With the new Bernina safely resident in my apartment, rotary cutters, mats and some fabric that let’s just say I grabbed with convenience as my primary concern, I was ready to have a go at my first simple sewing projects. The plan: to do things small enough and not so labour intensive that it wouldn’t be heart breaking if I had to throw them away.
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The last six months have been a bit of a rollercoaster ride, with two moves, a new job and all the general chaos and upheaval that comes along with that. It has been rather exhausting and the whole thing has seen me decoupled from a lot of my crafting equipment, my stash as well as all my usual routines.
Having visited the wonderful world of Britex Fabrics, it was going to be very hard for my next crafty stop in California to be anything better than a disappointment. However, while Britex Fabrics might be the Aladdin’s Cave for the sewer, the small, unassuming Old World Designs in Menlo Park is probably the hand embroiderer’s Nirvana.
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Ribbonwork embroidery (or ribbon embroidery) is, rather unsurprisingly, the art of sewing with ribbons. This is often done in combination with embroidery floss and other materials. As well as being delightfully quick to work up, ribbon embroidery is excellent value in the effect versus effort department, with even the simplest of stitches looking very dramatic. Also, who couldn’t love something that involves getting to play with silk?
I had the pleasure of taking a Royal School of Needlework Day Class with the author of Ribbonwork Embroidery, Sophie Long, over a year ago now. When I heard that she was going to be writing a book on ribbonwork embroidery, one of her specialisms, I was rather excited to say the least.
Being a tourist is often regarded as one of the most morally reprehensible things a person can be. No one wants to be the hapless soul, guide book in one hand, oversized Canon camera round the neck, clogging up the pavement taking photos of the local highlights, such as cracks in the concrete and public benches.
Having lived somewhere was definitely a tourist trap in the summer I can sympathise with the tourist-hatred somewhat. I still have no idea how the floor can be so endlessly fascinating to squawking tour groups and quite why the secret to a good photography is maximum inconvenience to other passersby.
In the modern age of the smartphone and Google Maps, I’m usually fairly confident getting around independently. However, sometimes it’s nice for someone else to do the thinking, and as I only had a few days off for sightseeing in Taipei, I needed to be efficient about it and thus began my quest to see if it is indeed possible to take a photograph without causing a traffic jam and find out the local crafting hotspots.
It’s an exciting bit of news to hear that there’s a new local craft shop on the scene, and even better when it’s not just a shop but home to a café with a mouth-watering menu and enough workshops to keep any craft addict happy for at least a good few months.
Make at 140 is the latest addition to Plymouth’s craft scene, situated just between the city centre and historic harbourside. It opened its doors in November 2015 as a ‘creative space to craft, make and create’, run by Lizzy, who has a wealth of experience in button and jewellery design.
There’s a quotation I can never quite remember, allegedly from a Chinese philosopher, about how if you really want something to be a success you need to put the same amount of effort in at the end as at the beginning. How many of us eagerly dive into projects with high standards and expectations but by the time the last stitches are going in have lost all semblance of enthusiasm?
For embroidery, the final steps aren’t the last few bits of satin stitch, but the process of mounting the piece. Even if you’re breathing a sigh of relief about finally being free of doing two thousand French knots and ready to throw the piece in the back of the cupboard, it’s a process that is worth taking the time to do.
When I finished the ‘Roses Heart’ piece, as it was going to be a gift, I really wanted to make sure the mounting looked professional and well-finished. However, I wasn’t relishing the thought of trying to mount and frame it myself. Poor craft time-management and life chaos meant I didn’t have much energy to devote to running around looking for frames and mounting board either.
Thankfully, help was at hand in the form of the fabulous Deborah Wilding who had agreed to take me through the whole process, from cutting the mount board to getting it into the frame. Deborah graduated from the Royal School of Needlework’s Future Tutors Programme in 2015 and teaches a large number of RSN classes, as well as privately.
I’ve been travelling a lot lately, which is always its own mixture of fun, frustrating, tedious and exciting. I enjoy getting to see new places and explore new scenery but I’m not sure I will ever miss being bleary-eyed at airports, checking I have my passport for the five thousandth time and hoping I haven’t missed a last-minute gate change.
Unfortunately, airlines have yet to have a row of seats with trestles so the embroidery addicts can bring their frames as they fly, so my Jacobean crewelwork is currently hiding under the tissue paper at home. However, I always make sure I have a few more portable pieces to break up the tiresome waiting that always comes hand in hand with travelling.
Travelling with your craft supplies isn’t always easy. First of all, you can’t bring your entire stash. After all, you do need to leave room in your suitcase for all those exotic new fabrics and yarns you will undoubtedly find on your routes around cities that just happen to cross every craft store in town. The other issue is airport security can be a little challenging when the contents of your hand baggage might come in handy if you need to dispose of someone on the plane…
One of the main reasons for visiting London was getting the chance to see the Royal School of Needlework’s current exhibition, ‘Peacocks and Pomegranates’, which was also a good excuse to visit Hampton Court Palace as well.
The RSN has been based in Hampton Court Palace since 1987, having originally opened its first studio in 1872. It’s a fitting location for the organisation that does a significant amount of work for the Royal Family and is responsible for the restoration and conservation of many treasured pieces of textile history.
Before you enter the palace though, you might want to take the time to visit Creative Quilting, a lovely little quilting shop just before the bridge to the Palace.
It has a great selection of fabrics, patchworking and quilting books and all the assorted paraphernalia you might need. They are also happy to cut fabric from 10 cm widths, so you can get exactly how much you need. I was relatively restrained with purchasing a few Batiks for a scrappy quilt but I couldn’t help but leave with some of this absolutely fabulous Robert Kaufman fabric. Not sure what I’m going to use it for just yet, but it deserves a special project.
If anyone knows a UK retailer with a good range of Robert Kaufman fabrics, please let me know! Having seen Peggy Toole’s Lumia collections, I do want to get my hands on some.
Hampton Court Palace was one of the palaces belonging to the infamous English king, Henry VIII. Although it was originally intended for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York, when he fell afoul of Henry’s fickle affections, gifted it back to the king, perhaps hoping he could avoid his downfall.
With my design finished after Day 1 and having done some colouring and planning for homework, it was time to start framing up my Jacobean crewelwork piece.
Framing up on an embroidery frame is often a very different beast to ‘just’ popping a piece in a ring frame. However, it is worth doing as ring frames can’t hold that much tension on the fabric and even if you get it ‘drum tight’ to start, after a few hours of stitching you end up yanking the material back through the ring, desperately trying to stop it being a saggy, sad mess.
With slate frames, there are no such issues. They will happily keep tension for years, ideal if the average duration of your embroidery projects is a decade, and you can get very even, tight tensions making it much easier to be precise with the stitching.
The whole process is quite involved, as you essentially need to add pieces of calico and webbing to your original fabric (linen twill in my case) to allow you to attach it to the frame. This means a lot of hand sewing to attach the additional pieces of fabric and some bloody fingers as well in my case.
The webbing is attached down the sides for lacing into and the calico is attached at the top so you can sew it to the scrap fabric attached to the roller bars on the frame. The roller bars stretch the work vertically and the lacing provides the horizontal stretch. The roller bars so what the name implies, once you’ve stitched the fabric on you roll them around to start applying the tension.
The oversized, vicious looking needle on the middle of the linen there is a bracing needle. There’s a short health and safety talk before you get to use one of these, about keeping the point safely embedded in some cork for storage and making sure to sew down through the fabric so you don’t come up through the fabric and your hand at the same time. They do glide through the heavy webbing though.