieces perhaps.

Does any one else use these?  Or any thing else?

My upcoming dates – 23rd July at Art@HomeFarm, Sledmere House, Yorkshire.

Summer Salon – August,  Feva Festival, Knaresborough.

Great North Art Show- September, Ripon Cathedral.

The Silver Birch fights back!

first sketch for the new silver birch embroideryJoy! From this to this!

I don’t feel any responsibility for it now. It can stand on its own and fight its own battles.hanging birch


Ok, so it may not be totally finished, as in finished, but I have been cutting those creative apron strings. In cycling terms it is off the stabilisers  and is pedalling away.

The last few stages are always the worst – there is more to lose with each decision,  but it is now in the last fester stage  of blocking, stretching and framing and the occasional tweak. One of the very worst is sorting the backing fabric – this stayed determinedly bright white so an attack of tea and dye took place!(Yep, an English Summer – outside in the rain) This can affect how the colours work against each other, I’d been judging and building against a white ground – and now it isn’t…….


7.30 this morning – want to get this done.

9/10s early there. Still WIP.


Things to consider – the “white” trunk. Too short, too white (it is pale blue and grey, but it was a rayon thread so shows up cleaner and brighter than the matt finishes around it). Have already extended the trunk into the canopy but more required upwards and downwards.  Did too many height extensions on the tree – looks like Mr Whippy (soft icecream  before you get too excited) .  Not sure how it starts and finishes – I had wanted to leave the margins emptier and build the complexity toward the centre, just plain got carried away. Do I deconstruct or leave – do the margins look   deliberate or not? Asking the question is enough of a warning.

And so this it….. at the moment, perched in the garden while I have breakfast…..

nearly there......current final birch

And sorted.  single line suggestions for the cow parsley foliage, more density on their heads, grew the tree trunk, added more rayon to the tree top and attacked the ground line with the dread tweezers.


Now the path looks stilted and “neat”. Tree looks like taking off,  cow parsley leaves have disappeared.

It will look different depending on the light. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

  May never win.

How about reducing the size? or switching to larger stretcher? or just having some more toast….

It is much denser than last year’s work, why?  There is much more  of the worked textures but without that cavalier attitude to colour – is it less or is it just refined and redirected?  This feels heavy?  heavy can be fine, lunpen or clumsy is not. Is this just because it was later in the day and also later in the year? I do find mid summer woods oppressive.

More fester required!


YOS 2017 Logo bleed_CMYKLargeItisfinallynearlyhere…NotthatIamgettingexcited….ohno, all calm and immaculately organised……

I am opening 22 and 23rd and then 29 & 30th April.  (no. 38)

Please do come along for a chat or at least to point and laugh. I will be doing quick demos on demand through out – rough timings for these will be on my facebook textiles page by the end of the week and bookings available for ‘ I want to try that….’ opportunities.

My event happens in my workroom – the question is- how far from the usual chaos does it need to be? Yes it should be a workspace rather than a the perfect white gallery, but  stuff has to come out so that I fit people in, the walls

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have to cleared so that work can be displayed. And having cleared stuff out – where do I put it?

No new work this week – just a quick taster/ teaser.

https://www.yorkopenstudios.co.uk/index.php –  Do check out the event website, there is so much going on and some fabulous makers around – who knows who is living down your road or just round the corner?




it has been a MONTH since the last blog – just no excuses. Blog time became travel time and the head prioritised other things for a while. That particular urgency is fading so the blog is fighting back!p1050958

We left with the world being green. The world is now far more blue, may be with bits of orange. Yellow is being a pain, again. It is too obliging, far too social in its outlook and interaction with other colours and  a menace tonally. And as for purple!

Above is how the(mostly) hand stitched piece ended up.  strong colours against a darker base, lots of space between them in most areas so they glow like little jewels.


This is the current machined piece partially done. On the left are the underpinnings, initial working, to the right is more intensively worked.  There are equally intense colours but as they are layered and worked   in parallel lines or cross hatching  they  sink into each other! Clear hues become muddied, brights become dull, even the tonal values shift . There are many more colours now to the right, including violent orange, but the overall effect is duller. It seems that when sewing the directions of the stitching, the density, the order of the layers,  the thickness and surface quality of the thread are so important. As in painting, the colour in the tube or on the reel is rarely what you get on the canvas.

The impact of colours on each other is such a real problem/advantage (depending on the outcome!) but if anyone has a solution to how to get a clean, sharp yellow that can float above the background without resorting to eggyolk thick rayon thread or acid neon please let me know.


for something just about colour, why does it look more picture than ever?


I  like landscape. It does tend to rely heavily on green, green and/or  green.  Finding how to create the idea of land, growth and distance without being totally green is a bit of a poser.   Mixing just blue and yellow seems a bit simplistic, adding a third or fourth colour and you go off the map very quickly, to the land of paint charts with names like ‘Irish acres’ or ‘inchworm’, or just pantone numbers. Trying to create these subtleties with a limited palette of  thread is even more of a poser.

Get up early and light and colour have a different character, they are  richer and deeper. Shadows have a texture, they are not absence, a lack of, but an essential part, on a good morning they will glow.  Colour seems to reflect more strongly and contrasts sing. It may be the low angle of the sun, the moisture in the air as the dew burns off,  or the effect of the first coffee. I would rather not know, I just like being out and about then rather than at mid day or evening.

So how does this effect my textile practice? It doesn’t, it effects the whole of my artistic practice. It is all about seeing.  By working so much in one colour every nuance  becomes  important, yet it isn’t about single colours but about mixing them, using harmonies and contrasts to enhance or dampen overall.  I prefer building and layering to colouring in,  putting colours together  to create rather than have the one ‘perfect’ choice. By dropping in touches of bright colour the whole can be lifted, or by using small stitches of a  jumble of brights the whole can become more muted. The pictures above are of the current  experimental piece in its infancy. And yes most of it is hand stitched. The bright thread is nylon so when I dyed and coloured the fabrics they retain their colour. Other stitching gets darker and less distinct (tree trunk).   Fairly basic stuff so far, mixing tones of pink in to suggest distance,  working tones together to give richness.  As I added dye the relationships shift, some colours glow against the darker ground, others sink into it, the tone of the colour becomes more important. For instance the orange is more inclined to sulk and lurk now. I think every artist has their  own take on colour theory – I see it as a starting point, visual mixing and physical mixing can behave very differently in practice!

How this piece will end up I don’t know. So far it has been dyed, appliqued,  stitched in cotton, dyed,  attacked with dye sticks, bleached,  stitched with nylon, dyed.  Not even half way yet. And as for the tree canopy………

And never forget  that textures, quality of edge, hard or soft, shiny or matt surfaces,  are all part of it, that is the range of ‘tricks’ used to create or diffuse  depth and definition. When you put use of colour into the mix and it becomes ….joyous…..frustrating….. but always fascinating.



far enough, or too far?


My camping stool has lost one of the structural screws and kept sinking at funny angles as I tried to sketch.P1050786 The result is a vagueness due to the multiple view points as I sank slowly ever lower and the desperate need for speed.  I was trying to keep that notion of  suggestion rather than fact in the textiles but it has ended up with greater clarity and detail!

The photo sequence shows the emergence of the silver birch tree- from crude blocks of fabric ( these were a real primrose yellow!), the breaking down of the blocks, adding more brighter green fabric, gold organza and of course layers of stitching, mostly in variegated green rayon but also in thicker acid green cotton.


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final piece, of course I want to moan. It’s bigger than intended. need to buyer a bigger stretcher.

The question I have is how to control the finish quality. I get to the composition and colour that I want before I get to the level of stitching. I feel the results are often left cruder than I would like but I don’t want the slickness that more layers would give. This section  conveys all that I want, the directional stitching tell the tale of the pathway, the flat grass either side and then the verticals under the trees,


the elusive Scarlet Pimpernel, they seek him here, they seek him there…….. It goes up and down, it goes side to side, it goes into the distance….. one of those has to be right!

but does it go far enough, or too far?  I like structure but I want surfaces and colour. Being ‘like a photograph’ rates very low. This is too photographic or am I just too familiar with it? More or less stitching?, more or less fabric peices? more or less picture?

Probably time for answers on a postcard please.