Monday, 31 July 2017

Winter Kisses Stitchscape

I'm rather chuffed with how this little one turned out. It was mostly completed on the bus, with barely a stitch done at home. That's a lot of roundabouts to be swirled around whilst executing the perfect bullion knot, and a lot of hard brakes for those hands that shoot out at the last minute by the side of the road, causing the bus to swerve violently into laybys- all without stabbing oneself with the needle (which did happen a couple of times, luckily I managed not to bleed all over the fabric). It makes me feel quite accomplished really and is very helpful towards getting deadlines completed with that extra two hours a day.

The Moda fabrics (from the Winterberry  collection) have been a joy to work with. They are exactly the right kinds of patterns to inspire different stitches, and I especially enjoyed the grey, twisted fabric at the bottom there which has been filled in with whip stitches and fly stitch. I might use that technique again as there are two more colour ways in the next stitchscape coming up. Ooh my fingers are itching to get onto that one!

I had a funny moment when finishing this piece. It didn't feel finished! I couldn't think what to do until we drove past some pigeons and the idea of adding some flying silhouetted birds came along. Personally I think they really finish the embroidery off- it was looking a bit dull and boring before. Funny how a few single fly stitches can add so much interest.

The other points of interest and festive spirit are with the sparkles that glitter in the light. The spiky cone/branch things (whatever they are meant to be- they are lovely either way) have been stitched with simple straight stitches in a metallic grey which contrasts beautifully against the bright red berries. There is more glitter in the stems of my bullion flowers, for no other reason than I liked it.

So, it is becoming customary for me to just list the different stitches used, although you guys could probably recite them back to me by now as I have such favourites, but here we go! Crammed into this little 15cm embroidery are; bullion knots, french knots, back stitch, long stitch, whip stitch, satin stitch, straight stitch, seed stitch and fly stitch. A little bit of festive cheer in the middle of summer!

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Marwell Zoo

I had a bit of a break from sewing yesterday as The Parents, Sister and I travelled up to Winchester to visit Marwell Zoo! We hadn't been there before, and went as part of an event put on by The Sister's workplace, which gave us discounted tickets and a free train ride (who could ask for more?). There were also special events planned for those going with small people, or further events intended for later on in the evening, but sadly the weather was not good and by lunchtime, it had settled into a steady downpour and lots of people left early.

We didn't really mind the rain and quite enjoyed a slightly emptier park. The animals mostly didn't appear overly keen and it was a shame that the sun wasn't shining so you could see the primates playing on their swings, or the birds flying around the walk-through aviaries.
There were so many different types of animal! I can't remember a lot of their names, but have looked some of them up for you using the animal inventory of Marwell. In the top montage (above) you have the Humboldt Penguins, in the next montage down you have the Capybaras and Greater Flamingoes, then in the below image you have an Amur Leopard, Mr & Mrs Bat-Eared Fox, a  Serval, a Cheetah, a Ring-Tailed Coati and a Fossa who was intently watching the keepers clean out the Lemurs next door (she would eat Lemurs in the wild so was probably hoping for an escapee lunch).

Most of the Lemurs themselves were asleep. They are so funny in the way they roll themselves up on the branches, and if there is more than one on a branch, they stack themselves up next to each other in their rolled positions! So cute. The Golden Headed Tamarins, whose name is longer than the animal itself, were quite active, leaping in and out of the door to the outside. They were in a cage with two other types of primate, including the Silvery Marmoset who was sweet and tiny. We watched one delicately eating a piece of carrot, stripping off pieces from the outside and nibbling, sticking it's tongue out to make sure it hadn't missed any. I think you can see a little tongue poking out in the middle right hand image above if you zoom in.
There are at least five different types of Lemur at Marwell; the Alaotran Gentle Lemur (who I didn't manage to get any good photos of), the Ring Tailed Lemur, the Red Ruffed Lemur, the Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur and the Crowned Lemur.

Of course, there were also the bigger, showpiece animals like the Rhinos. There are four at Marwell, three ladies and a gentleman who share their outdoor enclosure with one of the three types of Zebra, Ostriches and a herd of Scimitar-Horned Oryx. It was nice to see that they had such a huge area to play in, which included a water hole with accompanying mud, rocks for them to scratch against and some trees which were in the process of being stripped by the Zebras.

(Collared Peccary)

There were many different types of antelope-esque animals who kind of looked similar but come from different places and have different names, like the Mountain Bongo (horned and stripey), Lowland Anoa Buffalo, Sitatunga (stripey but not horned) and Sable Antelope (the poser in the middle of the montage). Apparently this type of animal was a favourite with the founder of the zoo, John Knowles which might be why there are so many different types.


The Giraffes were really lovely to watch. Their coats are like patchwork quilts, all of the shapes fitting together with the light border around the dark centres. There is a great walkway to watch these majestic animals from, which brings you about level with their heads so you can appreciate their view of the world from up high. They appear to eat anything, nibbling the paintwork off the windows of their house and the bark from the posts that their hay bales are attached to, their ears waggling backwards and forwards the entire time.

We stayed and watched the Amur Tigers for a little while. There was a Mum and Dad with three 14 month old cubs. Dad did a lot of pacing his territory, walking around and spraying where necessary (there were lots of signs around the enclosure that essentially said, if he points his bottom at you, run.), whilst Mum stayed with the cubs, play fighting with them when they jumped on her from behind and then washing behind their ears when they got dirty. Apparently these cubs will be moved on to different zoos when they are about 18 months old to start new breeding programmes and have little cubs of their own.

(Yellow Mongoose)

The enclosure with the Somali Wild Ass was attracting a lot of attention, and on closer inspection, there was a baby Ass! So sweet with its over-sized ears and little spindly stripey legs leaping around all over the place, it can only have been a few days old.

(Pigmy Hippopotamus)

This little Oriental Small-Clawed Otter (see how knowledgeable I am?) was very sweet. You couldn't have missed him in his enclosure because of the noise he was making. So much persistent squeaking going on! Whoever he was shouting to obviously had put ear plugs in and was determinedly ignoring whatever he was saying as no one else appeared in answer to his call. Not to be deterred, he continued shouting even whilst playing with a tiny stone he discovered, flipping it around between his paws and play fighting with the tree bark. Every now and then he would coyly look up at the people standing on the bridge watching him before returning to squeak across the water.

(From top left: Black-Headed Weaver, Little Egret, BH Weaver, Hamerkop, Wrinkled Hornbill (Male), Weaver Nest, Waldrapp Ibis, Marabou Stork,Wrinkled Hornbill (Female))

(Great Grey Owls)

The Owls did not look impressed with the weather. Most were inside their boxes, and the ones that were outside were strategically placed so as to be underneath their boxes. Then again, I'm not sure Owls ever do look particularly happy do they?

(Northern White-faced Owl)

(From top left; Madagascar Tree Boa, Beaded Lizard, Casque-Headed Iguana, Starred Agamas, Eygptian Tortoise, Emerald Tree Monitor, Tortoise, Monitor, Beaded Lizard)

The Wallabies were also very sweet, you can see how hard it was raining at this point in the top right hand image there. It didn't actually seem to bother them very much, and you can walk through their enclosure so they were bouncing out all over the place. Some were trying to disguise themselves as plants which was funny. You would suddenly notice them peeping out at you from behind a bush and once they'd realised you'd clocked them in the undergrowth, they would bounce out and be all casual about it. Such little characters!

Part of the special event section of the day was a tour of the ground floor of the house. Which sounds very grand, but actually it was four rooms and a corridor, which were all empty save for some very impressive fireplaces. They don't fill the rooms in a National Trust kind of way because they use the house for different venues and as the guide put it, 'would be constantly shifting sofas from room to room' if they furnished it in the style that it might have been lived in. The facts given out were quite interesting; there is a lot of history to the house because it wasn't passed down through one family as others of its type have been. Lots of people have lived there and bought it, from all walks of life, one chap was born a butcher's son and was sent to debtors prison, making his way up in the world from there as a prize fighter turned racehorse breeder. The grand fireplaces come from when Henry Seymour (as in, brother of Jane Seymour, third wife of Heny VIII) lived there. After Henry VIII had died, and his son Edward VI had beheaded Henry Seymour's two brothers, Edward and Thomas for treason, Edward VI decided to visit H. Seymour, who immediately had a fireplace built with the King's name and motto and crest chiseled all over it as a sign of loyalty and allegiance. (Well, wouldn't you?)

There are also lots of ghosts and ghost stories connected with Marwell Hall. One of the most famous is the Mistlebow Bride. Supposedly, just after Christmas, the wedding party of a just married couple were playing hide and go seek. The bride was the first to hide whilst the others counted down. She found a massive oak chest in a neglected corner of the house and opened it to discover that the chest was empty. Seeing this as an excellent hiding place, she stepping into the chest and closed the lid after her, not realising that the catch on the lid would close and lock her in the trunk. She wasn't found until several years later and the story goes that if you stay at the hall on the 27th December, at 11pm you can hear the sounds of the wedding party searching for the lost bride, or see a ghostly figure dressed in white, roaming the corridors looking for somewhere to hide....

We rounded off the day with a train ride around the park, past the Rhino enclosure, through the Macaque playground, past the Flamingoes, and back round again. Everybody was very soggy by this time, and although we had had a lovely day, it was a bit of a relief to get back to the car and take our wet outer things off. Apart from that, we would very much recommend a visit for anyone near enough to go!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

A Blank Canvas

Perhaps I should start putting Butterflies into my stitchscapes? What do you think? The large flower focused 'scapes like Cow Parsley and Hollyhocks might look sweet with a little Butterfly or even a Bumble Bee snuck in between the flower stems, or boldly perched on top of one of the flower heads...
Ignore me, I'm rambling. I just wanted to share these photos I found on my camera from the weekend whilst I was finishing off the Blush Sunset stitchscape in the garden. We had lots of these little Copper Butterflies paying lots of attention to the Lavender and Thyme flowers- herbs are especially attractive I think due to their strong smell and oils.

I actually hopped on here to share with you the start of not one, not two, but three new stitchscape hoops! The first one is my big, square, 30cm hoop which I am filling with nine stitchscape minis. The theme for this one is based on a kind of snowy scene with a light yellowy sunrise, all very pale and very simple fabrics. I have gone a little mad on the DMC embroidery thread stand for this one with lots of shades of pale yellow and every tone of off-white imaginable to match my fabrics.

I might have mentioned before whilst talking about my minis, that these are made slightly differently as the fabric slices tend to be a lot smaller. I still put all of my background pieces down first, but these are attached with Bondaweb (or Wonderweb, or any double sided, iron-on Vilene) which is ironed onto a block of my chosen fabrics first, then the little shapes cut out, the paper removed from the back of the Bondaweb, and the fabric ironed onto the backing cloth. It is very neat, very simple, and as long as you don't get it glued to the bottom of your iron, a great way of working up backgrounds quickly.

The other part of the theme, is woodland winter trees! It was good fun playing with layouts for this one and I am very interested to see how they look once I have stitched some textures and little twiggy branches onto the bare trunks.
This hoop is being worked on in the evenings as it is a little too large to travel on the bus with but perfect for evening stitches.

The second hoop I am sort of working on- as in, the background is prepped but I'm not actively stitching it yet- is a 20cm hoop. It is going to be a C*******s hoop, ready for my festive craft fairs. It's never too early to be prepared and as these take me a little while to do, I have to start early! The fabric for this one is mostly from a Moda charm pack The Mother bought me for Christmas last year that I haven't touched. The collection is called 'Winterberry' and was designed by Kate & Birdie Paper Co. specially for Moda so it's all super posh and snazzy, and terribly fitting for a festive stitchscape.
That one will be started once I finish my little 15cm hoop which is currently being taken around with me on the bus and stitched during lunchtimes so is coming on at quite a pace! Especially as the school children are on their summer holidays so there is more room on the bus and I can stitch morning and afternoon! All very exciting. I'm excited for the trees in this one, a little forest in a stitchscape!

Monday, 24 July 2017

Blush Sunset Stitchscape

It was a very relaxing weekend, and one that gave me a chance to finish my Blush Sunset Stitchscape, so named by some of my Facebook friends.
Yesterday morning the sun was out and I sat in the front garden, surrounded by the Dahlias and Agapanthus mentioned in my last post, stitching quietly by myself and listening to the mellow sounds of Sunday morning. Sunday has its own sound, don't you think? It's when people potter around doing garden-y things, mowing the lawn or doing a spot of DIY. You can almost hear the Sunday papers being rustled over that second pot of coffee, and church bells sing in the distance, the sound echoing in the valley. It's all so poetic.

I really love the vibrancy of this new stitchscape. I think it's possibly the brightest one I've done so far, and all because the fabrics looked so lovely stacked on top of each other when I decided to sort out my stash. That Kaffe Fassett flower is really something isn't it? I was channelling my inner Kaffe the whole way through this embroidery and I hope that he would be proud of my efforts. I haven't really touched the flower other than to outline it with back stitches in matching threads, it seemed almost sacrilegious to consider cutting it up into a strip and I couldn't cover it with my bullion knot flowers either. It's big and bold and beautiful, and I love it!

This stitchscape used all of my current favourite stitches discovered through recent other stitchscapes. The not-quite-satin-stitch golden leaves, the actual satin stitch purple splodges, pistil stitch flowers and the whip stitches over horizontal running stitches. It always amazes me that I can use the same stitches over and over again and they never get old or tired. Each time something ever so slightly new happens and the stitches evolve and grow, developing into their own thing with each new 'scape.

Of course this piece wouldn't be a sunset piece without that glorious blazing sun! I've watched many sunsets over the years and the best ones are when the sun burns iridescent orange with streaks of brilliant red, staining the sky with those glorious blush colours- the namesake of this 'scape. Not a lot needed to be done here, the colours said it all, which is pretty much the theme of the entire embroidery- I've left a lot of the fabrics as they are so that their colours can shine through. There are three different coloured strands of DMC embroidery thread making up the rays of the sun, and I have filled the lighter batik print areas of the sun itself with a pink satin stitch. Behind the sun's rays, I have followed the vague lines of the sunset print with simple back stitch, which reminds me of when those little wisps of cloud that appear in the evenings are highlighted with silvery light. It's quite realistic I think.

I just had to show you the back of this piece. It's incredible and so unintentional as a by-product of creating the front side! A happy accident.

This is one of my bigger pieces, stitched in a 30cm hoop. The stitch list is; back stitch, whip stitch, pistil stitch, long stitches, seed stitch, satin stitch, french knots, running stitch (kantha), bullion knots, cross stitch and couching. Not a great variety considering what I have managed to cram into some of my other 'scapes, but I don't think much more was needed, the colours sing out all on their own.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

English Garden Inspiration

I love this time of year when the flowers are out and the days long and warm (I may have mentioned this before?). Although saying that, it is pouring with rain as I type this and the cat has come in, dripping wet and looking for a lap to dry himself on. The laptop has been awkwardly and unceremoniously shoved to one side and I am typing slowly with one hand whilst gingerly stroking the top of his head with the other hand, getting soggier by the second. So glamorous!

Anyway, back to the flowers. These photos were taken earlier during the week when it wasn't bucketing down. Did any of you have that enormous storm on Tuesday night? Incredible wasn't it? It came over us at about midnight with tremendous claps of thunder that shook the window panes, lightening that flashed so often and so brightly that it was like having the lights on, and the rain filled up every water bucket several times over! So after all that rain and a couple of days of sunshine, it's no wonder that the gardens are looking happy and contented.
My beautiful Hydrangeas have finally flowered, and my 'blue' one is more pink than ever, creating a lovely mottled effect in the petals. They don't really like being constrained in a pot so I might see about replanting them in a flower bed once they've finished flowering, to give them a chance to spread out and grow big next year!

Dad has done a great job of planting lots of weird and wonderful plants this year. I have absolutely no idea what the pink spikey thing above is- any ideas? I do recognise the below flower as some kind of Dahlia though. We have a whole bunch of different kinds in the front garden which surely must be the envy of the neighbourhood!

It is the colours and shapes that are so amazing. It is constantly fuelling the mental bank of inspiration for colour combinations and possible stitches that could be used in my stitchscapes. Can you see the satin stitch petals and tight groups of various knots? Or maybe it could be blanket stitch cluster petals and pistil stitches instead?

These sorts of colours have already helped me with my Hollyhocks Stitchscape, mounted yesterday in the studio. I popped this photo in the flower mix to see if I could trick you into thinking they were real flowers! My favourite colour in this piece is the paler pink with dark pink centres, they have worked really well in my opinion. I shall have to try and come up with a design with an English country garden theme, with climbing bullion knot roses and dripping french knot Wisteria.

Whilst the images above the Hollyhocks are from my own garden, these ones are from the garden that my studio sits in. Different but still beautiful; Passion Flowers, Wisteria, Lupins, Hostas and Hibiscus!

Every inch of these gardens is sprinkled with colour, even the greens are greener than ever. The ponds have their own sparkle, and I discovered this beautiful Water Lily whilst rummaging through the undergrowth. Perhaps a Monet-esque, Water Lily stitchscape?