Tuesday, 7 July 2020

How To: Make A Perfect Bullion Knot

I get asked all of the time about bullion knots. I don't mind, I love talking about them and helping other people learn to love them too - they feature heavily in my kits because of their versatility and texture. I use them for edging, for straight flowers, curved flowers, shells and little bobbles on the ground. They are great friends with the french knot and look lovely paired together but I appreciate that other embroiderers and stitchers may not love them as I do and, if you are a beginner, you might possibly be cursing me for including so many in my kits!!

So, I thought it about time that I did something about it. Recently I was emailed by a customer who was working on a kit and had some questions about how to make her bullion knots neater, and requesting tips on how to improve. As I was writing a return email it struck me actually how many tips and tricks and things to consider there are! Whilst I don't want alarm anyone about how long my bullion knot guide is, hopefully it can be used more of a trouble shooter if you are having any issues with your knots. A sort of comprehensive guide into the world of bullions!

I have added this guide to my (very small) 'How To' section on the right hand tab of this blog, or you can reach it here. It discusses the best needles to use, what threads work and threads to look out for, how to actually make a bullion knot (the Dotty Textiles way), some things to watch out for whilst you are creating and a trick if you go a little wrong. Hopefully I will have covered every eventuality but if I haven't, let me know and I'll try and pop a solution in there.

Workshop Kit Wheatfield Mini

I was tidying up last week and came across a couple of little kits that I made in 2017 for a mini workshop I was running for a Bridge Arts in Uckfield exhibition. These ones were the leftovers, the un-chosen ones. I never made up one of these little kits myself - which only had a 10cm hoop, calico backing and four co-ordinated fabrics in (threads were provided on the table separately)- so thought I might as well have a crack at it now!!
The purple one then sold on Instagram funnily enough.

This one caught my eye out of the two, making me think of wheatfields or cornfields or some-such. It's funny how tastes change, I probably wouldn't put this green in with these fabrics now if I could avoid it, it's slightly muted and makes the collection look a tad washed out. Something deeper would be better and create more impact. I've tried to put this depth in with darker threads instead although it hasn't entirely worked I don't think.

I started by matching the green, working a running stitch and then a perpendicular whip stitch  topped with couched threads all in the same colour. This didn't really stand out at all so I then tried adding a single strand back stitch just underneath the couched stitches, and some more whip stitch along the same lines. Later on I decided this still didn't work and added a third darker colour which is better but I'm not completely in love with the final effect I have to be honest.

I do really like the effect on the polka dot fabric though, it reminds me of fields that have just been harvested and the neat rows of hay bales that are left behind. I initially worked back stitch following the diagonal grid line through the dots, then added single stitch straight stitches along the horizontal grid line and filled the gaps in. French knots were added on every polka dot and later on you'll see I've also added tiny single strand one twist french knot poppies to this area.

One thing I obviously wasn't thinking about when creating these kits for my workshop was the space required to draw up the back!! I had barely anything to work with which was a challenge but I got there in the end. (A good inch is usually required at the very least.)

I wanted something shiny and a bit more flamboyant for the bottom layer - the upper layers were all dull and muted and that green (...eek) so sequins were definitely the way to go. If you have a piece of work that is looking a bit flat and dull, stitch in a discreet shiny thread or some beads, or something lustrous/shiny/metallic/glittery and you'll get an instant lift. It doesn't have to be full on hot pink glittery spangles, just something that catches the eye or seems to glow from within, like it's been touched by the sun.
Somewhere on Instagram I'd seen a textile artist who plays and experiments with sequins and it seemed to me she was folding large sequins into 3D shapes. I really wanted to have a go at something similar and I have a big bag of steampunk inspired sequins where there are lots of different colours, shapes and textures. These I have folded in half and secured with a bead but it was a developing idea because the first stem wasn't very stable and kept flipping or twisting round which didn't look great. I then worked another stem alongside the first with the folded edges together and also overlapping slightly to help prevent the twisting. The very top sequins, or ones that are going over my jute string trimming, may also have a tiny stitch into the bottom of the sequin itself to stop it from moving. The bottom sequins are more embedded and supported by the french knots which I added in afterwards.

I LOVE the way these sequins are all different colours and textures. Some seem to glow more on the inside, like candlelight on brass pots in an old Victorian kitchen, others are darker and less shiny, some grey, some bronze.... the collection of them all works really well together I think. The redness of some of them fits in well with the red of the poppies, and I had to revisit the layer above the green hill with the seed stitch and french knots to add some of the darker brown colour I used for the french knots among the flowers to try and bring that into balance as well.

These little pieces are certainly more of a challenge, wanting to fit everything in that would normally appear in the larger scale hoops but having to be fairly simple so it doesn't look overcrowded. All of the drama with this one is at the bottom so it's nicely weighted and the folded sequins feel amazing to run your fingers over!!
This one is destined to be on my hoop wall which I've been developing over the lockdown period. I have hoops of all sizes filled with Stitchscapes - some I stitched for pleasure, some that were kits but have sold out, some that I've put back into a hoop after previously mounting onto a square of card and some that are just pretty experiments I don't want to squirrel away into a sketchbook.

Monday, 6 July 2020

Landscape Magazine

I've been really enjoying reading Landscape Magazine over the last couple of months- especially as they've swapped out their, sadly lacking, Upcoming Events page to a couple of pages dedicated to their creative readers who have been working on projects throughout lockdown.
I've very luckily had two Stitchscapes pictured in recent months! One was a design in the Reader's page of the March (?) issue, and Bluebell Garden was in the June issue!! So exciting, there is nothing more happy dance inducing than scrolling through a favourite magazine to find your own work peeking out from the pages! These weren't affiliated with Dotty Textiles so it hasn't led to additional sales or anything but I know it's there and that's good enough for me!

I actually subscribed to the magazine at the start of lockdown so that I didn't have to go into the shops to buy it. You could purchase one issue at a time with free postage, but at one point if you subscribed then you also got a really lovely set of Wrendale cake tins (which obviously I needed for the amount of cake we have eaten whilst being at home!) so it just made sense to subscribe. Once a month I now get beautiful images of gardens and outdoor spaces and styled selections of flowers in teacups, or an abundance of strawberries - whatever is in season. It's a really lovely magazine.

Reece and I managed to escape to Ashdown Forest for our own little landscape paradise last week and stayed to watch the sun go down over the horizon.
It's so beautiful up there and we went to one of our favourite carparks which isn't too busy but has a nice little walk and a flat area to sit for picnics, if you don't mind sheep wandering past. This time it was cows though and we did have a moment's mild panic when our path ended up almost in the middle of a heard of cows and young babies. We ended up wading through the gorse and clumps of dried grasses so as to avoid potentially antagonising protective mums.

The sunset was so worth it though!

Ladybug Valley Stitchscape Kit

I've been able to use this lockdown period to catch up on quite a few projects that had been put on a back burner, waiting for a chance for me to think about and crack on with whatever it is. A couple of years ago I designed a ladybird themed Stitchscape kit to be sold exclusively at The-Stitchery in Lewes using fabrics, threads and trimmings that were sold in the shop. This special kit sold out several months ago now and so I have taken back the design and the template pieces, sourced fabrics and trimmings myself and amended it slightly, giving the ladybirds a fresh new look!

The ladybird fabric itself is exactly the same as I managed to find it online. It's actually a poly/cotton blend which I wouldn't normally use but the pattern is just so sweet it's hard to resist and I have commented on the composition of the fabric inside the kit booklet itself in terms of ironing instructions. Other fabrics include the lovely Linea stripe from Makower (the green stripy fabric), and polka dot and floral fabrics from Rose & Hubble, both really lovely suppliers of fabrics with good quality cotton.

I wasn't sure on the combination of fabrics at first. The floral wasn't singing in perfect choral tones, but the alternative floral fabric I have (another Rose & Hubble design destined to be in another kit pattern which I haven't designed yet) got lost in the green of the image and became a bit bleurgh (technical term!). The flowers sung out a lot more and through the embroidery stitches used and thread colours chosen, it has become more embedded into the design and balanced throughout. I've pulled the purple flowers upwards into little crosses in the polka dot, and the red and yellow used for the ladybirds has been used in the flowers at the bottom.

There's certainly been a lot of inspiration around for this kit! I was stitching through one of the hottest weeks so far and snapping quick photos on my phone as I went. Hours spent in the garden were very pleasant, although we do have a couple of neighbours who seem to think that their lawns need near daily strimming so the out of tune harmonies of strimmers and lawnmowers were drowning out the much nicer bird song and buzzing bees.

The trimming used for this piece is actually a wide woven hessian tape which I have cut in half, stripped completely and then twisted some of the strands as I've stitched along, catching it at the top to secure the twist. I later went back to it, because I wasn't happy with the way it was sitting proud on the surface of the fabric, and teased out some of the bottom edges, pulling them down and securing them with a stitch. I could probably have done this a bit more neatly and discreetly if I'd known what I was doing when I started but this was a proper experiment! I have no idea how I'm going to explain what I've done through diagrams either! There may have to be an accompanying kit video to go with it haha.

I've added little sprays of pink french knots up into the striped layer to help blend it in. The pink matches one of the printed colours of the flowers below but I didn't want to add any more stitching to that layer as it was already quite full so I've used the colour to edge the fabric instead. Where flowers ended halfway through the fabric cut line I've carried these on up as well so it's all quite wild and random at the bottom there.
It could have looked very different as The Mother wasn't keen on the little pink knots and was concerned that I hadn't used the bullion knot flowers that often appear in my kits (at the top of straight stitch stems). Initially I did start adding in some stems and knots to see what it looked like but it was all messy and too linear and I pulled the stems out and went with my gut.

I've added a couple of new-to-Stitchscape-kits stitches as well so this one has split stitch (around the leaves on the ladybird layer) and colonial knots (the black knots in the flowers). I've decided to try and start adding some new stitches or new techniques to my kits where I can so that 'Stitchscapers' who want to use them as a way to learn new things can progress and try out lots of different stitches in a safe way. If at the end of the day you decide colonial knots aren't for you, swap them out for french knots, and if you don't like split stitch then go back to stem or back stitch, it really doesn't matter.

These are very fuzzy photos, sorry about that, they were all snapped on my phone when I finished the kit as I was so excited - it took me a while to get my head around this one and I kept falling in and out of love with the design which happens every now and then. I think we've ended on good terms!

So, the stitches used in this kit include; satin stitch, detached chain stitch, colonial knots, french knots, bullion knots, split stitch, back stitch, seed stitch, running stitch and straight stitch. Lots of easy stitches combined with a few ones to work on and practice.
As always the fabric choices mean that each kit made will be unique. not every flower placement will be the same and I've also suggested (much like in Woollydale) that you might not want to follow my template to the letter in terms of cutting out the ladybirds. I forgot to cut around one of mine so ended up trying to make up the other half where I'd cut through but it might be easier for you just to cut around them all so you have whole ladybirds to work with!!

I'm halfway through writing the booklet to accompany this kit, as well as drawing those tricky diagrams to tell you how to do the twisty thing in the middle. These ladybirds are so sweet though, I hope that you will all like them when I'm able to add them to my shop!! I was asking for inspiration on a name for this kit and had lots of lovely ideas sent to me - one follower suggested a Loveliness of Ladybirds as that is their collective noun, how pretty is that? I'd already decided on Ladybird Valley so didn't use it, but I'm still going to talk about my lovely ladybirds!!

Friday, 5 June 2020

Staying At Home

I'm generally a homebody, happy to stay at home for long periods of time and busy myself with various projects. My family are hoarders (sorry Mum but we are). Hoarders of activities, crafts, projects, knowledge, interests. We have a love of music, history, archaeology, arts, crafts, textiles, computers, games, fossils, sports....and this manifests in our house in the form of 'stuff'. It's a lived in house and, whilst not necessarily messy, we don't have enough proper storage for it all so generally we end up with piles or corners of interests which get moved around to suit what's going on in the house.
That being said, I'm also a country girl who relishes being outdoors in different places. I love travelling, finding new views and spotting startled wildlife who scurry away as I approach. I love breathing in the smell of the sea and staring out at all that blue, hunting for sea glass as the sand squidges and crunches between my toes.
All in all, being in lockdown due to Covid-19 hasn't been that hard - not as hard for us as it has been for others. Our family have been safe and we've closeted ourselves away in our little home bubble, working on new routines and being very thankful for our house of 'stuff'. However, I must admit, now it's starting to grate on me, the four walls are closing in and I catch myself being unfairly irritable to other members of the household but not able to hold the irritation and frustration in.

Considering that we haven't really gone anywhere for the last 10 weeks (? I think it's 10 - it all blurs together), a lot has happened. I've crossed off so much on my calendar, but added new things too.

❤️ We've had two babies born; one to my sister (I'm an Auntie for the first time!!) and one to a close friend. The Mother has become a virtual nanny, offering nanny-ish advice via FaceTime at all hours of the day and night.
❤️ We now have a very specific Friday afternoon routine - homemade pizza (an absolute must, Friday night is Pizza night and that's that!) followed by a Zoom quiz with my lovely friends, offering a much needed giggle and escape, even if it is whilst sitting on my bed rather than in a pub jostling around the slightly sticky table.
❤️ Saturday night is a family Zoom quiz, which started as a way of demonstrating the wonders of Zoom to some slightly un-educated family members - it seems to have stuck.
❤️ We've had three birthdays in this house (including the cat's) which required homemade cake and presents provided by Amazon and Etsy. One had a surprise Zoom party with his friends, with some highly dodgy singing over the inter-waves.

I think part of our luck and ability to cope with the situation is down to having two key-workers who have a Monday-Friday job working from home. There is still a routine for them. Dad organises traffic lights and various aspects of roads, crossings and bus lanes etc so he has been continuing to develop and improve roadways whilst they are mostly empty. He gets up at the same time as usual as if he were off on his 50 minute commute, made quicker by only having to go down the stairs, and finds it easier to get remote access to his office before the rest of the office world wakes up and clogs up the system.
My lovely other half, Reece, gets up at 7.30am for a shower which means that I get a half hour lie in before I also get up to sort out our breakfast at 8am. He's a computer technician, helping the nation to do what Dad now does, work from home and operate their various computers, laptops, technical devices and phones in perfect harmony.
With one home-worker taking over the kitchen table and the other on a desk in the sitting room, the rest of us have to be as quiet as mice so that we don't interupt Zoom meetings or client phone calls and the space is very limited with five of us knocking around.

The garden is a good place to escape to, and is a project that Dad has been working on with great gusto! We now have a vegetable patch at the bottom of the garden, it having been rescued from the patch of weeds and grasses, and thanks to home deliveries of compost the plants are happier than even to be attended to so regularly. I've mentioned before about how the colour of a garden changes at the beginning of the year starting with yellow (Daffodils and Primroses), on to blue (Forget-Me-Knots and Bluebells) and currently we are on purple (Aliums, Clematis, Foxgloves, Cat Mint and Chives.)

The weather has helped as well, beautiful sunshine is so much more pleasing than endless days of rain.

I started out lockdown with great gusto, using the time well to work on projects that had been overlooked or pushed to one side, working on and developing new kits, making up more of those that sold out and generally being amazed at the amount of stationery I was getting through posting out the orders that were flooding in! I will always be very grateful for those orders as they kept me, and The Mother with her thread card making, very busy in those early weeks and fairly consistently since.
I have started redeveloping the ladybird kit originally designed for Saira at the-stitchery but I must admit I am flagging and feeling less motivated to continue with it.
I find myself saying that "tomorrow I will do this or that" and by the time tomorrow comes, the feeling of 'bleurgh' or 'meh' descends and I can't make myself do whatever it was, finding ways to procrastinate until it's too late to start something new, or would be inconvenient to the household to get that particular project out.
Much as I love having Dotty Textiles and the Stitchscape business, I haven't been able to escape it for over two months. I won't show you photos of our sitting room or my bedroom as The Mother would not be pleased (I refer to you the first paragraph of this post) but I am quite literally living, eating, sleeping, dreaming in a quagmire of Stitchscape paraphernalia! It's all been brought home from the studio and there is no way to switch it off. I fear a little resentment is starting to creep in. I am seriously considering throwing a blanket over the boxes and having a little holiday from it all to try and get my mojo back.

I think I am more worried now about what's going to happen in the future than when lockdown started. You knew where you were with the 'stay at home' instruction. Now it's all becoming a little hazy - stay at home, but not if you have to work, but if you can then do. If you have to use public transport to get to work (I do, three days a week usually) then don't go to work, but if you do get on a bus then you must wear a mask, but ideally don't get on in the first place.
I am currently still furloughed and my bosses don't seem to know when they will want me back in - it depends greatly on what happens when the shops open I think. I imagine they are hoping for a rush of customers sweeping in and ransacking the shelves after so many weeks of not being able to access half of the stuff, but I really doubt that will be the case. People are so wary.
Well, most people are. I struggle to avoid some people on my walks to the Post Office - they don't care whether they are within the recommended meterage of you and are too thoughtless to think about how you may feel about the situation. It's hard to avoid these people and we can no longer leap nobly into the roads to keep distance from them because the traffic is nearly back to normal.
There is no foreseeable end to this weird world of being scared of touching people and it concerns me greatly.
Workshops where I would usually sit next to students to demonstrate stitches are now being considered being done behind masks and screens and I appreciate we must make it work but it saddens me that it can't go back to the carefree, happy environment it was.

But for now I am grateful for the little pleasures we can find. I haven't been able to get to the shops to buy bunches of happy flowers (which I love getting, especially at the beginning of the year) so I snipped a few blooms from the garden where there were lots and made a tiny posy for the table - it lasted a pleasingly long time.
I also came across a company who were offering home delivered afternoon teas so I treated the family to one last weekend. The scones and apple cake were utterly delightful!!

This week when I didn't feel like doing anything I finally tackled the bag of workshop threads which was looking very sad and scarily tangled. I sat out in the sunshine all afternoon (getting my tan/burn on) and patiently untangled everything, threading the used skeins and little lengths onto thread cards. I end up with lots of offcuts of thread cards as I buy them in at a set length and trim them down for each kit. It seems a shame to throw them away (especially as thread cards are expensive to buy pre-punched!!!) so I've just been keeping them, not really knowing what to do but I think this is a great solution as I can also write the thread colour brand and number so workshop goers can purchase more of a particular colour if they like it.
This weekend I think I will be kind to myself and work on a totally non-Stitchscape related project - like sewing on badges to my camp blanket or picking up a crochet blanket that's been half finished for the last two years. Next weekend we have managed to book a timed slot at Scotney Castle, a National Trust property which is one of a select number they have reopened the gardens of. You have to book in advance and it sells out within minutes when new dates are released, we had three of us on the website trying to get different places! Something to look forwards to as I have so missed being able to visit these gorgeous spots.
Be safe and keep smiling!! xx