Thursday, 15 August 2013

5 of my favourites

Well this five posts on the theme of five has been fun, although it has been hard work posting every day! I'm glad I set myself this challenge to mark the achievement of five years blogging. This last post is my favourite- the five embroideries of mine that I am most proud of. They aren't my most technically impressive but are all pieces that I felt excited to stitch. Several of them are things I have made recently but some were made years ago.
I found an image of a disarticulated skeleton and couldn't resist embroidering it, whilst I was stitching I decided to mirror the image and then fill in baby blue and pink. 

My first ever stumpwork piece - I was overwhelmed by the positive feedback I got for this piece- I have had so many lovely comments about it. It is one of my most viewed images on flickr too! 

This is an embroidery I did of a Mitch O'Connell design - I think the use of the yellow fabric with the design is really successful. I must use this idea again at some point!

The reason this piece is one of my favourite is because it was my own design. I found an old photo of bare-knuckle boxers and adapted it to become boxing hares. It was a detailed piece worked in only one colour and this is a style I've used a few times since. It was made for a Phat Quarter swap on the theme of 'Spring'

There used to be a free cross stitch pattern generator on a site called Dark Lilac- sadly its not there any more. This cross stitch pattern was created using a photo of the actress Anna Karina- it was a black and white image but came out in these great greens and greys- It took a really long time to stitch- I used absurdly small count fabric for someone who was a beginner. 

Looking at these I think I still haven't found a style that is all my own but I can pick out common themes and techniques that I have continued to use. I was surprised at the volume of embroidery I have done over the years, there was so much that I found it hard to pick just five! 

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

5 starting points for embroidery

We all know that 'blank page' feeling, when you want to create something but don't know where to start. I thought I would explain a bit about how I get started on an embroidery.

1) Use a pattern
Patterns from Day of the Dead Iron on Transfer Patterns by Marty Noble (Dover Pub)

Sometimes I just want to stitch something right away without having to do any planning and this is when I reach for a pattern. I have loads of patterns- I once bought a job lot of vintage patterns of eBay so have a big file of them, I also have patterns from Sublime Stitching and Urban Threads plus books of embroidery transfers I have bought on Amazon. I love the ease of using a pattern, and enjoy putting my own stamp on  the pattern via my colour choices, use of different stitches etc. I embroider most evenings for relaxation and after completing a big project working up a pattern feels like a break!

2) Designing my own patterns

For this piece I wanted to do a Victorian style portrait but with a flamingo instead of a lady! It was inspired by some gorgeous trays I had seen. I made several sketches experimenting with the position of the head and changing the clothing/accessories until I came up with something that I was happy with. I don't have brilliant drawing skills so I tend to do lots of rubbing out. It is very satisfying stitching up something that is 100% my own and these are often the pieces I am proudest of. 

3)Found imagery
Embroidery of Edward Gorey artwork
I also love to take an image I have found and stitch it up. I will often stitch up other people's art/ illustration because it suits a project I want to make or simply because I love the image. I also have used vintage anatomical images, nature photographs and photos of people/objects as patterns. I either copy the image by eye or trace the image. If it is a photo I use the sunny window method or a lightbox and trace the outline and a few basic details then use the photo for reference as I work. I can't speak about this without giving the Illustration Stitch-a-long a shout out here, things seem a little quiet there at the moment but the current theme is a free choice of illustrator - I am thinking I might go for a Spike Milligan drawing or pick something from a childrens book. 

4) Free style!
Sometimes it is fun just to hoop up some fabric and doodle away with my stitching. I don't do this enough but it is liberating! These pieces are a chance to try things out that I might use at a later date rather than an attempt to create something beautiful. I guess I should try and collect some together in a sketch book. I think it would be interesting though to try and 'draw' something using freestyle stitching- no lines on the fabric at all as a guide. It would be scary but playful- and maybe (just maybe) the results would be good?!?

5) Swaps
DOTD owl, own design

Via the swapping community I have stitched things I would never, ever have thought of stitching ordinarily. Because you stitch to a theme and to your partner's specific interests it leads you in the most interesting directions. Some of my favourite pieces ever were made for swaps and I am so grateful to all my swap partners and the organizers of those swaps. There is something about this process that gets my creative process going. I LOVE being assigned a theme! After getting in touch with my partner and finding out their like/dislikes (and engaging in some mild internet stalking of their flickr/craftster likes, pinterest etc) I can get stuck into some brainstorming, image researching and sketching. Lots and lots of lists of ideas are made. It is like being back at art school. The example above was for someone who liked owls and DOTD, they had a wooden DOTD owl on their pinterest- this is different in style to the one they had pinned but I was fairly sure they would like it. Some swappers give you a free reign and this is quite challenging and always inspires me to come up with something unexpected. I have also received some beautiful things in swaps- I have been lucky enough to be paired with some amazing stitchers!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

5 embroidery sins I am guilty of

1) Licking the thread whilst threading my needle

Everyone does this right? Apparently over time your saliva can discolour the fabric and floss (ewwww) also it isn't great for your needles because they rust inside the eye and catch on your floss. I am sceptical about it discoloring the embroidery, maybe after years and years there will be a stain but I have things I stitched five years ago that look fine to me. Also I like those needles that have gold plated eyes- flashy huh? No rusting for me. I lick the thread because it makes threading the needle easy and because I like to put blood sweat and SALIVA into my needlework!

2) Using the thread right down to the last ratty bit

I like to have a long strand of thread, changing thread constantly is boring BUT that bit of thread at the end that has been through the fabric many times and is a bit scraggy looking can really ruin the look of your work, especially in counted thread work like x-stitch. It just seems like a waste not to use it though! *threadmiser*

3) Knots on the back of my work

C'mon they are on the back- who cares ;)

4) Not weaving the ends in

Usually because I haven't left a long enough bit to weave in (see no.2) or sometimes just due to laziness. These ends then get all knotted together or even worse get caught on the thread I'm using and get brought throught to the surface of the embroidery.Then if it is a dark thread it leaves lttle fluffy bits on the surface of the embroidery and you can NEVER get rid of them all- ugh. When people post beautiful photos of the back of their work I am always a bit in awe.

5) Drinking and stitching or SUI (stitching under the influence)

Yes you might make some 'interesting' choices doing this but that is sometimes a good thing. I think that a glass of wine and embroidery are perfect companions - especially if you have a boring bit like a huge area of one colour to do. It helps get the ideas flowing too- I have to jot them down in my sketchbook in case I forget though! There is one important exception- never, ever drink and cross-stitch everytime I have done this I have made a mistake that resulted in major unpicking the next day .... whilst hungover- not fun

What are your sins? Or are you a saintly stitcher?

Monday, 12 August 2013

Five inspirational embroidery books

This is such a fun embroidery book. It combines interesting articles about embroidery, interviews with a range of exciting embroidery artists, projects and loads of information and how-to guides. Yes, it is a bit of a mish mash of everything- part embroidery reader, part project book, part art book but it works. A lot of thought has been put into how one piece follows another so the mix of topics isn't jarring. For example an interview with an artist might lead into a project by them.
 It is a beautiful book, full of colour. The works featured are fascinating- I love the in depth interviews with the artists.  There is everything from beautiful geometric abstract pieces by Takashi Iwasaki to subtle, layered nature studies by Kisten Chursinoff. My favourites are the yarn cross stitch and spray paint robots by Eliot M Henning, I would love to see one of those pieces up close. If you want to see just how versatile a medium embroidery is then this book is for you - if you prefer traditional embroidery styles this might not be your cup of tea!
This is a great book for learning stumpwork stitches. No projects as such but lots of photos for inspiration. Each stitch is explained clearly with step-by-step photos and a photo of the stitch used in an embroidery. Really useful if you want to teach yourself stumpwork.

This book and the other Jane Nicholas books are pure eye candy. She is an outstanding embroiderer. There are instructions on how to embroider the different beetles (you might have to improvise with some of the threads/fabrics as some of those listed are difficult to find). There are also some projects and some really gorgeous 'inspiration' photos of old insect embroideries. 
I have made a couple of beetles from this book including one of the goldwork ones- the instructions are fairly easy to follow and well illustrated. I went on to use the basic premise for constructing the beetle to do a stumpwork stag beetle of my own design. I would say this is one for the more experienced embroiderer really- but newbies would find tons of inspiration here as well. I think this is my favourite embroidery book in my collection, it's a pleasure to flick through and even though I probably won't do many of the projects it is a book to treasure.

Let me tell you something- I sort of didn't want to like this book. I say this because I was contacted by the picture researcher and asked to submit some pictures of my stumpwork for inclusion in this book. I was so incredibly excited at first but they didn't get picked which was a disappointment! Nonetheless I still bought this book the moment it came out because this is pretty much an essential embroidery book and it is really, really lovely. It covers many different styles and techniques including counted embroidery, whitework, stumpwork, counted embroidery and various surface embroideries. No projects but excellent illustration stitch guides and beautiful images and artist profiles as inspiration. 
I can see why my images never made it- I can't compete against the work in this book, it is all perfectly executed and beautifully photographed. If you want to explore new techniques this book is fantastic.
This book is great for pushing the boundaries of your stitching. It includes ideas for collaging, printing on fabric and introducing textures. If I'm honest the artworks in the book aren't  to my taste but I do like the ideas for adding texture and interest to embroidery. The different techniques are laid out as projects but I personally wouldn't complete any of the projects. I see this book more as something to read through when planning an embroidery to get some ideas. It isn't your typical embroidery book and if possible I'd recommend trying to look at a copy before you buy it as I don't think everyone will like this book. It isn't the prettiest book in my collection but when I look at it I feel inspired to be more adventurous in my embroidery. It gets me enthused about the idea of mixing print and paint with stitch.

So any of these books have you intrigued? Or do you already own any of them? I'm happy to answer any questions you have about them- just ask via the comments.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

threadhead is 5!

The other day I had a browse back through some old blog posts and noticed that it is 5 years to the day since I started this blog!
This was the first embroidery I posted on the blog
I made a patch with it and put it on a tote bag that I still use. She was based on an Angelique Houtkamp girl- I did quite a few embroideries based on Angelique Houtkamp paintings back then. 
I started stitching about a year before I started my blog- these are two pieces I made before starting my blog

Technically I have improved a lot since then- I tend to do more complex embroideries now. Stitching has been my way of relaxing after a long day at work. I have got to know some great stitchy people over the years and participated in some brilliant swaps. 
There have been long periods of time where I didn't blog (or embroider) for ages, with good reason- I have had two little boys since I started this blog!

So just for fun I thought I'd set my self the challenge of doing 5 posts on the theme of '5'. Today is an easy one: Five reasons I'm not a fashion blogger

1) My 'signature style' is jeans and a hoodie ...
2)... but right now I am wearing joggers and a dressing gown
3) I am 33 years old but still have no idea how to apply eye shadow properly, or blow dry my hair, or apply nail varnish without getting it on my fingers
4) I can't afford to buy loads of clothes - all my spare cash goes on craft books, magazines and supplies!
5) my outfits are usually 'accessorized' with the little bits of embroidery floss snipped off whilst I'm stitching- seriously, people are always pointing out stray bits of embroidery thread on my clothes

Tomorrow I will be posting about 5 inspiring embroidery books- I own so many books I am having trouble picking my favourite five. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this post whether you are here for the first time or have been reading since the start - see you tomorrow xx

Friday, 9 August 2013

small scrimshaw test piece

I thought I'd do a tiny test piece for one of my scrimshaw embroideries I have planned. I stitched this using sewing rather than embroidery thread - it's only small, the whale is the length of my thumb. I think the embroidery works well. I think I will make the tea staining more textured when I work this up bigger. I may even paint on additional levels of tea stain to make the tooth background more dimensional. 
This piece is appliqued onto a blue cotton I think canvas or the reverse of some denim might look better. Or perhaps even a bright white background... I have some more playing to do :)

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Uh Oh

This piece is far from finished but I'm sharing it now because I have had a bit of a mishap with it. As you can see there is some cross stitch on the woodpecker and I used soluble  canvas to achieve it (LOVE that stuff!) unfortunately when I rinsed away the canvas the thread I've used for the wood has run creating a pinky brown halo around the stitching.
Is it salvageable? Maybe. I think my options are a) bin it, b) paint in the background to conceal the stain c) have the piece completely filled in with stitching including the background - it isn't a huge piece so doable. My gut instinct is that I should go for option c but I'm not feeling excited at the idea of all that fill stitch. Any better ideas?

By they way the woodpecker is complete there is shading to do and detail to be added to the face- he will hopefully look a lot better once that is done, and once he has some legs of course! I also plan to break up that big expanse of tree with some details but not sure what I'm going to do yet.

Has this ever happened to you? Were you able to save the piece or not?