Brand new sewing classes for children

Don’t you love that feeling when plans start to come to fruition? When things start falling into place and you say to yourself “this just might work!”. I love it…. And I am having just that feeling as I write to you today.

One part of Beautiful Stitches is teaching children to sew. I started with a small group of my daughter’s friends nearly two years ago. We met once a fortnight after school. The children were enthusiastic and I loved being able to share my passion for all things hand-made, and especially hand-sewn, with them. Pretty soon a second group had started and they were having just as much fun.

Learning to sew on buttons whilst creating an embroidery hoop wallhanging.

Learning to sew on buttons whilst creating an embroidery hoop wallhanging.

Last year, I decided to take the whole thing onto a more businesslike footing. I hired a venue and decided to run the classes once a month on a Sunday afternoon. This gave me longer than an after school class to give the children more time to finish off a project. And once a month worked really well. The children were always eager and interested when they came to class and I was always excited to meet up with them again and start work on a new project.

One of my favourite classes from last year - stitching simple outfits for wood and wire dolls. A groovy guy with a mohawk, Rapunzel, and a trendy girl on the town :)

One of my favourite classes from last year – stitching simple outfits for wood and wire dolls. A groovy guy with a mohawk, Rapunzel, and a trendy girl on the town ๐Ÿ™‚

We took a nice long break over the long, hot, Perth summer – in my experience small hot hands and sewing are not good friends. But with the arrival of cooler weather it is time to start up again. I have a new venue and am doubling the number of classes I run – from one to two. OK, so it doesn’t sound like a big thing but it is another baby step in gradually expanding my business. I have recently started following a very cool blog by Coral called Creative Women’s Business. In a post from January this year, Coral talks about taking one step at a time – even micro-steps inch you a bit closer to your goal.

And hence my great excitement. My first class is fully booked, mostly with students returning from last year. That in itself is an achievement – I am so happy that they are all keen to continue. But even better, I am taking bookings for my second class from brand new students. I received a phone call from an interested parent today and I haven’t even started advertising yet! How cool is that? I confess that I got off the phone from her and did a little dance of excitement because I just got that tingling feeling that all the painstaking plans and niggles of the last few weeks were starting to bear fruit.

So, if you know of a child in Perth who might enjoy joining a sewing class with me, then please share this post so they can contact me for more information. I am just so excited that the children’s classes are underway for a third year!


The joy of teaching

I had an “Aha!” moment yesterday – one of those days when you say to yourself, “Yes! I know exactly why I am doing this”. I was teaching my patchwork group how to stitch the selvage strips I showed you in my last post. From a teaching point of view, this is not a technically difficult project to teach. The skills needed are pretty simple and it really is all about having fun.

I always try to make my students feel like there is “no right or wrong way” to do something. Sure, there may well be an easier or more efficient way to do something. And of course, there is often a traditional way to do something. But no single method is “right” or “wrong”. If it enables you, the crafter, to produce an item which gives you pleasure then whatever method you chose was “fit for purpose”.

For most people, patchwork and embroidery are leisure pastimes that should be a fun and creative outlet. To my mind, weighing down the process with notions of “Am I doing this right?” tends to kill creativity rather than enlivening it. So, I try very hard in my classes to say, “This is how I do it, but by all means give your method a try if you think it will work better for you.”

Teaching selvages is great for this because the process is naturally so free. Choose a bunch of selvage strips – all one colour family (all reds maybe?), or coordinate a set of colours (reds and greens with a dash of yellow perhaps) or just grab a selection and see what happens (the rainbow or scrappy effect). Overlay the strips onto a backing fabric and wadding sandwich, and stitch down such that the selvage edge of one strip encloses the raw edge of the next strip. Continue for as many strips as you need to cover your block. Stitching not quite straight?ย  No problem. You will still end up with a beautifully interesting block ready to be used in a myriad of different ways.

So yesterday was always going to be fun because I love teaching projects where I can really encourage my students to relax and just enjoy the process. The “Aha!” happened when one of my students quietly took everything off in her own direction. She was overlaying the strips on her wadding/backing fabric sandwich just as I had suggested, but instead of using a simple straight stitch to sew down the selvage strips, she decided to use a variety of decorative machine stitches. The effect was superb! Sort of crazy machine patchwork meets selvages. I absolutely loved it.

But I loved even more that it just completely reinforced that teaching is always a two-way street. Every time I teach, I learn something from my students. It is humbling and rewarding at the same time. So much effort goes into preparing notes, sourcing materials, packing everything up and then setting up at the venue….but this is all so worthwhile when you have the privilege of witnessing someone else’s joy in learning something new, or their own creativity getting to work and taking your ideas in a completely new direction.

Image sourced from http://www/

Image sourced from

So this is why I do what I do… for the sheer joy of teaching and sharing my passion.


Salvaging selvages

One of my favourite parts about being a full-time crafter is the sheer number of creative ideas that I come across. There is an almost infinite variety of ways in which fabric and thread can be used to produce useful and decorative objects.

Last year I stumbled across the idea of using fabric selvage strips. The selvage (also spelt as “selvedge” – don’t you love the English language) is the woven edge of the fabric which often has the fabric name, designer and colour grid printed on it. This part of the fabric is not used in a typical quilt because after washing the tight weave of the selvedge is likely to shrink differently to the main body of the fabric. So, most of us just trim them off and throw them away.

However, selvage strips have a beauty all their own. Someone at some point saw their potential and started sewing unique projects with them. My favourite example is this gorgeous dress by Jodie Carleton from Victoria. You can find a lot more like this on my Pinterest board, Simply Selvages. I love the idea that a part of the fabric which was usually discarded could be transformed into something unique, beautiful and yet immediately recognisable. Every quilter knows what fabric selvages look like, but many of us have never have thought to use them.

And so I was inspired. I haven’t tackled any large projects yet – just simple, fun and easy ideas. But that is the great thing about selvages – they make an otherwise simple project just a little bit quirky and interesting.

A purple mug rug made using a simple quilt-as-you-go technique.

A purple mug rug made using a simple quilt-as-you-go technique.

The selvage strips for this pencil case were deliberately chosen to reflect the colours you might find in a typical packet of coloured pencils. The colour circles printed on the selvages are just perfect for the job and one of the strips features the words “A Fun Day In The Jungle”, which seems appropriate for a cheerful, hardworking pencil case!

A cheerful pencil case.

A cheerful pencil case.

Finally, I made this sewing set for a dear quilting friend who loves all things red. Again, some of the words are particularly apt. “Quilting Treasures” because she is indeed a treasure herself; “Collections for a Cause” because charity quilts are an important part of the time we spend sewing together; and a little piece of Kaffe Fassett selvage because she simply adores his quilts and use of colour. And a gathered selvage strip attached to a button makes a pretty embellishment.

A selvage sewing set.

A selvage sewing set.

So you see there is such a lot you can do with that seemingly useless strip along the edge of your fabric. And it is so easy! How could I have been throwing them away all these years? A word of warning though…. I let all my quilting friends know that I was collecting selvages for future projects and pretty soon I had an overflowing boxful of them!

A surfeit of selvage strips :)

A surfeit of selvage strips ๐Ÿ™‚


My daughter has learnt to knit!

I love school holidays. There is nothing quite like the joy of not having to make school lunches; not having to get in the car and drive everywhere; not needing to be at a particular place and a particular time. There is a lovely sense of freedom and relaxation that descends on our house during the holidays and we all love it.

Add to that the fun of doing craft together and you almost have the perfect day (to be really perfect it also requires pancakes, hot chocolate, fruit smoothies, laughter, music, story tapes and someone else to cook dinner – am I painting you a clear enough picture here?).

The big news this holidays is that my daughter, aged 10, has learnt to knit. She is so happy and has spent several days happily ensconced in various cosy corners around the house patiently working her needles. The funny thing about this is that I have introduced her to knitting on several occasions previously and it never really took. She wasn’t comfortable, couldn’t see any progress, got VERY frustrated with dropped stitches – each attempt was categorically a fail in her eyes. On every occasion I would simply pack away the knitting supplies and think to myself, “Not the right time yet – we’ll try again in a few months”. And sure enough, this holidays turned out to be the right time.

She has already completed a wrist warmer and this neck warmer in the space of just a few days.

My daughter's completed neck warmer.

My daughter’s completed neck warmer.

The neck warmer with button worn to the side.

The neck warmer with button worn to the side ๐Ÿ™‚

But even better, as we were preparing to photograph it, inspiration hit. This lovely piece of pink warmth was also the perfect fashion accessory for my daugher’s favourite doll, Louise.

The great thing about knitting is that it is endlessly forgiving. It can be stretched and moved in so many different ways. Here a simple rectangle with a pretty button and buttonhole has not only been the perfect beginner’s piece of knitting but is also proving extremely versatile and thus adding to the sense of acheivement.


Louise modelling a versatile cape, bonnet and skirt!

And it all goes to prove one of my strongest philosophies about children. Children will get to things when they are ready. My daughter has tried to knit several times over the last few years and each time it has just felt like an ordeal for her and for me. I was always very quick to follow her lead. If it wasn’t fun for her, I didn’t want to force her to continue and have knitting turn into something that she hated.

This time it just felt right. She was ready to learn and felt comfortable holding the needles. It has been such a joy to see her face light up with the knowledge that “I can do this!”. Knitting may not be her thing in the long term, but I am pretty sure that experiences like this will ensure that she will always find pleasure in making things for herself. And from my point of view that is one of the greatest gifts we can give to our children.


A beautiful day for stitching

It simply could not be a more beautiful day in Perth. We are all longing for the cooler weather arrive and real drenching, soaking rain is desperately needed. But despite all that, you can’t help feeling that it is just absolutely magnificent here today. Not too hot, beautiful light outside and my garden is looking green and welcoming.

We have spent the morning cleaning the house. So, now we have the luxury of enjoying an afternoon of simple pleasures. I have set up my sewing on the table outside my craft room. The afternoon light is perfect, I have a new Georgette Heyer story to listen to on Audible, and a brand new canvaswork design to develop.

This is my definition of pure bliss….

All set to work my outside table.

All set to work my outside table.

I love working outside - the light is beautiful, even in the dappled shade.

I love working outside – the light is beautiful, even in the dappled shade.

My view of the garden.

My view of the garden.

Footnote: My children have been enjoying the beautiful day as well. They decided to see if they could split an apple in half using rubber bands (apparently they had seen it done on a watermelon online). I know it sounds mad but they have spent a happy half hour, sitting in the shade and carefully applying rubber bands to said apple.

Apple wearing a rubber band cummerband.

Apple wearing a rubber band cummerband.

I confess that I was sceptical, but with just a little bit of percussive assistance, their experiment seems to have worked! As I said, an afternoon of simple pleasures…

A split apple and a ball of knotted, sticky rubber bands.

A split apple and a ball of knotted, sticky rubber bands.



What makes you happy?

I recently bought Issue #3 of “New Philosopher”, a relatively new magazine in the Australian market (click here to visit their website). This quarterly magazine is Australian made, advertising free, and full of fantastic, well-written, thought provoking articles. Issue #3 is focussed on the question, “Are we happy yet?” and it makes for fascinating reading.

New Philosopher MagazineI love this kind of writing: ideas that are simply and clearly presented leading to a pleasurable few hours where you turn the thoughts over in your mind. But this writing has really got inside my head – for days now. Why?

Reading the magazine follows hard on the heels of studying a book called “The Desire Map” by Danielle LaPorte with my women’s group. I confess that I haven’t enjoyed the latter at all. For whatever reason, answering a series of questions about things that I want, crave, need etc makes me very uncomfortable. I have everything I could possibly want and so much more in my life. How self-centred it seems to ask for more when I already have a wonderful family, good health, safety, security and much more material comfort than I will ever need.

So, what makes me happy? Well it turns out that the writers in “New Philosopher” magazine have put it rather well. For me, it is all about something called “flow”.ย  Damon Young discusses this in his article, “Happiness is hard to find”.

A more helpful idea from Aristotle’s eudaimonia is that of so-called autotelic activity: things we do for their own sake, and not for the sake of something else….we are measurably happier when we are involved in skilful, challenging pursuits….the experience is what we seek.

And then further along in the same article…

If happiness is an activity, and often an autotelic one, then it is developed by doing. Anxiously stopping to ask ‘Am I happy yet?’ is a fine way to stop the flow.

Another contributor, Antonia Case, discusses a similar idea in “3 Ways to Happiness”.

Meaningful work involves doing something that you personally enjoy, where you can exercise and develop your skills and capabilities, and where the end result of your toil is to produce something useful and worthwhile (regardless of what others may think). One person’s meaningful work is not another’s, and with good reason – we can’t all be nurses and teachers.

I don’t need a Desire Map to identify my “meaningful work” – I know already – I love to sew. I loved it when I was a little girl, a teenager, a young woman backpacking around the world, a professional woman, a wife and a mother. And now I am so privileged because I am able to pursue my passion full-time. Rare is the day when I don’t experience a little bit of “flow”, even if it is only thinking about sewing whilst I wash up or drive Mum’s taxi.

So please excuse me – I have had enough of writing about “flow” and I am off to experience it – to spend a blissful afternoon with fabric, needle and thread ๐Ÿ™‚

Sewing (the artist's wife) by Hans Heysen, 1913. This painting captures beautifully how I will be feeling this afternoon.

Sewing (the artist’s wife) by Hans Heysen, 1913. This painting captures beautifully how I will be feeling this afternoon.


Bead Embroidery by Shelley Cox – Beautiful Stitches Book Shelf

Do you love embroidery books? I am afraid that I have a complete weakness for them and thus I have an overflowing bookshelf. And of course it is not just embroidery books but anything that might help me be a better craftswoman. So books on creativity, architecture, fashion, scrapbooking, patchwork, design theory, art and world textiles all jostle for space on my shelves.

You can't have too many books can you?

You can’t have too many books can you?

I love reading books for ideas, inspiration, colour, technique, and design. And I love the insight it gives you into the author’s passion for his or her craft. Inevitably, some of the author’s personality shines through the lens of the projects they share. So I often find myself wishing I could meet a particular author and spend an hour or two stitching with them.

The funny thing is that I rarely work any of the actual projects out of these books – rather they help build my well of knowledge and inspiration out of which new projects grow. So this week I am starting a new weekly page on my blog. Every week I will choose a book from my overflowing bookshelf and share with you why it is an important part of my collection. And believe me, every book is important – even just for one idea or pretty colour combination.

I am starting with Bead Embroidery by Shelley Cox, published in 2013 as one of a series of Essential Stitch Guides from the Royal School of Needlework. Why this book first I hear you say? It is not a weighty, spectacular tome; it is not specifically about my number one passion – canvaswork; and yet it is a perfect example of the kind of book I love because as I read it I find my fingers itching to stitch.

Bead Embroidery - Shelley Cox

Shelley is a graduate of the RSN Apprenticeship scheme and now works as a freelance teacher and embroiderer. In this book she shows you how to use beads in a wide variety of embroidery styles from enhancing counted work and surface stitchery to working whole designs in beads, as well as finishing projects with beaded edging and fringing. Interspersed through the book are photos of beautiful projects, just like the one on the front cover.

The very first time I read this book I knew that my next canvaswork design was going to need some beads added. As Shelley puts it “beads are an embroiderer’s way of laughing” – they add fun to both the stitching process and to the finished piece. So, here is a little taste of a piece I have been working on with beaded reverse cushion stitch inspired by Shelley Cox.

Reverse cushion stitch worked on 18-count canvas and embellished with Toho Japanese Seed Beads 11/0.

Reverse cushion stitch worked on 18-count canvas and embellished with Toho Japanese Seed Beads 11/0.

Do you have a favourite book? I would love to hear about it and why it inspires you…


My new (old) Singer sewing machine

Where have the last three weeks gone? I simply don’t know. In my defence, I can only say that I have been so busy doing sewing that I simply haven’t had time to write about it! Which is a very good thing really because after all that is what my life is all about – sewing as many “Beautiful Stitches” as I can and then sharing that passion with as many people as possible. And it just so happens that for the last few weeks that sharing has been in the physical world rather than on the web ๐Ÿ™‚

Now that I am back online, I have a very exciting story to share. I have just become theย  proud owner of a beautiful Singer treadle sewing machine.


My beautiful Singer sewing machine – only minutes after she arrived in her new home.

Isn’t she beautiful? Using the Serial No on the front of the machine we have confirmed that she is a treadle operated Model 201K. She was manufactured in Clydebank, Scotland in 1948, thus making her a fairly young model in the history of Singer sewing machines (the very first Singer machines were manufactured in 1851). But she still has all the beautiful detail that makes me love these old machines.

The classic Singer decal

A classic Singer decal

Who can resist a Singer treadle? Not me....

Who can resist a Singer treadle? Not me….

The beautifully ornate side plate.

The beautifully ornate side plate.

Since her arrival just over a week ago, my 14 year old son has completely stripped down and cleaned all the working parts with sewing machine oil. The mechanism is now moving beautifully smoothly but not quite sewing properly. We may need the help of an expert to fix the timing? And we need a new leather cable to operate the treadle.

And as an added bonus, she arrived with drawers full of old cotton reels, buttons etc. My 10 year old daughter had so much fun sorting through everything and restored all the items worth keeping to the newly cleaned and polished cabinet.

Drawers full of buttons before they were sorted.

Drawers full of buttons before they were sorted.

A friend asked me if I have a name for her yet. I keep wanting to call her Cressida. I have absolutely no idea why – the name just keeps buzzing round my head. So it’s official – Cressida, welcome to the family. With just a little more work we will have her back to all her former glory!


Fabric Covered Boxes

I have a bit of a thing for boxes. I love sorting stuff into them and stacking them up on shelves. I love the way they make a room seem tidier somehow (no matter the multitude of sins that may hide inside them). I keep all sorts of boxes because they “may come in handy one day”, so there are piles of clean, empty boxes stashed all over the house.

You can never have too many useful boxes!

You can never have too many useful boxes!

If you are a fan of Winnie-the-Pooh by AA Milne then you will remember the story of Eeyore’s birthday. Piglet was going to give Eeyore a beautiful balloon, but it burst and so Eeyore was left with just a sad bit of colourful rubber. Pooh was going to give Eeyore a jar of honey, but he ate all the honey and was left with only the empty pot. Oh but how well this turned out…

“It’s a Useful Pot,” said Pooh. “Here it is. And it’s got ‘A Very Happy Birthday with love from Pooh’ written on it. That’s what all that writing is. And it’s for putting things in. There!”
When Eeyore saw the pot, he became quite excited.
“Why!” he said. “I believe my Balloon will just go into that Pot!”
“Oh, no, Eeyore,” said Pooh. “Balloons are much too big to go into Pots. What you do with a balloon is, you hold the balloon”.
“Not mine,” said Eeyore proudly. “Look, Piglet!” And as Piglet looked sorrowfully round, Eeyore picked the balloon up with his teeth, and placed it carefully in the pot; picked it out and put it on the ground; and then picked it up again and put it carefully back.
“So it does!” said Pooh. “It goes in!”
“So it does!” said Piglet. “And it comes out!”
“Doesn’t it?” said Eeyore. “It goes in and out like anything.”

I’m a bit like Eeyore – I love putting things in and out of boxes. So it is not surprising really that I love making boxes. Next week I am teaching a class on making fabric covered boxes atย the Embroiderer’s Guild of Western Australia. For many years, this class has been taught by a wonderful lady, Rene Sinclair. Rene recently moved to Hawaii. I was very honoured when she asked me to take over running the class.

I haven’t made any boxes since before Christmas, so I wanted to refresh my memory before next week. Do you remember the small pieces of canvaswork I was playing with a few weeks ago? Oh happy serendipity – a small piece of canvaswork is perfect for mounting on a box lid.

Fabric covered box topped with geometric canvaswork design. Completed size - 14cm x 14cm.

Fabric covered box topped with geometric canvaswork design. Completed size – 14cm x 14cm.

Just to make sure that the techniques are completely refreshed and clear in my mind, I also made this slightly larger box.

Fabric covered box. Completed size - 19cm x 16.5cm.

Fabric covered box. Completed size – 19cm x 16.5cm.

And you can never have too many boxes – especially beautiful ones ๐Ÿ™‚

Two useful (and beautiful) boxes.

Two useful (and beautiful) boxes.


SPUN – The Society for the Prevention of Unfinished Needlepoint

I can hear you saying “The society for what???”. And as I browsed through the internet and stumbled across it, I too was initially tempted to chuckle and even gently scoff. But I have to tell you that I very quickly changed my mind – it is really rather cool!

Over on Facebook this week, I have been following with interest a discussion in the Needlepoint Nation group about unfinished projects. It has been so much fun to see how many of us have WIPs stashed in the cupboard – and all the different ways that we can justify them! And then in a moment of serendipity I stumbled across a reference to SPUN – The Society for the Prevention of Unfinished Needlepoint.

My initial reaction was to think that this was some kind of delightfully quirky joke. (I wonder if that is my irreverent Australian sense of humour taking over :)). But in fact SPUN is the brainchild of Mary Smull, an artist, writer, and curator living in Philadelphia, PA. This article from Needlepoint Now magazine gives an excellent overview of the project and Mary’s philosophy. Simply put, Mary and a group of volunteers collect unfinished needlepoint canvases and complete them usually only white thread. This has the effect of preserving the work of the original stitcher, whilst at the same time finishing the canvas. The result is a completely different kind of needlepoint which is simply lovely.

"Lute Player", Found unfinished needlepoint completed by Mary Smull using only white yarn, 20" x 21", 2011

“Lute Player”, Found unfinished needlepoint completed by Mary Smull using only white yarn, 20″ x 21″, 2011

This piece, “Lute Player”, is almost ethereal – and I love it. As an embroiderer, I know what it feels like to roam a canvas working small parts at a time. And here that process has been captured and preserved for all time. The original stitcher enjoyed working the solid black background, and perhaps enjoyed making a start on the beautiful gown. And then something (who knows what) interrupted the stitching progress. Maybe it turns out that those half-finished pieces tell just as much of a story as the fully completed ones….