A free pattern to celebrate my birthday

Hello Beautiful Stitchers! I simply cannot believe that it is four months since my last blog post. I do not know where this year is going. My apologies for the blog hiatus. If you follow me in other spaces (namely Instagram and Facebook) you will know that Beautiful Stitches has been going through a step change in the last few months and I have been running very fast to keep up.

2015 has turned out to be a pretty exciting year: my social media following has grown substantially; my teaching bookings are significantly higher than they were this time last year; and all this interest has prompted me to focus on opening on an Etsy store to sell my patterns and kits. Something had to give, and I opted for it to be the blog in the short term. But, the good news is that I almost have a handle on things again and I look forward to sharing some longer posts with you again soon.

In the meantime, today is my birthday and I am in the mood for celebrating! The Beautiful Stitches Etsy store will be open by the end of this week (announcements and links will be posted here and on my social media accounts). But I know it can be daunting to spend good money on a pattern or kit if you are not sure of what you are getting. So, I am giving away this free pincushion/scissor keep design so that you can see how I write my patterns. If you do decide to purchase one of my patterns, I want you to feel confident in the quality and detail of my instructions.

Free Pincushion Pattern

At this point, some of you are saying to me, “Ann-Marie, this is great but I just don’t have time to stitch at the moment.” That’s OK – I have you covered too. Every one of my patterns comes with a bonus colouring-in page. You can use it to help plan the colours for your stitched design or for the sheer pleasure of colouring a beautiful, geometric pattern.

Whether you are stitching or colouring, please post a photo here or on your favourite social media account when you are finished. I love to see all your beautiful stitches and creativity!

8

My wish for you? Go make some mistakes!

Hello Beautiful Stitchers! It is an utterly beautiful autumn day here in Perth and my fingers are itching to be stitching. But before I allow myself that luxury, I wanted to share an idea that has been making my brain buzz with excitement all day :)

As an embroidery designer I have worked hard over the last few years to find my own style – to bring together my favourite colours, stitches, fabrics, patterns and ideas to create something which is truly my own. The most wonderful comment came through on my Instagram feed yesterday which helped me to feel like I might finally be achieving that creative goal.

I always know which posts are yours, even before I see your profile name. I love your work!

I was doing the biggest happy dance, I can tell you. I was so excited!!! All the time and effort I had put into learning my craft, challenging myself to create my own designs, finding those creative intersections that really made my heart sing – it had all been worth it! And a really big part of that has been and continues to be making A LOT of mistakes.

Why mistakes I hear you ask? Well the mistakes have helped me to learn, they sometimes throw open unexpected doors, and they always stretch me to try something new – “Okay, so that didn’t work. But I still really want to create this vision I have in my head, so what can I do differently?”

Let me share with you an example that is challenging me right now. I really want to work out a beautiful and simple way to mount small pieces of canvaswork embroidery as jewellery. One of my goals is to use this as a teaching project, so it is particularly important that the mounting process needs to be easily reproduced in a classroom situation.

Step 1 – Creating the embroidery was fairly straighforward. I decided to work on Chinese silk gauze fabric using some divine flat silk threads. So far, so good.

A 30mm x 30mm piece of embroidery ready for life as an embroidered pendant.

A 30mm x 30mm piece of embroidery ready for life as an embroidered pendant.

Step 2 – With no jewellery experience at all I needed to find out how people were mounting embroidered pendants and brooches. There are lots of different examples and supplies available, but I decided that my first step would be to try a pendant tray – either square or rectangular. A lovely afternoon spent browsing options on Etsy found me ordering a mixed selection from an Australian supplier, Little Red Raspberry.

A selection of square and rectangular pendant trays.

A selection of square and rectangular pendant trays.

Step 3 – Now I needed to mount the embroidery in the tray. I laced the embroidery onto an acid free card base with a layer of pure wool felt for padding. The silk gauze is a very thin fabric so this worked quite well – there was no unruly bulk on the back of my work. But once I mounted it in the tray it was sitting too proud – and there was a line of unsightly white fabric showing at the edges. It really wasn’t matching the vision in my head just yet! But nevertheless, it was my first attempt and I knew I could easily fix the problem by lacing onto a thinner base next time around.

The edge of my pendant wasn't looking great on the first attempt - but I knew this would be easy to fix next time.

The edge of my pendant wasn’t looking great on the first attempt.

Step 4 – I figure that it is no good having an embroidered pendant or brooch if it is too fragile to wear, so it was time to wear it – yay! Ahhhhh – Houston we have a problem. After only a couple of hours, one of the threads had pulled loose.

Can you see the pulled thread? This is just not sturdy enough....yet!

Can you see the pulled thread? This is just not sturdy enough….yet!

And that is where I am up to at the moment. The short stitch lengths have survived the wearing test quite well whereas the long ones clearly have not. Perhaps I just need to change my stitch design? But I love the look of those long flat silk threads – the light plays so beautifully off them. Can I find a jewellery mount where the whole embroidery would sit behind glass? Or is there a spray sealant I can use to protect the embroidery? Or could you put the embroidered piece into the bottom of the tray and cover it with a glass cabochon? Or perhaps even fill it with resin? (The embroidery purists are gasping in horror at this point!).

I suspect that there are going to be many more mistakes and dead ends before I get this to work just the way I want. But that really is the point of today’s post. You have to keep making mistakes until the outcome matches the creative vision in your head. And will it be worth it? Absolutely!

In case you need some extra convincing, take the time to watch this wonderful video of Neil Gaiman’s address to Philadelphia’s University of the Arts Class of 2012.

In one of those moments of serendipity, this video turned up via my Facebook feed this morning. I was interested because I am currently reading Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking (Amanda and Neil are married). I hesitate to admit that until I read Amanda’s book, I had never heard of Neil Gaiman at all. But I confess that I have rapidly become a huge fan of them both – mostly because there is a wonderful honesty about their creative process. I could quote whole tracts of Neil’s speech verbatim, because the whole thing is so inspiring. But here are the snippets that are important for you today.

If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that. ….I hope you’ll make mistakes. If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something. And the mistakes in themselves can be useful. ….And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.

Wonderful advice from Neil Gaiman

Wonderful advice from Neil Gaiman

So, this is what I wish for you too. If you want to create your own embroidery designs and feel that you don’t have the talent or skill to do it, then please think again. The fact that you want to create your own designs means that you are already halfway there. Now you just need to give it time, do lots of creating, make lots of mistakes and learn from them. I guarantee that it will be worth it!

6

Crafting “slow” in the modern world

Hello Beautiful Stitchers! I am going to be completely honest today. I am struggling with a healthy dose of overwhelm. This has absolutely nothing to do with my embroidery and everything to do with all the other stuff that goes along with running a creative business in the 21st century.

Over the last couple of years I have researched all the things I should be doing in order to run a thriving creative business. I have taken classes to find out how to be a better blogger, how to put more of myself into my business, and how to use social media effectively. I have bought, borrowed and read countless books and magazines. And I have worked hard to implement what I am learning.

Learning to be a good web citizen!

Learning to be a good web citizen!

But I have a problem. Social media and modern technology just eat time – my very precious time that could be spent embroidering my latest design or writing up workshop notes. And sometimes that just doesn’t feel right.

Now don’t get me wrong – I have come to adore Instagram after only two months of using it. I am connecting with fabulous embroiderers and craftspeople from around the world, and I love seeing all the amazing things which they create. But in order to build a following, I am told that I need to post every day and spend time interacting with others by leaving thoughtful comments. I should also make sure that my posts have a look about them which is recognisably “Beautiful Stitches”. So I need to put time and effort into taking good quality photos that help to build the story of who I am and what makes my embroidery unique. And then I am told that I even need to think about what time of the day it is best for me to post, to maximise my visibility (heaven help me if that happens to clash with the school run, or making dinner, or getting a sick child to the doctor!).

Instagram Page

Facebook is also a must. I should be posting daily there too and building likes. And the branding between my website, Facebook, and Instagram should all be cohesive.

Facebook Page

Pinterest is the perfect place for creatives – I should be pinning regularly so that my followers are constantly updated on what is inspiring me this week.

Pinterest Page

And I am told that I really should be blogging once a week or once a fortnight – a target which you, my dear readers, know that I rarely manage to hit.

There are a host of other social media platforms that I could be using but I am choosing to ignore. To be perfectly frank I am having trouble keeping up with those where I already have a regular, albeit small, presence.

AARGH – stop the social media train, just for a day. It’s Easter Sunday and I want to get off!

So why does all this social media and online activity sometimes feel so overwhelming? Well, I think the answer might actually be very simple.

The kind of stitching I do is “slow stitching”.

It takes time for me to create and develop a new design – and by time I mean weeks or months, not just a few hours or days. I do a lot of rhythmic, repetitive stitching and this process is not easily captured in daily updates. I would completely understand if I showed you the same piece of work two days in a row, and you couldn’t see much of a difference. So social media is a constant challenge for me. A challenge to come up with something new or different or exciting for my feed. A challenge not to flood my feed with exactly the same colours for two months.

My latest design has taken two months to develop.

My latest design has taken two months to develop. I posted updates to Instagram just 7 times.

And you see I love “slow”. I love the feeling of continuity as a design gradually develops beneath my fingers. My design becomes a friend as we patiently work together towards a completed piece. I love thinking about an idea deeply – sometimes for days or weeks until it transforms into something new and interesting in my brain. I even love slow food. My favourite Christmas cake for example is Nigella Lawson’s Black Cake. You soak approximately 1kg of dried fruit for a minimum of two weeks in half a bottle of Madeira and half a bottle of rum. And let me tell you there is something indescribably luscious about the result. Nigella even recommends that you eat the cake in “a slow, meditative way”.

Thus, the modern media culture for daily updates and quick snapshots isn’t really a natural fit for me. I find myself almost weighed down by the obligation to sort through everyone else’s posts whilst also trying to make sure that I put out good quality content of my own. Some days, like today, it feels like more noise than I want to hear and I don’t feel like I am being a very good online citizen. And yet I know that if I don’t play by the rules, my faint voice will be completely drowned out by all the others who are playing the game a lot better than I am!

In an effort to manage my social media presence I am going to compromise my need for “slow” with the modern world’s demand for “fast”. My number one priority is to deliver you genuinely good quality content rather than to meet the social media rules for quantity. And yes it is a compromise, but I truly believe that I will be more authentically me if I bend the rules just a little bit. So here is the plan:

  1. Instagram is my daily port of call. In other words, I will post something nearly every day on my Instagram page. Mostly it will be related to Beautiful Stitches activity, but occasionally you will get a glimpse into other parts of my world.
  2. The Beautiful Stitches Facebook page will have posts a few times a week. Typically, the Facebook posts and the Instagram posts will be different because it drives me crazy when I am following somebody in both places and I get identical content in both feeds (perhaps this is just a personal quirk on my part, but nevertheless that is the way I tick).
  3. Pinterest is typically a weekend activity for me – a lazy half hour on a Sunday morning is my idea of creative bliss. So my Pinterest page will typically only have new content once a week.
  4. Finally, this blog is a place to share the longer stories and drill deeper into how I work. That will happen once or twice a month – more like a magazine that you purchase once a month than the daily newspaper.
  5. And most importantly, this plan will help to ensure that I have plenty of time to design, stitch and teach. After all, that is what this entire creative journey is all about.

To keep in touch with all my activities, please choose the online space or spaces that suit you best. I will be most happy if you feel that you are getting just enough information from me, rather than too much. And I would love to hear what you think? Do you also struggle with social media overwhelm? Or is that purely the domain of this 40-something woman who would much rather sit down and chat to you over a cup of tea?

4

Choosing colours with confidence – Part 3

Hello Beautiful Stitchers! Where are the weeks disappearing this year? I can hardly believe it is the beginning of March already. There are lots of exciting things happening here at the moment. I am so busy that the weeks just feel like they are flying by. I’ll be able to reveal all soon, but in the meantime I want to finish off this series on choosing colours with confidence. I really hope you have found that inner child and started embracing your colour style with energy and enthusiasm!

In Part 1 and Part 2 we looked at some examples of how I use variegated threads to help me choose colours. In this post I wanted to collect together some resources and examples of other avenues you can try when you need colour inspiration.

The most obvious of course is to use a piece of fabric as your starting point. If you are anything like me you have a wonderful stash of fabric, and each and every one is another colour palette just waiting to be tried. (Of course, if you can’t find just the right colour in your stash, then you are just going to have to go shopping – sounds like the perfect excuse to me!). Take the time to stop and look at your fabrics in a slightly different way. Look at the colours the designer has used and how are they balanced. Will that help you with the embroidery project you have in mind?

Here is a random example from my stash.

Bold flower fabric

This bright, bold, floral print has as its lead character PINK. But there are a number of shades of pink here, so perhaps a variegated thread would be a good choice. Supporting roles are played by ORANGE and TEAL, and importantly there are bit parts for two shades of GREEN. To select my threads, I would simply take this piece of fabric to my local needlework shop and use it to help me choose the right shades of pink, teal, orange and green. Using the piece of fabric as a starting point makes the colour choice much easier.

Ok – let’s look at another example. I worked this set of embroidered braids a number of years ago and I still have the piece of fabric that I used to help me choose my colours.

Braids

This fabric design is a lot busier than the bold floral above but it turned out to be a superb colour resource. First, you can tell overall that the colours of my piece are similar to the colours of the fabric. Just as I suggested above, I took this fabric to my local needlework shop and selected a range of DMC cottons, some beautiful silk threads, and a handful of mohair threads for my colour palette.

Thread selection

But then I went one step further. I used individual elements within the design to help me choose colours for each braid. In this example the leaf element is predominantly the lighter shade of green with supporting roles played by the darker shade of green and gold. And there is just a hint of russet red right at the outer edge. I chose the colours for the braid to reflect that mix.

Leaf & Braid 1

What about another example? This leaf has a deep russet red alongside a very light cream. The highlights come from yellow, black and blue. The braid I created left out the black because I just felt like it made my design too heavy, but otherwise the colour palette is drawn directly from that little leaf.

Leaf & Braid 2

Can you see how easy it is? And what great resources you almost certainly have in your stash already? Did I hear you say that you don’t really buy fabric because you are an embroiderer through and through? No problem. What about magazines, or books, or artwork, or photographs? I am sure you have some of those. And they are all WONDERFUL resources for colour.

For example, here is a beautiful magazine cover (I confess to having a weakness for good quality craft magazines).

Daphne's Diary Cover

I am drawn to “Daphne’s Diary” purely because she uses colour so well. The wreath here would make a superb colour palette – purple, red, orange, yellow and green – utterly gorgeous (in fact I may have to try it soon!). And all you have to do is take it along with you when you next go shopping for threads. It really is that easy :)

So, there you have it. My take on all things related to choosing colour in three parts. And if you want to know more, there are a myriad of other fantastic resources available to you. A few of my favourites are:

Off my bookshelf

  • Colour and Design for Embroidery by Richard Box – an excellent technical resource with excellent information on each of the main colour hues.
  • A Passion for Colour by Ruth Issett – a feast for the eyes. Ruth’s enthusiasm for colour is contagious!
  • 2000 Colour Combinations by Garth Lewis – a fantastic library of colour palettes.
  • Colour Confidence in Embroidery by Trish Burr – a wonderful book that shows you colour palettes in action in embroidered motifs.

On the web

  • Paletton – The Color Scheme Designer – an online tool for designing colour palettes from any starting point. It is very easy to use for a specific purpose or just to go exploring.
  • COLOURlovers – a seriously mind-boggling array of colour palettes, which can almost be a little overwhelming at times. But it is worth a visit to go exploring and find the amazing number of colour palettes that are possible. Also, many of the palettes are laid out with the colour balance as well, so this is a really helpful feature.
  • TinEye Labs MulticolorEngine – a seriously fun tool to choose a range of colours and then see a whole suite of images using those colours. It is kind of colour palettes in revers, but it gives you a really good feel for what your embroidery might look like if you choose a given set of colours.

 

Please use the comments below to let me know what you think. Do you know of other great colour resources that I could add to the list here? It is always brilliant to hear from you!

2

Choosing colours with confidence – Part 2

Hello beautiful stitchers! Welcome to Part 2 of choosing colours with confidence. Remember in my last post, I showed you how I use variegated threads as a starting point for choosing a colour palette? I was working with some new students last week and they loved this idea. But what if you have a very specific colour or colours you want to start with? How do you go about it then? Well it is exactly the same, only you turn the process around a little. Let me show you an example.

I started work on a new project last October. I had a very specific design inspiration in mind and my starting point was yellow and green. So I chose two shades from the Au Ver A Soie range – 2533 and 2125, which were just right.

Au Ver a Soie silk threads - my starting point.

Au Ver a Soie silk threads – my starting point.

But I needed to extend the colour palette to develop my design. I went to my stash of variegated threads and found a beautiful Gloriana silk, #194 – Flowers of Italy, which included just the right shade of green as well as a more muted yellow and a beautiful dark pink. I also found another silk thread, Spiral Dyed – River Gum, which once again had just the right shade of green, but this time mixed with a range of other greens and earthy tones. A third variegated thread by Dinky Dyes, 46, looks like just a creamy neutral, but actually includes very light shades of just the right yellow and pink. And I happened to have the perfect dark pink, also Dinky Dyes, 132, in my stash too (I do have rather a lot of threads).

The original green and yellow threads with four extra threads added to extend the colour palette.

The original green and yellow threads with four extra threads added to extend the colour palette.

So my colour story was starting to extend here – the original bright yellow and green colour scheme, now included a range of greens, a deep pink, cream, very light pink, very light yellow, and a dark pink. I started stitching (there is nothing quite like the excitement of working a new design, especially when the threads are all silk – bliss!). The Spiral Dyed green thread was perfect for leaves whilst the Dinky Dyes pale cream was making the most beautiful flowers and buds. The variegated Gloriana thread was anchoring the borders and the original green and yellow silks were starring in Bargello style curves.

Design well underway with the selected colour palette.

Design well underway with the selected colour palette.

But the overall effect was flat. It wasn’t singing to me yet. What could I do?

Enter the dark pink – just one strand backstitched around the flowers and the buds. Just look at the difference! That touch of deep pink lifted the whole design and made it sing with joy. I can tell you that I was dancing around the room with excitement when the colour story began working so beautifully.

Look at the comparison between the left and right sides of the design. Adding just a touch of deep pink makes such a big difference!

Look at the comparison between the left and right sides of the design. Adding just a touch of deep pink makes such a big difference!

What was really happening here? Well, the variegated threads had helped me to choose a lovely, coordinated colour palette. But as I stitched the design, the dark pink was only appearing in the borders and so most of the design lacked contrast. Contrast is the visual property that allows one object in a design to stand out from another. In other words, it is easier to distinguish different elements in a design or image if they have clearly different colours and brightness. The dark pink outline introduced just the right amount of contrast into my design so that each flower and bud stood out just as much as the stems and leaves.

Let’s take a look at another example. One of my favourite colour combinations is purple and green (you can even see that in my logo :)). This variegated silk thread, Spiral Dyed by Rae Cummings – Persian Carpet, is the most beautiful combination of rich purples, reds, and greens. I LOVE it and have used it in countless projects. One of these was a pretty Wessex Work bag with matching A4 journal cover and pencil case. I decided to use the variegated silk for just one element in the design and then selected coordinating cotton Perlé threads for the rest. If you select one shade of each of the red, purple and green you get a beautifully coordinated colour palette, and actually the contrast between the pale purple and the richer red is pretty good.

A lovely red, green and purple colour palette.

A lovely red, green and purple colour palette.

But I like a little bit of sparkle and zing in my designs, so I needed one more colour to add some extra contrast. I chose yellow and whilst it looks a little garish when you line up the spools next to each other, just a small amount of yellow in the final design is enough to give it a beautiful lift.

Wessex Work embroidery on the front of a shoulder bag. Just the touch of yellow adds a little extra sparkle to the design.

Wessex Work embroidery on the front of a shoulder bag. Just the touch of yellow adds a little extra sparkle to the design.

“OK”, I can hear you saying. “But you didn’t have a variegated thread or anything to guide you this time. How did you know to choose yellow?”. Well the answer is that I didn’t. I just knew I wanted to add an extra colour to my chosen palette. I stood in the embroidery shop trying a whole range of colours until I decided that the yellow would be just right. This is the point where you have to just start trying things for yourself. LISTEN to your heart and let that five year old colouring-in voice shine through. Choose the contrast colour that you like and try it. And if it doesn’t quite work, don’t get down on yourself – instead learn from your mistake and try something different next time. The more you choose your own colours, the better you will become and the more colour confidence you will feel.

I ABSOLUTELY GUARANTEE IT!

Next time we will look at using something other than variegated threads as your starting point. And really the sky is the limit at that point. Choosing colours becomes so much fun! Remember I told you last time, if I can do it then I just KNOW that you can too. And let me know how you are going in the comments below. I would love to hear from you :)

0

Choosing colours with confidence – Part 1

If I had a dollar for every time a student said to me “I’m no good with colour”, I would be a rich woman! Well, I am here to tell you that I was that person too – perhaps as little as five years ago. And yet one of the most common compliments I receive about my embroidery designs now is “I love the colours you have used “. In just the same way as you learned to ride a bike or cook a cake, you can learn to make your own beautiful colour choices. It just takes PRACTICE. And I PROMISE you, that if I can do it (a former colour-choice phobic and card-carrying member of the “I am not creative” society ), then you can too!

Over the next few posts we are going to look at the easy techniques I use when developing colour palettes for my embroidery designs. These will be practical approaches and, with apologies to the colour purists amongst you, there will not be a colour wheel in sight. I want you to learn to TRUST your own unique colour style and then make choices that will make your embroidery projects SING. Once you are choosing colours with a spring in your step, you can delve into the amazing world of colour theory. But let’s start with building your confidence first :)

A number of years ago we wanted to replace the rug in our living room. The old rug was predominantly red in a typical Persian-style. It toned very nicely with our red armchairs, chocolate brown sofa and warm reddish-brown bamboo floors. So, we headed off to the local rug shop with my daughter, Samantha, in tow. As we browsed through the store, my husband and I were drawn to red rugs much like the one we had already – safe, conservative choices.

Samantha’s preferences were completely different. I want you to imagine a small, blond-haired girl at the ripe old age of 7, ADAMANT that we needed to purchase a predominantly green rug highlighted by an abtsract cream design. I watched her walk around the shop, instinctively saying “no”, “yuck”, and “boring” to our choices, and yet as soon as she saw the green rug she was absolutely convinced that it was “perfect”. Initially I worked at negotiating with her to  bring her around to our point of view, but I pretty soon saw that she was not to be moved. And I got to thinking, “Maybe she’s right. Maybe we can try something completely different.” The shop assistant said it would be fine to take the green rug home and try it out, and if it didn’t work then we could always exchange it for one of the red rugs. So with much reluctance, my husband agreed and the green rug came home.

AND IT WAS ABSOLUTELY PERFECT!

Samantha's green rug completely changed the look of our living room.

Samantha’s green rug completely changed the look of our living room.

The new rug made the room sing. It was interesting, and fun, and colourful. And coolest of all, Samantha had left an indelible imprint on the fabric of our everyday life.

I learnt two wonderful lessons that day. First, don’t be afraid of colour. Play with it, experiment, explore and try things. What’s the worst that can happen? You decide it doesn’t work and you try something else. Samantha wasn’t in the least afraid of her bold colour choice – in fact she was utterly convinced that it was right! Second, we could have ignored Samantha’s preference and in the process perhaps have dented her colour confidence. How awful to have been the person who caused her to question what felt instinctively right rather than giving her the confidence to stand by her choices. Instead, the rug story has become an intrinsic part of our family legend, and every time it is related Samantha stands just a little taller (in fact she was thrilled when I asked if I could share it here!).

If you lack colour confidence now, then I can almost guarantee that somewhere along the line you were made to feel as though you weren’t “doing it right”. Perhaps you were told that certain colours should never be seen together, or that only creative artistic types are “good at colour”. Or perhaps you habitually compare yourself to others and your inner critic immediately pipes up with, “she’s doing it much better than I ever could”. When you were four or five years old you almost certainly made colour choices with cheerful abandon. I doubt very much that you worried that you “weren’t good at colour” as you sat busily colouring a fairy or an elephant. With all that said, I bet you still have colour favourites too – colours that you love and perhaps even colours that you hate. This is really important, because as you build colour confidence you are going to learn to trust your own colour STYLE.

So let’s begin by regaining that sense of fun that you had a when choosing colours as a child.

INTRODUCING MY SECRET WEAPON – VARIEGATED THREAD!

Variegated threads - a cornucopia of colour!

Variegated threads – a cornucopia of colour!

“What?”, I hear you say. Fear not – here is how it works.

When I first discovered variegated threads I was like a kid in a lolly shop. I loved them all! I loved browsing a rack where a skein of regal purples, reds and greens hung next to a skein of warm, autumnal tones; mixed pinks and yellows jostled blues and greens straight from the ocean on a sunny day. My wallet suffered accordingly as I bought skein after skein of mixed colours, but what an amazing resource they turned out to be. You see, each variegated skein is a colour palette just waiting to be discovered. And you don’t have to worry about what colours go together – just take a single variegated skein and start working with it.

– HERE’S HOW I DO IT –

1) Choose a variegated thread with at least three distinct colours. This thread needs to make your heart sing – it needs to be one that you just want to start stitching because you love the colours so much. Here is one of my absolute favourites – Stef Francis Filament Silk 1-49. Filament silk takes the dye beautifully so the colours have a richness and a lustre which I love.

Stef Francis Filament Silk 1-49. Just look at all those luscious colours :)

Stef Francis Filament Silk 1-49. Just look at all those luscious colours :)

2) Start using your variegated thread as the basis for selecting a colour palette. If you look closely at the photo above you will see a rich pink, a delicate orange, a really warm yellow (not at all brash), mint green, a touch of teal blue and a lovely purple. Where these colours bleed into each other you get further colour subtleties – all of which are going to make your job easier! Now choose some single colour skeins that match the colours in your variegated skein. For this project, I selected pink, purple, yellow and a blue-green shade.

A selection of colours from the Stef Francis stranded silks to match my filament silk.

A selection of colours from Stef Francis’ stranded silks to match the filament silk.

You can see instantly that these colours work beautifully together. And why stop at just one set of colours! For example, here is another selection I made from my stash of Cosmo embroidery cottons.

A selection of Cosmo embroidery cottons to match the Stef Francis fialament silk.

A palette of Cosmo embroidery cottons selected to match the Stef Francis fialament silk.

This selection is different to the one above. I have chosen a much duskier pink which shows up on the filament silk where the pink bleeds into the orange. To match this I have toned down the purple shade. The single orange-yellow chosen above has been split into two distinct colours, and the blue has been replaced with green. The key point is that this colour combination STILL WORKS.

3) So now you have some lovely colours and all you need to consider is a little bit of balance. The original Stef Francis filament silk is predominantly pink and purple with smaller amounts of the orange, yellow, green and blue. You can use this to help you decide on where to use your colours. The little design below was stitched using the first of the two colourways above. I assigned pink and purple as my main colours, with yellow as a strong highlight and just a touch of the blue-green shade. And I used the original variegated skein for the floral features.

A simple, colourful design!

A simple, colourful design!

It really is that easy. Without any colour angst at all, I have ended up with a pretty design that uses colours I love in a balanced and harmonious way.

SO GO AHEAD – GIVE IT A GO!

When you are choosing threads for your next project grab a pretty variegated skein in your favourite colours and just start playing. I guarantee that you will have fun and build your colour confidence.

And when you are comfortable with this approach, head over to Part 2 of this series where we will take as our starting point a given colour. I promise it is just as easy as the method I have used here. And if you have a colour story to share me with me, then please leave it in the comments below. I love it when you share with me!

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Why 2015 doesn’t need to be better than 2014

Hello all! It is so lovely to be chatting to you all again. I took a long break from my blog over the Christmas season because frankly “something had to give” – there was just too much else going on for me to keep track of everything. For those of you reading this in the northern hemisphere, it is hard to describe just how crazy December gets when Christmas coincides with the end of the school year. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love it, but it inevitably feels like I am keeping an awful lot of balls in the air :)

This is what a Christmas celebration looked like with friends early in December.

This is what a Christmas celebration looked like with friends early in December.

And then Boxing Day arrives and a blissful sense of calm descends on our house. There is plenty of food in the fridge so no stress about cooking too much in the hot weather; everyone is on holidays and enjoying a rest – perhaps with book in hand and cricket on the television; the beach beckons early in the morning (just at the end of our street – we are so lucky); and after a nice swim and a walk I don’t feel one bit guilty about putting my feet up for the rest of the day.

The beach at the end of our street - only five minutes walk away.

The beach at the end of our street – only five minutes walk away.

This holiday bliss lasts for 2 or 3 days and then I start getting itchy fingers. My brain starts whirring again. The prospect of the New Year beckons. I wonder to myself, “What possibilities lie just over the horizon?”. And of course, “What do I want to achieve in 2015?”.

I have had a fantastic 2014. I am blessed with a beautiful family and a lovely home in a safe and prosperous part of the world. I am watching my children grow into citizens of the world as they discover their own unique talents and interests. I have wonderful friends and access to far more resources than I will ever need. And this little corner of the world that I call “Beautiful Stitches” is a joy every single day.

A friend posted a delightful cartoon on Facebook yesterday with this caption.

Lots of people will tell you how difficult it is to be an artist, but nobody tells you how difficult it is NOT to be an artist.

I have really come to appreciate this sentiment in 2014. During my mad November and December I went for days on end without working a single stitch and it was horrible. I missed the creative excitement I feel whenever I have needle and thread in my hand, and the grounded, centred feeling I get as colourful patterns develop beneath my fingers.

So I am not striving for 2015 to be “better” than 2014 – how could I possibly be so greedy? But I am looking forward to more of the same with some new challenges to spice things up. My number one priority is to just keep sewing – to do more designing, to embrace new teaching opportunities, and to get brave enough to sell some of my work online. And for you dear reader I will do a much better job of planning my posts and providing you with useful information about canvaswork embroidery. In the next few months we are going to explore

  • the tricks I use to make it really easy to choose your own thread colours for an embroidery design;
  • the method I use to create geometric canvaswork designs and how easy it is for you to do it too;
  • the books and websites that inspire my creativity, and hopefully yours too; and,
  • the myriad ways that canvaswork embroidery can be used to embellish useful and beautiful items for your home.

May you all have a wonderful 2015. I am so looking forward to sharing it with you!

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A celebration of teaching children to sew

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will know that one of the things I have done over the last few years is teach a wonderfully enthusiastic group of children. The group started in July 2012 and I have typically run 6-7 classes per year. The goal was to teach the children some basic sewing skills as well as sharing the sheer joy and passion that I have for stitching things by hand. It has been an absolute privilege to work with such a lovely group of children, to witness their joyful creativity, and to see their sewing skills improve so much.

We had our last class together on Sunday, so today’s post is dedicated to a celebration of these kids and the wonderful work they have done over the last three years.

2012 – Sewing for the School Fair

In the first year, we squeezed sewing classes into one and a half hours after school. It was lots of fun but the pressure was always on to finish projects in such a short time. Nevertheless, the children did an amazing job and attacked every new class with boundless enthusiasm. Our goal became making items for a stall at the school fair. We had so much fun making cute little owls (each one had its own personality), felt elephant brooches, Christmas decorations and colourful bookmarks stitched on Aida cloth.

All ready to sell the fruits of our labours in November 2012.

All ready to sell the fruits of our labours in November 2012.

2013 – New venue and Sunday afternoons

In 2013, we moved to a local hall on Sunday afternoons. This proved to be a huge success. Sunday afternoon gave us time to finish projects without feeling so rushed and we had plenty of room to spread out. There was also a lovely seat in a large bay window where the children liked to sit whilst stitching. Extra time and the children’s developing skills allowed us to explore some more challenging projects. My personal favourites were embroidery hoop pictures and creating clothes for wood and wire dolls.

This embroidery hoop picture project also taught the children to sew on buttons securely :)

This embroidery hoop picture project also taught the children to sew on buttons securely.

Creating clothes for wood and wire dolls.

Creating clothes for wood and wire dolls. Can you spot Rapunzel?

2014 – The journey continues

This year has seen the children’s skills improve significantly. In fact, one week I came away feeling like I hadn’t done a very good job of teaching them…. until I realised that they simply didn’t need so much input from me any more! Their skills were improving so much that I could provide materials and directions and off they went. I think that has been the most rewarding part of the whole journey for me. I could always rely on these children to freely express their creativity, but this year it was coupled with the freedom to make choices about what stitches they wanted to use for a particular task. We have made cushions inspired by Namibian embroidery, coasters embroidered with wool on plastic canvas, tiny felt finger puppets and pretty Christmas cards embroidered with metallic thread. With every new project the children have impressed me with their skill and inspired me with their creativity.

Some of the projects completed in 2014. Just love the turtle!

Some of the projects completed in 2014. Just love the turtle!

A Big Thankyou

I love saying thankyou and it is even better if I can find or make a small gift as a token of my appreciation. Earlier this year I bought some gorgeous fabric with pictures associated with famous cities around the world. I had planned to use it for a project with the children, but in the end we hadn’t needed it. So, I used it to make a mug rug for each child and added some tiny Christmas decorations and a special pair of tiny, sharp scissors.

A thankyou gift from me to the children.

A thankyou gift from me to the children.

It was so much fun handing these out on Sunday afternoon and having each child get excited about which city they had on their rug. And it was just a small way to say thankyou for the pleasure I have had in sharing my passion for sewing with such a lovely group of children.

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Is the creative life fundamentally selfish?

I have a new favourite blog – The Textile Blog by John Hopper. I only had to read one post and I knew that I would find the kind of material that I love to read. The reason I like it is because it does more than leave me with a “That’s nice” or “Huh, interesting” kind of feeling. Instead it leaves me thinking – really thinking – about this creative life I have chosen to pursue.

And the question I found myself pondering today was, “Is the creative life fundamentally selfish?”. Now there’s a question for you. Does my choice to live a creative life mean that I am selfish or self-absorbed?

The obvious answer to that is,”I hope not!”. “So why pose the question?”, I hear you ask.

Well, it was triggered by this article entitled “Creative Art as the Sharing of Personal Insight”. It opens with the idea that being involved in the creative arts is sometimes judged as being a form of selfishness, or hedonism, or self-absorption. This really struck a chord with me because I sometimes find it hard to explain to people why I chose this fork in the road. Why am I not the career scientist everyone thought I would be when I was younger? Why have I chosen instead to pick up fabric, needle and thread? And indeed isn’t this latter path somehow “a bit frivolous”, and perhaps even “worthless” when compared to a scientific career? And the natural outcome of all those questions is that sometimes I do feel a bit selfish as a gleefully follow my passion every day and have the joy of absolutely loving what I do.

Thankfully, John provided me with the perfect antidote to these doubts. He explains that “creative art…is about the cycle of absorption and exhalation”. This is the idea that all creatives absorb inspiration from a myriad of sources (both conciously and unconciously), pass it through the lens of their own unique experience, personality and skills, and then exhale something new. And why is this a good thing?

“You are making available to the human condition, the journey that you took from inspirational wonder, through the flow of absorption in work, to the resulting piece, which is to be experienced and enjoyed by others….Creative artists are the practitioners of endless possibilities, guides to the wonder of the world around us, and revealers of the complexity of the human condition”. John Hopper, The Textile Blog

In my humble little corner of the creative world I will gladly take on this philosophy.

But I think it goes a little further than that…. at least for me.

In my weekly patchwork group we have built a very strong community of women who came together originally because of a shared passion for quilting and patchwork. But the ties are now much more than that. We take care of each other when life throws up problems and obstacles; we share joy and excitement in new achievements or milestones; we share the fruits of our labours with family and friends; and we have developed a strong community culture of giving back. Our main community project is to make quilts for foster children. Twice a year we deliver upwards of 30 quilts for children in foster care. The idea is to make sure that each child has a special quilt which is just for them to keep. It is not going to solve the big underlying problems that have put them into foster care, but it hopefully brings a little bit of love and comfort to otherwise pretty tough times for them.

A simple quilt made for foster children from donated squares of fabric.

A simple quilt made for foster children from donated squares of fabric.

There are countless groups, just like ours, all around the world. They serve a very important purpose beyond the obvious one of providing a venue for a creative craft to be practiced and shared. These groups become communities where participants (generally speaking) take care of each other. It might just be a warm hug on a down day or the offer of real assistance when illness or family crisis strikes. And in many groups, that caring is soon extended to some sort of charitable endeavour. Just imagine how much poorer our world be without the contributions of this everyday creative work.

So do I really feel selfish as I pursue this creative life? No. Rather I feel lucky and privileged to be a small part of a worldwide movement that does a whole lot more than just “play” with craft. Sometimes, it is all about the pure wonder and inspiration that John Hopper describes in the creative process. At other times, it is just about sharing some love and compassion with a little generous creativity in an otherwise busy world.

Sharing a little piece of everyday creativity - an A5 journal cover embroidered for a friend.

Sharing a little piece of everyday creativity – an A5 journal cover embroidered for a friend.

 

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The creative process – from a scientist’s point of view

Where does the time go? I have been busily travelling over the last few weeks and have so much to share with you all. First, at the end of September I headed to Adelaide for the Beating Around the Bush embroidery convention. I will write more about this in future posts, but for now it is sufficient to say that I had a wonderful time and learnt so much.

And then almost as soon as I was home from BATB, we were on the road to beautiful Denmark in the southwest of Western Australia for a wonderful week of relaxation with family and friends. I talked embroidery a lot with my Mum (as we always do) but barely put a stitch in anything for a week. Instead, I kayaked, hiked, biked and swam until my muscles ached. It was great to take a complete break from my sewing and creativity, and to give my brain a rest from thinking so much!

Beautiful beach near Denmark, Western Australia.

Beautiful beach near Denmark, Western Australia.

Now that I am well and truly back on deck I am working on tidying up my workspace (again – why does this job never seem to go away :) ). And I have come back from BATB with a new and exciting perspective on the best way forward for Beautiful Stitches. I’ll write more about that in a special post next week, but in the meantime it got me thinking about the creative process again and I wanted to share the following little bit of insight with you all…..

Recently, my meanderings through the internet led me to stumble across this gem…

If you haven’t seen this video, then do yourself a favour and make time to watch it. It is absolutely superb. As the TED blurb says, “It’s a message that will resonate, no matter what your field.”

Uri recounts that whilst studying for his PhD, his research became stuck – he simply couldn’t see a way forward, and in the scientific world this felt like failure. And the more he asked around, the more he realised that fellow students were experiencing the same thing. Scientists report their findings as a direct line from question to answer; a completely objective pursuit with no room for subjectivity and emotion. The absolutely key point is that they only report results – not process – and thus if your research is stuck and not producing results, then you feel like you are failing.

And yet, of course science is not like this at all. In common with many other fields of endeavour it encounters false starts, road blocks, hiccups, and diversions. But if you are lucky, what started off as a journey from Question A to Answer B, may actually lead to a completely new and unknown Answer C.

Uri now counsels his students to expect the process of research to be messy (think Austin Kleon here too – “Process is messy!”) and he has two key tools to help them. First, when they get stuck he describes it as being in “the cloud”. This is not a scary or bad place to be, even if it is frustrating and sometimes depressing. Rather it is an opportunity to try something new, different, creative, playful, etc to find a way out of the cloud. Second, you need someone to keep you company in “the cloud” – one or more supportive collaborators. And these people have a very important job to do – they need to say “Yes… and” (a technique Uri learned from taking part in improvisational theatre classes) – never “No”.

“Yes… and” encourages people to keep exploring and being creative, whereas “No” simply makes you stop and feel defeated.

I love the fact that Uri’s video reminds me that I don’t need to be scared of the “messiness” of the creative process. As someone who comes from a very traditional scientific background in physics and maths, it can sometimes feel like I am jumping around in a very haphazard way as I flit from idea to idea, trying one thing and then moving on to something different. But you do sometimes need to do this – to go exploring in “the cloud” until you find that thing that goes “Aha! – this is where I wanted to be”.

And you really need to find those supportive friends to keep you company along the way. When I was in Adelaide I caught up with wonderful friends, some whom I hadn’t seen for over twenty years – since we were all at University together. It sounds scary but actually it was fantastic! Most only knew me as the science student I was in my late teens and at first glance my switch to a creative career in textiles might have seemed rather odd. But these friends were wonderful – there were “Yes…and” conversations going all week to the point where my head was so full of ideas I simply couldn’t hold any more (hence the need for all that kayaking and hiking).

So, I have learnt a really wonderful lesson in the last few weeks. Be open about what you do – share it with everyone and don’t be afraid to let people know when you are stuck in your “cloud” or going round and round in circles. And then listen out for the “Yes… and” conversations – you might be surprised by just how many there are and the odd sources that they come from.

Messy workroom

And now I really NEED to sort out my workroom – again :)

 

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