Tag Archives | Creativity

I am an embroidery teacher …. but I don’t really teach embroidery

Well, that’s not strictly accurate. Of course I teach embroidery, but it’s not the most important part of my job description. What I actually teach is confidence.

I have been running Beautiful Stitches for over 6 years and during that time I have taught workshops that run for just one day through to classes that have been running weekly for four years. With time and experience it has become very clear that the two most important gifts I can give my students are inspiration and confidence.

You see, at its most fundamental, embroidery is simply “needle up, needle down, repeat”. Of course there are a myriad of ways that this simple process can be varied to create a lovely range of textures and patterns. But in the modern world, you can find almost limitless tutorials online showing you how to stitch all these wonderful effects. There are countless books to inform and inspire. In fact, the choice and range of possibilities can almost be overwhelming.

And that’s where I come in. If you come to one of my classes, I will absolutely show you how to work a range of different embroidery stitches. And we will often look at all sorts of interesting techniques to complement those embroidery fundamentals – painting or colouring the base fabric first, manipulating layers of fabric, playing with colour choices and thread textures, adding embellishments, etc. But my main job is to make sure that the voice inside your head is saying “I’ve got this!”.
When you have confidence, you can have a lot of fun. And when you have fun, you can do amazing things. Joe Namath

Free stitching over silk paper layered on painted Congress canvas (by Helen)


In my classes, there is no “right” or “wrong” – rather there is learning, exploring, playfulness, and creativity. I want you to come away from my classes feeling confident to keep working on your own. I want you to be inspired to keep learning more. I want you to find a new idea in a book or online and say to yourself “I can stitch that!”

“It’s All About the Pants” includes surface embroidery, applique and beading (by Julie)


Last year I taught a workshop that ran over 5 mornings at the Albany Summer School. At the start of Day 2, one of my students said to me that she was finding the class almost too challenging. She didn’t have much experience in embroidery and the class was feeling like a very steep learning curve. I encouraged her to stick with it and give herself a chance to develop her skills so that she could start feeling more confident. At the end of Day 5 she gave me a lovely card with the following message:
Thankyou Ann-Marie for an enjoyable week of colour, beauty and challenge. Though not your best student, I have enjoyed the start of my journey into embroidery. You have been so patient with me. I now find myself counting more. The stitches make more sense as I find my rhythm. It will take me a long time to finish, but I will. You have given all of us the joy of colour, texture and creativity.

I cannot tell you how happy this made me. Because for me this is what it is all about. This is why I started Beautiful Stitches in the first place, and this is why I am excited to keep working on it every single day.

And I promise you that there is just a little bit of magic in this process. When you start to develop confidence, it has a tendency to grow. And the more it grows, the harder it is for external forces to dent it. And then you discover that it is contagious. What started out as confidence in your creative pursuits, finds its way into other parts of your life. Before you know it, you are scaling Mt Everest (figuratively speaking at least!) 😊

Through my education, I didn’t just develop skills, I didn’t just develop the ability to learn, but I developed confidence. Michelle Obama


In a few weeks time, I will be starting a new year of classes at Tresillian Arts Centre in Nedlands. If what I have written here feels like a good fit for you, I would love you to join us. In Term 1, I am offering two options:

Creative Embroidery in Colour, Friday mornings from 9.30am to 12.30pm, 7 sessions starting February 15: This class is for anyone who wants to play with embroidery. If you are a beginner, I will absolutely get you started with some basic techniques and simple projects. The “Creative” part can be as simple as taking an existing embroidery design that you like but making it your own by working it in different colours. For those with more experience, you can work on projects of your own choice. We will explore together a range of resources and ideas that will give you the confidence to start creating your own embroidery designs.

Introduction to Embroidery, Wednesday mornings from 9.30am to 12.30pm, 4 sessions starting March 13: This class is for anyone who wants to learn or refresh their knowledge of basic embroidery stitches. We will work on both evenweave and surface stitches so that you have some experience in these two main branches of embroidery. By the end of the four week programme you will be armed with the knowledge and confidence to tackle your next embroidery project.

You can find further details and how to book here.

If you want to find out where else I will be teaching this year, then you can find all the details on my Classes page. And if you would like me to come and teach a workshop to your group, then send me an email and I’ll be very happy to see what we can organise.

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!


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.



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 🙂



Why do I blog?

Starting a blog is a pretty daunting thing. I find myself wondering, will anyone ever read this and why? Am I making it interesting enough? What could I be doing to make a better job of it? And on bad days, why am I even doing this – no one will ever read it.

Why blogIf like me you have a tendency to Pollyanna-ism (the eternal optimism of Eleanor H. Porter’s delightful character), a bad day is usually followed by a day where you take yourself in hand and start searching for people who can help. People who have “been there, done that” and can pass on the wisdom of their experience. And then, if you are a lucky, a flash of insight follows and you add yet another little piece to the beautiful jigsaw that is your life.

I have been writing my blog for almost five months now, and I went in pretty raw. I didn’t want to “follow a formula” or write according to “somebody else’s ideas”. I just wanted to write for myself about the things that inspire me. As it turns out, my inspiration comes from a pretty diverse range of sources: a tidy sewing room, gorgeous ethnic textiles, thoughts on philosophy, or just a sunny autumn day. I have only written blog posts about things I really wanted to write about. But even then, I have held myself on a pretty tight rein – writing “carefully” and taking care to write “right” (it is hard to shake off the habits of a former life as editor of a science magazine).

Last year I found April Bowles-Olin of Blacksburg Belle and I have been following her ever since. April’s mission in life is “to help creative entrepeneurs build successful businesses around the lives they truly want to live”. The thing that stands out about April is that she writes with her heart – you feel like what she is saying is real and meaningful to her, and thus it rings true for you, the reader. In fact, often as I read her posts I feel like she could be writing just for me!

Last month, April ran a fabulous course called Build A Successful Creative Blog on CreativeLive. I don’t think it is overstating the case to say that her course came at the absolute perfect time for me. I had been writing my blog for a few months and was ready to find out all the things I could be doing so much better! Two things really stood out for me.

First, I am not writing this blog for me,


Sorry – I shouted that bit, but it is pretty important! Why? Because I believe passionately that every single one of you has the capacity to be creative. I want you to read my posts and think to yourself, “I can do that”. If I had a dollar for every person who has told me “I can’t create my own embroidery designs”, I wouldn’t need to run this creative business at all – the money would be rolling in.

But I am here to tell you that you can create your own embroidery designs (or whatever else takes your fancy). And the purpose of this blog is to show you how I do it, where I find inspiration, and why I absolutely know from the deepest part of my heart and soul that


(I wasn’t shouting that bit – just singing it out loud so that you will start singing with me 🙂 )

The second lesson from April’s course is that blogging is quite different to writing for print media. Blogging is all about community. When I shared this insight with my 14 year old son, he thought it was hilarious – “Yeah Mum – of course”. As a digital native it is absolutely obvious to him that the Internet is all about connections. But I was raised on a diet of books and hours spent in libraries, and it just hadn’t sunk in before that writing for a blog is quite different.

Henry Mosler (American genre artist, 1841-1920)  Quilting Bee. Women have been working together creatively for centuries.

Quilting Bee by Henry Mosler (American genre artist, 1841-1920) . Women have been working together creatively for centuries. It just so happens that our kitchen table now extends around the globe.

So whilst I sit here every week, writing about embroidery and creativity, I really want you to join me on the journey. A blog grows just one reader at time, into a thriving creative community sharing ideas and passions. So please, leave a comment to say “hello” and tell me what lights your creative fire. If you have friends who might be interested, then please share this post so that they can come and say “Hi” too. And if you haven’t done so already, subscribe to my blog using the form in the sidebar.


Learning from my students – again!

Do you remember that I wrote about painting on canvas a few weeks ago? Last week I ran the second class on that project where we got down to designing the embroidery and commencing stitching, and then yesterday we were together again to see how everyone was progressing. I am absolutely thrilled at the diversity of designs that are being worked and will make sure I take photos next week to show you some examples. But in the meantime I have learnt a really interesting and quite unexpected lesson….

Last week I prepared by making sure that I had a detailed chart of my design as well as a stitch guide to match it.

Chart and stitch guide for modern canvaswork journal cover.

Chart and stitch guide for modern canvaswork journal cover.

I gave these to my students as resources – to be used as inspiration rather than a pattern to be copied. At the beginning of the lesson, I also gave them a blank sheet of graph paper so that they could roughly sketch out their design before they started stitching. I made sure that the graph paper was designed to be 14 lines per inch so that it would correspond exactly with the 14-count canvas on which they were all stitching.

But most of them were slow to get started on this sketching/designing phase – they were almost reluctant to put pencil to paper. Until one of them said to me, “I think I might skip this step and just work my border directly onto the canvas and then see what I want to do next”. In my usual fashion I replied, “Of course! Go for it – whatever works best for you – this is all about play and creativity”. And pretty quickly most of them had skipped over doing any sketching and were busily working their outer border. A couple of students did continue with their planning and design phase, but most just went straight ahead and started stitching.

I didn’t think much more about this until this morning when I delved into one of my new favourite books, “Show Your Work!”, by Austin Kleon. Austin talks about how it is really important to share the “process” of your creativity and not just the “product”. And it suddenly struck me….

I almost never sketch out a design before I start stitching.

Sure, I have an idea of what colours I want to use, what form the final piece will take, and I will have done a bit of arithmetic to calculate how big I want my piece to be and thus how many threads wide and tall I will be stitching. But…..

….most of the design process happens on the canvas as I am stitching.

Somehow, in turning this project into a class, I had felt that I needed to make the process more structured for my students by introducing a sketching/designing phase. And yet I rarely do this myself….and most of my students were much more comfortable when they too started developing their designs straight onto the canvas.

So, why had I felt the need to impose a step on my students which I don’t normally do myself? Well, the truth is that I hadn’t examined my own creative processess very closely. The end of a project always looks so ordered and this is emphasised when the final design is recorded as some sort of chart, stitch guide and thread guide. I had fooled myself into thinking that the creative process was somehow much more ordered than it actually is, and thus I was teaching it that way! But in Austin Kleon’s words,

“Process is messy”.

Embroidery is a three-dimensional, textural, and colourful art and elements often play off each other in unexpected ways. I need to see each element on the canvas before I add the next one. Of course, sometimes this means that I work something that I do not like and then I need to unpick and try again. But that is a really important part of the design process, and my students clearly showed me that they were much more comfortable with this way of working too, especially in a class that was deliberately designed to get their creative juices flowing.

So once again, teaching turns out to be a learning process for both teacher and students. I have learnt so much about myself because my students have helped me to understand my own creative process better, and this will in turn helps me to be a more creative embroidery teacher. How cool is that?

If you have a story about how students helped you to understand yourself better, then please share it with me via the comments below – I would love to know that I am not on my own!


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?  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/edudemic.com

Image sourced from http://www.edudemic.com

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


Playing with stitches

Don’t you love the fun of playing with stitches? I think my favourite thing about canvaswork embroidery is that it is so easy to play – a piece of canvas, some colourful threads, a handful of stitches and some simple geometry. Numerous designs just unfold beneath your fingers!

For the last week I have been working on a new design to teach at the Embroiderer’s Guild of WA later this year. I wanted a small, colourful piece of embroidery that could easily be made up when completed. I came up with this simple wallet to hold my business cards.

My new business card wallet

My new business card wallet.

The design is based on one of my favourite Threadworx colours – Hawaiian Flowers (No. 01068). I often work this way – choose a variegated thread and match it with a few solid colours for a perfect colour scheme. Here I have simply added the darker purple for contrast and cream for a background note.

The wallet laid flat to show the fully stitched design.

The wallet laid flat to show the fully stitched design.

Making up couldn’t be easier. A piece of cream pure wool felt lines the embroidery and creates a pocket all in one step. And then I simply added a snap fastener.

Inside the wallet.

Inside the wallet.

The really fun part of playing is all the spin-offs that come from developing one design. Here I have started work on a variation in a different colourway and size.

A variation in progress.

A variation in progress.

I will use a similar range of stitches and still maintain the braided heart as the focus, but this piece will be slightly different. And that is the beauty of playing with canvaswork – endless variation with such simple building blocks – I love it 🙂




Do you consider yourself to be creative? I used not to, but over the last few years I have become much more comfortable with believing myself to be creative. And I am really interested in the ever increasing research into what makes us creative.

I have been sewing for as long as I can remember. But I always worked off someone else’s pattern, so in my mind I wasn’t being creative – I was just copying the outcome of someone else’s artistic talent. This didn’t require me to be creative – I just needed to be good at following instructions. Also, my professional training is in maths and science. This professional training only added to my own assessment that I wasn’t creative – I was a scientist. (Of course, with wisdom and experience I would now argue that a good scientist needs to be creative too :))

Then in 2007 I enrolled in the Canvaswork Masterclass at the Victorian Embroiderer’s Guild. Every month we would meet for a few hours at Guild House and learn something new about canvaswork, as well as being given a design brief for the sample we needed to work on over the next four weeks. Every sample piece had to be our design – an original piece of work. Initially this was an incredibly daunting prospect. For someone who had worked off patterns for over thirty years, I was suddenly faced with producing a whole body of work which was all to be “created” by me. To make it worse, I felt like I was surrounded by people who already had a flair for embroidery design. They seemed to produce wonderful pieces effortlessly – my work felt clunky and awkward by comparison.

And then in one session, we learned to use Tyvek. If you haven’t heard of it, Tyvek is a synthetic, non-woven material that is very strong – almost impossible to tear but easy to cut with scissors or a knife. It has a wide range of industrial uses, but from an artistic point of view it has one fascinating property – when you apply heat it melts in predictable but irregular ways, creating fabulously interesting shapes. A small amount of heat, from an iron for example, causes the material to shrink and “bobble” – more heat and it starts to melt through the material completely. Tyvek can be coloured in just about any way you can think of – paints, coloured pencils, dyes, inkjet printers etc. So it is a creative material with almost limitless possibilities. Click here for a good introductory video.

During our class we produced a range of Tyvek samples. Here are some of mine mounted in my portfolio. The orange sample at top left has been ironed until it starts to deform heavily, whereas the red, blue and white samples have only been lightly heated.

Assorted Tyvek samples treated with paint, colouring pencils and inkjet printer designs.

Assorted Tyvek samples treated with paint, colouring pencils and inkjet printer designs.

Our challenge then was to include a piece of Tyvek in a “modern” interpretation of canvaswork. I created this journal cover, using Jill Carter’s book, “New Canvaswork”, as inspiration.

My journal

A5 journal cover worked in modern canvaswork with Tyvek embellishment.

I think this was the first piece where I really started to feel like I was creative. It wasn’t easy, and at the time I remember ranting about how I “didn’t do modern” – I was a “traditionalist”. But this piece worked its way into my heart and became one of my favourites. And from then on I was hooked on creativity – the fun of coming up with an idea; the hours of work that going into realising the idea; and the satisfaction of finishing and knowing “I created that”.

Creativity like that is addictive – and it gets easier with practice. Somehow your mind and body become more and more comfortable with the creative process and so you don’t fear it anymore. And coming from a scientist who spent decades believing she wasn’t creative, that is a pretty cool thing!