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Another year – another birthday!

With all the best intentions in the world, it seems that I can either keep up with my social media commitments or I can write my blog. I just don’t have the time (or perhaps the organisational skills!) to do both. And it is really important for me to make sure that I have time to keep stitching and designing – after all that is what Beautiful Stitches is all about. I have had an amazing 12 months. I have more and more lovely students in Perth. This year I also had my first interstate teaching trip to Melbourne and Geelong in July – it was so much fun!!! Beautiful Stitches continues to be something I am incredibly grateful to share with you all :) If you would like regular updates on what I am doing, be sure to follow me on either Facebook or Instagram.

So to celebrate my birthday as well as to say a huge thankyou to you all for your wonderful support, my gift to you this year is Autumn Fireworks. Click here to download the PDF pattern.01afc71baa7880465afbbbbca3bb45180d98ae3e84_00002 This pattern grew out of a thread I dyed myself in a workshop with Jacinta Leishman from Spiral Dyed Threads. I hope you enjoy it and perhaps learn some new stitches. It’s a sampler style project – ideal for you to pick and choose which section you want to try. Or just dive in and do the whole thing!

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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!

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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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Haute Couture and why I have revised my opinion

I caught up with a fascinating documentary on BBC iPlayer this week called “The Secret World of Haute Couture” by Margie Kinmonth. It was produced in 2007 (so has been around for quite a while now) but I found it absolutely fascinating. And I now have a completely new attitude (and respect) for what had seemed to me previously to be something rather frivolous.

I confess to being completely ignorant on the fashion front. In fact, on our recent trip to Cairns my daughter bought a necklace at the Night Markets and she asked me if I thought the interlocking C’s meant something special. I replied along the lines that it probably meant something but I didn’t know what. Later that week, I was shopping with a friend in Brisbane and spotted the interlocking C’s – on the front of the Chanel store! I can’t tell you how stupid I felt realising that I actually hadn’t known the logo for one of the most famous fashion houses in the world :)

The Chanel Haute Couture Fall/Winter Collection in 2011

The Chanel Haute Couture Fall/Winter Collection in 2011.

So, the full extent of my fashion knowledge is derived from what I have briefly gleaned  from flicking through magazines in the doctor’s surgery. My knowledge is meagre to say the least. And I confess that I was pretty prejudiced. I would look at elaborate creations on the catwalk and think to myself, “Who on earth wears this stuff? What is the point?”. Until I saw saw this documentary…..

The “haute couture” label is protected by law in France. Of course, it is often used to describe “high fashion” in a wider sense, but strictly speaking the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture includes only those companies who have been granted the designation “Haute Couture” by the Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie de Paris. The label is reviewed annually and depends on a rigorous set of criteria. The key points are that haute couture pieces are designed to be one-off garments, exclusively tailored to fit one person, and made by hand using the very finest materials. Qualifying fashion houses must also present a full collection of haute couture garments at two shows per year.

Some of these garments are exquisitely beautiful, others ugly, and some frankly quite bizarre. A price tag of US$100,000 (or a lot more) for a single dress is quite normal. But what I have come to realise is that each and every garment is a work of art, painstakingly created by highly skilled craftspeople who put hours and hours of hand work into each unique design.

An outfit from the 2010 Spring/Summer Collection by Khaled el Masri.

For example, the outfit pictured above by Khaled el Masri is at first a bizarre representation of a female fencer. But take a closer look at the skirt. The gold surface design is exquisite and will have been worked entirely by hand to perfectly fit the shape and fit of the skirt. There must be hours and hours of work in such a creation.

And so I have come to realise that “haute couture” is playing a very important role in preserving exquisite craftmanship in a world where it might otherwise have disappeared completely. Without the rigorous standards set by the Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie de Paris, the ateliers that produce exquisite work for a mere handful of designers (and only a few hundred customers) might have disappeared all together.

And it is so important that we preserve these skills. I am passionate about sharing my love of embroidery because I love the simple rhythm of stitching and the joy of making something with my own hands.  But nearly all my contact with embroidery to date has been as a craft or in the realm of textiles from around the world. To my shame, I hadn’t really stopped to think just how important it is to preserve the very highest standards of the art too.

So, I have a new found respect for the world of haute couture. Long may it preserve the skilled art of embellishment with needle, thread and beads, as well as stretching the boundaries of what is possible!

If you would like to see a whole range of images related to embroidery on clothing, follow this link to have a look at my Pinterest board.

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Too hot to sew….

Australia is suffering through a heatwave. It started here in Perth last weekend when the maximum temperature reached 44C – very hot! A terrible fire in the hills suburbs claimed over 50 homes. The heatwave has moved east now – Victoria and South Australia are experiencing record high temperatures where over 100 bushfires are now burning. My thoughts and best wishes goes to all those people affected.

I am not a big fan of the heat – give me cooler weather any day. Why? Because it is no fun sewing on hot days with sweaty hands 😉 So what do you do on the days when it is just too hot to sew? One of my favourite things is to get myself organised.

I am lucky to have a dedicated sewing room. When we built our house, I did a deal with my husband – he could have a 3-bay garage if I could have a sewing room. And so it happened – my favourite room in the whole house. It has floor to ceiling windows on two sides for plenty of natural light and opens onto a pretty courtyard so that I can work outside (when it is not too hot!). I have plenty of built-in shelves and drawers, bookshelves, and an assortment of tables.

My cool and shady courtyard - perfect spot for a cup of tea and some hand sewing.

My cool and shady courtyard – perfect spot for a cup of tea and some hand sewing.

But after all the chaos of Christmas and New Year my sewing room was suffering….time for a clean out and some reorganisation. Fabrics have been sorted and culled, threads have been tidied and stored on rings, WIPs have been revisited and prioritised and all the surfaces are clear again.

A drawer full of neatly folded fabrics.

A drawer full of neatly folded fabrics.

Lovely threads - easy to see and choose as needed.

Lovely threads – easy to see and choose as needed.

All tidy and ready for action!

All tidy and ready for action!

So now it looks (and feels) so much better – all ready to sew now the weather is cooler again. What do you do when it is too hot to sew?

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