Thursday 31 July 2014

Skill Development: Adventures in Embroidery

As someone who sews stuff for a living (as well as for fun, of course!) one of the things I've been thinking about is "professional development", aka "wouldn't it be great if I learnt how to sew more and different kinds of things!"

There are lots of areas where I'd like to broaden my skills, but the one I'm starting with is embroidery. This is something I really enjoy and I'd love to design more embroidery patterns, but at the moment my skills are pretty basic and I stitch almost everything in backstitch. You can sew some pretty nice things just with backstitch, but I'd love to have a lot more stitches in my repertoire.

So, I'll be working my way through some stitch guides...

... trying out lots of fancy and new-to-me stitches, and maybe stitching up some samplers in the process? We shall see :)

I'm also planning on starting an assortment of embroidery projects from some of the crafty books in my collection (and hopefully finishing them, too, instead of just adding to my large collection of WIPs!). It'll be nice to try out some patterns from some of the books I've reviewed over the years and great to get some practice using different stitches etc.

Love embroidery and have a book, blog or other resource to recommend? Please do let me know in the comments xxx

Wednesday 30 July 2014

A Hockney Exhibition, The Guards Museum & Making Colour

Early this month I realised that an exhibition I really wanted to see was about to close, so I re-arranged my schedule and went on an "emergency" Nice Day Out ... which turned into one of those fun and busy zip-round-seeing-loads-of-stuff days. 

After a lovely train journey spent chatting to a couple of very nice old ladies, my first stop was Annely Juda Fine Art (which is just off Oxford Street) to see their David Hockney exhibition, The Arrival of Spring.

This exhibition was quite wonderful! The gallery is split over two floors - the first had charcoal drawings and a slightly hypnotic video of a slow drive through snow-covered Woldgate Woods, then the next floor up was an explosion of colour with prints of Hockney's iPad drawings. I feel a bit mean blogging about how great this was after the exhibition has ended, but you can view a video tour of the exhibition here.

When I was looking up the gallery on a map I was delighted to discover that it's right next door to MacCulloch & Wallis.

Honestly I feel really dim for not realising that this well-known shop was so close to Oxford Street (and lovely Liberty!) and for never having visited it before. What a treasure trove of gorgeous textiles!

I didn't buy anything on this visit, but have added it to my mental list of places in London to visit when I'm in need of specific supplies... or a textile-y treat! Mmmm... sewing supplies....

After swooning over all that delicious haberdashery I thought about going back to Oxford Street and hopping on the Tube again (as planned) but decided I'd go for a walk instead. I walked down Bond Street & New Bond Street, peering in the windows of all the smart galleries and fancy shops (you can read about my previous visit to this area and its galleries here).

Walking past Asprey reminded me that there'd been a documentary about the store recently - I was delighted to find it was still available on catch-up when I got home (very enjoyable and perfect to put my feet up to after my long day in the city!).

I walked to Green Park fully intending to hop on the Tube there, but then looked at a map by the station and thought "ah, I might as well just walk!" As you can see it was a bit of a grey day but I find this is perfect weather for wandering round London as you don't get too hot. 


Green Park itself is not super exciting, but the gates at the Buckingham Palace end are rather spectacular. Plus of course there's the Palace itself to look at!

I went to a garden party at Buckingham Palace a few years ago (which was just as fancy as you'd imagine, sooo many cucumber sandwiches and the chocolates had little gold crowns on them!) but have never been round the building itself - must add that to my (very long) London To Do list! 

Next I cut through St James's Park. This is one of those places which I've walked past many times before but never explored. It turns out to be rather lovely, with a lake and lots of resident birds...


... including (to my surprise) pelicans!

My next stop was the nearby Guards Museum (which is one of the places you get free entry with an Art Pass, hurrah!). This museum tells the stories of the Foot Guards (the Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards) who along with the Household Cavalry guard the Queen and the Royal Palaces.


If it weren't for my Art Pass I would never have visited this museum, but I'm very glad I did as I really enjoyed it and spent much longer looking round that I'd expected to. It turns out that military history is pretty fascinating and there are a lot of really interesting (and at times delightfully quirky) objects on display here. Oh and the Household Cavalry Museum (which is a bit smaller but has the added attraction of being able to peek into the stables) is just round the corner, so you can easily visit both in the same morning or afternoon. 

After my visit to the Guards Museum I looked round the neighbouring Guards Chapel which is a beautiful and quite moving space.

Then I walked through another bit of St James's Park, spotting the pelicans...


... a heron (who was hanging out next to the cottage built for the park bird-keeper in the 1800s)...


... and lots and lots of tourists feeding and taking photos of pigeons! I quite like pigeons (I even included one in my recent book!) but I'd never really thought of them as a London "attraction" before, but apparently they are (?).


After my wildlife-packed walk through the park, I strolled to the Mall and popped into the Mall Galleries to see their current exhibition (which, at the time, was a display of work by some very talented students).

I also stopped to admire the White Horse, which is rather lovely. Do not climb on the horse, do not feed the pelicans - these are not the usual signs you see in central London!


My final stop for the day was the National Gallery, to visit their cafe and the Making Colour exhibition.


I wasn't sure quite what to expect from this exhibition as I'd heard that like the recent Strange Beauty exhibition (which I was rather disappointed by) this was another exhibition where the National Gallery charges an entry fee for paintings which are mostly drawn from its free-to-view collection. But I do love colour, and I could get in for half price with my Art Pass (did I mention that I love my Art Pass??) so I thought I'd check it out anyway... and I loved it!

It was really interesting learning about the different pigments used in art history, and how they were discovered, developed and used. I spent quite a long time looking round and took quite a few nerdy notes along the way (mmm... lovely facts...). Even if you'd seen lots of the paintings before in the National's collection and knew lots about the history of pigments there's nothing quite like being able to see actual examples of specific pigments on the wall in front of you! Plus there were lots of interesting objects accompanying the paintings (like dyed textiles, ceramics and samples of the minerals used to create particular pigments), a couple of videos to watch about making and testing pigments, and recreations of how certain paintings would have looked before their colours faded.

All in all, an excellent end to a lovely day out. 

P.S. Planning your own Nice Day Out in London? Check out my London Pinterest board - I'm mapping all the places I've visited :) 

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Show and Tell #13

Every so often I get a lovely email or a message from someone via my Facebook page sharing a photo of something they've made from one of my books, or using one of my free tutorials.

It's always awesome seeing these photos. They really make me smile and - no exaggeration - getting to see what people have been making from the patterns I put out into the world is one of the very best parts of my job!

So, today I'm sharing a few pictures people have shared with me since my last Show & Tell post...

Melodie made an iPod cosy using the mix-tape-themed tutorial I did for Mollie Makes. I love how she's imitated the magazine cover in her photo!

(It was also lovely to see other peoples versions of the cassette phone-cosy pop up on Instagram - a blue one, a pink one and, rather awesomely, one for an old walkman).

Melissa of Storybook Felts stitched a parrot from Heart-Felt Holidays (the parrot is one of the designs I contributed to this fun book). The parrot in the book was designed for Talk Like a Pirate Day, but Melissa's was used by her son when he played a pirate in a school production.
Sylvia has been busy sewing lots of animals from Super-Cute Felt Animals. In the book I stuffed all the animals but Sylvia is keeping hers flat and framing them, which I think is a very nice idea.

Katrina stitched a couple of the free patterns I designed to accompany Super-Cute Felt Animals. She enlarged my templates and made a happy starfish and a couple of shells.

Rosie used my felt owl tutorial to make a whole flock of owls and then designed a branch for them to hang from - such a great idea!

Kasia has been very busy and has stitched cactus brooches from my cactus pattern...

... a flower brooch (and a fab sunflower brooch) from my flower tutorial (originally featured in Made in Felt magazine, and now available on my blog) ...

... and has cleverly enlarged my leaf brooch pattern to make these leafy coasters.

And last but by no means least, Nicola used lots of my animal patterns from Super-Cute Felt Animals to decorate this special gift for her friend!

Many thanks to everyone who shared their photos! xxx

You can see see all the previous show and tell posts here. If you want to share what you've been making from my patterns (or from supplies you bought from me back when I still sold them) please do get in touch. Please note that I only share photos of my blog with peoples permission, so if you just want to share your work privately you totally can! You can leave a comment and link here on this post, send me an email or share a photo over on my Facebook page.

Sunday 27 July 2014

Fun With Yarn

So far, this weekend's craftiness has been all about yarn!

My main crafty task has been catching up on my sky pompom making:

I'm supposed to be making a pompom a day to record the sky, but actually what's been happening is that I write down my sky colours for the day and then make a big batch of pompoms all at once. This lot are almost finished - they just need trimming to be nice and neat (like these pompoms I made for June) and labelling with their dates.

With all the amazing hot weather we've been having lately, it's not surprising to see that I've used lots of bright blue this month!

Yesterday I also finished sewing in the yarn ends on the patchwork blanket pieces I blogged about last weekend...

... and I've been knitting some more blanket squares. I finished the turquoise blue yarn and have just started the lilac which is proving a pleasure to knit with. The large squares will be added to this blanket, then the leftover yarn will be knitted into more mini moss stitch squares for my patchwork blanket.

My knitting got abandoned mid-row last night because of our cats was very loudly demanding some bedtime cuddles. Knitting is all very well and good, but kitty cuddles = always more important.

P.S. I just bought my tickets for the Festival of Quilts! Yay! I decided to treat myself to two days at the Festival this year (Friday & Saturday) because there's always so much to see. Can't wait. 

Saturday 26 July 2014

The Handel House Museum... and a Crafty Cuppa

Man, I am so far behind with blogging about my Nice Days Out! I have been taking days off and going to fun places, just not getting round to editing all my photos and blogging about my trips.

Waaaay back in June, it was time for the second Crafty Cuppa of the month so I headed up to London for the day. My plan was to do a whole bunch of tourist-y stuff before lunch, then head over to the Natural History Museum where we were meeting at 2pm. Unfortunately I had a bit of a slow start that day - I can't remember if this was due to laziness or me needing to get something done before I left, but whatever the reason the end result was the same: I got into London much later than expected and didn't have a lot of time to spare before I'd have to hop on the Tube and head NHM-wards.

Only having time to squeeze in one thing from my planned list, I picked visiting the Handel House Museum. I'm not at all interested in classical music so you'd think visiting the home of a famous composer wouldn't be my cup of tea... but I was really looking forward to it after after visiting the Foundling Museum earlier this year and learning a bit about Handel's life and philanthropic work. Plus, like the Foundling Museum, the Handel House Museum is another place I can get in free with my Art Pass. Hurrah!

The house is just off super-fancy New Bond Street, with the entrance tucked round the back of the building.

You go down a little side street...

... turn right, and there it is.


When you arrive at the house, there's an introductory video to watch but I skipped this because I knew I was going to be short of time. Once you've been introduced to Handel and his work, you can explore his house and then look round the exhibitions in the adjoining building (where Jimi Hendrix once rented a flat!).

The rooms have been restored and furnished with pieces that are similar to ones known to have been owned by Handel, with lots of portraits and other pictures on the walls relating to his life and work. In each of the four rooms, you learn about a different period of Handel's life - there are detailed information sheets that tell you about the composer's life and about all the objects and art in the rooms. 

Now, sitting and reading lots of facts about a long-dead composer and his life in Georgian London is not for everyone but I loved it and I got so absorbed reading the interesting sheets in each room (and making notes, because I am that much of a nerd) that I totally forgot to check the time... and all of a sudden I had to rush to catch the Tube! So, no time to look round the exhibition but maybe I'll pop back in another day? 

I got to the Natural History Museum just in time (phew) for the Crafty Cuppa.

I was joined by Julie, Carina and Fiona and it wasn't long before we were nattering away about making and blogging while enjoying a cuppa and some very yummy cake in the museum's cafe. The plan had been to wander round the museum but unfortunately it turns out the the NHM is very stuffy on a hot day, so we decided to go for a walk instead.

We checked out a photography exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society...

... then walked through Hyde Park...


... and visited the Sackler Serpentine Gallery.


Finally, after much walking and chatting we headed to Kensington High Street...


(I held everyone up so I could cross the road to take a photo of this building - typical blogger behaviour - isn't it delightfully bonkers?)

... then said our goodbyes at the Tube station and headed homewards.

Such a lovely afternoon.

PS There will be two more Crafty Cuppas happening in August! You can see the dates & some more details here and I'll be blogging the full meet-up info at the start of the month. Carina & Julie (as part of the &Stitches team) are also hosting a stitch-y picnic on the first weekend of August which looks like a lot of fun.

Friday 25 July 2014

Crafty Ladies: Meet Sarah Fordham

Today I'm sharing the first post in a fun new series: Crafty Ladies! Each fortnight, I'll be introducing a new Crafty Lady who'll be chatting about her work and sharing a few crafty tips. I've met so many talented designers and makers over the years, I'm really looking forward to introducing you guys to some of them.

First up: Sarah Fordham, whose excellent book X-Stitch I reviewed earlier this year. Sarah's cross stitch designs - which she sells via her Etsy shop Magasin  - range from the super cute to the slightly sweary and are always so much fun!



My name is Sarah Fordham and I am addicted to cross-stitch and embroidery. I am originally from 'The Garden of England' (aka Kent) but have found myself living in the North for many years now. I now call Manchester my home. Most of my week is spent at my 'day job' which is at a glorious shop called Cath Kidston -  famous for it's floral and quirky prints, it is 'the home of modern vintage' and a very inspiring place to work. As much as I would love to be fully self-employed and sat at home all day stitching I know I would miss the social aspect of my job.

I am known for both my potty-mouth (I'm trying to be better, honest!) and peanut butter KitKat Chunky addiction. Oh, and last year my first book 'X-Stitch' was published, which is probably the only cross-stitch book that has budgies on the front cover.

Recently I’ve been stitching…

... some dinosaur themed badges! I bought some Dinosaur print fabric from my day job on a whim, and doodled on it with a washable pen and then hand embroidered flowers over the top. I made a small batch of these dinosaur doodles into badges and they have sold out already! It's one of those funny things where what you see as a doodle and something a bit silly, everyone else sees as great, I guess. Typically the things I think will be a hit never are!

I’ve been working on… 

... organising some embroidery workshops! My work pal and illustrator Ian Halawi and I have teamed up as Drawing Threads which aims to combine both of our disciplines of drawing and stitching. We hosted our first 'Creative Embroidery' workshop at Manchester's Craft and Design Centre earlier this month. We want to run a series of workshops, and even go around the country to whoever will have us. We also want to set up a regular craft club so we're rather busy brainstorming and planning it all at the moment.

I have also been taking a brief break from cross-stitch and getting back into tapestry again. I am LOVING it! I did a lot of it during my time at university where I first taught myself. This time around I have made a largescale Devo themed piece and I've started planning a Bill Murray / Steve Zissou themed pattern as he looks just like sailor-themed pre-printed tapestries you can buy. The only problem is that my Devo piece has joined my pile of 'needs to be finished' pieces and I haven't had the time to start my Steve Zissou piece yet!


I’ve been blogging about…

Well, I have a confession... I set up '' recently and I STILL haven't got around to making it look pretty and writing on it yet. I have just received my copy of 'Mollie Makes Guide to Blogging' through the post today, so I will be digesting all of that tonight! If you have faith that I will get posting soon, do bookmark my blog!

I’ve been reading…

...I am a very lazy reader, but Manchester's City Library has recently had a mega refurb' so I have popped in a couple of times. Recently I got myself a heap of art books from there. I am mainly flicking through a couple about Tracey Emin as I have been contemplating making quilts and wall hangings in a similar applique style to her work.

While I stitch, I've been watching... 

I was recently off work for two solid weeks after having my tonsils yanked out, and I confess I watched the entire collection of The Sopranos in record time! There may have been days where I realised I had watched it back-to-back for 13 HOURS straight (yes, you read that right). Boxsets are great for stitching to – I always go back to My So Called Life too as that's a classic!

I haven't YET made any mafia or Jordan Calatano related pieces yet, but the things I watch and listen to can inspire my stitchery. I made a few Beastie Boys 'Brouhaha' pieces recently which I love! Also, some 'good friend / bad friend' badges inspired by an episode of Girls.


Sarah’s Top Tips for Cross-stitch and Embroidery:

1. Who cares if it's the 'right way' of doing it? Do it your way and only follow the text books so far. I hated cross-stitch when I first tried it as it seemed too much of a headache. As soon as I picked it up again just to play around with, I fell in love with it!

2. Metallic thread is the enemy. It may look nice but it is a bitch to work with. If I dare to go there I like to keep the thread I'm using pretty short as it is bound to snag and snap otherwise!

3.Stitch what YOU want to stitch and don't pay too much attention to what everyone else is doing. I used to get bothered by the odd person copying designs I had made, but now I think, 'what of it?' they weren't able to come up with their own in the first place so they won't be getting very far. Keep improving on what you're doing and most importantly, enjoy it!


Sarah's new website is still in progress, but in the meantime you can find her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. You can also follow her new venture Drawing Threads on Facebook and Twitter.

Update: click here to see the other posts in the Crafty Ladies series! 

Please note: the Amazon links in this post are affiliate links.