Tuesday, 16 May 2017


Starling parents work so hard. I imagine most bird parents work pretty hard, but we currently have two families of Starlings in the garden who we are delighting in feeding and watching their comical ways. Initially the baby Starlings didn't come in to the garden and sat in the Chestnut tree next door, shouting at their poor harassed parents who were ferrying food backwards and forwards like there was no tomorrow! The squawking and screeching is quite intense and makes everybody want to put something in that permanently open bright yellow beak just to make the noise stop.

They have become bolder now and come in to the garden to sit on the feeder, quite literally on top of the dried mealworms we put out, but they still won't feed themselves, waiting for their parent to shovel in the morsels at top speed rather than picking the worms up in their own beaks. I imagine the proximity makes it easier for the parent birds though, less flapping too and fro- I wonder how many air miles they clock up on average?

We used to have hundreds of Starlings in the garden. I remember when I was little we used to put water soaked stale bread out on the lawn and the Starlings would descend on to the grass in a seething mass of squawking black feathers until all the bread had disappeared whereupon they would leave as swiftly as they had arrived. Through the years the numbers dwindled down and seeing even one Starling became a rarity so we are thrilled to be seeing more back in the garden, especially these funny young ones.

It occurred to me that the parent Starlings were pretty much the same colour as my current stitchscape (a good link there, don't you think?) which gives me a great opportunity to show you how my black and white 'scape is progressing. There are only two layers left before I can start playing with 'foreground flowers', the polka dot at the bottom and the white houses which I am still debating on how I want to approach.

I really like the top layers though. I have stitched colourless clear sequins to the white at the top which adds a fantastic sparkle when you move around the embroidery without detracting from it in any way. The grey layer underneath has the tiniest little French knots following the line of the pattern (so cute!) and the crosshatched fabric has again been followed with long stitches in DMC Silky embroidery thread which adds a lustre almost mirroring the sequins up top.

My favourite layer is very unobtrusive. I have stitched very simple rows of back stitch following the lines of the polka dot print underneath. As the stitches themselves are offset, it kind of reminds me of brickwork, but as the lines are so close together, it's very smooth feeling, like a sateen woven fabric, and doesn't really look like I've stitched it at all. Would you know it was originally a polka dot?

Lower down, I've played with seed stitches hiding the dots of the fabric, and have used two different colours to create a mottled effect- the same way I created patches of sunlight on the mountains of the Flowing River stitchscape. I'm not entirely sure about one of the greys as it has more brown in it than I first realised (the light wasn't that good when I started stitching the layer), but I'm hoping that the overall colour will blend with the others once I start adding layers on top. We shall see.
The grosgrain ribbon stitched between two layers has a fine web of skinny blanket stitch over the top following the lines of the ribbing, again an unobtrusive layer that I can work on a bit more if I want to. I am getting to the exciting part where the hard graft is finished and the fun, embellishment stuff can start!

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Fish & Chips For Tea

Yesterday evening was like a mini stay-cation to Hastings. We visited my Grandmother and her new hip, both of whom appear to be doing well (this is the second hip she's had done- she's practically bionic!) and then as we were so near to the seafront, carried on down to a little carpark right on the beach in the fishing quarter of Hastings. The weather was beautiful with blue sky, blue sea and bright sunshine and, although it was a tad brisk, it was wonderful to breathe in the salty air and watch the seagulls squabbling amongst themselves.

Further along this stretch of coastline, you do eventually reach long sandy beaches but for this part you just get an interesting selection of pebbles which crunch underfoot  and pile up into drifts for you to slide down in a tumble of stones.

Our intention was to walk along to the shops and grab ourselves some dinner to take away, and as we walked along the path, following the tracks of the miniature railway line, we walked past the East Hill Cliff funicular Railway, which is actually the steepest funicular railway in the United Kingdom and was built in 1903 by Hastings Council.

This little seaside town is steeped in history; it is home to the first castle in England built by William the Conqueror (or the remains of it), and is actually made up of three towns joined together- the Old Town to the East, the contemporary town centre in the middle and St. Leonard's to the West. There are various museums you can visit which will tell you more about the Old Town and the historic fishing and trading centre which dates back to the time of the Norman conquest. In St. Clements Caves on the West side, there are tales of daring smugglers and on the other side, at the top of the East Hill, is Hastings Country Park which boasts 660 acres of ancient woodland and heathland stretching across five miles of exposed cliffs. I haven't even mentioned anything about the 1066 Battle of Hastings!

Nearly every other building on this seafront is a fish and chip shop and we wandered along until there was one that took our fancy, The Cod Father! The chips were delicious, not soggy at all, and my fish cake was really tasty too. Eaten with the little wooden fork, out in the open air, surrounded by warm sunshine and salty breezes- there isn't a better way to eat fish and chips.

I really loved the contrast of the blue sky against the yellow lichen that appears to be flourishing on many of the old rooftops. With the little twittens, old wooden houses lining the twisty side roads, and these fantastic yellow/orange roofs, it really was very scenic.

After wandering back towards the car, we stayed for a few minutes down on the beach, walking (or sliding) down to the waters edge so that Dad could practice throwing pebbles into the sea and The Mother and I could hunt for interesting shells and sea glass.

Such a treat to have dinner 'out' in this amazing location! It really did feel like being on holiday!

Saturday, 13 May 2017

House Sitting

I had the studio, house and surrounding gardens all to myself today as my Grandmother has gone in to hospital for a new hip (which has so far gone very well by all accounts). It's a nice walk to the studio although I came across some chopped down Aquilegia flowers which some horrible person had cut from the hedgerow and abandoned on the pathway. They were the palest of pinks and I gathered it all up and took it with me to pop in a vase with some Bracken cut from the flowerbeds. Hopefully it will still be as naturally beautiful when my Grandmother returns home in a couple of days time.

We had been left with a list of tasks- mainly plant watering and how much to water each plant. Bonsai watering is crucial apparently and I had to water each one with rainwater, with a certain amount from a certain watering can. In addition to Bonsais we are also watering the greenhouse and surrounding pots, as well as encouraging the baby Chili plants on the window ledge in the kitchen. I said a few supportive words and complimented them on the greenness of their leaves whilst showering them gently with the purest of rainwater droplets.

Whilst I was wandering around the garden I noticed some beautiful flowers and plants that have popped open since I was there last weekend. There is a wide variety of plants, some planted by the previous occupant of the house who appeared to go in for dramatic versions of well known flowers- like giant Poppies with velvety purple middles contrasting against bright red petals, or multi-petalled small Poppies in light orange.

I really love Lupins, especially the way the colour changes as the flower heads open from the bottom upwards creating the most spectacular gradient of colour. They are such show offs!

Of course, the other reason I was there was because it is Studio Saturday! And I had some mounting and framing to do with my Dry Stone Meadow stitchscape. Once a 'scape is finished it is pressed carefully with a hot iron several times, and again just before mounting it onto card to remove as many creases as possible.

I use the same process each time; mount board is cut to the size I want the finished square to be, then I carefully lay the embroidery over the card and put one pin in the centre of each side through the embroidery and into the side of the board. This is to make sure that I have positioned the stitchscape exactly where I want it (usually centred in the middle) and I can move the pins around until I have the fabric in the right place.

Once I am happy with the positioning, I will then add more pins along the edges, working on opposite sides to stretch the fabric until it is taut but not buckling the mount board. If there is a section I'm not happy with, I can always remove the pins and start again. Turning the piece over, the backing fabric gets trimmed so that is about two inches or so wider than the card on each side. Using cotton sewing thread I fold two sides over and starting from the middle, make small stitches in a ladder-like way along to the edge, folding in the corners neatly and stitching them in place. I then turn and work the opposite way, out again from the middle. The process is repeated with the last two sides, folding the fabric over, tucking in the ends and stitching a ladder out from the centre. It is essential that the thread is pulled taught, but not so hard that either a) the thread snaps (always a bummer), or b) the mount board curves and you end up with a bent embroidery.

So there you have it, a beautifully mounted embroidery piece that is ready for framing! If you wanted to frame your own pieces in this way, I really recommend it as it gives a much nicer overall appearance. If you have used really bulky threads and have lots of ends going on at the back, a handy tip would be to sandwich a layer of interlining/thin wadding between the card and the embroidery which will help absorb lumps and bumps and keep your fabrics smooth.

I think this piece looks really sweet in its frame! A good job done!