Recently I’ve been getting back into sewing, having knitted almost exclusively for the last few years. I don’t know if it’s the creative vibe around these parts, but I’ve been experimenting with machine embroidery and patchwork as well as more traditional needlework. I’ve been picking up a few projects that have been hanging around for aeons as well as starting some new ones that have been in my head for aeons.
The patchwork was inspired by a visit to a local art centre where there was a fantastic exhibition of art quilts by a couple of well-known textile artists. There were some pretty big concepts behind the quilts such as evolution, the origins of the universe and quantum physics, but what I particularly loved was the way the artists used bold colours in their work. Something about the neatness of the patchwork piecing also appeals to me; even when used in a contemporary way it retains a certain orderliness.
The first experiment was some machine embroidery over a printed upholstery fabric (you might recognise it from here).
This one is a project I had in my head for quite a while and started a couple of years ago; it was one I kept picking up and doing a bit of then would put it away for months at a time. I finally finished it the other day, although as with all my completed projects I now don’t know what to do with it.
I loved the patchwork so much that I went straight home and had a go myself; this is my attempt. While happy with the sewing itself it made me realise my fabric stash is woeful in terms of colour, something I hope to rectify in the near future.
And this is another one that had a very long incubation period; it’s made from those annoying ribbons you have to cut out of clothes when you buy them and which I kept for literally years with the vague intention of making something with them. And yes, it does sound a bit weird when I say it out loud.
A random marketing email recently prompted me to visit the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace. I had been once before, years ago, when I was working my way through a City and Guilds in Embroidery, and thought it would be interesting to go again, this time from the point of view of a recently converted knitter. I’m not terribly keen on very busy, crowded places so I only spent a few hours there before my impatience got the better of me, but it was long enough to get round everything at least once and to be overwhelmed to the point of wanting to make ALL THE THINGS.
Rather than bombard you with words, I thought I’d break with tradition and list my show highlights.
1. Celeb-spotting: although I apparently missed Debbie Bliss on the Quadrille Publishing stand, I was apologised to by Stuart from the Great British Sewing Bee who bumped into me on another stand (although I only realised who he was as I walked away).
2. I tried not to buy too much stuff that I wouldn’t use (like I did last time, as my thread/yarn stash bears testament to…)
These were my (considered) purchases:
(a) a bundle of fabric squares as I really want to have a go at making a patchwork quilt;
(b) a skein of sock yarn as I’ve not tried socks yet (beautiful colour, gorgeously soft AND machine washable); (c) a circular needle for my current project.
3. I also bought (d) some chocolate from the one and only chocolate stand, which I somehow stumbled across almost immediately. No photo I’m afraid, as I’ve already eated it (predictable, moi?). I did share though.
4. I honestly saw a teenage boy there with hair that looked exactly like a sheep fleece. Seriously, look at these and you’ll see what I mean.
5. There were a lot of large ladies there. And I mean, A LOT. Getting around without bumping into any was, um, challenging.
6. The amazing textiles on display inspired me to pick up a needle and thread again at the weekend, something that’s taken a back seat to my near-obsessive knitting in recent months.
And the piece I restarted work on was itself originally inspired by a sampler I saw at the show the previous time I went. Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn, eat your heart out.
My memories of sewing begin very early on, right from my first stitches clumsily worked at infant school; in fact, they are some of my clearest (good) memories of school. (I have plenty of bad ones, but just don’t tell my kids.) However, it wasn’t until I was in my teens that my love of needlework really took hold, when I produced my first piece from a very simple commercial chart. From that moment on I was hooked, albeit more than slightly embarrassed about admitting to such an uncool hobby.
In my previous incarnation as a child-free person with a life, I occasionally used to attend Royal School of Needlework day courses and even worked on a City & Guilds in embroidery for 18 months before my natural laziness won over my desire to get an actual qualification. (Yeah, so I didn’t say it was a very thrilling life.)
One such course was on crewelwork or Jacobean embroidery; as far as I can remember it was spread over three days during which I learned various stitches and produced a piece of work based on a design provided by the school. Me being, well, me, I didn’t manage to finish mine within the three days and it’s languished in the attic pretty much ever since (along with numerous other projects in varying stages of completion, ahem).
Now that my girls are older, I’m finally finding more time to do the things I want to do rather than the things I have to do and one Sunday afternoon recently I spent an hour or so working on this particular embroidery. Sometimes I’ll pick one up and get bored with it fairly quickly but this time I found I really enjoyed the sewing. I’m also rather happy with the quality of my work considering it was the first time I’d tried some of the stitches, so I thought I’d showcase (ok, show off) the results here.
So all I have to do is figure out what on earth to do with all those creations taking up precious attic space; far too many to display without making the house look like some mad collector lives here, yet somehow I don’t think I can bring myself to just throw out over 20 years’ accumulated handiwork. Just off to check if there’s a market for this kind of thing on eBay…