Saturday, 22 July 2017

Vintage Printer's Tray

I have wanted a printers tray for ages!! They often pop up in blogland and on Etsy as interesting ways of displaying collections and knick knacks; those tiny objects that get picked up and put in pockets whilst out on walks, little bits of memories or items that are beautiful only to the beholder.
Their popularity comes and goes, sometimes they are kitsch or posh vintage, crafty or old fashioned; currently I think they are popular in a creative and homely kind of way. This particular tray was made years ago by a very good friend of mine, and gifted to me for my birthday with the intention that I should strip it down and make it my own. She left the items that she had originally put into the tray so that I could see what she was creating back then, although sadly as they are mostly organic materials (nuts, dried flowers, pasta, pulses, seeds, poppy heads, chick peas, wheat heads) they were starting to go off a little bit, and something has slowly been eating into the pasta, covering everything in pasta dust!

I would have liked to have saved a few of the larger seed heads as they are super cool, but as I started taking them out they were falling apart so sadly it all had to go in the bin. The poppy heads still had seeds in so I put those in the flower bed- wouldn't it be amazing if next year we had some 'vintage' poppies growing?

I think the original idea behind the display was to put a patterned fabric in one of the central compartments (padded out with some oasis). This would then be the basis for the colour theme of the tray, with complimentary fabrics scrumpled in some smaller slots, and I found some wheat heads which at one time had been dyed blue but the colour had bleached in the light.
The whole display was then preserved behind a sheet of glass, which had been cut and installed by my friend using the swivel arms to hold it all in place.

Once everything was out I gave the tray a good clean (as much as you can clean a vintage tray which was probably used for housing print blocks for many years, gradually staining the wood to black). Do you know the history of these trays? They were first used in the printing process in the 1890s to hold the pieces of an alphabet set. You would have trays of different font families and font sizes stacked up in large chests of drawers, and something that has stuck from the use of these trays to the present day is how we refer to 'capital' and 'small' letters. The 'small' letters were stored in bottom drawers, and 'capital' letters were stored towards the top, hence the terms 'upper' and 'lower' case letters. The print blocks would then be put together to create sentences and words to be used in printing newspapers and posters.

Some of the slots were starting to get slightly nibbled-looking where the pasta had been so I decided to fill the backs of these sections with some pretty printed card which I'd saved from when I lined the bottom of my studio crates. The patterns are so bright that they contrast beautifully with the stained wood.

I have propped my tray on my studio shelves where I can continue to fill it with the little things that interest me. I'm such a hoarder that I won't need any further encouragement to collect things! These trays can be emptied and filled as much as you like, although mine is only a little one- some are enormous, several metres wide things with hundreds of compartments.

It is quite an art to collect things small enough and flat enough to fit exactly. I have left the glass off of the front for now as my initial collection doesn't quite fit properly. I'm looking forwards to finding the right things to put in!

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Hollyhock Stitchscape

I have kind of sneaked this stitchscape in under the radar a little bit. It was started after my fabric stash sorting last weekend, and I had a strong mental vision of what this 'scape would look like. It is completely inspired by Hollyhocks, which are beautiful, tall stemmed flowers with large blooms in a variety of colours. I also knew exactly what these flowers were going to be made out of.... Shrinkles!!
I used frosted Shrinkles, although they can also come in clear or in black, and I bought mine here, but obviously you can get them in a variety of other craft places in different pack sizes.
The idea is that the sheets are made of a certain type of plastic, which, when heated in the oven, shrink! Any colours you put on the sheet to decorate it become stronger and more vivid (even pencil lines so watch out here), and once shrunk, the plastic will also be a lot thicker so you can use it for anything you can think of!
I wanted to create my own Hollyhock sequins, so sectioned my page into 7cm squares, then filled each square with my shape and a smaller circle in the centre to be cut out. Using felt tip pens I coloured in the circles, creating a kind of gradient effect with my colours- at this point the plastic sheet is thin enough to cut with scissors, although it isn't the easiest thing to cut central circles out of! They go on a baking tray lined with silver foil, in a fan oven at 175c for a few minutes. If you have an oven with a window you can watch the plastic start to curl and dance on the tray, and see it magically shrink! Once the pieces have stopped moving and are once again lying flat, you can remove from the oven and wait to cool.

I also tried another page sectioned off into 5cm squares to make some slightly smaller flowers, and once these had been removed from the oven I bent them slightly to make cup shapes whilst they were still hot- not recommended I should point out, as you do burn your fingers!

I didn't take any photos of the process of this stitchscape on my camera, although you may have seen some photos popping up across Facebook and Instagram. To the background layers I added my usual stitching, with layers of running stitch, cross stitch, back stitch, seed stitch, french knots and bullion knots, filling in the layers as the whim took me.

To make the stems I couched two strands of Stylecraft Special DK acrylic yarn, and then layered over some organza ribbon, just catching the edges to secure the sides before stitching a row of back stitch all the way down the ribbon between the two strands of wool to create a kind of quilted stem look.

The flowers have been stitched down in the same way I would a sequin, coming up with matching thread through the middle and around the outside, creating an illusion of the different individual petals. Once these were secured, I filled the centres with french knots and tiny matching yellow beads.

The buds at the top of the stems are actually the cut out holes from the middle of the Shrinkle sequins which I had the brainwave of shrinking down as well. These have been secured with green stitches holding them down and creating the green leaf part of the bud, and I have added green french knots around these to help bed them in to the stem.

As The Mother pointed out, it is a much more mixed media way of working, which is something I haven't really explored so much in these stitchscapes so far- but I do have several sheets of Shrinkles left so watch this space!! There could be more coming this way.

I really like the vibrancy of these flowers, it is exactly what I imagined in my head when the thought first popped in- and I have also been referring to images of Hollyhocks for this one to make sure I'm on the right track. I am especially pleased with the little details here, the background is pale and unassuming, leaving all of the talking to the flowers, but I have still treated each layer with its own sprinkle of stitches and there is a lot to take in. Mid way through the layers there are some printed roses which have been followed with delicate layers of back stitch, treated in much the same way as the floral lacy shapes nearer to the top. The Shrinkle flowers themselves aren't very detailed, their beauty is in the colour and the repetition, and with the addition of the beads, they have an added, unexpected sparkle to them which gives that special touch of sunlight. Imagine how these would translate into a print!

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Get Your Stash Out

Isn't that a wonderful sight? Anyone who has a stash and a whole afternoon to themselves should get their stash baskets and boxes and bags, and just play! Pile them up in stacks of pattern and colour, theme and shade, even if you have no intention of doing anything with them, just for the fun of it. I actually had some fabrics at the bottom of the stash pile that I have no recollection of buying at all so it was nice to rediscover those again.

I should admit that this table-full isn't my whole stash.... some I left in the basket and others are awaiting re-discovery in the attic. One day it will be their turn to be used in something wonderful and creative.

The reason I started feverishly pulling them all out of their hidey holes is because I was so inspired during last weekend's Bridge Cottage event, with all of the stitchscape themes being thrown around, that I wanted to start all of them at the same time! Ridiculous I know, especially as I can only stitch one 'scape at a time. I did prepare several different sized hoops which are now ready and waiting with the blank canvas (or calico in this case) inviting me to layer up some fabrics. I need to make some more stitchscape minis, and start on some winter season themed 'scapes ready for the coming months, then there are the various themes I could do; green trees, forest, seaside, sunsets, beaches, snow scenes, tulip fields, lavender fields..... the list is endless and so exciting! I need to be more like an octopus, or perhaps one of the multi-limbed Indian Goddesses? Imagine how many stitchscapes they could have on the go at one time!

I settled for starting two stitchscapes for the time being as these designs are the ones shouting loudest to be let out of my creative head. The background in the top image doesn't look like much here, but if you have been following my social media pages you will have seen how this one has been developing into something much more colourful and lively. (More on that to follow in a separate post.)
The bottom image is anything but dull! I have no idea where this one is taking me at the moment but as the fabrics in the purple pile stacked up, this stitchscape kind of developed on its own. I had vague notions about fading purple hills with a glowing sunset in the background, but this one is not going to be a shy retiring stitchscape! Certainly not!

Monday, 10 July 2017

Commissioned Bluebells

It's amazing how much stitching you can get done whilst on an hour long bus journey. I try not to waste the time I spend commuting each day, and whilst the morning journey isn't usually practical to be sewing through (too many school children crammed in like sardines), the afternoon journey is less overcrowded and gives me an opportunity to sit in my own space and sew.

Of course, there are many more challenges to overcome on the bus than in the sanctity of sitting in a chair in the living room; roundabouts, potholes, sharp bends, flying starts and sudden stops. There is an element of multitasking whilst you try to stay in your seat, keep all your luggage together and not stab yourself with the needle so as to bleed on the embroidery. The time does fly by though and you can achieve a good amount.

Last weeks commute time was taken up with my commissioned Bluebell stitchscape. It is much smaller than my original Bluebell Woods 'scape as I am using a 15cm hoop, but I have still tried to cram in all of the elements that were loved in the larger piece; the bluebells (funnily enough), the branches, the trees...
I used it as a demonstration piece at the Bridge Arts show on Saturday, and finished it off that evening. What do you think?

The bluebells were approached slightly differently, and they look a more solid block of blue than previously. The chunky knots were made with Sirdar Aran yarn, the shiny knots with DMC Mouline Silky embroidery thread, and the slight lustre knots with DMC embroidery thread. The difference in the light qualities of the yarn/threads used really helps to create elements of light and shadow, with the chunky yarns seeming to be further away even though they are larger in size. The silky thread really stands out, like rays of sun are filtering through the branches and highlighting the odd flower.
I've highlighted this idea of dappled light by using little green beads at the bottom of the bluebell stems as these also catch the light and create a slight sparkle.

For the leaves I've combined a DMC embroidery thread with Stylecraft Special DK yarn. This mirrors the textures of the bluebells below, but gives a fuller appearance to the leaves themselves. I really love how they curl around.

Stitches used here are seed stitch, running stitch, whip stitch, fly stitch, pekinese stitch, back stitch, long stitch, satin stitch, blanket stitch, french knots and bullion knots.

So now all that is left to do is to mount and frame this little lovely, and hope that the commissioner likes it!!

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Breathing Day

Phew! What a busy couple of weeks it's been! Today I am doing a lot of sitting, gentle pootling, catching up on admin (in a relaxed sort of way) and playing with new ideas for future projects. There are no fixed plans, and for today at least, I can go with the flow.
Last weekend I popped up to London for the day with some girl friends. It was one of the only days this year that we could all meet up, and as they have all spread far and wide, London was the easiest place for us to get to. There was a lot of wandering involved, especially as the District and Circle tube lines were closed so we had to walk to tube entrances that were still operating, pausing outside St. Paul's for a photo opportunity before moving on. We visited South Bank street food market where they have every single type of cuisine you could ever ask for! I ate the most amazing mild Mauritian curry with the best tasting pilau rice I've ever had, and the others tried risotto, burritos, hot curries....all sorts of stuff.

When we'd eaten our fill we visited the V&A Museum for a bit of culture. I'd forgotten how pretty the building was. It's not only the artifacts inside that are steeped in history and created by masters- the architecture and interior design is astounding! These photos are just of a staircase!
Once we felt cultured enough it was off to Hyde Park to sit in the shade and eat magnum ice creams and strawberries with a sneaky iced Pimms, and we rounded the day off with a smashing pub dinner before catching the train home again. It was a fabulous day and one that will be remembered as a good time with friends.

The rest of the week just gone has mostly been taken up with work and lots of studio time whilst I prepared for the second of my Bridge Arts shows. As the weather has been so beautiful, it's been rather lovely to have an excuse to wander around in the evenings whilst the light turns golden and makes everything appear prettier than before. These Hydrangeas are in a garden on the way to my studio and look glorious!

It was also a very successful sales week with three original stitchscapes flying out of the door! I love packaging up the 'scapes and using all of my stationary to make it look unified and pretty. Those stickers get me every time- they're so cute!
It is an absolute thrill to have an order and to know that someone out there loves my work enough to buy it from me. I hope it's a buzz that never goes away!

Yesterday was the Uckfield Festival Big Day Out, and the Bridge Arts in Uckfield group were exhibiting and selling their works of art in the building the group is named after- Bridge Cottage. The building is one of the oldest in Uckfield; a medieval Wealden Hall House built around 1436. It has recently been renovated and plays a central role in our town, being used for weddings, exhibitions, events and school history trips, and was a really lovely place to have our art fair.
The Mother was my right hand lady once again, and helped to set up and chat to the punters. We had a little table right under the window which wasn't great for photo taking but was excellent in terms of light so that I could carry on sewing during the quiet moments.
It felt strangely authentic to be stitching in the cottage actually, and made me wonder, throughout it's long history, how many other women (and men) have sat there and stitched. We know that the house was owned by many different people, and at one point, had multiple families living in it, so the chances are quite good that someone would have picked up a needle, for whatever reason.

It was a good day, meeting new and previous customers and chatting to visitors about their experiences with sewing, demonstrating bullion knots and showing children the textures being created. A lady who contacted me through my website asking for my advice on hoop size and embroidery methods even brought in the work she had done inspired by my stitchscapes! How fantastic is that?! It's amazing how embroidery and sewing and creativity can bring people together.

Whilst I really love doing these craft fairs and being in the studio, it is nice to have a day to relax at home, putting the needle and thread down for a few hours so that my poor blistered thumb can recover a bit. Today is a breathing day and we have all the doors and windows open at home to allow the gentle breeze to blow through the house, bringing with it the scent of the flowers in the garden. Our garden is looking pretty spectacular at the moment, with an absolute riot of colours and shapes in the pots and flowerbeds. Even the plants that have gone over are looking good- like the spiky Allium skeletons, and the dusty green/grey poppy pods.

This month it is the turn of the Agapanthus to put on a show, and any minute now they are all going to pop open!

The cat is totally blissed out and is just flopping from one melting point to another. In shade, in sun, in shade, in sun- the routine of a very happy sun-loving puss cat.
I have some new ideas cooking up in my head for new stitchscapes. I think it's time to sew up another batch of stitchscape minis which are proving very popular at the moment, and I would also like to throw down some different backgrounds so that I could potentially work on different 'scapes at a time. Lots to be thinking about....but maybe not to action yet, I have some more breathing and relaxing to do first....